Ghosts of the Queen Mary


As you may or may not know my family and I spent two nights on the Queen Mary earlier this month. As you also may or may not know the Queen Mary is renowned for (among other things) being extremely haunted. As my intention here is not to write about the specifics of those hauntings allow me to direct you to this article that enumerates many of the reported incidences.

My older children (10 and newly-8, for those new to this blog) are currently very much into ghost hunting. With this in mind we booked one of the paranormal tours offered by the Queen Mary, which embraces its “Most Haunted Ship in the World” designation. My children weren’t even supposed to be allowed on the tour, as they normally only allow ages 16 and up. But with a little finesse and finagling we got the powers that be to allow it and off we went on a two-hour nighttime tour to the most haunted areas of the ship, many of which are off limits to the general public.

For the most part our tour was uneventful, contact-wise. Our tour guide was excellent and possibly the most informed human being on the face of the Earth when it comes to the Queen Mary. A lot of the problem may have been due to the fact that the QM was playing hostess to a tattoo and motorcycle convention. Just about everywhere we went there was bleed-through noise from public areas of the ship where people were carousing. I can see how this might have a negative impact on the spirits.

There was, however, one set of events that I want to chronicle because, taken as a whole, they seem like too much to be coincidence. They concern the ghost named “John”, mentioned in the article above, and the area of the engine room near Door 13.

We arrived in “John’s” area as approximately the third stop on our tour. I was standing with my back to Door 13 as the guide began telling us about how “John” died, and then indicated that it was the very door I was nearly leaning against. I yelped and shot over about six feet, away from the door. In my new position I leaned against the railing that ran the length of the metal walkway we were on. Immediately upon doing so I began to experience a pronounced pitching and rolling. It felt very much like having sea legs (something I experienced for days last year after having taken an hours-long cruise around SF Bay). There were several points at which I hastily grabbed the railing because I felt as though I was in danger of falling over. At a break in his spiel I asked the tour guide if we were moving. He explained that, no, there was a very slight movement from the tidal change in water level but that the ship was moored so firmly that it shouldn’t be noticeable. He mentioned that people will have physical reactions to spirits being nearby, including things like chills, goosebumps, temperature change, etc. For my part, I kept thinking surely it was all in my mind. Several times I tried to convince myself I wasn’t feeling the pitching and rolling and I physically tried to center and steady myself, but it continued.

While we were standing there the tour guide pulled out a pair of dousing rods and asked for someone to hold them. Johnny (the then-7-year-old) volunteered. The rods were metal but had plastic sort of grips on one end. The plastic grips fit loosely and moved independently of the rods; in other words, it would be impossible to subtly twist the grips and turn the rods. And I can assure you that my darling son is many things, but subtle is not one of them. He is very bright and very curious but also very sincere and true-hearted and it would never even occur to him to try to skew the results for something like that to make it more interesting.

That said, there was Johnny with the dousing rods. Once he was gripping them correctly (these had a tendency to turn outward, away from each other, by the way) the tour guide began speaking to “John”, asking him to cross the rods. And the rods crossed. Johnny got excited and jiggled them and they uncrossed, so the tour guide asked “John” to cross them again. They crossed. I really have no explanation for this as I was staring at Johnny’s fingers the entire time, making sure he didn’t subconsciously move the rods somehow.

The tour guide took the rods back, talked some more about the various things people have seen or heard, and then asked “John” if he’d give us one more sign – anything – that he was there. As soon as the guide made the request a large piece of machinery on the wall kicked on (and every last one of us, to a man, jumped at least three feet in the air). In the interest of accuracy it should be noted that this was a functioning piece of machinery that is supposed to run. However, it does not operate on any particular schedule and our guide stated that he has been in the engine room for as much as ninety minutes at a time and has not had the thing turn on.

The guide then asked, “John, will you turn it off?” He paused, but nothing happened. He then said, “Okay, John, we need to move on. You are welcome to follow us but it’s time for us to go,” and he turned around to leave. He had not gotten two feet outside the door and I’ll be damned if that machine didn’t shut off, God as my witness.

The tour continued after that with nothing to report, at least on my part. Am I completely sold that we experienced spirit contact? No. Nothing definitive happened. I take the dousing rods with a grain of salt, and the machinery could be chalked up to weird coincidence. The pitching and rolling I felt is my most inexplicable experience. It was so pronounced and so real as to make me feel like I was losing my balance. To be fair, I should disclose that I do have some issues with water, especially deep ocean water. At the time we entered the engine room the tour guide informed us that we were, indeed, underwater. So it’s possible that the pitching and rolling I experienced were psychosomatic symptoms of my phobia. But I should also disclose the the pitching and rolling stopped – dead, cold stopped – the minute we walked out of “John’s” area – despite the fact that we remained far under the water line for at least the next hour.

