In the Garden

Whoa. Summer came to Oklahoma with a bang. After all those extra months of freezing weather and our recent weeks of rain, it is finally 90+ degrees and dry. Is there no such thing as a happy medium? Or do those days happen fleetingly? I’m guessing the latter.

Those days have come where I now have to check my flowers and vegetables daily. A simply soaking every evening only seems to make my plants thirstier. When I walked past my potted petunias last night I was shocked by the condition of the soil. It was cracking and parched and it made me feel so silly for proclaiming only last week how hard it was to kill petunias! PUBLIC APOLOGY, PETUNIAS – I take it all back.

I never had an interest in gardening for most of my life, although I have had a lifelong interest in eating food grown in other people’s gardens. When I lost my job nearly two years ago and Florida’s economy failed to provide me with another, I decided to turn my spare time into a useful tool. The following spring and summer, I grew tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries, carrots, ground cherries, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, herbs, and edible flowers.

Jack, my parents’ piebald dachshund, accompanied me every morning to the garden space. The two of us made our rounds collecting ground cherries that had fallen or thinning out the carrots and nursing the cucumbers back to health. Actually, I did the work while Jack chased squirrels and investigated the deep roots of a philodendron.

Jack, my garden buddy

Jack, looking especially short next to the lettuce patch

Matt and I decided this year’s garden would be a small and manageable one. Everything we hope will be edible is growing in container pots and recycled whiskey barrels. There are three varieties of potted tomatoes, cucumbers trailing on our iron porch rails, and okra being held upright with a metal trellis. All those mornings I tossed the water out of those saturated pots are paying off and things are finally starting to grow.

sunburst cherry tomatoes

sunburst cherry tomatoes

okra is happening!

okra is happening!

It seems I have a new garden buddy these days to go along with my new garden. As I made my rounds this morning redirecting the cucumber vines and marveling at the height of my still-growing sunflowers, Teddy rarely left my side. There is a story behind this dog and I wish I knew what it was, but for now I’m happy to imagine he was treated well by someone who appreciated his constant presence and liked to take him for long walks outside.

my handsome boy

my handsome boy

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Drying Out

My mother called me this morning from Florida and after the usual banter about work, the family, and my father’s upcoming birthday, she began to complain about the rain. Tropical Storm Andrea is poised to dump six inches over coastal North Florida. Friends of mine as far north as South Georgia are under a tornado warning. My mother can’t get the German Shepherd to go outside and pee because he’s afraid to get wet. He’s also afraid of the dark.

“I don’t want to hear about your rain. I don’t feel sorry for you,” I told her. For the record, she laughed then asked me how my garden had made it through the last two weeks of Oklahoma’s record-breaking rainfall. The answer is: I don’t know yet. I’m hoping it stops raining long enough to give the soil an opportunity to dry out, otherwise we’re back at square one.

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my cucumbers, in better days

For all my frustration with the vegetables, my flowers are thriving. My daylily doubled in size, the sunflowers are mostly all over two feet tall, and the lavender is…doing something. It hasn’t gone brown or lost its heavenly scent. I call that a score. The Indian blanket has spread a few feet in all directions and this makes me very happy. When I brought that plant home with me last summer, there were two measly blossoms. I’m thinking I should go get more. Seriously, my desire to rip out all the ugly things in my yard and replace them with Indian blanket grows by the day!

A surprising sprawl of #indianblanket #wildflowers and a climbing ivy

Also, my theory about petunias is becoming as true as my theory about goldfish – it takes a lot to kill those suckers, even when you try. No, I’m not trying. I’m only emphasizing how important petunias can be to the beginning gardener’s precious and fragile ego.

TAKE HEED, first-timers.

And Wind is Simply Wind.

Post #tornado afterglow #okc

post-tornado afterglow

Our basement was busy with excitement once again when a massive storm came through Oklahoma City last Friday. I had to try really hard to convince my mother on the phone that tornado season in Oklahoma is not as chaotic and confusing as outsiders might think. Did you see that? I just referred to other people as outsiders, not including myself. I think I’m finally starting to get the hang of this Oklahoma thing, but just barely.

Don’t get me wrong – Friday night was chaotic and confusing, but only because we had three people and six dogs taking refuge underground. The sirens blared constantly and the only time I got really scared was when the El Reno tornado took a sharp northerly turn and another sharp turn east, directly for our part of town. Matt and I actually had to prepare Elle for a worst-case scenario which,  fortunately, didn’t happen. Am I happy with how everything played out? Absolutely not. Five people were killed in that twister alone, including three tornado research pioneers, but I no longer startle at a random gust of wind.

