Water Lantern Festival

(Not from Chicago?   This event takes place in other cities in Illinois as well as other states)

Mark your calendars for next year – this is an activity I will definitely do again.

The Water Lantern Festival is an uplifting experience where family, friends, and strangers come together to celebrate.  What did we celebrate?  Everything.  Life, love, loss, goals, successes.  Wherever you are in life right now.

We attended the Chicago event, which took place at the lagoon in Lincoln Park Zoo.  Funny story, it was originally planned for Humbolt Park but had to be changed due to the alligator invasion (aka “Chance the Snapper”).  If you would like to avoid going into the city, this experience took place in some suburbs as well:

Illinois locations

If you are not from Illinois, there are events all over the continental United States, as well as Internationally.

The launch itself didn’t start until 9:00 pm but gates opened up to attendees at 5:30 pm.  The first thing we did was check in.  With your admission, you received a sling bag.  Inside was a lantern kit and a sharpie.

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The next step was to pick our spot to relax at while we waited for the launch.  Bringing a blanket and chairs is highly recommended.  You could wheel in your own cooler with food and drinks too.  Since this was our first time and did not know what to expect, we brought none of this.  Big mistake.  Luckily for us, they had some fantastic food trucks available for this (always) hungry girl.  We also got there early enough to snag a spot on a short concrete wall around this lagoon.

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There was plenty of time then to decorate and set up your lantern.  As I mentioned above, there were many different themes.  Mine was a nod to my blog and its theme of spending time together doing activities.  “Enjoy experiences, not things”.  My SO’s lantern was dedicated to loss.  He has, unfortunately, experienced significant loss in the past and honored those loved ones.  A young couple near us was celebrating their love with their names, significant dates, and LOTS of hearts.  Whatever you are going through is worth celebrating or honoring.

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A half hour before the launch they invited people to come up to a stage and share their stories.  Young girls, easily under 10, speaking out about bullying and being true to who you are.  People talking about following your passion.  Cancer survivors.  Such uplifting and emotional stories.

The launch started at 9:00 pm.  You could put your lantern in the water right away or take your time.  Float time lasted until 10:30 pm.  While everyone was setting their lanterns into the lagoon, inspirational music played on the speakers.  “Hallelujah” by Rufus Wainwright.  “Over the Rainbow” by israel kamakawiwo’ole.  If you are not familiar with these two versions, I will leave them at the end for your listening pleasure.  You can thank me later.

We were not able to stay all the way until the end (because mosquitos LOVE me), but the sight of the lanterns drifting in the water was just so pretty.  All carrying messages of hope, healing, happiness, and peace.  And this was only maybe half of them:

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Set a reminder to look into this festival near you next year.  The proceeds benefit multiple charities and you and your SO will have a date night to remember!

Videos below courtesy of YouTube

A Girl’s Gotta Eat – The Taste of Chicago

The very first Taste of Chicago kicked off on July 4, 1980 on a blocked off section of Michigan Avenue.  Organizers anticipated 100,000 attendees but over 250,000 showed up.  The event moved to Grant Park the following year and became one of the world’s largest food festivals.  Additional changes were made in 2012 when organizers shortened the event from 10 days down to 5.  It also moved the event dates away from the July 4th weekend.

This year’s event runs from July 11-15 in Grant Park.  Wednesday – Friday hours are 11:00 am – 9:00 pm and then Saturday – Sunday hours are 10:00 am – 9:00 pm.  Admission is FREE but then you have to purchase tickets for food and beverages.  A strip of 14 tickets will run you $10.  You can purchase these online prior to the event (and pick them up at will call I am assuming), however, you are limited to only 2 strips per purchase this way.  And you will be hit with an additional $3.00 amenities surcharge.  Per strip.  And let me tell you, 14 tickets will not get you very far.  Here is what you should expect to spend, according to their website:

Plan Your Purchase:
“Taste of” Food Portions: 5-6 tickets
Full Food Portions:10-12 tickets
Soda/Water: 7-8 tickets
Beer: 11-14 tickets
Wine/Cocktails: 10-14 tickets

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This year over 80 eateries will be participating.  Some of these will be restaurants that are set up for all 5 days.  Some will be food trucks.  And some will be pop-ups that will only be there for one or two nights.  The Taste’s website has a great list of who will be there and what they will be serving.  It also tells you who will be in the rotating pop-up stands on each night.

