Friday, May 31, 2019

Roland and Edna's Secret

I'm not saying a secret is a bad thing.

The definition of the word "secret":  a : something kept hidden or unexplained : mystery. b : something kept from the knowledge of others or shared only confidentially with a few. 

Most of the time, a secret is a bit of history kept hidden for a reason.  Maybe because the people involved are ashamed...or embarrassed....or they're trying to protect somebody else.

Or, at least, that's what they tell themselves.

In the case of Roland and Edna's secret -- we'll never know WHY they kept this secret...

But here it is.

Edna was NOT Roland's first wife.

He was married before he joined the Army.  It was World War I, and Roland went to serve in France.  While he was overseas, his young bride died in the influenza epidemic of 1918.

Writing about this situation made me curious...

From the National Archives:
World War I claimed an estimated 16 million lives. The influenza epidemic that swept the world in 1918 killed an estimated 50 million people. One fifth of the world's population was attacked by this deadly virus. Within months, it had killed more people than any other illness in recorded history.

The plague emerged in two phases. In late spring of 1918, the first phase, known as the "three-day fever," appeared without warning. Few deaths were reported. Victims recovered after a few days. When the disease surfaced again that fall, it was far more severe. Scientists, doctors, and health officials could not identify this disease which was striking so fast and so viciously, eluding treatment and defying control. Some victims died within hours of their first symptoms. Others succumbed after a few days; their lungs filled with fluid and they suffocated to death.

The plague did not discriminate. It was rampant in urban and rural areas, from the densely populated East coast to the remotest parts of Alaska. Young adults, usually unaffected by these types of infectious diseases, were among the hardest hit groups along with the elderly and young children. The flu afflicted over 25 percent of the U.S. population. In one year, the average life expectancy in the United States dropped by 12 years.

Nobody will ever know why Roland and Edna kept his first wife a secret -- it doesn't seem like anything either one of them should have been ashamed of.

Unfortunately,  Roland's family had lived in the same small town for generations.  His story was well known....

And what do "they" always say?  "You know how people talk"..

My Mom, Joyce (their middle child), was 17 years old when a girl she went to school with taunted her with this "secret". 

Mom didn't believe it.  She was furious with the girl who was spreading these lies about her father...and she was adamant in her defense of him.


Thursday, May 30, 2019

Roland and Edna Dodds

Thinking about my "Summer Grandma Camp", makes me remember those lazy summer days -- when I'd spend A WHOLE week with my mother's mother -- Grandma Dodds.  I have written about my father’s family -- but never much about Mom’s side.

Actually,  I don’t know very much about them. I don’t think that’s unusual. If you watch TLC’s show, “Who Do You Think You Are” (GREAT show) -- you realize that for most families -- the real story is seldom told, and often lost. The circumstances of a family, the love, the hate, who was brave and who was not...what they did to survive, heartache, loss -- that history all dies with the people who lived it. And maybe that’s the way of it.....

So, here’s what I know.  Edna Stahl was born in 1899.  She married Roland Dodds on October 16, 1923. They had three children: Rozella, Joyce (my Mom) and Melvin.
Roland Dodds worked as a lockman on Mississippi Lock and Dam #14 for over 30 years.  He also painted houses on the side...and he was a quiet man.  I was 17 years old when he died, but I cannot recall ever having a conversation with my Grandpa Dodds.

Here’s some family “lore” ....(which means, I am making some of it up)
Edna was not pretty, and she had a very prominent, Roman nose. Her looks probably limited her suitors...and, frankly, I don’t think her personality helped much. I remember her as a severe woman who seldom smiled.

After she graduated from high school, Edna got a job working in the offices of Standard Oil. At the age of 24, she was on the cusp of being an “Old Maid”.
But, she was spared that humiliating fate when she married Roland Dodds in 1923. He had recently returned from World War I.

They paid $600 for a small house in Princeton, Iowa. I’m not sure when they moved into the house -- but they lived there for the rest of their lives. 
The house was dilapidated, and the last tenants owned a hoard of cats. My mother remembers cleaning piles of cat poop...and scrubbing the floors and the walls to remove the smell of cat pee. (my Mom hated cats.)

