‘Tis still the season

So it’s Jan. 11, and the Christmas tree is still up.


Christmas Tree

I like to think that opting to go to the gym on weeknights and visiting my best friend in South Carolina are totally legitimate defenses to why it’s still up. Plus, I’ve at least got the ornaments off. And I have an accomplice in the matter.

Maybe tomorrow.

Posted in holidays | 3 Comments

Us vs. Them

I am completely embarrassed and humiliated to admit that the previously shared mouse story has become a full-blown Situation. Embarrassed because it’s easy to assume the presence of mice is caused by a dirty, cluttered and disgusting home, or that the presence of mice causes a house to be dirty. In reality, our house is neither that dirty nor cluttered, it’s just really, really old with tons of weird nooks, crannies and holes. The basement is the stuff of horror films, and there are plenty of ways mice could make their home down there and then vacation in our living spaces.

A week or so after the dog caught the mouse running out of the closet, we heard the telltale rustling and squeak coming from our pantry/laundry room. The Modern Love Machine more or less dismantled the space — finding plenty of food the mice decided to snack on along the way — and saw a mouse run across the floor and escape to behind the refrigerator. The dog noticed too and patiently awaited the mouse’s return trip, as in she didn’t move a muscle for about 30 minutes while she stared at the corner of the refrigerator. The mouse did dare to run back across the floor but made it only as far as the dog’s mouth, or so we assume, because the dog appeared to be munching something as she ran out of the kitchen, but by the time we got to her there was nothing in her mouth.

Yeah, I know my dog shouldn’t be eating mice, but she’s way faster than us and probably smarter too, or at least — ahem — more patient, so we invested in a bunch of traps from Home Depot and have been racking up the points in the game of Us vs. Them in the past week or so. I’d say we’re winning, but we have no idea what size team the mice are fielding because we can’t actually determine where their bench is.

I realize we should probably call an exterminator, but I’ve yet to convince myself that an exterminator is going to do anything besides set traps, which we’ve already accomplished, and tell us to seal all the possible points of entry, which is impossible — all while charging us and costing me a day at the office. But the next time a mouse digs into a bag of my pita chips, the jig is up.

Posted in home, personal experience, pets | 3 Comments


I absolutely love this time of year. I love the sense of a new beginning, even a calendar-driven one. I love how the current starkness and coldness of nature provides an metaphorical clean slate for the resolutions that we make for ourselves.

For the past few years, I’ve started out the year with an intention, a one- (or sometimes two-)word declaration or mantra to guide my thoughts and actions toward the resolutions I tend to always have swirling in my brain. I had to look back and see what my 2013 word was as I managed to forget it about the time nature turned itself to spring. Despite forgetting all about it, ’embrace’ turned out to be a rather spot-on M.O. for 2013 in ways I couldn’t have even dreamed about this time last year, just as ‘do things‘ aptly described 2012 for me. Embracing my interpersonal relationships and the craziness of life is an ongoing project for me, but I’m finally starting to enjoy the fruits of the effort.

‘Embrace’ is such a warm, fuzzy sounding word, but the reality of making it happen in the past year has been really tough. I had a few really high highs in 2013, but I had some really low lows, and I covered all of the ground in between. That came with a lot of mental gymnastics and metaphysical growing pains.

I knew the essence of what my 2014 intention needed to be, though it took me a few days to decide on the right word. I’m settling on (for now, anyway) ‘patience.’ I’ve known for a while that I’m an impatient person at my core. When I decide I want to be healthy, I want the first stab at a healthy eating and workout routine to make me healthy. I want the house to be fully repaired, remodeled and redecorated instantly. I want a deep friendship without putting the work and time into it. You name it, I don’t have the patience to get from the start line to the finish line.

I somewhat unintentionally began working on this in a serious way about a month ago when I acknowledged my long-term struggle with depression, and somewhat ironically can already feel myself changing after just a brief period of working on it. But I’ve come to realize that this is something I’m going to be working on for a very long time. If ever I’ve needed to be patient with a process, it’s now. But I might as well learn to extend that to all that I do.

