Holy Family Church, the only existing vertical log church from this time period


The grounds and the building of the Holy Family Church in Cahokia, Illinois are beautiful. Although we were unable to make it inside with the day’s schedule, we were able to see the site and wonder at the lovely black walnut logs of the church built in the Creole French style the poteaux-sur-sol style with the vertical logs.

We were on a historical journey learning about the Creole French and this was the first place we stopped and the last, we were unable to hook up with the tour group so only saw the outside of this lovely building. The Holy Family Church is privately owned by the church. This was built between 1787 and 1799 and actually served as the second church built on this site.

The first was built then the Pastor returned to France and the building deteriorated then burned. The second church is mentioned in a letter from the church wardens of the parish to the Seminary of Quebec dated June 6, 1987. The letter shows that they planned a new church and the church was completed in 1799. This church is very historically important because it is the only church and public building that has survived of this style.

The church was restored in 1949 and today is still used for religious purposes although a newer church stands next door between the older church and the Jarrot house.

The church was what brought the French Creole to the area and today this church stands as a beautiful reminder of the early French roots. Call 618-332-1782 for more information.

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The Nicolas Jarrot House, a French History in Cahokia, IL


He was a French-born entrepreneur and land speculator who also served as judge and local militia officer. The unofficial website for the house said, “Nicholas Jarrot helped Lewis and Clark.”
Brian Winn, Cahokia Courthouse and Jarrot House site superintendant said, “Lewis stayed here in Cahokia with the Jarott family. They needed to be near correspondence. Clark was familiar with Cahokia; his older brother was George Rogers Clark.”

Jarrot served as an interpreter for Lewis when he asked the Spanish Lieutenant Governor in St. Louis for permission to travel into Spanish Territory. Jarrot worked as a trader with Native Americans, as a retailer and mill owner, and a land speculator. He also traded commodities produced in Cahokia and the east for furs with Native Americans in Wisconsin at Prairie du Chien, a major trading crossroads.”

Nicolas Jarrot was born in 1764 in Val St. Eloy France, a village near the Swiss border. He immigrated to the US in May 1791 arriving in Baltimore, Maryland. Traveling first to New Orleans in 1793 he arrived in Cahokia in 1794 and married Marie Louise Barbeau of Prairie du Rocher. Marie passed away when she gave birth to their first child, a daughter in either 1796 or 1797. The following year he married Julie Vital Beauvais of Kaskaskia and together they had six children. Jarrot owned the land along the Wood River where the Corps of Discovery camped during the winter. As a storeowner, he also may have sold gear or supplies to Lewis for the journey.

It was in 1799 that Nicolas Jarrot bought the property for his mansion. The American Federal Style home was constructed from 1806 to 1807 and is one of the earliest surviving masonry buildings in Illinois. The Mansion is a two-story brick structure with a full cellar. Winn shared that the basement served as the slave quarters.

The first floor is composed of a central hall, flanked on each side by two rooms. The second floor contains a ballroom with attached drawing room, a stair hall, and two other rooms. On the grounds is a stone spring house that dates from c.1810.

By his death in 1820, he had acquired thousands of acres of land in St. Clair, Madison, and Monroe counties. Read more about Nicolas Jarrot on the website http://jarrotmansion.org/.

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The Cahokia Courthouse, a look into French Creole frontier life


Did you know that in southern Illinois there is an area referred to as the French Creole Corridor? The areais in the Mid-Mississippi area and is in southern Illinois and northern Missouri. The area was settled by French missionaries from Quebec and traders that blended into the Indian population and created their own culture before the Spanish arrived. The French missionaries arrived in Cahokia, Illinois in 1699.

One of the remains from this early time period is the lovely Cahokia Courthouse. I took a trip with my mom, and our friend’s Joy and Rose to check out this early French history. Our first stop on the French Creole corridor was the Cahokia Courthouse. The Courthouse is a vertical-log building originally built and used as a residence by Francois Saucier around 1744. This distinctive French architecture is also referred to as poteaux-sur-solle (post-on-sill foundation). The upright hewn logs are seated on a horizontal log sill; the spaces between logs are filled with stone and mortar chinking.

Site Superintendent Brad Winn took the time to show us around and tell us about the courthouse and take us back in time. “Cahokia was a French trading center. The French missionaries from Quebec came to preach to the Indians and founded Cahokia around 1699. They stayed until the Spanish won the area. The French traded metal goods and cloth with the Indians for furs.”

