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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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.

NKOTB– FINALLY!!!! At 36, the Dream.

Just got home from my VERY FIRST NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK concert, in Chicago.

I AM WIRED!!! Two friends from work, Cindy and Bonnie, invited me. We bought these tickets the day they went on sale– MONTHS ago. Floor seats!!

It should really be named the Magical Abs Tour, because all FIVE ARE RIPPED! My beautiful Catholic boys from Boston.

Somehow in their mid-40’s they are sexier than they were 30 years ago. And the timing finally worked out so that I could go and see them– I’ve been wanting to since 1988 when my then- best friend introduced me to New Kids Mania.

I literally heard every single song I wanted to hear tonight. I am flabbergasted, they covered material from every single album, including their first one in 1986 and their CHRISTMAS album. I’d say there were maybe five songs out of likely 30ish that I didn’t know. And bless them, for every single note it seemed there was a coordinating dance step– that’s a lot to remember!

Back in the day I was ALL ABOUT Jordan and Joey.

But now? HELLO DONNIE WAHLBERG!!! His gregarious personality is so obvious in the way the moves and dances– always with his arms open, waving to the fans– smiling and joking. Jordan is more of an introvert– he puts himself out there, but he’s more focused on his performance and his dancing, which is still INSANE. Joey has grown into a confident man who knows every woman there wants him and is highly enjoying it. Danny’s athleticism and goofiness; his ABS TATTOO that proclaims, “Elizabeth,” that lucky woman! Jonathan’s smile sneaks up on you; I always liked the that he was the responsible older brother figure of the group.

Boys II Men opened and although it was wonderful to see Nathan and Wanya Morris and Sean Stockman were indeed impressive– they just weren’t on the level of NKOTB. They are missing Michael McCary, the bass who retired from the group because of a MS diagnosis. And they sounded good, but the three of them combined are no Jordan Knight!! They kept their shirts on. They haven’t aged as flawlessly. They’re not as confident. The bottom line is just lack the same strong nostalgic emotional attachment to these three that I’ve had since day one for the New Kids. Although I (still have!) one Boys II Men album which I play regularly, I had five NKOTB albums at one point. From their debut self-titled album, the that tragic “Face the Music,” and even the Christmas album– one of my favorites. Although I didn’t get the one in 2008. Now I will! “Single,” “Remix (I LIke The)” and “Summertime” stand up well 9 years later! Tonight I bought the latest album, “Grateful,” with only five songs on it.

The two best moments: JOEY MCINTYRE passing by me on the right, walking the perimeter on what might have been the shoulders of body guards. Somehow he was above the fans but also right in the thick of us!! I rushed over and strained to reach him– I ALMOST TOUCHED HIM. His leg or his shoulder. I wish I had just given it a good LUNGE, I probably could have made it!! And then shortly later, 10-15 minutes, ALL FIVE NEW KIDS migrated to a proscenium stage directly to our LEFT– we all RUSHED over and I could see their expressions, their sweat, their exact dance moves. And I have so many pictures and videos to prove it!

It was exhilarating and simultaneously reassuring. I’ve always felt uncool for loving NKOTB so much– but being there felt like family. Others spent the ’90s wallowing in grunge, and I embraced the saccharine melodies of pop instead. I still liked rock. But there’s something so refreshing about seeing these guys. Instead of grizzled rockers who look 20 years older and are writing books about their addictions, the New Kids are just regular guys. They have families. They have an obvious affection for not just each other, but the fans. They wanted to give us a show of our dreams, and they did!

I’ve never felt anything like it at another concert. I hope this is just the first of other NKOTB adventures!

Highlights: Cover Girl, My Favorite Girl, Valentine Girl, Tonight, You Got It (The Right Stuff), Step by Step, I’ll Be Loving You, Stop It Girl, This One’s for the Children, Happy Birthday, Popsicle, Call It What You Want, Please Don’t Go Girl, Games, Hangin’ Tough, and of course, STEP BY STEP!!

What I loved most about tonight was the JOY these five men exuded. They were humble. They were excited. They were dedicated. They were GORGEOUS! There was no shred of a feeling of routine or obligation– they were in on the joke with us. And even though unlike several of my friends, I didn’t get to see them as a child, I felt like it didn’t matter. I’ve never experienced such a feeling of unity as a fan at a concert.

