Diverging from Divergent

Ok, this post is rife with Divergent spoilers, both book and movie. I’m warning you. You can safely read until you hit the DIVERGENT SPOILERS line. Anyone still reading after that, I shall assume that either you have read the book and seen the movie or do not care about spoilers.

We finally got to see Divergent this weekend. Jane missed an opportunity to go see it with her main group of friends and I was starting to wonder how we’d make it work. If she had seen it with her friends, then my husband and I could have seen it on a date night while she babysat. All three of us still waiting to see it was a logistical problem.

Lucky for us, some good friends commented after church Sunday that they (meaning the mother and daughter) were going to go see Divergent. The father said he wanted to get home to watch Nascar. A solution blossomed in my head and I smiled sweetly at him.

“Would you be interested in having some extra boys at your house?”

He shrugged and said that’d be fine.

He wife warned, “You realize that includes Home Slice don’t you?” Home Slice is his inexplicable nickname for Hal, our youngest and the one without a counterpart in their household. He shrugged again and confirmed it was ok.

And before I knew it, I was sitting in the theater watching Divergent. Now I had already checked out the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and knew it wasn’t getting a great response. But when you are a fan of a book, you go to the movie regardless.

And I am a fan of the book. Not as much as my daughter is, but I enjoyed the read. There were several plot points, however, that didn’t feel solid to me. It didn’t make sense for the characters to do what they did. Some of the confusion was cleared up as time went on and I learned more (some of that confusion, btw, was reflected in some of the reviews). A few points stayed with me even after completing the series.

To my great surprise and delight, the movie, weak and overlong as it may have been, “fixed” all my problem spots in the story. I honestly can’t think of another time when I’ve watched a movie and felt they fixed some very specific problems I had with the book.

******************* DIVERGENT SPOILERS ***************************

1) Tris’s final test for Dauntless.

Tris is Divergent. This means she doesn’t fit into the mold of a specific faction and is considered by some to be dangerous. It also means she can manipulate simulations, including the simulations used by the Dauntless faction to have people respond to their worst fears through hallucinations. To move past a fear, the person must either “defeat” it or calm their breathing and heart-rate.

Tris, however, is able to know that what she is experiencing is not real. She can also change what is happening. The first time she realized this, she was trapped in a glass box filling up with water. When she was unable to kick the glass out, she reminded herself that it wasn’t real and simply touched the glass, causing it to shatter.

Doing so caused Four, her instructor and soon-to-be boyfriend, to realize what she was. He and another character told her that doing that in a simulation would broadcast to others that she was Divergent, which would get her killed. She was strictly warned not to manipulate the simulations in her final test.

So what did she do in the book? Manipulate the simulations. Make a gun appear at her feet. Make a door appear at the end of the closet. Make it start raining. And… touch the glass to make it shatter. The. Exact. Action. That. Prompted. The. Warnings. The other manipulations might be argued as “ok”, but certainly not that one.

You could also argue that she was just stupid (a weak argument since one of her strengths was “Erudite”) or that she forgot under the stress. That argument does not explain why the Dauntless leaders watching did not immediately nab her when she woke up.

The movie fixed it. She responded to all of the crises in ways that a Dauntless person would. Most noticeably, she didn’t break the glass. Problem solved. She’s not stupid. And we have a reason why she wasn’t in custody or dead when the invasion took place the next day.

2) Tris’s Execution.

Once the Erudite take mental control over their now robot-like Dauntless army, Tris and Four pretend to be controlled like everyone else. Circumstances eventually out them and they are taken to the Erudite leader. The book and movie diverge in this scene, but the end result of each is that Four is taken away and Tris is ordered executed.

In the book, we have this great parallel to her fear landscape where she is placed in a glass box that is filling with water. Oh, no! Now it’s not a simulation! Whatever shall she do?!

Just like the old Adam West Batman TV series, though, the villains leave her unattended or at least unattended enough and her Abnegation mom, secretly a bad-ass, comes and rescues her.

The scene has punch until you step back and think about it. They are in the Abnegation area, which the Erudite just invaded with their Dauntless army. It’s all happening on the same day. When did the Erudite have time to setup the water tank? Would they really have taken the time during an invasion to setup the means to kill her with style? Especially not knowing for sure ahead of time whether she was Divergent or not?

The movie solved the problem in a much more realistic manner. Her execution is ordered. Her captors drag her outside between some buildings, force her to her knees, and prepare to shoot her execution style. That’s when bad-ass mom comes tearing out of the woods with a gun and takes out all the soldiers. Same punch, same effect. No doubt about the likelihood of the bad guys actually behaving that way.

3) Stopping the Mass Simulation to Save the Day.

When Four is taken away, it’s because he can also resist simulations and the Erudite want to test a more powerful control serum on him. He demonstrates it works at first by nearly strangling Tris. But he’s still able to break free. They take him away to work on a tougher one.

