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How An Illinois Mom Converted To Islam And Found Peace And Joy During Her Very First Hajj

Sun, 2014-10-12 08:13
Kristin Szremski is a 53-year-old mom from Palo Hills, Illinois. Born into a Missouri-Synod Lutheran family, she first converted to Catholicism before finding her place in Islam. This year, Szremski was one of the hundreds of thousands of Muslims who were drawn to Mecca between October 2 - 7 to complete the fifth pillar of Islam, the Hajj.

She tells Huffington Post about her experience below. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.


1. How did you come to Islam and what was it about the religion that moved you?


I was a special assignment reporter for the Star Newspapers in suburban Chicago in 2000. I was assigned to cover the Arab community. At that time, I didn't know anything about Islam -- I was raised as a Missouri-Synod Lutheran and we had been taught that all religions and prophets that came after Jesus were false.

During the six weeks I had for research, I interviewed many, many Arab Muslims. My conversion was not something that happened overnight; it probably took more than 18 months. I was fascinated to learn that Islam had all the same stories as the Bible as well as the same characters.

To back up a bit -- I was raised Lutheran, but converted to Catholicism when I was about 40. I always wanted to belong to a large community and I was intrigued by the Catholic Church. Since my husband at the time was Catholic, I decided to join the church. That had a huge impact on my later conversion to Islam because where the Lutheran church believed in the Bible literally, the Catholic Church encouraged knowledge, questions and also gave us the historical context for the books contained in the Christian canon. This allowed me to open my mind to the possibility that the Quran was truly the revealed word of God.

Once I came to believe this, it was an easy step to believe Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the messenger and prophet. The harder part was letting go of my belief that Jesus was the Son of God. Ultimately, it was the passages in the Quran where God tells us that He was not begotten nor has He begotten and similar ones that finally helped me. Also, Jesus figures prominently in Islam so I wasn’t letting go of him, but just the idea that he is God.

In the end, my conversion came while I was praying. The date was July 21, 2001. I was in a hotel room in Washington DC, where I'd gone to cover a meeting for a magazine I was writing for. I had the Quran open on the bed before me and I was actually on my knees praying, asking God to lead me to the truth when suddenly I declared the Shahada –- that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is His messenger. I later made a public declaration in Arabic but for all purposes it was at that moment that I became a Muslim.

I love Islam because of its purity, its simplicity and its truth. The Muslims I had met were truly pleasant, patient and well-mannered people.


2. We understand this is your first hajj. Were you nervous at all?

I was very nervous about this trip because it is a heavy spiritual journey, which means there's a lot of personal reflection. It is also a very physical experience, with many different components taking place over several days. I’ve had two surgeries on my neck and lower back because of the degenerative arthritis and it has left me with some slight neurological deficiencies. One of the biggest of these is weakness in my legs, which things like overuse, fatigue, lack of sleep, extreme conditions can exacerbate.

3. Was there someone who showed you around? How did you know what to do?

I was traveling with a tour group, called Noor Travel, out of Milwaukee. The tour guide was extremely helpful. Plus, my lovely roommates are Arab American women who can help with the language as need be. There are also people in the group who have done this before who can offer advice. When all is said and done, though, 3 million people in one small place is pretty overwhelming and daunting so I pretty much learned as I went along.


4. Are there any parts of the hajj that you were particularly looking forward to?
Muslims pray in the direction of the Kaaba from wherever they are in the world. Being in the presence of God in Mecca, at the very center of the Earth, where Adam and Eve came to earth from the Garden of Eden, where Abraham and Ishmael rebuilt the Kaaba, and where Muhammad (peace be upon him) lived and received his first revelations from God is a tremendously invigorating and rejuvenating experience. To be able to see the Kaaba right in front of me after all these years was powerful and something I don’t believe I will ever forget.

5. How did it go?
I did much better physically than I expected. I’m actually feeling better now than before I left for the trip, mainly due to an improved state of mind that this trip brought about. In addition, Islam is always about moderation and the religion is not meant to be difficult. Therefore, certain accommodations are possible during the rites of Hajj.

There are three types of Tawafs, or circumambulations of the Kaaba. During each Tawaf, Muslims circle the Kaaba seven times.

I was able to use a wheelchair to circumambulate the Kaaba the first time.

During the second Tawaf, called Tawaf Al-Ifadah. I wanted to walk by myself so I could really concentrate on ‘talking to God,’ in my supplications and in worship. I also wanted to make the physical effort for God, as so much of Islam is about taking action with the help of God. This was an extremely beautiful experience for me, extremely spiritual. I finished the entire rite in just under three hours. Then it took me about one hour to make the usual 10 minute trip back to the hotel because I had overdone it a bit.

