The Best Pajamas, Sheets, and Mattress for a Good Night’s Sleep

Welcome to “The Perfect,” ELLE.com’s weekly roundup, where we lay out exactly what you’ll need for the perfect outfit, shopping list, Saturday night, or whatever it may be. In a shopping landscape where the options are endless, consider it a complete snapshot of must-haves.

Scientists and the mega-accomplished agree: Don’t underestimate the power of sleep. When considering the material things that go into good slumber, there are the technical (a great mattress and set of sheets, for instance), but the pretty too. Below, every piece you’ll want to wear, touch, and have on-hand for a solid eight hours.

LoveWoo Is Hiring a Sex Toy Reviewer

1950s SMILING HAPPY GLEEFUL WOMAN WAKING UP GETTING OUT OF BED FLINGING BACK SHEETS AND BLANKETS

Steve Jobs once said “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” It is with that in mind that we should all apply for this job to be a Sex Toy Reviewer.

Sex toy company LoveWoo has posted a new job based in London, that pays £28,000 to test their new products. Duties include writing and producing video reviews of products, writing features for the site, and, most importantly, “Test a variety of products you receive from LoveWoo.”

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The whole job sounds like a perk, but the extra perks include getting to work from home two days a week (where else are you going to try out these products), unlimited vacation, and a three day staff retreat every year.

ELLE.com has reached out to LoveWoo about, we assume, the massive influx of applications for this dream job, but they tweeted that they’ve been “overwhelmed” with the response. Anyway, brb, researching how hard it is to move to London.

We Punish Men For Being Close To Their Children

Henry Amador-Batten, a 52-year-old gay man, and his five-year-old son, Benjamin, were on the last leg of their trip home to Raleigh, North Carolina on May 20. The two had just come from Puerto Rico visiting Amador-Batten’s ailing father, who passed away during their visit. Wearied from heartache and traveling since the early a.m., the two sought solace in some shut-eye. Benjamin slept against his dad’s broad shoulder and laced his small arm around his dad’s large one. Wrapped in his favorite blanket—the one his grandmother made him—Benjamin fell asleep with his father’s hand resting over his blanket on his lap.

Amador-Batten never thought that would lead a flight attendant on their United Airlines flight to accuse him of having his hand too close to his son’s genitals.

Midway through their flight, a male flight attendant walked by and gazed at them quizzically, but moved on. About fifteen minutes later, the same attendant walked up to them and asked Amador-Batten if he and Ben were traveling with the people in the row ahead of them, which included two women, one man and one child. “No,” he replied, “it’s just us.”

“I think he was trying to create a normalized picture,” Amador-Batten tells ELLE.com, “If I’d been traveling with the people ahead of me: it would have been two women, two men and two children.” That is—two heterosexual families.

As the one-hour flight connecting from Newark, New Jersey began to descend into Raleigh, the pilot offered the usual salutations and ‘thank yous’ over loudspeaker, but said there was a “situation at the gate,” which would delay deplaning.

“When we got to the exit of the plane,” Amador-Batten recalls, “I noticed in the corner of my eye that one of the flight attendants put her hand out behind Ben and I so that no other passengers could follow us out.” Even in that moment, Amador-Batten had no idea what any of this meant—not even when he went up the ramp and a small band of policemen began following them. He remembers thinking: ‘Well, that was the thing at the gate the pilot mentioned.’ But when they reached the top of the ramp, a police officer asked Amador-Batten to follow him. “That’s when I started thinking: ‘Wait, are we the situation at the gate?”

“That’s when I started thinking: ‘Wait, are we the situation at the gate?”

“Ben started getting nervous. He said, ‘Daddy, what is going on?’ I said, ‘I don’t know baby.’ Then the officer walking with us said, ‘Sorry that we have to do this, but there was an allegation made on the flight that you were seen—and he said all of this in front of my son—with your hands too close to that child’s genitals.”

When Amador-Batten told the officer that Ben was his son, the officer said, “Can you prove that?” As a gay man and adoptive dad who’s hyper aware of his vulnerability to discrimination, Amador-Batten always travels with his adoption decree, Ben’s birth certificate and he and his husband Joel’s marriage license. After nearly an hour of questioning, the officers released him.