He is eventually successfully controlled and sent to the Dauntless control room where he can mastermind the invasion. Unbelievably, despite his previous observed ability to resist simulation and everyone’s assumption that he is Divergent (and thus not to be trusted), he is left to manage this important task alone. There are guards in the facility but he is alone in the control room.

This makes for a poignant scene when Tris is able to fight her way in. He goes to kill her; she resists. They are all alone. She tries to get through to him and finally succeeds when she decides to turn the gun she has trained on him to her own temple to kill herself in a pure demonstration of selflessness (an Abnegation trait). This wakes him up and together they are able to stop the simulation and thus the slaughter.

Would they really leave him there alone? With the lives of thousands at stake, would she really try to kill herself to break him free? Maybe the second point – she was kind of odd. But the first one?

In the movie, the control room is full of Erudite people, which makes sense. Why in the world would they leave a mind-controlled Dauntless in charge of it all? And alone? In the movie, he’s there: hooked up to a simulation, strapped down to a chair, doing… something. Tris sneaks in and tries to free him. He then tries to kill her. The struggle continues roughly as the book had it but with Erudite witnesses.

When she succeeds in breaking his mind loose, they then turn and fight the Erudite. They have a pretty easy time of it since they’ve trained for fighting and the bookworms haven’t. Tris then tries to get the Erudite leader, the person you would expect to be controlling the simulation, to stop it. She refuses. They stab her with the mind-control serum and then tell her to stop it and she does.

My daughter probably hated the scene because it was such a sharp deviation from the book. I, however, found it much more believable.

In the end, the book was good. The movie was ok. But if the book had been written with these scenes conducted more like the movie, wow. The book would have been great.

Banana People


This is a picture of a cabinet in our kitchen. This particular cabinet is where we store all sizes of fold-over or seal-able plastic bags, parchment paper, and wax paper on the bottom shelf. The next shelf up holds tea and hot chocolate and the one on top has napkins and some other stuff that no one ever needs so we don’t remember it’s there.

Always in the front left corner, you can find the jar you see here. It holds Sharpees. There is no logical reason to store Sharpees here. All other office supplies are stored in one of three locations: a drawer in the little buffet in the dining room, some drawers in my husband’s desk, or the craft cabinet.

No, the Sharpees are never used to write on bags. At least, not enough to warrant all dozen Sharpees of various colors being stored there. Every time I take a Sharpee from the cabinet and every time I return one, I think, “I really need to move these.”

But I can’t. Everyone expects the Sharpees to be there. They’ve been there for at least 10 years. To move them now would be to throw the entire household in confusion and risk – seriously – completely losing them. We’ve got a lot of stuff and we lose track of a lot of it. We are working on that but in the meantime, it is critical that those items that have a home continue to be stored in that home. That doesn’t stop me from marveling at the illogical storing of the Sharpees.

So how did they first come to be stored in a jar in the cabinet anyway?

When Jane was in preschool and I was an anxious first-time mom, eager to push each milestone, I was very interested in her learning to read. Her preschool did not provide lunch so I packed a lunch every day. This was also before a busy life took over so she almost always had a healthy lunch: a simple sandwich, some fruit, a cup of yogurt.

That fruit was often a banana. I started drawing on the banana. First I’d draw a face, maybe with hair, maybe with ears, a hat, glasses, bow tie, crazy eyes, tongue sticking out, whatever. I’d use several different colors. And then I’d draw a giant word bubble. The banana would say something simple to her in that word bubble or ask a question. When she got home, I’d ask her what the banana said.

I think she liked it. Her teacher said the banana always made Jane smile. I repeated the habit with Daryl. All Sharpees were stored in that cabinet over the area where I prepared their lunches so that I would have plenty of colors at my disposal.

When Hal reached preschool age a couple of years after Daryl graduated, the school had changed considerably. We investigated other options and ended up enrolling him in a different one – one that happens to provide lunch. After seven years of packing lunches and not looking forward to resuming the daily task, I was grateful. I didn’t even think about the banana people or that this arrangement would mean I would never get to draw them again.

So I commented to my husband recently that we really ought to move the Sharpees to a more logical place.

“You can’t do that,” he said. “Everyone expects them there. Besides, you drew faces on bananas with them.”

“But I won’t anymore. Hal gets lunch at school. That time has gone on. Shouldn’t we store stuff where it makes sense?”

And then it struck me. Hal graduates from preschool this year. He’ll be starting Kindergarten at the public school in the fall. And since he’s my third child and we are ridiculously busy and I’ve learned to relax about many things, he’s about at the same reading state that the other two were when they were a year or two younger than him. That means that in the fall… I could make his lunch… and he loves bananas… so I could… bring back… the banana people!

Grumpy Charisma

I’ve been thinking about people’s names again.  This time, it’s not the name pronunciation that has my brain wheels spinning, but the choice of a name that plainly means something in simple English.

