I was a trash bag raisin.

As a long time semi-professional candyologist, I have always been a big fan of Halloween. Filling a pillowcase with FREE CANDY?! WHAT COULD BE BETTER. Wait – we’re dressed up while we do it?! YES!

I do recall being excited about the costumes, especially when we could wear them to school, but I can’t really remember any of mine. I know at one point I was a princess with that plastic princess mask. At my parents’ place there’s probably a series of three photos pertaining to that: 1. I’m in a pretty princess dress and the mask on my face, 2. I’ve taken the mask off my face because it’s hot and uncomfortable and I’m now wearing it like a hat 3. I’m crying because the elastic broke and my mask has fallen off.

Other than that, I don’t really remember any others costumes…well. Except the raisin. I remember being a California Raisin. If you could call it a Halloween “costume”.

I was probably about five or six, which put us at the end of the 80s. There were probably lots of hot costumes for boys: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman, Alf… We likely didn’t have a lot of money, so those high dollar name brand costumes were out of our price range. If we had opted to do something like them, we would have probably been some off brand characters like Super Transformed Samurai Tortoises, Skymanbat, and Dorf.

My brother probably cried about having some lame knockoff costume. I probably cried because I didn’t want to be a princess uh-gain. So my mom had two kids who needed to have costumes to go Trick Or Treating and was just about at her wits end.

I’m not sure if she read about it in a magazine or perhaps saw a commercial on TV and was divinely inspired… But soon my brother and I would be transformed into… California Raisins.

Here’s a refresher if you didn’t live in or remember the late 80s/early 90s:

The California Raisins were a claymation R&B group that started with a commercial (for raisins) that captured people’s hearts. It grew into bigger and more elaborate commercials, albums with R&B songs, and I seem to recall watching a TV special with the Raisins. There were toys, too. I’m pretty sure I had a dancing raisin and an FM/AM radio housed in the body of a raisin. They were a big deal.

My mom got the idea to take trash bags, cut out leg and arm holes, fill them with newspaper, and to give us white gloves and sunglasses.

Yes, my brother and I were trash bag raisins.

I have no photos of this, dear reader, but instead I have elected to recreate this for you as an ‘It’s Casual Friday’ exclusive.

californiaraisintrashbag

I know that’s a lot to take in. Give yourself a moment if you need it.

Now, understand, I was not a popular child. And when I went to school dressed like this, there was a slight issue. Not one made readily apparent in the photo above. You see, raisins start as grapes, but as they dry they take on a dark brownish hue. My mother, wanting to be accurate (but also likely because they were on hand), used these blackish brown trash bags for the costumes. She stuffed mine full of newspaper and sent me to school.

When the children had to guess my costume, they did not guess that I was a raisin. No.

They guessed I was a poop.

With sunglasses and white gloves.

I can just remember bawling and crying, “I’m not!! I’m a California Raisin!” over and over. Not even candy could fix this injustice. From then on, I hated the California Raisins. I gave away my toys. I howled when they were on the TV. I actually buried the memory of this incident pretty deep, until a coworker was talking about bad Halloween costumes. Then it all came flooding back. Maybe those other forgotten costumes have residual traumas attached as well.

californiaraisingigglefit

I do look rather raisin-y there. Happy Halloween, everybody.

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To everyone: we’re sorry. Signed, Spokane

For roughly a week now, the country has been able to come together and have a shared moment. This moment wasn’t related to sports or celebrity gossip. This moment wasn’t collective ‘aww’ over the latest cat video. This moment was a group “WTF” over discovering Rachel Dolezal and how far down the rabbit hole her whole deal goes. I’ll spare you the rehash – we all know the basics:

racheldolezal

But there’s been another unification; another group who’s been able to join together thanks to Rachel, though our whole… thing… is a bit different.

That group would be “People Embarrassed and Apologetic on Behalf of Spokane, Washington”.

That group would be us. Hiiiii. This is uh. This is awkward.

