Sunday, April 30, 2017

Extraordinary Ordinary Investigations

by TLC Nielsen
April 2017 

I met a very interesting person and her fictional sidekick Robin Bird a year or two ago (time flies when you’re having fun!) Rosemarie Pagano writes in a scientific mix of facts and faith, which is fascinating. She writes articles for education magazines such as Schoolhouse Teachers and Molly Green, while maintaining her Robin Bird Explorer website and working to boot.

Welcome, Rosemarie!

Q) When did your sidekick Robin come into existence?
A) Robin Bird was hatched around 10 years ago.  I was sitting outside on my deck watching the birds.  They’ve always fascinated me.  I grew up with canaries and parakeets and my mom’s enthusiasm for birds and wildlife was infectious.  We always took time to stop and watch the birds. 
A robin pulled a worm out of the ground.  I had seen that happen many times. I loved the way they tilt their heads before pouncing on the worm.  This, I learned recently, was not because they could hear the worms.  Worms aren’t particularly noisy, but the robin feels their vibrations as they move through the soil.    
This sparked an idea.  I got out my blue gel pen and graph paper (yes, I am quirky about my writing tools) and started to write.  Robyn Byrd.  I got fancy with the spelling and gave her some characteristics.   She had siblings and they all lived in a treehouse.  Hey, a story was hatching!

Q) So how did Robin develop to where she is now?
A) My first super rough draft was about Robin Bird (I changed the spelling to be more SEO friendly) and her bird sisters Jay and Wren.  Their parents left the nest long ago and flew to live in Florida.  Robin was quiet and studied worms.  She was an oddball because, instead of eating worms, she collected them and kept them in a worm bin, as pets.

Wren was a tiny, nonstop talker who wore tweed suits.  She was a busybody who chirped into everyone’s business.  Jay was a loud and bossy Blue Jay who coached a girl birds volleyball team.  Imagine birds playing volleyball!  Anything goes in the super rough draft.  Jay had a bright blue Mohawk and blew a whistle at everyone.  

The Bird sisters lived in a giant treehouse in the quiet town of Roundtree.  This treehouse was the largest in North America.  Wow.  The neighbors were people.  Again, anything goes in a super rough draft.  They didn’t like the mess and the noise the Bird sisters made and complained constantly about them.  Jay swept her peanut shells off the treehouse porch every day and they’d land on Mrs. Parson’s picnic table.  Wren’s constant chirping and chattering, plus Jay’s whistle blowing, forced the neighbors to close their windows.  Sleeping in past sunrise was impossible on the weekends with birds as neighbors.

Because this was a nice story, drama came in the form of flooding rain. The neighbors, who lived in houses, panicked and looked for higher ground.  Roundtree was as flat as a stepped-on pancake.  The Bird sisters looked down from their high perch in the treehouse and the neighbors looked up at them as the water rose up to their knobby knees. 

The Bird sisters huddled and Wren’s chirping became a whisper.  Jay blew her whistle and Robin quickly dropped the rope ladder.  Wren set the table and got busy making ants on a log for a snack.  The neighbors stopped complaining about their wet feet and climbed up the shaky rope ladder.  Mrs. Parsons had the hardest time when her big, wet (size 11) feet kept getting stuck in the rungs.

Twelve neighbors fit comfortably in the giant treehouse and munched the ants on a log.  They waited until the flooding stopped and appreciated the hospitality and kindness of the Bird sisters.

Q) Why did you choose Robin and science as your writerly focus?
A) I have a biology degree and experience working in medical microbiology.  I don’t like worms.  But, as I researched vermicomposting, I became fascinated with the incredible work they do.  They really are tiny tillers and rock star composters. 
I put this story in the drawer for another year.  Who wants to read about talking birds?  No one.  I focused on other topics and enrolled in a fiction course through the Institute of Children’s Literature.  Robin Bird came out of the drawer and I made her into a girl.  She wore brown corduroy shorts, a bright orange T-shirt and carried a doctor’s bag filled with worm collecting tools. She called herself  the “Worm Whisperer” and set up a Wormatorium in her basement.  She had parents and two older siblings, Jay and Wren.  No one understood Robin and no one had the worm love.  It was a boring story that screeched to a halt.  I didn’t give up. 
Robin Bird
I went to several writers’ conferences to seek expert advice.  One editor suggested I change Robin to a boy.  Another suggested my secondary character, Wallace, take over.  Each suggestion left me more confused and frustrated.  So I put the whole pile of pages, drawings, worm notes, and research back into a larger drawer and stepped away, again.  I knew it wasn’t the end of Robin Bird.  She had so much to say.  I just didn’t know how to let her tell her story.  