I was not able to finish the third Tawaf, called Tawaf Al-Wada or the Farewell Tawaf, because I was unprepared for the millions of people who were there at the same time as me. I was getting hurt and not strong enough to withstand the crush of people. So, sadly, I had to leave without completing it. To expiate for missing that rite, I paid to have a sheep slaughtered and its meat given to the poor.

Throwing stones at pillars that symbolize the spots where Satan tempted Abraham, who was preparing to sacrifice his son, is another rite of Hajj. Because of the sheer physicality it takes to walk up a steep hill to the throwing area and the danger of being in a crowd of a few million people throwing what are supposed to be pebbles but sometimes turn out larger, women, the elderly and people with health conditions can ask someone to throw the stones for them. I took advantage of this and asked some other group member to throw for me.

An integral part of the Hajj is the visit to Mount Arafah, where the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) prayed on the ninth of Dhul Hijjah when he made Hajj. The Day of Arafah is a day of atonement, when we stand in prayer from just after the sun reaches its zenith during midday until sunset. This year, it was about six hours. We were at Arafah long before that, though. We stayed in sweltering tents. It was 108 degrees outside and hotter inside because the air conditioning did not work.

If one stands in Arafah in sincere devotion and sincerely repents of his sins, all his sins will be forgiven. And we also believe that supplications on this day made sincerely will be answered. Standing is key, although allowances are made for older people or people, like me, with health conditions. I stood a great deal of the time but had to sit from time to time.

It was probably the most difficult physically and spiritually of the entire trip. But it was also extremely beautiful and cleansing. The most beautiful time came when it was close to sunset and hundreds of people gathered on a hillside, facing the Kaaba in the West, to make supplications while the sun was setting. All this was done while one imam made the supplications, called du'as, out loud. It was extremely powerful and many people, including me, were crying.

I think there's a recurring point here. Hajj requires extreme effort but then offers extreme beauty, peace and joy in return.


6. What were you searching for during this pilgrimage? Did you find it?

What I wanted most out of this journey is to find a deeper relationship with my Creator, to get to the place where I have the confidence of my conviction that God is all I need or will ever need. I was praying for this absolute, intuitive trust because who have attained this level of faith are never worried or discouraged.

I believe I absolutely found what I was looking for, although I also realize that this is something I have to work on every day. In Mecca, in the presence of the Kaaba, I felt God’s presence in a way that I never have before at any time in my life. There was an overwhelming feeling of love that inspired trust and confidence. I could pour my heart out, ask for anything and worship God.

Now that I have experienced this pure connection to God, I want to maintain and grow it. The onus is on me to make the changes necessary to help this happen. For instance, I plan on attending congregational Fajr (dawn) prayers at the mosque everyday, God-willing.

7. What did you hope would change about you after hajj, on the inside? Did this happen?

The last 10 years have been difficult ones for me - I got divorced, moved, had two major surgeries related to the degenerative arthritis, lost my house in economic crisis, and am beginning to feel worn down by the rampant Islamophobia in this country. Islam is the perfect religion, but I am not living it perfectly. Instead of complaining, I should be thanking God for what I’ve experienced in the past few years.

I think the biggest thing that happened to me was that I realized how spoiled I am as a privileged American, how ungrateful I’ve been for my conversion to Islam and for the life that I have.

People from all corners of the world come to Hajj and many of them do not have the means to stay in hotels, let alone tents. People leave their villages with not much more than a small sack of possessions, knowing they will be sleeping without shelter on a plaza, hillside, or on the street. Would I have that kind of devotion? I would hope so, but somehow I rather doubt it. It was these people, who inspired me to walk the second Tawaf, described above.

A person’s Hajj can be invalidated for complaining, arguing, or gossiping so it is extremely important to avoid all this. Dealing with crowds of millions requires massive doses of patience, which can only happen when you start looking at individuals in the crowd as just that – individual human beings deserving of respect and gentle treatment. Exercising this kind of patience for two weeks brought about a deeper sense of humility, which I hope to remember as I go about my daily life.

Finally, God says in the Quran that He guides whom He wills to Islam. As I mentioned, I’d been struggling lately because of things like Islamophobia. Instead of cherishing the fact that God called me to the religion, I’ve been focusing on superficial things that distract me from the real beauty of what it means to be Muslim. This experience showed me that I have been taking the great gift of this faith for granted.