(United said of the incident: “In this instance, the crew believed it was appropriate to ask authorities to meet the plane and interview the customer. After speaking with the customer, authorities determined that no further action was necessary. Our customers should always be treated with the utmost respect and we have followed up with our customer to apologize for the misunderstanding.”)

Three months after the traumatic experience, Amador-Batten thinks it was just as much about gender discrimination as it was about heterosexism and homophobia.

“There’s no doubt at all in my mind,” he says, “that if I had been a female this never would have happened. Never,” he emphasizes.

It’s hard to argue with that assessment. The only instance I can think of where a woman traveling alone with a child on a plane might fall under the eye of suspicion would be if she were intoxicated or exhibiting behaviors that suggest an inability to properly care for the kid entrusted to her. I can’t imagine a scenario remotely similar to Amador-Batten’s where a woman would be called out and questioned.

I can’t imagine a scenario remotely similar to Amador-Batten’s where a woman would be called out and questioned.

The reasons why are manifold. First, there’s the enduring essentialist belief that women are children’s most suitable caretakers, which extends from the biological fact of pregnancy. The thinking goes: Women are physically designed to create children and are therefore their rightful and proper guardians. Within this framework, men, or fathers, are seen as marginal players and less equipped to oversee offspring. (Think of all the dumb movies where dads are seen as bumbling fools without mommy.) Consequently, a situation without a mom may seem askew or suspect. Alongside the cultural narrative that reifies and center-stages motherhood is the false and pernicious conflation of homosexuality and pedophilia, which may have also played a part in putting Amador-Batten on the flight attendant’s radar. Finally, men are more likely to molest children than women – thus women are seen as less threatening.

Michael Kimmel, author of Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men and internationally renowned expert on men and masculinities, puts it this way: “We are living in a moment, in which men’s participation in childcare and caregiving is relatively new even though it’s quite normal.” (Men may do triple the amount of childcare they did in 1965, but women continue to carry a disproportionate amount of the parental and household burdens.) Juxtaposed beside that, he adds, is “a constant barrage of stories about pedophilia, and we are just beginning to understand how prevalent it is. These two things are converging to make men’s caregiving seem possibly problematic.”

Kimmel recounts a recent story in which he was jogging at his local park when a boy of about eight-years-old fell off his two-wheeler ten feet away from him. “I walked over to him to see if he was hurt because I didn’t see any grown-ups around,” he recalls. “He was tangled up in his bicycle. But when I tried to lift the bicycle, his mom came up to me, and she was absolutely enraged that I was even close to her son. I read the situation and I just stood up immediately and said, ‘He’s O.K. I don’t think he hurt himself.’ She was very relieved, and I went on my way.”

Like Kimmel, I’ve witnessed the weird anxiety that hovers over men and children on several occasions. A recent example involves one of my closest friends. We were on a Manhattan-bound D train when an adorable toddler rolled onto the train in a stroller pushed by her mother. To the little girl’s delight, a male subway passenger was playfully interacting with her for the duration of our ride. I noticed my friend kept darting him hard looks. When he got off the train, she fumed, “That man was freaking me out! What man does that? Creepy.”

Distinguished family historian and author of The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap, Stephanie Coontz says “a certain amount of caution is certainly in order, as we know that men are more likely to abuse children than women,” but she worries about caution becoming a generalized mistrust of men. “Men face a real uphill battle in terms of what we expect of them,” she says, “We want them to be gentle and loving and warm, but as soon as they exhibit what we consider to be traditionally female ways of relating there’s also this element of suspicion.”

A trans man I once interviewed profoundly illustrates Coontz’s point: Once an effusive and physically affectionate mom—he transitioned after having three children—he had to learn to rein it in once he started presenting and being perceived as a man. “If I lavished too much love on my kids, too many hugs and kisses, I’d get alarmed looks in public,” he says.

The mixed message of wanting men to express their tenderness and demonstrate an equal stake in parenting and then scorning them for it when they do works against women by helping maintain the cultural myth that women are children’s “natural” and “proper” caretakers, rendering men “improper” and “unnatural” caregivers. That false dichotomy feeds the toxic notion that motherhood is more central and sacred to the life of the family than fatherhood.