It’s only two days old, but 2014 is already off to a far better start than last year, and I’m grateful for that and looking forward to the hard work I have ahead of me. I hope your 2014 is challenging in a fulfilling way, yet as lovely as can be.

Posted in health and exercise, holidays, music, personal experience | 6 Comments

The creatures were stirring

Another month or two has gone by, and I haven’t written a single post. I miss writing here so much but am hamstrung by my brain when it comes to actually doing it. Every idea I have in my head falls into one of two categories: what I could write about but don’t actually feel like writing about, and what I feel like writing about but am not sure I want the world to read.

In an effort to just write something to see if I can either get myself to a place where I feel like expanding on some ideas on one or the other category, I’m just going to share some dumb thoughts and some random anecdotes from my life lately. Maybe something I write will make you laugh, maybe something I write will make you think, maybe something I write will make me laugh or think. Maybe none of those things will happen, but I’m at least holding out hope that it will spark something in me to keep writing.

So, random anecdote No. 1.

Lucy and Penny | The Modern Galthis story is about these two yahoos, specifically the one in the foreground

I agreed to take a freelance assignment from my old employer that kept me out of the house all of Thursday evening after I finished up at my day job. Somewhere around the time when I was driving from one place to the next, the Modern Love Machine was at home trying to figure out why the dogs were going ape about his closet, which is located in our home office (old house, must get creative with limited closet space). He went into the room to see what was holding their attention. As he walked up to the door, Penny (the one in the background in the above photo) lined up behind him, and Lucy was right behind her as if to create a receiving line to greet whatever needed to be greeted.

The MLM opened the closet door and, without really knowing what was happening, watched as Penny got down snarling and Lucy went into pounce mode. The MLM presumed it was a cricket — it wouldn’t have been the first time those dog lost their shizz about a cricket — and was closing the door to the closet when Lucy crunched on something and then spit it back out.

Text from the MLM

You guys, there was a mouse in my house.

When I was laying in bed that morning, 3/4ths asleep but trying to will myself awake, I had thought I’d heard something squeaky coming from the shared wall between my side of the bedroom and the home office. I convinced myself in true half-asleep fashion that it was my own tossing and turning in bed, even though the noise seemed to catch the attention of Lucy, who usually does not move a strand of fur when I stir in bed in the mornings. Now I realize we had both heard the squeaks of a mouse without realizing exactly what it was. I realize I live with a dog who is mostly terrier, so I don’t have to worry about any critters getting to me before she gets to them, but, still, mouse in the house.

While I have a high tolerance level for spiders and other home-dwelling bugs, I was not exactly prepared for co-dwelling rodents. Though I’ve always teetered on the verge of being too terrified of our dark, damp, creepy basement to actually go down there, I’d done a pretty good job of overcoming my fear of the potential critters that reside down there to do what I need to do. On Saturday, I had to have the MLM accompany down there for the three minutes I needed to put the Halloween decorations away. This does not look good with my self-sufficient independent bit I like to manifest.


Posted in home, pets | 2 Comments

Rockin the ‘Tober and KEEN Digital Summit

Sooooo, where was I? Actually, I have no idea.

Let’s start here: Today is the first day of October. That means it’s also the first day of Rocktober, which is a way better monthly nickname than Austerity August (which wasn’t terribly successful, though not through any fault of the Modern Love Machine and I — mostly thanks to not cheap car repairs and medical bills). Rocktober used to be a tradition here at The Modern Gal as a means for modern gals everywhere to regain their groove after a busy or crummy September. A busy September has definitely left me feeling a bit out of sorts, so I’m celebrating Rocktober with jazz hands.

Something else about October: My colleague Erin Dailey and I will be speaking at KEEN Digital Summit in Nashville on Oct. 26! The brainchild of friend-of-the-blog Kristin Luna of travel blog Camels and Chocolate, among other things and her business partner Stef Michaels (better known as AdventureGirl, KEEN is designed to be a deeper dive into the digital world. Kristin and Stef were tired of the conferences that only provide you the basic information of digital life (you know, the stuff you figured out on your own years ago) and the ones that are too inaccessible to be useful.