Near-Perfect Conditions Predicted For Sunday's Chicago Marathon

Sat, 2014-10-11 08:23
CHICAGO (AP) -- Near-perfect conditions are expected to give elite entries in Sunday's Chicago Marathon an opportunity for record-setting runs.

The forecast is for 40 degree temperatures for the beginning of the race and the 26.2-mile course is relatively flat.

"If it's a nice day those guys up front could threaten the world record," said Bobby Curtis, a first-time Chicago participant who has a personal best of 2 hours, 12 minutes, 24 seconds. "I wouldn't be surprised if they set a course record, I wouldn't be surprised if they come close to a world record."

Leading the men's field are Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge and Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, renewing an 11-year rivalry from track and field days. Bekele and Kipchoge are the top men's entries with personal best times of 2:05.04 and 2:04.05, respectively.

Kenya's Dennis Kimetto holds the current men's world record of 2:02.57, set last month in Berlin. The 11-year-old women's standard of 2:15.25 was established in London in 2003 by England's Paula Radcliffe.

Chicago's 37th annual race includes a field of 108 elite men, women and wheelchair athletes. There are also 45,000 amateur runners registered and more than 1 million people are expected to watch along the way.

Chicago is fifth in his year's six-race World Marathon Majors, which concludes its latest two-year prize cycle with the Nov. 2 New York City Marathon. The series' top male and female runners will be awarded $500,000 apiece next month.

Kenyan Rita Jeptoo already leads the World Marathon rankings and is back to defend her 2013 championship.

"I'm here again to try my best and (run) my best time in Chicago," said the soft-spoken Jeptoo, a Boston Marathon champion this year and Chicago winner last year in 2:19.57. "Everybody here, I think, is ready for a run on Sunday. . Everybody is ready to run fast."

Kimetto sits atop the men's standings but is not entered this year in Chicago after his course record winning run of 2:03.45 in 2013.

That leaves Bekele and Kipchoge atop a speedy field of seven African runners who've clocked personal bests below 2:06. The two have run against each other more than a dozen times since the 2003 IAAF World championships in the 5,000 meters.

"I'm looking forward to competing with Kenenisa on the road this time," said Kipchoge. "This is my fourth (marathon) and that gives me confidence."

Kipchoge's 2:04.05 in a second place finish in Berlin in Oct. 2013 is his career best. Bekele is three-time Olympic gold and 18-time world champion in long distance track and reigning world record holder in the 5,000 and 10,000 meter races. He's entered in just his second career marathon. In April, he won a Paris run in 2:05.04.

"In track I did everything," Bekele said. "What's left is only the marathon."

Three-time Chicago champion Tatyana McFadden tops the 12-woman wheelchair field. McFadden owns four Chicago titles and set a course record of 1:42:35 in 2013. She also branched out last winter and won a cross-country skiing gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Paralympics.

Reigning men's champion Ernst Van Dyk of South Africa, tops a 27-man wheelchair field that includes five ex-Chicago champs.

Also Friday, officials announced a four-year sponsorship deal with Abbott, a suburban Chicago-based health care company. The company's sponsorship of the World Marathon Majors begins with the Tokyo Marathon on Feb. 22, 2015.

Watch What Happens When You Shove A French Horn At 'Meet The Press' Host Chuck Todd

Fri, 2014-10-10 17:26
Think fast!

Chuck Todd is usually the one asking the tough questions, but a few of his colleagues turned the table on the "Meet The Press" host during his visit to Chicago's NBC affiliate station earlier this week.

"We rented this for the day -- very clean mouthpiece," Chicago Sun-Times political columnist and NBC Chicago contributor Carol Marin said, handing Todd a French horn.

Todd's response: "Oh, good lord."

Though he rose to fame as a journalist, Todd attended George Washington University in D.C. on a French horn scholarship.

We don't know if Todd is contractually obligated to do so, but he ended his brief solo by playing a familiar G-E-C sequence -- otherwise known as the "NBC chimes."

Before dusting off his musical skills, Todd also speculated that the Islamic State would dominate the focus of the rest of Obama's presidency and that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel would be unlikely to run for president.

Check out the full segment:

Best City for Fall: Chicago

Fri, 2014-10-10 14:38
If you're not thinking of Chicago as a fall destination, you are really missing out. Sure, leaf-peeping in New England, apple picking in Michigan and laughing at the rest of the country from California are all fine fall traditions that you should go ahead and try, but don't discount Chicago.

From architectural tours to tons of haunted places, fall in Chicago has a lot to offer.


Image by Saul

Get Cultured
Chicago's architecture is internationally celebrated for great reasons. We have The Sears Tower, The Tribune Tower, The Hancock Center, The Wrigley Building, the twin corn cob buildings (aka Marina City) and tons and tons of others that are totally worth a look and some learning.

