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.

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.

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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.

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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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Spring Break. It’s Just Like Every Other Week.

A few weeks ago, I was thrown off by the fact that my university’s spring break wasn’t actually the week I believed it to be. It was made worse when, midway through spring break (not the real one, but the imaginary one I was already celebrating), I realized classes had started two days earlier. Needless to say, I had to work through the real spring break and I feel like I’ve been playing catch-up ever since. But when I finally got the chance to share my future career plans with a friend of mine recently, it all seemed worth it. It still does, but I can tell you that it’s a lot easier to recognize the worth of your hard work when it’s coming to an end.

After scrambling to write up four research papers and read hundreds of pages on everything from dark matter and nebulas to Darwin’s finches and Mount Toba (holy shit, y’all – Google it), my brain shut off on Friday when my husband took me out for pizza and shopping for used books…of the fun kind! You know, books about the Mayflower, 1950s race relations in the Deep South, and that asshat King George III. This is fun reading for me and I hope I can put what I read to good use one of these days. Call me, Trebek!

With that, I was able to enjoy this weekend and, dare I say it – I enjoyed Oklahoma. I soaked in my hot tub at night and in the middle of the day and decided both were awesome. My friend and I watched a thunderhead form from nothing in my backyard, far enough away that we stayed dry but close enough to see the towering layers continue building up and up. With drinks in hand, we turned our chairs around to see an incredible lightning show that went on for at least an hour. I was impressed; she told me not to be impressed. Bigger ones, more impressive ones, are on the way.

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My husband, being the more adventurous of the two of us, invited me on a motorcycle ride and I accepted. With conditions, of course, because I’m a pain in the ass that way. Rattling around on the back of a bike is not my idea of a good time, but Matt loves it. Probably the same way I love sitting at the beach. I offered to join him but only if he took me to the nearby gardens. He obliged because he’s a good husband. The best, in fact.

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And so with this Monday begins another round of reading hundreds of pages followed by hours of researching and writing. I don’t mind it, if you can believe it.  Especially because after months and months of searching (actually, I’ve been searching since I moved out here to Oklahoma City), we finally found my perfect desk at a nearby antique shop. Matt and I were able to strike a deal with the seller and brought it home later that afternoon. After moving some furniture around and reorganizing the bookshelves (which, to me, is like reorganizing my brain – I love it!), our office has a bit more color in it.

new office space

Teddy seems to be quite comfortable in the new office, too.

Florida Marches

Spring is slowly, slowly pushing its way through. Strangely, I’m a little hesitant to rush it it only because I know severe storms and tornadoes become the norm this time of year. It snowed in parts of Oklahoma a few days ago and today we were enjoying seventy-degree weather. I’ll probably never stop complaining of the wind, though, which seems to accompany these bursts of warmer weather making it a little more difficult to enjoy the outside world. We’ve been enjoying the hot tub much more lately since night time temps tend to hover around 40 or 50, on a good evening.

I am missing Florida, too. The greenery, the lushness of it all, even the goddamn kudzu. I can’t really say that I wish I was there. According to Sam Champion, my favorite national weatherman, Oklahoma City has been warmer than Jacksonville. One day, we were even warmer than some cities in South Florida. Winter – it’s time for you to go home now.

These photographs are from some of my previous years’ March adventures. Florida usually provides a nice warm spring/summer atmosphere this time of year. Beachworthy, even! Since nobody anywhere in the country seems to be basking in any of that kind of weather, feel free to enjoy these photographs of the botanical gardens in Gainesville and Jacksonville. While there are no photographs of me, I can assure you I was wearing shorts and flip flops on both occasions. My toes, already painted in a deep green polish, are screaming to be released from the confines of socks and shoes. Seriously, Winter – go home already.

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bamboo

daffodils

groud cover

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garden window

Snowman for a Day

After I brought Elle home from school on Tuesday, she immediately ran outside to begin working on a snowman. This time we had more snow than on Christmas day, better snow, with which to pack and build and roll huge mounds of round parts for the snowman’s body. Actually, when I say we, I really mean she. I had no part in this besides watching out the window from my cozy world of indoor heating.

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Elle gave him eyes made from pecan shells, two arms made of sticks, and buttons fashioned out of more shells. He was a happy fellow. He purposely faced the street so that everyone driving by could see her smiling, joyful snowman – his arms wide open as if to welcome everyone who passed.

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By Wednesday morning, the snowman was still smiling but already starting to melt. Thankfully, his melting was happening a lot more slowly than all the other snow. He hung on for dear life and for staggeringly long time, I have to say. However, by the afternoon, with temperatures in the 50s and almost exactly 24 hours after his smiling face started to grace the neighborhood, reality set in.

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One of the dogs had peed on him and his eyes and buttons were nowhere to be found. Can you see how his arms have slumped? it’s like he just gave up, simply quit. Also, the frown. OH, THAT FROWN! Poor guy. He had a good run.

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Snowfall

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Oklahoma’s state motto is “Labor Omnia Vincit” or, in English, “Labor Conquers All Things”. I believe it should be changed to “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes. It’ll change.” I can’t tell you how many people have said these words to me since I moved here a mere eight months ago, back in those days when the low temperature at night was 103 degrees.

Basically, this is a story that ended with us experiencing heavy snow coming down on us all day after having gone to bed with a forecast of mostly rain with a 20% chance of snow, at most 1-3 inches. And for the most part, that’s what we got. But by the time I spoke with my mother this afternoon, she had heard reports of up to 12 inches in Central Oklahoma. This is when I promptly hung up on her. Oh, I’m only kidding, but I did tell her not to mention such filth to me ever again.

All this snowfall was such a surprise to me because I had been stuck inside a windowless medical office for three hours this morning and had no clue as to what kind of conditions awaited me for my drive home. Suffice it to say I can drive in blinding snow that has also piled up in some places on the roads and melted into slush puddles in others. I also learned about a new safety feature on my van – when the tires start to slide and can’t get traction, a little “slippery when wet” light flashes on my dashboard, accompanied by a whimsical chime, as if the fact that I’m sliding all over the highway isn’t a clear enough sign that I have lost contact with the asphalt.

I did stop off for a few photographs at Lake Hefner, though, after I figured nobody else would be out there to muck up the freshly snow-covered ground with footprints, and I was right. You can see how quickly the snow was coming down and how fat the flakes actually were. Wet, heavy, fat flakes.  I wasn’t able to stand outside for too long and I’ll blame it on not wanting to ruin my new camera by getting it wet (even though we all know it’s because I’m a sissy when it comes to being cold).

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