Tamales at Christmas

by Margaret Elysia Garcia

My ten dozen are ready to go. Six dozen roasted green chile tamales and four dozen traditional pork ones. I used to make more of the traditional pork for the meat eaters but fucking meat eaters always smell the green chile ones and go for them and that makes the vegetarians scrounge for something else to eat as only the pork are left. I learned my lesson. So now I make more of the green chile ones so no one is alienated with the exception of those that don’t like Mexican food on Christmas.

People think this is a big Mexican tradition to do tamales at Christmas. For some I suppose it is. It isn’t for us. We had to learn to be real Mexicans. We started being tamale Mexicans about 12 years ago. Before that, we bought them from our tamale lady. Most people have a tamale lady. Mine stood in front of the 24th Street Bart Station in SF. My mom’s walked up and down her street with a Coleman cooler that looked too big for her to lift on her head. My husband had one that pushed a cart in San Pedro. It was our tradition to buy them, not make them.

I come from Mexicans that had maids and cooks. Apparently our ancestors couldn’t cook for shit. All my aunts, my mom, my cousins each only know how to make one dish. When my mom and I moved to the mountains of Plumas County, California where Mexicans number in only double digits, we were screwed. The Mexicans who live here cook for themselves. The two Mexican restaurants in the county have been catering to Anglo mountain people for so long that they have mac n cheese on the menu and the salsa tastes suspiciously like ketchup.

Before we became real Mexicans, we just had confused Christmases meals of various dishes that none of us in my family liked. My mother hates turkey. I hate ham. My mom’s partner, a nice properly raised woman whose family hails from Virginia prefers game hens and duck for such occasions, which makes us the rest of us recoil in horror. My husband, whose family has made many abrupt transitions through various religions and cultures (they started up Catholic, went Jehovah’s Witness, and then came around to garden variety Evangelical) would rather get rid of holiday celebrations all together.

Once in the late 90s I had the opportunity to learn to make tamales from a lover of mine’s mother, but we were still in our twenties which means we bought the ingredients, watched her make them, and got drunk off too margaritas. And then we ate her tamales.

It was my friend Kristy ‘s mom who got us making them as a Christmas tradition because that’s what her family does. They’re Mexican and Shoshone. They have framed signs above their doorway that say things like “FAMILY IS FOREVER”  in swirling white cursive on glass. I wind up with friends like this because I have a keen interest on wanting to know what America is like. Well, that America. The America who shops at Costco on purpose. She’s sweet and she was willing along with her mother to teach me the fine art of tamale making at Christmas. Here is something I can tell you:

The trick is in the masa. 
The trick is in three-day preparation. 
The trick is in the right combination of chile pod seeds left in and taken out.
Don’t make the masa too wet.
Don’t make it too thick.

Cheat and buy the pre-prepared masa at a market in town that caters to the few Mexicans in your area. Mine’s the FoodMax in Chico, CA ninety minutes away.
Don’t talk shit about people while you’re doing it. It'll ruin the masa.

These seem to be the proper rules to perfection. In the mountains, because good green chile tamales are hard to come by, they are worth their weight in gold. I give them out instead of cookies. The jeweler gave me earrings in exchange. My neighbors gave me tins of tea. I got someone to plow my driveway after work on Christmas eve in exchange for a dozen.

Now every Christmas we have tamales. My mother makes her one signature dish: chile rellenos—and beans and rice. She’s fantastic with egg whites and makes them perfectly even without too much or too little egg white batter on any side. It must be the Virgo in her. I make sure there is something green and leafy on the table even though salads are out of season, plus appetizer, and the tamales. It’s the same meal every year but since there’s nowhere else to get this simple meal, it has become our staple of December.

Tamales steaming on the stove for two hours create an aroma in the house like no other, which makes me feel just a tad guilty for all those years with tamale ladies before I became my own. When people come over and I have them steaming on the stove I know they think that I’m celebrating an ancient cultural tradition. I’m a bit of a fraud, but I smile and play along.

Out of Nothing, Something

by Carrie Allen Tipton

When she was very young, my sister hit on a brilliant idea for ensuring she would get her way. When she found some family activity to her particular liking, she began referring to it as “a tradition,” thereby ethically obligating us to replicate that turn of events in the future, impelled by the ritual power of the word she had harnessed. My mother made chicken fajitas for Christmas Eve dinner once—once!—and Amy was so pleased that she insisted it was now a tradition. Some fifteen-odd years later, mom still obliges every December 24. The little blonde girl spoke with a prophetic voice; even now on Christmas Eve I still get a faint craving for fajitas. Her boldness has become a family joke, and occasionally we used to wonder out loud, with air quotes, what tradition Amy will create next.

Whether she was ignorant of or simply determined to manipulate the common understanding of the term “tradition” I am still not sure: I am only sure that her willingness to apply the label so gleefully and haphazardly and arbitrarily to new experiences taught me that perhaps all it takes to create a tradition is someone being willing to call out the word. A tradition now existed because she had fabricated it ex nihilo before our very eyes. Unlike so many things named “tradition,” we could trace this one to a specific moment, a particular place, a known originator. The misty, vague sense that traditions have always sort of existed – organically, authentically, inaugurated by an unknown and mythical ancient collective – was blown away by the sharp breeze of Amy’s deft rhetorical checkmate.

I always remember how she recast the meaning of this word when I think of the new traditions already woven into the life-fabric of our tiny tribe of three. We make pancakes on Saturday mornings while we listen to music, often Ella Fitzgerald’s complete recordings of the Gershwin songbook. Once a month we go on a family date night to the swanky, quiet bistro tucked into a corner of Nordstrom. Though new, these rituals already feel old, and it is my hope we enact them over and over again. Since getting our piano six months ago, I often start the day with Anne by playing some Bach to (at?) her. Early in this process she would lie staring up at me from her playmat, occasionally objecting to (or perhaps ratifying) a particularly chromatic stretch by a loud squawk. Now she joins in, on tiptoe, plunking the keys and shouting joyfully at the resultant cacophony. Six months—long enough to tradition make? Empowered by Amy’s fajita proclamation, I say yes.

12 Christmases

by Amy Ferguson

She’s been gone for 12 Christmases.

12 whole Christmases without my big sister. 12 trees of varying shapes and sizes. 12 dinners with rotating casts of attendees. 12 Christmas Eve trips to CVS for last minute stocking stuffers. 12 partial or entire viewings of A Christmas Story. 12 Christmas morning coffee cakes with the perfect streusel topping. 12 is a lot of Christmases.

I can still remember the first one after she died because it was the hardest. We didn’t know how to have Christmas without her. A holiday based on nostalgia and rituals doesn’t make sense when someone dies.