Felicity. Hope. Faith. Grace. Harmony. Chastity. Charisma.

It’s that last one that prompted the deep thoughts. I was at a volleyball tournament for 13 and 14 year-olds recently. There was a really sour-faced girl on the team playing right in front of me. I don’t know if she’s always that grumpy, but she looked the part that day.

A woman in the bleachers behind me called out to her, “Charisma! You better drop the attitude or I’ll pull you off the court!”

Or something like that. I stopped listening when she gave the consequence because I was thinking that the girl sure didn’t look like she possessed much charisma. In my mind, charisma is something that draws people to you. It’s not cheerfulness per se, but a sour person seems unlikely to charm people and draw them to herself.

Now, I know that this girl may have just been in a bad mood, not an unlikely possibility for a teenager, and that she’s actually quite charismatic. That’s not the point. She was just the launching point for these thoughts.

Do parents name these children these names because they themselves possess these qualities? Is it because they just like the way the name sounds? Or are they hoping that having the name will impart the qualities on their child?

I have a friend from high school named Felicity. She may very well be the happiest person I know. Was this just serendipitous naming? Was she a particularly happy baby? Or did the name help shape who she is? And if the latter, can a parent really count on that?

What if Faith grows up to be atheist?

What if Grace is clumsy or uncharitable?

What if Hope struggles with depression?

What if Chastity… well… you know…

Do they just go by their middle names? Should parents take the possibility of a disconnect between name and personality into account? John, Nathan, Jennifer, Rachel, Michael: None of these names tell the person meeting them what they should expect.

A coworker recently gained legal guardianship of his pre-teen niece. She had not been to school in several months and on the day they were to take her to school in their town, she refused to go. She wrapped herself in a blanket on the floor and fought them. They finally got her in the car without brushed hair or teeth and still in her pajamas and barefoot. Her name? Harmony.

I don’t think that household was feeling particularly harmonious that morning.

When I discussed this with people, I wasn’t thinking about Hope or Grace but they were consistently tossed back to me. Perhaps because I know several people with those names, they no longer confer their English meaning to me when I hear them given as a name. But the three I’ve mentioned here sure do.

The other observation I’ve made is that this is a more common occurrence with girl’s names. Someone asked me about a risk-averse guy named Chance; but really, if I hear someone is named Chance, I don’t associate it with risk. I’m not sure why. Still, there’s Chase. Chance. Cash… the list seems shorter.

Why do we seem more interested in imbuing certain qualities in our girls? I guess we should be pleased that we use positive terms, unlike the horrible habit of naming girls in India “unwanted.”

Still. Do we name them these things because we feel the need to dictate the direction of their lives? Are boys given more room to develop who they are? Am I going off the deep end with my rambling thoughts on the matter?

One final thought that just didn’t fit in anywhere else. I noticed this week that a boy at Hal’s preschool is named Saint. I wonder if his last name is Thomas? What if he turns out rotten? Well?

Applying Logic To The Pizza Patron

I took my boys to the local CiCi’s pizza buffet recently while Jane was at volleyball practice.  Daddy was out of town, the week was going poorly, and a friend’s organization was having a fundraiser night there.  Even though it’s not a place we often visit, that was motivation enough to go.

I think we’ve been there three times in the last year.  The most recent time was in December, when we encountered a woman that we used to attend church with.  She had her youngest child with her at the time.  We said hi to her and she stopped by our table later to chat and comment on how big our kids were getting.

Well, lo and behold, guess who was at CiCi’s again the night we returned?  Yep.  The woman and her youngest child.  I walked over and said hi and she said, “Wow.  You guys are here again?  Do you come every night or something?”  I laughed and returned the question.

Some time later, Daryl asked me under his breath, “Do they come here every day?”

“Who?” I asked, not knowing whether he had noticed her or not.

“The blonde woman that we saw last time,” He responded, still speaking quietly as if he suspected there might be something wrong with her.

I laughed.  “You know, she asked the same thing about us.”

He took another bite of pizza while he considered what I said.  “You know,” he said, “if you apply logic, if she came here every day, then she would know that we don’t come here every day because she wouldn’t have seen us; so since she asked the question, that proves she doesn’t come here every day.”

“And since we asked the question of her, it proves it for us too,” I said.


When it comes to common sense, chores, consequences, etc., my children are every bit as illogical as the next child.  That’s why I relish so much the moments like this when I see them working things out on their own and drawing logical conclusions. It means they are thinking and learning and eager and willing to do so.

What Happens While He Is Away

Things happen while spouses are away. I think this is a variation of Murphy’s Law. It’s true. You can handle almost anything while two of you are at the helm; but as soon as one of you jumps ship, the other is treading water.

Last year, we went through a series of weekends where my husband was gone and a different kid got injured each time. These weren’t minor injuries – they were “should I go ahead and take her to the emergency room?” kinds of injuries. By the third weekend he was gone, I was worried sick about the yet-to-be-injured child. He fortunately escaped the weekend unscathed.

