Friday, November 11, 2011

Thanksgiving Appreciated

We have some reasons to be especially thankful this November, in spite of the fact that we'll be spending Thanksgiving Day in Rochester, MN, where my husband Bud will be in the hospital, recovering from surgery planned for Nov. 21. He has cancer in his left kidney, and that organ will be removed. So how can we be thankful with something like that facing us? Well, we're thankful for the wonderful doctors, technicians, and facilities connected with the Mayo Clinic. We've both benefited from the vast expertise of that institution over the years. We'll also be thankful for the many prayers which will be said for us.

Here's an article about Thanksgivings of the past. I hope it brings back some happy memories for you.

Thanksgiving Appreciated
These days, as we gather for our Thanksgiving celebration, it’s just a few of us adults around the table. How different from when I was a child, and both my grandmas’ houses bustled with dozens of cousins as the extended family gathered to celebrate.
We always had two Thanksgiving dinners - one with each side of my parents’ families. One gathering was on Thanksgiving Day and one the following Friday. It couldn’t get much better than that!
Since my mom’s family was large, we had to eat in shifts. The men ate first, followed by the children. Then the women sat to the table for a leisurely meal and lots of talking and laughing. 
We children were sent to the basement to play. If we got too loud, we would be allowed to go to the movie - which was our goal anyway. We must have made quite a sight as we entered the movie theater over twenty strong, older cousins with little ones in hand.
It was different at my paternal grandma’s house. We could almost all fit around the table. Of course, the ladies held back to do the serving. I suspect they never did get any white meat from the turkey!
I don’t suppose I fully appreciated the wonderful food those days. Most of the side dishes - mounds of creamy mashed potatoes, buttered corn and other vegetables, salads, pickled beets and cucumbers - would have been made from produce grown by my aunts. My mom’s specialty was nut pudding, a pure white concoction of chopped walnuts and whipped, sweetened vanilla-flavored cream from our own cows. Mom decorated the top with walnut halves and maraschino cherries. After the meal, the aunts spent hours in the kitchen, washing dishes and cleaning up. They didn’t mind. They enjoyed the chance to visit.
I’m thankful for those days when most extended families lived close enough to get together for the holidays. I grew up knowing my cousins, aunts, and uncles well. How I wish my own children had that advantage. We try to keep them close to the rest of the family with reunions every other year. But that can’t compare to the richness of seeing all your relatives every holiday. Next year, as I join the small group of adults at a quiet Thanksgiving meal, I’m going to give special thanks for those I experienced as 
a child. They were really something for which to be thankful.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


When I was a child, I celebrated Halloween a bit differently than most children now days. Hope this brings back some memories for you.

A Different Kind of Halloween

Can you imagine Halloween without Trick-or-Treating? When I was a girl growing up in a rural area about sixty years ago, Trick-or-Treating wasn’t part of Halloween for me or my friends. That doesn’t mean we felt left out of that holiday celebration. On the contrary, we spent weeks preparing for it in the one-room country school I attended.
About a month before October 31, the boys and girls in the upper grades began to plan - seriously and secretly. Decorations had to be designed; food had to be solicited from moms, and disgusting tricks had to be arranged to horrify the littlest children. Getting to be big enough to be part of that delightful, secret planning was a major goal of my first years in school.
About a week before Halloween Day, the basement of our school building became off limits for anyone not in on the preparations. Corn shocks from the field beside our playground were hauled down and set around the room. Considering the basement housed a coal-burning furnace, that was certainly a scary idea. It amazes me now that the school board wasn’t worried enough about fire to forbid the corn shocks, but they never did. The carved pumpkins with real candles burning inside didn’t seem to bother them either. Apparently, they trusted us to be careful.
Black and orange crepe paper streamers festooned the entire ceiling downstairs. Pictures of Jack-o-lanterns, witches, ghosts and bats which the little children colored were taped to the walls. The windows were covered over with paper so the room would be suitably dark and spooky.
Our teacher allowed us to have an entire afternoon for the party. Part of that time was needed for donning our costumes. For weeks, we had planned just what we would be. Our parents couldn’t afford store bought costumes, so we had to make them ourselves using whatever we could find. We usually spent part of our meager allowances on masks since homemade masks didn’t hold up very well.
Games included blindfolding the little children and making them feel eyeballs (grapes), intestines (cooked spaghetti), and other gross items. We always had a big galvanized tub of water to bob for apples, an activity I hated. Maybe that’s because I never could get an apple.
The last event of the afternoon was the lunch provided by some of the moms. We stuffed ourselves on orange-frosted cupcakes and cookies, orange drinks, candy corn, and popcorn balls.
I suppose we’d heard about Trick-or-Treating in those days, but, after our half-day party at school, we were satisfied that we’d celebrated Halloween about as well as it could be celebrated. My memories of those special days bring back feelings of joy even though I still prefer getting my apples from my tree or the store.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Foods We Used to Eat