I’ll call this one “Road to Nowhere”


Every once in a while there comes a post in which I fulfill the worst expectations of the so-called “mommy blogger.” Now I, personally, don’t consider myself a mommy blogger, at least not in the technical sense. I don’t have a wide readership to whom I write and I wouldn’t say the majority of my posts concern parenting directly. I do try to steer clear of the more unpleasant aspects – combing through the archives you’ll find very few mention of bodily functions, for example. However, to the child-free among us, a little kid talk goes a long way and has a rapid cumulative effect, and even a single post like the one that follows is likely to make the uninitiated reel in horror – and cement their opinion that all parents suffer massive loss of intellect and ability to have meaningful dialogue.

For those of you who fit that description, I give you the following pictures of adorable baby animals to distract you from the fact that I’m about to spend the next 600 words or so talking about vomit.

Oh, hai!

A couple hours after dinner tonight Eliza complained of a tummy ache. I hoped she’d just eaten too much but… The yakking commenced soon after (two words, to help you feel my pain: hot dogs) and continued periodically even after she went to bed early at 7:30.

I can has barf bucket?

After the first few upchucks it became clear that this was going to put a slight wrinkle in our plans for tomorrow. Then, as I considered it further I realized the ripples from this barf fest could extend through the rest of the week.

Mr. Quackers wants to talk about global warming or the origins of the ancient Indian caste system or some shit.

You see, I had promised the kids a special treat tomorrow. Last week I rediscovered a local coffee shop I hadn’t patronized in years. The two older kids have been there but it’s been so long ago they don’t remember it. I told them that, for fun, we should get up one weekday morning, a little early, dash through our getting ready routine and then go eat breakfast there before school. They were excited at the idea and we settled on tomorrow as the day. Clearly this is no longer an option, because even if this is a brief visit to Chunderland and Eliza’s made a miraculous recovery by morning she probably needs a little extra sleep, not being shaken awake earlier than usual and dragged out in the cold to get pancakes.

Oh, I don’t know….how good are the pancakes?

This leaves us now looking at Tuesday, but that’s not going to work. I have already promised Madalyn I will eat lunch with her at her school. And when I say “lunch” what I actually mean is “brunch”, as the cafeteria ladies start spooning slop onto trays at the ungodly hour of 10:50 a.m. there. This is not conducive to having a large breakfast because, contrary to my outward appearance, I don’t eat that much and there’s no way I’ll be hungry for Lunchables at 10:50 if I’ve eaten pancakes at 7:30.

Wait….there are times you ARE hungry for Lunchables?

There’s more to tell about how this sudden malady affects our entire week but I suddenly realize the story is dragging on way too long and that it’s about 90 minutes later than when I had originally planned o go to bed. A quick wrap-up: Wednesday’s out because I have an appointment in the city for which I have to get ready while the kids eat breakfast here at home so I can leave as soon as I drop them off. There’s some damned problem with Thursday, as well, which means Friday is the earliest we can now do our special breakfast. Not only this but also consider: if Eliza is still feeling punk in the morning we will have to skip going to see Johnny be honored for being Outstanding Student at his school this week. If she continues to throw up into tomorrow morning that means she will miss school Tuesday as she’s not supposed to go until it’s been 24 hours she last hurled.

Disapproving Rabbit disapproves of a grown-ass woman utilizing this many slang terms for vomit.

If I really stretch I can also theorize that she could really be sick and this could continue for days, causing her to miss dance on Tuesday, my having to cancel my Wed. appointment to stay home with her, and then my thought processes really start to veer off into Loonland and I begin envisioning hospital stays, the Ebola virus, etc.

Did you ever stop to think and forget to start again? Yeah, we’re pretty sure she did that four paragraphs ago.

Now, after all that, I’m sitting here staring at the screen at 11:58 p.m. wondering how on earth to wrap this up and tie it with a nice little bow – and failing miserably. I think all my bows are in the washing machine along with my good plush blanket and the clothes I was wearing when Eliza turned my living room into a vomitorium. All that’s left is to admit defeat and hit “publish”