I am walking down the hallway of our old Victorian house, my socked feet slipping on the shiny hardwood floors. There are half unpacked boxes of Christmas stuff in every direction; Sparkly ornaments wrapped in old bits of newspaper yellowed with age. Complicated tangles of twinkle lights. A much beloved and slightly racist stuffed Chihuahua in a sombrero that sings “Feliz Navidad” when prompted. The smell of dust and pine and candle wax is thick in the air.

“Mom?” I call.

I’ve grown bored of hanging ornaments and think it is high time we discuss ordering a pizza for dinner.  Mom made a point of bringing down all the Christmas boxes from the attic. Probably her way of saying we should still have Christmas.

She died in January. I graduated in May. And was back home living with my mom and younger sister by July. The loss was somehow easier to bear if we were together. We served as each other’s reminders of what we still had.

As I reach the end of the hallway I find her. She’s sitting at the foot of the fireplace where we hang the stockings and put out the cookies for Santa. Yet another cardboard box marked “x-mas” in scribbled Sharpie sits next to her. She looks up at me, her eyes filled with tears.

“What am I supposed to do with this?”

She holds up one of the stockings my grandmother skillfully knitted for each of us. Because of the way it is folded in her hands I can’t see the name but I know whose stocking it is.

She delicately lays the stocking in her lap and stares up at me for answers, as if I have any. I don’t know what we were supposed to do. Michelle has only been gone for eleven months. The gaping hole in our family is still an open wound, the kind that heals a little bit only to rip and start gushing blood all over again.

In that moment I think about all of the traditions that won’t happen this year. Or ever again. Traditions that can’t go on without her. She’ll never sneakily unwrap and rewrap her presents because the waiting is killing her and she just has to know what’s inside. She’ll never sit down next to me on the couch wedging her freezing cold feet under my thigh for warmth. She’ll never hilariously rearrange mom’s wooden “SANTA” letters to instead read “SATAN.” She’ll never crave another eggnog latte. I’ll never see her face around the tree. I’ll never stress over what to get her. She’s gone and Christmas will never be the same again.

I reach down and grab the stocking from my mom. I find the kitted white loop with my finger and count to the third crookedy rusted nail. I stick it through the loop and let go. Her stocking unfurls and we both stare at it, silent and crying.

That was one tradition we weren’t ready to let go of.



It came. It came at long last. It came on an ordinary day. I was in a flurry of anticipation, mind fixed by only half on the day’s tasks as the clock snail-crept to seven p.m. It felt like getting ready for a date: such was the afternoon marked by periodic pleasurable spurts of anxiety. What should I wear? How should I do my hair? Queries flickered across the bottom of my brain-screen like ticker tape, only—they didn’t have to do with a man, and they really weren’t about hair and dresses, not really. My piano was arriving that night. My. My piano. Mine. Mine. (I experimented with the sound of the possessives in my head, unfamiliar in this context.) More than thirty years of waiting and one master’s degree in piano performance, and I was finally getting my own piano.

Nervousness, twitching, furtive clock-watching. What would it think of me? I restlessly scanned potential First Pieces, hearing and rejecting a whole stack of repertoire in my inner ear. (“Too fast. I’m too off my game for that.” “Too bombastic. I don’t want to scare it.” “Too easy. I want to hear polyphony. It probably does too.”) The instrument must have heard, felt many other First Pieces—it dated from the late 1940s, presumably after Baldwin had been permitted to resume making pianos following a wartime government ban on that endeavor. Maybe someone had inaugurated her ownership of it by plunking out “Some Enchanted Evening” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1949 megahit South Pacific? Then the next person, singing off-key as he clumsily found the chords of some 1970s Barbara Streisand schmaltz? And then I imagined a music major had walked into a dingy practice room and dashed off Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz #3, a bit more timeless but a lot more intimidating than just about anything else the little upright had ever experienced. In the end I settled on the only music that made sense, the only music that had ever made real sense to me at all. Bach. The Little Black Dress of the keyboard canon: always appropriate, never gaudy, equally capable of motion towards the simple or the ornate. The Italian Concerto; some movements of a Partita. Only this music seemed able to sustain the weight of the moment.

A few months later we knew each other better. The instrument has taken root, looking as if it grew here. I know now that the C an octave above middle C is noticeably weaker than the surrounding notes, and I take care to voice it louder when I play. I know the pedals creak a little bit, and I mostly block out the sound that used to bug me. I look at our wedding photo on top of the piano and wonder how many other framed photographs its handsome dark walnut top has carefully borne up into the air. And I try to puzzle out—as everyone does during autumn, if she is honest—why it should be that we are here, and they are not, and this dead thing, this dead wood, has outlived the once-living and probably will again. I sit down to practice (Bach again, still), and am joined by our small daughter, not yet a year old but tall enough and nosy enough to stand on tiptoe and mash bass notes with tiny fingers. She shrieks in delight, and now a third melody suddenly enters the first movement of the Partita in C minor. Polyphony becomes cacophony. Layers of time and meaning accumulate as my mind’s eye all at once images an old photograph of me on my mother’s lap, plucking at piano keys with 6-month-old fingers, and sees just as clearly my own daughter’s child pecking away at this very Baldwin. I do not come from a family that ever had much to hand down, but I think I am about to break the trend.

I am not sure who had the piano before, but feel that it imparts the same stinging blend of comfort and sadness harbored by my Edwardian engagement ring: this old thing has made others happy, and they have gone hence, and are no more seen, but this inanimate, unbreathing object remains, echoing departed voices. For me it has been a christening; for the piano it has been a rebirth. And for the piano it has been a christening; and for me it has been a rebirth.

Strings of Lights

by Sarah Ann Noel

I thought it was normal, really—for your entire house to completely transform the day after Thanksgiving. We’d pay our Thanksgiving dues; and then the very next day down came box after box after box from the attic, all packed with years’ worth of Christmas decor, and more importantly, memories.

We each had our tasks. Stephanie arranged the nativity. Dad strung the tree with lights. Mom replaced artwork with holiday wreaths. Josh was too young to lay claim to any particular chore, so we assigned him the odd jobs. And I always, always wrapped our staircase in greenery and lights. It was tiresome, a bit, and every year I questioned how I’d gotten myself into designated stair-decorator. But then every year, when I finally made it to the top and plugged in the lights and saw the whole entryway and staircase glow, my face matched the light with pride, my heart with holiday spirit.

I don’t think we saw the rigidness of our holiday traditions, as apparent as it may have been to others. We weren’t so much following a strict order as we were the protectors of a certain kind of magic. We took the Christmas feeling from everywhere and we sucked it up into our house so that it was alive in a different way during the end of each year. And if we did it the same way, time after time, it was as if we could annually recreate a wonderland full of that special feeling.