I think it’s safe to say all of Oklahoma is ready for a much-deserved break. And with that, I would like to mention the record amounts of rainfall and subsequent greenery. Central Oklahoma is officially out of the drought and we hope the wildfires that were so prevalent last summer are discouraged from returning because of all moisture we’ve had this year. I’m also hoping that the temperatures stay below 100 degrees as I will readily admit that this past Oklahoma winter turned me into a sissy. In fact, I no longer find myself chilled in 85-degree weather. Ugh, 85-degree weather… I’m getting hot just thinking about it.

The following morning, June 1st, which just happened to be the start of hurricane season (hello, Florida friends!), we checked the rainfall amount in our garden and realized it topped well over our measly 6-inch gauge. Two airports in different parts of the city reported between 9 and 11 inches of precipitation, which I learned includes hail, fog, light rain, heavy rain, but nevermind that – I can’t accurately read the data on those weather charts. You’ll just believe me when I say I had a backyard pool for much of the day and night. My cucumbers and tomatoes were drowned in their giant barrel containers; there was so much that I had to retrieve a cup to help empty the container pots of unabsorbed moisture. My husband’s shop was flooded enough to send floor mats floating. The basement leaked water through a crack in the wall, which I used to mop up the piddle puddles from aforementioned six dogs. Resourcefulness, it’s coming naturally to us these days.

*You may have noticed a change in the blog-scenery lately and, most importantly, the name of the blog. I felt it was fitting and time-appropriate to acknowledge how I am finally coming around to calling Oklahoma home. Would you believe that admission doesn’t feel as blasphemous as it once did?

Brown Bear

Never before in my life have I been able to identify the symbolism in my dreams with one hundred percent certainty. A brown bear made his way into my dreams over a week ago, just before everything in the atmosphere went horribly wrong. Last night, the brown bear showed up again. Last night was the night before yet another horrendous round of storms and possible tornadoes is expected to come down on us.

I have never encountered a brown bear. Just a few days ago, though, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about the black bears of Virginia and about how a black bear is the bear you would want to run into in the wild – if you had to choose, that is. One of my childhood memories involves being caged indoors for an entire day, maybe two, while a black bear roamed the forest behind the housing area of our Upper Michigan military base. Rumor had it that some teenagers had cut a hole in the fence on a late-night run in the woods and the bear got in that way.

That is why I have always known that my chances of surviving an encounter with a bear* are exponentially greater if that bear is a black bear. You just make a lot of noise and raise your arms above your head to show your size. This simple act can scare off a black bear. Brown bears are not so easily intimidated.

But this brown bear, he is in my dreams. He showed up in my yard two weekends ago and I scrambled to keep the dogs inside, safe from the deadly claws of the bear. Then last night he was right outside my office window, a giant on his two hind legs. He waved his front paws at me while he showed his large teeth. His teeth eventually got one of my dogs but she was somehow, miraculously, released. I managed to wrangle three frantic dogs into the basement.

The basement was the safest space, in my dream, from the brown bear. It wasn’t difficult for me to put those two things together as I woke up to news reports of an increased risk of tornadoes throughout the day.

The month of May is undoubtedly beautiful here in Oklahoma, but these spring days also makes me excessively anxious. Alas, here we go again…

* Check out the tips on how to survive a polar bear attack. My favorite helpful hint is the first one.

Macro? And Mammoths.

Having a camera doesn’t make one a photographer, but it’s still fun to play around with pictures. I have a few friends who are photographers and, as artists of any medium will probably argue, some believe in the art of digital manipulation while others do not. I am not a photographer, I just have a camera, so I can do whatever I want and not feel like I’m cheating.

Last weekend, before all hell broke loose, I decided to enjoy the few hours of decent weather we were expecting to have for three days. My hour-long walk in a nearby park in full floral bloom produced some gorgeous photos. When I was finally able to upload and filter them, and just downright redesign them into what I wanted them to look like, I ended up with these:

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a rose

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an iris

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a marigold

yellow goatsbeard

the fuzz of yellow goatsbeard

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a petunia

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another rose

I don’t dare call this macro photography because I didn’t exactly follow the rules. Actually, are there rules? I simply cropped close-up photographs for an even closer-up view of the flowers’ insides. To be honest, I don’t know what to do with my camera without the help of editing software. Besides, it’s fun!