When I joined a Boy Scouts Venture Crew on their 2 week hike at Philmont Scout Ranch back in 2005 when Jane and Daryl were almost 5 and almost 2, I called my husband from base camp before we hit the trail. He was flustered and sounded almost angry at me. Why? Because Jane had rolled out of bed in the middle of the night, cutting her back on the corner of the nightstand, resulting in a deep cut whose scar is still visible today.

Last weekend (9 days ago – not yesterday), my husband left with some colleagues to attend a conference several states away. Since he’s the stay-at-home parent who takes and picks up our children to and from school, this was a significant burden to me. I lined up a friend to pick them up from school some days but it still didn’t seem likely that I would escape the week without spending some vacation hours.

We played games at some friends’ house the night before he left and were out late. When we got home close to 11:00 pm, I noticed water on the floor around the toilet in the kids’ bathroom. We thought maybe it came from Jane’s shower and dried it up. Then I used the bathroom, flushed, and… surprise! Water on the floor.

We dried it up and, out of curiosity, my husband flushed our toilet on the other side of the wall. Surprise! Water on the floor, oozing out from under the wall.

“Do you want to deal with this on your own tomorrow or do you want to investigate now?” He asked.

Some crowbar pulls later, he had torn the bottom edge of the paneling behind the toilet loose to reveal rotted drywall and green pipes. We repeated the flushing experiments and watched the water ooze out. Actually, with the wall gone, we could now see that the water was gushing out… and running down the wall behind the vanity. The ooze we could see previously was just the overflow. The drain was backing up each time we flushed. Obviously, we had waited too long to get our septic tanks pumped and the heavy rain that day had done us in.

We laid our tools across the toilet lid to signal to the children not to use the toilet and I headed to bed shortly after midnight. There’s a third toilet at the other end, on a separate tank, so all is good… right?

His alarm went off at 5 am Sunday morning and he quickly moved to the other end of the house to keep from disturbing me. At one point he came back and whispered in my ear, “Sweetheart? The other toilet won’t flush either. Do you want to stay at the Hampton?”

Hmm. Stay in a hotel room with three kids. Go to bed when they do unless I get a suite. Return home at least twice a day to take care of the dog. Or board the dog too? This conference is getting expensive, indeed.

I returned to sleep for a brief time where I had a vividly stressful dream that involved showing up to church and being responsible for everything from breakfast to bell ringing to reading the liturgy. And nothing was going well.  It was foreshadowing for my week.

I struggled out of bed a short time later and rustled the children, who had fortunately all showered the afternoon before. I told Jane to use the far toilet and not flush. I told the boys to pee outside. I took on the uncomfortable task of waiting until we got to church to relieve myself.

We hurried out the door and as I locked it, I heard commotion over at the truck. Apparently, the boys had been playing in the truck the day before and Hal had left the back window wide open. Right before the major thunderstorm. The seats were soaked.

I was fairly sure I was going to break under the pressure. We arrived at church and Jane setup for breakfast while I prepared my Sunday School lesson and took care of my other responsibilities. The bell choir director asked me to play a chime part in the choral response. One of the other bell ringers asked me to play her part in the final hymn. Was it my nightmare coming to life?

Actually, no. The morning ended up being everything you wish that worship would be for you every single Sunday. I had to slip into the choir loft while they sang the anthem so I’d be there for the choral response. I sat on a step out-of-sight and leaned against their pews and listened to them sing The Old Rugged Cross. I sank down into a deep happy, peaceful place.

I entered the church building that morning feeling broken and defeated and dreading the week. I left with all the same problems but feeling capable of taking them on. It wasn’t easy, but I knew I could do it.

Which turned out to be a good thing, because…

I tried to do a load of laundry Sunday afternoon and learned that it, too, feeds into a septic tank. I had fun quickly pulling everything off the shelves next to the washing machine so I could try to soak up all the water rushing down the wall with only 10 and 5 year old boys as my assistants.

On Monday, I called the septic clean-out company the organist had recommended and was lucky to get a same-day appointment. Better yet, I could pay over the phone and didn’t have to be present.

Then I got a call that afternoon. The man was out at my house and had a problem. There are three tanks. One at one end and two chained together at the other end. He couldn’t find the one at one end (servicing a toilet and the washing machine). He could only reach the second one on the other end (the other two toilets and the showers) because the lid on the first one was collapsed and filled with mud. He didn’t think there would be a point to draining the second one if he couldn’t reach the first one. We’d need someone with a backhoe to clean it out and then repair it.  And I’d need to find the cleanout for the other one if I wanted the man to pump it for me.

