Tag Archives: Molly McLain

Remembering Harley McLain

Left to right, Molly, Matthew, and Mira McLain. The frog is in the middle.

Left to right, Molly, Matthew, and Mira McLain. The frog is in the middle.

This last weekend, the McLain family (Molly, her sister and brother) and the rest of us near and within the region of Valley City, North Dakota, laid the ashes of Harley McLain to rest next to his wife, Julie. It got me thinking in a number of directions, about history, or why I got into the profession in the first place. This includes how studying memory and remembrance is monumentally important to us as individuals, and as a civilization, and as the broader human continuum. Historians are trained to see the world through the eyes of others (or to see the world from our eyes through the eyes of others, which is two lenses before we arrive at the event). So while at the funeral, I thought about what others might have been thinking, and how their relationship with Harley was much different than mine (Harley and I only had the chance to know one another for less than 2 years). So I guess I’ll leave it open-ended at that, for now. Except for one more point.

Molly McLain, my fiancee and Harley’s oldest daughter, noted this on her social media page, with picture, shortly after the funeral:

We buried our dad’s ashes next to our mom today, and as we all placed him in the ground, we found there was a frog in the hole looking up at us. It seems our dad is still playing little tricks on us. RIP and long live your memory Harley McLain.

Memory is the historian’s business. We capture and archive memories and experience so that they can be revisited and explored in infinite ways.


Flag Day and Thoughts on Art and Growing Gardens

On Thursday evening (06/12/2014), Molly and I strolled down to the Plains Art Museum to hear Sandra Menefee Taylor speak about her exhibit, Heart/Land: Sandra Menefee Taylor’s Vital Matters. This exhibit is on the 3rd floor of the Plains, at 704 First Avenue North in downtown Fargo, just in case you’re in the area and want to visit. Two things among many stand out as I think back on taking in the talk and the exhibit.

Planting at our Probstfield Farm plot in early June 2014. View to the west, the setting sun dropping behind the trees.

Planting at our Probstfield Farm plot in early June 2014. View to the west, the setting sun dropping behind the trees.

The first was an all too brief conversation with Abby Gold about farming, or gardening, at the historic Probstfield Farm just north of Moorhead, Minnesota. Molly and I, and two of our friends, decided to go in on a small community garden plot, the idea being that the four of us can more easily tend to such a garden than two or one of us.

I told Abby that when one has a garden, or a farm, one is suddenly paying more attention to weather patterns, especially rain. If we don’t have rain for more than a day and a half, then it means someone has to go and irrigate: literally one of us has to coordinate with the others, and say, “Okay, we’ll run up to the farm this evening, walk over to the watering station with buckets, and haul water back to our plot and gently water each row.” This, in turn, means that we are connected to the soil and land, at least if we want a harvest (and at least if we want to harvest beans so we can pickle them).

I said all this (more or less) to Abby, with the broader idea of how gardens are healthy for the psychology and soul. If I did not have a garden like this, irrigation would not cross my mind, and I would not pay as close attention to rain patterns as well. This garden, too, is bringing Molly and I, and our two friends, closer together, since we are privileged with the obligation of caring for our small rows of crops. We are a team.

The second point that stands out in my mind from Thursday evening was brought up during Sandra Taylor’s talk. It dealt with four ways in which one might consider approaching life. The four ways are as follows (and it turns out a lot of us already carry out these ways, but it’s nice to have someone articulate them):

  1. Show up. Be on time. I’ll add even another point: be early.
  2. Pay attention to what is going on in front of you. I’ll also add: research and think about what will go on in front of you, and then actively pay attention when it is happening.
  3. Speak the truth, and do so without judgment. I’ll add: we can tell the truth all the time, and we can do so without judging. It does not have to become entangled in emotion, or polemics, or name calling, and so on.
  4. Be open to the infinite range of un-intended outcomes. Or don’t be attached to a particular outcome. Things will never play out the way we think they will. So we might as well remind ourselves of that, and carry on.

Okay, I’ll end there. I just wanted to set this down and float it out there into the blogosphere. Happy weekend all. It’s Flag Day by the way, too.