Now’s my effort to talk you into joining me at this awesome conference, although KEEN really sells itself. There’s an awesome lineup of speakers. It’s happening in the brand-spanking-new Omni Nashville in the heart of the honky tonk entertainment district. It’s a chance to meet moi in the flesh and hear Erin and I talk about HGTV’s efforts in the world of mobile apps and mobile web. And if you find me on the right night, I’ll take you to all of the RIGHT honky tonks (remember, I used to live in the Nashvegas).

So who’s joining me in Nashville for KEEN Digital Summit? Get your passes here, and be sure to check out rooms at the Omni (I hear they’re going quickly). If you’re going, let me know so we can plan to meet up!

Posted in public service announcement, social time, technology | Tagged | 1 Comment

Flashback Friday: The step in my groove

Because the radio stations in Knoxville are, on the average, terrible and because I spend 40-50 minutes a weekday commuting now, I splurge on Sirius radio. I love a wide range of music, but having cut my teeth on music fandom in the ’90s, I spend a lot of time on the 90s on 9 and Lithium (grunge) channels.

I was a senior in high school in 1999 and my parents let me drive myself the 2.4 miles to school every morning (is it weird that I still remember the exact distance?), as long as I took my neighbor Ben. The following song was released on June 29, 1999, and by the time school started that year, whatever radio station I was listening to at the time was playing it compulsively. In fact, the morning show that I would listen to as I drove to school played it every single day at the exact same time. This was both annoying as crap and incredibly useful as I knew if I was still in my car by the end of the song I would be hard-pressed to find a parking spot and would probably be late to homeroom.

I only thought of this because the song has popped up twice on Sirius on my final approach to the office this week, including this morning. I would say I really enjoy the song, but it was so incredibly overplayed during and after its stretch at No. 1 on the Billboard chart, that I don’t think I’ll ever love it. Still, I enjoy anything that reminds me of a particular time in my life.

Posted in childhood, music | 3 Comments

Austerity August

Money …

Oof by Edward Ruscha

… amirite?

An anniversary, two birthdays, a reworked knee (and physical therapy’d) knee or a culinary tour of New York could all find ways to wreak havoc on a budget. Combine them all together, and, well, the past two months have not been pretty when it’s come time for me to sit down and balance the Modern Family budget. Let’s just say, balance has yet to be restored.

As the daughter of a woman who is very good at short-term budgeting and bill paying and a man who is very good at investing and long-term financial planning, I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to money. When the word “marriage” first entered conversations between the Modern Love Machine and me, I immediately put him on a budget. We’ve been on a combined budget ever since we moved in together, keeping track of every last receipt and squirreling away cash for future plans and expenses.

But even I like to take a little bit of a vacation from my money-themed OCD tendencies from time to time, and this year that mood struck at just the wrong time. I almost had a panic attack just thinking about totaling up all of our aforementioned expenses, even though it did not turn out to be quite as bad as I expected.

Still, to stop the bleeding of savings, I’ve declared this month to be Austerity August. It comes with its own Twitter hashtag (ahem, #AusterityAugust) and logo (see image above, courtesy of Edward Ruscha and MoMA). There will be no impulsive clothes shopping, no Orla Kiely iPad case, no afternoon fountain Diet Cokes from the cafe at work, fewer beers, no home decor, no fancy camera gadgets, etc. These are all things I have desperately wanted to buy in the past week, but have managed to talk myself out of.

It almost feels like going on a diet. I’ve got to cut the calories out of my spending, so I’m restricting myself a bit and pledging to be smarter about my decisions. Coincidentally (or not), I have been a little lax with my eating habits in the past two months too, so #AusterityAugust is coinciding with a ramped-up workout schedule and the return of Weight Watchers points tracking. The Salty Pimp ice cream cone and Red Rooster fried chicken were not so kind to my waistline.

There’s probably some sort of aphorism or platitude in how diet and spending correlate. A penny saved is a fudge sundae earned? A fool and his money are soon obese and diabetic? Man does not live by credit card alone? I’ll get back to you on this.

