I was talking to my mother-in-law last week about people dying. She said it used to bother her how everyone just praised the deceased at funerals, how no one would acknowledge that person's faults, how the deceased was made out to be some kind of saint instead of the person he or she really was. (Isn't this also the idea of Orson Scott Card's "Speaker for the Dead"---to avoid this "false picture" of someone's life?)

Anyway, now, (my mother-in-law said), she doesn't feel that way, because she has learned that seeing all those good things about a person's life, and not being as caught up in their faults, is just as true of a way of seeing things. Maybe more true, because so often our perceptions of others' shortcomings are colored by our own shortcomings. And as she gets older, she is learning to see the faults of others more generously---and to see more clearly the good they really were trying to achieve, and DID achieve. To see others (this is my interpretation here) more like God sees us.

And I agree with her. Because I have loved, this past week, to see my Dad's life as an entity apart, not something I'm tangled up in and entwined with, but something separate and complete in itself, and I think I can see it more clearly that way. Reading through his old journals, hearing my brothers' memories, seeing old pictures and scrapbooks, and even just reflecting on all my own memories of him---all of those things have helped me see Dad as a person and not just as my dad. And it's cool. Because we weren't always very close, and it drove me crazy what a worrier he was, and I just didn't understand him half the time---but I find so much to love and admire and respect and miss about him, and that is all TRUE. Just as true as the annoyances. And I'm so grateful for the recent chance I've had to think about it! And especially, for the chance to continue my relationship with him someday, from this better-perspectived, truer footing.

And maybe someday, as I get older and wiser, I'll learn to see people this way all the time. Wouldn't that be good?

Dad's Valentine

As long as I can remember, my Dad always left a little handwritten Valentine and a treat (usually some candy from the bulk bins at the bookstore---mint truffles, those sour balls, or the pink and green and yellow mints) by our plates at breakfast. (He always made our breakfast.) And before that, on Feb 12th, there was also some little note and present (a pretty rock, a hard-carved wood ring, etc.) at my Mom's place to mark the anniversary of their engagement. Dad never really seemed to get over feeling just amazed and overwhelmed that Mom had married him. He said so often. And now I always connect those two events, Valentine's Day and my parents' engagement, in my mind.

It was a sad Valentine's Day for us this year because we are missing our good Dad, who died Friday. Until just before he died, he had a ventilator tube in his throat and couldn't talk. But in spite of that, I did get to witness some of the sweetest exchanges of love I've seen. Here was my favorite:

Mom: (in Dad's ear) "Mark, do you remember that today is the anniversary of the day you asked me to marry you?"

Dad: [nod]

Mom: "Forty years ago today you asked me to marry you, and forty years ago tomorrow, I said yes!"

Dad: [nod]

Mom: "Thank you for asking me. I love you so much! Do you remember?"

Dad: [nod-nod-nod-nod-nod] [squeezes hand]

[*By the way, his funeral will be Friday at 1 p.m., at the church by my mom's house, if you are interested in coming.]


25 things about . . . my husband

I have greatly enjoyed reading the lists of "25 things" people have been coming up with about themselves on Facebook. (Facebook! Who would have thought.) It's so interesting to see what people choose to bring out about themselves . . . definitely some things you would have never found out in casual conversation!

Anyway, I thought this would be a fun exercise to do on behalf of someone else I know well: namely, Sam. I have endeavored to reveal only things that are fit for public consumption (nothing too embarrassing---I hope). I just like him so much. Sometimes I wish I were a more gushy, sappy person (ala Stephanie Nielson---that sounds like criticism, but it isn't, I think it's sweet) so I could actually make it obvious to the whole world how much I adore him, but although I'm feeling sappy inside, I just tend to be more matter-of-fact about it. So the list form works for me. And I already know I'm going to get too long-winded, so feel free to make a graceful exit now. Otherwise, gird up your loins and let's begin.

25 things you might not know about Sam

1. He doesn't have much of a temper---he's pretty easygoing---but as a teenager he once punched a hole in the wall and broke his hand. He explains this to me by saying, "It's really not as hard to punch a hole in the wall as you'd think."

2. As a kid, he watched Star Wars every day for about 2 years. He doesn't appear to be a "Star Wars" nerd (what is the name for that? not a "Trekkie"--) now, but every once in a while he'll surprise you by coming out with some obscure bit of knowledge about the Star Wars universe ("It's stupid that they did ___ in episode 5 because so-and-so was always intended to be ___ kind of character; that why George Lucas set ___ up in the first place." [Sorry that example is so vague as to be nearly useless, but I'm too ignorant to do any better.]) which reveals just how much, how alarmingly much, he really knows.

