It’s Never Too Late to Mend: The Old Joliet Prison Break-In! What a Night!

I’m home and glowing with affection for Joliet, my hometown of the last 30 years. People here really are decent, friendly and hard-working folks.

I knew this would be the event of the summer and so I had to score myself a ticket soon after hearing about it. And my, did it deliver! It was bigger than the Taste of Joliet, with a 21 and only crowd and fantastic music all night. There were 3,000 tickets available and I’d say they probably sold out from the looks of it!

I arrived about 6:15 and already the designated parking lots were full except for the last one. I didn’t have plans to meet anyone specific, so just meandered around and looked for anyone I might know and checked in on fb. A few people commented and I found one of them! At first I felt kind of lame because everyone had brought lawn chairs and that had never occurred to me. But it ended up being a good thing because it forced me to do a lot of walking. I saw down to eat my pizza and once more to rest a bit. But mostly I just people watched and surveyed all that was going on.

So many people were dressed to theme, some in full-on convict black and white stripe costumes, complete with hats! Others were in suits, fedoras and sunglasses a la The Blues Brothers- another J-town legacy incorporated into the evening. As most know, the first scene features Elwood picking up Joliet Jake from this very prison, in an old police car he got for a deal.

A lot of people had on black t-shirts with Blue Brothers faces and quotes or they were wearing something black and white striped, or just the black fedoras and glasses. They were being sold as a $5 combo at a merch tent, along with event t-shirts, sewing kits, etc. I’m glad I got the hat and glasses! Later they came in handy.

There were food trucks and tons of props serving as photo ops: an old J-town cop car and a white board painted with black stripes and height markers for patrons to take “mug shots.” In the right corner, there was another cop car– this one a prop for the headlining and closing act, The Blooze Brothers. A kind woman I talked to took a shot of me leaning against it and in exchange I got one of her and her boyfriend over by it.

I saw my friend Hallie in line for a tour and she invited me to cut in with her friends and tag along, so I did! The tiny, broken down cells were very sobering. But probably my favorite part of the evening was visiting the tent for the Old Joliet Prison Burnt District Artists. I’ve been seeing posts from them on facebook as they helped clean up and also found raw materials they could incorporate into their artwork. A lot of cool things are happening in Joliet right now, a lot of new business and breweries are opening up. There’s some intense Joliet pride and I’m proud to see it manifested artistically. That’s where I found the young and hip people. I really liked a piece by Ruben Calderon of Art of Breath Galleria (facebook) — it featured a male prisoner in what seems to be prayer, with a guardian angel visible behind him. The cell bars are in the background, along with a phrase, “It’s Never Too Late To Mend,” written on the cell wall to his right. If I had the cash I would have made an offer.

I met some really nice people just ambling around. One woman offered me a chair at her table to eat, and another told me how much she and her boyfriend love live music and had the best anecdote ever. Her boyfriend had actually BEEN a prisoner here at The Joliet Prison more than 20 years ago, and came back tonight a free man to this event. She said he had told her he’d grown as a person and learned a lot while doing his time. He was glad to come back and reflect on it because it was no longer a painful memory to him.

Then when The Blooze Brothers took the stage, I ran up and spied a friend front and center! We just kinda jammed out together, he was more quiet; bopping his head but clearly really in the moment. I was more wild, dancing around and joking with the woman on my right. We were both being totally silly.

I got one of three free CD’s they passed out because I put on my fedora and black sunglasses and was dancing like crazy– it pays off to be festive! Can’t wait to re-live tonight and play the whole CD when I’m driving around next.

I thought it was beautiful that the band did a tribute to Aretha Franklin’s recent passing. The lead female singer was Shelia Pepple, as far as I can tell from the liner notes from their CD. She sang “Respect,” “Natural Woman,” and a few others I didn’t know with some impressive pipes!

And as for Elwood (Chuck Little) and Joliet Jake (Jeff Sismelich)– they KILLED IT!! They really had the dancing cold, and Elwood wailed on his harmonica. They did “Soul Man,” “Rawhide,” and “Jailhouse Rock!” I left before the end of the set, but didn’t see “Sweet Home Chicago,” it was probably the last song.

I danced my tail off, re-connected with old friends, took some fun pictures and left feeling very glad to be a Jolietian.

In this historic prison, I was freed.

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A Baptism for Liam, an Epiphany for Me

I’ve been to Baptisms before, but today’s was special because it showed me something important about myself as well as celebrating the new faith of my friends’ first child.

