Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Welcome Amber Lea Starfire and a Guest Post: "The Age of Aquarius"

Amber Lea Starfire is the co-editor of the anthology Times They Were A-Changing: Women Remember the '60s and '70s.  Today, she shares a fascinating look back at a dynamic, idealist time in American history in her guest post, "The Age of Aquarius". 


The Age of Aquarius
by Amber Lea Starfire

We believed it was the dawn of a new age of spiritual awakening, bringing with it world peace and an end to poverty, sickness, and hunger. And this Age of Aquarius, this astrological movement that was to last thousands of years, began with us, the youth of the ‘60s and ‘70s. It embodied the hope and aspirations of an entire generation: "Harmony and understanding/ Sympathy and trust abounding*.” We believed in that harmony and in love and all the good we perceived as residing in the human spirit. We looked for its revelations in Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity, found our own personal expressions in the land and communal living, and we were hungry for alternatives to the status quo, which we perceived as stifling, unimaginative, and profoundly unoriginal.

I was fourteen when Aquarius hit the airwaves, and a ripe eighteen when the Jesus Freak movement was at its height in California in 1973. The movement’s idealism and contempt for traditional religion swept my new husband and me up and tumbled us back into the world, Good News Bibles in hand, with strong beliefs in simple living, faith healing, prayer, and the works of the Holy Spirit. We moved to Portland, Oregon and joined one of the quickly growing hippie-fundamentalist churches of the time. 

Like many others then, we lived in a commune, but we were a commune of musicians with the common goal of evangelizing for Christ through music. My husband played piano and I played flute in a band named The Beulah Land Band. We played in coffeehouses and on street corners and during Sunday morning worship sessions. We went to Europe and shook our tambourines and preached in front of the Grand Central Station in the middle of winter. 

The band broke apart many times—over disagreements about finances, over who would lead, over the realities of everyday life that didn't fit the life we had pictured—reforming and continuing each time with a different set of musicians. We shifted from contemporary gospel to Celtic music and everything in between.

Over time, those of us that had lived and played music together had children, found “real” jobs, moved into homes of our own, settled in and settled for less. Our churches grew into mega-churches, while our music found a gentler rhythm. Many of us divorced, and moved on, leaving our idealism and religion behind.

Now forty years or so later, I, like many others, look back upon that time as a wild, crazy time of unbridled passion for something more than what life seemed to offer. Eventually, I found my center and ways to express myself in music, art, writing, education, and business. Others, like me, moved on, yet I think there's a part of us that still believes in the promises of the new age: peace and love and beauty, and the words of John Lennon's song, Imagine. We are still searching for evidence that the ideals we came of age believing can be achieved.

Perhaps that is why the stories and poems in Times They Were A-Changing carry such strength of feeling and resonance—for men and women who were there and for those who are weren’t but sense the sweeping power of the times. The promise of the Age of Aquarius is still with us; it’s up to us to fulfill it for ourselves.

Amber Lea Starfire with husband, Eric, at commune on Oregon Coast in 1974.

* Lyrics to "Aquarius" by the 5th Dimensions, made famous by the musical, Hair, in 1969.

Amber Lea Starfire, whose passion is helping others tell their stories, is the author of Week by Week: A Year’s Worth of Journaling Prompts & Meditations (2012) and Not the Mother I Remember, due for release in late 2013. A writing teacher and editor, she earned her MFA in Creative Writing from University of San Francisco and is a member of the California Writers Club in Napa and Santa Rosa, the Story Circle Network, National Association of Memoir Writers, and International Association for Journal Writing. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time outdoors. 


Just in time for the holidays, Linda Joy Myers, Kate Farrell and Amber Lea Starfire launch their anthology Times They Were A-Changing: Women Remember the '60s and '70s. The book is the perfect gift for opening discussions with friends and family members and illustrating what a powerful time the '60s and '70s truly were.

Forty-eight powerful stories and poems etch in vivid detail breakthrough moments experienced by women during the life-changing era that was the ’60s and ’70s. These women rode the sexual revolution with newfound freedom, struggled for identity in divorce courts and boardrooms, and took political action in street marches. They pushed through the boundaries, trampled the taboos, and felt the pain and joy of new experiences. And finally, here, they tell it like it was.

Through this collection of women’s stories, we celebrate the women of the ’60s and ’70s and the importance of their legacy.

Paperback: 354 pages

Publisher: She Writes Press (Sept. 8, 2013)

ISBN-10: 1938314042

ISBN-13: 978-1938314049

Times They Were A-Changing: Women Remember the ‘60s & ‘70s is available in print and as an e-book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and She Writes Press and Indie Bound.

