Cahokia Mounds


IMG_4859Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site

8 miles from St. Louis and along Route 40 sits an archaeological treasure- just outside of Collinsville, Illinois. The Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964 and as a World Heritage Site in 1982. Yet this site gets about 250,000 visitors a year compared to the 4 million that visit the St. Louis arch.

When I told St. Louis natives that I had taken the kids there to visit and it was pretty spectacular- I was met with a real curiosity- most had never even heard of it, much less visited. As a recovering student of archaeology (participating in a dig remains on my bucket list!), I am fascinated with ancient cultures, especially Latin American ones and how they lived and died. I realize I am not the norm. But still- the whole place retains a real air of mystery.

Here’s a little bit about this sacred place and if you ever get the chance to visit St. Louis or Illinois- GO! You won’t regret it.

Sitting across from the Mississippi River, Cahokia Mounds covers 2,000 acres and is considered the largest pre-Columbian settlement north of Mexico. It was occupied primarily during the Mississippian period (800–1400). Primary features at the site include the 3.5 square mile Monks Mound, the largest prehistoric earthwork in the IMG_4856Americas. Its base covers over 14 acres and rises in 4 terraces to a height of 20.5 meters. The modern day stairs are built in the same way as the ancient peoples would have walked up the mound. It is believed that this mound was built in stages over a 200-300 year period. It is called Monks Mound because in the early 1800’s, Trappist monks lived across the road and had planned to build a monastery on top of the mound. They planted gardens and fruit trees but their plans were derailed and they were forced to return to France.

The ancient peoples of Cahokia Mounds were known as the Mound Builders and their original population was thought to have been only about 1,000 until about the 11th century when it expanded to tens of thousands. As with many other ancient structures, how these people built such complicated mounds is a mystery butIMG_4851 here’s what we do know. The mounds were made primarily of earth. The soil was dug with tools made of stone, wood or shell and transported on people’s backs in baskets to the construction site. There were about 120 mounds but the locations of only 109 have been recorded. Most of the mounds were used for ceremonies but some were also used for burial purposes.


Stockades were found at this site and they have been reconstructed so we can imagine what it was like. There were four stockades built around the center of the city. There’s also a presence of bastions which indicates a defensive function as well- an interior line of defense. Bastions were like guard towers with raised platforms inside where warriors could stand to launch arrows against attackers. They would have had to use rope lashings and other posts to support the platform. It’s estimated that about 15-20,000 logs were used to build each stockade. They would have had to cut, trim, transport and erect the logs.

IMG_4840They built houses in rows around open plazas. They had agricultural fields and were known to have traded with tribes in Minnesota. They used plants for food, dyes, medicines, clothing, and roof thatching. No one knows the name of the real city and the name Cahokia is that of an unrelated tribe that was living in the area when the first French explorers arrived in the late 17th century. During excavation, the bodies of nearly 300 people- most of them young women were discovered. They are thought to have been human sacrifices.

After 1200 A.D. there was a decline in the population and gradually the entire site was abandoned. Theories for that decline are the ones we are all familiar with- climate change, war, disease, drought but the truth is unknown.

Here’s the real mystery. Despite what we know today of its significance as a cultural and economic center and powerhouse in the middle of America, there is no mention of the city in Native American folklore or stories among the Osage, Omaha, Ponca and Quapaw tribes.  Archaeologists believe that something truly terrible happened at this site- something that all tribes wish to forget. What exactly that is- we shall never know.


Mark Twain’s Hannibal, Missouri

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We road-tripped to Hannibal, Missouri which is 100 miles northwest of St. Louis over Memorial Day weekend. Our goal was to visit the Mark Twain boyhood home and museum and spend the day exploring the town and maybe squeeze in a cave tour. We were lucky and able to experience all three things!

We took a scenic route up there that took us along Highway 79 and through historic Clarksville, Missouri. This town is also one of the largest migrating areas for the Bald Eagle. This charming town is filled with lots of antique shops and provides an up-close view of the Mississippi River.

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The river town of Hannibal, Missouri was the inspiration for Mark Twain’s novels- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Adventures of Tom Sawyer. We were able to secure a nice discount to Mark Twain’s Boyhood Home and Interpretive Center on Groupon so be sure to check that out before heading over. The tour gives you access to all the main places- Mark Twain’s boyhood home, Becky Thatcher’s house, Huckleberry Finn’s house, and the Museum Gallery which features 15 original Norman Rockwell paintings. We spent considerable time viewing all the buildings and experiencing all the interactive features.

