U.S. Family, Friends, Surprising Places – including Cahokia Mounds, Allerton Park, and Amish Country

When we left China several months ago, Barry and I took to the road to visit U.S. family, friends, Servas hosts, and interesting places.

We started with our great family in St. Louis.

Val’s baby shower at my sister Trish’s house. On September 12, we welcomed the newest member of our family–Quinn Riley; she’s perfect. Good work Val and Chris!

Cousin Elaine giving my brother Al the bean pot that and had been  inherited by Grandpa Ben Riley.

Elaine says, “The bean pot came with the Riley’s over the Allegheny Mountains during the late 1700’s…to Indiana and then on to Illinois….They settled in Fayette County which is now off Route 70 West of Effingham.   Grandpa inherited the bean pot; however, he had really wanted the horn that they blew to call the animals and scare off the Indians. But the horn went to some other relative….I don’t know who….We put flowers in the bean pot in the summer…but were careful of it and brought it inside in the winter….and I knew death would be quick if I ever broke the pot….  Giving it to Alan was a choice I made.  As he is the oldest grandson, I thought that is where Grandpa would want it to go.”

We were with family for the July 4th celebration.  After a barbecue at Val & Chris’, we walked to the St. Charles riverfront to watch spectacular fireworks together.

Fireworks over the Mississippi.

Surprising Places:

Although I lived several years in a St. Louis suburb, I’d never been to Cahokia Mounds, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest and most complex archaeology site in the U.S.   It covers 2,200 acres with 80 remaining mounds.  The Cahokia civilization reached its height while Europe struggled during the Middle Ages. In 1250 AD, for instance, Cahokia was larger than London.  Especially after reading a National Geographic article on Cahokia, Barry and I wanted to check out the site of this ancient civilization set on the Mississippi River floodplain.

Now at Cahokia Mounds,  visitors can walk among the man-made mounds of different sizes and functions and see the excellent museum too.

Cahokia Mounds

Barry entering the Cahokia Mounds Museum

Cahokia Mounds Museum has fantastic dioramas.

A healer’s dwelling

Artifact displays

Burial artifacts


Also visitors can see Cahokia’s Woodhenge, a circle of wooden posts that marked solstices and equinoxes (like Stonehenge).

 Source from: http://ecuip.lib.uchicago.edu/diglib/science/cultural_astronomy/cultures_mississipians_images-2c.html

Then in the 15th century, this sophisticated Native civilization known for its developments in astronomy, agriculture, and economics — disappeared.

Scholars surmise that environmental factors such as over-hunting and deforestation as well as internal and external conflict may have been involved.

To learn more, go to http://www.cahokiamounds.org/

Another surprise for us was  Allerton Park, 1,500 acres including the Sangamon River, lowland and upland forests, a meadow, and a century-old Georgian mansion with  formal gardens.  Near Montecello, Illinois, Allerton Park was created by Robert Allerton, an artist, art collector, garden landscaper, and an industrialist heir.  His adopted son, John Allerton,  gave the property to the University of Illinois in 1946.    Visitors can wander through the gardens and trails, explore the nature center, or even get married there.

Avenue of Chinese Musician Sculptures, part of the formal gardens of Allerton Park.

With cousin Elaine and Howard along the 14 miles of hiking trails in Allerton Park.

To know more, go to http://allerton.illinois.edu/

Then we were off to Chicago to visit long-time friends.  First we stayed with Jeany.  She and I taught at inner-city Wells High School and took great skiing vacations and a trip to Greece together.   Barry and I went to Chris’.   She and I met at the University of Mexico one summer and later traveled all over Europe — on $5.00 a day! (Being a teacher has allowed me to take great vacations).


Blue’s Chicago!

On the grass — concert in Chicago’s Millennium Park

On Chicago’s North side, Chris with Mandu and Callie

Marsha – on Chicago’s South Side (another long-time friend.  She helped me survive a NW Territories canoeing adventure one summer).

Next we were off to Madison to visit more friends.  Patti, Chris, three other American girls, and I met in Dublin one winter and became fast friends.  When I moved to Maui, pet quarantines lasted for months.  Patti, the only other person besides me who liked my cat, adopted  Sasha  for which I’ve always been grateful.