Since we had to go to Middle School Open House and Destination Imagination practice and run to Lowe’s and Wal-Mart, it was dark by the time we got home. I had cleared the waiting-to-go-to-the-dump debris stacked where I suspected the cleanout to be in the short time I was home between work and the evening activities, but then had to shovel by flashlight after the boys went to bed in order to find the cleanout, which had gotten buried by the foundation repair people a year or so ago (I’m guessing). Jane just loved helping me out by holding the flashlight. While texting. The septic guy was booked on Tuesday so it’d be Wednesday. Another evening of the boys peeing outside and the girls not flushing.

Oh, and while at Lowe’s, I discovered that I had lost my Visa card. Somewhere. And while shoveling outside, I discovered at least one place where the mice have easy access into the house when I watched one run away from the flashlight and in through the dryer vent. Jane liked witnessing that too.

The next day, I verified with the septic guy that he needed not just the cleanout clear but the space above the actual septic tank as well.  The tank whose exact location was unknown.  That evening was filled with volleyball practice and the elementary school open house so again, that work had to wait until after dark.  But at least I discovered before dark that my credit card was lying near one of the septic tanks, having slipped out of my pocket the previous day.

Jane absolutely had to do a load of laundry so I pulled the hose out of the drain and stuck it out the window, attached to a garden hose so the water wouldn’t drain too close to the house.  Then I moved all that debris a second time to make sure it wasn’t over where the septic tank was likely to be.  I just knew, looking around, that the tank was under the riding lawn mower.  The mower with two flat tires.  Between Jane, me, and the truck and tow-straps, we got it moved.  And I learned the next day that that was, indeed, exactly where the tank was.

That night also involved a difficult conversation with Jane about choices she was making concerning her friends and how she was treating them.  The next day, we had a working septic system again – yay! – but her attempt to reconcile with her friend had gone poorly.  So more heart-to-heart.  The teenage drama continued the next night when volleyball practice did not go well and her stressful worrying about the estranged friend continued.

I must say, though, that even though I was on a raw emotional edge by Thursday evening, it was still easier to deal with my teen’s problems when I wasn’t also worrying about where people would poop.  I also decided, at my husband’s urging, to go ahead and require the dog to sleep in her crate instead of our bedroom so I could get a good night’s sleep (her snoring and sudden decisions to explore cause me problems).

And it worked.  I was getting a great night’s sleep Thursday night when I was awakened by someone pounding on the front door.  I knew that they must have been banging for awhile because it dragged me out of a very deep sleep.  I flew out of bed and grabbed my phone off the charger: 2:00 am.  I stumbled to my bedroom door and as I prepared to open it, the heater kicked off.  All the noise confusion stopped and I stood there, trying to figure out why I was up.  Whoever it was had stopped banging on the door.  But, wait.  Wouldn’t the dog be going nuts if someone was really at the door?  Yes, no one was at the door.  I suspect now that the knocking was the heater.  Something else to investigate.  And so much for a good night’s sleep.

The weekend brought a volleyball tournament a little over an hour from home and – lucky us! – we had to be there at 7:30 in the morning both Saturday and Sunday.  I love waking my children at 5:30 in the morning on weekends.  And because of the earlier-than-expected start on Sunday, we got to spend several hours at the church Saturday afternoon so Jane could get her National Junior Honor Society volunteer hours, no longer being able to fix breakfast for the church as planned.

Still, by Sunday afternoon, we were able to play a couple of games together and we had a nice home-cooked meal at the table, so I guess we finished strong.  But I was too beat by the time my husband got home around 11 pm to do anything more than raise my head from my pillow and say, “Glad you are home.  Good night.”

I really am glad he’s home.  And not just because I’m happy to return to team parenting.  I kinda like the guy.

In the Middle of Nowhere

I found myself behind the wheel somewhere east of Albuquerque during what turned out to be naptime for the other four members of the family on our long drive from the Grand Canyon to our home in East Texas.

There isn’t much east of Albuquerque. In fact, you are lucky to have cell reception. And forget data. There’s no checking Facebook or sending emails or anything that you are used to being able to do with your smart phone. (Most of that was discovered while not driving, btw. For the most part, I avoid my phone while driving.)

Radio stations are hard to come by as well. At one point, scanning through all the FM stations presented me with three different static-filled choices. And that’s it. No music.

I even got desperate enough to try the AM band and stumbled across some people talking about the plane that had disappeared just before we descended into the canyon. I stayed, hoping to get caught up, but they soon turned to politics and it became clear that the host and his two “experts” were cut from the same cloth and no meaningful examination of the issues from all sides would happen, so I returned to FM to try again for some music.

I finally hit pay dirt, when Lorde’s “Royals” came through. Yes! I thought. I’ll take top 40 pop. I was a bit surprised when The Beach Boys’ “Help Me Rhonda” played next. And then I couldn’t help but laugh when one of my favorite classic rock hits “Turn The Page” by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band was next on the playlist. I guess when you are the only radio station around, you have to appeal to a wide variety of tastes.