I should explain. You see, I am from Spokane. As are a lot of my Facebook friends. There’s folks who have left and never looked back but also people who still reside there. Regardless of current affiliation, though, the reaction as I scrolled along my Facebook wall was universally the same. “Ughhhh. Of course. Sorry about this.”

The thing non-Spokanites won’t understand is that this is just business as usual for Spokane. It’s a weird town, plagued by weird things. I used to think it was just me. Maybe I happened to notice every episode of “Cops” and “Judge Judy” that had people from Spokane because I lived there.

But then there were other things and inevitably the punchline in my house would be, “And where did this bizarre thing happen?” The answer was always Spokane.

  • Where did a guy dressed as a StarCraft marine run for city council? Spokane.
  • Where was the guy from who was stabbed after saying, “What are you gunna do, stab me?” Spokane.
  • Where resides the men that have been playing a game of tag for the last 23+ years? Spokane.
  • The location of the tasteful bar that named a drink ‘Date Grape Koolaid’? Spokane!
  • Home to a neighborhood literally overrun with WILD TURKEYS? Spokane.
  • Place where a horse ended up in a swimming pool and the neighbors fought about it? Spokane – AND BONUS THIS WAS ON JUDGE JUDY TOO.

These are just the stories I could find off the top of my head. So when the story of a black lady with really white parents who just changed her race came out of ol’ Spokaloo, I wasn’t really surprised. Spokane is strange.

But why? What happened to Reader’s Digest’s 1997 #8 Best Place to Raise a Family? I don’t know that I can say. The Spokane Valley is geographically predisposed to trap in low quality air because of the fresh air rushing over the valley and science or something… maybe this has had a long term effect on the area? Here’s a scientific graphic I’ve made, based on knowledge I vaguely remember from childhood:

freshaircrapair

Maybe it’s the proximity to Hanford, the secret cold war nuclear site that has a slight leaking problem and at one point just sort of released toxic radiation in the air. Spokane also has a bit of a radon problem as well.

Whatever the reason, this kind of news just isn’t surprising for Spokane and, well…

Sorry about all that. But hey. At least we gave you Keyboard Cat.

Signed,

Everyone from Spokane

We’re those Lego people.

legodisplay

Growing up, I longed to play with Lego. (Lego being the proper pluralization of Lego – not Legos.) We didn’t have much of them, but one year on a family road trip we went to an FAO Schwartz and my grandmother told us she’d buy us anything we wanted. I bolted to the Lego section, as did my brother. We both knew what was up. I pulled out a lot of different sets but after being told over and over that my selections weren’t “for girls”, I proceeded to ask for one of the girly sets with the most bricks. On the drive back home, I converted the fun time “Beach Front Whatever” set into every variation I could think of and played for hours. The set came with a base plate, so it was perfect for building in the back of our minivan.

Jump cut to my adult life, with my husband. We love Lego. We’re known as adult fans of Lego, which makes me feel odd, but there you go. What it means is we have an appreciation for the engineering and amusement that goes into building these sets. Yeah, there’s a lot of Star Wars (see above) but we have other sets too. Look, there are plenty of other adults that dress up like comic book characters or spend time pretending they’re a dwarf roaming through a dungeon. We build Lego. It’s kitschy, it’s cute, it’s our nerd thing.

We’ve given each other Lego sets as gifts. I went to the grand opening of the Lego store in Houston. I still have my master builder certificate for helping build an eight foot tall R2-D2. I once carried a fully constructed Death Star II down the street we lived on from our old apartment to our new one. That walk went better than you’d imagine.

As far as fandoms go, we’re not overly excitable about it. We try to keep it to a dull roar. The display pictured above lives in our basement. At our wedding, Lego was involved, but it was subtle! Our cake topper was Lego. (And our card box, but to be fair that was actually a gift to us.)

legotopper

I mean, how cute is that?

I could go on about infinite possibilities at your fingertips when you’re building with these bricks. Or the importance of preserving a little bit of childhood. But really this is just about fun. Why wouldn’t you want to play with these and show them off?

