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!