Q) What unexpected things have happened to you along the way?
A) I met a wonderful editor and teacher through the Illinois chapter of SCBWI (Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators) and set up an appointment for a critique. Editor Esther Hershenhorn’s reaction to my story was an unexpected surprise.  She asked about my biology/ microbiology background. I’ll never forget what she said that day, “Rosemarie, I strongly recommend you use Robin Bird to teach science.”

Wow, that was my light bulb moment!  I love science and I love Robin Bird, but to put them together was a major breakthrough.  Ideas started to flow.  I started to “see” Robin Bird as a curious explorer enthusiastically teaching cool science subjects.   I will always be thankful to Esther for opening a can of worms!

Q) What’s next for you on your writing journey?
A) What an incredible journey I have had with Robin Bird!  I am so grateful for the Lord ordering each and every step of this journey.  It isn’t over.  I am grateful for the opportunity to share science and nature with young explorers.  Another part of the journey is to create more online Bible study courses.  I am currently working on Psalm 104. 
Rosemarie Pagano
Interested in finding out more about Robin Bird and Rosemarie? 

You read this first on the Extraordinary Ordinary Blog

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Update: Extraordinary Creativity

Happy April 1st! 
Here’s a sooner-than-later interview update about Deb Rumpel. She went into crises mode right before finishing January's Extraordinary Creativity interview.  Then her chickens went into chaos as well. I asked Deb how she managed to stay upbeat through all of it.

Welcome back, Deb!

Deb, the creative photographer 2017
Thank you for your interest in an update. These past few months have not been what I would have scripted, but they are reality. I herniated a disc in my lower cervical spine while trying to tidy up my home. (Guess I won’t do that again.) Having not experienced this before, I didn’t know what happened but I did feel level 10 pain running down my arm. It was unbearable. After five days, I had x-rays and an MRI and discovered the disc issue. A week later, I got in to see a neurosurgeon who fast tracked me into surgery four days later. Due to the severity of the herniation and the neurological presentation it was showing, he didn’t want to delay for fear of permanent nerve damage. Hard to believe they consider this in the “out-patient” category, but they do. Thankfully I was able to stay overnight because of anesthesia effects.

Recovery has been painful and slow. I am now seven weeks post-surgery. Even though the nerve pain was instantly gone, there is still muscle and tendon involvement. Now I move onto physical therapy and see what improvements I can make there.

Back at the bat cave, life goes on. I have a son who is getting married in 2 months and life is getting more windy than usual around here. My creative brain is on overload and I have to “talk it down”. My neck and shoulders can’t keep up with what my heart wants to do and accomplish, not only with wedding stuff but also with my chicken coop/run as well as my home.

The chickens have had a rough couple of weeks. We lost one of them due to 2 worms growing in its trachea. What! It is not a common thing up in the North but it has started to occur more often due to the milder winters. Chickens can pick it up from eating infected earthworms. Like you can stop a chicken from scratching and eating whatever comes out of the soil. All of my chickens had to be treated to prevent any more of that. We didn’t eat their eggs for a month, which was sad but, in an effort to keep our food as clean as possible, it was the best call.

Then I lost another chicken just last week. I was so sad because she was an awesome layer. She was egg bound. This means that an egg gets lodged in the oviduct and, because the intestines are shut down during laying, this blocks them up as well. When not caught immediately, it is fatal.

You asked how I stay so upbeat. Hmm. I don’t feel upbeat all the time. I love being with friends and making memories. When I am around people I definitely feel an energy. But in the quiet, it has been hard and frustrating. I need to keep speaking truth to myself. I need to keep reminding myself that this is not forever. I pray for strength. I ask the Lord to show me where to file the things that are hard. I ask Him to give me a new perspective on challenging and disappointing situations. Why? Because I know He is in the business of redeeming all things. He doesn’t waste anything in our lives. I ask Him to give me His eyes, sometimes through many tears. He wants to hear it all from my heart. If I didn’t have a heavenly Father, I don’t think I could do this without turning bitter or losing hope all together at times. I know there is a flip side to things. I know there is something at work that I can’t see in the micro but if I were able to back up and see the whole timeline of my life, it would be a woven tapestry and not just a tangled mess of threads.

There have been many lonely moments in the pain and in the recovery of the last few months. There have been many tears and some temper tantrums in the pain when I just didn’t think I could do another day or even an hour. It is then that I try to speak these truths to myself.