For the most informative guides, see the sites with docents from the Chicago Architecture Foundation. The group offers boat trips through October 14, as well as walking tours and L train tours (which is apparently a great way to travel if you'd like to avoid zombies). Many people visit the city and miss seeing the loop on the train, which is actually super fun.


Image via Disturbia

Get Halloween-y
Chicago's scary history took center stage a few years back when everyone was reading Devil In the White City, which is about, among other things, the serial killer H.H. Holmes. And Harold Ramis, of Ghostbusters fame, also hails from Chicago if that's more your speed.

Head to the suburbs to be terrorized at a haunted house or celebrate neighborhood style. On the north side, hit the epic Northalsted Halloween Parade and Costume Contest, which has been going strong for 18 years in boystown. Expect lots of drag and tons of fun!

On the south side, thousands of people turn up on South Harper Avenue between East 57th and 58th Streets. The neighborhood has been welcoming trick-or-treaters in droves since the 1970s when, as the story goes, neighbors started going all out in defiance of the razorblade-in-the-candy scares.

This year, Critical Mass (a giant group bike ride that is 100% sure to feature costumed bikes and riders) falls on Halloween. The exact route is unknown, but it kicks off at The Daley Center and, if I had to guess, will wind through Wicker Park and Logan Square.


Photo by Greg Pietras

Get Drunk
Okay, well, you don't have to get drunk. But, many people in this city do like to have some beer and watch football. Luckily, there are a number of bars dedicated to just this activity!

Because the city is really big and welcomes transplants, we have bars dedicated to tons of different college teams and teams from other cities. However, we love The Bears the most. And no, we won't stop talking about how we won the Superbowl in 1985. For the full-on college bar experience, head to Lincoln Park, River North or Lakeview and go... well, kind of anyplace. If you're looking for a less overtly sporty crowd but still want decent TVs, try High Dive in West Town.

You might also enjoy taking in a game at Soldier Field. Be sure to bundle up because there's no dome and plenty of cold breeze off of Lake Michigan to remind you why fall is awesome and winter... well. We'll see you in the spring.

Mayor Emanuel Rides the Fence as Police Torturer Jon Burge Is Released From Prison

Fri, 2014-10-10 14:17
On October 2, 2014, former Chicago police commander Jon Burge, who was convicted of lying about torturing over 100 African-American men at station houses on Chicago's South and West Sides, walked out of the Butner Correctional Institution, having been released to a halfway house in Tampa, Florida. Meanwhile, in Chicago, a group of lawyers, activists, and City Council members, speaking at a widely covered press conference, renewed their demand for passage of a Torture Reparations Ordinance that would help to heal the lingering wounds left by the Chicago police torture scandal.

Burge's 2010 conviction for perjury and obstruction of justice came nearly 20 years after his reign of racist terror finally ended. From 1972 to 1991, he led a torture ring of white Chicago detectives who routinely used electric shock, suffocation with plastic bags and typewriter covers, mock executions and brutal attacks on the genitals to obtain confessions from their victims. A team of lawyers at the People's Law Office, including myself, documented 118 such cases. But a series of police superintendents, numerous Cook County prosecutors and a cover-up that implicated former Mayor Richard M. Daley (during his time as both mayor and state's attorney) protected Burge and his men from prosecution until well after the statute of limitations had run out on their crimes of torture.

Like Al Capone's prosecution for tax evasion, Burge could only be prosecuted for lying about what he and his men did, not for the deeds themselves. He was sentenced to the maximum term of four and a half years, and ended up serving three and a half before being released to a halfway house -- a stark contrast to the fates of his victims, many of whom received life sentences on the basis of confessions that were tortured from them.

Despite his felony conviction, Burge continued to collect his pension (now more than $50,000 per year) while serving his time, and the Illinois Supreme Court recently decided four to three that he may continue to do so in the future. But the nearly $700,000 that Burge has already collected is little compared to what Chicago, Cook County, the State of Illinois and federal taxpayers have already expended as a result of the Burge torture scandal.

Chicago has spent more than $20,000,000 to provide legal defense to Burge and his men in the numerous civil damages suits brought against them over the years. Chicago, Cook County and the State of Illinois have paid out more than $66,000,000 in settlements to compensate the Burge torture survivors who were wrongfully convicted on the basis of false confessions. The city, county, state and federal governments have spent more than $15,000,000 investigating and prosecuting Burge. And his cabal of officers has received $22,000,000 in pensions to date.