Although they were married for 50 years -- Edna and Roland Dodds were not Romeo and Juliet. They tolerated one another...but there was never any warmth between them.

I remember Grandpa Dodds sitting in a leather chair in their small living room, winking at me as Grandma was nagging him about something.  She always seemed annoyed with him....but he never seemed too affected by her complaints. Maybe because he was buzzed most of the time.  Grandpa Dodds had a “drinking problem”.... but nobody in the family really talked about that. 

This is Grandma and Grandpa Dodds' house.
A few years ago, a friend of Deena's purchased the house and did a major renovation.
I was shocked at how small the porch was. Grandma hung a porch swing every summer...and we spent hours sitting on this porch, watching the river and listening to the trains... learning how to crochet
The new owner kept the glass-door kitchen cabinets.
We can never know the truth about the couple that lived in this house for 50 years -- why they got together in the first place, the issues they struggled with, or how they really felt about each other.  

But we do know Roland and Edna Dodds had a secret.  One they kept from their children. 

Tomorrow -- the secret....

Wednesday, May 29, 2019


Here's an interesting tidbit. THAT I ALMOST FORGOT TO WRITE ABOUT.

My birthday is in March...I was born in 1949. Lilly's birthday is also in March, and she was born in 2009. Her mother, Emily, also has a March birthday -- and she was born in 1979.

So, that means we are exactly 30 years apart....

AND, that also means that this year -- 2019 -- we are all having a special "Decades" birthday.

I will be 70. Emily will be 40. And Lilly will be celebrating her first double digit birthday. 10.


WHAT CAN WE DO to  celebrate our big "Decades Birthday"??

I wanted to make it something special...

The movie "Bohemian Rhapsody" had just come out. I knew Emily LOVED Queen music -- which is probably why Lilly also knows the words to many of their songs. Then, as Ritaluck would have things happen -- I saw that a QUEEN Tribute band was giving a one-night-only concert at our big venue, The Mark, on Sunday night, March 24.


I purchased the tickets in advance...and then, I debated how to handle my "Decades Celebration".  Of course, I could set up the evening as a total surprise for both Emily and Lilly.

But, sometimes -- the ANTICIPATION is as much fun as the event.  So I decided to bring Lilly in on our "Decades Birthday Event".  Also, before we go to the concert, I thought Lilly should learn a little more about who Freddie Mercury was...

Thanks to my friend Valerie -- who gives me her People magazines when she's done with them -- I had the PERFECT article for Lilly to read

It was in a February 2019 issue -- and there were lots of great pictures.  Lilly read the story, and had a few questions.
We had several conversations about Freddie Mercury -- and then, I rented the movie...Lilly loves music so much, and she loved learning the story behind the music.  It is a wonderful movie...  
Because of the rating, I told Lilly I might have to FF through some portions of the movie...and she was fine with that...

On the night of the concert...we are getting dressed...
This was her first concert at a HUGE VENUE...5000 seats.
And this tribute band did NOT disappoint.  They did ALL the fabulous QUEEN songs...
It was, truly, a ONCE IN A LIFETIME Girl's Night OUT...!!

Tuesday, May 28, 2019


Memorial Day is also, traditionally -- THE START OF SUMMER..!!

School will be out next week, and it's time to start planning MY GRANDMA CAMP..!!

In the past, I've planned some great summer trips with Lilly and Warren.  The train into Chicago with my cousin Jackie...and last year, Uncle Ross drove us to the beautiful Brookfield Zoo...

But, as I consider the Summer of 2019 there probably won't be any big trips.  It seems like the older they get -- the more scheduling is involved.  Both Lilly and Warren are signed up for some fun summer camps...and they take four different weeks of swimming lessons...

Hey -- that was then and this is now.   Life is all about change!  You have to embrace the HERE AND NOW...

And, who knows what a child will remember?  Maybe it's not the big elaborate trips or vacations...maybe it the simple ordinary stuff...

Like, say, for example, a cookout at my sister Deena's house...

Nobody can put together an impromptu cookout quicker than my sister Deena...
If it's summer, and she's expecting more than a dozen people (which often happens) -- she sets up the outdoor kitchen in their Morton Building.
This is where they had Ross's surprise nursing school graduation party, and she's hosted many Christenings, summer cook-outs for-no-special-reason...parties with lots of kids...

