The Park



The local park looks shabby now. The tops of the play structure have turned a light blue and yellow. It’s all kind of run-down looking and you wonder- did it always look like this?

My kids are at home or at school, working and doing homework on iPads and computers. Checking their grades on school portals. Practicing their instruments. Selling Girl Scout cookies and attending Boy Scout meetings where they plan the highlight of their scouting career- the infamous Northern Tier trip. Everything seems heavy and carries an air of finality to it. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m too sensitive or too serious.

I drive past the park at least once a day. I think a lot while I’m driving. I do a lot of driving. I remember our park days.

There was the time we landed there early- like 8:30 in the morning of a muggy summer day. We met friends there- the usual suspects. There was no plan, soccer balls, food nor blankets. Our kids didn’t ask us to log onto our hot spot. They didn’t complain they were bored. Half hour in- the sprinklers came on throughout the park area. We had the whole park to ourselves. The kids and adults shrieked with delight as we ran free through the sprinklers, our damp clothes sticking to our bodies and hair hanging in our face- a moment frozen in time. A moment of complete freedom and joy.

I remember being a young mom at this park. Nursing one baby in a sling and chasing the other. Pushing my babies in the infant swings. Then transitioning to chasing after them to make sure they didn’t fall off the structure. To our dismay, they loved heading to the big structures where the big kids were. Then finally graduating to teaching them to pump their legs and swing high. We held picnics and potlucks there. We flew planes and kites there. The mountains were our backdrop to our life. There was always a new Mom to connect and pass the morning with. Our conversations were always interrupted and I recall we would tell each other- just wait until they are older- we will have all the time in the world- then indeed we will be able to finish this conversation.

Our days seemed like they’d just go on for all time. The plan was always this- let’s run them ragged for 2-3 hours- then go home, throw them in the tub, make a quick Mac and cheese dinner so they’ll be in bed by 7:30. A glass of red wine was always our reward before going to bed and doing it all again the next day.

I go to the park every now and then- between the soccer games and farmer’s market – always on the way to somewhere else. The park is no longer the primary destination- it is merely an interruption on our journey to somewhere else. I don’t recognize any of the faces anymore. I’m at least 10, okay maybe 15 years older than everyone there.  I feel like an odd duck- an imposter- my face is not shiny and new and that optimism and open-mindedness that accompanies new parents is no longer in my DNA. That belongs to the new ones- with new babies in slings and swings- calling after them with that sing-songy voice. You know the one. The one you used to use that now drives you nuts when you hear new moms using it.

My kids? They are at home. He is stressed out because there’s 38 honors geometry homework questions that are on top of the test, the history quiz and spanish homework. Due tomorrow. Real dinners with equal amounts protein and veggies need to be made and someone needs to be picked up from somewhere- every day of the week. There are parent-teacher conferences, awards ceremonies, PTA meetings, reading nights and school fundraisers to attend. The red wine has been replaced with Kombucha because alcohol keeps you awake at night and between the pre-menopausal night sweats and anxiety over how you will pay for college – sleep is something you need so much more of these days.  That and our thickening waist-lines simply cannot tolerate the alcohol any longer. We wave to our mom friends in the school pick-up lane and text in case of more urgent matters. Sometimes we get together with those who have’t yet returned to the workforce- we grab a bite to eat, we hike and we talk- all uninterrupted.

Sometimes things just change. And you have to change with them. But you still drive past the park at least once a day and you remember.


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.

People, Ron’s Big Mission and Amazing Grace

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I’ve been so busy trying to keep the kids busy this summer that I have not had a chance to post a weekly multicultural book or talk about WeStories– the organization I have had a chance to volunteer and get involved with these past couple of months. So today I will highlight 3 multicultural books.

In May we attended our kick-off for WeStories and received our bookbag with multicultural books. They were books I had never heard of, much less read. Loved it. Still reading the books with the kids. Some of them were sad and they were shocked/taken by it- trying to process all the feelings around segregation and racism. It’s hard for us adults to process so imagine kids doing that. But it’s important work and I will continue and talk to them, push past my own comfort zone knowing that my children will be better for it. Considering everything going on in the world right now- I think there is no better time to do this. We must do this. Educate our children in age-appropriate ways on topics of race and skin color and the history/legacy of our country around these two topics.

People by Peter Spier


People is the simplest of all these books and it places a strong value and emphasis on the beauty of diversity in this world. Highlights different cultures, skin colors, nose shapes, religions, languages and customs. A book you can go back to again and again.

