The Opposite of StormChasing.

The Alabama Weather Scene has changed since I was a kid.

Not in content so much – I remember tornadoes and warnings and staying indoors as things were flying about Wizard-Of-Oz style from my youth. My mom claims to have sat in a rocking chair on the front porch with me in her arms while a tornado tore through, dropping a tree on the back of our house. (I guess it was just a mother’s instincts to know that the front porch was our safe room that day. Who knows.)

Anyway.

The weather is the same. But the warning time of coming storms has greatly increased, as has the paranoia around those warnings.

When I was a kid, most of Alabama, it seemed, laughed off tornado warnings. In the same way, yet opposite, that we laugh at ourselves for shutting the state down for an inch of snow, we laughed at ourselves for never worrying about tornadoes – they happen all the time, after all.

2011 erased that attitude. We as a state suffer from PTSD of 4-27-11, and we take even thunderstorms seriously now. That, along with tornado prediction technology and coverage being greatly improved since I was a kid, is what has changed Alabama. When you add paranoia + predictions, you get state shut downs.

On Wednesday, a good portion of the state was in Tornado Possibility Dark Color 4 (out of 5 – if we ever get Dark Color 5 again, Chris swears we’re leaving the state), and so out of precaution, every school system closed – even The University of Alabama.

(Except for homeschool. If we’re going to be stuck at home all day, we might as well do school. Poor kids.)

But this type of “Tornado Day” was the weird, unpredictable kind – there would be no “front” or long line of storms coming through that you could watch with dread and trepidation, knowing to the minute when it would reach your neighborhood. It was the mostly sunny day kind, therefore adding to the explosiveness of the atmosphere, with violent pop-up storms coming seemingly out of nowhere in random areas.

Ugh.

Existential weather dread is worse when the sun is shining and the radar is clear. It’s downright ominous.

So I spent the day indoors, checking the radar every 5 seconds, fighting the losing battle of cell phone battery life versus the constant reminder of “Charge your devices in case you lose power!”

We were antsy. SO antsy. It was a beautiful day but even going out into the front yard seemed un-recommended.

Finally, at 5pm, I could take it no more. We were originally supposed to be out of danger by then. There was one small yet nasty storm east of us that the meteorologists were covering nonstop (seriously y’all – hail the size of freaking baseballs), and so no one was giving Birmingham the promised all-clear. There was some sort of “dry line” that was supposed to be coming through any minute, therefore clearing the environment of anymore storms.

You can’t see dry lines. But you can imagine they’re there if you think really hard and are positive you’ll explode to stay indoors for one more second.

So Chris and I decided that surely we were good.

Chris left straight from work to run, and we arranged to meet him at the Botanical Gardens later to trade off so that I could run, and that way the kids could run around the gardens in the meantime.

So we set out on a beautiful summer afternoon. When we got close to the gardens, big fat raindrops began to fall.

Of course.

But it was surely just a sprinkle, so I decided we’d ride up to the top of the city first – for a peek on how it looked on this weirdly sunny stormy day.

As we got closer to the ridge, the skies behind us began to look darker and more ominous. Quite like an Oculus bearing down upon us (for those of you who have already seen “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”)

I checked where Chris was running on my Find My Friends app – a mile away, in the direction of the nastiness.

I should save him. He’s gonna get soaked.

Right after I get my picture.

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I grabbed a couple shots, the dark cloud eerily covering the sun on a clear and innocent-looking day, then began chasing down my husband.

“Okay kids – you’re on Daddy watch. Keep your eyes out your window.”

It took a few turns, but we found him, right as he was crossing the street. He had headphones on, so I yelled at him. “Hey!! Do you need a ride??”

He didn’t even look back. He shot me a peace sign from over his shoulder and kept running. He totally thought I was some random busybody motorist.

I followed him down the road and yelled again. He yelled back that he was okay and kept running.

I drove around the block, parked, and started checking Twitter and the radar. A spectacularly nasty little storm had unpredictably (as predicted) popped up from nowhere and it was headed straight our way, then on toward our house.

Chris took the clue that we’d chased him down and paused to look at his radar. He texted me.

