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Category Archives: Bernadette Smart

Looking forward


Over the last year, I’ve written in even-numbered months about what’s going on around our place, and in odd-numbered months about what Bernadette Smart, the main character of my novel, might imagine in similar circumstances.

The novel is… maybe finished.  I keep feeling like it needs one more look-through, one more edit, one more pass from an editor.  Or maybe an agent.  But how do I navigate these waters when I have so  much else on my plate?

After attending a writing conference last weekend, I have a couple of ideas of my next steps, and I want to take them — developing a proposal, looking for an agent.  I want to do these things!  And yet part of me thinks maybe I need to purposefully take some time away from it.  Over the past year, out of sheer busyness (but also the feeling that maybe it’s done?), I’ve barely worked on the book.  It has continued to hang over my head, and I continually feel like I should be working on it.

But I don’t work on it, and then I feel guilty about it — especially when people ask me, “How’s the book coming?”  I wonder if it might be time for me to just respond, “I’m shelving it for now to focus on other things.”

What other things?

Well, I’m continuing my Master’s degree; moving at my current rate, I should finish in December of 2019.  And then I might take coursework to get my administrator’s license in Curriculum and Instruction.

In the meantime, I continue to take on leadership responsibilities at school.  This coming year, I’ll be on the school improvement committee and maybe the social committee, both of which are new for me.  And I’ll still be co-sponsoring middle school student council, plus teaching a full load of classes — some of which are as large as 28 students.  On top of that, I’ll be working with a Ball State English Education student who wants to do an intensive, voluntary internship with me.  I’m really excited about that.  And a Ball State professor and I will use that experience as a basis for research on pre-service teacher education.  Whew!

And Husband keeps working away on building the house, so I’m hopeful that sometime soon, I’ll actually have something to do — choosing colors and picking out rugs and helping to design the kitchen and whatnot.  (Right now I’m focusing on being an excellent cheerleader as he mills logs and does complicated math.  Occasionally he needs my massive muscles to help him shift a log onto the mill, as well.)

So, what with studying and teaching and grading and leading and cheering, I’ve got a lot going on.  I’m still writing, but most of my writing focuses on my coursework.  I’m not sure I have more Bernadette stories for this blog, but I do plan to keep up my teaching blog, Good Morning, Class!  Please pop over there and subscribe if you’re at all interested.

And as for the book, today is a day of discouragement, but I’m hoping for more uplifting days soon.  I’ll keep you updated.



Dr. B. Smart and the Invasive Vine

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“The wild grapevine is taking over the woods again,” Bernadette hears Papa say to Mama.  “I need to go pull it down before it gets too big and strangles out the trees.”

“Yes,” Mama replies, “I’d noticed that it was getting unruly the last time I was out there.  Why don’t you take Bernadette and Martha Washington with you? Martha can chase squirrels while Bernadette helps you pull.”

“Excellent idea,” Papa answers.

Bernadette bounds into the kitchen.  “Sir!” she cries. “I just received notice that you have need for a pair of fearless jungle explorers to help you eradicate a dangerously invasive vine from the rainforest!”

“Why, yes,” the wizened botanist replies.  “Do you know of any such explorers brave enough to come to my aid?”

“Allow me to introduce myself.  I am Dr. Bernadette Smart, Jungle Explorer Extraordinaire.  I have much experience with these terrible plants, and my companion Martha Washington will accompany us.  She is a skilled hunter and will protect us from the jungle beasts.”

“Dr. Smart, I am pleased to accept your offer,” the botanist says as he bows to her.  “Are you and your companion prepared to depart immediately?”

“Most certainly!” replies Dr. Smart.  She whistles to Martha Washington, who is at her side in a moment.  Once Dr. Smart explains the gravity of the task, Washington sets her face toward the rainforest ready to plunge into the challenge.

Clothed in long sleeves and long pants to protect their skin from foliage such as the dreaded poisonicus ivycus, and hats to ward off blood-sucking insects like tickus grossicus, Dr. Smart and the old botanist enter the jungle.  Even the edge of the forest holds danger, as large raspberricus thornicus bushes grab at their sleeves.  “We must be careful,” Dr. Smart advises.  “The jungle is not a friendly place to the unwise intruder.”

“Agreed,” says the old botanist.  “Shall I precede you down the path?”

“Perhaps Washington ought to go first, to be sure no beasts lie in wait,” Dr. Smart suggests.

“Ah, your wisdom exceeds your years, Dr. Smart.  Washington? Go on!”