And I suppose Trevor knew he was getting into something crazy even before he came home with me that first Christmas we were together; but seeing the drama of Kincheloe traditions unfold really confirmed things for him, I’m sure. We Kinch kids were growing up, spread across the country, but still meeting at home for Christmas. So when we finally all made it there, with just a few days to do what had taken us weeks to accomplish when we were younger, we’d scurry from each corner of the house to complete the transformation and build the wonderland.

Trevor must have seen what was in our hearts. He recognized our desire to protect not just the golden moments of our childhood, but a greater nostalgia that everyone craves during the holiday season. So he joined in, carefully not overstepping boundaries (lest he complete a job long before assigned to another!), but lending a hand to get it done.

I was so thankful for those few Christmases he joined me before we were married to make a little home and family of our own. I saw in his eyes the yearning for special traditions and wonderlands and too much Christmas music too early. And since I’ve grown enough to turn over my duties at my parents’ house, he and I have worked together to make our home feel just as special, in our own special way.

We even have our own children now, and Christmas is really starting to count for them. They are remembering the way we do things and it makes my stomach leap to see repeated looks of awe and wonder year after year. Slowly but surely, they are acquiring their roles in Christmas preparations and voicing their favorite parts. These are the things around which we are building our wonderland. From the hanging of the Advent calendar and stringing of the lights to the dusty old Christmas vinyl and a full day of cookie baking, each December our lives are transforming as we revisit those things specially set aside for Christmastime.

It’s as if I was raised on tradition, but also the tradition of making a tradition. The acts themselves are not as important as the existence of something that uniquely binds us together under one spirit and mission. They are the stuff of “us,” practices and joy that will always be ours. It will be ours and it will become theirs—our girls’—so that one day, when they are grown enough to hand the duties back to us, they will make homes that transform with whatever holiday magic they find together. And like the string of lights loosely wound around our tree, so are all our memories a string of lights cycling on and on to make something completely mesmerizing.

I Found A Tangerine in My Bed! Oh Well.

by Lydia Chloe

When people talk about traditions, I feel like they talk about generations of rituals that get repeated over time, that fall like drops inside the vase that has the shape of culture. Since I was little, I didn’t like traditions-we had a lot in my family. The way we decorated the Christmas tree, with the same big balls at the bottom and the delicate, wooden toys higher up. We always had an angel on top, not a star, like most people do, never a star. I always wanted a star.

I wanted fish on Christmas day. I hated the lamb that we had in Easter. My grandmother was very understanding; she bought me Christmas pastries all year round-sometimes we froze it so that it would last longer, so that I would unexpectedly, untraditionally have Christmas food in late May and ice-cream before New Year’s Eve dinner. Growing up, I realised that my family was not really traditional, that my mum simply found comfort in this ritualistic ocean. She found safety. For her it didn’t matter what other people did, she didn’t care about the vase of culture. She actually preferred the angel to the star on the Christmas tree and she enjoyed longing for the Easter lamb. For her, traditions are a way of living.

What I also realised is that traditions are a way of living for me too. A different set of traditions, personal rituals that I follow more sacredly than other people follow real traditions and religious receptions. I guess you could say that eating Christmas pastries in May was a kind of tradition for me, although it didn’t feel that way. ‘How many people need to follow a ritual for it to be a tradition’, I wonder sometimes. I look at myself from afar, I look at my little capsule of rituals and traditions that I have accumulated over the years. When I am sad, really sad I read the same postcard, from years ago that my best friend gave me. It shows two old ladies in black, holding flowers, under the greek sun. I don’t know if it is the sun, or the old ladies, or what A. writes on the card about us growing old together like them but it always makes me feel better. What I also do, when I am sad is to light red candles, and eat tangerines under my duvet. This is the “hard times” tradition. My nails get a bit orange from the tangerine peels and my bed smells of sadness, which is the smell of tangerines, for days. Traditionally, it is the fifth season for me. The season of sadness.

I have traditions of all the little things that surround me, vases where I put little papers with moments of happiness, or wonder, or beauty. I write all these moments down, and put them in vases. I will, traditionally, open the vases at the end of the year. For me, flying back home is a tradition-the way I pack and the things I pack, the suitcase I take with me and what I wear. I have three outfits that I alternatively wear every time I go home; people don’t get suspicious and I keep my tradition.

Sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night I feel strong, independent, as if the vase of culture belongs to me only, as if, for me, a tradition is safe if I am the only one keeping it. And then I know; how my mum felt about the angel on the Christmas tree. How I will feel about the star I will be putting on my tree this year.

Me & Lili Marlene

Margaret Elysia Garcia

“I want another evening of her charms…”

I’m in a crowded room and all I can think of is how gentle his lips feel against mine. I am thankful that at middle age, I know what the perfect structure of a kiss is. I drink them in now like never before. It is a cocktail with one-part recognition, one-part sweetness, one-part desperation, one-part sorrow, and four parts lust in equal measure. I’m not sure I even know who he is.

Tonight my kids and I are at their monthly 4-H meeting. We pack into a hall with plans involving livestock and cake decorating and canning and horse back riding. My son will be raising a rabbit. My daughter will be making a quilt. The Taylorsville town sign says population 150; it’s lying. There’s probably less. When the din of excited children quiets with the gavel of the oldest child chairing the meeting you can hear the cows in the fields. It’s all very picturesque and if Republicans knew we were here, I’m sure they’d swoop down for a photo-op and then photoshop in a few churches to give it just the right touch.

There are many projects children can do in 4-H, a list of virtually endless propositions. I would volunteer, but what could I teach? That I learned my way through Lili Marlene?

Our family, like all those present will look to be the pinnacle of what is missing in America. Good old-fashioned values. Good family unity. The existential void of living filled with pull yourself up by your bootstraps meets DIY mentality. We can make our own soap, candles, quilts, sweaters—the list goes on. In some very real ways it means that my family has arrived on the doorstep of our apocalyptic nation with a firm handle on basic survival. And we live near the top of the watershed on top of it all.

My survival comes from the romance of my favorite song, Lili by Marlene Dietrich. She really didn’t need to record anything else. This is the song of war, of momentary comfort, of lasting impressions, the romance of the night, the cold chill of war in the morning. And it is from that war so it’s bleakness is tenfold. There is a man waiting for a woman in the middle of the night. There’s a highly likely chance that they, like the world, has no future. But that doesn’t matter in the moment where love is born, where love rushes out of bodies starved with desire for beauty and understanding.

I told you, I’d be a lousy teacher.

I often wonder when I’m sitting in cold metal folding chairs, taking notes absently and watching my children, if I’m the only one in the room whose mind has drifted off to lovers real and imaginary. If their lives really just consist of the recipes we’re swapping, baby showers, canned food drives, and the rush of schedules of contemporary children. What do they have to hold onto?