There is a song by Shane and Shane called “Though You Slay Me”. As I listened to it one day, I felt like creating something around it to help remind me of these words. In the middle of song, theologian Dr. John Piper speaks these words: (picture attached at bottom)
Not only is all your affliction momentary.
Not only is all your affliction light-
In comparison to eternity and the glory there-
BUT all of it is totally MEANINGFUL!
Every millisecond of your pain from the fallen nature or fallen man-
Every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience-
Is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that.
I don’t care if it was s cancer or criticism.
I don’t care if it was slander or sickness.
It wasn’t meaningless!
It’s doing something! It’s not meaningless.
Of course, you can’t see what it’s doing.
Don’t look to what is seen.
When your mom dies.
When your kid dies.
When you get cancer at 40.
When a car careens onto the sidewalk and takes her out-
Don’t say, “IT’S MEANINGLESS!” It’s not.
It’s working for you an eternal weight of glory.
Therefore, do not lose heart but take these truths and day by day focus on them.
Preach them to yourselves every morning.
Get alone with God and preach His Word into your mind until your heart sings with confidence
That you are new and cared for!
~John Piper

Here is the Youtube link to Shane & Shane’s “Though You Slay Me”:
Deb's Artwork

All that to say, I am not always upbeat. I have an upbeat personality but life is hard. If not yet or right now, it will be. We don’t live in a perfect world. We get weary and lonely, tired of the fight. But if we have truth to hold onto, if we have hope that this is not all there is, then we can keep going. We can know we are not alone. Because my sins are washed clean in the blood of the Lamb I have hope that I am working my way home to where I truly belong. I am a pilgrim on a journey.

I am thankful that I don’t have to do this life alone, either. I have been given friends and family and a wonderful church body. They aren’t perfect. They aren’t always there. But God sees and knows, and He sends encouragement at just the right times (not always in the places I think I need it most but in the places that I most recognize that He is in it, without a doubt).

Today is a new day. His mercies are new every morning. There are adventures to have. Things to forget. Aches and pains to remind me to sit down and ice my neck. There are phone calls to make and receive. Some of those will be life sucking and others will give life. There will be birds to listen to and music with which I can gently dance to. There will be highs and lows. And in it all, there will be a Father who is holding my hand and leading me through. I am a child of the King and that is why I can keep moving forward. To God be the glory!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Extraordinary Creativity

Deb Rumpel recently added a chicken coop to her home in the suburbs, just one of many creative endeavors she has undertaken. A homeschooling mom, adoptive and biological parent of three boys and spouse of 27 years, Deb is inspiring to know.

Welcome Deb!

Q) As a homeschooling parent of three full-throttle sons, how did you manage to maintain let alone stay creative amidst home life?
A) I don’t know that I was very successful at this. I think my creativity came out in different ways through different seasons. When we adopted our oldest son I wrote a lot of poems. I was finishing my English degree at that point and this was a good reflective release alongside of working toward that Bachelor’s degree. When we had our second son and discovered that our eldest had special needs, creativity was more hands on with the two of them. We did painting and clay projects. Creativity was geared to the two boys and then the three of them.

Now that the two oldest have graduated from high school and I am working with our sophomore in high school, I find that I have a little more wiggle room for expressing creativity. I want to get out the sewing machine as well as spend a lot of time dreaming on Pinterest. Last year my son and I got a Groupon for pottery throwing. I really enjoyed that. I would like to try glass blowing next. 

Creativity can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Whether it is trying out a new recipe or changing your table decorations, it is creative expression that can turn black and white into technicolor! I love to change the decorations on my kitchen table or find a new set of towels for the bathroom. I dream about different ways of making my garden more sanctuary like and look forward to spring when I can go to the nursery and pick out a new perennial to add into the landscape. God is the ultimate Creator and I feel like I am reflecting His character when I create.

Q) I met you 6 years ago and life has really changed for you since then.  What is the most impacting change you’ve experienced so far?
A) I think what has made the most impact is working on my own personal growth, figuring out why I fall back into the same patterns. It has been a very intimate journey and one that has been gut wrenchingly beautiful. The Lord continues to teach me about His grace and His care for me. He is giving me eyes to see that He wastes nothing. No matter how hard life gets, it is not meaningless. It all works toward a purpose.

I think the most impacting change has been learning to speak the truth in love rather than being a people pleaser and avoiding the hard discussions. I have lived my life not putting much value on myself. I have desperately tried to measure up. I have come to realize that I love others best when I love myself as well. I have come to know that my heavenly Father has given me value and worth. That fact has made it possible for me to love myself and others with pure motives.

