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.
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.
A few weeks ago, 2nd Most Honorable Son played in his final lacrosse tournament of the seaon. We weren’t expecting much because the team had not won one game at the last tournament in Indiana. And it’s not about winning- right? Also- it was hotter than a mother out there and I was secretly hoping to get home in time to just relax. But of course we cheered and told him to go out there and play his best. And he did, they all did. This last seeded underdog lacrosse team played their heart out, beat out a previously undefeated team and went from last place to a final competitor in the championship game. They played the game of their life and lost but came in 2nd place overall.
A great lesson for us all- NEVER EVER underestimate the underdog!
The World Bird Sanctuary sits on 305 acres of Missouri hardwood forest out in Valley Park, Missouri. Their mission is to “preserve the earth’s biological diversity and secure the future of threatened bird species in their natural environments.” The organization does this through education, field studies around the world and rehabilitation of injured animals.
We journeyed out to spend a day at the World Bird Sanctuary in early June. Upon arriving, we visited the Monsanto Fund Environmental Education Center where we met several animals who had been rehabilitated. “Frazzle”- an Eastern Screech Owl really touched our hearts. These owls can be found in orchards or woodlots and are usually a gray or rust color. Frazzle came to the Sanctuary as a young bird with a severe eye infection. Despite treatment, the staff was not able to save her eye and it had to be removed. My kids were so touched by Frazzle- we lingered around her cage for some time and discussed ways we might be able to help other birds like Frazzle. You can see her closed left eye in the picture below.
After leaving the Education Center, we ventured outside where there were several different types of owls, eagles and hawks for viewing. Below you see a European Barn Owl. These owls are found across Europe with the exception of Scandinavia and tend to be smaller and lighter-colored than their American relatives. Did you know that one Barn Owl can eat up to 2,000 mice a year?
We followed a paved footpath where we passed a hospital that helps rehabilitate many patients like Frazzle. We ended up walking through to their outdoor exhibits where they had many animals- All types of owls, Red-Tailed Hawks, Bald Eagles, White Pelicans, Sand Hill Cranes and Turkey Vultures, just to name a few. There were also several off the beaten path trails that took you through their backwoods. It was really breathtaking.
We ended our journey with a visit to the Nature Center. There we saw birds, parrots, bats, an armadillo and our favorite- “Anna” the Green Tree Python! Wouldn’t want to meet her in the forest but behind the glass- she looked pretty cute. If you live in the St. Louis area- this is a great place to visit and take your kids- They have a BatFest in Early Spring, National Trails Day in June, and an Owl Prowl in November. Many of the programs are free or low-cost. And the work they are doing is incredible. Truly.
She was born on June 22, 1926. Her father- Asuncion Espinoza came from a wealthy Mexican cattle ranching family. Her mother was named Librada. Her comfortable childhood was swept away from under her feet when her father decided to leave the family for another woman. He left them completely impoverished and desolate at a very troubled time in the world- the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution and the crisis of a depressed economy in both the U.S. and Mexico.
Consuelo or “Abuelita Chelo” as we have all come to call her was the little girl who was abandoned along with her siblings and her mother Librada. Abuelita Chelo is my grandmother and our family matriarch. She turned 90 years old this past week and on Sunday, we will celebrate her and her life. Abuelita never forgot how her life changed drastically from one day to the next when her father left the family and the extreme poverty that followed, living as a homeless family on the streets of Mexico, her and her siblings hustling to make money on the streets as shoe shiners and gum sellers- this childhood trauma followed her all the rest of her life and brought her tremendous sadness.
My grandmother is not the baking cookies type. Never was. Instead I remember her strength and fortitude. She taught me to work hard. Both her and Grandpa did. At age 11, my parents sent me on weekends to spend the night at their house so that I could help them sell at the swap meet. We’d wake up at 5:30 in the morning. The truck was on- rumbling low- coffee scents strong in the air and I’d be squeezed in between them in the front seat of the truck. It was still dark outside. We’d arrive at the swap meet, all of us like small ants in line formation in our trucks- all of us immigrants from other places (Mexico, China, Vietnam)- trying to scrape enough dollars and cents to feed our families.