If there’s no other life than what they’re presenting in front of me, then I’m grateful for my secret life, for my memory, for my secret sequestered future.  They’re moving on to the next point on tonight’s agenda and I look up and smile. I’m standing on a street corner in my mind, I’m the soldier waiting for Lili Marlene to show up and create a world anew, if just for the night. That song taught me my moral code and I’m glad it did. I often picture that song in slow motion. Slow enough that I jump in and out of all the characters like a lost spirit.

Sometimes I’m the soldier.

Sometimes I’m Lili.

Sometimes I’m the street corner.

Sometimes I’m the shadow.

Sometimes I’m the cobblestone.

Sometimes I’m the rain.

Sometimes I’m the sound of her heels trying to be quiet.

Sometimes I’m the danger that lurks where lovers meet.

In the song, memory is long, but time is fleeting. Once the lover is loved, she or he is placed in the heart, in a locket. It is a sacred space not violated by time or new lovers. You’re just going to say I’m a romantic. And perhaps I am. You’re going to say that I’m gluttonous. I have many lockets in there. Some of them I have turned towards the wall so that I’m not hurt by their presence. Some of them I hold in my hands. Some I have replaced. Some I’m carving new lockets for and I wait. You’re going to say I’m a liar and a cheat.

It’s no way to live in this two by two serial monogamy stepchild America where the family unit is pushed and pushed until it comes out in pieces and reassembles with parts from other families and tries again.

I’ll always stand and wait for you at night.

Tonight I’m waiting through this meeting. The kids are slightly restless, awaiting snacks promised them at the end. The leaders are trying to herd them into compliance and my mind is with him and when I realize this I feel my body respond and I flush red at my thoughts and bend my head to take notes, to draw out the words that mean him to me.

I’ll always keep you in my heart.

I’d say half the parents at this meeting are on their second marriages, their second set of step-children. Straying fathers remarry and raise other men’s children, their own children barreling through the resentment of legal firearms. They do offer shooting here too. Mothers on the make check out the parking lots for bigger trucks, more acreage. The next one will have it together, they think. And no one knows how to have an affair any more, or how to be alone.

Lili Marlene knew how to be alone. It’s not even about her. I know that now. That’s what keeps me going. That’s what makes me happy. That’s what keeps me from being in the throes of meetings where we pledge to be upright citizens and encourage by example our children to do the same. This is the fate of people who have never lived.

My love for you renews my might.

Understand that I don’t need him. I don’t need the kisses though I’d like them again and again. I have them memorized. I know where they start, what starts them: what the moon looks like, what the cobblestone sounds as the heels touch lightly trying to keep a secret while giving it away.

Who would I be without my romanticism and its flittering scurry about my heart? Who would I be without my darkness, my shadow, that secret ingredient in my body that says he is just this moment now and no more? There’s nothing to take with you, the pitcher is empty and it is passed last call.

Then we’ll say goodbye and part.

We are adjourning. There are new tasks we’ve been assigned and schedules to keep if we are all to be prepared for the county fair and for others’ needs.  I don’t mind being a volunteer and I’m happy my kids are part of something decent, respectable and without shadow.

But I’m comfortable here in my space, beside all this, but besides all this. I walk us to the car but they are old enough to run ahead and only barely watch for other cars pulling out. It’s winter and dark outside. For a moment I do not hear the cows or smell the countryside. Instead it’s a street corner of a hundred years ago and he and I have agreed to meet at midnight under the street lamp across from the graveyard. To practice one last kiss. Tomorrow, according to our movie, and the way songs like Lili Marlene go, one of us will have to be dead. The other will place a stone upon our grave with a prayer. And I’m fine with this. I really am.

I’m Grateful for My Specific Son

Melanie Biehle

While I’m not a regular gratitude journal keeper, not a day passes that I don’t feel grateful for the life that I have. As my son has grown from an infant into a beautiful, charming, intelligent, and hilarious three-year-old boy, I’ve been thinking a lot about how grateful I am for the opportunity I’ve had to experience motherhood.

For most of my life, kids weren’t part of the plan. I hadn't been interested enough in being a mother to actually pursue it, and my mid-20s through mid-30s was spent married to a man who was even less enthusiastic about being a parent than I was. Every now and then I’d toss around the idea of what it would be like to have a baby. Once, while I was browsing the magazine stand in the downtown Seattle Barnes & Noble, a lovely little girl mistook me for her mother. “Mommy!” she pointed and cried. Her father smiled at me. “That’s not your Mommy, but she kind of looks like her, doesn’t she?” As I was walking home that day I felt an odd twinge when I realized that that probably would be the only time anyone would ever call me Mommy.

When my first marriage ended I was more sure than ever that I wouldn’t have children. Then when I was 37 years old I met the love of my life, whose lone ambition since childhood was, “to be a dad.” When Drew and I got together I learned what it meant to really love someone deeply, on every level, with every part of myself. Slowly, my feelings about motherhood begin to take on a new form. I began seeing myself as a mother—what it would look like, how it would feel, what it could be like to have a child with the man that I loved.


I got pregnant in the spring of 2009, while we were on our honeymoon in Italy. When I went in for my first ultrasound on Thursday, July 2, 2009 I was told the devastating news that my baby had no heartbeat. Since it was a holiday weekend, I had to wait until Monday to get a D&C. Allowing myself to believe that I was going to be a mother then having it yanked away from me was one of the most awful feelings I’ve ever felt. For a while after the miscarriage, my brain actually convinced itself that maybe I’d been right the first time—that being a mother shouldn’t be part of my life.

I’m one of the lucky ones. Within four months, I was pregnant again. I peed on a stick and saw the plus sign a few days before my 40th birthday. While I was excited and embraced the pregnancy, it wasn’t the same as the first time. I didn’t allow myself to fully believe that I was actually going to have a baby. Even when I was in the early stages of labor and still able to comfortably walk around my apartment, there was a weird part of me that still didn’t believe I was actually having a baby. Then I did, and my life changed completely.

A couple of weeks ago, Drew and I went to see the movie About Time. It’s about a guy who finds out that the men in his family have the ability to travel back through their own lifetimes and experience things again. In one scene, the main character realizes that he went back too far, ultimately leaving him with a different baby than he had the first time he’d experienced that part of his life. Drew and I talked about this after the film and wondered how people who aren’t parents reacted to that part. Would people without kids understand just how devastating it would be to go back and end up with a different baby, or would they think, “Hey, at least you have a baby.”

It's so bizarre to write that I feel grateful for a miscarriage, but I guess that in a sense I do. I can't help but think about the scientific fact that if my first pregnancy would have become my first child, then I never would have known my little boy. I am so grateful for my specific son, and so thankful to have had the chance to meet him.



