All posts by Shelah

About Shelah

(Editor-in-Chief) lives in Salt Lake City with her husband and six kids. She has a BA in English Teaching from BYU, an MA in American Culture Studies from Washington University in St. Louis, and an MFA in Creative Writing at BYU. Her work has been published in Dialogue, the Mormon Women Project, Irreantum, BYU Studies, and Segullah. When she’s not writing or wrangling, she can often be found running through the city in the pre-dawn darkness.

Book Review: Girls Who Choose God by McArthur Krishna and Bethany Brady Spalding

Girls_Who_Choose_GodDaniel and the lions’ den. Noah’s ark. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and the fiery furnace. Nephi and the broken bow. What do these stories (and hundreds more like them) have in common? Well, for one thing, they all feature men who are faced with a moral dilemma. Children in Primary and Sunday School classes learn to emulate them. But as the mother of three young daughters, I often wish we knew the stories of women in the scriptures as well as we do the stories of their male counterparts.

Girls Who Choose God, a new picture book written by McArthur Krishna and Bethany Brady Spalding, illustrated by Kathleen Peterson, and published by Deseret Book, goes a long way to filling the gap. The picture book, which features a dozen women from the Bible, including Eve, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the prophet Deborah, and other, lesser-known women, follows a particularly effective format. On the first page spread, each woman’s story is introduced, including the moral dilemma she faces. For example, we learn that “Esther had a choice to make. She could keep her luxurious like as the queen, or she could try to save her people by telling the king she was also a Jew.” On the second page spread, Krishna and Spalding recount the choices the women make, then they ask readers to apply the story to their own lives. The Esther story concludes with the question, “When have you made a choice to stand up for others?” This allows readers to see that each woman faced a choice, and that it’s possible to make courages choices like they did.

The book is also beautifully illustrated. Peterson’s drawings brought me to tears at times– I particularly loved the Mary Magdalene and Eve drawings. The Miriam story features an Egyptian-style border that’s incredibly beautiful. Peterson’s work is currently featured in the “Practicing Charity” exhibit at the Church History Museum, and the illustrations are a real asset to the book.

I can envision myself using this book in family scripture study, for Family Home Evening lessons and for Sharing Time lessons. My third-grade daughter made off with it the night we got our copy, and read the whole thing from cover to cover before bedtime. It’s a book our sons and our daughters should read, because all readers, regardless of gender will benefit from the stories of these women.

As an added bonus, all proceeds from the book will benefit Interweave Solutions, a nonprofit dedicated to support educational and employment opportunities for LDS women around the world.

Faces of Latter-day Saint Women: A Conversation with Dr. Christina Hibbert

On Monday, we featured a book review of Dr. Christina Hibbert’s memoir, This is How We Grow, the story of how she and her family adapted and changed after her sister and brother-in-law died and the Hibberts adopted their two sons. Today, we’re resurrecting a feature we used to have in the print journal, the “Faces of Latter-day Saint Women” interviews, and I was delighted to be able to have this conversation with Dr. Hibbert:

Talk a little bit about the process of writing the memoir. When you were writing in your journal while you were going through the process, did you think that you might eventually turn this experience into a book?

I had wanted to write a book for many years prior to the experiences I share in This is How We Grow. I’d even begun writing a book about my little sister, McLean, who died when she was 8 years old from cancer. But then, my sister Shannon died just two months after her husband had died. I suddenly had six kids, and my life changed completely; I thought, “I’ll never be able to write a book now.” 

A few months later, as I was journaling (I’ve been an avid journaler for as long as I can remember), I had a feeling, Someday, you will write this story. I didn’t tell anyone about it, but it was in the back of my mind with every journal entry from that point on. Even though life was too full to add any career pursuits, including writing a book, I soon figured I could at least write a little each day. Each night I’d write in a notebook (not my journal) for 10 minutes about whatever topic was on my mind at the time.  Continue reading

Book Review: This is How We Grow by Christina Hibbert

Title: This is How We Grow: A Psychologist’s Memoir of Loss, Motherhood, and Discovering Self-Woth and Joy, One Season at a Time
Author: Christina Hibbert
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Content Alert: none

Christina Hibbert was an LDS mother of three, working as a psychologist, when her brother-in-law and sister died within months of each other. Christina and her husband became their two boys’ guardians just a few weeks before she gave birth to a daughter, so the family grew from three kids to six in about a month. In This is How We Grow, Hibbert writes about the experience of how her family changed, how they processed their grief, and how they came to see themselves as joyful, whole people again.

I think This is How We Grow is a book where the strengths of the story are also some of the weaknesses. Hibbert kept a journal during this time in her life (now about six years past), and the book is largely sourced from the journal. This means that sometimes readers have to wade through the minutiae of her life. But I think that’s also kind of the point. Lives are often made up of minutiae and small, seemingly insignificant moments. And the life of a stay-at-home mom of six is sometimes a mind-numbing rotation of crisis management and wiping bums. She also does enough stepping back and taking a long-view look at the experiences to make them feel relevant. However, I wish the book had a different title, because I think I would have read it a lot sooner if I had known that it would be such a good mirror for my own experience.