Some of these flowers are from my own front porch. I think a lot of this might be stemming from my need to be in the garden. Stemming? The pun was not intended, but now you can possibly see where my head has been lately. Speaking of stems, though, my mammoth sunflowers have broken through the soil, way ahead of schedule. I wasn’t expecting them for at least another ten days but the rains during the last week must have hurried them along. If that’s the case, maybe they’ll reach their full height of 12 feet when I’m still here in Oklahoma to enjoy them!

mammoth sunflower seedlings

my mammoth sunflowers, in infancy

 

The Oklahoma Standard

There is very little left to be said that hasn’t already been said. It all comes down to perspective from this point forward. By now, everyone knows what happened and everyone knows that my family and I are safe. In terms of natural disasters, the EF5 tornado that tore through Moore, Oklahoma was the absolute closest I’ve ever been to that kind of death and destruction. However, in terms of tornadoes, it was nowhere near me. There are 18 miles between my house and the Warren Theater. For the first time in my life, the horrifying images I’m still seeing on my television are literally just down the road from me.

I am now able to compare the absolute fear that takes over when one is about to face the eye of a hurricane and when one is about to take cover from a possible tornado. They are the same yet completely different. You have days to prepare in both situations, but here in Oklahoma, you have mere moments to react. The meteorologists in this part of the country warned us ahead of time that the weekend’s weather, leading into Monday, would be volatile. Saturday I learned of heat bursts as we buckled down for 80 mph winds that never came. Sunday I had my first taste of a non-drill tornado warning and watched Carney and Shawnee get ripped apart on live television. By Monday, I was in go-mode.

The hail started falling around 2:30 and the sirens started wailing shortly after and my husband sent me text messages from his downtown highrise office telling me to get the dogs into the basement. It was absolutely confusing when the meteorologists warned of a tornado dropping on the ground in Newcastle but they continued to talk on the television about a storm near Bethany and Warr Acres, the area in which we live. My husband wasn’t aware that the sirens sounding here at home had already warned me to head underground. He took photographs from his office window of a storm system dropping what initially looked like a funnel cloud closing in over our neighborhood but turned out to be two major storm systems converging.

over Bethany

over Bethany

He took a few other shots of a massive storm just to the south of downtown Oklahoma City, the one that had just dropped a twister down onto Newcastle, west of Moore. The photographs below show a ground-to-sky tower of rain and a huge wall of blackened clouds. Deep within its core is the EF5, slowly making its way into the city of Moore.

rain-wrapped Moore tornado

tail-end of Moore tornado

I eventually came out from the basement and left to pick up my daughter from school where, she tells me, she sheltered-in-place with her classmates and helped to calm down a terrified fifth-grader by explaining to him the Spiderman was stopping the tornado. We (me, the kiddo, and three confused dogs) immediately rushed down into the basement once more when the wailing sirens sounded for the last time on Monday and I think I’ve been in a kind of mild shock ever since. My daughter, it seems, is doing just fine. Now we get to carve a notch in our proverbial belts and claim to be somewhat experienced. I’m grateful to those who have proclaimed my official status now as an Oklahoman, seeing as I still feel somewhat like a stranger in a strange land.

If I could take the intensity of a hurricane and compact it into a mile-wide vortex and then combine it with all the anxiety and fear of an impending two-day tropical cyclone crammed into a span of five minutes, that is my best description of what it is like to face a potential tornado. And I wasn’t even there. I’m here, safely tucked away in Northwest Oklahoma City where I can’t even see the destruction unless I turn on my television. And it’s the only thing that is on my television. Of course, there is the schnauzer that was rescued on live TV directly behind his owner who, at that very moment, was mourning the loss of her pet and there are snapshots of teachers carrying their injured young students to safety. I get it – this hope thing – but, truth be told, I can’t stop weeping over Plaza Towers. If only this had happened next week, those kids would not have even been in school… or Why don’t Oklahoma’s schools pull half-days during severe weather alerts, like we do in Florida?…

I have to stop thinking those thoughts. It’s done. The Universe doesn’t make sense sometimes and, quite frankly, I’m still pissed off at her. We all grieve differently, I suppose.

There have been earlier posts in which I’ve entertained my East Coast friends with certain vocabulary that is known only to this part of the country (mesocyclone, fruit salad hail, suction spots). One of my new favorites is this one: the Oklahoma Standard

“There has been a lot of talk about the ‘Oklahoma Standard’ of dealing with disasters, and this community is responsible for setting that standard. We knew all along what kind of people we served and have always been proud to serve them. Now, the rest of the nation and the world know they are the best.”