Prepare for primate doomsday


I was in my closet considering purses the other day (what, like you don’t mull over handbag choices?) and I happened to find, in one of the candidates, a miniature composition book that I used to carry around for use in jotting down notes or reminders. (I’m notorious for this, by the way; I am forever switching purses and leaving items that I don’t need or no longer want in the old one, then rediscovering the items months or years later, like a really boring time capsule.) Apparently the last time I used the particular bag where the book was found was May of 2008, as I found paperwork from my ’08 trip to AROTR in it. This lead me to spend the next five minutes pondering whether or not the innernets at large would consider that fact to be an indicator that I own too many purses.
Later on I was flipping through the composition book. Mostly the pages are filled with records of debit card transactions and random notes meant to jog my memory (“Drop pressing Get Tylenol JZ haircut”). However, one page bears the following inscription:
“I’m about to be made responsible for a pack of deranged rabid howler monkeys!”
That’s it. No elaboration or explanation. Just that rather pessimistic declaration which I, apparently, felt the need to record for posterity and possible further use (on this blog, no doubt).
If I had to take a guess I would imagine that the statement was triggered not by psychotropic drugs, as one might assume, but by the advent of Vacation Bible School, for which I always volunteer. I would’ve been with the 2nd/3rd graders that year, who, while considerably more civilized than the Kindy/1st grade group, are still a handful. Actually, now that I think of it, I remember why I would’ve been expecting the worst. The first two years I helped with Madalyn’s class she was in the Kindy/1st grade group, and a wilder bunch of heathens I’ve never encountered. Then I took the following year off, not because they’d broken me but because I had a newborn Eliza at home. So I missed the first year of her being in the 2nd/3rd grade class and, consequently, didn’t know how they’d behave and expected them to be just as exhausting as my first two groups had been. Therefore, as Monday approached, a sense of impending doom settled over me like a blanket of smog over Van Nuys, and probably lead to that note in my composition book. All for naught, that, as I ended up being pleasantly surprised at how much more mellow the kids were at two years older.
I could go on more about the composition book and how every. other. entry. in the transaction record section is FOOD, but I wouldn’t want the gimmick to die of overuse.

A Good Old-Fashioned J/B Family Homecoming Celebration


What a lovely thing to which to come home!

Yes, in typical J/B family fashion, the worst and/or stupidest possible thing that could happen, did. Robert was driving my van through Hardesty, all four blocks of that thriving metropolis, when the gods of fate snapped out of a light doze and thought, “Oh my Us! Things have been FAR too quiet in the J/B household! Why, you might even say it’s been a bit boring, all this lacking in drama. We’d better get on the stick!”

So then Robert hit a horse.

It was dark and raining and he was only going about 30 mph but there stood the beast in the middle of the road in down”town” Hardesty. Whammo. First he thought it was a cow, because he really didn’t see it that well and when he went back to look for it the animal had fled (without even bothering to leave a note, can you imagine?) He had been able to perceive that it had been larger than a deer and so automatically assumed cow. But then I got home and took a look at the damage; particularly this:

Now, my grasp of physics and my spatial perception isn’t the greatest but I’m pretty sure that a cow could not smash in the entire windshield, top to bottom, excepting for if it had become airborne and then landed on the van (note: this did not happen). The only thing tall enough, by my reckoning, to create this kind of damage this high on the vehicle would be a horse. Additionally, the hairs stuck to the front of the car look suspiciously equine. So that’s the explanation we’re going with at this point unless some other ungulate wants to step up and claim responsibility.

This looks rather painful. I do hope if it was a horse it found its way home and is receiving medical attention. That way I can go back and shoot it later, right after I give the farmer the bill for the insurance deductible.

In evidence of our recently-improved luck we at least have good insurance coverage. We will have to pay the $750 deductible; however, it’s going to cost considerably more than that to put the thing to rights. (If this had happened three or four years ago it would’ve probably happened in a microsecond-long window in which we had no insurance coverage and it would’ve been four horses with rabies and highly contagious VD and the van would’ve been totalled and Robert hospitalized or, quite possibly, dead. So, you know, things have improved somewhat.)

Note the distinct lack of a rearview mirror or antenna.

Our kick-ass insurance also covers a rental car for up to $50 a day for 20 days. We’ve already picked up a nice Toyota Sienna from the local Enterprise office. (Me: “Maybe we can get the Odyssey fixed and just give it to Enterprise and keep this Toyota.” Robert: “Have you ever been tested for adult ADD?”)

Anyway, so it’s business as usual at our house. Apparently our bad car mojo has mutated in order to continue dogging us. We blocked the way it used to manifest itself, as mechanical troubles, by buying two super-reliable cars (a Honda and a Nissan). So now it’s made a lateral move to continual body damage. For those following along at home we have had this van less than six months. Prior to the Mr. Ed Incident it was already sporting this…

…a result of some asshat backing into it in a parking garage in OKC a week after we got it. And at some point while we were gone someone hit Robert’s car with something heavy, possibly trying to break into it as it sat in our driveway. There’s a large ding at the top of one of the rear passenger doors, right next to the window, and also scrapes down the glass.

I’m telling you, people, you can’t make this stuff up. And the only appropriate response, I’ve learned, is to laugh incredulously. Because, really, who else on earth but one of us would run over Trigger in the middle of beautiful downtown Hooterville, Oklahoma?