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Spring Break Part II- The Sea Ranch

March 2016-April 2016 046After leaving San Francisco, we drove up highway 101- through Marin County, passing Novato, Petaluma, and lots of dairy and cheese farms. Cows, horses and goats dot the landscape- we always joke around about how these cows have the life- unlike the ones off of the 5 freeway in Coalinga. The beauty of the California coastline in this area is exquisite as you drive through redwood forests and small, quaint towns like Fort Ross, Jenner by the Sea, and Bodega Bay (great place to buy and fly a kite, picnic and eat saltwater taffy).

The first time we visited the Sea Ranch was in 1999 and we have visited frequently since. First as 20-somethings, then as newlyweds and then as parents of a growing brood. Although we’ve changed, the Sea Ranch has remained exactly the same. Bones and muscles feel strong and weak at the same time- sort of like when you step into a hot tub or get a massage. The wildflowers, coastline and dried grasses all combine together to produce this scent that permeates everything- you inhale deeply and it’s in your soul, your clothes and hair. We sleep deeper and more profoundly here. Deep to our core, at the Sea Ranch, we are the best that we can be and we hold it and the memories we have created over the years close.

That first day we hiked, cooked yummy food, ate too much of the smoked like bacon monterey jack cheese and spent quality much-needed lazy time together.

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Spring Break Part 1- San Francisco

March 2016-April 2016 018This past March, we Spring Break adventured back to a place we hold very near and dear to our hearts- the Bay Area in California. Where our love affair began over 25 years ago. First meeting in Berkeley and then moving to the City and spending our 20’s working and loving life in one of my favorite cities of all time- San Francisco. Many of the people we met there during that time have all disbursed throughout the world- some we only keep in contact with through Facebook and others we’ve managed to keep close, and I think of them all, often and with fondness and nostalgia.

We lived in San Francisco in the 90’s- before it became the tech city it is today, we remember it when all we paid was $1,200 for a rent-controlled 2 bedroom apartment that was blocks from the beach. Our neighbors were surfers and single moms and young people like us, just starting out in life with their first real jobs in corporate America. South of Market was not yet developed- there had been no ballpark built… yet. You took your clients to Palamino’s and Zuni Cafe for a nice lunch. The Slanted Door and Tommy Toy’s (closed as of March 2013) were where you took them to dinner. We had views of the Bay Bridge that were completely unobstructed – no buildings blocking your view. The Presidio did not have a million people walking and biking around. You pretty much had it to yourself. The mission district was not completely gentrified. You enjoyed the graffiti, the mom and pop establishments, the Mexican party bus that took you from bar to bar and all those crazy 20-somethings that were trying to figure out what to do with the rest of their life. Sometimes, it seems like a far-away dream that might have happened to someone else. Certainly, not me- suburban mother of 3 living in St. Louis, Missouri in charge of washing dishes, laundry and personal cook, driver and housekeeper to a family of 5. How could this be the same person?

On the day we arrived into SFO, we grabbed our rent-a-car and drove quickly down to the City- taking the old route in through the backroads- through the Sunset District and along the Great Highway. It was a breathtaking day and I yearned to have had more time there to explore but alas we had to arrive at our final destination- the Sea Ranch – before dark and we still had a good few hours of driving time ahead of us. So, instead, we grabbed a quick bite to eat. We headed to where else but our old dive and favorite sushi in the city- Kitaro Sushi! This was known as our place to all our old friends from back in the day. We used to order take-out from there on a weekly basis. It was exactly as we remembered it- the sushi was fresh and pure. Kitaro roll, Godzilla roll, Dragon roll, 49er roll- oh my! The kids devoured their sushi, drank their green tea and learned to really eat with chopsticks. Baby girl asked for sushi for lunch last week and I bought some at Trader Joe’s. She ate it for lunch and I asked her when she got home how she had enjoyed it. It was okay she said with a straight face but not as good as the sushi in San Francisco. Um, yeah I replied- that sushi pretty much rocks this world. It’s hard to compare!