Find out more about the book online:
Times They Were A-Changing blog: http://www.timestheywereachanging.com
Twitter: @womensmemoir60s

More about the Editors:

Linda Joy Myers is president and founder of the National Association of Memoir Writers, and the author of four books:Don't Call Me Mother—A Daughter's Journey from Abandonment to ForgivenessThe Power of Memoir—How to Write Your Healing Story, and a workbook The Journey of Memoir: The Three Stages of Memoir Writing. Her book Becoming Whole—Writing Your Healing Story was a finalist in ForeWord Magazine's Book of the Year Award. A speaker and award-winning author, she co-teaches the program Write Your Memoir in Six Months, and offers editing, coaching, and mentoring for memoir, nonfiction, and fiction. www.namw.org. Visit her blog at http://memoriesandmemoirs.com.

Kate Farrell earned a M.A. from UC Berkeley; taught language arts in high schools, colleges, and universities; founded the Word Weaving storytelling project in collaboration with the California Department of Education with a grant from the Zellerbach Family Fund, and published numerous educational materials. She is founder of Wisdom Has a Voice memoir project and edited Wisdom Has a Voice: Every Daughter’s Memories of Mother (2011). Farrell is president of Women’s National Book Association, San Francisco Chapter, a board member of Redwood Branch of the California Writers Club, member of Story Circle Network and National Association of Memoir Writers.

Special thank you to Wow - Women on Writing for providing this stop on the Times They Were A-Changing blog tour.
To learn more about this tour, check out: www.wow-womenonwriting.com 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

My "That Awkward Moment When..." Story

For those of you close to me, you've heard all about this story - many of you even there to witness it.  It happened on a certain Friday over four weeks ago and I think after a month, I can finally laugh about it. At the time, I had said, "This would be a really funny story - if it wasn't about me." Also, I had added something about how I must have inadvertently made people's work-weeks a little less stressful.  I imagined laughter and the response, "No, she didn't! That's too funny!"

It all started on a mild, late September day as I opened the mailbox to find a credit card statement the size and weight of a small brick.  "How did we charge this much?" I wondered aloud.  Of course, when I thought about it, we had gone on vacation back in August.  I ripped into the envelope and the list of charges uncoiled to the floor.  Charge by charge, item by item, I relived our week in North Carolina until I arrived at the very bottom of the list and ... "Hello - What's this?"

It's just like the movie, Identity Thief - I was sure of it!  I was a victim of fraud.  There was a charge for 200 big ones for a local sports bar/eatery  - on a Thursday, no less - when I was at the soccer field and my husband was away for his job in New York!  I called the credit card company in a panic and canceled the card on the spot.  Then, I called my husband at work and told him the whole story to which he said, "Oh yeah.  I can't talk now - there's an emergency that just came up."

"I'm not going there," I plainly stated to my friends when they suggested we celebrate my birthday at the very same establishment that allegedly made a fraudulent charge on my now canceled card.  "Maybe the identity thief is in there now," I thought aloud as we approached the front door of the very place I said I wasn't interested in going.  Oh, the "identity thief" was there alright.  (Have you figured it out yet? Because there was a point when my stomach literally dropped as it all clicked in my head.)

That awkward moment when ... you realize that you had canceled your own surprise party.  When the hostess told us to head to the private party room upstairs, I froze.  What I had I done? There, at the top of the steps, was a crowd of people I knew very well and they were all yelling, "Surprise!"  And, there was my "identity thief" looking nothing like the character played by Melissa McCarthy.  "Are you surprised?" my husband greeted me.  "It was you?"  I asked.  "You charged our credit card with this party when you know I take care of the bills?"

"You idiot!" I yelled completely dropping the ball on what should have been words of gratitude.  Of course, I recovered quickly by apologizing for such an outburst and by covering with many, many kinder words of love.  In the end, the party was a great success.  And, I was a bit of a celebrity as everyone from the manager to the waitstaff came out to meet the woman "who canceled her own party".

Here I am capturing my "Identity thief"!

Like I said in the beginning, "This would be a really funny story if it wasn't about me."

Don't have your own "that awkward moment when..." moment and grab up Secrets, Lies and Apple Pies while it's still $2.99!

Anticipating a few choice relatives getting on your nerves this holiday season? Don't worry - escape with a great read.  Download Secrets, Lies and Apple Pies today.  Read it on your phone hidden under the table cloth during Thanksgiving dinner.  Sneak your reading device inside a recipe book.  No one will know you're being entertained by an awesome read when you should be hard at work cooking or listening to older relatives explain in detail about their "procedure".

Do it!

Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Secrets-Lies-Apple-Audry-Fryer-ebook/dp/B00D45KZDA

Nook:   http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/secrets-lies-and-apple-pies-audry-fryer/1116816933                                                                                                   


Monday, November 4, 2013

Welcome Sara Connell and a Guest Post: Family Bonding in Difficult Times

Today, Sara Connell author of Bringing in Finn shares how her mother's decision in a time of great suffering in Sara's life bonded them together in the most amazing and joy-filled way. Grab a tissue, this post will touch your heart. 


“Family bonding in difficult times”

Sara Connell

The day my husband Bill and I found out we were likely going to lose our twin boys late in our pregnancy, I twisted on the hospital bed and Bill called my mother. Orderlies wheeled me into an operating room for a last-ditch attempt to stop my early labor. Our twins were delivered later that night, stillborn.