Because her back yard is DESIGNED FOR CHILDREN.  She has TWO barn bouncy houses...and a trampoline...
Pat came to visit (from Washington) -- but she didn't get on the trampoline..
And one very incredible, fun, and yes, dangerous -- old fashioned Merry Go Round...(the more kids, the better!)
GOOD JOB on those cookouts, Deena.  When should we come?  And what can I bring??

Monday, May 27, 2019

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is our national designated holiday to honor the men and women of the Armed Forces who died while serving this country. 

On Memorial Day -- I'd like to give a shout out to the Quilts of Valor organization...
I attend their regional event at the Quad Cities Botanical Center.
My husband John and my son Elliott both received quilts.
Terry Austin is in charge of the local chapter of Quilts of Valor
She gives a big hug to every single veteran.
Terry Austin made the two matching quilts John and Elliott received. (there is a label on every quilt).
Check into your local organization -- you can honor them by making a quilt, or attending an event...
The best thing about the Quilts of Valor is that they don't have a "process" veteran needs to fill out a form or prove they are worthy. No officer is considered or honored before a private...their service to their country is honored, without question.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

The PERFECT Fried Mushroom

When it comes to Morel Mushrooms -- I'm sure there as many ways to cook them as there are places to find them. I've tried many different techniques...

My sister Ronda swears by saltine cracker crumbs.

John's favorite way used to be to cook them down, then saute them in butter to put on top of a steak.

But, since all of my mushrooms come FROM MY SISTER DEENA -- and her family found bushels of them this year -- I'm going to share her cooking method. Which came from our mother...and it is E.X.C.E.L.L.E.N.T.

Of course, you clean the mushrooms first. Cut them in half, and soak in salt water. Drain and dry...

The first step is an egg wash. Start with three well beaten eggs, add some milk...
The next step is to coat the egged mushrooms with flour. The Batter Bowl, of course, IS YOUR BEST FRIEND FOR THIS STEP...and I hope you have one...
After they are coated with flour, lay them on a paper towel...
Because, you have to wait for the butter to get hot...
That's right.  Butter.  You fry them in real butter.  And it will take A LOT OF BUTTER...
A good electric frying pan is holds the temperature...and makes quick work of a big batch of mushrooms.
Morel Mushrooms fried in brown butter...
Life doesn't get any better than this, people..!!

Friday, May 24, 2019

Morel Mushrooms

In May, there are only two kinds of people living in Scott County, Iowa. Those who DO hunt morel mushrooms...and those who DO NOT.

You just haven't LIVED if you haven't eaten freshly picked morel mushrooms in the Spring!!

And, this year -- with all the crazy rain -- it was a BANNER CROP.
In our family, Elliott is the mushroom hunter..
It was a chilly Saturday afternoon -- and during their mushroom hunt -- they found lots of different treasure in the woods behind our house.
Warren found an old garden tool (lost by Grandpa many years ago).
Lilly found a deer skull. (she was SO EXCITED)
Elliott had a bluebell behind his ear...

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Why Write?

I write every single day. But I don't write fiction, or short stories, or memoirs.  Nothing I ever write is going to hit the new York Times bestseller list. 

Non-fiction is my jam. Always.

Over the years, I've written hundreds of class descriptions, marketing materials, brochures, newsletters -- the kind of everyday, necessary, basic non-exciting stuff that you read without ever thinking "I wonder who wrote that?"

It's just possible I'm not making this sound as exciting as it really is.  But -- just maybe, after you read something I wrote -- you sign up for a class, decide to attend a sewing retreat...or you create a scavenger hunt for your grandkids...

Writing is like cooking -- everybody has their own techniques or favorite tools. And, frankly, some things turn out better than others.

I love doing the research, talking to people, reading their books, visiting their websites. I listen to their stories....and I take pages and pages of notes.

When I'm working on an article, I am on a mission. I read my notes over again and again, looking for the "hook". The one thing that makes THIS story unique -- or helps me to see a different point of view. I generally have a beginning, middle and end in my head before I write the first paragraph.

But, often, I start to write, realize it's boring, trite or I throw it out, go back my notes...and begin again.  Sometimes, when I get stumped -- I wake up in the middle of the night knowing EXACTLY what I need to do to connect all the dots.