Melanie Biehle is a writer, designer, photographer, artist, and branding and marketing consultant who helps other creative people and companies. She’s the founder of Inward Facing Girl, where she documents her obsessions with creativity and psychology, contemporary art, design, photography, travel, magazines, and life in Seattle with The Adventure Club (aka, her husband and son). Melanie optioned a romantic comedy screenplay in 2005, and her writing, graphic design, and photography have been featured on The Huffington Post, Sunset Magazine, Decor8, SF Girl by Bay, The Jealous Curator, UPPERCASE, and more.

A Love of Reading

By Louise Burfitt

One morning in  winter. I sit at the counter, my chipped toenails dangling just above the floor, my fingers curled around a warm mug of tea with the Monday newspaper laid out before me. It is the usual gloom and doom: inflation rising, jobs diminishing, a tsunami here, an earthquake there. The magnitude of each weighs upon me, resting on my shoulders heavily, waiting to be contemplated and considered. But together, this mish-mash of stories forms the humdrum familiarity of the daily news — a little politics, a lot of suffering and very little joy. No surprises there.

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As I raise the cup to my lips, allowing the liquid to spread through my limbs like a warm embrace, one headline catches my eye. “1 billion of world’s population still illiterate,” it says.

I look again, convinced I have misread. But there it is again: 1 billion. A typing error? Idle fact checking? How can it be? 1 billion people denied life’s greatest pleasure — never able to lose themselves in a book, feel the irresistible tug of a story you just can’t put down. Never able to fall asleep, mind whirling with the images of a faraway land. 1 billion people who do not know how to read? But what is a life without words? Without books? Without stories?

Stories have formed the backbone of my existence.  I can remember almost exactly the day I learnt to read. I was freshly five. I had been sitting on the edge of my parents’ double bed, my legs crossed, with Nick Butterworth’s ‘Percy the Park Keeper’ cradled in the crook of my arm. The pictures were lovely — leaping squirrels, dancing mice and my favourites Owl and Badger. Yet I could not make head nor tail of the words. It felt as if I had been perched on my mother’s eiderdown for weeks, willing myself to read, wondering if I ever would. Wondering if I was destined never to read, unable to understand – to forever watch my mother retreat into her novels, an unknown country I could never penetrate.

And then! Quite suddenly, I could read! Of course. I could read. I was always going to read. Percy the Park Keeper was just the beginning. From there, I fashioned myself as an English Matilda — whiling away afternoons in the library, walking home gleefully with a precarious stack of books in my arms. These books were my keys to the world, my gateway to places I had never seen and connections to worlds I had never known.

Ladybird books and Puffin paperbacks were my childhood staples – a balanced diet of Enid Blyton, Ludwig Bemelman, Jacqueline Wilson, Roald Dahl. I cannot imagine a childhood without my cherished friends; Sara Crewe and the BFG, whose big nose I found a little frightening, but loved like a grandfather all the same. Nor can I imagine my life today without the assorted cast of characters who keep me company on long Tube rides, bring me solace when my heart is broken (you see, it happened to them too) or take me with them on far-flung adventures to 1920s New York and Narnia.

Aged seventeen, I began my first summer job at the local library. The counter was sticky with the residue of a summer’s worth of melted popsicles, the shelves coated in a thick shroud of dust. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way.  I watched faces light up as children discovered the boy wizard and his lightning scar, debated the true definition of a princess with the children’s book group and sat at the counter with Mark Twain open in my lap, feeling like the luckiest girl in the world.

My adult diet is much the same: one of Puffin paperbacks, folded newspapers, glossy magazines, well-thumbed romances. I cannot imagine my life without words. Who would I be?

I am lucky in myriad ways, so many ways — but especially lucky that I have the luxury of time, a brief pocket of existence as I sit on the Tube to get just-lost-enough in my book. Surrounded by the heaving bodies of other commuters, I am ferried away not to Finchley or King’s Cross or Marylebone — but to Cold War Berlin, dashing through the streets on the trail of the Stasi. Or to fin-de-siecle Vienna, where I drink coffee at Patisserie Demel with Gustav Klimt and catch a glimpse of Freud brushing past the frosted window. Today, as I sit on the train with a girl named Anne and her entire Amsterdam attic in my lap, I take a moment to look up and give thanks. I take a moment to appreciate what I so often take for granted, what 1 billion people cannot call their own.

I can read. I do read. Most of all, I love to read.

And there is so, oh-so-very-much, gratitude in that.

Louise Burfitt is the writer of the blog Beside the Danube, a lover of books and babies, finding her way in the maelstrom of London with the help of her favourite authors and always a pen to hand.

(For more information about illiteracy, visit http://www.worldliteracyfoundation.org/)

With Thanks: A Harvest Dinner

by Sarah Ann Noel

There were no rules, just a simple call to action in the vein of “waste not”: harvest the remnants of your garden, and share a meal with us.

It was the end of a hot, dry season, and yet our backyard garden had thrived. The peach tree was too heavy with fruit and we gathered more potatoes and okra than we knew how to use. There was leftover squash and onion and green beans and some tomatoes that had made it through the heat. The chickens were laying eggs a-plenty. We knew that if such was the case for us, so perhaps it was for others.

And so we sent out the invitation to our “harvest dinner”, offering our home to any who might gather to savor the last fruits of our gardens before the season came to a close.  It was exciting to see the accepted responses roll in, to anticipate the bounty and creativity that would grace the table. We had promises of breads and cold salads and hot vegetable dishes, all topped with homegrown spices. There was even a man who had just returned from a hunt and offered pheasant. A bend in the rules seemed acceptable since it was “of the earth” and collected by his hand.

We threw open the doors and windows and set records to play in the corner, the warm fall sun mixing with the coolness of breeze only hinting at winter. Each place was set with a burlap placemat, cut from scrap and reused, adorned with a handmade cloth napkin. The dishes, steam rising, were spread across the table and the buffet, even back into the kitchen along the countertops. We had all done well: the toiling over dirt had brought aching backs and tired arms but also an incredible, satisfying crop. Our farmer peers were from the neighborhood--some already friends, some new acquaintances; but the food had brought us all together. And we knew a new tradition had been established.

All the guests took their seats, balancing babies on knees and sharing mismatched chairs brought up to accommodate the large party around our average-sized table. We gave thanks for the food and then the dishes made their way in a circle. There was more than enough for everyone.

I slathered a slice of zucchini bread with fried green tomatoes that had been cooked straight from our own plant. The pheasant was topped with fruit and sat next to a bed of greens, which still tasted a little like dirt the way truly fresh lettuce does. A neighbor made bruschetta dressed in tomatoes that exploded in our mouths with flavor; the mozzarella wasn’t of her own making, but she had purchased it at the local farmer’s market.