Ron’s Big Mission by Rose Blue and Corrine J. Naden

ron's big mission

Ron’s Big Mission was super sad because it features a little boy who lives in segregated 1950’s South Carolina. My kids couldn’t understand why he wasn’t able to get his own library card. As proud card holders themselves for years now, this really disturbed them. Lots of conversations around emotions and anger after reading the book.

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman

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Amazing Grace was a big hit with Baby Girl. Not only does Hoffman tackle cultural stereotypes but gender ones as well. This book empowers and paints a picture of girls being more than just quiet, polite, rule-abiding children. Long live Grace and all the rules she breaks in this book!

Happy reading and warm snuggles.

World Chess Hall of Fame

June30-July 20 063Last week we visited the World Chess Hall of Fame in St. Louis’ Central West End neighborhood. As you may recall from past posts- we love the Central West End– it was one of the first places we visited when we arrived a year ago.

June30-July 20 060We made an afternoon out of it- visiting the historic building it’s in- all 3 floors of it. The first floor houses the gift shop and the current exhibition of Tom Hackney: Corresponding Squares: Painting the Chess Games of Marcel Duchamp. Excellent photography and art exhibit with a few nude photos so parents beware of the kids- my boys looked, snickered and ran away. A nice conversation around nudity as an art form followed to which they struggled to comprehend.

We spent the majority of our time on the second floor with the Kings, Queens & Castles interactive family exhibit. There is a giant medieval castle, life-size chessboard, large scale chess pieces and art-making stations. June30-July 20 048June30-July 20 047June30-July 20 046June30-July 20 043June30-July 20 042

The third floor houses the permanent exhibits. There are historic and artistic chess sets housed behind glass. This floor was too delicate for my rambunctious bunch of kids and so we spent very little time here.

We ate lunch across the street at KingSide Diner. Terrible, slow service- make sure you have 2 hours to kill at minimum but while you wait the kids can play in the adjoining room with chess sets at every table. June30-July 20 064

We wrapped up our day with a visit to Left Bank bookstore to peruse the used book section in the basement downstairs. A perfect way to end the day.


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.

Continue reading “Mark Twain’s Hannibal, Missouri”

World Bird Sanctuary

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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.

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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.

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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? 

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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.

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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.

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Silent No Longer

I just can’t anymore. It’s been a long, emotionally trying week here in America. I find myself at a loss for something. Not quite sure. Loss of innocence? Loss of trust? Loss of life and love and compassion for other human beings? 

All over social media – you are either on one side or the other, it’s us vs. them.  The comments that people write are horrible. And I’m exhausted. I’m sorry but it is not my job to educate you on what white privilege is. It’s not on me to have to explain why every life is precious- regardless of prior criminal record and socio-economic level. 

You feel empathy for me because you can’t imagine how hard it must be right now to be a mother of black sons in America? Well- don’t. Don’t feel sorry for me. Do me a favor. Educate yourself. Take a course on “witnessing whiteness” through your local YWCA. Read books – lots of them- I have a long list if you are interested. Learn the history of this country- not the one they taught you a long time ago back in high school from an outdated textbook but learn the history from black, Latino, Asian and Native American perspectives. You will be shocked of what you learn and it will give you a much richer perspective of the diversity of America.

Please- don’t post that it’s not a black man issue. That you are going to educate your children to respect authority (as if that was the issue), that it came down to personal choice (as if they had a choice). Don’t send me videos through messenger that explain why police killing these black men was justified (your side of things as you put it- I’m not against you or what you stand for but this is how I see things you said). We are better than all of this and it’s insulting. 

It’s on all of us. This issue will not go away. We need serious changes in this country when it comes to criminal justice and law enforcement systems. But it all starts with each individual acknowledging that there are serious problems here.

Really take a deep look at yourself and ask these questions-

What internal racisms and biases do I personally have? (We ALL have them- to admit otherwise is naive) 

How are those biases being passed on to my children? 

Finally- what can I personally do to confront those biases? This will involve doing lots of things outside of your comfort zone. Go meet people who are completely different than yourself- go to places that you normally don’t go to. Challenge yourself to learn something new about a different culture every day. 

This is our defining moment people. Years from now the history books will paint this time of 2016 in a certain light- similar perhaps to the year -1968? 

Where we go from here matters. The world, this country, our legacy, our children’s futures depend on it.