Beaver pelts were the main fur the traders were after according to Winn. The French unlike many other nationalities blended in with the Indians. The Cahokia Courthouse website http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/lewisandclark/old.htm summarizes the history of this fascinating building. “From December 1803 until the spring of 1804, Lewis and Clark used the Old Cahokia Courthouse as a headquarters for collecting information, meeting with territorial leaders, gathering supplies and corresponding with President Thomas Jefferson while the party camped at nearby Camp River Dubois. The courthouse, built as a dwelling in the 1730s, is a unique remnant of the French presence in Illinois. The building became a courthouse in 1793, and for 20 years it served as a center of political activity in the Old Northwest Territory. The building was dismantled in 1901, re-erected twice, and reconstructed on its original site in 1939.”

The building in the early 1900’s was the Courthouse Saloon then it was purchased and built to sell souveneirs at the St. Louis Wolds Fair before being brought back and re-erected. Inside today there is a small museum with displays showing exhibits about colonial life. There is a visitors center next to the courthouse and it is worthwhile to take a minute and ask for a tour of this historic site that is open year round. Call 618-332-1782 for information.

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Cahokia Mounds, the Indian city that was


It is truly mind boggling that an entire Indian City, the largest prehistoric Indian site north of Mexico, was located near Collinsville, Illinois. The site covered 4,000 acres and included at least 120 Mounds. Although today the remains of what was and the mystery of why they left are things we wonder about, visitors can come to Cahokia and learn about these Mississippian Indians through the museum and Interpretative center.

The remains of this prehistoric site are preserved within the 2,200-acre tract. According to archaeological finds, the city of Cahokia was inhabited from about A.D. 700 to 1400. The first Indians to live in Cahokia were the Woodland Indians. Over time, the Cahokia Mounds brochure states, “From AD 800 to 1,000 the Mississippian culture began as highly structured communities arose with a complex social and political system…”

The site around 1050 AD became a regional center with towns, fields, villages and mounds that covered over six square miles with a population of 10,000 – 20,000. The regional center was organized around Monks Mound, the largest prehistoric earthen construction in the Americas which contained an estimated 22 million cubic feet of earth. History from the site shares, “a massive building once stood on the summit where the principal chief would live, conduct ceremonies, and govern.”

The mound was named for the nearby French Trappist monks. The mounds were built using soil from “borrow pits” dug with stone and wood tools. The earth was then moved in baskets on their backs.
Some of the mounds had a flat top for ceremonial villages and residences for the elite. The conical and ridge top mounds were often used as burial grounds for the important people or as location markers.
Over 120 mounds were built over time, and most of the mounds were enlarged several times. Houses were arranged in rows and around open plazas, and vast agricultural fields lay outside the city. The name Cahokia came from later Indians related to the Illini tribes. The site has been an amazing archeological site worth visiting. This is a history every Illinois resident should know about.

Sadly there is probably more not known about the Indians that inhabited Cahokia than there is known. Over time hopefully some of the questions will be answered. For now though, what happened to end the Cahokians and their city is a mystery. Educated guesses are that there was a depletion of resources that probably contributed to the city’s decline. But for now, we only have the mounds and the artifacts they left behind to base our knowledge of this once great nation.

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Traveling Tips from friends, family and the experts

Planning on taking a trip? Taking a page from others, I asked around on what other travelers do to enjoy their trips. Friends and relatives on Facebook mentioned planning ahead and scheduling tours while others liked taking the road less traveled just getting in the car and going without a destination in mind. I myself am a planner and like to have a rough draft etched out of who, what, when and where and then be flexible ready to stop at the first interesting road sign.

However as my husband points out, I have a tendency to over plan sometimes making a trip seem more like a work trip than a fun trip. He likes a bit more spontenaity and a little fewer appointments although I must say we have seen some amazing things and done some cool stuff by calling ahead and setting things up. He is right though for a kick back and relax but still see things kind of trip, some of the travel bloggers below offered up a bit of information I need to adhere to.