The mixed message of wanting men to express their tenderness and demonstrate an equal stake in parenting and then scorning them for it when they do works against women by helping maintain the cultural myth that women are children’s “natural” and “proper” caretakers

Coontz, however, isn’t so sure moms are ready to surrender their special status. “Sociologists call it gatekeeping,” she says, “Women only want men to help on their terms. They still want to be specialists in the family, even if it involves self-sacrifice.” Driving the desire to remain at the seat of the family throne, she says, is the same one that compels people to over-achieve in the paid labor force. “There’s a certain cachet in being the hardest worker, the most experienced person, and above all, the-go-to expert. Add to that the emotional rewards of being ‘the only one’ who can kiss an owwie better or figure out how to organize the household or make the family’s favorite meal and you can see why women keep doing things that tire them out but perpetuate that expertise.”

Unfortunately, our willingness to carry far more of the familial burdens involves a level of self-sacrifice that hurts us professionally, economically and emotionally. It also hurts men—and children. “Accusations about child abuse or molestation don’t go away,” says Amador-Batten, who was in the midst of adopting his second son from foster care when these allegations were hurled. “The adoption went through, but we’re still struggling with the aftermath. Ben is still not right. He has nightmares and he doesn’t want to fly anymore, and he loved flying.”

Amador-Batten rejects the advice to get Ben therapy because he doesn’t want to re-traumatize him, he says. And yet, it’s clear that the issue at hand is far greater than the harrowing tale of one father being wrongly accused of inappropriately touching his son on a plane. Amador-Batten’s chilling experience on United is symptomatic of the cultural costs of our fraught attitudes toward men and their changing roles vis-à-vis children and childcare.

A poignant exchange between Amador-Batten and Ben during the police questioning crystalizes how quickly little boys learn the limits of what is and is not gender-appropriate behavior—and I believe it thwarts their future investment in parenthood: “Ben asked, ‘Am I in trouble because of this?’ And I said, ‘Why would you be in trouble, baby?’ And he said, ‘Because I was holding you and sitting too close to you, daddy.’ ‘No, that’s not the problem,'” Amador-Batten said. Determined to disrupt the noxious message, he added: “You can sit as close to me as you want to for as long as you want to.”

How Do I Gracefully Leave My Law Firm That’s Underpaying Me?

Dear E. Jean:I want to live with my lovely boyfriend! Unfortunately, we’re in different cities, and I’m an underpaid junior lawyer.

Backstory: Despite my bargaining, I receive a lower salary than my male colleagues, who are entrusted with less important legal work. I complete more complex tasks, and yet the firm won’t pay me commensurate with industry standards. I’m quite close to the partners, and they are vocal about me being with the firm long-term and becoming a partner. One of them even jokingly threatened that he would kill my boyfriend if he was the reason I moved back to the big city.

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I am adored and given important legal work, yet I am overworked and underpaid. (No wonder the firm has serious staff-retention issues!) How do I leave this position in the nicest possible way? Is the best method simply to blame it on the long-distance relationship and my boyfriend’s inflexible career? I’m worried about burning bridges and angering my mentor. —Staying Friendly

Friendly, My Tree Frog: If your law firm “adored” you, it would pay you. (I adore you, of course, so at least there’s that.) Do a favor for yourself and for every woman looking for a job. Tell the truth to those dribbling, low-grade, small-town misogynists you work for: You’re leaving because you’re not paid the same as the male associates.

Note: Yeeee gods! How I would have loved to have advised you to screw it and get in their faces! But a cool, resilient, urbane, tough, debonair woman who charms everyone with her feminine power and gives a brace of Cuban cigars to each of the partners and a box of Callaway Chrome Soft golf balls to her mentor—with a handwritten note of thanks, acknowledging the greatness of the firm while stating her “disappointment” in its antediluvian salaries (without the soppy boyfriend excuse)—will enjoy one of the greatest careers ever witnessed.

