All posts by Shelah

About Shelah

(Co-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.

Introducing RubyGirl.org! An interview with Michelle Lehnardt

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We are delighted to announce the launch RubyGirl.org, a new website/online magazine for LDS girls. Michelle Lehnardt, the longtime blog editor and beloved contributor at Segullah, is heading up this new venture, and I sat down to talk with her about the website, which today features a video interview with Elaine Dalton, former General Young Women’s President for the LDS Church.

Continue reading Introducing RubyGirl.org! An interview with Michelle Lehnardt

Sweet Sixteen (and never been kissed?)

I’d seen him at the last two stake dances and thought he was cute, but hadn’t really talked to him. But that night, things were different. We danced, and he spun me in circles as we both laughed. When we wanted a breather, I jumped on his back and he ran me around the stake center. Eventually, we ended up sitting in the hall, and when too many people complained about stepping over our outstretched feet, we moved into a classroom, where I snuggled into his side and he held my hand. At the end of the night, we walked out to the parking lot together, and just as my dad was turning into the parking lot, Matt kissed me for the first time.

I was fourteen.

After that, we were inseparable. Or at least as inseparable as a fourteen-year-old and a fifteen-year-old who live forty miles apart can be. We talked on the phone every afternoon while watching videos on MTV. We begged rides from our parents, his older brother, and any friends willing to take pity on us. We went to church dances and school dances and parties after his high school football games. We kissed. We kissed a lot. We kissed in his bedroom with the door closed. We kissed in his family’s cabin when we were the only people there. We were probably extraordinarily lucky, but we never did anything that would land us in the bishop’s office to confess. Matt and I dated on-and-off (mostly on) for the next three years, until he left for college.

As far as active Mormon kids go, we broke a lot of the rules. For the Strength of Youth says: “You should not date until you are at least 16 years old. When you begin dating, go with one or more additional couples. Avoid going on frequent dates with the same person. Developing serious relationships too early in life can limit the number of other people you meet and can perhaps lead to immorality.” We basically turned a blind eye to that paragraph. My parents didn’t seem to care. His parents didn’t seem to care. None of our church leaders seemed to care, or at least seemed to care enough to tell us to knock it off.

***

My son is going on his first date this weekend. It’s a group date, with three other couples, and they’re going to the zoo, to dinner, and to a high school dance. Sounds innocent enough, right? This spring baby of mine has watched most of his friends turn sixteen and start dating this year, and he seemed sheepish and apologetic about wanting to go to the dance, the last one for sophomores this school year, even though he won’t be sixteen for a few more weeks. He’s had to defend himself to more than one friend, and I find myself justifying the date to my friends too (even when they don’t ask for the justification).

It’s going to be an even more difficult stretch for my daughter, who won’t turn sixteen until 2/3 of the way through her junior year of high school.

It feels disingenuous of me to put down a hard and fast prohibition against dating before sixteen when I flouted that rule, and so did my husband (when he was fifteen he had his first kiss with a seventeen-year-old girl). I find myself being more of a “spirit of the law” kind of girl, but I wonder if I’m misjudging the symbolic importance of the age.

I’d love to have a discussion. Did you wait until you were sixteen to date? What were the upsides and downsides of waiting? Do you have rules for your kids or do you do the whole “teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves” thing? Is the age sixteen benchmark something that feels less like a rule and more like a guiding principle outside the jello belt?

Book Review: Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings

We often think of our Mormon foremothers as women who crossed the plains with babies strapped to their backs, or who made the desert blossom as a rose working alongside their sister wives. We know our history is full of strong and faithful women, certainly, but we might not be as well versed in their roles as suffragists (women in the Utah territory won the right to vote in 1870, which was earlier than anywhere else in the nation) and as physicians and midwives. In other words, Mormon feminist history is essentially as old as Mormon history.

Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings, edited by Joanna Brooks, Rachel Hunt Steenblik and Hannah Wheelwright and published by Oxford University Press, delves deeply into the Mormon Feminism of the last fifty years– spanning the time period from the fight over the Equal Rights Amendment to President Benson’s “To the Mothers in Zion” talk to present-day concerns over expanding women’s official roles in the LDS Church.

In the last few months since Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings has been published, I’ve been delighted to see it on the shelves of bookstores all over Utah. This widespread availability of the book seems to reflect what Brooks as to say about the intended audience in her introduction: “This book is for anyone who wants to go deeper than the headlines and understand what it means to be a Mormon feminist. This book is for Mormon men and women who have questions about gender dynamics within Mormonism. Maybe you have wrestled about these questions personally. Maybe you have witnessed a friend or relative struggle with these questions, or have heard about Mormon feminist activism and want to understand it better. Maybe you are not Mormon but are curious about how contemporary Mormons live our vibrant and demanding faith and reconcile ourselves to its challenges. . . .”

The breadth of the intended audience is reflected in the wide range of authors included in Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings— more than forty women. Voices include church leaders like Chieko Okazaki (former member of the General Relief Society Presidency), activists like Kate Kelly, bloggers like Lisa Butterworth (founder of Feminist Mormon Housewives), scholars like Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and Claudia Bushman, beloved poets like Carol Lynn Pearson, and many other women all across the spectrum of the Mormon experience. The collection also includes women of color and voices that extend beyond just American feminism.

The editors of Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings should be praised not just for the breadth of their collection, but for the many extras that enhance the reading of the book. Brooks’s introduction provides a nice overview to the history of Mormon feminism, especially in relation to mainstream feminist movements at work during the last fifty years. The editors do a nice job of scaffolding the pieces with introductions to the significant time periods, and with commentary and context on each piece included in the collection. I teach a Mormon Literature course, and this is a text I will definitely consider adding to my syllabus in the future, but I think it’s accessible enough for a casual reader and would also be a fantastic book for book groups. The editors have added a fabulous Study Group Guide full of thoughtful discussion questions at the end of the book, ready made for book groups. They also list Selected Readings by Topic so readers can pick and choose what they want to read without delving into the book from beginning to end.