Posted in art, budgeting and finance, health and exercise | 6 Comments

DIY rustic industrial kitchen shelf

Several people have asked me if working at HGTV has somehow magically transformed my home into a showpiece. The answer is hell no. Even though I know exactly how I would design every inch of my home, I still have the same challenges of budget, time and a husband who is one of five straight men in the world with an opinion about how it’s done.

One of the points of home decor contention between the Modern Love Machine and I was snug, empty corner in the kitchen. The spot measured a mere 2-by-1 1/2 feet with a daunting 9-foot ceiling. The MLM wanted a portable island with maybe a pot rack hanging above. I argued that there wasn’t nearly enough space for such things — not to mention that we had more than enough counter space — and what we really needed was a spot for our burgeoning cookbook and cooking magazine collection.

With enough badgering and photo pinning and a very small smidge of compromise, the MLM agreed to a shelving unit. After he vetoed most of the shelving units that I liked and that appropriately fit the tiny/tall space, I came up with a plan blessed by the MLM that eventually turned into this:

Rustic Industrial DIY Bookshelf | The Modern Gal

Oh, and P.S. I made it. (With inspiration from this blog post by Sylvie Liv found via Pinterest)

Though I’ve generally shied away from DIY and other crafty projects, I have come to understand that not all DIY projects are created equal. I’ve also learned that if I can find step-by-step instructions with illustrations (or even better, a video), I can generally pull off whatever the task at hand.

The point of this venture was to create a shelf that was thin enough it wouldn’t crowd the tiny space but tall enough that it wouldn’t be dwarfed by the 9-foot ceiling. So one Saturday a couple of weekends ago, I reinterpreted Sylvie Liv’s thoughtful shopping list with a diagram of my own, measuring three or four times before coming up with my own list.

Shelf Shopping List | The Modern Gal

All supplies were found within the lumber, plumbing, fastener and paint sections at the hardware store. Because The ‘hood Home Depot and Lowe’s are so tiny, I had to hit up both to get enough flanges and joints to complete the shelf. Everything cost $310 — the plumbing pieces add up quickly. And it’s worth noting that life is so much easier inside those two stores when you know what you’re looking for and where it should be.

The plumbing pieces needed a good scrub to remove the dirt and obnoxious price labels. Having scrubbed labels off about a hundred jars prior to my wedding, I have tried nearly every trick in the book. In this case, really hot water, a pair of sharp scissors and some elbow grease did the trick.

Washing the Parts for the Rustic Shelf  | The Modern Gal

Shelf Parts | The Modern Gal

The next trick was to screw together the legs. To make the shelf as sturdy as possible, I opted to create two legs and attach the arms of the shelf directly to the wall. The crummy thing is that no matter how you screw together each piping piece, it’s going to be uneven, loose or especially tight in places. As far as I could tell there was no way of avoiding that, so I just worked around it.

You can actually purchase black piping pieces and just leave them as is. In my case, the poorly stocked hardware stores did not have enough of either black or silver pieces, so I had to use both and give the legs two coats of black spray paint to even them out. For fear of getting black paint smudges all over my kitchen, I let the legs dry in the garage overnight.

Shelf Legs, Before and After | The Modern Gal

The shelves themselves came from one really long board that was trimmed to my liking by a nice fella at the Home Depot. On Sunday afternoon, I sanded them just a bit because I’m terrified of splinters and then went to work staining them. Unfortunately, neither store had the gray stain that was recommended, so I concocted a weird mixture of ebony and white that didn’t exactly turn out how I’d hoped. But it was close enough that I didn’t want to redo it.

Sanding the Shelves | The Modern Gal

I don’t have any photos of the sanding or attaching-to-the-wall steps since my hands were sticky or full during those parts of the process. I should also note that the MLM did not help in any way, shape or form. I’m not saying that to shame him — he was still somewhat hobbled by his knee surgery. I’m saying this to prove to all you gals out there that you can do this on your own.