I just came home from a pot luck dinner after church. How I love the wonderful variety of foods the members of our church prepared. It made me think of a conversation my sister and I had recently about the foods we enjoyed as children. I hadn't realized that foods can go out of style. Or maybe families have their own particular eating habits that change over the years.
One of my favorite foods as a child was fried chicken. Try as I might, I just can’t get my fried chicken to taste as good as Mom’s. I suppose the product itself had a lot to do with it. What Mom called “spring chickens” were chickens she raised on grains grown by Dad on our farm. We’d help her butcher them in the morning, and she cooked them for dinner at noon. They were tasty and tender. I suspect the reason I can’t duplicate that delicious, crispy delicacy is that Mom fried those chickens in home-rendered lard, something we don’t do these days.
Back in my childhood, when Sunday evening was spent visiting friends and relatives in their homes, the lady of the house always served “lunch” before the visitors went home. Sometimes that consisted of sandwiches or a freshly baked cake, but the lunch I remember most clearly was a dessert made by crumbling graham crackers into a sauce dish, plopping a home-canned peach half or two on the crackers, and topping it off with a dollop of whipped cream - the real stuff, not the kind that comes in a plastic tub. Does anyone ever make that anymore?
One of our favorite “foods” when we played house as children was crackers crushed up and soaked with water. It doesn’t sound very good to me now, but we had many a tea party with that simple fare.
Sometimes, as Mom prepared supper, we’d snitch a slice of raw potato, put it on a salty cracker, and munch on that while waiting for the meal. I wonder if I’d like that today as much as I did then.
I really miss the chocolate cake I used to make as a girl. It had a moist velvety texture and deep chocolate flavor. I topped it with egg white frosting made with brown sugar to give it a caramel flavor. I still have the recipe, written in my own youthful scrawl, in a notebook Mom used for her best recipes. I’ve tried to bake it many times in recent years, but I just can’t get it to turn out right. I think I know the problem. Back then, I would make it with a cup of sour cream I’d get from our cream can down in the basement. All week long, we’d add the day’s cream to that can until it was full and ready to take to town on Saturday night to sell. By the end of the week, the cream had soured naturally into a product so thick you could almost cut it with a knife. I’ve tried everything I could think of to duplicate that cream - cultured sour cream, buttermilk, butter, plain yogurt, or any combination of those items - but that cake just doesn’t turn out the way it did with sour cream from the cream can. Oh, well, at least I have the memory of it.
Maybe our eating style is more healthful these days. We don’t fry in lard, we drink only pasteurized milk, we have access to fresh fruits and vegetables all year long. But, healthy or not, I could go for a crispy fried chicken wing followed by a piece of that chocolate cake right now. I think I’d skip the “cracker soup.”  

Saturday, August 27, 2011

As School Resumes

The children are all back to school around here. It seems to start earlier and earlier each year. I'm sure the boys and girls are excited about new school supplies and clothes. Makes me think back to a special dress my grandma made for me when I was a little girl. May I tell you about it?

The Dress Grandma Made
New clothes were a rare treat in my childhood. I was happy with anything new or even hand-me-down that I could get. 

Then, one day, when I was about eight years old, Margaret and Georgine, two neighbor girls, wore their new store-bought dresses with full circle skirts to our one-room rural school house. I longed to have such a dress. No matter how I tried to pull all the fullness in my skirts to one side of my seat, not one of my homemade feed sack dresses had the fullness of those magnificent circle skirts.

Soon after that, Grandma offered to make me a new feed sack dress. I chose a pink-flowered print and asked Mama if Grandma could make my new dress with a circle skirt. Mama reminded me that there wasn’t much material in one feed sack. But, as I waited impatiently for my new dress, I couldn’t help dreaming of twirling around in it and having the skirt flare out in a rippling circle around me. 

