Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And sometimes, that beholder is YOU! I am hardly a beauty-obsessed woman. My daily routine involves a shower, putting on clothes, brushing hair and teeth, and running out the door, with sneakers that may or may not be tied yet. But, sometimes, there are those little things that make all the difference. After months of putting it off, forgetting, or contemplating letting my hair grow out to brunette again, I finally went and got it re-dyed yesterday. I am back to being a red-head and loving it. red hair

See, beauty and looks aren’t everything. I value myself (most days) for being smart and caring and relatively strong (er…mentally). How I perceive myself physically can make or break a day for me. My hair color has become a minor part of who I am. My confidence level and general outlook on my kind-of-crazy life right now, shifted dramatically after I was back to being a red-head. It’ll take a couple of days for it to tone down and match my skin color more, but I really love it. Actually, I’d planned on shifting more: I bought more makeup and makeup remover, and was all set to actually start wearing makeup – just a little – again. But there was wine to taste and TV episodes to watch…so I was up late and snoozed late. Today was a crazy-fast run-out-the-door morning. Maybe tomorrow 😉

No, changing my hair color doesn’t change who I am or what kinds of things I desire or value. But that extra kick in my step today? All Red.

Boyfriend is not moving to North Carolina. Stupid North Carolina did not like his certification. After all this. When he first told me, I was so angry. They’d offered. He’d accepted. How are teachers supposed to be able to move, switch around, find a job if there is no certificate reciprocity? He is an incredible teacher. Their loss.

The past few days have been intensely up and down. I don’t actually feel like writing about it all now. I need to process for a little. But wanted to give an update to all those amazing people who reached out to me lately. After some drama and poorly-picked words, we’re still together. A little tentative, I think, but happy.

I was the one who’d said maybe this isn’t working, maybe we need to see other people. And then we talked, and I don’t think either of us could let go. But that is, possibly, a post for another day. I’m tired. I actually have a day off. I might stay in my PJs and watch movies all day. I might get my hair re-dyed. I don’t know.



Seneca Rocks, WV. The most incredible weekend I can even remember.

July 27

We got down with enough time to get the tent up before the light left us, though it was close. At 9 we went to the restaurant in town – Front Porch Restaurant. We grabbed pizza and brought wine to share. Delicious. There was a clear Bachelor Party behind us – pizza, beer, stories of the groom-to-be. We offered them the rest of our pizza and got to talking. They invited us out on a night hike with them.

“I don’t know. I wouldn’t want to ruin the Bachelor Party. I am decidedly female.”

We joked about us being the girls they’d hired for it in good fun and they were still open in their invite.

Mom and Faith wound up going back to the campsite and I went with the guys I’d met 20 minutes ago. Lucky for me I’d brought my headlamp to dinner. Steep hike! But fun. Good guys. We talked and discovered many os us actually live and work very close to each other – some even work across from my building!

We hiked up to the overlook summit. Pretty! We then went further – to the real summit. Careful footing, past the sign that said “STOP! It’s not worth the risk!”

We lived.

There wasn’t as much vertigo at the top as I thought there would be. It was dark – nothing to see down! We took some pictures and they will send me some. They asked me to be in one, and then I took one of the whole party.

Pretty steep climb, overall. Cool night. One of them dropped me off at the campsite when we got down.

July 28

The climbing! We got up and put our stuff together for the day. Lunch: pine nut hummus and brie cheese in a tortilla wrap, a boiled egg. They had a light breakfast at the Gendarme – bagel, yummy crumb cake. There were peaches and apples, too.

We split into groups based on interest for the day and skill level. I went with one of the Gendarme guides and three other women, and we hiked up the same trail I’d done the night before. Tough. But we made it, and then spent a lot of the morning going over top rope setups, setting up 2 top ropes and reviewing it all again. Quick lunch and we were finally up the wall.