Even better, I went with two sisters– Cindy and Bonnie– who are also lifelong fans and were singing and screaming every single word, fan-girling out just as hard and obsessively snapping photos and trying to get video of all the best moments. We kept looking at each other in utter ecstasy, jumping up and down and squeeing away during each song. Even though I only met them two years ago at my current job, through our mutual obsession, we were all three sisters tonight in Allstate Arena.

I jumped, sang and screamed myself hoarse. Two hours later, sober, I’m still aghast at realizing a 30-year-dream.

I work at 7:30– it’s it’s almost 2 a.m.! Time for sleep.

Thank you, Lord, for New Kids on the Block. And thank you for making me a fan.

Flickering Lanterns and Pride: A Memorial to Orlando

By Amee Bohrer

Twice, my flame flickered out tonight.

I was attending a local memorial service in honor of the Orlando massacre victims in Minooka, IL. A small town just outside of Joliet, where I live. I saw on Facebook a friend was attending and drove out there myself, wanting to gather with others in solidarity.

There were people gathered and three posters on a wooden table if anyone wanted to sign and write a message of hope and encouragement. I signed a couple– it felt good.

I saw a baseball cap that made me laugh: it said, “Make America Gay Again,” a navy and yellow parody hat of the red and white “Make America Great Again” caps touted by the Trump campaign and his supporters.

“I like your hat!” I told the young woman wearing it with pride, “Where’d you get it?”

“The Human Rights Campaign website,” she said with a smile.

The last speaker was the most powerful: Beric J. Wessely, a man with a Master of Social Work from University of St. Francis in Joliet who has accomplished much in the academic world for the LGBT community and in the business world as well. But he was brave enough to be vulnerable and admit that despite being an out gay man for years, he still must remain vigilant about how others around him seem to react to his presence, especially if he has a date.

He called for ACTIVE allies who speak up and fight for gun control and acceptance of the LGBT community. He challenged us to do more than post on social media or engage in moments of silence. He invited us to join the crusade toward not just equality, but basic safety for the LGBT community. He recounted how far we have come in terms of legal gay rights, and yet, how far we must continue to go. He ended on a message of hope: tonight, with us, he felt safe.

To conclude after three powerful speakers, a man said a beautiful prayer about how all those who died or were wounded that night at Pulse had grown up and learned to ride bikes. They had danced, they had been loved, and now mourned– they mattered.

It was windy, getting dark.

The lanterns were simply constructed:a wooden base, four wooden cylinders that fit into the corners of the square, a circle indented into the base where a tea light fit, and green tissue paper wrapped around to shelter the tea lights. But as I noticed, there were gaps between the paper and the base. The wind was getting through, increasingly stronger.

Two women alternated reading the list of names, those lives lost forever and those wounded still healing– some of which may not make it. We stood holding our lanterns.

After, between them they set alight a larger paper lantern, propelled into the sky by several candles.

All of stood in silence, watching it fly away.

It was the best moment of the night– something positive to remind us it’ll get better. Together, we can be the rainbow of allies and hope for this cause we all support: love.

Just simply, love.

Many of our candles flickered out, but that larger paper lantern never faltered. It floated away swiftly- free. Like the souls lost who must now be at rest, whether you believe in Heaven or not. I do.

Watching until it was just a glimmer and finally, nothing– I smiled.

Tonight we stood witness, we listened, we shared our outrage, sadness, and hope.

We dared to overcome hate.

From Illinois, we opened our hearts and mourned WITH Orlando.

My Bernie Journey

I just phone-banked for the second time this week in our new Joliet field office! I am SO stoked that there’s finally something happening in my hometown. The closest other events are between 20-45 miles and it’s just too dang cold for that.

Man, I love it.

Tonight I got a few answers and left a lot of messages. I was calling confirmed Bernie supporters trying to get them to come in and volunteer.

And I got a decent amount to sign up! Most people were excited I was calling. I answered some questions. I even got a few people to commit to specific shifts within the next couple weeks. I got e-mails, from people who wanted more info but were busy at that moment or unsure of when exactly they can work for us.

Tonight I called a woman who was getting married this weekend– and then will be honeymooning in Colorado–skiing!!– until March 15, the day of Illinois primary elections. We kept interrupting each other, so excited to talk about Bernie! I asked if she was marrying a Democrat and she admitted he was a Republican– that she was “working on” him. I laughed and said I’ve dated a few Republicans myself– it certainly makes for interesting conversation!