At one point, I asked my Shazam app on my phone to identify a song for me. It churned and churned and churned and eventually responded with:

I’m sorry. I don’t know if you realize this, but you are in the middle of nowhere and I can’t contact the mother ship to get an answer for you. I’ve saved the recording on your device and you can try to send it again when you’ve returned to civilization. Thank you.

Or, something like that.

My husband had told me that he thought we’d have enough gas to get to Amarillo but thought I should keep an eye on it. Judging by the road signs, Tucumcari was going to be my best intermediate choice, should I decide we couldn’t make it. As I drove through Tucumcari, though, we still had four bars on the gas gauge and everyone was still asleep. There was another town big enough to be given distance on the signs so I figured I’d check again there.

San Jon, as it turns out, is more of a village than a town. As I approached the first exit, I looked down at our mileage and the two bars on the gas gauge. I wasn’t sure we could make the remaining 85 miles to Amarillo, even driving a Prius. When I looked up, however, the town was fading behind me. It only has one exit.

I decided to wake my husband to get his opinion and as I did so, the gas gauge dropped to one bar. The next exit claimed a town name that didn’t even show up on our Google Map and there was nothing but fields as far as the eye can see. Still, I took the exit and returned to the sprawling metropolis of San Jon.

San Jon offered two choices for gas: a Valero and an un-branded truck stop that claimed to offer fine Indian Cuisine (dots, not feathers, as Good Will Hunting would say). We chose the Valero and as I pulled into the parking lot, my husband exclaimed, “Is that a dead dog?!”

I looked over, and sure enough, there was a dead dog lying behind two parked trucks.

“Okaaaayyyy…” I said. “I think I’ll take this far pump, away from the dead dog.”

My husband got out to pump gas and I approached the building to use the bathroom. I steered wide of the dog but tried to look for signs of injury. I found none. How had it died? I thought. And why is no one doing anything about it? And how did those two trucks manage to park there without running over it? Or did it die there after they parked? How long have they been parked there?!

I walked into the station and looked around. I thought about asking someone about the dog but it all felt so surreal that I just went quietly to the bathroom. On my return, I resolved to watch the dog closely for signs of breathing. Maybe it wasn’t dead.

I stared at it through the glass doors and kept staring as I walked out of the building. The chest was not rising and falling. Common sense and analysis of the situation had told me that the only logical conclusion was that the dog was not, indeed, dead, so I kept walking toward it. I walked between the two trucks and when I was almost to the beds of the trucks, it slowly lifted a lazy eyelid. The skin sagged and showed the red flesh around the eye. The dog did not lift its head, nor twitch any muscle in its body. The only thing that moved was that one eyelid. The dog then dismissed me and closed its eye.

I exhaled the air I had been holding in my lungs and rushed to the car.

“The dog isn’t dead,” I told my husband. “But it’s still kind of creepy.”

When he returned from the building after buying snacks, he told me that an old man had walked out and the dog looked up before jumping to its feet. The man said, “Come on, old girl” and the dog jumped into the back of one of the trucks.

How small of a town do you have to be in for a dog to be able to just lay in the middle of the parking lot without getting run over? And exactly how old does the dog have to be to lay that still?

The Best Room in the House

We spent the night in Gallup, NM after dragging ourselves out of the Grand Canyon, tired, stiff, and sore. The night was spent watching the Disney channel, the kids laughing and the parents rolling their eyes.

The best part of our stay was that we had been given “the only room available,” which turned out to be the handicap-equipped room closest to the elevator on the third floor.

We all piled into the very small elevator and as Hal hit the “3” button to close the doors, I looked up. And nearly screamed. Five people were hanging upside down from the ceiling and one of them was looking straight at me! Just as my heart jumped into my throat, one of the others looked down too and Jane yelled. Then we both laughed.

In my brain’s hazy attempt to process what I was seeing in the mirrored ceiling, I first thought that it was some sort of dual elevator and another family was on it too… inexplicably upside down. My second thought was of The Silence from Doctor Who and I feared that they were about to drop down and attack. The experience was unsettling and I could only shake my head in agreement when Jane asked, “Who puts a mirror on the ceiling in an elevator?!”

The room was a sore hiker’s dream. There was plenty of room to drop packs and spread out, but the bathroom was the real treat. I was relieved to see the bar next to the toilet that I could use instead of looking for leverage on the edge of the seat to help lift me back up.

And the shower? Ahhhh…. In a moment of weakness, I had traded my turn at the wheel for Hal-showering duty. I knew I would regret it when we got to the hotel. I had no clue how I would possibly be able to maneuver myself to a kneeling position by the tub. But now? Turns out I wouldn’t have to. The shower came equipped with a sprayer that detached from the wall and a bench. I was able to spray Hal and even have him sit on the bench and lift his legs for me to clean them. And when it was my turn to get clean, all those rails to grab hold of were a Godsend.

Sometimes it’s the little things in life.