My grandmother taught me how to talk to people- all kinds of people and she taught me how to sell just about anything to anybody. “You’ve got to call them in- like this Elizabeth, ask them what they need, how you might be able to help them, look for every angle- don’t give up. When you have some down time- organize things this way. Keep your eyes open for thieves- they act quick- look at hands and don’t get distracted.” She was also an unbelievably proud grandmother- to every friend that came by to say hello she would tell them- this is my granddaughter Elizabeth- daughter of Belia. She’d spoil me with doughnuts for breakfast, fresh cherries and plums and peaches during the summers and hamburgers for lunch. They were long days and she wanted to make sure I was well fed. I remember thinking that if you added up all the money she spent on me on food throughout the day- it would have been cheaper for her to hire someone else to help!
As a small child, I would sit at this little wooden island in her kitchen and eat pomegranates. She’d cover my clothes with a huge apron and then I went to town- red juice spilling all over my hands and mouth- never enough- there were never enough pomegranate seeds. Reader’s Digest magazines and newspapers were always scattered around her house. There was always pan dulce in the pastry dish and coffee on the kitchen counter top. Somebody was always stopping by to visit. There was always another relative I had never met before who was the cousin of so and so and then they’d go on and on about how they remembered me when I was just a small baby.
I miss those days. They were the longest days in the world and the best. I just didn’t know it then.
On Sunday- together with my parents, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews- all 150 of us- we will celebrate Abuelita Chelo andher 90 years, remember Abuelito Pedro. We will squeeze every single amount of life out of every minute of that day- we will eat, dance, sing, cry, remember and create new memories.
What a legacy she has created- one that is 90 years strong. Thank you Abuelita Chelo.
With the end of the school year, I had the pleasure of reviewing all the kids’ artwork from their art classes. What a surprise I found- I love learning new things about my kids and the way they think. It makes me think about how the stuff we talk about at home impacts what they say and do out in the world.
All 3 are in summer camps this week, so I find myself with a few hours of spare time. Wouldn’t you know it- accompanied by a terrible head cold. I am so mad about it- going on day 5. Instead of enjoying the nice weather and going for a walk or yoga class, I find myself at home, sniffling, doped up on medicine and napping. It could be worse I suppose- I know. So, I’ll quit whining.
Back to the artwork. Second, Most Honorable Son drew the above piece. By itself it doesn’t say much. Accompanied by this caption- however – it speaks volumes.
The world is a whole place with diversity in it. Black, brown, white, yellow, tan, every color of the rainbow. Every color is needed and it is a beautiful thing. Words captured by a 10-year-old boy on how he views the world.
Here is Big Boy’s self-reflection pastel portrait. Loving it and so proud of my boys. They never fail to amaze me. This morning while watching CNN, a commercial for UNICEF came up with Alyssa Milano as the voice-over. As we heard about the “poor children who are starving and dying in the world because of lack of food,” I asked them- does this commercial make you think twice about throwing away your food and not eating it? No- they responded. “It makes us wonder why they only show black and brown children?” I was shocked. I had never thought about that commercial in that way. Despite seeing it or versions of it throughout the past 30 years of my life. Well said, my boys. Well said. In so many ways- through television, social media stories, throughout history and how it’s presented to us are we only shown part of the story, through a lens of bias, stereotypes and assumptions.
How many other things out there do I just dismiss and not think twice about how or what the message is that is being presented to me/us? There is much to think about here.
This week’s book is a bit different because I have spent the last three days attending graduations for my two sons- one for middle school and another for elementary school. Needless to say I have been a mixed bag of emotions. That is how I came across The Prophet– by a Lebanese poet named Kahil Gibran. It is a book of 26 poems published in 1923 that reflect all of life and the human condition- everything from love and marriage to friendship, life and death. I’ll admit to not fully reading it in its’ entirety- rather- I stumbled upon it just yesterday and plan to order it- but I am so touched by his words. His work is influenced by his religious upbringing as a Maronite Christian but also by other world religions and of course a reflection of the time period in which he lived in- war-torn Lebanon. An animated film based on the book was produced by Salma Hayek in 2015.
Yesterday morning- sitting in the 5th Grade promotion ceremony- the school principal read to us a poem by Kahil Gibran that really resonated with me. I listened and thought- yes- this is what I’ve been wanting- these are the words that somehow put how I’m feeling in perspective. Letting go is not letting go because they were never ours to begin with. Thinking of our children as they hit these milestones in life in this way makes the pain a little less.
On Children Kahlil Gibran
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.