For those with kids or just are a bit up in years and need an afternoon siesta, this advice will come in handy. “Plan driving during nap time and most of all take it slow – no need to see everything in one day (enjoy your trip, don’t rush). Act as if you will be back to the destination many times – not once in a lifetime. When I have that mentality I tend to slow down and enjoy more,” advised Midwest Travel Blogger Adam Sommer.

Blogger Alison Dix said, “Plan activities and down time, and then see what you are feeling like rather than planning your whole schedule.”

She said she is like I am and like to go, go but her spouse likes resting on vacation and following this helps balance things out.

I guess the bottom line is take a look at your traveling partner or if going solo think “What do I want out of this trip?” then plan accordingly!

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Huichol Indian Art Comes Alive in Puerto Vallarta

Yarn art by the Huichol Indians sounds like a simple concept until you glimpse a piece on the wall that brings you face to face with the intricate work that went into creating not only a picture, but an art piece. Carmen Porras co-owner of Arrayan restaurant had a few of the beautiful pictures on her wall. She explained that to make these paintings the artist spreads beeswax on a board, sketches out a design then fills it carefully pressing the colored yarns into the wax.
Arrayan authentic Mexican cuisine is just one of the places I saw this intricate art work while attending the NATJA travel writing conference. During an art work I learned that the Huichol Indians are one of the best examples of Pre-Columbian tribes and their way of life and belief system is still intact today. According to the Mexico Huichol Resource Page, the tribe members, are, “Descendents of the Aztec…”
With a population of around 18,000, most live in the sierra of Jalisco and Nayarit. “Having withstood the Spanish Invasion, they are still striving to keep their culture alive and viable, despite the ever increasing physical and cultural encroachment of their Mexican neighbors. Peyote is a focal point for their ceremonies, and their colorful beadwork and yarnwork reflects a reverent and symbiotic relationship with nature,” the website (http://www.mexconnect.com/articles/190-mexico-s-huichol-resource-page-their-culture-symbolism-art) states.

The artwork is available in part due to the Peyote People, a fair trade co-op and art gallery where they profile art created by the tribe. The monies from the art helps the Indians preserve their traditional rituals and ceremonies.

Besides the yarn paintings, they are also well known for their wood carvings and Indian bead art.
The Huichol art is not only in the galleries, but also on the walkways. The Malecon, a pedestrian promenade/walkway runs alongside the beach stretching to the central downtown area and old town. The Malecon is filled people, shops and market stalls, restaurants and of interesting and very distinctive sculptures. In the case of the Malecon the sidewalk itself is art filled with several of the Huichol symbols. The symbols were created with small pebbles. The Peyote People Guide to Huichol Symbols on the Malecon explains the symbols. “These symbols come from the Huichol Indian and have been used for hundreds if not thousands of years.”

The symbols revolve around the shaman and medicine men that consume hallucinogenic peyote cactus to speak to their gods that pass on through their visions. The visions tell the shaman where to hunt deer and when to plant corn. The art is created as an offering to appease the gods.

The Indian artist Jose Benitez’s son Fidencio explained the symbolism in a yarn painting he created for Puerto Vallarta. The painting reflects Huichol beliefs that their life began in the ocean then evolved on to land. “These symbols taken from this yarn painting and put into the Malecon celebrate not only the relationship between the ocean and the land, but also between Puerto Vallarta and the Huichol.”
A few of the symbols include agricultural associations like the corn, “The lifeblood of the Huichol from the gods. There are five colors of corn that come from Great Grandmother’s five daughters.”

Peyote while not thought of as a crop in a traditional way is the predictor used for when to plant the “lifeblood of the Huichol” and the sacred cactus is the “doorway to the spiritual world”.
These symbols and other art can be found at the galleries Peyote People and Collectika. Log onto http://www.peyotepeople.com for more information.

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Estero el Salado – where I met a croc and saw Puerto Vallarta – nature

It was a resting place for on crocodile that brought others to the Estero el Salado Protected Natural Area. Christina, one of the guides at el Salado shared that a farmer had a troublesome crock that was consuming his livestock. He hooked chicken as a trap and the crocodile took the bait, was injured, brought to the sanctuary and although they tried their best, they couldn’t save him. They buried him onsite and his smell actually brought a pregnant female to the site and she laid her eggs at the burial site. Since that time, el Salado has been not only an estuary with amazing birdlife and an endangered Mangrove swamp, but also a crocodile sanctuary as well.