It showed me that I do want a family life and I do want a Catholic marriage.

My friends Jenni and Ryan celebrated their first child, Liam. He was born on Ash Wednesday into an Irish Catholic family! They have been close friends of mine since high school, when all three of us went to youth group together. They’ve never missed a birthday of mine! They are both responsible but are silly enough to keep each other laughing, too.

Being there with our other mutual friends– also from youth group– was wonderful. They all have families now, and their kids were playing together in the back yard. I’ve seen them all be pregnant. I’ve been to their weddings and showers. I just felt so grounded and comfortable today with all of them.

A statue of the Blessed Mother was in the left corner of the yard and I found her presence very comforting. I found out it was passed down from someone in their family. My own Godmother has a similar one in her front yard. I’ve always hoped that one day when I hopefully own a home I will have one as well.

I spent the afternoon just catching up with our friends, getting to know both their families better, taking pictures and eating great food! It was wonderful to see them together as parents as well, knowing they prayed and planned for this blessing in their lives. They both have this wonderful, relaxed glow about them. And a big reason for that is their marriage is grounded in a strong friendship and shared Catholic faith.

If I’ve had doubts about whether religion is truly a deal-breaker for me in a relationship, today they were dissolved. Jenni has always been my voice of reason, reminding me that it’s not an unreasonable expectation and showing me that it’s possible in her own marriage. I’ve dated enough Atheists and people who profess no faith. They were all good men but there was definitely something elemental missing. I am unabashedly a woman of faith.

And the highlight of the day? Of course, it was holding Liam. He was so calm and cuddly. He felt comfortable with me and I got to take a few pictures with him. And for me, holding a baby is so natural and it just makes my day. To know this little being trusts you enough to relax and let you hold them is such a good feeling.

I will know when I’m in the right relationship and I’m genuinely happy single for the time being.

I’ve almost renounced my faith in the past because I wanted so much to be compatible with a man who was not religious. I am more confident now and will not compromise my religion again for the sake of being in a relationship. Now I recognize my faith is not only fundamental to my my identity, but my happiness.

Sliding Down the Banister of Life: Lessons from Shamrock Shuffle 2018

Today was the the most arduous race of my life thus far but the most fun.

Because of friends I’ve made in my run club in the past year. I asked to get a ride with someone I’ve been wanting to get to know and she was excited to include me with her gang. We met at 6 a.m. at a local park and ride area and were together until circa 2:30 p.m., if I’m calculating right. I was one of six she happily transported in “Black Beauty,” her SUV.

And I learned that I have more — genuine– friends in this group than I realized. As I shared anxiety about being too slow to qualify for a “finisher’s medal” and having the course shut down before I crossed the line, two people in the club took that to heart. They both offered support and to help me in different ways.,one even offering to give me his medal if I didn’t make it in time. I appreciated the offers but declined, wanting to make it without any help. I took a chance.

And I still did it on my own. I was very slow. I had major shin splints after the first two miles, out of an 8k (4.97 miles) race. Why? Because I hadn’t run over a 5k since late October, at the 2017 Hot Chocolate Run 15k. I had managed to run once each month from November to March, due to the exceptional chill this winter. Honestly, I did a LOT of walking today.

I’ve also avoided running because I can be a perfectionist. If it wasn’t at least a 5k, why bother? If I knew I would be slow, better to wait until I had more energy. Until the weather was better. But several warmer days passed, and I didn’t run. I didn’t want to deal with those awkward miles, the transition.

“Junk miles,” you might call them. Thing is, you can’t avoid them.

Junk miles happen in every aspect of our lives. Those days you just don’t WANNA but have to anyway. That’s the whole concept of “adulting”– soldiering on. If you wait for ideal conditions, you’ll never finish anything important.

I almost didn’t even register for this race. I knew I hadn’t trained and that my time would be terrible. I knew I wouldn’t be able to run the whole race, like I did last year. I wanted to preserve that glory. Last year, I CRUSHED my goal, ran the entire way, and didn’t even need a bathroom break the whole five miles. I had a runner’s high so invincible that I legit FORGOT about work the next morning until a co-worker texted me to check in.

But I’ll admit it, I wanted the swag for 2018. A black racing t-shirt, the medal. Even the socks, though I could tell they were kind of cheap. More than those, I wanted to come back and spend time with friends from the two running clubs I joined last year. I loved that they all gather at Palmer House before the race. I had so much fun hanging out after the race, too.