Oklahomans are no strangers to disaster given that the above quote was born from the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. But in many instances, before and after the bombing, pieces of Oklahoma have been blown down by the big, bad wolf time and time again and, you know what? She has rebuilt time and time again. So why do people live there? I, too, asked myself this very question just over a year ago.

Here is my answer: there is no safe space. In the world. Anywhere. My home in Michigan was constantly under the threat of wildfires, suburban DC was and still is teeming with violent crime, and Florida…well, you’ve all had your say about why people continue to live in Florida. Hurricanes and sinkholes and coastal erosion galore! But it is home for many people, as it was for me for 16 years, just as Oklahoma is home for so many others.

And, for now, Oklahoma is home to me.

ok heart

Greenleaf

Home away from home #renfaire #greenleaf

This past weekend was a celebratory one for me for three reasons:

1. It was Mother’s Day weekend.
2. I submitted my final research papers early and finished my semester ahead of schedule.
3. Spring is finally here!

The first time I ever traveled on I-40 through eastern Oklahoma was in 2011 when Matt, Elle, and I drove from Florida to Oklahoma City for Thanksgiving. Forgive me when I say Oklahoma is ugly in the winter, but, to be fair, I think almost anywhere is ugly in the winter. Traveling on I-40 again last Friday with the greenery and the wildflowers and the rolling hills made me very happy. It’s a good way to start a vacation and Oklahoma redeemed herself.

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We met with a group of friends at Greenleaf State Park outside of Muskogee (birthplace of my brainiac girl crush, Sarah Vowell) and settled in for a weekend of campfire s’mores, a Renaissance Faire, and the enjoyment of one another’s company. We had cabins this time and an abundance of sunshine and warm weather – my preferred method of camping, even though my husband rolls his eyes at this.

Coming from the land of alligators and swamp rats and where water moccasins fall out of trees, I was horrified, yet totally fascinated, by my first sighting of a tarantula in the wild. It is also possible that I have acclimated to this season called winter which led to me feeling very sick and overheated on Saturday…in 75 degree weather while wearing a flowing skirt and a crop top.

Man, this summer’s heat index in Florida is gonna kill me.

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Fledgling Watch 2013

Last summer, I found a bird egg on my porch and researched a little bit about the House Sparrow, learning a lot about their invasive ways. Then yesterday I found a terrified little baby bird on my front porch. He was only mere seconds away from becoming a snack for Teddy, who has been vigilantly guarding the family from squirrels and is overeager to prove his Pointer hunting skills, I think. I can’t tell for certain if this little guy is a Starling or a House Sparrow because all the online gallery photographs seem to look the same. What I do know, though, is that both bird species are invasive and absolute jerks in their adult forms.

But this one is far from an adult, so I think he’s kind of cute:

baby starling or Mr. Grumpyfeathers

baby starling

My friend Katy nicknamed him Mr. Grumpyfeathers. His feathery hair tufts are a little Einstein-ish and he seems to be giving me a dirty look for interrupting whatever it was he was doing before almost being gobbled up by a 70-pound puppycat (Katy is also the one who dubbed Teddy a puppycat – she’s good with words). Knowing he wouldn’t be safe in my yard or the yard next door, which is overrun by a family of feral cats, I took him to the other neighbor’s yard, where there are absolutely no pets, and placed him on the ground while listening to his mother curse at me violently in Sparrowese, or whatever.

Later that evening, I watched the mama bird feed the other baby bird and realized how Mr. Grumpyfeathers most likely left the nest. I don’t think it was willingly. Mama hangs outside the nest and makes the baby lean precariously over the ledge to get food from her mouth. I’m expecting that one to tumble off my roof any minute now…

A First-Timer’s Perspective on Living in Tornado Alley

Living in tornado alley is almost the same as living in hurricane alley but with fewer palm trees and no threat of storm surge. There is also more urgency given to the moment, I noticed. I am pleased to report that the humidity levels are very much the same when a cold front and warm front collision looms overhead.  Oh, humidity, how I have missed you! And those palm trees. The headaches I suffer from when the barometric pressure suddenly drops are something I wish had stayed back in Florida, though. Luckily, Oklahoma City did escape the brunt of the storms this time thanks to the cold front that pushed through at the last minute and took the threat of tornadoes with it*.