I pictured myself standing on the floor grate of the school’s coal furnace while the rising air made my skirt float up like an open umbrella. Most of all, I pictured myself sitting at my desk with my skirt draping to the floor on both sides of my seat, just like Margaret’s and Georgine’s.

At last, the dress was finished.  The drive to Grandma’s house in town to get it seemed longer than ever before. Then we were standing in Grandma’s kitchen. With a proud smile, she held up the flowered pink feed sack dress she had made so lovingly for me.

I swallowed a huge lump of disappointment as I spread the skimpy dirndl skirt. Although I was an average-sized eight year old, there hadn’t even been enough fabric in one feed sack for the entire dress. Grandma had to make the collar, sleeves, and midriff of matching plain pink fabric.

“How do you like it?” Mama asked, prompting me to give a grateful response.

I can’t remember what I said. I hope I thanked Grandma profusely. After all, her labor in making it for me was a gift of love. And it really was a pretty dress, even if it didn’t have a full circle skirt.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Summer Jobs

I've been without my computer for a few days. Now I'm back at it with more memories to share. Hope this one doesn't make you perspire! It's been a hot summer, hasn't it?

Summer Jobs

Hot summer days bring back memories of two of the hardest jobs I had to do in my childhood on the farm. One was pulling cockleburs.

In those day, most farmers didn’t spray to get rid of weeds in their corn fields. They pulled them by hand with the help of their children.

That would be an almost impossible job these days with corn planted so thickly in close rows. But back then, corn was “checked” when it was planted so the stalks grew equal distances apart in all directions allowing the farmer to cultivate between the rows.

Dad would awaken us early when he was ready to have us pick cockleburs so we’d be done by noon. We’d dress in jeans, long-sleeved shirts, and sturdy walking shoes. 

Dad wore his straw hat. My brother wore a baseball cap. We girls donned our homemade sun bonnets. In those “costumes,” we were ready to withstand heat from overhead, sharp-edged corn leaves at face level, and nasty sand burrs on the ground. 

Dad assigned us each a row or two, and the walking began. We kept our eyes cast down, looking for pesky weeds to pull. If we found one too big to pull, Dad chopped it off with a big corn knife which looked something lake a saber.

Up and down the rows we walked until the field was weed-free, and we were sweaty, dusty, and tired.

The other dreaded summer job was shocking oats bundles, and it was even worse than pulling cockleburs!

Instead of walking in at least a little shade provided by tall corn stalks, we had to work out in the blazing July sun. And those oats bundles were heavy!

Usually, my older sister and I worked together. We’d start by setting two bundles against each other. Then we’d pile about six more bundles against them to make a shock. The shocks stood there, the oats kernels safely drying out at the top, until threshing day.

The worst part of shocking was lifting a bundle and finding a snake under it. They were harmless garter snakes, but they scared me anyway.

The only good part about picking cockleburs and shocking was getting the job done so we could go back to the house. Mom usually had ice cold watermelon waiting for us.

Picking cockleburs and shocking - two jobs I’d rather reminisce about than ever do again.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Here are a couple of writings about my dad in memory of him today, Father's Day.


Their names were Dolly and Bill,
But Dad called his team of farm horses DollarBill
Just to make us laugh.
To my childhood eyes, they looked immense
As they stood patiently in their stalls,
Waiting for their harnesses and the day’s work.
Their rich roan color set off the soft blond
Of their manes and tails.
Dad’s pride in them was evident in the way
He showed respect for them.
He always spoke softly when he approached their stall
And made sure they had enough oats in their manger box.
He curried them to keep their coats shining and comfortable, Especially after a day of pulling the hayrack in the hot summer sun
While Dad filled it overflowing with shocks of golden ripe oats.
Each day before he left the barn,
He checked their heavy hoofs
To be sure no rocks brought pain to their steps.
He kept them around even after tractors
Took over jobs they used to do so well,
But the day came when he had to sell them.
He didn’t talk much that day.
I doubt he ever stopped missing them.

Dad’s First Dog

We had many dogs on the farm as I grew up, but the one I remember best was the first one my father owned. I don’t remember when Dad got him; he was there before I was born. But I remember how much Dad loved him.

