Daily Archives: April 3, 2014

a story about storms and stairs

Yesterday, as we were headed out to the suburbs for one of my follow up appointments with my surgeon, a huge band of thunderstorms rolled through with a generous side helping of hail the size of peanut M&M’s – enough to completely cover the parking lot in a layer of icy pebbles for a few moments. The storms meant two things to me at that moment – a realization that we are finally entering the rainy spring season and I have two bandaged feet that can’t get wet…


…plus my slowness means no rushing from car to doorway in torrential downpours. M took the brunt of the water by dashing in for a wheelchair and then dashing out once again to get me loaded and rolling at breakneck speed through the doors.

It also made me think of springtime in Tornado Alley – we are officially entering the season of sirens. They can go off at anytime of the day or night, and they mean business.  And here’s the problem – we live in a house with four levels – when you count that basement where we are supposed to hide out during severe weather. And that basement is reached by an outdoor stair – a stair that is steep and in poor repair and pretty treacherous when it’s windy and raining and hailing and you’re carrying sleepy, scared children. I tried to find a picture in my archives but didn’t have a lot of luck.

Here’s the door, shown just after we bought the place before we repaired the masonry, replaced the basement door with a steel one, and replaced the windows. You can get a pretty good idea how steep the thing is – it’s like a ship’s ladder.

New Condensors

To give you a general idea of the fine quality of the stairs – it’s not unlike the former exterior stair on our house when we bought it. Perhaps I’m exaggerating just a tiny bit, but it’s not far off.

Condemned Stair

At least we excavated (by hand) a full dumpster of the old dirt floors (that turned to mud floors in a heavy rain), installed perimeter drainage and a sump pump and poured a new concrete slab down there. 

Basement_Waterproofing and Dirt Removal

No one likes to wait out a storm in a pig pen.

You might be asking yourself why we didn’t replace the exterior stairs when we were doing all the other work, and that’s a valid question. We thought about several solutions, including installing a new basement hatch similar to this one, but it’s been hard to pull the trigger on spending a lot of money out there because we’ve had it in the back of our minds that the yard might be something very different someday, and so the stair location and configuration will play a key role in that.

And all of this back story leads me back around to my present circumstances of limited mobility, which in turn leads me to the tornado sirens that went off at 5:23 am this morning, and the news that a confirmed tornado was on the ground about 10 miles to the northwest of our house.

Today was supposed to be a doozy of a day (without the added storm drama). M was part of a larger team of designers interviewing for a new project in town at 8am. We had already arranged for a friend and co-worker of mine to graciously spend an hour of her morning picking up the rest of us and dropping everyone off at their respective spots. We had thought this thing through, including dressing F in her school clothes the night before, carrying her down to my bed at 5:15 so that I could get her up later without having to climb the stairs. M was planning on leaving around 5:30, and so after the early morning bed transfer he headed downstairs to get some breakfast. 

The sirens started, and he headed up to grab E on the third floor, scooping up F on the way back down and out the back door. Meanwhile I hobbled to the first floor where I took up residence with some blankets in the half bath – there was no way I was going to wrap my bandages up in grocery bags and try to manage those slippery, steep stairs. The wind and the rain moved through, and I heard the door close in the basement and assumed everyone was safe (and wet). A few minutes later I heard the sound of retching below me, and right after that the phone rang. E was throwing up into the basement garbage can, and M was sending her back out and up and to the bathroom, so I hobbled to the back door to open it for her.

E came in, wet and pale and miserable looking and told me Dad and F had slid across the brick patio, stumbling across the top of the stairs and landing in the bed of wet ivy just beyond them. M told me later that he lost his footing on one of the mossy brick pavers covered in water, and he basically tucked F into his chest like a football, hurling himself into a half somersault to avoid pitching headfirst into the concrete at the base of the stair, slamming the top of his head into the brick wall instead. He landed on his back on the wet ground with F on top of him, unhurt. 

He’s got a nice red dent in his head, but it could have been so much worse. I’m so thankful he didn’t pitch down the stairs, headfirst with her, and I’m also really grateful that he didn’t knock himself unconcious in the pouring rain and raging thunderstorm outside. I tried to imagine myself dragging him to shelter – either up the stairs to the porch, or down the stairs to the basement on two broken feet. Close call.

I called in sick (big surprise) and the three of us headed back upstairs to rest and heal. M headed to work, a little shaken, but good, and nailed the interview. We were a bit of a sodden disaster this morning, with the most able bodied family member being the four-year-old.


I have lots of readers in the neighborhoods where the tornado came through – I hope all is well with you and your houses. I’m sure it was an early morning for you, with the sirens and storms and gas main evacuations. There’s another round of storms rolling through over the next few hours. Everyone’s dressed warmly and ready for another late night adventure, hopefully this time with a little less slip-n-slide and much tamer tummies.


Also slightly related to this – I’m trying to get a few things done in all this down time, and today I managed to get another one of the old house tours edited. It’s the Stair Hall, which seems fitting at the moment. The house tours are here – not done, but coming along. I also have a post tomorrow (if the storms don’t drive me away from the computer tonight) about a possible solution to our outdoor stair woes.

And not related at all – I’m so sorry that I turned down a couple of Instagram follow requests this week – it was an accident, and I couldn’t retrieve them. If you sent me a request and I rejected it, please send it again and accept my fumbling thumbs’ sincere apologies.