The old neighborhood was the same and yet it was not. The city has a strange, moneyed vibe now with burgeoning amounts of homeless populations that have created tent cities in downtown. You have both sides living so close next to each other, living completely different journeys. The young adults on Geary Avenue look younger to me now, so urban with their sagging pants and big headphones and it seems my age has caught up to me. I struggled to connect and remember being like them- with no cares in the world and only time to kill, waiting for the bus to pick you up and take you along to your next adventure.

The coastline was still beautiful and rugged and cold. Linda still owns and operates the laundromat at the corner where I used to wash my laundry, week after week. “But a house on Cabrillo Street sold for $2.3 million recently” said Linda. “On Cabrillo Street!” Of course it was a tech executive. It’s not that they just come and drive up all the prices she tells us, it’s that they do not become a part of the neighborhood- they keep to themselves. Always working, never seen outside or as part of the community – completely isolated and self-absorbed in their money and their work.

I wonder what San Francisco will be like in another 20 years. And if I will still enjoy visiting it.

Weekend Road Trip to South Bend, Indiana

March 2016-April 2016 215A few weekends ago, we road-tripped to South Bend, Indiana for the Rip the Duck Lacrosse Tournament that Second Most Honorable Son participated in. It was a fun, memorable family adventure. It was cold as all out but somehow that just brought us closer together. Nothing like huddling under a blanket with heat warmers in the snow to bring a family closer.

Friday, April 8, 2016

3 p.m. Leaving much later than we wanted (this is a theme for us- always), we finally hit the road. It is a beautiful drive from St. Louis, through Chicago and Indianapolis. During the 6 hour drive we hit every weather possible- high winds, fog, snow flurries, rain and sunshine. This midwest weather is CRAZY!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

8 a.m. First lacrosse game isn’t until early afternoon so we decide to make the most of our morning by driving around South Bend and walking around University of Notre Dame.

10 a.m. We visit the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. The first mass here was celebrated in 1875. The church has been lovingly restored and preserved. It has a sanctuary, seven chapels and forty-four large stained glass windows produced in the 1870’s and 1880’s at the Carmelite Sisters’ glass works in Le Mans, France. A “minor basilica” is a special designation given by the Pope to certain churches because of their antiquity and historical importance. Pope John Paul II designated the church a minor basilica in 1992.

1 p.m. Team Jackson gears up for three back-to-back lacrosse games in the course of 5 hours, in 2o-degree weather. I came prepared with blankets, heat warmers, four layers of clothing for everyone but still, it was not enough. Second Most Honorable Son was such a trooper. He was pretty much numb throughout the duration of the games, with snot dripping from his nose and teeth chattering but he didn’t complain too much. This was a huge character building moment for this kid who loves to complain.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

8 a.m. Final lacrosse game in freezing rain with umbrellas and blankets wrapped around us. After a quick and yummy pancake topped breakfast at the Original Pancake House, we head to the bookstore on Notre Dame’s campus to buy swag in the form of sweatshirts, books and t-shirts.

4 p.m. We are on the road again, back to St. Louis.

If you find yourself in this neck of the woods, here are some kid-friendly activities in South-Bend, Indiana to explore:

The History Museum– Fun, hands-on activities take you back to the pioneer days.

Hannah Lindahl Children’s Museum– Run through a collection of unique artifacts and exhibits that explore the Mishawaka area’s natural history, pioneer villages, and homes.

Potawatomi Zoo and Park– This zoo is on 23 acres and was Indiana’s first zoo. There’s a train, farm, playground and splash pad.

South Bend Chocolate Company Factory and Museum–  Get a tour of the factory and museum. Sample some chocolates and take some home for souvenir gifts.


10 Hours in the Florida Keys

My blogger friends Laura from The View From My Window and Christine from Just Blue Dutch nominated me for a 7 day Nature Photo Challenge a few weeks ago. Thank you Laura and Christine- your beautiful blogs with their amazing photography and insightful ways of looking at the world inspire me daily. This is my take on the 7 day Nature Photo Challenge- a travel diary of 10 hours we spent in the Florida Keys this past December.

December 29, 2015

9 a.m.

We leave the house much later than we wanted to. Considering there’s 7 of us including my mother-in-law and sister-in-law, it’s a wonder we made it out at all. It’s always a pretty drive though through the colorful neighborhoods of Miami. Ocean air. Billowy clouds. Lots of interesting characters to look at along the way.