Grand Canyon 2014: Time Zone Math

I personally think that everyone should go on vacation to someplace in a different time zone, right smack in the middle of the change from standard to daylight savings (or vice versa – it doesn’t matter). To make it more interesting, you should drive through areas that have a different time zone than yours yet you should end up in… Arizona, which doesn’t observe daylight savings. Oh, and you should pick a region where the network can’t update the time on your phone and then plan an activity where it really doesn’t matter what time it is (like hiking).

During our hikes, my husband would frequently ask me, the wearer of the watch, for a time check. I would usually answer “X o’clock central time” since that’s what my watch was set to, but every once in awhile I’d say “X o’clock local time.” All he wanted was a differential from the last time he asked anyway.

This drove Jane nuts.

“Why don’t you just change your watch to match local time?!”

We both answered her with the same reason: if I never change my watch, I always know for sure which time zone it is reading. Otherwise, I’m asking myself, “Did I already switch to mountain time or is this still central?”

Smart phones and other devices that are supposed to update the time automatically based on the time reported by the network they are connected to were supposed to make things easier for you. And as long as you keep it simple, I suppose they do. It can get complicated, though.

For instance, my daughter’s iPod updated automatically but not her phone, which she then changed manually. My phone, once we climbed out of Grand Canyon, informed me that the network was not providing a time so it was switching me to manual. Fine. So my phone is still Central. Good.

Except my phone – and my watch – were still set to Central STANDARD Time and the entire country (except Arizona) had switched to daylight savings the day we descended into the canyon – a fact that we conveniently ignored because it really didn’t matter at that time. Still, no problem at first: my watch (and phone) were an hour ahead of local time. Just like they should be for the way my head remembers the time zones.

But then we drove east – to Gallup, NM and got a hotel room. They, of course, had clocks in the room that reflected Mountain Daylight Savings Time, which, incidentally, happens to be the same time as Central Standard Time. Or, the time on my phone and watch. Even though I instinctively knew that they shouldn’t match.

So at some point in the evening, I noticed that the clock in the room said it was 10:00. If that were what time it really was, that’d be really bad because my kids were still awake watching the Disney Channel. So I checked my phone. 10:00. How can that be? My phone was on Central Time. This hotel room should be Mountain. Ohhh! Unless my phone updated for the network. I bet that’s what happened. I checked my watch to verify my theory. 10:00. What?! Maybe the hotel forgot to move the clocks forward last Sunday – I mean, they forgot to remove the large empty vodka bottle that we found on the floor behind the trash can, so I wouldn’t count on them remembering to reset all the clocks. But wait, if that was the case, the clock would show an hour earlier than I expected, not later. Oh, wait. We aren’t in Arizona anymore and… oh, yeah! I haven’t changed my watch yet and my phone gave up on automatically updating the time zone while we were in Arizona!

For awhile, I truly thought I might be going crazy.  In this age of technology, it was really disconcerting to me that I could have a half dozen time sources at my disposal and still not be sure what time it was.

Grand Canyon 2014: Up is Mandatory

Society has rules. Life flows better, for the most part, when people follow the rules. Now, I know that some people get a kick out of not following rules and oftentimes it’s not a problem. Until it is.

Backpackers and hikers have rules. Or trail etiquette, as it’s often called. One of the most fundamental is that people going uphill have the right-of-way. If you stop and think about it, the reason is obvious. Going uphill is work. Constant downhill can be trying too, don’t get me wrong, but it’s always easier for a downhill hiker to move out of the way or stop and then start again.

My husband likes to laugh at me while we are in “the corridor” of Grand Canyon National Park. The corridor is the “tame” below-rim portion of the park. The two main camps there are staffed. One even has a canteen and cabins. People can ride mules down to the bottom. This area gets the most traffic. But the bulk of the people are what we call “front country” people (as opposed to “back country” people, who you find backpacking and sleeping rough outside the corridor).

I get easily irritated with front country people. My husband once asked me several years ago, shortly after we entered the corridor after hiking for days outside it, “What’s the matter? Are there too many front country people in your back country?”

Most of them are easy to spot. Or smell. Perfume? Really? You put on your perfume and makeup before hiking down into the canyon? You styled your hair? Designer jeans? Wait. Are those dress boots you are wearing? Are you really carrying your purse?!

One thing that really makes them stand out though is their ignorance of trail etiquette. Trail etiquette is particularly important in the Grand Canyon. Why? Think about it. Most hiking areas either have varied terrain or you are hiking a mountain. When hiking a mountain, you go up while you are fresh and new and come down at the end. So even if a downhill hiker doesn’t pull over for the uphill hiker, the uphill person probably, maybe, hopefully has the energy to put up with it.

In the Grand Canyon, however, going uphill is the last thing you do. And it’s a beast of an uphill hike, no way around it. They have great signs all over the tops of the trails that say “Down is optional, up is mandatory.” And if, like us, you just spent several days on the trail, you are starting that uphill hike already sore and stiff and tired. And no matter how much fun you had while you were down there, you are so ready to be out. Oh, and since they are starting at the top – usually later in the day than you – and you are starting at the bottom, you encounter most of them in that last mile. When you’ve lost any sense of humor or patience.