How To Have Sex In A Car

After listening to a Tony Robbins audiobook one day in Los Angeles about how to be the most extreme version of me, I decided to break the Guinness World Record for Longest Journey By Car In A Single Country, which took 36,123 miles sleeping in my Subaru Outback for 122 days with my girlfriend (at the time). So, believe me when I say that I understand sex in a car can be complicated. And if done incorrectly, that wonderful moment of first-date lust can morph into a three-week foot-cramp. There are many challenges—lumpy backseats, lack of privacy, incompatible clothing and, more dangerously, cops. So how do you do it safely? For the automobile-curious out there, here’s a guide to having road trip sex comfortably, enjoyably, and legally (because yes, you can get arrested).

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Memorize the Most Pleasurable Positions (For the Both of You)

There are ways to make use of the awkward space a car provides. Let’s say you want to do The Blinded Driver position (and yes, I made that name up). This is where there’s one person in the driver’s seat, facing forward, and the other is on their lap, reverse cowgirl-style, also facing forward. Whomever is in the top position should grip that steering wheel and thrust down, using the wheel to sway your hips from side to side while pushing yourself down onto your partner with fire and fury. This is how you can use a seemingly useless and inconvenient car-part to apply extra pressure and steer (sorry) your partner in any direction you want. The bottom partner can make use of the steering wheel as well. Just grab it and pull yourself closer to your partner thrice as hard. The person on top can also place their palms against the roof of the car and push down from the ceiling to switch the direction of pressure!

The same principle applies for the car doors. Whether you’re laying down in the front or back, use the car door to push in from one side and keep the pillows on the other to protect your partner’s head. See where I’m going with this? You’re in a tight space, so make use of the pressure points for better sex! Steering wheel, car doors, ceiling and window (if you’re on your stomach).

Are you getting tired of having sex in the car? Because you can also have sex on the car. Utilize the trunk! Just pop the back, lay your towels down over your luggage, cover the towels with your blanket, cozy it up with the pillows, and bend over. You’ll use the popped trunk to hide yourself from view, and whoever’s doing the fucking, you can even use the hinge of your trunk door or the trunk door itself as a bedframe to pull yourself in as far inside as possible, but be careful not to injure yourselves.

Avoid Tinted Windows

Every state has a limit on the amount of tint you’re allowed to have on your windows. So, if you plan on driving through multiple states, some don’t allow for any tint at all and you’re sure to get pulled over. Even if you don’t get pulled over, you’ll simply stand out far too much when parked. If a cop happens to roll by the deserted desert road off Highway 50 while you’re positioning yourself for higher living, you’ll still be half-naked when you get that tap on the passenger-side window. Ideally, use a car with NO tints, or if you do have tints, know your state tint-limits so you know which states are sex-safe zones.

Use Sex-Curtains

You’ll still need privacy, so get some Velcro and some fabric from your local arts and crafts store. Cut up rectangular slabs that match the height and width of each of your windows. Yes, we’re making curtains that Velcro on and Velcro off. It’s like having a slip-on shoe, but it’s a slip-on sex curtain. Now, whenever you’ve found a safe spot, attach your curtains with the Velcro for privacy. When the mitzvah is done, rip those curtains off and get out of there.

Yes, we’re making curtains that Velcro on and Velcro off.

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Utilize Natural Barriers

There are generally big piles of gravel and sand and cement every hundred or so miles off the side of the highway. You’ve probably driven by them ten million times and never cared to wonder what they might have to offer. These make great barriers and will hide you from view without drawing any attention. Nobody will even see your car, so you can always pull off and bang behind the sand.

Our Sex Life Is Always Only About Him!

Dear E. Jean: Today I got incredibly mad at my boyfriend when he asked for sexy pics to “tide [him] over” till we see each other tomorrow. It’s not the idea of pictures that got me worked up, but the fact that our sex life has become increasingly about him meeting his desires. I feel like an animated blow-up doll. I want romance! I want a compliment! I want foreplay! I want him to take time! I want him to actually kiss me! The few occasions I’ve broached the subject, he’s rebuffed me in a teasing manner. So now I feel uncomfortable even bringing it up. How do I get him to become conscious of my needs in the bedroom? —This Doll Is About To Blow Up

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About, My Darling: Let’s make a list of what your boyfriend is or is not doing and come up with ways to get him to do the right thing.