She joked that she was trying to convert him and if he doesn’t, “it may be a short marriage.” But clearly she’s smitten, I’m not worried about the state of their union.

I teased that in lieu of volunteering in a field office, she’ll be “working every day” with her her future-husband, and she got a GOOD laugh out of that!

I talked to people of all ages.

When I asked if they were voting Bernie in the primary, I often got an enthusiastic response and maybe a good-natured, “Feelin’ the Bern!”

And really, phone-banking brought out the best in me. I remembered that actually, I’m pretty outgoing and comfortable with myself. I connected with everyone who answered except for one who hung up on me right away. My sales background came in handy!

I have a passion for Bernie Sanders’ campaign and sharing that with people is exciting.

Towards the end, I made it a game. How many people can I call in the last nine minutes??

I filled out a sheet about shifts I will commit to working. The field office organizer said I did a good job signing up volunteers and gave me a bunch of extra shift sign-up sheets to pass out to friends. I’m going to make copies of those and just hand them out to people I see around town. Why not?!

The Beauty of “War Room:” Don’t Believe the Bad Reviews

Last Wednesday I heard about the Kendrick Brothers’ movie “War Room,” at choir practice.

Our choir director said it was a prayerful movie and that anyone of faith should go see it. That despite the title, it had nothing do with actual, political war. That an unbeliever who saw this movie would be convinced of the power of prayer.

I was sold immediately. I’m a believer, but it sounded like just my kinda movie.

Thursday night, the next day, I was invited to my parents’ for dinner, along with a longtime family friend. She’s a mother of five, a grandmother and a devout Catholic woman– I grew up next to her family.  I had planned to invite her and my step-mother.

Once I brought it up, SHE said she had heard about the movie and planned to invite ME! We both enjoy movies and are single. My step-mother ended up canceling, but she and I kept our plans.

We decided to share a medium popcorn and she asked for butter– just like me. Apparently there wasn’t enough salt, so she poured a heaping pile of it in some napkins, then folded it up into her purse so that we could disperse it in the middle as we ate our way through it. It made me laugh.

I was so glad she went with me. Like me, she’s a movie talker!

After, she wanted to stay and watch the credits. We were the last to leave. Afterward, we went for dinner, which I hadn’t been expecting. I had the best time.

I won’t spoil it- -but I will share a few details.

It’s an ambitious movie that works because it’s focused on one small family, and the way the one family member’s decision to surrender to a disciplined prayerful life transforms the family’s circumstances in every area.

The hero is an elderly woman named Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie). I think she deserves an Oscar.

She’s got the sternness of Madea, with a little more empathy. She’s a small woman of fire– but she commands just as much respect as Madea. She’s the kind of woman who commands your attention. The kind of woman who refuses to accept your facade, no matter how good you think you are at hiding the pain. The kind of woman who reminds you that you deserve love. That you are accepted and forgiven, no matter what. The woman who teaches you about God’s grace.

Miss Clara notices something amiss in her realtor, Priscilla, and buts into her business in the loving way that older people tend to do. She wants to know about her marriage, her daughter, if she has a relationship with the Lord.

It parallels “Fried Green Tomatoes,” in that a woman’s life is set right by a deep friendship with an older woman, a mentor, who helps another adult woman who feels a bit lost.  This woman could have given up on a marriage that was held together only by contempt. Their own daughter felt unloved as a result of their constant fighting– there was no affection present at all. On the brink of infidelity, both partners in this marriage might have abandoned hope and ended up divorced.

But Priscilla (Elizabeth Jordan), the wife and mother who befriends Miss Clara, is so desperate she is open to prayer,

Miss Clara challenges her to fight FOR her husband, rather than with him. To fight in Jesus’ name.

And it’s Priscilla’s devotion to changing HERSELF, accepting her husband and loving him as is, and praying unceasingly for him, her daughter, and her own change of heart– that is what inspires.

It’s about acceptance, surrender, owning responsibilities, about amends.

About passing on your faith and what you’ve learned with others.

It’s about creating a physical space in your life to be with God and his Word– to pray for those you love most.

It’s about the Bible.

It makes me want to overhaul my own space– to create my own War Room. To eliminate the clutter.