I was a bit nervous about drilling the legs directly into the wall as our walls are made of plaster, and plaster is temperamental. Fortunately the HD sales associate who fielded my question about “screws appropriate for plaster walls” had plaster walls in her own home and made a very sound recommendation.

And so about 2 hours of light labor on Saturday and 3 hours of somewhat more taxing labor on Sunday resulted in the following transformation:

Rustic Shelf, Before and After | The Modern Gal

I really couldn’t be more thrilled or proud of how it turned out. It fills the space perfectly and (though you can’t really see it) ties in well with the black appliances. I think the MLM was especially pleased when I dedicated a whole shelf to his constantly rotating beer collection. I was happy to have all the magazines off the countertop and a more accessible place for the heavy food processor.

Rustic Industrial DIY Bookshelf | The Modern Gal

Inspiration and step-by-step guidance found at Sylvie Liv

Posted in design, home | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

NYC, the Gastrotour

The Modern Love Machine and I pledged to keep our summer travel a little smaller than the 11-day trips we’ve been in the habit of taking every summer with the idea that we might save a little more money to be put into our leaky house. While the money saving may not have happened quite as we hoped, we’ve corralled our travel into bite-sized chunks, with a couple of trips to Memphis and a jaunt to Atlanta — all done very cheaply — and a far more budget-busting skip up to NYC.

Grimaldi's PizzaGrimaldi’s pizza

The MLM had never been to NYC, and yet was interested in only one thing: food, and specifically the fine-dining establishments that seem to be on every corner of the city. So we planned on a culinary tour of the city. As we spend most of our weeknights on the couch with dinner on our laps and Chopped on the TV, the gastrotour had a Food Network flavor to it (we looked up every last one of the Chopped judges’ restaurants and had a hearty debate over whose would make the cut).

Side note: I inadvertently almost scored us a drinking date with Chopped judge Chris Santos, thanks to a random exchange I had with him on Twitter earlier in the month. He apparently trolls Twitter for mentions of his name, and now I’m going to assume he’s reading this blog post for the very same reason. Hi, #drinkingbuddy. Sorry we missed you.

Chris Santos, Drinking Buddythere was a little more to it than this, but you get the idea

The first place we hit was Scott Conant’s restaurant, Scarpetta, which was the last addition to the gastrotour based on a few reviews we read. We figured it would give us a chance to decide if Scott really IS the Italian cuisine authority that Ted Allen claims he is and if he has the right to be such an asshole to Chopped contestants. Because we had been thinking about our trip for so long, we we ready to go balls to the wall on this meal, which we did by way of ordering the tasting menu. We may have to foreclose on the leaky house to pay for that meal, but the MLM and I agreed that of all the insanely amazing meals we’ve had together, this one was the most insanely amazing.

Bone Marrow and Short Rib Angolotti, Scarpettaallow me to introduce you to bone marrow and short rib agnolloti. every piece of pasta is an explosion of deliciousness in your mouth — and i’m generally not a huge bone marrow fan

Because we managed to land in NYC when it was a million degrees there (ok, 100 degrees, but it was legitimately 100 degrees at least two of the days we were there, and 100 degrees in NY is like 150 degrees everywhere else), we inhaled a lot of ice cream and other frozen treats: olive oil gelato at Scarpetta, sour cream ice cream at Gramercy Tavern, the Salty Pimp at Big Gay Ice Cream and a shake from the Shake Shack. The savory gelato and ice cream are two things I intend to duplicate somehow now that the MLM has an ice cream maker attachment for ye olde Kitchen Aid stand mixer. The Shake Shack shake was ok, but the Salty Pimp? I cry thinking about how indulgently good it was.

Salty Pimp, Big Gay Ice Creamallow me to introduce you to the Salty Pimp: vanilla soft serve, caramel drizzle, sea salt and chocolate magic shell. i could not eat it fast enough, but then, that may have had something to do with the 100-degree weather.

