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.

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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.

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To New Beginnings and 18 Years of Marriage

You might be wondering where I’ve been in the last month. Long story short. We moved back to California, moving company was 2 weeks late in delivering our stuff and all 3 kiddos began a new school year while my husband transitioned to a new work setting. As for me? A million crazy, outlandish things happened and at a certain point all I could do was laugh. So many great stories to share and I will at a certain point. For now, I am relishing in being home where I belong and creating my new normal. Work has picked up and I’m really grateful for the opportunity to do meaningful work with nonprofit organizations that are changing lives.

On this Labor Day, I’m thinking about my husband and one of the greatest journeys I ever embarked on- getting married 18 years ago. I literally had no idea what I was doing but in a way I think that’s the way it should be- that’s life- stepping off the ledge- hoping for the best and knowing you’ve got to prepare for a little turbulence. So- here’s to new beginnings- that we never grow so comfortable that we are afraid to step off that ledge. I’m off to push my family into joining me for a hike in our beloved canyons this morning. In the meantime, while I catch my breath- I leave you with this piece written during my last week in St. Louis. Many blessings to you all…

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The cicada’s song has returned and serenades us upon dusk. The out of nowhere monsoon thunder and lightning storms have resumed as well.We chase the fireflies around the yard and marvel at their lights. The ground smells strong after a good storm and the birds and bunnies remind us of how much life there is in the world.

I’m not scared anymore.

One year ago we landed in St. Louis, ready for an adventure and yet so sad to leave California. Also scared because I knew this move would bring so many changes and I was afraid of how those changes might affect us.

The past few years had caught up with us. My father-in-law’s stage IV cancer diagnosis and subsequent passing along with the aftermath. Ever watched a person die before your eyes? It’s a frightful thing and as you watch the horror unfold in front of you, control is slipping out of your hands and you realize this is how we all end. Life and marriage and kids and problems had turned us into shells of what we had been in our younger days, we found ourselves scrapping through, with no gusto for life- our feet heavy upon waking and hitting the hardwood floor most mornings. And then out of nowhere- poof- we were moving to St. Louis! Everything you thought about your life and what you knew about gone in that instant.

Although we didn’t know it at the time- we had just hit the re-start button for our lives. What an incredible gift. People entered our lives that we didn’t even know we needed. Experiences were had that we didn’t even know we needed to experience. But most importantly- our most valuable lesson is that we learned to laugh and find the joy in life and in each other again.

It is time for this family to go home back to California. We will pick up where we left off but from a different place. Continue our adventure we will- seeking out those people who are a bit different- the outsiders if you will- realizing how hard it is to be the person that no one talks or relates to, the person that doesn’t quite fit the narrative. Always looking for new places to discover, new journeys to travel, new experiences to have so we can continue to learn about ourselves.  We will challenge ourselves to be more empathetic, caring, loving and open. We will try our hardest to protect our sacred family time and space amidst the crazy of life and not overburden ourselves with outside commitments.

I’m not scared anymore.

 

 

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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St. Louis’ Graffiti Wall

April-June 2016 278It’s been cra-zy around the house. Crazy with a capital “C.” Too much to go into today and will share more in a few weeks but suffice to say that with everything going on and the kids home and us traveling on the weekends all over Missouri, Indiana and Chicago, I have had very little time to write and update the blog. I have so much to share however and will in due time. Before leaving for another trip to Los Angeles to celebrate my last living grandparent- Abuelita Chelo- who turns 90- wanted to share some pictures from a trip we took to St. Louis’ Graffiti Wall.

April-June 2016 277You don’t hear much about this Graffiti Wall, at least I had not and I was so pleasantly surprised by how interesting it was. Every August/September, the wall is painted white and the city throws a huge paint party down by the riverfront, as that is where it is and graffiti artists paint huge murals with lots of powerful imagery.

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Some tips if you go: The wall is down by the riverfront off of Chouteau and S Leonor K Sullivan Blvd. When you get off the freeway and follow your navigation, you might feel like you might be in a bad part of town but do not fear- it’s just industrial- not bad at all. Feel free to park anywhere close by the wall there are no parking spaces that are close by and I made the mistake of parking in the semi-parking lot on the left and then had to go back to get my car in the hot, humid weather.  Go to the right and just park anywhere. If you go during the summer- go early as it gets really hot, very quickly. Enjoy and take lots of pictures!

 

Black dresses, More BBQ, Flowers and Bread

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Been living the St. Louis life the past couple of weeks. Trying to enjoy being present for myself, my husband, my kids. Focusing on gratitude instead of resentments or negativity. Some days it’s harder than others.

A few highlights:

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Visit to Missouri History Museum’s “Little Black Dress” exhibit. Cousin Kristy who lives in Brooklyn, New York and is 20-something came to town so I felt I had to take her to a “cool” place. The exhibit takes you through a history of the little black dress- from the 1800’s mourning occasions to Coco Chanel’s 1960’s dress that launched a million little black dresses. Though the dresses on display were neat to see, I was drawn to a side exhibit- a wall of personalized little pieces of paper that allowed you to write a memory of your own favorite little black dress. In particular- I was drawn to this one. Powerful.

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More BBQ but really, after having visited SugarFire Grill a few weeks back, I must say the best BBQ in St. Louis. Pappy’s Smokehouse. After standing in line for an hour, we chowed down on the best BBQ I have ever had. The restaurant has been recognized by the Food Network as the Best Ribs in America. So- go figure.

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The Missouri Botanical Gardens– in the spring. Really quite fantastic. The last time I had been was last Fall and well- that’s just too long. I hope to visit much more over the next few months. The flowers were in full bloom and the fountains were sprouting blue for the BLUES hockey team (someone had to explain that one to me because I didn’t quite get it- not being a sports hockey fan and a St. Louis newbie).

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Union Loafers. I have a food partner in crime and her name is Lisa- we attempt to eat at a different breakfast or lunch restaurant across different areas throughout St. Louis once a week. In fact, we have a whole list of places we’ve been to – we’ve been enjoying these adventures since last year and one of these days when I get around to it, I’m going to post them all here. So, we made it out to lunch on a rainy, spring day at a place called Union Loafers. We sat at the counter and although we did not indulge in the beer that everyone around us was partaking in, we did manage to have some fantastic food. I had the kale carrot ginger soup and a turkey sandwich on their freshly baked bread. The bread, I am not kidding you- to die for. I bought a loaf of their sourdough to share with the family for dinner that evening- truly magnificent. It makes me want to learn to bake my own bread. That is for another time I’m sure.

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