Nelly Dean

Nelly Dean is the housekeeper and storyteller in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Nelly Dean is also the title of a more recent novel (2015) by Alison Case. This story follows the life of Nelly, not retelling Bronte’s story, but filling in the cracks with another story just as powerful. Here is an excerpt:

It came to me, then, that the trapped bird was a good figure for any of the three of them: Hindley’s rage, Heathcliff’s desperate love, Cathy’s hunger for freedom – whatever drove them, it seemed to drive them each past sense and reason… I thought to myself, ‘I am not like them,’ and it was like a revelation to me… I did not have it in me to fly wildly at a window again, and yet again, and yet again. And no doubt that was a good thing. But for all my pride in my own good sense, I could not help being sad at the thought.

Sometimes I believe I am too much of a sensible hen, like Nelly. I agree that it is a sad thing to not have the kind of passion that embodies some people. And yet, none of us are completely tame. Who but God can know our inmost thoughts, which race wild inside us, getting caught at the filters of speech and actions? I might be a sensible hen, but I have a streak of hawk, too.


It’s almost Black Friday. I don’t even enjoy shopping on a regular day, so I won’t be going out to brave the crowds. But I did want to write a post of appreciation for a few of the best toys in my house. Toys are pretty important for those little ones, and with so many to choose from, choosing the right ones for gifts is a big deal. These are toys that have lent a nice atmosphere to our home. I’m not going to link it to Amazon or be very specific. You can do your own research. I just wanted to share the general type of toy.

The number one best toy for my son is the wooden, connectable train track. It has a lot of pieces, can be put together many, many ways, has clear instructions for four impressive track plans (which I laminated), and has stood the test of time. We gave it to my son when he was three. He is now almost nine. It still gets happily played with.

Toys for girls are a little harder to choose because my girls play with a wider variety of things. Both girls have had a lot of fun with a jump rope I picked up for a quarter at a garage sale. And yes, I let them jump rope in the house. We have high ceilings.

Mostly, my girls like to accumulate things. The more stuffed animals, the better. The more little figurines, the better. The more dolls, the better. They play pretend with these things, scattering them all about the house, making endless collections of them in strange places. Sometimes they use their small dollhouses, sometimes they don’t. Barbie dolls are included here. I know that’s controversial, but I don’t think I was scarred for life by playing with Barbies, so I doubt they will be either. So the girls like multitudes of small things for pretend play.

Thinking back to my own childhood, I remember playing with my paper dolls a lot. I scattered them around in strange places (I suppose my mother thought), but really I had a very intricate world planned for them. I think that might be why I am a fiction writer today. I still have those intricate worlds in my head, and I like to move people around in them. I hope the toys my own kids play with inspire them well into adulthood.

In Doubt and Temptation

“In Doubt and Temptation” is a song I’ve often enjoyed singing from the blue Psalter Hymnal (c. 1976). Here’s the first verse:

In doubt and temptation I rest, Lord, in Thee;
My hand is in Thy hand, Thou carest for me;
My soul with Thy counsel through life Thou wilt guide,
And afterward make me in glory abide.

It’s a good song to sing when I need to keep living, keep riding along with the hours, despite whatever turmoil is going on around me. God is there, always. God is guiding me, always. I will always be with God. Those are great things to remember.

Also, the song starts on a low note (middle C) and only ever gets an octave higher. Since my voice doesn’t go very low, songs like this make me sing differently than other hymns. More robust. More like I’m reciting lines in a play to which I’m not me. And somehow, because of that, I remember the words better. They are lines I wouldn’t normally say, but I am supposed to say them anyway, so I do. It is nice to have a God-approved script waiting for me when I’m in doubt and temptation.

Space and Time

Homeschooling has its ups and downs. Some weeks I feel behind. This week I felt like we had time to do everything. We even got to the art project I’ve been telling my kids “we might get to that later today” for the last three weeks. We finished reading Peter Pan this week, which the kids have been begging me to reread for exactly a year. I finally gave in. Now we’re reading Ben and Me by Robert Lawson, which is another reread, but I love it (way more than Peter Pan). We are nearing the end of our first Ambleside Online term, which means we are nearing the end of two books (Understood Betsy and The Princess and the Goblin). It also means we are finishing up our artist study of the term, which is Mary Cassatt. I am so happy to share her artwork with the kids. I think they like it as much as I do!