The estuary is set dead center in the hotel resort area, an area that once was mangrove swamp and has been cleared to create beautiful beaches and hotel fronts that beckon tourists like me and the other writers that came to Puerto Vallarta for the North American Travel Writers conference to see the history, beauty and culture of Puerto Vallarta. While tourism is a boon to the economy, it is places like el Salado that is offering a chance for natives and tourist alike to see a bit of natural habitat and preserve what so quickly has disappeared.

Estero el Salado Protected Natural Area is comprised of 417 acres, of which approximately 334 acres are marshes and mangrove vegetation; the rest is made up of two medium-sized remnants of rain forest bordered by aquatic and subaquatic vegetation, prickly forest and secondary vegetation. “The mangrove swamp used to go all the way from the Sheraton to the ocean,” our guide Christina said with a hand gesture that indicates the area that although a big reserve has been diminished greatly over time.

The el Salado area was set aside on July 27, 2000, when the government of the State of Jalisco enacted legislation to create this location as a Protected Natural Area under the category of Ecological Conservation Zone (ECZ). The website states, “Its connection to the ocean is permanent, through a channel almost 20 meters wide, 3 meters deep, and 2 miles long, which flows into the ocean. Its fresh and sea waters make it an ideal place for the development of many species of flora and fauna in extremely healthy conditions. So far it has a register of more than 100 bird species, grouped into 23 families, of both aquatic and terrestrial habits. Over 29 amphibians, reptiles and mammals have been spotted as well. Among the reptiles are the green iguana, garrobo iguana and river crocodile. Among the mammals which have been observed in the mangrove are raccoons and opossums. There are abundant populations of fiddler and stone or Morrocan crabs in the marshes and mangroves. The estuary is home to a large number of specimens of flora and fauna considered to be in categories established as protected by SEMARNAT.”

My visit to El Salado was on the heels of great dining, an art walk and a visit to the botanical gardens, this was a wonderful reminder of the native beauty of the area. I had a chance to hold a baby crocodile (with the snout banded shut!), take a boat ride traveling at one kilometer per hour on the “La Aventuera” down the channel to see the mangrove swamp and a very large croc hiding in the roots. I took a boardwalk to a tower that offered a view of birdlife (I saw a vulture) and a few I think Egrets. From the tower I could view the subtropical terrain with hotels dotting the distant skyline. It was a surreal moment, I won’t long forget.
If in the area, consider seeing the unspoiled beauty of the El Salado by taking a tour. They offer visitors a chance to observe the great diversity of wildlife, the 3 species of mangrove and their main features. Tours are conducted Monday through Friday. Times: 9:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., and 3:00 p.m. For more information, log onto http://visitpuertovallarta.com/event/tours-of-the-estero-el-salado-estuary.

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Conception, the King of Tuba, a Puerto Vallarta magic mix

Constantine is very regal as he stands along the river walk in his pristine white outfit with his jug of the coconut drink Tuba. Constantine perfected his craft while living in Acapulco before bringing his recipe to Puerto Vallarta. “Only 12 licenses are granted to vendors to sell Tuba in Puerto Vallarta,” our guide said. We were on a Scavenger hunt as part of the NATJA (National Association of Travel Writer’s) conference when I had a chance to try my first sip of Tuba.

Constantine is thought of as the grandfather of Tuba and he wears his title well. He took his tribute undaunted as we praised his sweet drink that was quite refreshing in the sultry Mexican heat.

The creation of tuba is quite an endeavor. Made from the milky white sap of the coconut tree Tuba is sometimes mixed with Barok the bark of the mangrove tree. In Puerto Vallarta not far from the Vela Vallarta resort where they stayed there was El Salado an ecological reserve where I had the chance to see a Mangrove swamp firsthand and get an idea what the bark of a mangrove tree would look like.

Other times Tuba is created with sap as the only ingredient. The sap is collected and allowed to ferment and distill. The drink we had was white in color so I believe this was the process used for our refreshment.

Coconut sap is collected in a bamboo container from the flower of the coconut tree. To obtain the sap, the farmer climbs the tree then cuts the flower and the flower discharges the sap that is the nectar of the Tuba.

Amazingly a tree can produce a liter of tuba a day! As far as Conception’s special Tuba, he uses only the Juice secreted from the palm of the coconut palm, walnuts, apples, sugar and his own secret ingredients that he mixes, stirs and lets it set overnight.