I become a belligerent trail hog at that point. I have the right-of-way. I get to choose where I am. If you pull over and stop moving, I look up gratefully and say thank you. If you don’t, I tend to puff up like a cat trying to look bigger. My elbows go out to the sides as I work my trekking poles. I put my head down and barrel forward, straight up the center of the trail. Given the opportunity, I’ll bump you.

One perfumed woman in pink turned with an indignant “Excuse me?!” as I brushed past her, my face red and sweaty, a fully loaded large pack on my back. Finally! A chance to rant.

“Uphill has the right-of-way!” I called back.

You have the right-of-way?” she asked, incredulous.

“Yes!” I said, turning back to look at her, “Uphill hikers always have the right-of-way.”

I wondered if she’d get a slight hint of why that is during her walk back up. Of course, if she only goes a mile or two down the trail and isn’t carrying anything with her (apparently, it’s up to her man to carry her water), then she can’t fully appreciate the growing desperation I was feeling. She can’t appreciate that my thirteen year-old daughter is in tears and my ten year-old son says he can’t make it. She can’t appreciate that I am struggling not to join them in that mental black hole, despite this being my fourth time to exit the canyon. She can’t appreciate why people like her make my blood boil while I’m trying to hike up and out with burning muscles and fatigue taking over.

During that moment, it doesn’t do any good to remind myself that it’s just ignorance. They aren’t trying to be rude. It’s not that they are self-absorbed jerks who can’t follow the rules or consider what’s going on around them. Or… is it? I walked out of Wal-Mart today with my tote bag of groceries. I had trouble exiting because a horde of nearly a dozen people – at least 3 or 4 distinct groups – were entering through the exit doors. There was plenty of room over at the entrance doors, but that would have forced them to walk a few extra feet, and what does it matter if the woman trying to use the exit has to wade through a thick sea of bodies? So, no. Sometimes I think it wouldn’t matter if those front country folks knew trail etiquette. I’m still not sure that all of them would respect it.

Grand Canyon 2014: Night Hike

Our last night in the Grand Canyon, we planned to hike out to Plateau Point from Indian Gardens to watch the sunset. The sunset in the canyon is a lot different than other places. The more interesting place to look is the East, not the West. The way the sun hits the canyon is magnificent.

But people were sore and tired and not very motivated. And then a ranger stopped me and the boys and offered a Junior Ranger challenge. That ranger was hiking out that night but the other ranger could verify their work, only he was leaving early in the morning, so… we decided to do the workbooks instead of hiking. It didn’t take much to convince us.

After the Junior Ranger swearing-in ceremony, my husband and I hiked the short, steep path uphill to the bathrooms. From that vantage point, I could see a great view of the sunset against the canyon so started taking some pictures. The boys ran up asking if we were going to go out to Plateau Point now.

“Please! Please! Can we go?!”

“It’s probably going to be dark before we get out there,” we said.

“That’s ok! Can we go?! Please!”

I looked my husband straight in the eye. Neither one of us wanted to go.

“I’ll take them,” I said, still staring in his eyes. The boys leaped for joy.

We hurried to the campsite (well, they hurried – I hobbled). We gathered jackets and water bottles and headlamps. With excited goodbyes to their sister, we hit the trail.

The first part of the trip was full of excited chatter and a quick pace. I warned them that we likely wouldn’t see the sunset. The Point was 1.5 miles from where we were camping. They didn’t care.

The sun passed below the edge of the canyon and everything turned a shade of gray. The temperature dropped and the wind picked up. I warned them it’d probably be dark and we wouldn’t be able to see anything. They didn’t care.

And I didn’t either. I was walking with my boys and I was at peace. The walking on the gentle, even trail was stretching out my tight muscles. I was comfortable and they were happy.

Before long, we were crossing the plateau and I kept thinking we had to be getting close. We didn’t need our headlamps yet but I was getting concerned about getting too far out. Eventually, Daryl decided that the wind was getting too strong and we turned back. I’m guessing we were probably 5, maybe 10, minutes from the Point. Oh, well.

About 10 minutes into our 30 minute return trip, I busted out the headlamps and fitted them on their heads. Showed them how to direct them to the ground and not shine them into people’s eyes. Then we resumed our walk.

Everyone walked in total silence. It was one part wonderful, one part spooky. As the last person on the trail, I kept irrationally looking behind me as if expecting a crazed axe murderer or rabid mountain lion to jump out of the bushes. The boys weren’t talking anymore, just focusing on the trail.

Then suddenly, Hal farted. The boys giggled. And the rest of the trip was filled with the noises of fake farts and other sounds amusing to young boys. I don’t know how special the evening was for them, but for me, it was magical.