3. He has a great singing voice, but it only gets displayed in its full glory when he's singing either a.) real opera arias with made-up words or b.) Disney songs. Otherwise he tones himself down.

4. He's a good sport about doing things he doesn't really like, e.g. wearing a beard to be "the old year" on New Year's so my mom can take a picture, dressing up for nativity scenes, lip synching for talent shows, doing "discounted" drawings for extended family members' various projects/flyers, etc.

5. He uses his fingernail clippers (the ones on his keychain) for everything. They're like his Swiss Army Knife. And he always seems kind of mad or surprised when they aren't adequate for some task or other. If his clippers don't work, he will try the edge of a key. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES will he get out the scissors. And for cooking, he favors the exclusive use of a particular spatula, which he presses into duty for any conceiveable kitchen task.

6. He loves movies like the BBC version of "Pride and Prejudice" and long adaptations of Dickens ("Our Mutual Friend," "Bleak House," etc.). Watching movies like that is one of our favorite things to do together, and then we talk about them endlessly afterward, very nerdily ("What do you think Dickens was trying to get at with the murder of Rogue Riderhood? Was it meant to be ironic, or arouse our pity?"). (Of course, he also made me watch "Transformers" with him. . .)

7. He doesn't get a chance to read very much, but when he does he gets really into the book he's reading: I mean really into it, like taking notes, writing up outlines, describing at length how he could incorporate its ideas into other philosophies he's read about, bringing it into 70% of our conversations, etc. (If I had a dollar for every time he's said, "It's like in that Robert McKee book I read on 'Story' . . . " I'd be a rich woman.) He wants to someday write a book (about Art and Design Principles) himself, and so everything must be examined in light of his ever-expanding Grand Unified Theory.

8. He says he doesn't like the shower as hot as I do, but sometimes I get the feeling that he's just making a token protest, and that he actually is enjoying it, deep down.

9. He's really good at telling stories. On Sunday nights we cuddle in our bed with the kids and sing songs and tell stories (one of us starts a story and then the other one finishes it), and he always comes up with something really awesome, even when I give him a really uninspiring start.

10. He makes fun of the way I say "egg." I say it "Aygg" with a long A, and he says it "ehgg."

11. He had whooping cough a year ago and he's still not really over it. He was really, really sick for a long time---like, coughing up blood, almost passing out because his throat would close up, having panic attacks because he couldn't breathe, etc. He didn't sleep more than 2 or 3 hours at a time for about a 5-month span because he would wake up with coughing fits. He is much better now, but he still gets a really bad cough anytime the air is bad or he has a cold (which has been all winter, naturally). The actual disease is gone after the first 2 weeks, so he wasn't contagious or anything, but I guess all the scarring in your throat and lungs can cause problems for a long time beyond. But I don't think most people ever had any idea how sick he was. (Although if you've been around him, you've probably heard the cough.) He still went to work and survived on no sleep for all those months, and didn't really complain, but he was just SICK, and he still is sometimes. It is really sad. And he just keeps being really brave and good about it all. (Moral: get your tetanus boosters every 10 years! The whooping cough vaccine is in there too.)

12. He holds his breath when he's concentrating or thinking hard. He doesn't really know he's doing it until I say, "Breathe, dear!" and then he lets it out sheepishly all at once. He also has this one spot that he gets nervous about---right at the base of the center of his ribcage, what's that bone called? oh yeah, sternum. Anyway he feels like that's his vulnerable spot because someone could poke it and crush his lungs. (??) I don't know why I feel like those two things are related---maybe because he holds his breath if anyone gets too close to his sternum too. (I hope he's not mad that I revealed his weak spot to potential enemies. None of you are potential enemies, right? Don't let it get out.)

13. He often falls asleep while I'm talking to him at night, but he never admits it. He keeps grunting out "uh-huh" or "yeah, I'm awake" in his sleep until he finally stops responding at all.

14. He has really long arms, like a monkey. His "wingspan" is several inches longer than his height.

15. He'll throw himself enthusiastically into anything he decides to do, with no embarrassment. For example, we've been doing this thing for the last year where we go through the alphabet and do an activity starting with a different letter each weekend (we take turns thinking of what to do). I think a lot of husbands wouldn't get into it, but he's had us hunting all over Salt Lake Valley on an Arthurian Quest, giving oral reports on assigned topics, going to the ballet, having cooking contests, writing bad poems, holding a Mad Tea Party, having a progressive dinner at different restaurants, etc. He is creative and gets excited about his ideas---which makes everyone else get excited too! I think this is why he's so successful as a Concept Artist at work. He comes up with great visions of where a project can go, and then has the skill to project that vision outward so that everyone else can see it too.