Another highlight was Marcus Samuelsson’s place in Harlem, Red Rooster. This was the No. 1 spot on the gastrotour. The MLM has cooked Marcus’s fried chicken recipe before, and it’s pretty dang good, so I expected even more in person. I can’t say the restaurant totally knocked me on my feet, but it was still pretty good — so good we needed an entire afternoon of wandering MoMA to work it off, and then some. The even bigger highlight was seeing Marcus Samuelsson in the flesh in a very Marcus Samuelsson-esque outfit of a flower-print T-shirt and bright blue jeans and hearing his Swedish draw from a mere 5 feet away. We never got a chance to say hello as he was constantly disappearing and reappearing and disappearing again, but the MLM still snuck a blurry photo on the sly.

Red Rooster Fried Chicken

Red Rooster

there wasn’t just fried chicken. there were buttery mashed potatoes and cornbread so thick and sweet it tasted like cake. and there were swedish meatballs. as for the photo on the right, it’s blurry, but it’s him — i promise

There were other meals: a yummy (and cold!) corn soup from Gramercy Tavern, those Momofuku pork buns, a tasty brunch at Acme and some better-than-expected Mets game tacos. There was also an inexcusable lack of cheap Chinatown noodles, drinking and brunching at the Stanton Social (again, with the lack of Chris Santos) and treats from Dominque Ansel’s bakery, but in our defense it was too dang hot to walk to Chinatown or SoHo and stand in line for cronuts or frozen s’mores.

The heat kept us inside more than we would have liked, so the trip was — both literally and figuratively — just a taste of vacation. Thank God the Modern Parents sprung a surprise, albeit very short beach trip on us for Labor Day weekend, or I might feel shorted on my summer vacationing. In the mean time, it’s off to the gym for me.

Posted in food and drink, travel | 6 Comments

30 + 1

I somewhat quietly turned 31 a week ago. Dinner and drinks out with friends the night before, and brunch and a soul food dinner on the day of, and that was that. The Modern Love Machine bought me the camera of my dreams so that I can finally take photos the way I want to, and my parents got me a really nice suitcase. The stuff that dreams are made of.

Dogs in a Parkmy dogs, in a park, taken with my new camera

A year ago, I was so very excited to turn 30. I had finally found a man I adore and a job that made me want to get out of bed in the morning. I was Done with my 20s, wham, bam and don’t let the door hit you on the way out. I’d spent the better part of that decade struggling to become myself, learning how to care for myself emotionally as well as I did practically and figuring out how to own not only my mistakes and problems but also the responsibility for fixing them all. At 30, I had found a good rhythm for life.

Of course, that’s not the case. Do you ever really get a hang of life?** Once you’ve figured out one thing, life moves you on to the Next Thing. My cousin died young, reminding me with a gigantic smack of how mortality is all powerful and it just don’t care. My anxiety problem resurfaced, albeit briefly. The house has sprung more leaks than I care to count, and the contractor — the highly recommended one with an outstanding portfolio — quit while we were on vacation last week. Sure, those last few things are minor in comparison with cancer and other scary things of the world, but they definitely test your ability to hold your shit together. If my 20s were defined by trying to take care of myself, my 30s are already defined by putting all of the lessons learned to the test.

I also have no problem admitting that my fourth decade, young as it is, is a time of trying to take better care of my relationships with others. I forsook so many relationships that were dear to me during my 20s, ironically for the sake of trying to keep it all together. Step one was moving my career path in a direction that gave me an actual personal life. Now it’s a matter of living my personal life so that it’s not so extremely personal, but rather a life that’s full of others.

On a more functional level, I’m pledging for 31 year to be my year to figure it all out when it comes to physical fitness. Being active used to be such an ingrained part of my life, and while I’m not exactly a lump now, I’m not doing enough to keep up with my eating and drinking habits. A year ago I was preparing for an Olympic distance triathlon, and now I doubt I could run a 5k. Today was my first day back from a weeklong vacation, and it started with a trip to the gym. Now to somehow turn that into a routine — one that is life-is-crazy-proof.

Maybe you never totally figure out life, but that isn’t going to stop me from trying.

**I’m still holding out hope that you have All the Things figured out by the time you’re 80 or so.

Posted in life | 2 Comments