The total financial damage to taxpayers as a result of the torture of over 100 black men that Burge oversaw, and the ongoing payouts to his collaborating officers, now exceeds $120,000,000, and will only keep growing.

While Burge's conviction and imprisonment were rightly seen as a major victory for the ongoing human rights struggle against police torture, the battle has continued apace. As many as 20 Burge torture victims remain behind bars decades after their convictions, and the movement has focused on demanding new hearings for them at which they would be permitted to present the evidence of systematic torture that has come to light since their convictions.

Some of these men have won new hearings, while others have either been denied or are awaiting decisions from the courts or the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission (TIRC) on their requests. A court appointed monitor is examining prisoner files and letters to determine whether there are additional prisoners who may be entitled to judicial review of their claims of Burge-related torture. And the TIRC, which was created by the Illinois Legislature in response to the demands of community activists, is also reviewing some 65 additional claims of torture and related abuse at the hands of detectives who, while not working for Burge at the time of the alleged torture, had previously worked for him.

While Chicago has spent more than $20 million defending Burge and his crew, the dozens of survivors who have not been officially exonerated have received little or no compensation. Working menial jobs or unemployed, with many in need of health services for their physical and mental trauma, a number of them have courageously stepped forward and testified against Burge or have otherwise spoken out about their torture.

Two leading examples are Anthony Holmes and Darrell Cannon. Holmes, who was the first known victim of Burge's electric shock and suffocation tactics, was a key witness against Burge at his trial and sentencing nearly 40 years later. Cannon, who in 1983 was subjected to electric shock and a mock execution by three of Burge's henchmen, has become the leading spokesman in Chicago's anti-torture movement, and his case is featured in Amnesty International's current campaign against torture in the United States.

Both men spent decades in prison on the basis of confessions tortured from them, but Holmes has received no compensation, while Cannon received a $3,000 settlement before the torture cover-up came unglued.

The contrast between the official treatment of the torturers and their victims has spurred activists, torture survivors and lawyers working with the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials Project (CTJM) to campaign for the passage of a city ordinance that would address this appalling discrepancy. Introduced into City Council last October by Aldermen Joe Moreno and Howard Brookins, the "Reparations Ordinance" calls for the establishment of a $20 million fund to compensate torture survivors who have so far received little money or nothing at all.


The reparations would also include an official public apology from the City of Chicago and the establishment of a center on Chicago's South Side where survivors and their families could receive treatment and educational and job training opportunities. Additionally, the ordinance mandates that the history of Chicago police torture be taught in Chicago's public schools, and that memorials to the torture survivors be erected in the city.

As a result of CTJM's work, the ordinance now has the sponsorship of a majority of the 50 Chicago City Council members. CTJM has also issued a formal request to all of the city's major Democratic candidates for mayor, both declared and undeclared, to publicly support the ordinance. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who is considering challenging Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the 2015 mayoral race, has issued a strong endorsement of the ordinance, stating that "reparations for the survivors of Chicago police torture are long past due."

In a written response to the October 2 Press Conference, Mayor Emanuel stated that "on behalf of the city of Chicago, I want to once again apologize to the victims and their families for the injustices they have suffered and reaffirm my pledge as mayor to do everything in my power to right these wrongs and bring a close to this dark chapter in Chicago's history." However, only six days later, in response to the pointed questioning of dogged City Hall reporter Fran Spielman, Emanuel at first equivocated, saying, a year after the Ordinance was first introduced, that "on the money piece, we have to study it," and then, more negatively, that "there are things that were mentioned that we'll work through. As it relates to [monetary] reparations, I need time to evaluate it. I don't think that's the course we should take."

With the February 2015 mayoral primary fast approaching, Emanuel, whose assertions of concern for the needs of the African-American community all too often ring hollow, would be wise to consider the consequences of failing to support such a reasonable effort to heal the still festering wounds inflicted by the torture scandal. If he fails to quickly do so, the demand for a prompt City Council hearing, at which the compelling reasons for passage of the Ordinance would be fully aired, will become a powerful rallying cry for justice on behalf of the Burge torture survivors.

Chicago, like the country at large, has been sensitized to racist police violence by the events in Ferguson, Missouri. In July, two African-American youths were shot down by Chicago police officers, and a Chicago police commander has been suspended and criminally charged for torturing an arrestee by shoving a gun into his mouth.

In this racially charged atmosphere, Burge's release serves to further energize the forces that are fighting for justice for the survivors of torture. Reparations and fair hearings will go a long way to finally affording closure to a scandal that has dogged Chicago for more than forty years.