“On second thought, come get me.” (Paraphrased.)

I drove around the block, grabbed my husband, and peeled out to drive to his car.

We discussed what we should do. I wanted to go home and hide in the basement. He wanted to drive away from the storm. I finally realized he didn’t want hail damage on his precious car. He concurred. It made sense – as long as we could decisively tell which way the storm was not headed.

As we got back to his car, things began looking worse. And closer. He quickly formulated a plan and told me to follow him north – to a suburb on the opposite side of the city. We screeched out as rain began falling in earnest and giant lightning bolts started touching down. I might’ve whispered a few choice words just out of earshot of my children (I hope.)

Managing no red lights, we got on the freeway and sped north of town.

In no time, it was a bright, sunny day in front of us and to the left – but behind us and to the right it looked downright gross.

We ended up at a lovely park we’re never close enough to visit (Black Creek Park in Fultondale), taking a nice, calm family walk, while getting multiple texts from neighbors asking if we were okay and sending pictures of hail everywhere and the tree down on our next door neighbor’s house.

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The wind was powerful and dry where we were, and we quickly surmised that we had, indeed, finally found that “dry line”, whatever the heck that was anyway.

We walked down the lovely rails-to-trails path, pausing with a hush to watch some groundhogs scurry into their holes, and finding a playground with delightful eccentricities to add to the beautiful and deceptively placid sunset.

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The kids even found a massively nasty bug they followed around the playground for a good while – clearly a win.

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He was inches long, y’all. I looked him up later and – no lie – he’s called a Hellgrammite. They usually live their entire larval lives (5 years) under rocks in streams, and only emerge if a thunderstorm chases them out. Everything made so much sense.

(Then they’re a full-grown adult for one week before they die – but for that one week they’re the most terrifying, dragon-sized fly you’ve ever seen. Go ahead – Google “Dobson Fly” and see what I mean. Add that to Alabama’s Hunger Games status.)

But I digress. Besides that nightmare, we spent our evening simply enjoying the exultation of successfully fleeing a hail storm.

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Hands-On History: Sloss Furnaces

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Sloss Furnaces, part of the reason for Birmingham’s existence, has always fascinated me – especially photographically. I’ve taken pictures of it for years, but have never truly explored it. I have left it so unexplored that I didn’t even realize they had a gorgeous visitor’s center, gift shop, and museum.

But naturally it was on our list of field trips for our history project, so when we made it to that point in history, I emailed to inquire about a tour. They have a premium tour which includes the opportunity to create an iron mold and watch iron being poured, so I quickly chose that option. Molten hot metal poured with children watching? For sure – we’re absolutely doing that.

We arrived on a gorgeous day – a perfect backdrop for the exciting photos I knew I’d get to take.

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Sloss Furnaces was a thriving pig iron producer opened in 1882, perfectly situated in the only place in the United States where all the ingredients needed to make iron lay within a thirty-mile radius.

The tour began, and despite our tour guide’s fantastic mannerisms, I might’ve gotten distracted by all the fabulous angles inside of Sloss to fully pay attention.

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I definitely caught some snippets about the terrible working conditions (deafness and death being side effects of employment), but the angles…

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We descended down some crazy narrow metal steps to the underground.

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I remember clearly that he explained what they used to cart back and forth in this tunnel, but … photographs.

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Obviously I need to redo this tour and not be allowed to take my camera along because everything he said was so very interesting and I don’t remember a single word of it.

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I am not fit to be a homeschool mom. I am the worst. And I have the photographs to prove it.

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(This is also Carla Jean’s fault for moving to Colorado because I can’t cheat off of her notes. Which makes me wonder how very much I cheated off her notes last semester…I am really not fit to be a teacher.)

After the riveting tour during which I learned so very much, we went inside the museum and watched a short film about turning Sloss into a National Historic Landmark. Most of Ali’s report (at the bottom) was gleaned from the video. So maybe she was distracted during the tour as well.

Then it was time for the mold making. They gave each of us pressed sand molds and tools for creating our designs.

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This was SO MUCH FUN. And made me wish I had more artistic abilities.

