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Is There Life Out There? – and Revisiting Older Stories

Skiing penguin

Ernie waddled to the edge of the iceberg, looking out over the endless ocean. Next to him other penguins dove into the water, and others jumped back onto the berg, but he took no notice of any of them. His mind danced along the horizon, teasing him with imaginings of what lay beyond.

“What are you looking at?” It was Blackie, a friend who’d come up beside him.

“Hum? Oh, nothing, I just… Hey Blackie, have you ever thought about what’s past the ocean?”

“What do you mean, like the breeding rocks?”

“No, beyond that. Have you ever wondered what else is out there?”

“There isn’t anything else. Just look.”

“I heard about a place where it’s so warm that ice melts, plants grow really tall, and there are all types of strange creatures. Wouldn’t it be incredible to see a place like that?”

“Who told you that crazy stuff?”

“Well, one of the fish who goes to the north in the summer said that…”

“You’re talking to the fish? Oh come on Ernie, even if it were true, what would a fish know about it. He’s messing with you.”

“No, no, he met some of the other creatures there. No, I believe him. They swim a lot farther than we do. How do you know there isn’t anything else? Have you ever gone that far?”

“It doesn’t make sense. We would have heard about it before now if there were a place like that. You’re a trusting guy. You should stay away from those fish, they’re playing a mean joke on you.” Blackie shuffled away, shaking his head.

Ernie looked out again, trying to see as far as he could. Was he a fool to listen to fish? It didn’t matter; he needed to believe there was more.

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I wrote this for an online daily writing contest. . . oh gosh – so many, many years ago. But I still kinda like it. I like the optimism and curiosity of the main penguin, Ernie. What I never cared for is the ending. For a long time, I knew the ending was bad, but I didn’t know why. Now, it is obvious to me that the problem is there really is no ending. This is a beginning. It sets up the character and his desires. Then it stops. I’ve been thinking lately that it would be fun to finish this. Give Ernie his adventure. I even checked out some books about penguins from the library today to read up on what might be a plausible way for him to get started on his journey.

I suspect, however -deep down, this may actually be a procrastination tactic I’ve created because I’m stuck in my novel.  Today, I planned to give myself a few hours of dedicated writing time. I didn’t need to do other things, I’d let the kids have the run of the house, do whatever they wanted. I would write. Ya know what I did? I cleaned. I hate to clean. Hate. And I took a nap. I didn’t sleep well last night. That’s what I told myself. I couldn’t write while I was so sleepy. Right? I would do so much better after a nap. Then it was time to start dinner. Oh darn – out of time.

Pitiful. Embarrassing and pitiful. 

So here is what I’m doing now. I’m making some quick notes on my ideas for Ernie, then I’m setting that aside. Giving him a real story will be my reward for finishing my novel. Finishing is a big problem for me in general. I’m to the point where I don’t really care if it’s good. It just needs to be finished.

Do you ever catch yourself self-sabotaging? What are your clues, and how do you get yourself back on track?

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Learning to Ride: No pedals required

Image: graur codrin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I guess this isn’t a new idea, but I’d never heard about it before. Learning to ride a bike without any pedals on it. Frankly, it sounded like a stupid idea to me when I first heard about it, but now I’m a believer.

My brother in law thought this would be a great way to teach my oldest daughter to ride a bike. I’d had no luck getting her to try learning at all, she was pretty fearful about the whole thing, so I said, “Why not?” Now in an amazingly short amount of time, she is riding all over the place, with pedals now – no training wheels ever.

The concept is that learning to ride a bike with no pedals separates the steering and balancing part of the learning process from the peddling part. Training wheels do that too, but they teach balancing last, whereas a bike with no wheels teaches peddling last. I learned to ride with training wheels, and I remember how terrified I was at the idea of those trainers coming off. I think that peddling is nothing compared to the difficulty of learning to balance. After watching my daughter learn to ride this way, I wonder why anyone tries to learn to peddle before they can balance.

An important key I should mention is that when her bike had no pedals, her seat was low, so she could easily stop herself by putting her feet down, and she had good brakes. So she’d scoot around on this thing, looking kinda silly, but when she came to a little downhill area, she’d coast, and keep her feet up. Just a second at first, but gradually longer and longer (actually not all that gradually, she extended her coasting time with feet up quite a bit in a matter of days) until she could turn, and stay balanced the whole time.

So when her uncle put the pedals back on, now she didn’t need a downhill to ride anymore. She had power to go uphill too if she wanted. And that’s all there was to it. She was riding. What I noticed was that when she came to an uphill that forced her to go slowly, and she began to wobble – this is the part where I distinctly remember panicking as a child learning to ride, and I’d stop to put my feet down from fear of falling over – but she didn’t. She wasn’t concerned at all. She knew how to stay up just fine. She even knew, on her own from her coasting practice, that all she needed was to get up a little more speed to make the balancing even easier. It was so cool to watch.

This kid is quite a little creature of habit, and I’m so thankful that we will never have to break her from relying on training wheels. I fought tooth and nail to keep mine when I was learning, and I’m thrilled not to have to live that again from the other side.

I was looking for a link about this concept to include (I decided it wasn’t necessary – just google for info if you want to know more), and was surprised to find a bunch of places selling special bikes with no pedals on them for this purpose. So in case anyone doesn’t know it – you can take the pedals off a regular bike. No need to buy a special ‘balance training’ bike or anything like that. But I highly recommend this method!