And those running friends were encouraging me all the way. Even though I felt like I didn’t really “belong” since some of them are elite runners who race every weekend, regularly place and medal, and have run Boston multiple times. But they all told me to just go for it, that they hoped to see me there.

So today, I’m proud of myself. I did this knowing full that it would be arduous. That it would be cold and windy. It was harder than I anticipated.

But when I crossed that finish line and was given my medal, I really felt I’d earned it. I heard them call my name out and smiled like a fool! And then I claimed my stuff from gear check and met up with them at Miller’s Pub.

When I walked in, they all cheered! And it was genuine.

I realized how hard I’ve been on myself. None of my running friends are judging my time or ability. They like seeing me at races, they’re happy for every little bit of progress I make, even if it’s quite humble.

When I got home today, I took a long hot bath. After I publish this, I’m going to sleep. And then back to the grind at work tomorrow!

But I cried a few tears at home today, overwhelmed by it all.

I may be inconsistent and awkward as a runner, but I’m still in it.

And the weather was BRUTAL today! A cruel chill that felt much lower than the 35 degrees I saw displayed on the route. At least we had some sunlight. I had on two pairs of running tights, two pair of gloves, a base layer, the race t, AND a windbreaker coat for running. My Shamrock Shuffle 2017 hat, plus a warm scarf bundled around my neck and mouth. I was dressed warm and it worked!

And the best example of how wonderful today turned out is a moment I had with my friend at Palmer House, where everyone congregated before the race. We were in different waves and corrals, but we all met up and got ready together. It was exciting to be part of a tradition in such a classy place, no less.

Last year, she and I played on the stairs, taking silly pictures. She was sliding down the banister and I took a picture. I think that’s how we met! And I suggested over a chat recently that this year we should try to re-create that moment this year. Last time I hadn’t been brave enough to try taking the same picture. The brass banister was taller than my hip and I just couldn’t let go and slide. But today, I did it! Just like this race, it was a bit awkward getting up there at first. But I maneuvered on and stop caring how I looked or if I would fall off. I raised my arms and went to the top and slid down that banister! My mouth was wide open in a laugh and I went for it. I have great pictures, too!

I LET GO. For that moment, and of my expectations for today.

One race and one awkward moment at a time, I’m becoming more confident.

I’m having more fun. And I’m surrounded my some amazing friends, too.

 

Sharing My Short Story: A Reader’s Reaction

Tonight I read aloud a short story I wrote some years ago. It was two pages.

I loved watching the face of my audience: so intent. Afterward, she asked if she could read it over herself. There were several points she wanted to talk about– things that jumped out at her as symbolic of me. Connections she made about my personality that were illustrated in my characters. Questions she wanted to ask.

I was happy to indulge her, to be interviewed.

Watching someone else hold my work in their hands and study it was amazing.

Suddenly my short story felt elevated to literature.

I stopped writing creatively years ago. I barely blog these days. I didn’t consider myself intelligent, creative or brave enough. I also didn’t want to take on the vulnerability of being published, analyzed.

I had other reasons as well. The last time I wrote something creative and personal, in a “free” writing work shop, it was stolen and published without my permission. The betrayal caused me to shut down and stop writing.

But this experience made me feel validated. More confident. Safe.

This reader found my story inspiring. She was impressed with my creativity.

It made me feel smart, important. Powerful.

I want to share that story with others. Maybe even try and publish it.

And maybe let my pen run free once again.

Adventures in Bacon: Joan of Arc Style

This morning I got up early and made myself a hearty breakfast.

Well, for me anyway: three scrambled eggs and three slices of bacon.

It was my first time cooking bacon on a stove in probably over a decade. I usually microwave that job and it’s perfect!

But today I added a new element: I used a griddle I’d gotten. The flat, square kind with a handle ideal for pancakes. Since I hate even an ounce of fat, I fried it BLACK!

As in barely retained any properties of bacon– that black. Beyond charred!

But also, it’s bacon. I love it so much I can’t waste it. So I ate it anyway.

At least the eggs were perfect; fluffy. A little bit of sea salt, ground pepper, basil and shredded mozz cheese. I sprinkled a little cinnamon but only on the top. Next time, I’ll try it in the mix and see if I can actually still taste it.

I posted on facebook and asked for some tips to not ruin my next bacon effort!

My friends did not disappoint.