This is one of those posts I write mostly for myself. I tell myself, space and time opens up. Just when I’m feeling cramped and pressed and squeezed and processed, life opens up like a big Georgia O’Keefe flower painting. God gives me time to finish off loose ends. He leads me through paths of fresh air, down lanes with big climbing trees, through lawns covered with crisp leaves. He gives me opportunities to really, truly help a person. He leads my thoughts away from bad things. He gives me words to read and write. He empties my fridge of boring leftovers so I can cook interesting things.

Strangely, He encourages me through my own discouragement. I sometimes read or hear about other homeschools, and instantly I know my weaknesses. I’m not a certified teacher, and I know very few technical tricks about how to get different areas of my children’s brains working. I dislike talking my children through social aspects of their training (shaking hands, looking people in the eye); I’m not sure why, but I always feel foolish talking to them about things like that. I feel like some rambling hypocrite. Too much talkie-talkie, as Charlotte Mason might say. So I get discouraged because I think I’m failing concerning these things. But God helps me fight this discouragement. I am good at other things. I persevere. If I’m quiet, well, I’m living by example, then. If I’m inexact in my teaching, well, we don’t stop. We keep moving forward. We enjoy a literary rhythm that perhaps certified teachers might envy. I am their mother, and I am probably the best person for them to be around all day because I care the most.

So I write to myself, even when bad things happen, life keeps moving forward, opening up in new ways. Keep going. Keep going outside. Don’t worry about sleeping too much or too little. Keep eating. Drink Mt. Dew, but drink it moderately. Make yourself some tea, too. Read new books and old books. Go to Bible study. Pray in the shower.

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit

John Singer Sargent, The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, 1882
John Singer Sargent, The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, 1882

Strange and lovely. Look at the size of those vases. Now try to decide where your eyes go first. Mine go to the girl on the left. Yes, my eyes keep traveling the circuit of daughters, but the circuit occupies such an odd amount of the canvas. The giant rust-orange paper airplane on the right (I suppose it’s a screen) does its job of balancing out the colors and also the color temperature, but isn’t it strange that the warmest thing in the painting is a weird abstract shape? The girls are cool as ice. Even the little baby on the floor, sweet as she might be with her baby doll and toes turned in, doesn’t look very huggable. I’d like to keep all these girls at their distance. They are beautiful but also detached. What’s going on behind those pale faces? We don’t know. As a matter of fact, the one I find most approachable is the one not facing us. She looks shy. I might like to meet her.

I want to wonder what these girls thought when they saw their portrait. But then again, if I know the nature of their minds, the portrait itself might be ruined. Some people are meant only to be looked at, not known by the casual acquaintance.

Husbands and Portrait of a Lady

Portrait of a Lady by Henry James is one of my favorite books not because it is an exciting page-turner (it’s not), but because it runs so long and so thoroughly through the life of Isabel Archer. It doesn’t stop at her refusal to marry two eligible men. It doesn’t stop at her marriage to Gilbert Osmond. It doesn’t stop at the death of her baby. It doesn’t stop when she finds out who Madame Merle really is. It doesn’t even seem to stop at the ending. Isabel’s life and thoughts and emotions and motives are examined closely. They are honored, not condemned. Even when the reader realizes that Isabel realizes that her husband is not the best husband for her, even then the book does not allow us to despise or even pity Isabel. She is upheld as a lady throughout.

I think all us wives could present our husbands in such a way that they are unsuitable. We could. I am tempted to do so right now because his character has not been very shining lately. I’d like to go into detail under the pretense that I need prayers, or I don’t want to be alone in really knowing him.

But that would be me wanting pity. Not very ladylike. Not very Christian, either.

The thing to do is go on living, quietly doing my best to be godly in character. If I am honorable in all things, even in how I relate to my husband, then my husband’s character will either rise (which would be good) or fall (unaided by me). My own name might fall with him. My children’s name might fall with him. But those things are beyond my control, and a true lady or gentleman (like several of Isabel’s friends) would know that and would honor my life all the same. Even more importantly, God would know that, and He judges perfectly every time.

Queen Esther

Esther by Kate Gardiner Hastings (England, 1837-1925)
Esther by Kate Gardiner Hastings (England, 1837-1925)

I’m teaching one of my favorite Bible stories in Sunday School tomorrow. Something I read in the teacher’s manual caught my interest. It could be that Esther and her Uncle Mordecai had strong faith in God, or it could be they had strong national faith–faith in the importance of Israel itself. What matters is that God used them to glorify His own name and save His people. God was in control of all events at all times.

I often think America is a land blessed by God, and I often believe God intends to keep it His land, or He intends to cause a revival because why would He begin a land under God and then let it go to waste? The important thing is not that America is a great land. The important thing is that God is in control of everything that happens in America.