Mighty hunter Martha Washington trots ahead of them, sniffing her surroundings.  Soon she leaves the path. “I do believe she has caught the scent of the fierce squirrelicus brownicus,” Dr. Smart surmises.  “She will run it off while we attend to the task before us.”

Dr. Bernadette Smart and the old botanist turn their attention to the treacherous vines just ahead of them.  “Ah, yes. Their encroachment on the surrounding foliage certainly could spell death for the forest,” she nods, squinting her hazel eyes at the vines and tucking her brown hair more securely into her cap.  The humidity has begun to frizz her hair and she is grateful the hat will keep it out of her way while she works.

The old botanist hands Dr. Smart a pair of gloves, and they set to work.  Sometimes they each take hold of separate vines, and sometimes they must pull together when the organism has wound itself tightly around its tree victim.  With great satisfaction, the two pull until the tendrils let go. The botanist cuts the vines with his strong-jawed clippers, making sure the ends of the vines will not re-root into the ground.  As they work, the devoted Washington checks frequently on their safety running off again to frighten away any number of jungle beasts.

Sweat trickles down Dr. Smart’s back.  The vines scratch at her cheeks, but still she pulls while the botanist yanks and cuts and piles.  The whine of enormous mosquitoes (mosquitocus giganticus) fills her ears.

“Dr. Smart, I do believe our task is complete,” the botanist finally declares.  “If you will help me drag the vines out so we can burn them, we can call it a day.”

The promise of the end in sight bolsters Dr. Smart’s energy.  She grabs hold of as many vines as she can, and, whistling again to Washington, begins the trek out of the jungle.  The rainforest becomes less dense, and sunlight peeks through leaves. Finally, she can see the clearing ahead, and she feels more spring in her step.

With the help of the old botanist, Dr. Smart piles the vines into a tower, which the man sets afire.  Washington throws herself on the grass, wiggling and scratching – whether from mosquito bites or the delight of the hunt, Dr. Smart cannot tell.  Washington has some strange ways.

The old botanist takes off his hat and wipes his brow with his forearm.  “I thank you heartily, Dr. Smart,” he says. “The task was less daunting with you and Washington at my side.”

“My pleasure,” replies Dr. Smart.  “The only thing that could make our accomplishment sweeter would be –”

“Bernadette! Danny!  Want some lemonade?” Mama’s voice sings from the back porch.

“Lemonade!” Bernadette grins.  She and Martha Washington race to the house, with Papa loping along behind.

Fairy Finder

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A Bernadette Smart Adventure


They call her Beena the Fairy Finder.  She wears overalls and a straw hat, but keeps her feet bare.  “If a fairy sees giant shoes coming, she hides more than ever,” Beena said once in an interview.  “Fairies are terrified of shoes, for some reason. Maybe it’s because they don’t wear any.”

Today, Beena’s search takes her to a strawberry patch.  She is especially fond of Fruit Fairies – those who live amongst strawberry plants, blueberry bushes, and orchards.  When the fruit ripens, Beena has found, a careful hunter is more likely to find the fairies. “They assume you are looking just for the fruit,” she explains.  “So they are less afraid and more bold.”

Beena carries an aluminum sieve with her to gather the strawberries.  She has rolled up her pant legs to avoid brushing against the plants and startling the fairies.  Quietly, quietly, she enters the strawberry patch. It’s the end of May, and the ripe strawberries are abundant, their fresh aroma on the breeze.  Beena begins to pick the bright red fruit, keeping a sharp eye out for those for whom she is really looking.

It takes a while before she sees one.  Even on their most careless days, Fruit Fairies are secretive and difficult to spot.  Finally, Beena sees a shimmer in the corner of her eye. “Ah ha!” she thinks, but makes no sudden moves.  She continues with her task, but half her attention is now directed toward the place where she saw the movement.  Now, a slight flutter beneath a leaf. Beena works her way toward the tiny creature. “Tika tika tika too,” she sings softly.  Another movement. “Nikatee pop!” she says.

No one knows how Beena learned to communicate with the fairies, and she says the language is impossible to translate to English, but somehow she makes the fairies understand she is no threat.  “Teedle-dee nick-swop!”

A rustle of leaves.  A flitter of wings. Two eyes peer out and blink.  Beena smiles, moving slowly toward the fairy. A young one, she observes, with wispy red hair and light, green, chiffon-like clothing, and a wee green cap on her head.  For a moment, the fairy hides again behind the jagged strawberry leaf. Beena reassures her again with another “Tika tika tika too,” and the minuscule creature, brave but cautious, inches out.  “Beena neewalla,” Beena the Fairy Finder says.