Molly and Me: Singing on Sunday

Molly and I have been straightening up the flat this weekend, taking short breaks here and there as well. It is really fantastic to be engaged to a professional artist and art teacher for numerous reasons. Molly has a range of medium she works in, including custom mosaics, piano playing and teaching piano, guitar and ukulele playing, mastering the Swedish folk art of Dalmål, and on and on. Of all these mediums, included in a short YouTube video below is Molly’s rendition of Feist’s 1-2-3-4 (the Sesame Street version is linked to here as well). One of the many spectacular reasons that live performance is, well, spectacular has to do with the direct interaction that stage performers have with their environment and the audience. It’s an exchange. Of course, I have recorded and uploaded Molly’s impromptu performance on the YouTubes (thereby digitizing and preserving it in some kind of digital cloud space and time). But it is a slice of the reality that took place. Part of this reality is the unforeseen, as when a BNSF train horn rolling through downtown Fargo let loose about 0:43 and 0:57 in the video. Then a breeze decided to shut the door at about 1:01 in the video. But again, this is live, DIY, living room flat performance. And the band, and life, plays on.


Coffee Update

One of the only 2 known photos by Aaron Barth that have ever been taken before he consumed morning coffee.

The only known photo Aaron Barth has ever been taken before consuming morning coffee.

It’s Friday evening, and the pre-industrial (organic) chicken — prepared modified Greek-style with oregano-lemon-melted-butter-paprika-salt-pepper with slight dashes of crushed rosemary and thyme — is about an hour into roasting in the oven. I have three books to my left, including Michael Mann’s The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing (Cambridge, 2005); Ben Kiernan, Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur (Yale, 2007); and Greg Smithers, Science, Sexuality, and Race in the United States and Australia, 1780s-1890s (Routledge, 2009). And I’m close to getting into those. But I’ve been meaning first to talk about coffee for almost a month now.

This last month of March, Molly gifted me a Sowden Softbrew coffee pot. It is outstanding. I first came across it in an Atlantic Monthly article linked here. Before Sowden (or BS, as we call it around the apartment), Molly and I had fixed our morning coffee with a ceramic funnel and paper filter. It worked well for two, but we discovered that when we had small gatherings at our place, we spent more time making individual coffees instead of hanging out and conversing with our guests. So it was fantastic to find the Sowden. In The Atlantic article, Corby Kummer notes that it has “the comforting sturdiness of an English teapot.”

A second photo was discovered.

A second photo was discovered.

Out here west of the Mississippi (or what we call the Great Plains and the American West), however, we notice different things. For example, I noticed that the Sowden produces a cup of coffee you’d expect from a fusion of the French press with the methods of making cowboy coffee. By this I mean the coffee grounds (after you grind them) are allowed to sit in a metal steeping cylinder laser-blasted through with a billion 21st-century microscopic holes. So the grounds just sit in this cylinder and steep, contained, so you don’t need a French coffee plunger. And you don’t need to be as careful pouring from the Sowden as you would pouring a cup of cowboy coffee: again, the grounds are contained. The coffee by the way is extra ordinary.

I’m going to go back to checking up on the Greek-style chicken, now, and I’ll get back to these books in the morning with a cup of coffee prepped in a Sowden that Molly gifted me. Huzzah.


Molly and Me: Facebook Engagement Update

We live in a world of social media, and when things happen in our personal and professional lives, we post them.  Yesterday, before Molly set off on some business in D.C., she updated what her and I have savored personally for some weeks now: we made our engagement to one-another Facebook public. Yes: a status update, so you know it’s official. I thought the update would garner quite a few likes, and it did: just over 600 in a 36-hour period. We felt blessed and fortunate, and a friend of mine, John Ward, predicted that the actual wedding will be huge. Molly and I are waiting to plan all that out in due course. Here’s to blessing Molly for blessing me, and to our family and friends for reciprocating the same.


Dungeness Crab and North Dakota Walleye

Sensibly priced Dungeness crab.