We chuckled at our little cheats, but remarked at how well we’d lived up to the challenge: To make and partake of a meal that was all our own; to share in what we’d brought into the earth at our own capable hands; and to allow all to eat so that nothing went to waste. And as the growers and bakers and chefs came together, having made the feast according to these guidelines, a warmth grew in the midst of us. We’d provided for one another and come together in celebration. It was with thanks that we had tamed the ground, with thanks that we had succeeded, with thanks that we shared an evening with friends over food and a feeling of accomplishment.

Sarah Ann Noel is a Denver blogger and author writing mostly short stories and essays focusing on a young married life, faith, motherhood, lifestyle choices, and growth. She contributes regularly to PopSugar, And Then We Saved, and Fellow Magazine, and additional work has appeared in 303, Verily, Sisterhood, and Colorado Homes and Lifestyles. She is married to Trevor and writes from home in Denver to be with her daughters, Iris and Edith. Trevor and Sarah enjoy cooking, gardening, and eating about town, and often host dinner parties for friends and neighbors.

Seasons Change

by Megan Flynn

Fall has been my favorite season for longer than I can remember—there is something about it that makes me feel so truly myself that I really can’t describe it properly. I enjoyed fall as a teenager, in a high school in Roanoke, Virginia, but it didn’t speak to me the way it does now until I was studying English at Longwood University—two hours east of Roanoke in Farmville, Virginia.

I grew up in a Catholic church and school, which worked for me until about age eighteen, when I ventured off to college and found myself startled when, two years later, my once so rock-hard Catholic background no longer held me up. I still talked to God every day, but I was starting to feel that He was bigger than just one version of Christianity—or any religion, for that matter—could cling to. And at first, I was upset. I felt that oh-so-infamous Catholic Guilt and wondered what could possibly be happening to me.

But eventually (a few years later) I embraced my slow but sure transition from Good Catholic to Crunchy Unitarian. And again, the leaves changed color and the air got crisp and chilly and smelled like campfires in that grey morning fog and I felt like myself in that way I really can’t describe properly.

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In Lynchburg, Virginia, home of Liberty University and just an hour away from my own alma mater, there are always Paneras and Starbucks full of Baptists fresh from Bible Study or the latest church service, zipped snugly into their North Face jackets and so surely into their faith. The leaves have changed color and the air is crisp and chilly and smells like campfires in that grey morning fog and when I am home for Thanksgiving, I pass through on my way to the J.Crew Factory store and even now, I will feel just a little bit jealous of them.

Today I live in Minneapolis, where apparently fall comes and the leaves barely change and then winter arrives at the end of October. It is nothing like the autumn I know, and I find myself wondering what I might learn about myself and who I might become in my time here. And I feel overwhelmed with the possibilities, and grateful that, even when it’s hard, I didn’t stay in one place forever.

We will find a way to discover ourselves and then be true to them through every season and city.

And, as always, I am thankful for another day to figure it out.

Megan Flynn is a self-proclaimed writer and foodie with dreams of a literary life. She has a master's in Children's Literature and an affinity for cultural studies, good food, cute animals, bookstores, and those first few weeks of autumn. Her hobbies include running, cooking, taking photos, crying over her favorite music, and blogging away at freckleditalian.com. She currently resides in Minneapolis with her fiancé, where she drinks coffee and tries to keep the house clean.

Responding to Silence

Courtney Cook

Phillip Larkin ends his poem “An Arundel Tomb” with the line “what will survive of us is love.” Lately, when I consider this line I do so from the perspective of a teacher struggling to adequately process school violence and it stirs a lot of questions in my mind. As tragedies becomes more commonplace in schools, I think on this idea and wonder, if love is what survives us when we are gone, then what is it that will sustain us while we are here? How can we learn take better care of one another and ourselves in order to rebuild our communities in the wake of such violence?

My answers to these questions have been hard to come by. In the days following these tragedies, when I look upon my students and wonder about their hearts my mind quickly returns to my duties that “matter:” adequately preparing these children for college, teaching them strong writing skills, and ensuring overall rigor of their educational experience. However, this denial of my very human impulse to consider and support my students’ emotional wellbeing is unnatural. It registers as a sort of trained resistance to deny the human in me for the sake of what has been defined as “productivity.” Yet, if we hope to cultivate and nourish communities that resist violence, and if we hope to find a way to sustain compassionate communities, then we must communicate our questions and fears openly rather than confusing notions of success with silence.

This conflict became more apparent to me when, within a week’s time, students murdered two teachers and major publications continued to publish articles on college costs, test scores, and math and science curriculum. I saw this as evidence that the much-needed conversations reflecting on and processing violence have been replaced by an uncomfortable silence – not only in my own community, but also on a national scale.

As a high school English teacher who wants to believe that schoolhouses are secularly sacred spaces, I’m distraught and want to talk about these inconsistencies. However, time and time again I recognize that there isn’t much room for me as a teacher to openly explore the questions I have. I want to remind people that we must talk about these events, because talking is key to healthfully processing trauma, and that in order to share and be heard, we must offer safe spaces for teachers as they navigate new thoughts and feelings – particularly those of being unsafe. I write today because I feel acutely aware of this need for conversations about education that place my humanity, and the humanity of my colleagues (not just our identity as teachers), at the forefront.

Commonly, discussions of public schools tend towards politics, test scores, or how the US fares compared to other countries in measurable productivity, but what this violence suggests to me is that the conversations we desperately need aren’t about productivity at all, but about connectivity; about how we relate to and understand one another. It requires a vision of education that involves stepping back from the talking heads who start sentences with platitudes like “the problem with education today is . . . ” and not allowing them to be the architects of our imagination.

In spite of the myriad problems we have with education today, we must strive to remember that at the end of these fall days schoolhouses are this: a place where students (read: human beings) and teachers (yes, still human beings) exist together.

Every day from 7:30 – 2:30 complex people run through hallways and shuffle in and out of classrooms sorting out struggles, joys, fears, personal lives, morning commutes, health problems, pyscho-emotional struggles, medications, histories of abuse, partners who have walked out, children who are sick at home, mothers who are dying of cancer, a pet who’s been put to sleep, a night of sleeplessness due to pressures of college acceptance or a growling hunger in their stomachs. The halls do not fill with statistics at 7:30 in the morning and my classroom discussions are not driven by data. Rather, each day actual people sit with me and we study stories, we connect to one another through questions of humanity, age old quandaries of truth and suffering that still incite curiosity because these unanswerable questions are still relevant. These conversations offer a platform for exploring our own compassion, tenderness, limits, desires, and all the other things that reassure us of our abilities to be human. Our humanness, that thing that is diluted by these tendencies to focus on politics and procedures is the very thing that we need to emphasize in our schools as incidents of inexplicable violence increase.