Taylor is a founding partner of the People's Law Office, has represented survivors of Chicago police torture for more than 25 years, and is a member of the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials Project. For more information, see, peopleslawoffice.com

17 Times Obama Did Things We Absolutely Do Not Agree With

Fri, 2014-10-10 12:39
Our fearless leader has seen his fair share of controversies throughout his tenure in the Oval Office.

Most recently, there was the tan suit fiasco, soon followed by "Lattegate," and then one or two more.

But he's also committed some lesser-known atrocities -- like being that guy who films something with an iPad. No one likes that guy, Mr. President. No one. Let's take a moment to remember all these times Barack Obama was literally the worst:



That time he leaned over the sneeze guard at Chipotle.





That time he "volunteered" and let Michelle do all the work.





That time he "forgot" there is NO RUNNING by the pool.





That time he let this happen to Bo.





That time he hugged the living daylights out of this poor woman.





(Seriously, look at that face.)





That time he wore these mom jeans on a bike.





That time he golfed like the dad-iest dad we've ever seen.





That time he wouldn't just get his own goddamn chair.





That time he used an iPad to record a video.





That time he creeped everyone out.





That time he tried to take this person's camera.*



*We're actually not sure what's happening here, but it's probably horrible.



That time he disobeyed every mother on Earth by leaning back in his chair.





That time he laughed in this punk baby's face.





That time he completely disrespected the White House gardener's "Keep Off The Grass" signs.





That time he thought this would totally work.





That time he mocked this kid just trying to enjoy some pie.





And finally, that time he ignored the sadly piercing gaze of man's best friend.

Illinois' Most Popular State Parks for Fall

Fri, 2014-10-10 12:23
Cool temperatures, colorful foliage and a spooky atmosphere can only mean one thing: fall has come to Illinois. There is arguably no better place to fully appreciate and witness this metamorphosis than in Illinois' scenic state parks.

Get out and enjoy the last few weeks of bearable weather by taking a trip with family and friends to one of these Illinois state parks that are most popular to visit in autumn, according to EnjoyIllinois.com.

12. Silver Springs State Fish and Wildlife Area - Yorkville, Ill.



11. Lowden State Park - Oregon, Ill.



10. Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park - Atkinson, Ill.



9. Castle Rock State Park - Oregon, Ill.



8. Walnut Point State Park - Oakland, Ill.



7. Argyle Lake State Park - Colchester, Ill.



See the six most popular state parks in Illinois at Reboot Illinois to see where you should spend your fall viewing the changing leaves.

NEXT ARTICLE: Latest Reboot Illinois/We Ask America poll results for the Illinois governor's
race

Sun-Times Poll: Quinn, Rauner in dead heat
Rasmussen Polls: Quinn inches ahead, Durbin maintains lead
Are all political polls created equal? Chicago Tonight panelists explain
Reboot Illinois September Governor's poll report

These Enthusiastic News Anchors Entertain Themselves With An Intricate Handshake

Fri, 2014-10-10 11:27
Ever wonder what news anchors do during commercial breaks? Well, these two entertain themselves in a way that's positively delightful: with a glorious, intricate handshake.

Robert Jordan and Jackie Bange, of Chicago's WGN News, have been anchoring together for about 20 years, and they've been doing this handshake since the early 2000s, though their list of moves has grown over time.

When a 2009 clip of their routine went viral again recently, they filmed this new version, showing their entire handshake, as it exists today. Currently, their routine is so long that it takes two commercial breaks to complete.

But where do they get inspiration for their additions? The news, of course. A post by WGN News notes many of their moves represent events or trends that have made headlines over time. For example, the newer moves in this longer handshake include a shoutout to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and the notorious “Gangnam Style” dance.

One thing is for certain with these two: Practice makes perfect.

Visit WGN News to learn more about their story.

Should Quinn get four more years to make his mark on Illinois?

Fri, 2014-10-10 11:15
With less than four weeks remaining until Illinois voters choose their next governor, friends and political foes Democrat Dave Lundy and Republican Chris Robling debate whether four more years for Quinn would be the best option for Illinois.

From Lundy:

First, the brilliant multi-level, fully integrated Rauner campaign of the spring has failed to materialize in the fall. As I posted here months ago, the voters of Illinois deserve to see the Rauner plans for what he would do should he win. Instead, the Rauner campaign has gambled on the bet that just being "not Pat Quinn" is enough. It's not. The plans the Rauner campaign has put out have been either retreads or laughable exercises in fuzzy math and other than "shaking up Springfield," I have no idea what he would do if elected.