Sensibly priced Dungeness crab.

Over the weekend I located some Dungeness crab at the Costco in West Fargo, North Dakota. To clear it up for non-Fargoans and non-North Dakotans, yes, Fargo is large enough to have a West Fargo (perhaps an idea for a second Coen Brothers film entitled West Fargo, which Molly says is on the east coast of North Dakota). The crab was so sensibly priced that I couldn’t avoid it. A small contingent — Mira McLain and Ben Simonson — from Valley City, North Dakota, came as well, bringing fresh-caught North Dakota walleye and sauger. Aunt Chris McLain also joined us, as did Matthew Trefz and Karis Thompson.

North Dakota walleye and sauger fish fry.

North Dakota walleye and sauger fish fry.

While eating the crab, I noted a couple things: first, fresh crab eaten in the middle of North America almost confuses one’s sense of place. It’s something that tastes like the ocean but it is so far removed from that locale. So if you’re in Fargo, or Ohio, and if you locate delicious and sensibly priced Dungeness crab, go for it. You get to taste the ocean while on a sea of prairie.

The second thing the royal we noted was that eating whole crab is an event: it takes patience and effort, and plenty of melted butter. Up to this point in time, the lot of us were land-lubbers the most if not the majority of our lives. Sure, one or two of us had the occasional deep-sea fishing experience, but that was more exotic than frequent.

After the feast, even the Chihuahuas were exhausted.

After the feast, even the Chihuahuas were exhausted.

Like I said, Ben, who often squeezes 25 hours of ice fishing into his 24-hour vacation days, brought the North Dakota walleye and sauger. And the feast was just that, a combination of steamed crab from the Pacific Northwest and North Dakota freshwater fish, fried up on the spot to absolute perfection. Aunt Chris provided a homemade fudge and ice cream desert, something she learned from her mother. Heritage dinners are real, and they often involve statements such as, “My mother used to make this.” I thought about that, and how the Sunday evening meal created a memory we could someday look back on 20 years from now.

Note: Twenty-four hours later, a March 31-April 1 blizzard is going full tilt. I just wanted to document it all. Here’s a video short of Matt Trefz offering a balanced assessment of Dungeness crab.


Weekend in Montana

North Dakota sunset from March 20, 2014, near the Crystal Springs exit on I-94.

North Dakota sunset from March 20, 2014, near the Crystal Springs exit on I-94.

I’m currently blogging from downtown Bozeman, Montana, after Molly and I hit up Chico Hot Springs (click here for a history of Chico Hot Springs) last night and earlier today, visiting her uncle in Livingston, and a scattering of her family in Paradise Valley. While at Chico we relaxed, and reflected on how Molly’s late father, Harley, loved this place. Harley grew up in Livingston, and Molly explained how her dad used to love taking summer time dips in the Yellowstone River throughout his entire life.

Of that Yellowstone, yes: the mountain runoff feeds it direct. This water meets up with the upper Missouri River near the Montana-North Dakota border. For the long hydrology of it all, this water eventually empties into the Mississippi near St. Louis, and then it runs to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s nice to catch it fresh up here in the glorious Rockies, though.

A short walk along the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley, just south of Livingston, Montana.

A short walk along the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley, just south of Livingston, Montana.

Here are a couple photos from when we left Fargo up to Bozeman. The above photo is the evening sky from March 20, 2014, around the Crystal Springs exit on I-94 in North Dakota. What the photo didn’t catch (or what we just observed rather than photographing) was the sun reflecting off the aqua blue of the melting ponds (kind of like a light turquoise, and highly reflective from the couple inches of water on the surface of the ice). 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Gil’s Goods in downtown Livingston, Montana.

The middle photo is the Yellowstone River from earlier this morning, and the final is from downtown Livingston, Montana. If you visit Livingston, go to Gil’s Goods for food. It is good at Gil’s. I think tonight we’ll try to track down one more hot springs dip, this at the Bozeman Hot Springs. Yes: make a vacation out of the hot springs scattered throughout our glorious American West. It is good for the muscles and spirit.