Welcome to the Terrible Twos!


Madalyn never, ever threw temper tantrums. When JZ was born and he was so completely opposite of her I figured I would have to pay it back in spades and it appears I am going to be correct. Today we were witness to what I would call an F4 tantrum. Gary England actually broke in on a nearby radio broadcast and advised us to take cover in a closet. There was flailing; there was screaming. And JZ didn’t behave so well, either.

It all started when we attempted to take the kids to the Medieval Faire today. When I say “attempted” what I mean is “entered the park, stood around while Robert ate fair(e) food, dropped 20 bucks on pony & camel rides and then beat a hasty retreat before someone called CPS on us.” The temperature was nice and cool but it’s springtime in Oklahoma, which means one thing — unholy and unrelenting wind. Since the greenery covering most of the park area has not yet sprouted the ground is covered with dried grass — which was constantly being blown into one’s eyes, hair, food, etc. There was also lots of dirt blowing around, which adhered nicely to our posessions, clothes and everything else. We parental units were not having the best time to begin with and then… happened.

On our way from the pony/camel area to the playground I bought a bottle of Coke. John-Zachary wanted a drink. I first tried to redirect his attention to Robert’s Sprite but he (JZ) wasn’t having it. He was starting to wind up and looked like he was getting ready to blow so I made the quick decision to allow him a drink of Coke. However, the mode of transportation from bottle to mouth that I attempted to initiate was not to his exacting standards. I wanted to hold the bottle for him; he wanted to hold it himself. When he realized that I wasn’t going to just whip the cap off an entire 20-oz. bottle of artificially colored, processed- and refined-sugar-based liquid and let him have at it, the full meltdown was in effect.

JZ elected to use the standard temper tantrum form (always a good idea to stick to the basics when unsure). He flung himself on the ground, screaming his tiny lungs out to let the world know what an unacceptable mother he’d had the misfortune to be saddled with. He even threw in a few reps of violent kicking to emphasize his point. Oh yes, it was the complete package. I tried picking him up a couple times, upon which he employed the patented back-arching-and-screaming-louder technique that has been a favorite of toddlers for millenia. I also offered him a drink (bribery? distraction? whatever!) two or three times, which only served to remind him how TOTALLY UNFAIR I was being about the whole bottle-holding thing and made him scream even louder.

Being….well, me, I decided the best recourse was to grab my camera and snap a few pictures — a memento, if you will, of this hallmark time in all of our lives. To wit:

I’m thinking of having these blown up and made into Christmas cards this year. Or possibly a nice, big banner to hang at his 18th birthday party.

So here is this boy (of COURSE it’s a boy…do girls ever do stuff like this?) lying, prostrate, in the dirt and dried grass, wailing like a fire engine, and, all the while passersby are gawking, or making comments, or sometimes looking sympathetic. And there we stand, trying to ignore him, and snickering. Yes, I admit it; we were snickering. But looking the other direction while we were doing it, I want to point out. Because, heaven forbid, we wouldn’t want to Hurt His Self Esteem by laughing at him — even when he is being completely ridiculous rolling around in the muck in the middle of a Renaissance festival.

Soon after the pictures were snapped we decided to change our tack. Us standing there smacked a little too much of allowing him to hold us hostage, so I picked him up bodily and strapped him in the stroller and then we headed toward the playground. On the way, a passing faire worker commented, “Naptime!” as we went screaming by. Why, THANK YOU, helpful medieval faire worker! You maketh leather mugs AND dispenseth child-rearing advice. Prithee comest over here and biteth me, thou big dink.

Anyway, by the time we’d gotten into the play area, JZ had wound down a bit. In a move that is guaranteed to earn me a place in the annals of wimpy parenting, I got out a screw-on sucky cap, put it on the bottle, and gave it to him. Because the BEST way to handle a child who is over-tired and on the verge of meltdown is to add sugar and caffeine. I’m pretty sure that’s what they said in that parenting class, anyway. I’m not totally sure because I was busy making up a crack pipe for him.

So it’s all over now and I’d score it this way: John-Zachary — 2, Parents — 1. One point for him because he got to hold the soda himself, in the end, and another because he did manage to flummox us for the first few minutes until we decided we weren’t going to stand there any longer. Then one point to us because, after all, we didn’t give in and hand him the bottle WHILE he was throwing the fit, so we kind of did get our point across. What the little sucker doesn’t know is he’s had his soda allotment for, oh, the next year or so. Mama was a little weak today but, back on our home turf, away from the disorienting scent of incense and dromedaries, I run the show. We just won’t leave the house for the next two years or so. That’ll show him.