16. He loves geology. Whenever we drive anywhere, he keeps a keen eye on the rocks and mountains and comments on them excitedly ("Did you see that? That is such a great example of a lateral glacial moraine!"). On our drive to Arizona he was in heaven; pointing out cinder cones and lava fields and explaining to the boys how the rock formations had stratified into distinct layers seen in formations across two states. He kept peering out the window saying things like "There MUST have been some catastrophic eruption to form that kind of crater pattern!!", and then when we arrived he would NOT REST until he'd looked up our route on Google Earth and confirmed his theories via Roadside Geology of Arizona.

17. Once he fell asleep on the bus and, without knowing it, leaned over to rest on the shoulder of the guy next to him. He woke up to feel the guy shrugging him none-too-gently off (with an expression of grim distaste on his face).

18. He's not a very good card-shuffler. But he's in denial about it (he always thinks it's the condition of the cards, or the table is too slick, or his hands are too slippery, etc.). Lots of times the cards end up shooting out of his hands and all over the floor (much to his chagrin).

19. He gets some kind of weird dry skin on his fingertips, so he puts lotion on his fingers all the time. Like every half-hour throughout the day. And he rubs it in with these kind of weak, namby-pamby circular motions so it just gets on his fingertips instead of his whole hands. There are tiny jars of lotion all over the place: in the silverware drawer, in the bathroom, in his backpack, in the car. He also wears yellow rubber gloves when he's doing something like washing the dishes or changing a diaper.

20. Speaking of changing diapers, he can change a cloth diaper, complete with safety pins, on a baby faster than most people can do a disposable one. (Not quite as fast as me, but nearly.)

21. He's really strong and he works out at the weight room most days, but he's not always yammering on about "lifting" (he calls it "exercising" or the more acceptable "lifting weights"; thank heavens) or "glutes" or "lats" or "reps" or whatever. In other words, he has the perfect combination of work ethic, non-obsessiveness, health-consiousness, and humility.

22. He really likes my cooking, and (even better), says so. Honestly not a day goes by where he doesn't compliment the food and thank me for it. It's rubbed off on our boys, and you wouldn't believe it, but it's true: they say "Thank you for making this nice dinner for us, Mommy!" nearly every night. I know. Amazing. I'm so lucky.

23. He can come up with comebacks to my brothers when I can't. All my life I've been cursed with clever brothers who say clever and funny things (about/directed at me---how disappointed my mom was when she had a girl instead of another boy---etc.), and all I can do is laugh and say lame things like, "nuh-uh!" or, "YOU're the one she said that about!" But Sam is always coming up with these great responses. Like he's the one who told them (my last name was Nelson before---now I'm a Nielson---and my brothers were saying how I'd defiled the true Nelson name etc etc.) that, like President Hinckley, we Nielsons say to the Nelsons: bring all the good that you have and let us add to it. Perfect!

24. He's the type of person who, when he comes home and the kids are crying and his wife is still not dressed and there's no dinner made, says, "Oh good, you haven't started dinner, because I was hoping you'd let me cook something for YOU tonight!" Really. And then he does it.

25. He's really, really funny. And I love it when sometimes he'll come home from work and confess to me, "I was so pleased with myself when I said ____ to you yesterday and made you laugh, that I said it today to my friends at work, and pretended I was just thinking of it for the first time." He can make me laugh all the time, even when I don't feel like laughing. And when I DO feel like laughing, he can make me laugh until my mouth hurts and my cheeks hurt and my stomach hurts and I can't even stand up anymore. I love it.

And now you know. And Happy Birthday, my love; you're the best thing that ever happened to me!

Volcano cakes-o'-love

You will never know if this is me posting now . . . or me posting yesterday . . . or some "undeard" zombies who have invaded my body (but don't worry, Beth . . . I'm sure that possibility is pretty remote . . . ) BUT, regardless, HERE is the thing you've all been waiting for: VOLCANO CAKES! I've never had them at Chili's, by the way. But these are not really very hard to make. Remember that the chocolate filling has to chill for a while so it will form into balls, but other than that you can whip them out after dinner and eat them hot out of the oven. You'll love them. (By the way, Jessica, Abe and Seb LOVE volcanoes, and Abe always requests these for his birthday, too.) Enjoy!