Q) You’ve made an amazing amount of creative additions to your home. Has life always been like this for you?
A) This has certainly been a year of changes. We have recently replaced our uneven cement sidewalk and stoop with a beautiful brick one. It looks so wonderful. We also had ceramic, hardwood looking tile installed over the cement in our basement. In total Rumpel style, we didn’t stop there. We then ended up replacing the paneling with drywall and installing canned lighting in the ceiling. The basement has had an amazing facelift. It has become a place we are all enjoying. In the middle of all that we started the chicken adventure. I think this is normal for us.

I love being creative but it is tricky to try and fit it in. I get frustrated by the stops and starts because life circumstances barge in unexpectedly and force a break in my own agenda. I bring out my creativity only to have to put it back into a box and hide it in a room until there is space for it again. Sometimes, though, I can’t hide it and I must write or create. There is no holding back the dam when that surge comes forth.

Q) When and why did your chicken coop come about?
Deb's eggs
A) I love my chickens! I put a lot of other projects on hold to take this on. It was a lot bigger than I expected, but I don’t regret doing it. At first it was just my desire to have eggs and meat that came from healthy chickens (as organic as possible rather than raised on corn). Thankfully, my hubby came alongside of me and we did this together. We built a lean-to on our shed and a little run out of a dog kennel purchased from Craigslist. We are still in our first year and learning the ropes. There is still much to learn and fine tune in our little flock but we are moving forward. It is so wonderful to bring in fresh eggs every day and know that they are chock full of vitamins and protein. I am so thankful for all my neighbors who have agreed to let me explore this chicken craziness and have even chased them back into their pen if they get loose. I have the best neighbors!

Q) What were some solutions to the tricky problems you’ve faced?
A) Prayer is huge. I need to remember that God is the one in control and not me. I am totally dependent on Him. He is the one to meet my deepest needs. It is so important for me to draw near to Him and remember that none of what I face is happening without His knowledge. I am comforted in knowing that I am not alone and whatever I face, it is not wasted. He redeems everything!

Having a close support system is crucial. Having a couple of people who know you well and you can text, “Pray,” reminds you that you are not alone. Hiding when you are in trouble or struggling is not good. Seeking out a counselor when appropriate is not a weakness but a strength. Being in a life-giving church is important as well.

Q) Where did you find the strength and innovation to keep your marriage alive?
A) I won’t lie. We have had some pretty dark years. Being in the ministry, having three small children and huge medical bills really stressed our marriage. We kept putting “our stuff” on the back burner in order to put out every day fires. It caught up with us when we were both absolutely empty. We talked with a trusted counselor and worked through our own stuff and our together stuff.

We still don’t go on dates much but have learned how to listen to each other. We have “eyeball time” and go through our “highs and lows” from the day. We ask each other questions like, “What do you need from me in this situation?” We are more in love than ever before. Our relationship has grown so deep. It is far from perfect but we are committed to our covenant with one other.

We seriously like being together. We love making memories. We have fun quoting movies, VeggieTales, and random sayings from our kids. We love laughing together and do it a lot but not as an escape from talking through the hard things.

Q) Who was the most influential person in your creativity?
A) My mom was the one who really encouraged my creativity. She was always doing crafts and selling them at shows during my growing up years. She was a seamstress and artist at whatever she did. She made banners, vestments, and candles for her church. She was always trying new things. She did so much, even without the help of Pinterest.

When I went to college I had no idea what to focus on. She encouraged me to try my hand at art. I didn’t understand this. Even though I enjoyed crafts, I in no way considered myself an artist. I had never even taken an art class before. She took art classes at the same time. We both drew and painted. I thought she was much better than I was. Her encouragement tapped into me, though. I had my own artistic style and she nurtured that as much as she could.

When I was 24, my mom died of cancer. I lost not only my best friend but also my biggest encourager. Before she died, she tried to give me a crash sewing course on her machines. I never really got the knack for the whole making clothing thing but I stitch straight lines for crafty projects on the machine. I also love to write, especially if I have inspiration. I love to take pictures and create memories with them. Most of my creativity bends towards encouraging and blessing others. That is where my inspiration comes from now. It is so worth it to make a cape for a little girl or collage together some old pics to email to a friend. It is a blessing to my own heart to see a smile or hear, “I really needed that today.” I pray that the Lord will continue to use my gifts as an instrument for His glory. May I reflect the Father’s heart to those around me. “That all may see the good that I do and give glory to God!”

Are you an extraordinary ordinary creative like Deb? You can find her Pinterest wall and discover the 300 other projects she has going:

Thank you for coming to the Extraordinary Ordinary blog here at, where ordinary folks with extraordinary stories tell their tales!