Dad called him “Maddo.” I’m not sure where he got that name. My brother thinks it came from a twist on the name “Mehrer,” a pastor Dad knew. 
Maddo was a big strong dog with long wavy brown and black fur. He wasn’t any special breed, more likely a combination of many. His short ears stood up straight, and his big brown eyes showed an intelligence that was obvious in his behavior.

He was a great cattle dog. He brought the cows home safely from the pasture at milking time without running or head chasing them. 

Maddo tolerated us four children with love and patience. He never nipped at us if we played with him too vigorously. He was good with other dogs Dad brought onto the farm when Maddo began to get too old to do his usual tasks.

Maddo hated snakes. I think he saw them as a threat to the family he loved. He’d go right after them, grabbing them with his teeth and shaking them until they were dead.

I don’t remember seeing Dad pet Maddo or play with him, but I can still picture Dad walking around the farm yard, busy with his daily chores, Maddo always a step behind him. You could tell they had a special bond that didn’t need words or actions to affirm it.

When Maddo was about thirteen years old, he began to suffer from stiff joints. Walking became more and more difficult. Finally, he spent his days lying in the shade of the shelterbelt. Then he stopped eating. It was evident he needed to be put out of his misery.

Dad just couldn’t bring himself to do what was necessary. He asked his cousin, who lived on a farm nearby, to come over late one evening after we were all in bed and do the job.

I didn’t see Dad bid his old friend good-by, but I can imagine him stroking that broad, soft forehead one more time, not able - not needing - to say anything. I can imagine Maddo looking up at Dad with love and trust in his eyes, knowing his master would take care of him, even to the end.

The next morning, Dad told us Maddo was gone. Dad was unusually quiet for a few days after that. 

We had more dogs as time went on. I remember Sport, always ready for a romp; Beauty, a timid black and white dog as graceful as her name; and Spike, a muscular dog with coloring of a collie who loved wrestling with my brother. But they never took the place in my Dad’s heart that always belonged to his first dog, good old Maddo.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Summer Fun

School is out, and even if the weather has been more spring-like than usual, we’re all in the mood for everything that’s special about summer. 

I remember summer fun when I was young. We’d play “house” for hours in the shade of the shelter belt trees. Sometimes, after a rain shower, we’d wade in the ditches and pick up snails. We called them “sea shells”. Mom hated finding them in our pockets when she was about to throw our coveralls into the wash machine.

I once asked my mom what she did in summer when she was a girl. It turns out she played “house” much the same as I did. Her mother made the dolls she played with. She sewed body and head shapes from muslin and embroidered yarn faces on them.

Mom and her sisters used old broken plates and cups and empty sardine cans for their “dishes,” much as we did. And we both remember making lots of mud pies. My sisters and I were pretty good at decorating them with bits of grass and leaves. 

Another thing we had in common was our love of ice cream as a summer treat. However, obtaining it was much different in her day compared to my childhood.

For one thing, her family didn’t have an ice cream freezer with a handy crank. They started with a five gallon tub for the ice and salt. 

The ice cream mixture was poured into an empty gallon syrup can with the lid replaced securely. Then they pushed the syrup can down into the tub of ice and, using the handle on the can, turned the pail back and forth half turns.

Every once in a while, they had to remove the can, take off the lid, and scrape the frozen ice cream mixture off the sides of the can and into the middle. Then they’d replace the lid and repeat the turning process. It must have taken a lot of time and muscle to enjoy ice cream those days

The ice they used came from their ice house, a building I remember seeing when I was a very little girl. It was originally the sod house my great-grandparents built when they homesteaded on their farm. After they built a wooden house for themselves, they dug out the floor of the sod house to a depth of five or six feet. 

During the winter, the men cut blocks of ice from ponds and stacked them into the sod house with layers of straw between and a thick layer over the top. Mom said they usually had ice until well into June.

I guess I’m glad I live in a day when ice cream is as handy as a trip to the store, summer or winter. But I wonder if we appreciate it now as much as my mom did when it came with a whole lot more work and, certainly, anticipation.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Farm pets

It's been a while since I've had time to post anything new. I've been busy and having fun promoting my new book, "Umpire in a Skirt," which came out a couple of months ago. Then my husband Bud had some health problems, which are now resolving, so finally I have a little time to pay attention to this blog. Here's an article I hope you'll enjoy reading.