Volcano Cakes

For the lava:

3/4 cup (4 1/2 ounces ) "good-quality chocolate", chopped (that's half a bag of chocolate chips, to you bottom-dwellers who don't shop at Whole Foods)
2 tablespoons whipping cream

For the cake:

1 cup (6 ounces) chocolate, chopped (see above)
3/4 cup butter
3 eggs
3 egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
Powdered sugar (optional)
Raspberries (optional)


1. For filling, in a small heavy saucepan combine the 3/4 cup chocolate pieces and whipping cream. Cook and stir over low heat until chocolate melts. Remove pan from heat. Cool, stirring occasionally. Cover and chill about 45 minutes or until firm. (I do this in microwave: put choc. chips and cream in a glass bowl, put in microwave one minute on high, stir till smooth. Then chill.)
2. Meanwhile, in a medium heavy saucepan (or microwave, as above) cook and stir the 1 cup chocolate pieces and the butter over low heat until melted. Remove from heat; cool.
3. Form chilled filling into 8 equal-sized balls; set aside. Lightly grease and flour (or spray with pan spray) eight 3/4-cup soufflé dishes or six 6-ounce custard cups. Place dishes or cups in a 15x10x1_inch baking pan; set aside.
4. In a mixing bowl beat eggs, egg yolks, granulated sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer on high speed 5 minutes or until lemon-colored. Beat in cooled chocolate/butter mixture on medium speed. Sift flour and cocoa powder over mixture; beat on low speed just until combined. Spoon 1/3 cup batter into dishes. Place 1 ball of filling into each dish of batter. Spoon remaining batter into dishes, on top of filling. (So you're enclosing the lava in the cake batter---covering it, hopefully. Got it?)
5. Bake in a 400 degree oven about 13 minutes or until cakes feel firm at edges.
Cool in dishes 2 to 3 minutes. Using a knife, loosen cakes from sides of dishes. Invert onto dessert plates. If desired, dust with powdered sugar and garnish with raspberries. Serve immediately.

Make-ahead directions: Prepare as above through step 4. Cover and chill until ready to bake or up to 4 hours. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before baking as directed.

"A breath of air"

(Did you know you can get a post to publish in the future? If you're reading this, I have successfully done so, since I should be in the car on the way to Arizona at this very moment. Hooray!)

I had occasion to do a research project last weekend, and souffles being something I had never made or even eaten before, and as I'd heard them referred to as "the perfect end to a romantic Valentine's Day dinner," I chose them as my subject.

Souffle, you know, is from the French "to blow up" or "to puff up"---more poetically translated as "a breath of air." They are typically seen as quite difficult to make (although most recipes I found refuted this). After presenting my findings, Sam and tried making some.

The verdict? Quite good, a little fussy (beating egg whites into a meringue---not difficult, but must be watched carefully), very pretty---but with all that perhaps not my favorite "fancy" dessert. The prize for that still remains with Volcano Cakes (as we call them---more apt than "lava cakes," in our opinion), which are surprisingly similar to these souffles, but (I think) even yummier.

If you would like to try making a souffle, a recipe is here. However, if you really want to impress your Valentine at the end of a Romantic Dinner, I highly recommend making the volcano cakes instead. For which I will post a recipe tomorrow.


Here is something fun I tried today.

You can make a font out of your handwriting. (It's free!) Then you can type with it. It's not perfect, but it looks pretty good, right?

Here is where you can try it for yourself.

Dryer sheets are the new fwuffballs

Except he calls them (for unknown reasons) "dwyer tissues." And don't worry, he still likes fwuffballs.

Language, language!

Here's something that made me laugh today: this model of chair is called the "Lazy Bastard" (don't mind my language; as an honorary member of the Lind and Meridee Williams family I have it on good authority that "bastard" is not a swear word; as is also the case with "bastardize," one of the great English words, really).

Moving on: Don't you just love YouTube? It helps one round out one's cultural education (especially someone like me who never had a TV) so nicely.

There are lots of things I've never seen; for example I had never seen an ABBA music video before last night, when we found a bunch of them on YouTube. And wow! Amazing! I mean, just amazing: the outfits, the facial expressions, the swaying trying to pass itself off as dancing. I loved it.

Another example: "Lord of the Dance." Did you KNOW it was so nerdy? I'd never seen it, so I never knew. The main guy! He has his shirt off and he waves his arms around trying to look virile while he tap dances with his feet. I mean, you couldn't make this stuff up!

Then there's "A Bit of Fry and Laurie" (which one of you linked me to one time, but, argh, who was it? Who?! Maybe Melissa?) which I just adore, especially the following: [sorry for the repeat, those who have already seen this, but honestly, isn't it worth another viewing?]

"Tricky Linguistics"

Just wonderful. And here are two others for all you for whom language is your mother, your father, your husband, your brother, your sister, your mistress, your whore, your checkout girl, and so forth (you know who you are---and now we've come full circle, Williams family):

"The Letter"

"Later that same Wednesday"

Have a lovely Groundhog Day, my friends. Will you be doing anything to celebrate? Groundhog-shaped cupcakes, perhaps? Half of them sun-colored and the other half shadowed? From what I hear, there's no occasion too big or too small for a cupcake!
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