From Robling:

From his extraordinary business success, Rauner has another attribute rarely seen in Springfield. He does not care about the political games that pass for statecraft. Can one person up-end a dysfunctional system, institute reforms and put Illinois on a growth path? In a system operated largely by and for House Speaker Michael Madigan, I believe Rauner will move Illinois in the right direction simply because he is resourceful and willing to say, "No," where others crumple.

See further reasons why both are for or against Quinn's reelection at Reboot Illinois.

While Illinoisans are deciding which candidate will win their votes, the last thing they want is for a candidate to change his mind. Quinn has appeared to change his mind on the income tax increase he once said would only be temporary, and Rauner now says he is in favor of raising the minimum wage, though he wasn't a few months ago. Watch at Reboot Illinois to see Quinn and Rauner flip-flop.

6,300 Illinois Patients Rush To Apply For Medical Marijuana -- Maybe A Little Too Quickly

Fri, 2014-10-10 10:01
More than 6,000 people have already applied to use medical marijuana in Illinois -- but some patients may have signed up a little too quickly.

Only 800 of the 6,300 applications started with the state's Medical Cannabis Pilot Program -- about 12 percent -- are considered complete, state officials said Wednesday.

“We are encouraged to see people registering for the Medical Cannabis Pilot Program, which will provide patients much-needed relief from dozens of debilitating medical conditions,” Bob Morgan, statewide project coordinator for the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program, said in a statement. “We will continue to process applications so that registered patients and caregivers will have access to medical cannabis as soon as it becomes available.”

Applications must include documents like a doctor certification form and background check information. Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) officials say applicants whose registrations are incomplete will be notified by mail and given 21 days to hand in the required documents.

The most common debilitating conditions cited by prospective medical marijuana patients are cancer, severe fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries, state officials said.

IDPH staff started sending approval and denial letters two weeks ago. Jim Champion, the first person to apply to be part of the state’s pilot program, already received the green light to enter the program to treat symptoms of multiple sclerosis .

“I was shocked it came so fast,” the 48-year-old Army veteran told the Sun-Times. “I’m very excited.”

Though medical marijuana registry cards will soon be issued to approved patients, no dispensaries have yet opened in the state; officials expect medical marijuana to actually become available in early 2015, more than a year into the four-year pilot program.

Qualifying patients whose last names begin with A – L have until Oct. 31 to submit applications; patients whose last names begin with M - Z will be able to apply from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31. Open enrollment, regardless of last name, begins Jan. 1 of 2015.

19 Things You Never Knew You Could Get For Your Home At Costco

Fri, 2014-10-10 07:53
When you go to Costco, you usually think of buying an endless supply of cereal or socks. That's all fine and good, but the next time you trek there, consider some of the items you can't buy in bulk -- like home goods.

Most people are aware about the huge flatscreen TVs Costco holds inside its massive walls, but there are more household treasures to be found. We searched Costco's website to find the coolest and most unique items around.






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HuffPost Deutschland Is 1 Year Old Today. Happy Birthday!

Fri, 2014-10-10 07:00
Happy birthday to HuffPost Deutschland, which turns 1 year old today. There's no better time to celebrate the work and spirit of our amazing German team under the leadership of Cherno Jobatey, our editorial director, and Sebastian Matthes, our editor-in-chief.

It's hard to believe that a year has passed since we gathered in our office in Munich, along with our partners from Hubert Burda Media's Tomorrow Focus, to launch HuffPost Deutschland as a journalistic outlet and platform. It's also hard to believe that, at that time, we would occasionally hear that Germans simply weren't interested in blogging. Since then, more than 1,400 bloggers -- people from all walks of life, from professors and politicians to activists and parents -- have joined the conversation. HuffPost Deutschland is now an integral part of the conversation in Germany -- and more and more people want to be a part of it.

Our editorial team has covered everything from drug legalization and pension reform to Germany's inadequate investment in infrastructure, education and childcare. At the same time, we're putting the spotlight on what is working in Germany. HuffPost Deutschland has launched its own Impact section, putting a spotlight on individuals, organizations and communities coming up with solutions to some of the biggest challenges the country faces. And as we continue our international expansion -- HuffPost is now in 11 countries, with Greece, Morocco, India and our Arabic edition coming next, and with more than half of our traffic coming from outside the United States -- we're seeing the kind of international collaborations that are opening up the conversation even more. For example, after a recent conversation with HuffPost Gay Voices editor Noah Michelson, Gina Meltzer decided to start HuffPost Deutschland's own Gay Voices section.