Perhaps because she is young, or perhaps because she is unusually courageous, the fairy unexpectedly comes out from under the plant.  “Berrah neewalla,” a tiny voice replies. Tiny, but rich and sweet like honey, not a bit tinny for all its smallness.

“Ah, Berrah!” Beena breathes.  It is incredibly rare for a fairy to introduce herself to anyone, and Beena relishes the moment.  She begins to reach out, ever so slowly, to Berrah, when something suddenly startles the fairy, sending her flying across the strawberry patch.  Beena turns to see a sleek black cat trotting toward her.

“Oh, Mr. Wiggles,” she sighs.  “You scared her away.”

“Mrow,” Mr. Wiggles apologizes.

“Oh well.”  She scratches Mr. Wiggles under the chin.  “Maybe I’ll see her again. For now, I’ll finish picking the berries.”  Bernadette smiles, knowing there will be strawberries and cream for dessert tonight.

Miss Mayor

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A Bernadette Smart Adventure



In March, the sunshine kisses the frozen ground and begins to soften the ice into mud.  The days lengthen, the time shifts, and the sun sets later.  Bernadette Smart, Mayor of Animal Town, pulls on her jacket and ties back her hair.  It’s time for canvassing her constituents.

She swings her leg over her bicycle and pedals hard to the south.  Her first visit is to the wild ducks and geese who live on the river.  Some of her council members feel that the wild animals aren’t worth her time.  They never vote anyway, so why bother with them?  But Bernadette has a heart for those citizens of her town.  And how better to make them responsible, voting citizens than to show them that their Mayor cares for them?  At the park, she dismounts her bike and stands it responsibly against a tree.  Her shoes become muddy as she treads carefully down to the bank.  She reaches into her pockets and pulls out bread scraps.  Her friends hear her and come running – er, waddling – to see her. They tell her the news (the nests being built, the migraters coming back) and their complaints (erosion on the bank just past the subdivision, the old tires in the river.)  She nods and commiserates, promising to look into the issues.

Her next stop is at the Field of the Seven Horses.  They come trotting toward her, and she carefully distributes one sugar cube to each animal.  Callie – a tan mare with bleach blonde hair, as if she’s a native Californian – nuzzles her and requests a nose rub.  These are carefree horses with few complaints.  They’re well fed and not worked hard.  In fact, Callie would like to have more to do, and Mayor Smart promises to look into a riding program she can get the mare involved in.  Old Blackburn, a wizened black gelding with gray around his muzzle, grumbles that he’s heard the horses are going to have to share their pasture with goats soon.  Goats! he snorts.  Bernadette tries to convince him that the company would be good for him, but Blackburn will not listen.  She pats his flank, assuring him that he’s complained about that rumor for the last two years and nothing has come of it.  He snorts again and saunters in the other direction.  With one more nose rub for Callie, Bernadette takes her leave.

Just a little bit north and around a bend is a small goat farm, and Bernadette loves visiting, even though she’d never tell Blackburn.  The goats, though impossible to talk to, run around, climbing onto concrete blocks, bounding in and out of old tires, and balancing on seesaws.  They are fun-loving and mischievous.  She’s had to speak sternly to them more than once about property lines and staying inside their boundaries.  They’ve been doing better lately, and no one has called to complain in the last month or two, so she leaves off scolding them today.  After watching them for a while and acknowledging their friendly baas, she moves on.

Her last visit for the day is with the barn cats just across the street from her home.  There’s a new litter of kittens, and the Mayor checks in to be sure Minnie, the young mother, has everything she needs.  She reminds Minnie to keep her children out of trouble – there have been fights among neighborhood cats, and that’s no good for Animal Town.  Keeping the peace is an important part of Mayor Smart’s job.

Finally, Bernadette returns home, parks her bike in the shed, and goes inside to make notes about her visits.  She is confident it will be a productive spring in Animal Town.

Detta and the Famous Hollywood Client


Surrounded by all the important implements an elite Hollywood hairstylist needs, Bernadette (known to her customers as Detta) welcomes her newest client.  “Good morning, dahling!” she gushes.  Famous Hollywood actresses like it when you gush to them.  The customer circles the chair before taking her seat.  She says nothing in reply to Detta, but that is all right.  This stylist has learned that sometimes her clients don’t like to talk, so Detta has learned to fill the silence.

“Oh, what lovely locks you have, Mrs. Washington,” she sighs.  “And such thick hair.  Yes, I can see that it would feel heavy and hot this time of year.  I’ll give you a darling short style for the summer.”

Detta sets to work, brushing, trimming, shaping.  Thick curls fall to the floor, and Mrs. Washington looks happier each moment, though she still never speaks a word.