I got a suggestion to bake in the oven.

One friend said my burnt bacon was just perfect as is, she would love it!

Yet another friend called my efforts “Joan of Arc Style” and had me cackling. A little bit of blasphemy made my end product hilarious and not just humiliating. She wasn’t wrong! My poor bacon: martyred in the name of kitchen exploration.

She then followed up with an offer to try a friend’s advice, cook it herself, and report back soon with the results of her own efforts.

So for my friends who are still prone to culinary catastrophes, relax.

It’s still funny. Exploit your failures for levity.

Most amazing? It took less than 15 minutes! Maybe even 13?

I need to do this on a workday for myself. Just in the microwave first.

My First 15k: Calm and Capable

Two weeks ago now, I smashed my first 15k AKA 9.3 miles!

October 29, I completed my first true distance race past a 10k in Chicago– The Hot Chocolate Run. And God bless my Dad, he went to support me. At 4:45 we drove up together. And I learned so much about myself that made me feel confident. I even got myself and my Dad signed up for updates on my progress en route: me on facebook and him via text messages.

Prior, I didn’t have anxiety about the race. I knew I could cover the distance because my last training run was 8.33 miles– with the last four in driving cold rain and headwinds.

But I did have anxiety about other aspects: finding parking for the expo: at the Shamrock Shuffle 8k last April I went to three flippin’ spaces before I found a spot. I worried about the parking garage I chose for the race, and then helping my 75-year-old father find the finish line and meeting up with him afterwards. What if I picked the wrong garage and it was full? What if we were late finding the start? What if one our phones died and I couldn’t find him afterward?

This was my first Chicago race where I wouldn’t be riding with a friend who knew where to park, who I could just follow to the start line. My Dad drove, but I made all the decisions. Instead of using SpotHero, which has proved unreliable, I chose one of the five garages suggested on the race website. I used the discount they offered instead. And everything worked out. I even used gear check, something I used to be too anxious to do.

I had a blast at the expo the day before, and things were easy from the beginning. I even found my car after without a problem! I stayed from 10:00 a.m. to 3 p.m. because why not? I had no other plans, nothing else pressing to do. I tried on shoes, got fitted for a bra (none of which I bought)– sampled different flavors of nunn. Ambled around and passed by most of what I saw. Tried a rolling stick on my calves and feet. Tried on my racing shirt to make sure it fit. And I bought a few things I needed– including The Tube, a soft belt with three pouches, two zippered, that you can wear on your hips on race day. It’s snug and secure and actually comfortable.

I also bought my first medal rack. There were several for sale in different colors: silver, black, hot pink. I ended up going with a black one that says,

“Courage to start
Strength to endure
Resolve to finish.”

It has 10 hooks on it, and I got a hot pink magnet to go with it that says 15k.

I’m excited to put it up in my apartment! I have enough medals now.

On the way out, I stopped at a table and made myself a race poster. Why not? I was going to ask my Dad to hold it, but figured it best to keep it simple and left it at home. But he did hold it up for a picture for me after.

The race was amazing. So many people were complaining about the cold, but I was fine. I didn’t need a gaitor. I finally know how to adapt my clothes to races: in layers. I had on a t-shirt, the racing half-zip, and a waterproof thin jacket over it, plus gloves. I had on two pairs of tights and wool socks. My New Balances.

I also ran the full 9.3 miles WITHOUT music or my running app, since my battery was depleted so fast before the race even started. I had no idea bout my pace, and lost the 14:00 minute pacer around the 5 mile mark. I started out with a nun’s veil as a costume, but ditched it after mile four: it was too heavy and hot. And I ain’t no nun anyway!

At the 8th mile I called my Dad to alert him to watch for me.

And as I crossed that finish line, I didn’t cry like I had expected. I wasn’t even emotional. Instead, I was just very calm. Happy with myself. Even without my pacer, I still hit my goal of staying under 14:00 minutes per mile! My final time was 2:08:39 seconds at a 13:49 pace!

I had stayed moving for an entire 9.3 miles! It brought me back to the Cinco de Miler in 2016, my first five mile race, where I had to walk the last three miles and had terrible knee pain. I almost quit three times.

Now I can cover 9.3 miles moving continuously, NO PAIN!

And my Dad was right where I asked him to be: on the left. And truthfully, I didn’t need him to hold up a sign or even to yell my name as I crossed the finish line. Just seeing him there, my reliable wonderful father, was enough. Strong and silent. Then he took pictures of me through the fence, and we met up and he gave me a hug. I got someone to take a picture of us.