In the aftermath of tragedy we are thoughtful, but we are silent because, what do you say? I struggled to know what to say to my students as we sat together and faced the reality of Sandy Hook. Months later, I struggled again as I looked into their faces after the Marathon Bombing, but we talked anyway—openly, freely, and clumsily.

I guess, ultimately, it’s a question of values. Can we momentarily turn our attention as a hustling-bustling nation with so much to prove to our global competitors towards providing a more stable foundation for peace education within our schools? Can we treat our teachers more like people and less like dutiful pawns? After tragedies occur can teachers have room to openly process thoughts and emotions?

We cannot cultivate communities in silence. We have to talk about the feelings that make us most human; we must be seen and heard because we can’t nourish anything worth growing silently and quickly—not thoughts, not kindness, not love, not plans, not relationships, and definitely not people. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am actually concerned with the “problems with education today” that are measurable, quantifiable, and detrimental to our global productivity, but today I’m more concerned with our values. As far as I can tell, until we place the same worth on conversations about community and compassion that we place on productivity in public education I’m afraid we’ll continue to forget the humanness of our teachers and students; only making it easier to sustain cultures of silence from which nothing good can grow.

Originally from Georgia, Courney Cook has been teaching and writing in New England for the past four years. 

Why I Cook

Everyone needs to eat. Not all of us need to cook.


For those who do, though, the urge can feel as visceral as a hunger pang. There are times when weeks fly past without a single chance to really make something. Weeks when nearly every meal is eaten in a restaurant, arrives on the back of a delivery person's bike, or consists of a bowl of Fage with a spoonful of jam mixed in. There's nothing really wrong with any of those options (trust me on the jam thing — it's delicious), but there is something missing.


I love to eat the things I cook, of course, but almost more than that, I love to make them. I find solace in the soothing rhythm of the prep work, my knife slicing gracefully through an onion or pile of herbs. I find comfort in the soft thump my oven makes as I open and close it and delight in the ease that's come into my life since I invested in a thermometer to take the actual temperature inside. I love thinking a bit about what's on hand — this weekend, it was half a squash, a head of garlic, and some cheese — and building a meal around it.


Cooking engages all my senses - I can hear when onions are browning too quickly, smell when cookies need to come out of the oven, see when a soup has come to a boil, or feel when a chicken is done by wiggling its leg in the joint. I can taste a vinaigrette and make it sing by adding a little more honey or a dash of salt.


In order to forget themselves — or, perhaps more accurately, to become so much themselves that no thinking is required — some people meditate, some people run long distances, some people practice yoga. I cook. When I run, I look a bit out of sorts. Legs slightly akimbo, hair flopping out of its bun, red cheeks puffed and sweaty. (It's a bit the same for yoga, to be perfectly honest.) But when I cook, I'm graceful. I'm at my most balletic, my most natural. When I'm cooking, I’m not anything in particular. I just am.


Butternut Squash Soup with Roasted Garlic


1/2 butternut squash, peeled and seeds removed, sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch slices

Leaves from two sprigs of thyme

8 sage leaves (6 whole, two sliced crosswise)

7 cloves garlic, 6 whole and unpeeled, one peeled and chopped

Olive oil

1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped

1 small shallot, finely chopped

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

2 tbs. mascarpone cheese, at room temperature

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper


Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.


Place the sliced squash in a large bowl with the thyme, whole sage leaves, and whole and chopped garlic. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and add a generous amount of salt and pepper. Toss the whole mess with your hands until the squash and garlic cloves are evenly covered in the salt, pepper, and oil.


Spread the squash mixture evenly on the prepared baking sheet. (No need to worry about a single layer, but make sure you don’t have a big pile in the middle or anything.) Roast the squash for 25-30 minutes, until tender and just starting to brown.


Meanwhile, heat a little more olive oil in a 3-quart enameled cast iron pot. Once it’s warm but not hot, add the chopped onion and shallot, as well as some salt. Cook over medium heat until the onions begin to soften. Add the sliced sage and continue to cook just until the onion starts to brown. Turn off the heat.


Once the squash is done, take the whole cloves from the pan and set them aside. Place the rest of the squash mixture in the pot with the onions. Squeeze the roasted garlic from four of the cloves and add those to the pot, too. Sauté for a few minutes over medium heat, then add the chicken stock and cook over medium heat for five minutes more, until the soup just starts bubbling.


Remove the soup from the heat and puree using an immersion blender just until smooth. (You want all the lumps gone, but you want the soup to have texture and body, too. You can also do this, in batches, in a regular blender.)


In a small bowl, mash the remaining two cloves of roasted garlic (take the skins off first, please). Add the mascarpone and a pinch of salt and mix until the garlic is evenly distributed through the cheese.


Serve the soup hot with a dollop of the cheese on top of each bowl. Fried sage leaves would be an excellent touch, too, if you have the time and inclination.


Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a starter.


A Forest School Kind of Democracy…

Growing up in the US, democracy is a principle we're ingrained with.   Being an immigrant to the US, it also becomes a principle that is not easily taken for granted. Democratic values are in the core of who we are, almost from the beginning.  We're taught the importance of choice and of exercising that choice.  We're taught the importance of voting and the act of doing so.  We're taught the importance of taking part in the process that determines leaders and rights and ways of life.

A Love Letter to My Great-Grandmother – A ‘Farmerette’ of World War II


Dear Eleanor:

I’ve been day dreaming about you lately. Family nostalgia leads me back to the early 1940s. Though I wasn’t alive, bits of history from loved ones, and my own wandering imagination, help to put words to your story.

I’m trying to imagine how your hands used to wrap around the crude stem of the hand-hoe to slowly open and work the earth, or the way they tenderly held the soft, warm flesh of the dairy cow’s teats to gently ease out your daily ration of milk.

Free To Be You and Me


Last night, with my 22-month-old daughter in my arms and another due-in-one-month baby girl in the belly, I exercised my franchise.  As always, I felt a surge of pride stepping into that voting booth.  My husband and I carefully explained to our daughter what it meant that we were voting.  Mommy and Daddy are embracing our civic duty, participating in our community, working to shape the future – a right and a responsibility, etc.  She mostly ignored us and set about affixing the “I voted!” stickers to different parts of our heads and faces, but we trust she’ll get it one day.  Still and all, I struggle to remain engaged with this democracy and maintain a sense that my children will know even greater progress than I have experienced in my life.