Madison, Wisconsin

Patti, Colin, and Tom  at Monty’s Blue Plate Diner,  tasty!

Volunteering with the “Recall Scott Walker” campaign. We were in Madison, so, of course, we wanted to be involved in politics!

 Tom and Barry deep in conversation (with Winston the Whippet running ahead) at a Madison dog park.

Back on the road, we headed East.

Amish:  Around Arthur, Illinois, and Lancaster,  Pennsylvania, we got to see Amish.  I’ve been interested in their ability to forgive ever since I learned about the 2006 West Nickel Mines school tragedy: 10 Amish girls ages six through 13 were taken hostage in their one-room school and shot.  The gunman killed himself.  Five of the girls died.    The Amish community expressed compassion for their demented neighbor.  Several books and articles have been written about the Amish reaction to the horrifying loss. I learned the most from  John Ruth’s Forgiveness.  The Amish leave  judgement to God.

The one-room West Nickel Mine’s school house was torn down and plowed over.   Another, much like this Amish school, was built nearby.

The Amish go to school through eighth grade and then work:  the youngest boy takes over the farm; the older ones become furniture makers or learn other crafts.  The girls marry early.

In Arthur and Lancaster, we were able to shop in Amish grocery stores where we stocked up on such necessities as cashews, oatmeal, tea, and chocolate!   We did pass up the five-pound bags of Jello mix.

Outside Beachy’s Bulk Foods in Arthur, Illinois

Bob, our Servas host, drove Barry and me around Lancaster Amish country in his 1962 bright red completely restored Studebaker convertible!  He supplied the Studebaker caps for us to wear too 😀

The Amish don’t like to be photographed, but thanks to Bob, we were invited into an Amish home. On the left is the canning oven; on the right the clothes washer.

Amish kitchen: After church services, which are held in various homes, the tables and food come out. Perhaps 100 people will fill this house at times.

Living room

This blackboard message reflects the interdependence of the family members – and their care and love.

In many ways, I idealize the Amish way of life.  They seem closely knit, hard-working, reliable, and very involved in their families and communities.  (Going to school through  just the eighth grade and having to use straight pins to hold their dresses together doesn’t seem so ideal).  But they have beautiful, well-cared for farms and seemingly full lives.

The irony is that this community that seeks simplicity owns what is now very valuable farmland.

Amish house we visited.  The cool car belongs to our Servas host.

Milking barn and silage.

Amish house and barn

Milking barn – owned by Amish

Dairy cattle on the Amish farm

Most Amish families plant  huge vegetable gardens

Don’t think their lives are all about working and going to church. These roller blades are on a shelf in the Amish house!

Although they don’t use electricity or drive cars, this Amish family does have some engines and uses compressed air for power too.

So they can be in close contact with the soil, Amish  hitch up horses to plow their fields.

An Amish farm: beautiful land–with no electric wires blocking the view!

Big skies

After seeing Amish country, Barry and I were on the road again heading further east.

More to come.

Aloha, Renée


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About reneeriley

Our blog was begun as a way to share our experiences in China. From August 2010 to July 2011, my husband, Barry Kristel, and I were at our University of Hawaii Maui College sister school, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin'an, China, a city considered rural because it has only 500,000 people! We had a wonderful time. Then in February 2012, we returned to teach this time at our other sister school, Shanghai Normal University, in a city of over 21 million people. We've made many discoveries. Did you know that now Chinese girls, at least the ones who go to university, for the most part feel they are luckier than the Chinese boys? Did you know that Shanghai saved over 20,000 European Jews during WWII? Do you know how Chinese university students would deal with problems that come up in Dear Abby letters? What's it like to be on the Great Wall of China? Do you know how many Chinese girls had their feet bound and why? And we have recipes from many of the places we've visited. Among others, you can find instructions on how to fry cicadas from one of my ZAFU students and how to make chocolate-Kahlua waffles from my brother Mike in Gainesville. You can also look back to our earliest entry to see what we experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 during the mainly peaceful six months of protest until the Mexican government sent in the troops. Between our stays in China, Barry and I have been on the Mainland U.S. visiting family, friends and Servas hosts as we traveled home to Maui. We share those experiences too. Welcome to our blog! Aloha and Zài Jiàn, Renée and Barry

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