All the race photos were wonderful as well.

The way we took care of each other at this race was very special. Before the race started, he wouldn’t leave me until I got to my assigned corral. He was still concerned about me. At the gear check, I led him by the hand because there were so many people and it was dark pre-dawn, I didn’t want to lose him. Afterward we went to gear check and picked up my stuff, then to redeem my hot chocolate bowl! We shared my chocolate snacks and then went to breakfast after.

Just spending so much time with him was wonderful. Normally I can only see him at my parents’ house, or if he comes over to fix something or we go to dinner or a movie. He’s a man of routine! But being with with him in the big city, I felt so grateful and safe, too. I worry about him getting older, but he got around just fine to the finish line without my help.

Although now I walk faster than him, which makes me a bit sad. I used to always have to walk so fast to keep up with him as a little girl. I’d hold his thumb in my fist, his hands are so big. I slowed down and we walked together. He did this for me because he knew it was important, and that’s what I’d asked for as my 37th birthday present, that he come to one of my races.

And he picked the most important one.

I did one more race the following week: The Carrera de los Muertos in Pilsen. But it was rained out due to thunder, lightening, and some flooding on the course. We were still given our medals. It was actually November 4, the morning of my 37th birthday. But I had so much fun just dressing up, driving with my friend Heather, and taking pictures that it didn’t even matter. I met up with Diana, a friend from my run club, plus another girl I’d met in line for packet pick-up. The day was amazing!

Now my next goals will be a 10 mile and a half-marathon. I know I can do it. At work the next day a co-worker was impressed that I was walking without a limp. He said when he did the same race and distance last year, he had been in pain!

It seems my body is slowly acclimating to running and I recover quickly.

But I’m taking a little break from racing. Not because of winter. But because races are expensive and I was very social in September and October. I really got into Halloween. I want to save some money and catch up on some other things, too. I’ve been so focused on running the past few months and over the summer that I’ve fallen behind in some other areas. Plus, I need to recharge a bit.

I also have had a small cold for the past two weeks. Still a bit sniffly. Want to get that gone before I start running in the cold and risk another one.

There’s a race in December I may do, but no Turkey Trots yet this year.

I’m feeling amazing. It’s like a a new relationship where you feel secure in the connection and can take a little space knowing it won’t compromise what you share together already.

Run Like a Child: A Training Epiphany

I changed my mind tonight about running at the gym. I used to think it was a cop-out to run on a track or in the gym. I like trails, twists, hills, variety.

But I saw a video today in a running support group I belong to on Facebook that inspired me:

This man lines up on the sidewalks of NYC behind a blue chalk starting line to see if passers by will engage him in a spontaneous race. They do, and he clearly holds himself back so they can win. Then they all receive medals at the end. They were all so ecstatic!! I liked that it was diverse: children to older adults who maybe were athletes once. There was a whole line for the challenge!

But my favorite was watching the children. They were squirming to start, and several races were with multiple children and then groups of teens as well. It was pure PLAY for them!! They ran as FAST as their bodies were able, arms pumping hard, bolting ahead of the dude instigating this video. They ran with ragged breath and a giant smile on their faces.

And I was so happy!! I realized that they were teaching me something. I NEED to run like that. I need to remember that running is STILL PLAY– that it’s fun.

So tonight I switched up my run. It’s now dark earlier. Instead of running outside, I went to my health club and ran the track. I set a time instead of distance and told myself I would run as hard as I could for that amount of time.

And I LOVED IT! I was breathing hard, sweating. Because the track was smooth I didn’t have to worry about tripping on anything in my path. It’s on a carpet. I never run like that because I’m always in my head. What’s my pace? How far have I got left? Do I like the song playing?

I realized this a great way to do speed work and interval training.

Tonight I realized that running indoors at a health club isn’t weak at all. In fact, it’s inspiring. It was packed! Seeing so many others working out gave *me ideas on workouts I could try myself, especially on the machines I am clueless about using.

I resolve to do this type of speed training once a week– without worrying about maintaining a pace. I can run safely in a well-lit, smooth area without tripping. And seeing others pass me up also motivated me to keep it moving when I got tired.

I’m learning to design my training the way I like it.

I’m proud of me.

And hopefully I’ll learn eventually to run like I’m playing Red Rover, straining to break through the chain of my friends joined hands.