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After we all finished our molds, they were loaded onto a trolley and carted off to these workers, who were casually maintaining the fire as red-hot iron slag dripped out of their container, as it’s supposed to.

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Never have caution signs had such a justified existence.

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The best part of my entire month was when they took the vat of liquid iron and began pouring it into the molds. Watching and photographing the splashing fire made me beyond ecstatic.

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…And totally creeped Noah out. But did I comfort my kid? No. I was too busy watching volcano being poured.

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While we waited for our iron castings to cool a degree or two, we studied the forge’s various collectibles.

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Clearly people had been having fun.

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My kind of fun.

Sloss Furnaces170308f-Sloss-FurnacessThose eyes…so turquoise. That skull…so melted.

The cart arrived with our creations, and the kids enjoyed trying to find their pieces. (Except one of our kids, who refused to claim his piece, insisting that his would NOT have looked like that.)

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Ali, who had worked hard to write mirror-image letters in her mold, was quite proud of how her piece came out. And amazed at how heavy it was.

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It was a most fantastic field trip, even though I totally failed at knowledge retention. I’ll be sure my report card reflects such.

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Here’s Ali’s report:

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Things I’ve been Enjoying.

I have not cared to blog AT ALL the last couple of weeks because I have just finished my first re-read of all seven Harry Potter books. One of my favorite book series, I’ve wanted to do this but never felt like I had “the time” to dive in. But Ali finished book 4 (Goblet of Fire), and I wanted to make sure our encouragement of letting her read the rest at her current age of 10 was a good decision. This was the perfect excuse I needed to immerse myself into Hogwarts and beyond – “For the child. I do it for the child.”

Here are my thoughts from re-reading:

– Upon my first reading, I did not enjoy book 5 (Order of the Phoenix). It was too dark, and Harry was too moody. But after having the entire picture of why Harry was grumpy and what was going on and what important information was gleaned in that year that was necessary later, I actually quite enjoyed it the second time.

– Books 5-7 are in a league of their own. They are the most gripping, engaging books I’ve ever read. I’m almost mad that the movies exist because of how much richness they leave out. I took 45 days to read the first four books, but only 6, 5, and 4 days respectively to read books 5, 6, and 7 – despite them being exponentially longer than the first four. They’re simply stunning works of art.

– My first reading of the books (before watching any movies, of course) happened when I was pregnant with Ali. Only books 1-6 were out during that time. Book 7 came out the next summer, when Ali was 6 months old and I was in the depths of post-partum depression (unmedicated at that point.) I did not remember this timing, but once I started book 7, I looked up the publishing date, sure that something was amiss, and it all made sense. My memories of 1-6 were very clear and mostly positive, but I remembered not liking book 7 and thinking it was a total drag. This time around, there were parts of book 7 of which I had zero recollection, and I enjoyed the book immensely. The moral of this story is: don’t read excellent literature for the first time while you’re depressed. Or if you do, read it again later.

– The books were infinitely richer on the reread, and lost none of the appeal because I knew how they ended. There are so many hidden nuggets throughout the books (even starting in book 1) that you cannot understand until you’ve read them all. Seeing all of these brilliantly included foretellings takes away any sadness over the lack of surprise.

– I’ve been simultaneously reading The Wingfeather Saga (by Andrew Peterson) out loud to the kids while reading Harry Potter to myself, and The Wingfeather Saga did not pale in comparison. If you’re needing another series to read that has many of the special elements of the Harry Potter series (lots of surprises, a fascinating and unique world, finding out more and more about how that world works as the series goes on), I definitely recommend it. It’s no Harry Potter, but it’s not too far off.

– Yes, I did give Ali permission to go ahead and read whichever Harry Potter books she wants.

Next on my reading list that will keep me from wanting to blog again: Harry Potter and The Cursed Child. I start tonight.