Our Lego set building days have slowed down, but as Lego becomes more mainstream – what with that recent and popular Lego movie, as well as many geeky sets coming out… It’s a pretty acceptable time to be a Lego geek, regardless of your gender. If only I could have showed my grandmother this letter from Lego that’s been circulating online lately.

A lot of boys like dolls houses. They’re more human than spaceships. A lot of girls prefer spaceships. They’re more exciting than dolls houses.

The most important thing is to put the right material in their hands and let them create whatever appeals to them.

I’d like to think this message for boys and girls extends to adults too.

Rebirth of Mothra.

I spend a lot of time in the car. My to-and-fro activities are sometimes accompanied by music, but more often than not, I’m listening to podcasts. I’ve probably been listening to podcasts almost as long as there have been pods.

One of the podcasts I currently enjoy is Spontaneanation with Paul F. Tompkins. Paul is a notable comedian whom I adore. He does a lot of podcasts but Spontaneanation is his newest one. It’s basically an audio improv show. Things run off the rails pretty quickly. The format of the show starts with a question to a special guest and then a short chat about that question is inspiration for the improv performance that follows. It’s fun! It’s weird.

This week’s question sort of struck me. One of those moments that sucks you back to a certain place and time. “What is the earliest memory you have of doing something cruel?”

I knew immediately of my memory.

When I was four, I didn’t possess a fantastic knowledge of insects. We lived in a house with a small front yard and a large garden that crawled uphill, littered with many flowers and strawberry plants. The flowers attracted lots of bugs – bees, beetles, ladybugs… and then there were moths. I can’t tell you why we had so many moths. But there were oodles.

And they were slow.

I would catch them in my hands. Their wings were white, covered with powder that came loose if you handled them too much. After the powder came off, there would be clear spots on their wings. …This is where my ‘catch and release’ program went awry.

I remember in my young mind noticing that their little green bodies looked a lot like the caterpillars I’d seen in the garden. I remember being upset that on inspection I’d tarnished their wings. So. I uh. I plucked them off, so the moths could begin again as caterpillars.

It didn’t seem cruel at the time! It made total sense to me. The bugs would go back to eating leaves and then they’d grow back new, beautiful wings! And while I no longer damaged their wings myself, I do remember inspecting any moths that would land near me to make sure their wings were in good shape. If not? Welp. I didn’t realize I was hurting them. I didn’t realize the green stuff leaking out of them wasn’t something relating to healing or regeneration.

I’m not sure when it occurred to me I was a mass moth murderer. Some years later, when the memory bubbled up, like it did today. My memories of early childhood aren’t always great, but this one is in vivid technicolor. Their wings, their legs… Like when Dorothy steps out into Oz. To that end, maybe it was vivid for the moths as well. A monster of a tiny pink girl in pigtails… coming for their wings. I bet they’ve named a monster in their mythology after me.

So I uh. I won a writing thing.

Last month, I was named one of the winners of a creative writing contest at my college. They selected five pieces and I was the fifth. It was awesome. It was unexpected.

I don’t usually put myself out there. Well, okay, yes, you are reading this blog which is expressly my inside thoughts being put out there. But this is different. This a conversation. It’s not a story I invented and crafted and refined. I made a world and told its tale. A good enough story to be held up along with four other very, very well crafted works.

They asked me to read from it, which I had forgotten about until I got the email letting me know I was one of the winners. For some reason, reading something I wrote in front of people is way scary. And I say this having had many years of improv experience! I’d take pretending to be a lizard that is also a lawyer over reading a short essay I wrote any day. One thing is playing in public. The other is sharing a secret conversation you had with yourself.

The reading went fine and I chatted with folks after the ceremony. One of the committee members approached me and said how much he enjoyed some choices I had made and I thanked him. I confessed that part of me was still detached from the whole experience. “I’m still getting over that adult people read this and liked it.” I said, blushing furiously. Somewhere I had gotten the idea that it was a student committee. That idea was really comforting. But the committee was all faculty. The teacher sort of laughed at me and said something like, “Yes, adult people read these.” Embarrassing. But hey. That’s on brand for me.