12:30 p.m.

Finally. The 7 Mile Bridge. We are able to view where the sea meets the horizon for one solid blue line of harmony. This view always takes my breath away. As we drive down the highway and through the many miles of bridges along the Florida Keys, this view is all one sees when you look to the left and when you look to the right. There is no other place like it in the world.


3:00 p.m.

After getting caught in terrible traffic because a boat literally caught on fire on the highway and because it’s only 2 lanes all the way down- 1 lane going and 1 lane coming back, we have to change plans and stop much earlier than Key West- our original destination. We will never make it to Key West- I really had wanted to wave to Cuba and eat key lime pie but that will have to be next time. We discover instead the Marathon Keys. There is an exquisite beach with easy street parking nearby and a children’s playground. What luck! One of the many things I love about South Florida is the diversity of tongues you hear, the many tourists and families from all around the world speaking so many languages, each with their own accents. Heavenly music to my ears.


6:30 p.m.

We spend the afternoon playing in the water and sand. Ocean swimming. Hubby and I take turns with the kids. I race the boys out to go as far as we can go. Baby girl cries for me from shore and runs away from the crashing waves.The Atlantic is salty, pure and through. It stings your eyes, parches you out and leaves you feeling utterly relaxed and spent. We stay as long as the sun will permit us.


7:45 p.m.

We watch the sun set another day as we make the long drive home. Was it worth the drive? I look back at everyone’s sleeping faces- heads and toes sandy and salty and dirty. The smell of stale chips, sandwiches, cereal bars in the car. Half-empty water bottles rolling around on the floor. Hubby looking at me while he changes the radio station. If I close my eyes, we could both be 20 years old again, making this drive in a two-door car and not a mini-van with 3 sleeping kids in the back. Not having to sneak in real conversations with interruptions every 5 minutes. Not having to stop to let someone go to the bathroom.

Yes, without a doubt, it’s always worth the drive to the Florida Keys.




Less Than 48 Hours in Mexico City

Friday, Feb. 26th, 2016

1 p.m. Arrive from Chicago to Mexico City Airport. Waiting in customs line.


3 p.m. After a frustrating 2 hours of trying to get my phone to work, finally connected with cousin Christian who picks me up from airport and off we go driving through city streets to funeral parlor. Suitcase in trunk.

4 p.m. Arrive at funeral parlor amidst a gigantic celebration pilgrimage to the Basilica de Guadalupe. Thousands of people walking around, firecrackers going off that make you jump every other minute. An explosion of noise, colors and smells.

Once inside, I see relatives I haven’t seen in 40 years, 20 years, and a few months. We embrace and kiss each other on the cheeks. I walk into the parlor where Tia Chica is laying. She is wearing her coat and clutching her rosary and looks at peace. Her hair is still speckled black and white – just like the last time I saw her. Floral fragrances penetrate the air. We wait for the priest for what seems like hours and finally he arrives. He proceeds to give a full mass in spanish. I am glad that my parents made me go to mass in spanish a few times as a child but it is still not enough. All of us American mexicanas are completely lost. My sisters and I walk up to the casket together and cry and pray and embrace. Everyone cries as they weep their final goodbye and we console one another. We are united in our mourning. Dad goes with her body to the crematorium and we don’t see him again for hours.

6 p.m. Cousin Christian drives us back through the city so that we can check into the hotel and clean up before dinner. None of us have eaten anything in over 12 hours. We laugh and cry so hard we almost pee our pants. We fall back into our sisterly roles and pick on one another- taunting and teasing and loving each other only the ways that sisters can. We feel sorry for Christian for having to put up with us.

8 p.m. We are on fumes but refuse to eat hotel food and lay in bed. Christian takes us to La Casa de los Abuelos for dinner. Mom asks for a drink and I’m thinking that’s a great idea, I could really use a good drink. The waiter says they don’t serve alcoholic beverages at La Casa de los Abuelos. Somehow this leaves us in hysterics. Poor waiter. We inhale our food. Meet up with Dad after dinner back at the hotel and yell at him for not eating anything (he is diabetic). Around 1:30 in the morning, we fall asleep and I get the big bed all to myself while my sissys share one. They tease each other about eating too much dairy and what might happen as a result. Ah- good times with sisters.

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