For me,  there is nothing better than getting "into the zone" when I'm writing.

But writing is more than a job for me.  Writing is how I figure things out.  And most of my writing has nothing to do with being paid for it.  I write to people I love -- I write about my life, I give them advice THAT'S THE MOST FUN...and I journal the disturbing things that happen in my own life. 

It is easier to communicate with the written word.  For one thing, you can control your message...because sometimes, if it's a difficult subject, you start to cry...and then all that snot gets in the way...and the other person doesn't actually understand the point you're trying to make...

Anyway -- I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT.  Writing, that is.  And if you want a little inspiration -- these are my two favorite books about writing.  Then, take a lesson from those people at Nike -- and JUST DO IT...!!

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Letters to Jackie...

My cousin Jackie and I grew up together.  We both moved away from Iowa...I came back, she never really did.

When computers were new -- we started writing emails to each other. Remember -- at the time, a long distance phone call was expensive.

Even after we all got "free long distance" -- we continued with our regular email correspondence.

Right now, she lives in North Carolina.  I write a chatty email to her every week...and the benefits of this are HUGE.  Sometimes, I figure things out just by writing about them.  But most of the time -- these emails serve as a record for me...something I can look back on...or refer to...

Like, for example, what we did for Easter last year.  Who did I invite?  What did I cook?...that kind of thing...


The subject line of this email was...2018 Easter Report

April 1, 2018

Dear Jackie,’s 8:30 PM, and  I’m sitting in my chair, with my feet up.  The house is quiet...John is up in his room and Frank is asleep on my lap.  THE THREE OF US ARE EXHAUSTED...

But, on a scale of 1 to 10 -- I’ve gotta give my Easter Dinner a legitimate 9.  Seriously -- if I hadn’t burned the lemon meringue pie, it would have been a perfect 10.  The ham was fantastic,  the cheesy hashbrowns were a big hit, and the cowboy beans were awesome.  Jeanne brought homemade rolls and the green salad...Emily contributed the deviled eggs and sausage cups. 

Jack got here at 2:30, Cal, Jeanne and Kelly arrived right at 3:00, and John started to slice the ham...the E team walked in a few minutes after 3:00.  Emily and Kelly sat in the living room with the kids.  Of course, they were both hopped up on Easter Bunny candy, so the meal was wasted on them...

Calvin and Jack both raved about the food, but Cal was ready to go the minute he finished eating...(that's just his way).  That was fine...I sent coconut pie home with them.  AND I also made up a bag of leftovers for Jack, and another basket for Valerie.

After we ate, I ramped up the Scavenger hunt for Lilly and Warren.  THEY LOVE DOING THAT...and it’s a lot of work to write all those lame clues!!  I basically had four gifts for each of them -- and sent them upstairs, then down to the basement, then outside, into the cars, etc.  The hunt is a lot more fun than the actual gifts.

Everybody was gone by 5:00, so I decided to deliver Val's Easter Dinner leftovers 

So that’s what I did.  On my way into town, I listened to a wonderful book  -- The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohajalian.

I’m on the last disc of the book (there are 9 of them)...and I am at that point where I really want it to find out what happens to these people.  He is a wonderful writer...and I’m going to look for his other books. 
I fixed Val a plate of food, and we visited for a little bit.....but I wanted to get home before it was dead dark....  I drove home slow -- listening to The Sandcastle Girls.   I will be sad I’m finished with this book...

Hey -- Easter 2018 is behind me...nobody got hurt...and I AM DELIGHTED!!

You have NO IDEA how often I look back on these emails to Jackie,  For example, this weekend is Memorial Day -- and, for the life of me, I couldn't remember what we did last year.  Did we have a cookout?  Should I  buy hot dogs?  Who was invited?  What did I make?

It seems like every holiday, I have to look back on these emails to remember my own history.  Where we went, who was invited, what we ate, etc. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Inspired To Sew

Every month, I get to write a story about one of my favorite subjects.  SEWING.

Really.  Imagine that.  It's a dream come true.  I get to combine two of my most favorite things in the world...

And here's the reality:  Sewing + Writing = HAPPY RITA.