I’m one of those people who likes to read a book from beginning to end, and this book was engaging and instructive for readers like me, too. While I felt fairly well-versed in Mormon feminism when I started reading, I felt that I learned a lot and view of people who can be included in the umbrella of a Mormon feminist was expanded and broadened. Reading Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings made me feel grateful for both the more recent foremothers who carry the feminist banner, as well as for the Mormon feminists with whom I brush shoulders from day to day.

Crappy Birthday to You

A couple of months ago, my daughter Maren turned nine. We were going to be on a family vacation for the big day, so I threw her a birthday party that wrapped up with minutes to spare before we headed for the airport. On her birthday, she ate breakfast at a fancy restaurant where all of the waitstaff sang to her. She opened presents, including most of what she asked for and even a few things she didn’t know she wanted. Then she spent the day bodysurfing, paddleboarding, snorkeling, and building sandcastles with her brothers and sisters. She even rode a water slide. But when it got dark that evening, she clutched my hand as we walked along the beach path and sobbed. “We didn’t get to do everything I wanted,” she said through her tears. “We didn’t have shave ice. I miss my friends.”

My first reaction might be similar to what you’re thinking right now. “What a brat,” I thought. “I can’t believe she’s throwing a fit after she had this perfect day.”

We walked in silence for a while, and eventually the lightbulb went off in my brain. “You don’t want this day to end, do you?” She nodded and cried some more. “I don’t want to wait another whole year for my birthday.” I hugged her and we walked back to the hotel room, past the shuttered shave ice stand, and her tears subsided.

I get it. When I was a kid, my favorite day of the year was January 20th. I had to share Christmas with everyone I knew, but I got to be the center of attention on my birthday. My mom always went all out— homemade cake, treats for my class, beautifully wrapped presents and super creative parties. I never wanted my birthday to end. Continue reading Crappy Birthday to You

An Interview with Featured Artist Katrina Berg

kat28.800Segullah: What are your sources of inspiration?

Katrina: Real life moments. In my cake series: one cake depicts the bundt a dear friend brought when we were drowning with twin babies, and another represents the cheesecake I craved incessantly while pregnant with these sweet boys. Some paintings are meant as learning experiences like the cake and flowers that tell of a mother who suggested her son bring his wife flowers instead of giving up on their marriage. My latest series of abstract mountains are a reminder of the constant strength and peace I feel surrounded by the majestic Wasatch Mountains.

Segullah: What do you want others to take or feel from your work?

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detail from “Sink with a View”

Katrina: Life was meant to be difficult and messy at times. My work are like sweet treats, begging us to remember sweet times of the past and welcome those in our future. There is enough harsh reality that we endure each day. These pieces are meant to help us savor the good in life: to celebrate the small moments of happiness, peace, or joy. If they can remind, or lift someone having a hard day (or a hard year, lol!), they have made their mark.

Segullah: How do you feel that your testimony is reflected in your work?

Katrina: Like so many, I endured some pretty tough stuff as a small child. In the dark, lonely, and difficult times, I could not deny the Savior’s ever-presence. I learned to rely on my Heavenly Father and to listen as He helped me understand the seemingly great trials I was experiencing. He taught me the value of record keeping, and the responsibility that comes with many of the events in our lives. Perhaps it is to share beauty: causing it to multiply; or to give comfort and empathy, encouraging others to overcome. It is good to endure, but even greater to be there to help lift others through similar trials. These truths, provide the energy and drive to my painting.

Segullah: How do you find time and space to create art?

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“Grandmother’s Golden Pearls”

Katrina: Just like all you lovely ladies, I have to make time for my passion. Presently, I consider myself a “dream painter”: painting as my babies sleep. Just as our family had to work together to keep small babies alive those first important months (and still do!) we are learning that everything we care about, whether it is work, play or learning, takes a great deal of cooperation and consideration for each other. We’re constantly trying to develop these attributes. These are vital for our happiness at home as well as my painting success. In the afternoon, my older children work independently on projects so that I can paint and the babies nap. After they all go to sleep I may have an hour or so to create, and often, my husband will come home from work and let me paint until I finally give in to dreamland. Trying to plan for everything, we designed our home with an art studio adjacent to our bedroom. A week after we moved in, we were overjoyed to discovered I was pregnant (following a long bout of secondary infertility). When we found out they were twin boys, we knew the studio would be the twins’ domain for a time. We had also designed space in the kitchen for a large dining table (10 x 4’) where we could eat, create and study together. Thank goodness it is big enough for me to have a small corner as my current studio. It may not be the clean and crisp room we’d all prefer, but it is the best of our choices at present. 😉

kat13.800Segullah: What do you find empowering about being an artist?

Katrina: More than anything I love the freedom that comes with creating something new…especially when it looks so different than the real thing. Whether it is the small details or the simplicity of a cheery color that brightens the room, it is the freedom to create whatever is within my soul that brings me the most joy.

Segullah: How do you encourage creativity in others?

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“Coral Cache II”

Katrina: I’ve always felt very strongly about two things: 1. We as women need each other, and 2. We were meant to create. Long before instagram, I wrote a blog post about how creativity is a choice and 16 ways that we create as women each day. Within the 16 were creating friendship, joy, laughter, beauty, faith, love and miracles. There are so many more: we can create a house of order, a house of knowledge, a place of peace… Segullah has always welcomed and encouraged the divine beauty and constant growth of women. May we continue to develop new ways to create, reminding ourselves and the beautiful women in our lives that being creative is not just a gift (or a talent)…but it is in fact a choice!