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.