There was another experience with a writing contest I had when I was much younger. I’m talking like 5 or 6. I knew I liked to tell stories and had learned about a small writing conference at a college near by where we lived. I boasted to my teacher that I was planning on going to it. She asked me to report back.

Things went awry. That was many years ago, so the details are fuzzy. But there was family conflict and at the end of it I wasn’t going anywhere. The feeling of disappointment and shame are still attached to the memory, though probably mostly because of my actions afterwards.

The teacher asked me about how the conference went. There was a writing contest for the young age bracket that I had planned to enter. The true story of what happened wasn’t what I wanted to share. So instead I informed my teacher that I had won third place, if my memory serves me, “of pretty much the whole thing”.

Oh, little Lauren.

My teacher was excited and we informed the class. But when I struggled to explain what I had written, she was on to me. My mother was called and came up to the school and I burst into tears when the truth was revealed. The phrase “very disappointed” was tossed about. I sobbed about not wanting to share about the family fight and not knowing what to do and the situation revealed itself to be more complicated, much to my mother’s chagrin.

A sad experience, true. But it didn’t stop me from writing. I continued to invent worlds to adventure in. Places to spend my time. While the root of all this may lie in childhood escapism in its purest form, the stories I create now are like little vacations in my brain. This story that was selected for the contest is a pretty shining example of that. It’s a girl with an ordinary life that takes a turn for the dramatic and unusual. A common tale, though laid out on an uncommon path.

The story selected for the contest was actually based on a dream I had. It was so vibrant and real. I tried my best to document it. I tried to take the reader there into my dream. I’ve gone on some really terrific adventures in my dreams! I’ve joked that my subconscious is the greatest author I’ve ever known.

I have so many other stories I could tell. Stories from my waking mind. There’s no one stopping me from telling them, now. No one other than myself. If this win meant anything, it’s that my secret conversations need to end up on paper. I should tell them if for no other reason than to give someone else the chance to come along with me to some other place. A place that no one can bar them from.

Off I go.

Musings about religion from a Church.

My fascination with religion started at an early age. We never had religion in our family. The closest we would ever get to a discussion about religion would be one day in my teens when I asked my mother what we were. “Catholic, of course.” she answered, like she was confirming what day of the week it was. This was troubling to me, as my understanding of Catholicism was that at the bare minimum one needed to be baptized. None of us had been. We didn’t have a church. We never even said grace or prayed. “Look, Lauren, we’re Catholic, okay?”

By virtue of my friends I was able to shop around different religions. Episcopalians. Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jewish. Catholic (real ones, not like us). Christians. Pagans. I always tagged along to different services, but nothing ever absorbed. I was always an outsider to it, observing. It was never coming from a place of skepticism… I just thought they were stories. Stories that helped people make sense of life.

This may stem from my earliest encounter with religion. This time of year always makes me think of it. I was in kindergarten and our teacher Mrs. Ritchey had asked us to bring in our favorite Halloween books to read for story time. I had one called The Three Little Witches.

The Three Little Witches was a simple story. The plot was the three witches wanted to make a stew. They flew around looking for ingredients, located them, and made the soup in a cauldron with a touch of magic (for flavor). Simple story. Not quite Halloween, but my teacher didn’t mind.

In the days leading up to Halloween she’d pick a book and read it to the class. I’d sit near my best friend at the time, tiny blond girl. I don’t remember tiny blond girl’s name, but we were good friends… until my book was read aloud.

You see, tiny blond girl’s mother decided to come to class that day. And tiny blond girl’s mother threw a fit when she heard the story of witches and their witchcraft. Shortly after it began, she shrieked about “this filth”. She grabbed the book and demanded to know who brought it. I raised my hand. Soon she was carting me off to the principal’s office with tiny blond girl and my book. I can’t recall where the teacher was, maybe behind us? But I was in tears. I could not understand what was wrong.

Tiny blond girl’s mother yelled at the principal. She talked about witchcraft and said I was a wicked child, bringing books about devil worship to school. I bawled. I can still remember her pointing her finger at me as I sat in my chair and felt small and confused. Tiny blond girl was crying too. She wouldn’t look at me. Her mother had hold of her hand and wouldn’t let her go. She shook the book with her free hand. I don’t remember a lot from being that young, but these images are still vivid in my mind.