We were at the North Summit, East side. First climb was a 5.4, Isadora’s Run. It was a good warmup – I had to get over my fear of falling and get used to being outside again. It’s funny, we spend all this time making sure the anchors are secure and redundant, and on the wall I spend so much energy just trying not to use it! Anyway I finally just let go and someone had me. I didn’t fall. When I finally got to the top, suddenly, I said, “I seem to be here,” which amused the crew some. So I got my climbing legs back, mostly, and we moved to the second climb.

A 5.9, Streptococcus. Hah! A 5.9. The highest I’ve climbed is a 5.8, once, years ago, in a gym. Totally different. Note: climbs are rated 5.1 – 5.15 or so throughout the Americas.

“You’re all nuts,” I thought.

But I tried it.

I was tempted to give in but the other women pushed me. Yes, you can do it! It was incredibly warm and supportive – something a bit new to me. I think I like this climbing with women thing.

Shaky legs. Exhausted arms. Pinched fingers (some serious crack climbing).

The hardest climb I’ve ever done.

TODAY! TODAY, at one of the rocks people say is always rated tougher: I did it! A 5.9! IT felt awesome. Really really great.

We packed up when everyone was through, trying or retrying. One woman scrambled up it not once, but twice. Pretty awesome. A slow walk back down, some water, hummus, cheese, wine. We drove back to the campsite and I made pasta with a cheese sauce mix I like to make, all on the camp stove, and the three of us ran to the shower.

We brought the pasta to a big, delicious potluck. So much yummy food after a great day of climbing. We wandered, chatted. I ran into some of the guys from the Bachelor Party checking out equipment for sale in the Gendarme.

But really, this climbing with just women today was awesome. The kind of support, the kick-butt attitude, something about it. Really cool.

Okay. Great day. One more!

Tent time. 🙂

July 29

Went up with Mom, M, and Y (two girls I climbed with yesterday) and learned more top rope. It was a bit of an adventure – tie in, anchor, go around. Even the approach to the slabs had some missed turns – oops.

Getting to the anchor location had a narrow ledge I was NOT happy with. I got over it, and we began the setup. Geez. We tried over and over. To no avail.

Then we had to come to someone’s rescue. Another woman called out for us to throw her a rope. She was leading and didn’t trust her next move or her equipment to keep her from a 10-15 foot fall. We ran over and hurriedly flaked out my rope, anchored it, set up a belay, anchored my mom, and then me as an assist belay. My mom belayed her down. Whew. All good. Some excitement.

We finally gave up on the top rope setup but learned a lot. We broke for lunch. I freaked again at the ledge but did not fall.

We then split – Y and Mom learned/taught gear placement, respectively (though originally we were going to do another mini top rope). The other group of women up there wonderfully let us have their rope to use while they set up another, so I belayed M up Scuttle (5.7, apparently), which she rocked, and then they traded out their gear for ours as the anchor but left us their rope to climb on. M then belayed me – a tough 5.7 but I did it! More serious crack climbing, with a tree growing right in the middle of it.

Mom and I headed back to break down camp, and M and Y continued, then brought our remaining gear back the the Gendarme.

What a weekend!!!

I don’t think I live in fear and I certainly enjoy random conversations with people of all types, but I definitely assess situations in this manner all the time (even when I’m not alone). I respect the men that I know, but many do not have to even think of this when they’re alone/it’s night/on a bus.

Shapely Prose

Phaedra Starling is the pen name of a romance novelist and licensed private investigator living in small New York City apartment with two large dogs.  She practices Brazilian jiu-jitsu and makes world-class apricot muffins.

Gentlemen. Thank you for reading.

Let me start out by assuring you that I understand you are a good sort of person. You are kind to children and animals. You respect the elderly. You donate to charity. You tell jokes without laughing at your own punchlines. You respect women. You like women. In fact, you would really like to have a mutually respectful and loving sexual relationship with a woman. Unfortunately, you don’t yet know that woman—she isn’t working with you, nor have you been introduced through mutual friends or drawn to the same activities. So you must look further afield to encounter her.