Thanks to Schmetz's digital magazine, Inspired to Sew (see archived issues here)...I get to meet a sewing star, write about a sewing related topic...and learn about what's new and what's hot in the sewing world.

Yep.  E.v.e.r.y...s.i.n.g.l.e...m.o.n.t.h...

This week, we are working on Issue #64..!! Hey -- TIME FLIES WHEN YOU'RE HAVING FUN, people. I cannot believe we've been doing the magazine for over five years.

So -- who is "we"??  OF COURSE if it's about Schmetz,  you know Rhonda Pierce is in the room!!

Rhonda is the Editor of Schmetz' Inspired To Sew -- and she decides what the topics will be for each issue, who should be interviewed, and when.  She makes the initial contact -- and then I follow up with the interviews, and put together the first draft.
Like she doesn't have enough on her plate! The talented, always enthusiastic Rhonda Pierce, is the Editor of the Schmetz Inspired To Sew digital magazine.

Over the years -- I've interviewed some of the biggest names in the sewing industry. Who are, coincidentally, some of my best friends.

Inspired To Sew has also featured general topics -- like -- sewing retreats, quilt shows, museums, taking road trips with your sewing sisters.
Gail Yellen
One of my favorite covers -- the Sewing and Stitchery Expo in Puyallup.
Katrina Walker
MJ Kinman
Sewing for kids
Mark Lipinsky
One of my favorite topics: SINGER FEATHERWEIGHTS.
Here's the thing. I always learn something when I write...and, thanks to Inspired To Sew, I've learned so much, I feel like my brain could explode.

Tomorrow -- how writing helps me remember who to invite over for Easter dinner...

Monday, May 20, 2019

#4: Writing

Hello.  My name is Rita...and I write...

But, hey, if you're reading this -- YOU ALREADY KNOW THAT..!!

I write every day.  I mean -- e.v.e.r.y.....s.i.n.g.l.e....d.a.y...

This blog is a special blessing for me, because it gives my writing a place to live.  And the fact that some people come here to actually read what I write??  Well -- it just doesn't get any better than that, people.  So --THANK YOU FOR COMING...

Although writing has been a joyful thing for me since I was a kid -- I didn't think of myself as a "writer" until I opened my fabric store in 1986.  I started to write a monthly store "newsletter" -- and, well -- here I am.

I joined a local writer's group, and started to attend workshops at the world-class Summer Writer's Festival at the University of Iowa.  I was lucky enough to have two books published, and in 1996, I had a very remarkable 12-city book tour.  At some point, I realized WRITING was the point.

This blog is my happy place.  Every day of my life, I see something, or do something or meet somebody that I can't wait to write about.  But, golly gee -- I don't have to tell you about THIS BLOG -- because -- well -- you're here, reading it!!

But, all this week, I am going to write about writing.  And what it means to me...

Tomorrow -- the best writing job I ever had... 

Saturday, May 18, 2019

TypIcal SATURDAY..!!

I always have Lilly and Warren on Saturday. Usually, I pick them up at their house Friday afternoon at about 4:00. I take them to my house, and often we prepare dinner and sit down at the table to eat. Warren picks out the napkins, and Lilly sets the table.

Our usual Friday Night Activity is simple.  Popcorn and a my living room. We always have the shows I've taped during the week.  We all love THIS IS US... SPEECHLESS .... BLACKISH...Project Runway...  We also enjoy THE AMAZING RACE, and KID'S BAKING CHAMPIONSHIP, or DUFF VS. THE CAKE BOSS.  Come to think of it -- I should blog about television shows to watch with your Grandkids...

But -- because it's SATURDAY...I wanted to put up a few pictures from a couple of our recent Saturdays.
We were invited to a birthday party -- with a giant BOUNCE HOUSE.
The kids had a GREAT time
Last Saturday, went to an Art in the Park Fundraiser...
The kids got to tie-dye a t-shirt.
After they banded their shirts...they got to ADD THE DYE
Warren really got into it
Lilly is always a little more cautious...watching to see what the other people are doing.

The kids LOVED IT...and took their shirts home, with instructions...
The next day, they cut off the bands, and rinsed their shirts in cold water.
That's when I realized Lilly only used the BLUE dye...