Other things that I’ve enjoyed lately:

The Skimm – a free news newsletter (literal NEWSletter?) that catches me up on the news in a delightfully sing-song, lighthearted fashion. They write wonderful things like “meanwhile, Trump is trying to ctrl-z that budget item…” Y’all – replacing “ctrl-z” for “cut” in a news article is speaking my love language. It’s been a good way to keep up with what’s going on in the world without freaking out about it – and it’s the first daily email that I actually look forward to. Whether or not you get your news elsewhere, this is sure to entertain.


dotted journals (sometimes referred to as bullet journals.) I discovered these journals toward the end of last year (much thanks to my dear friend Carla Jean) and ever since, they’ve been helping me organize my life. They’ve made me much more productive, and have helped with this year’s resolution, which is to have monthly goals rather than yearly goals. Working on something for 30 days is so much easier than a year, and I’ve often created a new habit by the end of 30 days, so I don’t need to track it any further.

I currently have 3 bullet journals in regular use (two Northbooks and one Miliko), and an extra bullet journal as a scratch pad. They are:

1. My to-do list/catch-all notebook – it contains a universal to-do list that I rewrite about once a month or whenever the page gets full, plus all sorts of other lists, planning pages, and information – keeping an index in the front of the book and numbering the pages makes this doable and possible.Bullet Journal To-Do lists

2. A bible journaling notebook – I use one side of the page for bible study, and the other side to artistically write/draw a bible verse – it’s a way I can take part in the bible journaling fun without the stress of actually drawing in a bible and potentially messing up.Bullet Journalling Bible Verses 4s

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3. My monthly goals book (this one is the spiral-bound Miliko – I just leave the month’s page facing up and on my bedside table to make it easy to remember to track.) Each month I pick 5-ish things that I want to work on or track, and mark my progress each day, along with tracking how I felt that day and what I did that day. It’s a great way for me to track how things affect my Dysautonomia (a lot of my monthly goals are actually health “experiments” to see what helps make me feel better), along with keeping a short one-sentence journal of each day. I’ve found that it’s surprisingly fun to read back over.

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In the back of this notebook, I’m also keeping up with mine and the kid’s mileage for the year. (I know mine in MapMyRun, but don’t track the kid’s miles anywhere else.)

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There’s something magical about the dots in these journals that makes journaling and to-do listing so much easier and more fun. I really enjoy the manual part of it – I still keep my calendar on my phone, but written lists and tracking just feel right. Of course, a set of colored pens are necessary to truly make it this much fun. Oh – and a natural anal-retentive nature. But if you think I’m crazy, go search #bulletjournal or #bujo on Instagram. You’ll be lost for hours, mouth agape, at what crazy levels people go to bujo their lives.


Yoga With Adriene – I needed to do yoga to help some back pain I’ve been having (still left over from 2015’s wreck) but the idea of going to a class felt like another thing that I didn’t have time for. It took me about a week to have a eureka moment and realize that there are probably yoga classes on YouTube. Sure enough, I found Adriene. She’s not too cheesy and has hundreds of videos to choose from – I like searching for topics and being gleeful that she’s covered them (“back pain”, “for runners”, “in a bad mood”, “left pinkie pain”) (Okay I don’t know if she has one for left pinkie pain but if anyone did, she would.) She also has videos of every length – 6 minutes to 50 minutes. Anyway. I kinda am in love with Adriene.


– Trader Joe’s – We’ve only had one for about a year and the first time I went in, I was so confused. Was this a grocery store? A snack foods store? A random collection of brand new products that I have to figure out how they fit in my life? But I’m finally starting to get the hang of it and finding the things I like, such as the dried peaches, dried sweetened mango, cinnamon pecans, frozen risotto, some of the soups (some are just terrible – it’s a real hit-and-miss kind of game), triple ginger cookies, dried okra (no seriously it’s interesting and good), and their refrigerated pastas – especially the butternut-squash-filled pasta. But I’m still learning so let me know what you like.


I have an embarrassing amount of workout clothes. But I’ve finally found my all-time favorite tank, the Brooks Go-To Racerback Tank.

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More importantly, there are a few of last year’s model on sale for $12.60 on Amazon (and also here, size large in a different color, but this one’s not showing up in any searches so it might be gone soon – especially since I just bought two.) It’s long and thoroughly covers the butt, it’s not clingy, it’s comfortable, and it’s flattering. But definitely buy it a size too big.


What have you enjoyed lately?