So far, so good. Miss LonelyHearts, your humble instructor, approves. Human connection…

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I fell asleep last night, fitfully, dreaming up a campaign speech I would one day give. President? Congress? Senate? I don’t remember; it likely shifted between them a lot. I remember, I said something like,

“I don’t have the money in my campaign to shower you all with confetti, nor the will to force normal citizens to clean up after me. I never will. I’m here to talk to you about the truth…”

You know, put me on a moral pedestal but not a real one. I used to laugh at the idea – me, in politics? But lately, with the clear shift in this country toward one that is forgetting its past, its purpose, and so much that it means to people: freedom. We are increasingly becoming less free.

I finished reading Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. If you haven’t heard of it, or read it, let me explain some of the plot idea. It is (for now) a work of complete fiction. In a twisted political move to “protect” women, and the Caucasian race, the US suspends the Constitution and implements a series of laws: women have no political rights whatsoever; they are merely “chalices,” wombs to be used if they are still viable. Abortion: illegal. Anything but the religion (something specifically Christian) deemed okay: illegal. Talking, having opinions out loud, about anything: illegal. They’d take you away in black vans. There was always a war: Angels fighting Quakers, Baptists, Protestants, anyone “else.” Censorship.

Voting? A job? Property? No, that was before.

All those women having jobs: hard to imagine, now, but thousands of them had jobs, millions. It was considered the normal thing. Now it’s like remembering the paper money, when they still had that. My mother kept some of it, pasted into her scrapbook along with the early photos….You had to take those pieces of paper with you when you went shopping, though by the time I was nine or ten most people used plastic cards….I must have used that kind of money myself, a little, before everything went on the Compubank. (1)

I highly recommend you reading it. It’s amazing, detailed, and the writing, just wow. Atwood really brings it alive. One of the more terrifying points is when she gets a chance to explain, a bit. Note this was written in 1986.

I guess that’s how they were able to do it, in the way they did, all at once, without anyone knowing beforehand. If there had still been portable money, it would have been more difficult.

It was after the catastrophe, when they shot the president and machine-gunned the Congress and the army declared a state of emergency. They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time. …

That was when they suspended the Constitution. They said it would be temporary. There wasn’t even any rioting in the streets [until they made it illegal for all females to hold a job]. People stayed home at night, watching television, looking for some direction. There wasn’t even an enemy you could put your finger on. (2)

Okay. So read the book. I won’t write the whole thing out for you. Point being, recent, anti-female laws have been tried, some enacted, and it’s terrifying to think that this book, this work of fiction, could become real. You think I’m kidding; I’m not. These bills, the ones most people are yelling at the male politicians about? Several have been introduced by women. Men: you are not free or exempt from this. If straight men out there want a respectful marriage with a woman, happy, with children – on your own terms – sound the alarm. Help us.

What do you think? Are women still people? What about non-white Americans? Do they count?

Read this. And this.

And another rant, yours truly, March 7: “Recent events make me feel like the 19th Amendment is only in my imagination (and not in history books, and photographs, and the US Constitution, letters, memorabilia, etc). Since when do women, who fought for the right to vote just like any other US citizen, and were granted it relatively recently, not have control of their bodies/governments/lives? Have over 50% of the population suddenly become invisible? No, not invisible, that much is clear. Objects? Non-persons? What is going on?”

I am so angry. Angry we could have let any of this happen. Angry at this trend to conveniently forget that the US was built on freedom, on separation of church and state. Angry that other women are denying women whom they are supposed to represent their full rights as citizens in this country. Enabling doctors to break the Hippocratic Oath and deny women full information about their pregnancy, like this state is trying to do? Thanks, Virginia. And Arizona, again.

After I get to the DMV, and confirm my right to vote (denied, previously, due to their own form), I will draft a letter to my state representatives. Will you do the same?

(1) Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. 1986. New York: Anchor Books, 1998. Print. p. 173.

(2) Atwood, p. 174.