Every child who grows up on a farm knows the difference between a farm animal and a pet. That didn’t stop my siblings and me from trying to make pets out of most of the animals on the farm where we grew up. Often, it didn’t work!
I had a special fondness for baby chicks. I couldn’t resist those little cheeping balls of fluff. I was fascinated by the brooder house full of tiny black eyes in a sea of yellow. When Mama sent me to feed the chicks, I’d wait till they were comfortable with me standing in their midst. Then I’d clap loudly - once - to see all those black dot eyes go down at the same time as the chicks reacted to the unexpected sound. I don’t think Mama would have approved, but I thought it was great fun.
Chickens don’t make good pets, as a rule, but I remember a particularly friendly little rooster we named Oogie. We could get him to perch on our shoulders or follow us about. I suspect he grew up into one of those mean roosters that loved to chase me.
Of course, we had plenty of cats. Those that survived the annual bouts of distemper made great pets, while keeping the farm’s rodent population under control. We loved dressing kittens in doll clothes, but we had a terrible time trying to get them to stay in the doll buggy. Even Mama had her favorite cats, a tiger-striped gray and a solid black. They whiled away many a cold winter day snoozing under the cook stove.
Dad usually kept a couple of dogs on the farm. He trained them to herd the cows home from the pasture at milking time. Each dog had its special place in our affections. I can still remember most of their names - Sport, Beauty, Spike - and Dad’s special favorite, a huge black and brown dog he called Maddo. Those dogs were good playmates and loyal friends.
Once in a while, we’d tame a bucket-fed calf or befriend a little runt piglet that needed to spend a few days in a box beside the stove in order to survive. They were pets only while they were small. We kept our distance from Daddy’s big work horses, Dolly and Bill.
Eventually, we did have one animal that was just a pet. That fat little black pony named Bertie had no practical use whatsoever. The only way we could get a ride on her was to push, pull, or somehow lure her up near the house. Then one of us would jump quickly onto her back and hang on as she galloped to the barn where she preferred to spend her days eating and sleeping.
Many of my happiest childhood memories involve hours of contentment spent playing with animals. I learned much from them about love and responsibility. But they also taught me the importance of just having fun.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

It's Here!

My new book titled "Umpire in a Skirt" is now available from the South Dakota State Historical Society Press. It's a non-fiction children's illustrated book about a girl who became famous in the early 1900s as a baseball umpire. Research and writing it were a lot of work, but it was worth it, I think, to have this remarkable woman's life remembered. It can be ordered at the SDSHS Press's web address. ( 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Where Your Treasures Are

My husband Bud and I spent a little time outdoors this afternoon. We sprayed the apple tree in hopes we'll have wonderful, insect-free apples this year. What a treasure those apples are to us. Then we removed some mulch on the south side of the house. Underneath it, daffodils and tulips were already starting to grow. I've been enjoying pretty little crocuses nearby for several days. All this reminded me how much I treasure the flowers of spring. They're so reassuring after a long and hard winter. Here's an article about things I treasured as a child. I hope it reminds you of your treasures. Appreciate them, no matter how humble they may be.

Where Your Treasures Are

By Marilyn

Stocks. Bonds. Diamonds. Real estate. These are the treasures we think about as adults. Too bad. The real treasures of our life are much simpler things. Love. Family. Friendship. And maybe even a snail or two.

We have to go way back to childhood to find the treasures that made us feel really rich. Remember walking along the ditches beside country roads, hunting for snails? We though they were “sea shells.” When we came home with our pockets filled with those treasures, Mama reacted with horror. She made us clean every last one out of our pockets. We felt sorry she didn’t appreciate their worth, but at least we had beautiful “sea shells” for a while.

If we were lucky, the creek overflowed after heavy spring rains, allowing minnows to swim into nearby weed-filled ditches. Wading in those ditches was ever so much more fun when we had minnows for company. They nibbled at our toes, if we stood still long enough. What a treasure they were - real live fish, right there in our ditches.

Only a child growing up on a farm could appreciate the bounty of  kittens, a few weeks old, ready to tame, in the cow barn. What a treasure they were - one cuter than the other. We’d already tamed the mother cats enough that they didn’t mind us playing with their fat and fuzzy babies. We’d each claim one particular kitten for our own before the rest died of distemper or disappeared mysteriously.