Like Hibbert, I’ve also adopted two kids. They were both abandoned as newborns and lived for about a year in an orphanage. Then we adopted them and they gained a family, but they also lost everything familiar. A lot of times, I don’t think people (myself included) recognize how much loss in involved in adoption, and how much grief my little ones carry, and will have to process at some point in their lives. My experience parenting them is so different from my experience with my biological kids, and a lot of it comes from the grief and loss they have suffered. I think I highlighted more passages in this book than in any book I’ve read since college, and I was both pleased and surprised to find a book that recognized and reflected my own parenting experiences.

This is the first of a two-part conversation with Dr. Hibbert, who we’re pleased to have the opportunity to interview on Wednesday. So come back Wednesday to read the interview, and check out the book!

Is blonde hair better than black hair?

photoMy three-year-old daughter Rose stands in the bathroom, admiring the pigtails I just put in her hair.

“You look beautiful,” I say, and she nods her head.

“You are lucky to have such shiny black hair,” I say.

She shakes her head and stomps her foot, “I NOT have black hair, Mama. I have blonde hair.”

I have blonde hair and my two older daughters have blonde hair, but Rose, who was adopted from China, most definitely does not have blonde hair.

I contradict her, but she resists, “My hair is blonde, like Elsa. Like Rapunzel. Like Mommy.”

Growing up, I never thought much about my hair color, other than to be annoyed when we’d visit my grandma in the summer and she’d comment, “Shelah, your hair has gotten so much darker this year” (which is something she did every year, and I finally realized that if she had been right my hair would have been coal black long ago). Sure, my hair was the same shade as most of the Disney princesses,  Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana, a majority of the contestants in the Miss America pageant, and Barbie, but there wasn’t anything inherently better about blonde hair, right?

Yesterday in Sacrament Meeting, our youth speaker was giving a talk about the priesthood.  He said something like, “In order to get the priesthood, all you need is to be a member of the church and to be the right age.” My oldest daughter leaned over to me and said, “And you need to have a penis.”

This thirteen-year-old youth speaker’s comment highlighted how we are often unaware of our privileged state in life until we encounter things to make us aware of it. As a male member of the church, he probably doesn’t spend much time thinking about what it’s like not to have the priesthood. Until I had Rose, I didn’t spend much time wondering what it would be like to have black hair, or thinking about why so many women spend so much money and effort trying to turn themselves blonde. I did bristle when my grandma suggested that I was losing the white hair of my towheaded childhood, but even then I didn’t spend too much time wondering why. But, as I’ve come to see, having blonde hair means I belong to part of the privileged ethnic group in the United States, and even my three-year-old recognizes that.

Now that I have a child who is Asian, I think a lot more about how other ethnic groups are perceived in America. She also has a visible physical disability, and that, too, has opened my eyes. I lived the first three-and-a-half decades of my life completely unaware of my privilege, and I’m just starting to see that as a white American woman who grew up in a stable home to educated parents, I have had lots of opportunities that I didn’t earn– they came to me just because of where and when I happened to be born.

I’m starting to see that being aware of my privilege can help me become more empathetic. I’ve never struggled with addiction, or had a mental illness. I’ve never been attracted to someone of the same gender. But as I’m more aware of my privilege, it helps me imagine myself in someone else’s position, and I hope that will eventually help me to be more understanding in how I treat people who have come to the world in different circumstances than I have.

P.S. If you’re a quiz addict like I am and want to find out just how privileged you are, check here.

P.P.S. For what it’s worth, Rose also insists she has purple eyes. I’m not quite sure what that signifies.

What are the privileges you enjoy? How has recognizing them helped you?


The Kitchen Goddesses

IMG_5769We bake during the day, when Daddy is at work.

My toddlers climb up on the counter, crowd around the mixer, unwrap sticks of butter, crack eggs, and take reluctant turns with the measuring cups and spoons. They sneak spoonfuls of cookie dough, pinch of bites of bread dough. They learn to count eggs and cups of flour.

My husband, who prefers cakes from a mix to cakes made from scratch, canned frosting to homemade, is convinced that someone is going to fall off the counter or lose a finger to the whirring mixer.

Although I outsource my deep-cleaning, employ the good cooks at Cafe Rio and Domino’s Pizza to provide weeknight dinners for my family more often than I’d care to admit, and consider laundry a chore, our baking time is worth all of the messes, and all of the extra calories no one really needs. A few months ago, I considered joining the #whole30 craze, but decided I’d miss the ritual of baking, the scamper of little feet when I ask if anyone wants to bake cookies, the looks of deep contentment that come over my kids’ faces when they arrive home from school and smell brownies in the oven.

Thirty years ago, I was the child on the counter, fetching baking soda and begging for a beater. When the women in my family get together, we cook. We gather in the kitchen, putting together showstopping meals that are probably two notches fancier than any of the guys would care to eat. I slip back into my designated role as the fetcher and peeler, no longer the mother of six, but the daughter and granddaughter who knows her place. Like billions of women around the world, the women in my family come together in the kitchen.

If your family is like mine, take a moment to read Tessa Hagulid’s nonfiction piece “On the Menu” from the May 2014 issue of Segullah. As she invites friends and family to a party, the ghosts from her past, her mother, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers, take their place in the kitchen to prep a southern feast. The story, which enfolds in footnotes, resonated strongly with me, right down to the lost recipes and the bickering.

How do you bond with the women in your family? Is putting your toddlers on the counter a risk you’re willing to take (I remember reading an article online a few years ago about a celebrity whose son broke his arm in a fall from the counter, and it seemed that the commenters sided squarely with my more risk-averse husband)? What would you serve at a meal that exemplified all of the food traditions from your maternal line?