I was pretty disappointed in Gary England, one of the most popular weathermen in the state, and for saying that I feel must apologize for some reason. Gary’s tornado reports are supposedly so popular that he has a drinking game named after him and I’ve been told he wears really flashy ties when he expects a big night of tornadic excitement. But he bored me last night by constantly referring to his apathetic assistant and he botched the opportunity to acknowledge a tornado on the ground for at least 10 minutes. We flipped stations.

Damon Lane, on the other hand, was entertainingly animated. He was so talkative and informative, in fact, that he started getting dehydrated around 8:30pm. The man had been reporting on the air for nearly six hours straight and was choking on his own dry mouth every time he tried to explain something new. He must not have been playing the Gary England drinking game. Or drinking, period.

I did learn some interesting things about Oklahoma during this whole event, though. For example, I now know there is a town called Cookietown and that Lawton and Chickasha are populated with a resilient breed of people because they got their asses kicked last night. There are even some new terms I’m able to add to my weather vocabulary:

  • Fruit salad hail (a mix of grapefruit-, orange-, apple-, lemon-, lime-, and grape-sized hail, all in one storm)
  • doppler-indicated rotation
  • cone tornado (I’ve only ever heard of wedges and ropes)
  • inflow and wraparound
  • mesocyclone

Another thing I learned is that Interstate 44 was built solely to use as a reference point when describing the location of a storm front (okay, I made that up, but every storm I’ve been through stalls right over I-44). But the truth is that these meteorologists know what’s up, which makes me feel a thousand times less panicky this spring. They even have a breakdown of main roads in every town and can pinpoint when the sky will start unloading fruit salad hail on May Avenue & Waterloo.

Here’s a Facebook post from the National Weather Service out of Norman, Oklahoma last night. This is the expertise I’m talking about:

9:07 PM – The tornado will cross the H.E. Bailey Turnpike (I-44) north of Randlett and south of Walters. Motorists stopped at the Walters rest stop/McDonalds will be hit by large hail. Do not drive into this area!

*This is possibly the only reason I will ever thank a cold front for showing up at my front door.

Winter Returned for a Day

It all started Saturday night when my friend texted me and asked if she could spend Tuesday here at my house. It’s always good to make a plan in case anyone needs to take cover in my basement during the storms. Because of that text, I spent the next couple days getting increasingly more nervous about the impending storm system that would soon be over Oklahoma and the rest of the southern plains. This is my first spring in Tornado Alley and I am already learning that cap inversion and supercell development will eventually become a part of my regular weather vocabulary.

Our 80 degree weather during the day Tuesday suddenly dropped about 30-40 degrees over the course of a few hours into the evening. The nasty weather didn’t really come through the Oklahoma City metro until after midnight on Wednesday. A blinding lightning storm passed overhead early in the morning hours while Matt and I curled up in bed trying to get back to sleep. When daylight broke, we were greeted with this:

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Parts of our tree were in my driveway when I returned home from a mid-morning appointment and there was evidence all over the northwest corner of the city that whole trees were coming down. The warmed waters of Lake Hefner were steaming and it created a beautiful yet strange kind of fog that sat just above the surface.

There is no way I can complain about the absence of tornadoes during this particular storm system, though, and I was quite surprised that I didn’t develop one of my low-pressure system headaches (does anyone else in Hurricane Alley know what I’m talking about?). I have been through an especially treacherous ice storm only once before when I was living on the east coast in Maryland. Those Mid-Atlantic States are quite infamous for freak weather, too, but this ice storm seemed pretty simple because the temperature hadn’t climbed above freezing for most of the day.

It turns out I was wrong. And it also turns out that my mother doesn’t scold me anymore for using curse words in her presence (or, as the case was, while she is on the phone with me). Driving to Elle’s school in the afternoon was, quite frankly, terrifying. Ice was beginning to melt and falling from the high power lines. These were pretty long and wide chunks of ice, crashing into my windshield and the roof of my van. I was convinced they were trying to impale me. A few times I screamed, “Oh, shit!” into my mother’s ear and she said nothing in return. It was one of those moments in which I felt like a real grown-up, especially so after I realized I could just change lanes.

This morning there was frost on my windshield but the ice has finally melted away. The world is green again, the birds are singing once more, and our dogs can now roam the yard safely without fear of getting clocked in the head by tree branches and falling ice. 81 degrees on Sunday? Yes, please.

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