The first thing I saw when I came out of the anesthesia and was out of recovery was my husband and, standing next to him, my mother. She stayed with us for forty-eight hours in the hospital room, at one point even curling herself into the narrow bed with me as I shook and sobbed with grief. 

A few months later, while visiting my parents I stopped to cry in the hallway. My mother heard me and came to stand next to me.   She lifted my face so I would have to look at her eyes and said, “There will be joy after this pain”.  I stared at her, knowing she believed the words she was speaking and yet unable to fathom a way that they possibly could be true.

After the twins’  death and the ensuing two years of IVF, miscarriage, and failure, my body hurt from the grief and I struggled daily with the pull to shut down the desires of my heart. During this time my mother continued to visit and call.  When she asked, I would confess to feeling despair and name the nasty fears my mind offered daily: that I was broken, that I was a failure, that I would never have children. The fear and despair was real, but also, in large part thanks to my mother’s presence and unwavering faith in Life being good, I also felt hope.

Neither she nor I had any idea of the experience that awaited us three years from that moment in the hallway, one that started with a wild idea on the part of my mother—an offer to be the surrogate for our child at the age of sixty. We did not know that this seemingly crazy plan would bring a gorgeous, healthy boy—the child my husband and I wanted so badly—into the world, or that she would make a little bit of history in the process (my mother became one of the first grandmother surrogates and the oldest woman in Illinois to give birth). 

I’ve heard of Sufi masters who reach a point at which they no longer differentiate between suffering and joy—emotion is just energy- no one more desirable than the other. I am not enlightened in this way. If given a choice, I will take joy over suffering every time. But I will not deny the gifts of the love I have received in the moments of crisis. During those seven years of trying and “suffering,” friends brought over homemade soup and held our hands, doctors tried new solutions, fertility researchers pioneered advancements, and one night, a week after our miscarriage, my husband got onstage with a band he’d reassembled from his early post-college days and played me a song that further opened my heart. 

And my mother. My mother and I evolved from a polite call once a week to two women who held hands and jumped together into unfamiliar territory. While there we found courage and honesty; started to be able to speak the hardest truths while looking in each other’s eyes. 

These demonstrations of love are real enough to me that I can concede a fraction to what those sufi mystics claim. The moment in the hallway, my husband’s voice going hoarse from singing, the collective whallop of cheering from the delivery team the night we heard our son’s first cry- one that signaled the completion of and made worth it the anguish of the past seven years- are some of the moments of the greatest aliveness I have ever tasted. 

Read more about Sara Connell's "incredibly moving story of surrogacy and how it created a bond like no other between a mother and daughter" in her book, Bringing in Finn.  

In February 2011, 61-year-old Kristine Casey delivered the greatest gift of all to her daughter, Sara Connell: Sara’s son, Finnean. At that moment, Kristine—the gestational carrier of Sara and her husband Bill’s child—became the oldest woman ever to give birth in Chicago.  Bringing in Finn: An Extraordinary Surrogacy Story  tells this modern family’s remarkable surrogacy story.

After trying to conceive naturally without success, Sara and her husband Bill dedicated years to a variety of fertility treatments—but after Sara lost a third pregnancy (including the loss of twins at twenty-two weeks), they started to give up their hope. When Kristine offered to be their surrogate, they were shocked; but Kristine was clear that helping Sara become a mother felt like a calling, something she felt inspired to do.

In this achingly honest memoir, Connell recounts the tragedy and heartbreak of losing pregnancies; the process of opening her heart and mind to the idea of her sixty-one-year-old mother carrying her child for her; and the profound bond that blossomed between mother and daughter as a result of their unique experience together.

Bringing in Finn is the true story of a couple who wanted nothing more than to have a family and a mother who would do anything for her daughter. After unsuccessfully trying to conceive naturally, years of fertility treatments, miscarriage and a late term loss of twins, Sara and Bill Connell were emotionally and financially depleted and at a loss as to how they could have a family. When Sara’s mother Kristine offered to be their surrogate, the three embark on the journey that would culminate in Finnean’s miraculous birth and complete a transformation of their at-one-time strained mother-daughter relationship.

Paperback:  336 Pages

Publisher:  Seal Press (October 8, 2013)

ISBN-10:  1580055419

Twitter hashtag: #BIFinn

Bringing in Finn is available as a print and e- book at Amazon.

More about Sara Connell:

Sara Connell is an author, speaker, and life coach with a private practice in Chicago. She has appeared on Oprah, Good Morning America, NPR, The View, FOX News andKatie Couric. Sara's writing has been featured in: The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Parenting, Psychobabble, Evolving Your Spirit, and Mindful Metropolis magazines. Her first book, Bringing in Finn; an Extraordinary Surrogacy Story (Sept 4, 2012 Seal Press), was nominated for Book of the Year 2012 by Ellemagazine.  

Sara’s Website: http://www.saraconnell.com
Sara’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/saracconnell