“Quite a summer for movies, isn’t it?” Detta asks politely.  Hollywood actresses like it when you talk about their trade.  “Although there are far too many sequels for my taste.  Oh, that’s not to say they won’t be wonderful.  I just like to see new ideas in the theaters.

“Now that action movie – Reckless, I think it’s called – looks quite exciting, but I think they should have chosen you for the lead, my dear, instead of What’s-Her-Name.  You are so much more athletic and stunning.”  Detta spies a hint of a smile on Mrs. Washington’s face.  Hollywood stars like to be flattered.

Detta’s skill is tested on this client, however, and make no mistake.  So much hair, some of it tightly curled and some of it wiry – well, it is just good that this hairdresser has years of specialized training and knows how to make the moppiest hair look perfectly coiffed.

A few more snips, and another brushing, and the hair is done.  “Shall we move on to the manicure?” Detta asks sweetly.

She wields the tools with precision, trimming Mrs. Washington’s nails to the perfect length and buffing them to a shine.  Mrs. Washington does not like polish, so Detta’s task is short.

“Well, dahling, are you satisfied with your new look?” the stylist asks as she steps back from her client.  Mrs. Washington stands and smiles.  Then she shakes her entire body and bounds away from the salon.

“Thanks for trimming the dog, Bernadette,” Mama calls from the kitchen.  “I know Martha Washington will feel better without all that fur for the summer.  Did you trim her nails, too?”

“Yes, Mama!” Bernadette answers, sweeping up the dog hair and nail clippings.  As she scoops it all into the trash can, she feels the satisfaction of knowing that she, Detta Smart, stylist to the stars, has another happy client.

Lady Bernadette and the Devoted Suitor


The Lady Bernadette sits on the verandah, fanning herself and sipping lemonade.  It is a warm day, and her suitor has come to call. Lady Bernadette has yet to decide about Mr. W.  His black hair and bright eyes are charming to be certain.  And flirtatious!  My, my.  With what boldness he seeks affection!

Mr. W. has been enjoying the morning in Lady Bernadette’s company (her mother is chaperoning from just inside the house, so there is no impropriety.)  Movement in the grasses catches his eye.

He has brought his hunting gear with him, as he has planned to go for a hunt today after calling upon Lady Bernadette.  Her beauty kept him transfixed longer than he anticipated, so his start is delayed.  The lady sees his eyes flit to the quarry in the field.

“Please,” Lady Bernadette intones.  “Go on with your hunt.  I will not be offended in the least.”  He gives her a questioning look, as if to be sure she means what she says.  “Oh, sir.  I am not one of those English noblewomen who plays games with her suitors.  If you wish to hunt, by all means, track your prey!  Fret not about my feelings, for I assure you I do not wish to keep you when you desire to go.  You have, after all, left me in no doubt of your attachment to me, if I may be so bold as to mention it.”

Mr. W. bows to her; then he bounds off the verandah and begins stalking the animal.  Lady Bernadette, having not the keen eye of a hunter, can not see what he is tracking; she can see only the intensity with which he tracks it.

Soon, Mr. W. is so deep in the tall grasses of the meadow that Lady Bernadette can no longer see him at all, though she observes his movements by the way the vegetation bends and sways as he pushes it aside.

The lady adjusts her sunhat and takes another sip of lemonade.  She knows she is fortunate to have such a devoted suitor as Mr. W.  She does not even mind his preoccupation with hunting.  “Every gentleman should have a hobby to keep him occupied,” she says to herself.  “Noblemen who are bored are simply unbearable.”  She enjoys his company, adores his affection, is enamored by his good looks.  “Still,” she wonders.  “Do I love him?”

A quick, sharp movement in the grass catches her eye.  She watches as a brief tussle ensues.  Lady Bernadette watches as Mr. W. emerges from the meadow with his catch and trots directly toward her.

Obviously terribly pleased with himself, Mr. W. deposits his game at the lady’s feet just as her mother exits the house onto the verandah.

“Ah, Mr. Wiggles brings you the spoils once again,” Mama observes.

The young gentleman has eyes only for Lady Bernadette, but the lady looks at her mother over his head as he sits at her feet.  “Yes.  He seems to believe he must earn my affection with such gifts.”

The older woman smiles.  “Shall I dispose of it?”

“If you don’t mind,” Lady Bernadette replies.  “I would be ever so grateful.”

Bernadette scoops up the cat to give him the appreciation he seeks, keeping his head turned so he doesn’t see Mama pick up the dead mouse by its tail and hurl it back into the meadow.

Mr. Wiggles purrs with satisfaction.