The principal agreed with Mrs. Ritchey and really didn’t see the harm in the book. The mother hissed about how we were godless and how her daughter wouldn’t attend school to learn about devil worshiping and witches and magic.

My mother was called and I was picked up from school. I never got my book back. And I lost my friend, too. My mother explained that their family was very religious and I couldn’t talk to that girl anymore. I would remember seeing her for awhile after the incident, but we’d never really spoken again.

As I would reflect on the incident later, I can understand why she was angry. I understood that the book conflicted with her beliefs. But why yell at me? Why the ire directed at a child, innocent and uneducated like so many people in religious texts, who have so much to learn? It was fascinating to see someone so encapsulated by their faith that they bordered on fanaticism.

So I have taken the perspective to be an observer over these years, not falling into any particular category myself. Funny coincidence, for someone who took the last name of Church. I find myself not drawn into to any particular flavor of religion. I just don’t feel that strongly about it, and frankly, I can’t commit because I can’t say definitively that I know the truth to the mysteries of the universe. I might be wrong… and I’m 100% okay with that.

About the time I pretended to be my own Swedish twin.

Today I am visiting a local social media conference. (Hello world!) Since there might be new visitors to the blog, I thought I’d share a good one this week. So here it is: the story of the time I pretended to be my own Swedish twin. This might be painfully awkward to read. You’ve been warned.

This takes place around the fourth grade, which means I was about 8 or so. My brother hung out with the Bergston boys who lived a block away from our house. Their parents were both very fit, very wealthy accountants, if my memory serves me, so they had all the best outdoor toys. Moonshoes. Rollerblades.  A trampoline. Basketball hoop. Everything.

I was a girl, so I was of course NOT ALLOWED. Sometimes I’d go over pretending to need to find my brother… then I’d just hang out for awhile. “Oh? I uh. Mom said to make sure to drink a lot of water. Are… are those moonshoes? Do you use them while on the trampoline so I can jump super high?” My true intentions were always quickly discovered and I was chased off.

One time I came over to the house looking for my brother and he wasn’t there. The usual namecalling and uncomfortableness commenced and I hurried back home. But this time was different. This time I decide to do something truly ridiculous.

I was going to charm them, not as Lauren… but as my Swedish twin.

I’ve been wracking my brain trying to recall the fake name I used, and I keep coming back to Vilka. I’m fairly sure that was it. I would make them laugh as Vilka, they’d see how cool I was, and we’d hang out and I’d be doing flips on that sweet trampoline in no time!

For some reason at this point in my life my mother dressed me in ridiculous sweaters. Usually black, with pictures knitted into them of cats or flowers in red, purple, or white. Why did she do this? To ensure my reputation as a total buzzkill and coolness ruiner? Who knows. I had been wearing a t-shirt, but changed into a sweater to feel more eccentric (as I imagined Swedes to be). I am like a quarter Swedish, but I’ve never met any of those people, so I was pulling the whole charade straight out of my ass. I managed to find a pair of thick framed glasses to complete the illusion, and charged out the door.

I walked up to the Bergstons boys and announced that I was Vilka, Lauren’s swedish twin. I was wondering if they’d seen Lauren around.

The best part might have been the accent I affected. Think of the Swedish Chef if he was from Minnesota and couldn’t stop bouncing up and down.

The boys immediately started poking holes into my story.

“How are you Swedish and her twin? Lauren isn’t Swedish.”

“Uh, I wus sent oooh-ver seas!”

“Why didn’t we hear about you before?”

“I wus a secret!”

“Can Lauren and you show up here at the same time?”

“Uh uh uh uh… if I cun find her!”

The boys told me I was full of crap, but like any true performer I never broke character. I thanked them for their time, cheerful as can be, and bounced down the street, still certain that I had charmed them on some level.

A few minutes later I showed up as Lauren asking if they’d seen Vilka. I was told to shut up and leave. So I did.