1. He can’t end a sentence without asking you for a topless selfie. Tell him you’ll be delighted to show him anything he wishes (and some fascinating things he hasn’t even thought of), but first, he must give you three compliments. Then do not budge until he hails you as the queen of all women.

2. He can’t romance. Haul the tedious blockhead out of the house and go camping, dancing, roller-coaster riding, etc. This will bathe his brain circuits in dopamine and norepinephrine, the very neurotransmitters that cause the butterflies to flit in first love. Hell, just going outside and turning a somersault can flutter the buggers.

3. He can’t kiss. At the next party you both attend, play Kissing Charades: Each couple acts out a famous movie kiss; the couple who gets the most correct guesses wins (and will find the make-out pump is well primed).

4. He doesn’t take his time. Here’s the rule: No wham-bam until he thanks you, ma’am. He must entertain you with fancy caresses for 15 minutes before you even consider taking off your clothes, and every woman knows that keeping her clothes on and rolling around on the bed with a cute person is sometimes sexier than taking her clothes off.

5. Skip numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4, and tell him exactly what you think. The dude is not all-powerful. The less seriously you take him, the better. You say you feel “uncomfortable even bringing it up”? You say he “rebuffs” you? Ha! Shout at him! Pelt him with epithets! “You worthless oaf-boy! You self- aggrandizing, bush-league premature ejaculator! Floppo! Dud! Rookie! Bumbler! Botcher of orgasms!” Tell him what you want. “I want long, slow, dirty, life-destroying foreplay, and I’m bored, bored, bored with you!”

This is only half of what you’ll yell when you finally decide you’ve had enough and leave him. But why wait? Why not tell him immediately? Why not recognize that he’s just a fragile, selfish, thoughtless, rather silly fellow who probably doesn’t even know that if you enjoy sex, he’ll enjoy more sex? Why give up years of delicious, teeth-grinding pleasure because you’re afraid to speak up? He can take it. Tell him the truth, straight out.

Interview with Golfer Annika Sorenstam

On quietly falling in love with golf:

“At the age of 16 I realized that my backhand wasn’t good enough, and after playing and losing 6‑0, 6‑1, it gets a little discouraging. But I was getting better in golf.

“My parents had a big basement—I’m talking a big, big basement; I can literally hit it 25 yards—and [one winter] I bought a net and a mat. I would play tennis, and then I’d roll down the net and hit golf balls. I spent hours in the basement after school [practicing] tennis and then golf, but it became more and more golf.

“I would just work on my technique, and I didn’t mind grinding for some reason. I thought it was fun. So when the snow started to thaw and winter was over, I wasn’t so rusty because I had been hitting balls all winter. And then I got invited to the national team as a trial. Then I got to go to Spain and play real golf, on a real golf course, and that’s how at the age of 18 I became a full member of the national team.”

On harboring extreme shyness:

“Early on, my fear of being seen and heard was very strong. In school, I wouldn’t raise my hand to answer a question because if I said the wrong thing I thought everybody would laugh at me. I thought, It’s better to be quiet.

“On the golf course, the fear of giving a winning speech and everybody looking at you—it was not something I was comfortable with. But then driving home in the car, thinking, Why do I practice so hard and then I throw it away here?, I knew I had to work on it.”

On overcoming fear and self-consciousness:

“My parents came up with a plan. They called the tournament director for my next tournament and they decided every player had to say something, so you can imagine… I was like, ‘Well, I didn’t win.’ They said, ‘We know, but we would love for you to say something.’ I was terrified. My heart was like a cartoon; you can just feel it popping out of your chest.

“My dad said, ‘Just bring a golf club up on the stage, you feel comfortable with that.’ So I did. You know, it probably wasn’t the most elegant speech ever, but I managed. That’s when I realized there are some things in life that you might not like and don’t feel comfortable with, but if you’re going to move on, you have to deal with it and make the best out of it. But you can imagine when I won my first big tournament in ’95, the U.S. Open—there’s no quietness about that, you know?”

Senator Barbara Boxer on Channeling Anger for Good

Intent on making 2017 your Best Year Ever? We can help with that, thanks to our 2017 Coach of the Month series. For August, Senator Barbara Boxer, author of The Art of Tough: Fearlessly Facing Politics and Life, shares lessons learned over a lifetime in public service. This week, she shares her tips on channeling anger for good, not evil.

