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.

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?


2013 Whitney Roundup (and a plea for support for its founder)

Here at Segullah, we love the Whitney Awards. We love reading the books, learning about the authors, attending the Awards banquet, and, most importantly, engaging in spirited debates about the merits and detriments of each work. This year, Emily Milner headed up our group of readers, which also included Rosalyn Eves, Jessie Christensen, Sandra Jergensen, Heather Bergevin, and me. The awards will be handed out at the annual banquet, held this Saturday night in Layton, Utah. But we wanted to give you a sneak peek into our thoughts about the forty books we read.

First of all, we are delighted to see the quality of LDS fiction improving in the years we’ve been reading for the contest. Nearly all of the young adult novels are now published by national publishers, and those published by regional presses are showing more maturity in the writing, both in subject matter and style. There are five books nominated in each of eight categories. Readers can read a single category, all of the “adult” novels, or all of the youth fiction. Readers who read all 25 adult books can vote for Novel of the Year, and those who read all 15 youth books can vote for Best Novel in Youth Fiction. Any finalist that is an author’s first novel is eligible for Best Novel by a New Author

General: The competition this year came down to two strong works: Mile 21 by Sarah Dunster, which is very readable and moving with great characterization, and Jennifer Quist’s Love Letters of the Angel of Death, the most ambitious, literary and lyrical of the novels in the entire competition. Both stories are about married couples, separated too soon by death. All of our readers loved both novels, and we were evenly divided over which novel should claim the top spot. We were also very happy to see a stronger General category this year than in years past.

Historical: Both H.B. Moore’s Esther the Queen, the novelization of the story of Esther from the Old Testament, and Carla Kelly’s Safe Passage, about an estranged couple brought back together during their escape from the Mormon colonies in Mexico, are great novels– well written with great characters and compelling plots.

Romance: It’s rare that everyone in our group of readers agrees on a single novel to nab our top vote, but this year, we were unanimous in our adoration of Melanie Jacobson’s Second Chances, with the story of a producer who falls for the star of the Mormon Bachelor, who happens to be her ex-boyfriend. The story is witty and wise, and made us all wish we were single again and could date Jacobson’s bachelor.

Mystery/Suspense: While we were unanimous in our vote in the romance category, we were hopelessly divided in the Mystery/Suspense category. Some of us really enjoyed Josi Kilpack’s Rocky Road, especially the longtime readers who have seen the evolution of  Sadie Hoffmiller’s character over the course of the ten (now eleven) novels in her culinary mystery series. Other readers fought hard for Heather B. Moore’s Finding Sheba, enjoying the complexity of the plot about uncovering the Queen of Sheba’s tomb. We also want to give a shout out to Traci Hunter Abramson, whose Deep Cover, about a CIA agent who falls for an FBI agent in her ward, demonstrates a lot of her growth as a writer and plays with the complexities of writing for a home audience.

Speculative: Jeffrey S. Savage’s Dark Memories was creepily reminiscent of a Stephen King novel, where the world is just a half-step away from the one in which we’re living. The story of revenge, more than thirty years after the fact, for the death of a young boy in a mine, kept us turning pages.  Many of us also enjoyed CJ Hill’s Echo in Time, the story of two sets of twins working with time travel, set four centuries in the future.

Young Adult- Speculative: We all loved Kasie West’sPivot Point. Addie is able to see her two separate futures in alternating chapters in this book, and in the end she faces a difficult decision. Addie and her fellow characters in both the paranormal and normal worlds made the story come alive. We also enjoyed CJ Hill’s Friends and Traitors: Slayers 2, a book about dragon fighters, and a great example of how to make a sequel interesting and relevant for new readers.

Young Adult- General: Julie Berry’s All The Truth That’s in Me wowed. The writing was beautiful, the historical setting was realistic, and the choices Judith faced were heartbreakingly real. By contrast, we also though that Lindsey Leavitt’s Going Vintage was delightfully fun, and she did a nice job of handling serious subjects with a light touch.

Middle Grade: Liesl Shurtliff’s RUMP was a totally delightful retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin story in which we learn to sympathize with the little guy and no longer make the mistake of siding entirely with that poor miller’s daughter. We also enjoyed The Runaway King, Jennifer A. Nielsen’s sequel to The False Prince, which won big last year.

Best Novel by a New Author: RUMP

Best Novel of the Year: Love Letters of the Angel of Death

Best Novel in Youth Fiction: All the Truth That’s in Me

When the Whitney Awards were established in 2007, it was largely accomplished through the hard work and love of Robison Wells and is brother Dan. Both brothers have gone on to win Whitney Awards, and their books are weird in all the best ways. Rob has worked tirelessly to build the field of Mormon letters, and now we have an opportunity to help him as he suffers from mental illness and crippling debt. Check out Altered Perceptions to find out how, and consider ordering the anthology whose proceeds will benefit him. It looks fantastic!

P.S. If you want to read reviews of the Whitney books, both Rosalyn and Shelah have blogged their reviews.