Some places the drink is allowed to ferment and distill to become a coconut wine. Fermentation is done in a glass or plastic container. On the Puerto Vallarta Food Tour website http://puertovallartafoodtours.com/menus/tuba-by-concepcion they confirm our opinion of Constantine and his drink. “He is the most sought after and has been doing his secret recipe for more than 14 years.”

“Conception is found wondering the streets of Vallarta on Tuesday – Sunday from 10 am till 7pm. Just look for the guys with cool white hat”, is how they advise finding this master of the mix.

“He is used to getting his picture taken,” our guide said as I asked to pose with the dignified man that has managed to make a niche out of a flower on a tree in this tropical paradise!


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Remembering BB King and Beale Street


We visited the legendary BB King’s club when we were in Memphis in March. The lights to the club lit up in neon that beckoned anyone with a hankering to hear the blues, us included. We ate dinner then found a perch in a window seat, the four of us, my husband, and sister in law Debbie and brother in law Craig. We sat, sipped and listened to band after band until late in the evening soaking up music and enjoying one another’s company and although he was not there, the aura of B.B. King himself.

With his passing on May 14, 2015, Beale Street will be forever changed. King was 89 years old and passed away in Las Vegas.

The essence of Beale Street, although in my eyes founded by W.C. Handy. has King’s lingering, towering presence and makes me ask just who he was. My interest goes a bit deeper when I learned that King like me suffered from diabetes. Both his mother and sister succumbed to the disease.

He lived a long life though and leaves a huge family behind through two wives he sired 15 children and the post I read claimed 50 grandchildren. King played an amazing 342 times and only four months ago cancelled his 2014 tour after becoming ill.

Born in 1925 Riley B. King was the son of sharecroppers on a farm outside of Indianola, Mississippi. Like many before him his first exposure to music was gospel through his mother and grandmother. At church he learned to sing in the church choir and was exposed to the Blues from his great Aunt. Finding he could make money singing, he arrived in Memphis in 1946 and stayed with his cousin singer Bukka White.

A radio slot earned him a gig landing that eventually pulled in a regular job on the radio station WDIA. On the radio King took on the persona of “Beale Street Blues Boy” that eventually got shortened to the name we all know him by today, BB King. He made his first recording in 1949 and his success was on the rise. Log onto http://www.biography.com/news/bb-king-dead-obit for more details about King’s life. This space is too limited to do him justice.

The flicker of the neon will not be the same on my next visit to Memphis. As I sit in my kitchen making a Mexican dinner to celebrate my recent trip to Puerto Vallarta we are dining with the same couple Debbie and Craig that we traveled to Memphis with. Tonite it will be important to raise a glass to remember Memphis and the legacy of the “Ambassador of the Blues”.

Remembering BB King on a May summers eve in central Illinois.

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Nickorbobs Decor’s Big Event


Sometimes travel is all about those local day stops that you like to make. One of the places I like to stop is a craft mall, located at the crossroads of Highway 104 and Interstate 55 that is special to me. It is Nickorbobs Craft Mall. The mall is owned by two brothers; Nick Britz and Robert Britz and they established the mall in 1994.

My parents have a booth at the mall, and when my father passed away this past February, the mall personnel wrapped their arms around my mother and our family and words can’t say enough about people of that integrity and class.

Besides the obvious kindness of the staff and vendors, they one of Central Illinois’ only craft mall and they offer 89 large showcase booths with an array of products from 48 independent vendors.

The mall includes over 16,000 sq. feet of wonderful merchandise that includes floral, paintings, furniture, jewelry, clothes, and purses and of course one of a kind handmade items that round out a home making it special to reflect your own personal style.

This weekend, May 16-17th the mall is featuring the very first Country Home Farmhouse event. Nick Britz said, “This is the very first time for this event, so don’t miss out. We will have the latest in country chic and farmhouse decor in central Illinois.”

There will be outside vendors and the newest in country farmhouse florals. Plus for all the bargain shoppers the mall also is offering everything 10% off everything in the mall both days also plus Food Demonstrations.
I am excited because they are hosting a book signing for me on Saturday from 10-2.
Nickorbobs is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week. They are located at 14272 Frazee Rd, Divernon, IL 62530. Call (217) 628-9191 for details.

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