Being tough doesn’t give you license to dive into an angry rage. Back when I was in sixth grade, there was one kid—his name was Albert— who was harassing me and driving me nuts: pulling my hair, chasing me around, and shouting nasty things. Every day!

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Honestly, I don’t know why he was doing it, but boys in those days engaged in this behavior around girls to get their attention. I was little— still am—and so was Albert, so I was an easy target for him.

The antics were mostly harmless, but to me it was adding up. I didn’t want this attention from him, and I had just gone through the same sort of problem with another boy named Jay, who chased me down a dirt hill filled with broken glass and debris, which was my path home from school on a regular basis.

One day, the predictable happened on my usual “run away from Jay” activity. I tripped, flying through the air and landing, my knees and elbows scraped, thoroughly embarrassed. When I got home, Mom told me she was going to the principal’s office to put an end to it.

Mom’s visit to the school turned into a “she said versus she said” between my mother and Jay’s mother, and the whole thing was a humiliation. So when it came to Albert, I decided to take matters into my own hands and put an end to his harassment in a big way. Big mistake.

Toward the end of the school day, when the halls were emptying out and nobody was watching, Albert insulted me—something about my height and my clothes. He got up in my face and punched me in the shoulder. I lost it. I took my number-two sharp lead pencil out of my pencil case and stabbed him in the upper arm. Fortunately, no one saw this happen, but oh, my God, it was awful. Albert started crying and so did I, but neither of us made this public. Me, because I had lost it and I knew it; Albert because he deserved it and I’m certain he knew it. It became our nasty secret.

I was immediately stunned at my own loss of control. What I’d done was contrary to everything taught by my parents. I was so ashamed. I told no one about it, but my punishment was coming, the self-inflicted punishment of anguish.

The day after the stabbing, Albert didn’t show up for school. My heart sank. He was also gone the day after that. On my way home on the third day, I saw a black crepe cloth over the front door of his house. Now I knew the truth. I had killed him.

I ran home and cried to my mother. After listening quietly, she expressed her total shock that I would do such a thing.

“I’m surprised at you, Barbara Sue,” she said, using the name my parents used when they were serious. “You know what a terrible thing you’ve done. But I doubt that you’ve killed Albert, and will call the principal to make sure.”

It turned out that Albert’s grandfather had died and the household was in mourning. I felt really bad for the family, but I felt such joy to see my nemesis when he returned to school. I even hugged him. Me hugging Albert. He wasn’t amused or particularly happy to see me, but after that, he left me alone.

I learned that using my fists or a sharp pencil was not the way to go. I had agonized, felt guilt and remorse, and it probably would have been better to tell Mom to make another trip to the principal’s office, even though it would have been “babyish.”

I felt so lucky that it had all turned out okay.

Over the years, and I admit this with some difficulty, I learned to channel my anger, control it, analyze it, talk it over with those I trust, and map out a strategy to confront the issue in a smart way. Taking a pause is good for me because sometimes I can overreact or misconstrue a situation. There are other ways to win an argument. I wasn’t going to repeat that fiasco.

In my work over 40 years, I’ve had to be much tougher than I thought. Guys like Albert were a piece of cake compared to what I was confronted with day after day. Of course there were good things too, which kept me going. The more I have been attacked for my views and actions, the more I’ve stood up to it, and the more support I have received.

That support has been the wind at my back, pushing me forward, and I’m truly grateful for it. That support has made me a much better person, secure and unafraid of the venom, able to get past it and do my work without anger.

Excerpted from The Art of Tough: Fearlessly Facing Politics and Life (Hachette Books), by Barbara Boxer.

Are You Living With a Ghost?

We were in the basement of my house. The om CD was chanting out of my laptop computer. Steve lit more sage, letting it burn in a conch shell, while I trailed Barbara around the house and rubbed oil on all the exit points of the structure.

“White magic, entity attachment points, entity energy reproduction programs, eggs, cocoons, sperms, placenta, entity slag, entity trail, diseases, mini-entity, entity halters, and all voodoo. Clear all European black magic, India black magic, Kahuna, Aztec, Inca, Mayan, Egyptian, Druid, Atlantean, Lemurian, Alien, Satanic, and Wicca black magic,” Barbara chanted as she walked.

I hustled to keep up, trying to be as intentional as possible as I was smudging the oil along the windowpanes, an audience of Barbara’s chants while apologizing for the unmade beds, the piles of laundry, the balls of dog hair in the corners of the room. The place did feel dirty. “Cleanse away,” I told Barbara. She turned to me and said, “You cover everything. And if you don’t, it’s a problem.”

“It sounds like hocus pocus, but it really does matter,” Steve assured me in between spaces of silence. Barbara has her Ph.D. in metaphysics, he said. I didn’t even know what that meant, but I went with it. I asked, why the sage smoke? “Sage is positive ionization. It’s indigenous to the area, too. In the true spirit, you must use things that you resonate with and that are from this area that you have bonded with.”

I was doing my best to roll with it. I was being as objective as I could possibly be — I kept teetering between the role of journalist and participant, but I strived to be nonjudgmental. I was open and willing — I really wanted to see a ghost — but at the same time, I needed concrete answers to my questions. How was this working? And why were we doing things a certain way? Why sage?

But then I stopped myself. Why did I need all this information? I think I wanted a tangible explanation so that I could explain my belief in Steve and Barbara, or my support in them, to a nonbeliever. But deep down, it didn’t matter to me if I saw the Ghost of freaking Christmas Past or Slimer. Barbara had nothing to prove to me, nor was she trying to. And that was her gift, ultimately: the biggest challenge for me wasn’t to believe Barbara and Steve — it was to respect them and learn to follow their example, to come up with my own belief system and keep it solid and unwavering, and to not give a fuck if someone believed me or not.

What Barbara was proving to me wasn’t if ghosts exist. She was teaching me that I needed to listen to myself.

“Bless this home and all who live here. May the joy, happiness, love, kindness, abundance, and prosperity of God exist here. May this place be a place of love and harmony. So be it.”

We continued upstairs and through the rest of the rooms in the house, saging, rubbing oil, chanting, until we finished with my bedroom. After that, Steve and I went outside to wrap things up, pouring salt around the perimeter of the house, while Barbara took her time coming downstairs (she has a bad foot) to rest. The skies outside had cleared and were blue, but a thick ocean fog still seeped around our neighborhood.

After the cleanse, Barbara, Steve, and I sat somewhat awkwardly around the dinner table making small talk about my dogs, one of whom Barbara had done Pranic Healing on while Steve and I were out on the porch packing up the supplies. After dinner, we hugged and said our goodbyes, and I gave them a lift to the ferry.

When I got home, aside from my dogs having a bit of a hop in their step, nothing appeared to be all that different. I had about an hour left before I had to pick up my kids from day care, so I decided to go outside and do a little gardening. And as I was walking to the porch door, a sharp recognition passed through me. Levity. A feeling of grace and dexterity. Kind of like a white light.

Maybe the cleanse did work. Perhaps we actually had cleared the place of all gargoyles and dark spirits or any lingering voodoo or witches or sorcerers. Or maybe instead, the act of the cleanse, of Barbara and Steve’s compassion and caring to make our house feel good and full of love, had produced a new feeling — a new point of connection between me and my home. A new memory, perched on top of the other layers of memories that existed from within these walls. Whatever it was, I couldn’t see it. But I could feel it when I closed my eyes.

Mira Ptacin is the author of the memoir Poor Your Soul and the forthcoming book The In-Betweens. Follow her on Twitter. She’d like to thank James Walsh for transcribing her interviews and being game for a ghost hunt.

What to Bring to Stargaze

Welcome to “The Perfect,” ELLE.com‘s weekly roundup, where we lay out exactly what you’ll need for the perfect outfit, shopping list, Saturday night, or whatever it may be. In a shopping landscape where the options are endless, consider it a complete snapshot of must-haves.

Whether you’re somewhere where you see 10 stars or a hundred, the general equation for gazing remains the same (and you can partake in a bit of open-air lounging even if you can’t see a speck of sparkle—they might be invisible, but they’re there). From the practical, like bug spray, to the not-as-much—a luxe designer blanket—this is what the stargazing of our dreams is made of.