Plants growing around the farm and fields also yielded up their treasure. We gathered rose hips and fat weed stems, which looked like celery to us, and seeds and leaves to “can.” We found discarded jars in the trash behind the tool shed and packed them with our produce. Then, to keep them “fresh,” my little sister and I decided to store them in the stock tank. Naturally, that didn’t go over very well with our father. The minute he found the jars in the tank, he made us remove them. But we’d had the fun of “canning,” so we just tossed the jars, still filled, back on the trash pile and went on to our next adventure.

Hardly anything equals snow as a treasure to a child. You can slide on it, throw it, make forts with it, and even eat it. It’s really “all-purpose” stuff. We loved it. The fact that its arrival sometimes meant a day off from school only added to its appeal. And when it melted down into water and then froze into ice, we knew we were in for a great time skating, even though we had no ice skates. Rubber boots worked just as well. 

Treasures - their worth depends entirely upon the person treasuring them. The older I get, the more precious are the treasures associated with being a child. Maybe memories are, after all, the greatest treasures for us to enjoy.   

Sunday, March 6, 2011

My Old Pink Coat

Here's an article that tells the true story of an old pink coat I used to have. Now that may not sound very important or exciting, but something special happened one night when I was wearing it. Hope you like reading about that event.

The Coat I’ll Always Remember

By Marilyn Kratz

I hardly ever give my warm winter coat a second thought. It’s simply a necessity for living in this part of the country. When it wears out, I’ll replace it without hesitation and probably forget I ever had it.

But I still remember the winter coat I had when I was a senior in high school, over 50 years ago. That’s because of one memorable evening when I wore it.

The coat itself wasn’t anything special. It was most likely ordered from a catalog at a bargain price. I’m sure I wore it several years because my parents couldn’t afford to get me a new one each winter.

The coat was soft pink, a popular color in the 50s. The outer fabric had long fibers which, unfortunately, matted easily. That made the coat look scruffy to me so I usually brushed it each time  I wore it.

On the evening I mentioned earlier, I brushed my coat more thoroughly than ever. It was Christmas Eve and, after attending the children’s program at my boyfriend’s church with him, he would be taking me to his home to meet his parents for the first time. I wanted to make a good impression.

My old pink coat was soft and smooth when I climbed into my boyfriend’s car that evening, but my nerves were frazzled as I worried about meeting his parents.

I didn’t fidget in the car or during the church program so my coat wouldn’t get matted and look bad.

At last, the dreaded moment arrived. My boyfriend parked his car outside his parents’ house. I took a deep breath and followed him inside. What would he say? What should I say?

Without taking off our coats, we walked into the living room. His parents sat in their chairs, looking as though they’d been waiting for us.

“Well,” my boyfriend said. “Here she is!”

We all relaxed after his silly and straightforward “introduction.”

A few years later, his parents became my in-laws.

Did my pink coat make a difference that evening? I doubt my in-laws even noticed it. But I still feel good about knowing I did everything I could to make a good impression on two people whom I came to love dearly.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Phone Interview

My newest book, "Umpire in a Skirt," a non-fiction children's book, will be out by the end of March. To learn more about it, you may go to the following site and hear a phone interview between the publisher and me:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lighting Up the Past

Here's another remembrance of days gone by. I hope it brings a warm glow to your day.

Lighting Up the Past

It’s great to flick a switch and have light flood every corner of the room. I imagine most of us never give that convenience a second thought. But sometimes I remember the days, growing up on the farm, before we had electric lights to brighten up the long evenings.

Back then, we depended on kerosene lamps. Most consisted of a base that held a small tank of fuel and a cotton wick with one end in the kerosene and the other extending out into the glass chimney setting above it. The higher you turned up the wick by adjusting a knob at the side of the lamp, the higher and brighter the flame. Of course, if you turned it too high, you ended up with too much flame and a soot-coated lamp chimney.

Mom had one of these small lamps for each of the two upstairs bedrooms. I suspect hers were the cheapest variety made since they were clear glass without fancy designs.

I wonder how we carried them up from the kitchen to the bedroom - lit - without starting the house on fire. Maybe we were just lucky. I doubt that the light they cast reached into the corners of our bedrooms. They certainly cast spooky shadows as the flame flickered inside the glass chimney.

For the kitchen, Mom had a fancier lamp. Its base was shiny metal, somewhat larger than the ones used in the bedrooms. A cutout design decorated the bottom of the base. I often sat at the kitchen table and looked at my reflection in its curved surface. It acted somewhat like the mirror in a fun house, distorting my image into fantastic shapes. That may sound like a silly way to pass time, but those were the days before we sat watching TV for hours, and sometimes that’s pretty silly, too. 