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Beverages were available in all forms as well.  Goose Island, CH Distillery, and Stella Rosa all had their own tented lounge areas, but you could get other beer, wine, and cocktails at bar stands scattered throughout the festival.


Apparently, there is entertainment as well.  I was only there for the food.  Music and cooking demonstrations are taking place all day.  You can see the full schedule here.

But let’s talk about the food.  Like the food truck festivals, this event is better with a group so you can try a variety of foods.  There were many Chicago staples there such as Lou Malnati’s pizza and the Billy Goat Tavern.  We are big fans of trying new things so here are some of the things we tasted:

Jerk Chicken with red beans and rice from Vee Vee’s African Restaurant:

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Mango Beef Salad from Arun’s:

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Snake Bites from Chicago’s Dog House:

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Five Spice Szechuan chicken from Lao Sze Chuan

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Cheddar Bacon Bun from Buscia’s Bacon Buns

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Italian Beef & Giardiniera Grilled Cheese from Doom Street Eats

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And then we finished strong with dessert.  The first was a Funnel Cake Sundae from Churro Factory – Xurro:

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And then some of us opted for something a little lighter with a scoop of Mango Ice Cream from Star of Siam:

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Parking is always an issue downtown, but you can get a discount at the millennium garages if you pre-purchase them online.

So, plan a day downtown during the fest and pop in and out for lunch, dinner, and dessert.  There is so much to choose from!


Old Joliet Prison

The Joliet Correctional Center, also known as the Illinois State Penitentiary, is an inactive prison in Joliet, Illinois.  It was built in 1858 by inmates from the Illinois State Prison in Alton.  The 25-foot high walls and buildings were constructed with limestone that was quarried right from the area.  It closed for good in 2002 due to budget cuts and overall deterioration of the buildings.  Sadly, it sat for years, untouched and continued to deteriorate.  Vandals repeatedly found their way in and caused extensive damage in addition to general wear and tear from the elements.

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The Joliet Area Historical Museum, and the city of Joliet, took control of the prison and started the long process of repairing the buildings and its grounds, in an effort to open it back up to tourists and history buffs.  This is still a work in progress, but what you can view is as beautiful as it is creepy.

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Tours opened to the public in 2018.  There are many options for a visit here and we opted for the basic $20 one.  I would like to go back for the guard tour though.  We had a former employee with us for part of our tour and his stories were fascinating.  The guard-led ones are only available once or twice a month, mostly on Saturdays, and they book up quickly.

The tour group begins with the exterior of the main building.  This unit housed the warden and his family.  It also housed the female inmates (and their children) on the top floor, until a separate prison was built for them across the street.  Due to a collapsed floor, we were not able to enter this portion of the prison at all.  I found some great pictures of a few of these rooms on this website.  The wrought-iron staircases and marble fireplaces (seen on that website) show how ornate this residence was at one point.

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One of the first units we were able to get into was a holding cell.  As expected, the cells were small and uncomfortable.  You can also clearly see the effect that neglect and the elements have had on the interior of the prison.

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Prior to heading in to the first building, we got a glimpse of what solitary was like.  This small, cramped structure was not even indoors.

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The hospital was another building we had access to.  No electricity, peeling paint, and antiquated medical equipment.  Plus, the knowledge that there was a psych ward a few floors up sent chills up my spine.

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Another aspect that made the hairs on the back on my neck stand up was, each time you got close to one of the entrances to a building, you felt a burst of cold air hit you.  They said it was because of the limestone but . . . they offer a Paranormal tour for a reason, right?

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My favorite stop was the prison church.  Renewing your faith in God was (is) an essential part of prison reform.  I love old churches.  But old, abandoned churches?  Hauntingly beautiful.

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Let’s not forget that this prison is famous.  Starting with this iconic scene of “Joliet” Jake’s release from prison in the 1980’s classic film “The Blues Brothers” (video courtesy of YouTube and Universal Pictures):

That took place right here:

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The first season of the television show “Prison Break” was shot on location inside the facility.  Other shows/movies filmed inside/around the prison include “Public Enemies”, “Derailed”, “Let’s Go To Prison”, and “Natural Born Killers”.

It is sad that this historic site was left to deteriorate to the state it got to but, with tourism and other funding, repairs are being made on a daily basis.  I would love to see it restored someday to a point where you can safely enter every building.  Tours run through October – book yours now!