Becoming an Introvert

I always assumed I was an extrovert.  I’m quite good at talking to people, even those I don’t know. I can host a party, flitting from group to group like the proverbial butterfly.  I was once even described as ‘bubbly’.  Of course I was an extrovert.  So what if I didn’t particularly like talking to strangers; that was merely a personality quirk born out of switching high-schools.  And that tight feeling high in my stomach before social events was probably indigestion.  It didn’t mean anything.  I knew I was an extrovert.

I was wrong. I am an introvert; I just didn’t realize it until I was well into my twenties. That probably seems like something I should have figured out earlier, but it truly caught me by surprise. I was always sociable and able to talk to anyone, but then when you change high-schools twice, you learn to be friendly real fast. And I guess I just got used to acting like an extrovert.  It wasn’t until a few years ago that I read something about introverts and had my own little epiphany.  All those small things added up. And then the real discovery began.


My own preoccupation with the poshak happened only recently. I had grown up seeing women dressed in the poshak whenever I visited my home state, Rajasthan; yet, it was if I was seeing through them, almost as if viewing them upon a mannequin. I only suddenly desired to wear it when I attended a distant cousin's wedding in the summer of 2010 in Jodhpur. During the musical celebrations, I observed that six of his girl cousins had worn the poshak in multiple marriages of color, texture, and shades: turquoise and rose-pink, lime-green and orange, satin and net, and tie and dye and gold-lurex embroidery. When they moved about the wedding grounds, they appeared like sartorial swans, gracefully separate from the rest of us. Later, as they shimmered and shimmied about on the stage amid the faux and real flowers, traditional Rajasthani musical notes seeping into the hot, monsoon-pregnant air, I felt transported into an alternate, genteel reality.

I decided to get a set made for myself.


If You Apply Powder the Wrong Way

 Marion Erpelding

“If you apply powder the wrong way”, one of the girls said, “it will make you look older”.

Once a month, as female employees of the department of physics, we are invited to have breakfast together, and get to know each other. The department provides food and beverage. We remember to bring our own mugs.

So here we sat, female physicists, at breakfast, talking about make-up. The conversation, actually, was about scientific conferences. What is – someone asked – the best strategy to avoid unsettling questions and acerbic criticism when presenting your research in a lecture hall full of experienced, smart, self-confident colleagues, eighty percent of them also happening to be men?

The Green Cap


By Katie Elliot

I’ve always had a slight fascination with witchcraft. Whether it was fictional movies airing annually on television prior to Halloween depicting cackling women circling a black, steaming cauldron – an endless tornado of swirling black crinoline – or chapter 10 in my elementary school history book and its sugar-coating of the Salem Witch Trials, I was all in. That’s probably why at the tender age of nine when I stumbled across a Spell Book authored by a self-proclaimed “real” witch amidst the clutter in my cousin’s Pearl Jam-infested bedroom, I could not put it down. I’m not even sure why she had it, but I read the entire book cover to cover and took notes about which spells I thought I could tackle without having to purchase any odds and ends that my $5-per-week allowance could not possibly accommodate. 

The one spell that most piqued my interest required nothing further than some pins, my own hair and spending the evening alone, which all seemed doable. The tricky part was that it had to be performed on the evening of January 21, The Eve of Saint Agnes. The spell’s introduction explained that Saint Agnes was a thirteen-year-old virgin who was put to death for refusing to eschew Jesus Christ as her spouse despite multiple requests from high-power potential suitors; January 21 was the day of her martyrdom and it was said that even pagans wept as she was stabbed to death because she was such a beautiful, spirited girl.

At nine years old, I didn’t fully comprehend what all of that back-story meant – there’s no way I knew what a martyr was – all I knew was if I plucked two of my hairs and wrapped each around a pin, put them under my pillow after spending the evening alone and then chanted something to “sweet St. Agnes” as I drifted off to sleep, she would show me my future spouse in my dreams that night. I figured there was no harm in trying.

That afternoon at school I could barely contain myself and was so excited to go home and sit alone in my room until bedtime. I’d already worked out in my mind that I was going to feign being sick so my parents would leave me alone and then I could do as I pleased. This worked like a charm as I was able to eat a meager dinner before 6 p.m., the official start of evening, and then remain in my room for the duration of the night. I’d lifted a couple of straight pins from my mother’s sewing box, plucked and wrapped my hairs and carefully placed them under my pillow. I was all set. I followed the spell meticulously and memorized my chant, which I whispered to myself as I was falling asleep. That night I dreamt of a boy wearing a green baseball cap whose face I couldn’t really see, but whose smile I could just make out from under the bill of the cap. That image was all I remembered when I awoke, but I assumed the spell had worked since I had a dream about a boy and that he was my future spouse who I obviously didn’t know yet. This was my logical explanation for why I couldn’t see his face. I remember feeling proud and simultaneously ashamed because I was doing something that I was pretty certain wouldn’t be smiled upon by my parents or my church, for that matter, but from what I could tell it had worked. Did this make me a witch because I’d seemingly successfully completed a spell? I wasn’t sure and finally decided it was nothing and the dream was a coincidence. Not to mention, I really couldn’t be sure if it had actually worked until I got married, right? At nine, adulthood and marriage was ages away, so with that, I pushed my sinful act of spell-casting to the back of my mind.

Seven years later during my sophomore year of high school I met a boy who was a senior; mutual friends who were dating set us up and my first instinct was that I didn’t really like him. He seemed cocky and for what reason I wasn’t sure. He had a job, a car and an attitude and I was way too proud to let my big personality be eclipsed by some eighteen-year-old Cassanova. He always wore a baseball cap to tame his unruly, black hair and I never really paid much attention to it other than it was in pretty rough shape from years of everyday wear. I’m not sure how or why, but at some point that year I decided I liked this boy; his attitude had waned and he seemed to want to do whatever he could to make me like him. My little ego enjoyed the strokes. 

We dated throughout my remaining years in high school and off and on during college. My senior year of college we took a year off and dated other people, but kept finding ways back to each other, the final time when we were both in some friends’ wedding and were forced to attend sundry preliminary parties and other various nuptial festivities. After a solid decade of a roller coaster of a relationship and living in several cities, we got married four years ago and are back in our hometown, only about 20 minutes from the high school courtyard where we first met. I won’t say we were high school sweethearts or soul mates, that sounds too idyllic and frankly, a bit silly as I don’t believe in either. But, I will say one night about a year into our marriage, I sat up straight in bed in the middle of the night when I realized the color of the baseball cap my husband wore the year I met him. 

It was hunter green.


Katie Nance Elliott is a freelance marketing communications consultant and writer who left the advertising agency world in search of something a little less structured to nourish her creative spirit. Read her ramblings about popular culture, advertising and the ridiculous situations she finds herself in on her blog So You Think You Can Nance .