Our prettiest and biggest lamp sat on the dining room table and was used only when we had company. Although it also had a base for fuel, it was made of pressed green glass, much fancier than our bedroom lamps. Instead of a plain, flat wick, it had a circular type of wick called a mantle. It was made of a substance that would incandesce when heated by the flame below. It was very delicate so Mom never allowed us to clean that lamp. Surrounding the tall glass chimney was a shade of white glass with a rim along the bottom of clear glass in a beaded pattern. The shade rested on three thick wires extending out from the center of the lamp.

Every Saturday morning, Mom washed all the lamp chimneys in hot sudsy water. She rinsed them in the warm water well on one end of the cook stove before polishing them. That was one chore she hardly ever asked us to do. I’m sure she preferred doing it herself to spending money to replace lamp chimneys we might accidentally drop and break.

When my parents moved to town, years after electricity had come to the farm, I asked Mom for her beautiful green glass lamp. It now sets on top of my hutch as a silent reminder of happy days gone by. In its own way, it still brings light to my life.  

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Upcoming Book

If you'd like to see the cover of the book I have coming out this spring, you can find it on the Amazon book web site. They're already offering it for sale even though it's still at the printer. The publisher is planning some signings. I'll keep you informed, just in case you can come to one. I hate sitting at them alone!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Snow Days

As I sit here typing in my warm office room, the wind is blowing snow past my window, and it's mighty cold outside. School has already been called off early. It reminds me of snow days when I was a child. Here are some of those memories:

School Snow Days - A Precious Gift

I’ve been retired from teaching for many years, but I still look out the window each winter morning to see if school will be called off because of snow. Even though, when I was teaching, I knew it had to be made up in the spring, a canceled school day seemed like a precious gift in the middle of a busy school year. I often wondered if my students knew just how much their teacher looked forward to those unexpected winter vacations. I hope I hid it well.

In visiting with my fellow teachers back then, it seems most of us headed for the kitchen when we knew we wouldn’t have to go to school. What is there about blizzards that makes one want to bake cookies? Perhaps part of the reason is that it takes a long time to bake a batch of cookies, one sheet at a time - a luxury we hurried and harried teachers seldom had.

A snow day also gave me time to think back about such events when I was a child on the farm. Did it really snow a lot more years ago, or did it just seem like that because I was a small child?

The biggest snow drifts always formed right down the middle of our farm yard. I’m sure Dad hated to see it piling up there because it covered the lane leading out of the yard. But my siblings and I loved having it so handy. And the bigger the better. Oh, the tunnels and caves we made!

Looking back, I believe my parents were just as happy as we children to have a snow day. It was the perfect excuse to stay near the stove and rest a bit from the usual daily grind.
I can still see Dad stretched out on the old sofa, having a nap in the middle of the day. Mom would spend the quiet afternoon doing her “fancy” work while listening to soap operas on the radio.

Chores still had to be done, morning and evening, and were likely much harder to do because of all the snow. But other outdoor tasks could be put off.

Of course, we had to wait till the snow quit coming down to get the most out of it. So we spent many of the snow day hours inside - coloring, reading, and, of course, eating fresh cookies.

As soon as the snow quit, Dad started moving the drifts out 
of his way, using the loader on his tractor. As we watched, we knew he was actually opening the way for us to go to school the next day, but we made the most of the day we had. Sometimes, if we were really lucky, the blizzard lasted more than a day and left so much snow that the county roads weren’t opened for even more days.

I suppose I’ll always have the same feeling about a snow day - that snug, all-wrapped-up feeling of being safe and warm in the house. And I’ll always feel like baking cookies on those days. 

Shhh! Don’t tell my former students!



Friday, January 14, 2011

Interview about Upcoming Book

My newest book, a non-fiction children's book titled "Umpire in a Skirt" will be out later this spring.  I'll paste in an interview with the publisher which will give you some information about the book.  You can find out more about it by going to   

An Interview with Marilyn Kratz, author of Umpire in a Skirt

We’ve shown you the cover and made a few other mentions, but just in case you haven’t heard, SDSHS Press is publishing a biography of Amanda Clement for 3rd to 5th graders in April. We thought we’d check in with Marilyn Kratz, the author of the book and ask her a few questions. Her forthcoming book is entitled: Umpire in a Skirt: The Amanda Clement Story and is illustrated by Hector Curriel.
SDSHS Press: What made you want to write Amanda Clement’s story?
Marilyn Kratz: Amanda did something important and became well-known for it in her time. But people have forgotten about her. I felt it was time for people, especially children, to read her story and be inspired by it. All South Dakotans should feel pride in reading it.
SDSHS Press: What is the most interesting aspect of Amanda’s life?
Marilyn: Amanda had the courage to step out and do something most girls wouldn’t even have dreamed of doing at the time. She had a lot of courage and spirit and was totally modest about her success.
SDSHS Press: What advice would you offer to anyone else thinking about writing biography for children?
Marilyn: Try to find someone who knew the person, if possible. If not, do the necessary research. Include events and influences in the person’s childhood. Those incidents should point to the success of the person and show readers how they, too, can be successful.
SDSHS Press: If you could write another biography, who would you pick as your subject?
Marilyn: I’m interested in writing about the Verendrye Brothers and the lead plates they left as they explored the wilderness of our country, especially parts of our state. They were an important part of our state’s history. Their experiences were unusual and exciting.
SDSHS Press: Your story has been paired with illustrations from Hector Curriel, what do you think about how he has illustrated your words?
Marilyn: Hector’s illustrations have a lot of life and action in them. They add to the story and expand it. I’m eager to see them in the actual book.
SDSHS Press: We’re down to the final few months before your first children’s book with the South Dakota State Historical Society Press is published. What are your thoughts about the whole process?
Marilyn: I have been pleased with the help I received from the SDSHS Press as the book progressed. The editors have been professional and encouraging. I have confidence that the book will be presented as well as possible.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

How Did We Stay Warm?

It's time to remove the Christmas articles and give you something new to read. Here's a memory of winters from long ago. I hope reading it helps you appreciate how good we have it these days, even in the winter. Stay warm!


By Marilyn Kratz

Frigid winds howl around the house, burying everything in a blanket of snow. As I turn up the thermostat and step into an instant flow of steaming water in my shower, I wonder how we ever kept warm when I was a child. We didn’t have an oil furnace producing a constant flow of warm air or water heaters to give us hot water at the turn of a tap. We didn’t have electric blankets to welcome us into a toasty bed. In fact, we didn’t even have electricity!

But I don’t remember ever feeling cold as a child. Have I forgotten, or did other sources keep me warm in those long ago days?

The farm house in which I grew up was a typical wooden frame house of the era with a kitchen and dining room/parlor on the first floor and two bedroom upstairs. It had no insulation in the outer walls. I’m sure the windows were drafty. 

A big iron cook stove, fueled with corn cobs, warmed the kitchen during the day. Heat radiated up through a register in the ceiling to the bedroom above it where I shared a bed with my two sisters. I suppose we kept each other warm on cold nights. 

Mom told me the water in the tea kettle she kept on the stove was often frozen in the morning, so I imagine what little heat we felt when we went to bed was long gone by the time we got up. I remember grabbing my clothes and running downstairs to dress in front of the open oven door on the cook stove.

In the other downstairs room, which was the “company” space, a kerosene-burning stove provided heat when the room was in use. That room also had a register in its ceiling. However, if the stove wasn’t lit, there wasn’t any heat to rise up to my parents’ bedroom above it. Good thing that room was on the south side of the house.

We dressed for the cold, whether we were inside or outdoors. Although it was still the style for little girls to wear dresses to school, in really cold weather we pulled on a pair of slacks under our skirts. 

For outside activities, we bundled up in warm coats, thick mittens, and head shawls. Mom made the shawls from large squares of flannel cloth. We folded them into triangles, covered our foreheads with the straight edge, and crossed the ends under our chins before tying them snugly at the back of our necks. Admittedly, you could hardly breathe, but you kept your head and neck warm.

Looking back, I realize we must have had cold toes and fingers once in a while, even indoors. But all I remember is playing rousing games of Parcheesi with Dad and my siblings on cold winter evenings, the aroma of Mom’s freshly-baked homemade bread, and making paper dolls with my sisters when school was called off because of snow. Maybe the warmth generated by growing up in a loving family erased any feeling of being cold.