To put the focus back where it out to be: on God.

I heard a lot of “That’s right!” and “Uh-huh,” and “AMEN!” in the rows surrounding us.

I know I will see this movie again.

Please, give it a chance. Even if you’re a non-believer. Especially if you are.

Indomitable Annie: A Five Star Re-Make

“What if you have no cards?” Annie (Quvenzhane Wallis) asked her temporary guardian, Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx.)

“You bluff,” he answered.

They were flying in his personal helicopter above New York City.

That’s the moment I remember most about this new re-make on the 1982 original movie.

Why? Because the relationship between the business tycoon and this young girl is both believable and inspiring. It’s clear that they were meant to be family: they share the same go-get ’em mentality. Both are opportunists- but Annie’s agenda is pure. She just wants a better life for herself, and to help out her friends when she’s able. She never forgets her roots and isn’t corrupted by fame or instant wealth.

She also sees right through any attempts at manipulation and calls it immediately. She reminds the adults trying to hustle her that though she may be a kid, she deserves respect and will not be forced into anything that doesn’t feel right to her. She will not be used as a PR prop. Rather, she agrees to play along to help the mayor’s campaign– but only on her her terms. She requires that Stacks get to know her. She is not bought or dazzled by paparazzi.

The best thing about Annie is her refusal to be defined by her current circumstances. She does not see herself as someone rejected by her parents or society– but someone waiting for what she knows she deserves: a family that will cherish her. Even when people try to label her an orphan, she corrects them: “foster kid.” She doesn’t attach easily to Stacks– she reminds him he is not her real father. He realizes he needs to earn HER respect and cooperation: something new for a man used to being surrounded by greedy fans and “Yes men” paid to meet his whims.

Annie cannot be bought. Thus, she wins HIS respect. And he finds that, probably for the first time since he was a boy who idolized his workaholic father, he values a human connection more than money.

The movie is a Republican fairy tale– with a heart! Republicans always get a bad rap, but they’re not evil. Just motivated, which is why they are successful in business. From the first scene, it’s clear that Annie is a smart kid, capable of navigating the city streets alone. She has plans. She has dreams. She’s the leader at home, where is she one of a small group of foster kids (not orphans)– run haphazardly by Miss Hannigan.

I’ve never much liked Foxx before this movie– he always seems arrogant. But he played his role so well that I even changed my mind about the actor himself. It’s clear that once he stops his denial about his genuine love for Annie, he is ready to step up and become a devoted family man.

Annie’s optimism and unrelenting kindness changes him.

Annie also refuses to be bullied by Hannigan and escapes at her first opportunity without fear.

And contrary to the bad reviews of Diaz, I think she claimed this role of Miss Hannigan and made it hers. She starts out as openly verbally and emotionally abusive– a desperate alcoholic. She throws her self at every male who enters her lair, and it’s cringe-worthy to watch. But there’s obvious pain and palpable regret behind her negativity. She was once a promising star, now faded. She, too, feels trapped by her circumstances. To begin she hates Annie, who represents what she herself will never have: joy. She singles out Annie the most for bad treatment and talks badly about her. Clearly, she sees Annie as a threat.

So what if she can’t sing like Carol Burnett? Rather than try to do the impossible and copy the master, she had the courage to do her own interpretation. She more than conveys the anguish behind the character’s hostile facade. As she sees Annie holds no resentment toward her, even she begins to change for the better. She puts down the bottle, sees herself as valuable, and begins treating others better.

The girl is downright unstoppable.

I loved the music! It’s more urban, with complex arrangements. It reminds me a lot of the “RENT” movie, which I love as much as the Original Broadway Cast version now. Not all of the songs are included, but I think this team found the heart of the songs and did them justice.

I don’t compare them– it’s that good. This movie stands alone.

I won’t ruin ALL the plot twists for ya. This movie teaches us about faith, love, ethics and sacrifice.

Go and see it. It will make your day and remind you to believe in your own potential, and that of everyone.

It exudes Christmas spirit.

This is a film everyone can enjoy, and LEARN something from. And that’s a big statement from me, because I’ve been a hardcore fan of the 1982 movie since it’s release. It was one the of the first movies I saw, and I STILL HAVE my vinyl record soundtrack! I wore out my first cassette tape of the soundtrack.

I can’t wait to see it again! And buy the soundtrack.