If you know someone with an extraordinary story, please send an email with the subject "Extraordinary Ordinary" to soulfixer1 3 (at) yahoo dot com (without the spaces of course.)

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Extraordinary Hospitality

Extraordinary Ordinary Blog
by tlc nielsen

December’s guest Bente Rasmussen immigrated from Denmark 26 years ago with her family. She’s heavily involved in the Danish Sisterhood of America's Dagmar Lodge #4, which is where we met. She has served as president of this lodge for several terms and continues to be involved as Past President and Event Coordinator. She and husband Lars keep active serving the Danish community within the Chicago area while working full-time.  It’s been an honor getting to know Bente and her gift of hospitality. She’s always opening her home and giving her time to others.

Welcome Bente!

Q) How and when did you, Lars and the boys end up coming to America?
A) This is a story! In the early 1980’s Lars worked a lot in the U.S. He was actually laid off in 1984 and got offered a job in Chicago; he took it but I was not ready to move after he had been gone half a year, while I was alone with two toddlers in Denmark. He got a job back in Denmark.

Then in 1989, a friend who still was in the U.S. called and offered him a job in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The situation was different now. There was uncertainty in the job market. I had been a personal banker for 17 years and that bank was merging, so we could easily be forced to move to another city in Denmark.

The prevailing thought was that this was the second opportunity presented to him. We decided that we would not be in our 80’s and regret we did not take the opportunity that was offered, and on the other hand, what could we have to lose since our boys were 6 and 9 years old? In reality, a move is a move and we would just add another language to the challenges. After four years in Fort Wayne, we moved to the Chicagoland area.                     

Q) What were some of the surprises you encountered in the move?
A) To move from Denmark to U.S. you do not get a culture shock, since this country was founded by Europeans. However, there are differences that are unique. The biggest shock for me was that women were not more respected. It was like going generations back. I came from an industry where there was equal pay and opportunity for all.

Q) I know you travel home on occasion. What do you miss most about living in Denmark?
A) Since only our immediate family is here, we have always prioritized to go back at least every two years, especially when the boys were young, so they could keep the contact with the grandparents, family and friends. Denmark is a wonderful country, and what I miss the most is the security if you get sick and old. The social system is not perfect but it does take a lot of stress off families. It meant a lot that our parents were taken care of when we were so far away.

Q) You jumped into the Danish Sisterhood so readily. What motivated you to get involved?
A) I have only been involved with the Danish Sisterhood for about 10 years. Everything has its time. My husband traveled a lot, so I was alone with the boys and worked part-time, so with their school and activities there was no time. When they were out of the house, we both felt it was time to give back and preserve the Danish heritage for future generations to come. Many of the new members are second or third generations, and we would still have original things to offer.

Q) Besides Dagmar Lodge 4, where else are you involved?
A) Since my husband is also heavily involved in the Danish community, it many times involves me too. So I have prioritized the Danish Sisterhood, and always connected to the other Danish organizations and the Danish Retirement Home in Chicago.
Bente (center, pointing) at the Estonian House Christmas Market
with the Dagmar Lodge 4 Danish Sisters
Q) I saw you and Lars were up to more good with a service project for 2017. What is it all about?
A) 2017 will be a very exciting year for the Danish Community, since The Danish Home is celebrating its 125th anniversary. For the summer picnic, we are co-chairs for The Spirit of the Family with a Tivoli Gardens and Casino Night. The grounds of the Danish Home will be transformed to enhance the Tivoli Spirit with entertainment and games for the whole family, ending with a Casino night and more entertainment. There will be Danish open-faced sandwiches served and other Danish specialties.

Q) Outside all your extra activities, how do you and Lars juggle working your full-time jobs?
A) We also have a business in financial services where we educate in money matters and help people prepare for their future.  I think it is important to have passion for what you do, and then you will find the time. It is always a challenge to find the right balance.

Q) Who in your life has been your role model?
A) I would say it has been my Dad. Regardless of what happens and circumstances, you always keep a positive mind, find the good things and always look forward, never pondering on the past that you cannot change.

Q) What is something unexpected about you, that only a few know?
A) That I was a very quiet girl in my childhood, and nobody would ever expect me to do this move to the U.S.

Thank you for coming to the Extraordinary Ordinary blog! Please check out these links to Bente's Danish community groups:

The Danish Sisterhood of America:
The Danish Retirement Home:

More Danish organizations links, for those who are interested:  
Danish-American Rebild Park Society:
Vasa Park in South Elgin:
Danish American Chamber of Commerce: