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.

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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.

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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Preparing for Spring

Spring is coming! At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. From the looks of things, central Oklahoma has a long way to go before the trees start bursting with green and the flowers bloom vibrant again. I doubt I’ll even be convinced of a warming until I hear my first buzzing bee. Only then will I believe it’s actually happening.

My spring fever is spiking right about now for two reasons:

1)      Daylight Saving Time is right around the corner!

2)      This is the season when the azaleas start to show off in North Florida.

I started thinking about this a few days ago when I saw my hometown of Jacksonville was getting drenched with much needed downpours while Oklahoma was under the threat of a crippling blizzard. Our blizzard never even hit Oklahoma City (phew!) but I hope all that rain in Florida helped push off the drought.

The following photos were taken last year in March at my friend’s house outside of Gainesville, Florida, a few weeks away from where we are right now and after a very mild winter. Their colors only last for a short while, but they are a welcome sight to anyone who has become bored of the standard green of loblolly pines and palms.

After reading that last sentence back to myself, it sounds ridiculous. Who would ever become bored of evergreens and palm trees? It sure beats the dead shit scenery I’ve been looking at here for the past three months – leafless trees, brown leaves covering the ground, snow, melting snow, mud, muddy dog paws in my house. So, in short, azaleas just make what is already pretty prettier.

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It’s your turn now, Oklahoma. I see you have a spectacular wildflower show in the springtime and I’m quite anxious to experience it for myself!

Also, I’m eager to get my hands dirty and dig a native flower garden, to grow my giant sunflowers that will greet me every morning from outside my bedroom window, to find fruits and vegetables at the farmers market (instead of buying all that frozen bagged stuff at the grocery store, which feels like a form of blasphemy in this local food-networked city).

We have an emergency weather radio, a basement, and a tornado siren a few blocks down the road. I’M READY.

Hail! Hail!

Another Oklahoma first: taking a shower with the bathroom window open just in case the tornado siren started to go off.

Nothing spectacular today, just an average thunderstorm this morning that pushed the warmer temperatures I’ve enjoyed for the past two days into the Deep South, causing tornado warnings and watches all across the south central plains and making room for a cold front. I guess winter has its right to a cold front now and again.

I was working on some Thomas Jefferson history (please tell me you’ve all noted the irony in Obama being the man sworn to uphold our nation’s ideals in which Thomas Jefferson, one of our most famous forefathers, helped to create while still believing blacks to be mentally and intellectually inferior) when I lost power, then internet connection. It was fairly early in the day but I’d already given up any hope of enjoying another episode of The Tudors on Netflix, my lunchtime ritual. (Civilization was restored – I mean, the internet was restored – and I did get to watch Henry VIII banish poor Catherine of Aragon for not giving him a son. Man, that whole family was nuts.)

Then the pelting started, little by little, until it sounded like someone was throwing rocks at all my windows. Being clueless and still not completely in tune with Oklahoma’s weather, I just assumed it was a heavier kind of rain. Finally I realized what was happening and thought back to that time when I was ten years old in Upper Michigan, running in a sudden hail storm to hide beneath a neighbor’s johnboat with a group of my friends, when one boy’s mother screamed for him to come home right away!

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The hail that day was much bigger than this morning’s hail, enough to clock that kid square in the face as he ran home. The next time we saw him, he was sporting quite a shiner, a hail-impact-induced black eye. I bet his mother felt silly for calling him home. The rest of us were perfectly fine and safe under that man’s johnboat.

Christmas Snow

Elle has always asked me when she would ever get to see snow. Since she is a born and bred Florida girl who adapted to ocean waves and salt water before she was a year old, snow and all the fun things that go along with it have eluded her for her whole eleven years. Now that we live in Oklahoma where there are actually four full seasons, Elle has been looking forward to seeing snow since Day One. She even told her teacher that her Christmas wish was to see snow.

For a week, the news reports cautiously went back and forth on whether a winter storm would hit us on Christmas day and, when it was officially determined that central Oklahoma would get some of the white stuff, how much would accumulate. Finally, just hours before bedtime on Christmas Eve, we were notified by the National Weather Service that parts of our city would get anywhere between 1-10 inches of snow.

After the first few hours of Christmas morning were spent opening gifts and enjoying breakfast together, the fat flakes started to fall. Heavy snowflakes! There were so many of them, too, as if the sky has just decided to dump the whole lot of them right over our house. Elle dressed herself as quickly as she could and ran outside in true Florida-bred style – in shorts (and I allowed it because, hello…first time she’s ever seen SNOW!).

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This heavy snowfall went on for hours and hours, with the wind blowing the snow in every direction. We didn’t get the 4-6 inches of accumulation we were hoping for to take Elle sledding or to initiate a snowball fight, but that didn’t matter. There was plenty of it on the ground to make a small snowman and that was good enough for her.

By dinnertime, Elle declared this her best Christmas ever.

snow goblin

Elle's first snowball

consider wind direction...

First Foggy Morning

My husband opened the back door yesterday and reported to me, “Honey, there’s fog.” Joy of joys! That only meant one thing: there was MOISTURE in the air!

a hint of fog

This is the only time I have ever experienced fog here in Oklahoma. There was one time a few months ago that I thought we were being overtaken by fog but I was quickly corrected when a friend informed me, “No, that’s just dirt. The wind picks it up from elsewhere and it blows into the city.”

I don’t get you, Oklahoma. You and your wind. Bah.

This week has been gorgeous, though. Last year when I was visiting, I felt like I was being held hostage by a cold front that had inconveniently moved in the day I showed up. We got one good day of weather, a sunny and warm Black Friday. The next day, we were back in the car again and heading home to Jacksonville, Florida, where there is always moisture in the air.

A few Oklahomans have tried to convince me that their state experiences heavy doses of humidity sometimes. I must say, with all due respect, that it might just be one of those subjective topics. I felt no such thing when I moved here, though I’m probably immune. I would probably fare just fine if dropped into the soup bowl of New Orleans in the middle of August, armed with nothing more than a bottle of water and sunscreen. However, as a commenter pointed out to me in another post, her summertime experiences in Kansas introduced her to what she called the “giant hairdryer”.

I concede. Dry heat totally killed me this summer and the wind (again, that damn wind!) wasn’t much help. This dry heat with its “giant hairdryer” is a strange and bizarre phenomenon to this coastal girl. And I missed being able to tell the time of day by the afternoon thunderstorms, fueled, no doubt, by the excess humidity that the southeastern U.S. is so famous for. Here in Oklahoma, I had to actually look at a clock.

So, dear fog, please feel free to make a home here in Oklahoma. I do miss you.

Natural Order

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Bittersweet October. The mellow, messy, leaf-kicking, perfect pause between the opposing miseries of summer and winter.
— Carol Bishop Hipps

I’m very cold today so I would never call summer a misery. At least the Oklahoma wind has died down. Candles are burning in my house and making everything smell the way they should smell on chilly, autumn days. I would replace those smells with the scent of a busy baking kitchen, but I have other things I should be doing, namely writing a paper about Daoism and poetry and learning how to interpret the Dao de Jing with Westernized words that express the natural order of things. “The opposing miseries of summer and winter…“, how’s that for your daily Dao, your yin and yang? Sigh…

Still, I’d rather be baking.

When I walked outside this morning to take Elle to school, I was startled not only by the cold but also by the dryness in the air. Again, this is a different kind of air for me. Humidity abounds heading into a Florida winter, into the very last days of December even. January is when I would start carrying dryer sheets in my pockets to prevent static electricity and to assure myself I would never start a gas station fire because of a little static shock (Purdue University worries about this, too).

Oklahoma has introduced me to the reality of crisp Fall air. I had no idea it actually existed.