Germans are also emerging as leaders when it comes to living the Third Metric. Just last month, Germany's Labor Ministry commissioned a study on work-related stress, which could eventually lead to a ban on after-hours emails -- a clear signal that Germany is taking seriously the dangers of a work culture built on stress, burnout and constant connectivity. And an interview with former Deutsche Telekom executive Thomas Sattelberger on the need to reduce stress in Germany resonated widely across German media.

So please continue to make HuffPost Deutschland your destination for news, opinion and community on all things Germany. To everyone who has been a part of this vibrant community, may our second year be as exciting and fulfilling -- and as free of late-night emails -- as the first. Happy birthday, congratulations and gratitude from all your HuffPost siblings across the world.

Here Is The Richest Woman In Each State

Fri, 2014-10-10 07:00
When we think about the most powerful women in America, names like Oprah Winfrey, Janet Yellen, and Sheryl Sandberg come to mind. But measure sheerly by the size of their bank accounts, and a different group of women top the charts.

This map from the real estate blog Movoto displays the net worth of the richest female resident in each U.S. state. Darker shades of blue reflect those at the richest end of the wealth spectrum. Darker reds correlate with lesser net worth. Lighter shades of both indicate something closer to the middle.


(*An asterisks indicates totals that are estimated based on a family or couple's combined wealth.)

In total, these 50 women are worth more than $200 billion. Some have accrued their fortunes through entrepreneurship, like Indiana's Gayle Cook, the co-founder of Cook Group, a medical device company. Others have garnered their riches via inheritance, like New York's Joan Tisch, heir to the Tisch family fortune.

Four members of the Walton family, Christy, Alice, Ann and Nancy, top their respective states. They alone are worth a combined $81.4 billion. Women involved with Disney, Apple, Koch Industries, and Cargill are also represented. If you're interested in finding out the wealthiest person in each state irrespective of gender, click here.

A Kitchy Kitchen Recipe: Strawberry Glazed Donuts

Fri, 2014-10-10 01:28


These are all about simplicity: barely pink strawberry glaze on top of fluffy, cakey buttermilk donuts. Feel free to switch out strawberries for any other berry, or even cherries. These are so delicious.



STRAWBERRY GLAZED DONUTS

INGREDIENTS (DONUTS)
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour, sifted
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg, beaten
canola oil, for frying

INGREDIENTS (GLAZE)
1/2 cup chopped strawberries
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons white sugar
1/2 teaspoon rosewater
2 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons butter
1-2 tablespoons milk (if needed)

DIRECTIONS
Whisk together the dry ingredients in a bowl; set aside. Combine sugars, butter, and wet ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment; mix until smooth. While mixing, slowly add dry ingredients and mix until a soft dough forms.

Heat 2" oil in a 6 quart saucepan until a deep-fry thermometer reads 370°. Spread a little flour on your counter, and roll out the dough to a little under an inch thick. Use a floured donut cutter to cut out donuts. Carefully slide the donuts (and donut holes) into oil and fry, flipping once, until puffed and golden, about 3 minutes for the whole donuts, about 2 minutes for the donut holes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a baking sheet with a wire rack; repeat with remaining dough and let donuts cool completely.

Combine the strawberries, lemon juice, and white sugar in a small pot over medium heat.  Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the strawberries have released most of their juices and have cooked down into a light syrup.  Turn off the heat and smash the strawberries with a fork. Strain if you like (I did). While the liquid is still hot, add the rosewater, powdered sugar and butter, and stir until combined.  If too thick, add a tablespoon of milk. Dip the donuts in the glaze and let them cool on a cooling rack.  If the glaze hardens in the pot, just heat up again and stir.

For more recipes like this one, check out my blog The Kitchy Kitchen.

Former NFL Team Exec Claims 'Hundreds And Hundreds' Not Punished For Domestic Violence

Thu, 2014-10-09 20:20
Former Chicago general manager Jerry Angelo said NFL teams didn't discipline players in "hundreds and hundreds" of domestic violence incidents during his 30-year career, USA Today reported Thursday.

"I made a mistake," Angelo told the newspaper (http://usat.ly/1ydbFxX). "I was human. I was part of it. I'm not proud of it." Angelo was the Bears' general manager from 2001 to 2011. He entered the league as a scout with Dallas in 1980, worked as a scout for the New York Giants from 1982 to 1986, and was Tampa Bay's director of player personnel for Tampa Bay from 1987 to 2001.

"We knew it was wrong," Angelo told USA Today. "... For whatever reason, it just kind of got glossed over. I'm no psychiatrist, so I can't really get into what that part of it is. I'm just telling you how I was. I've got to look at myself first. And I was part of that, but I didn't stand alone."

On Wednesday, Commissioner Roger Goodell met with the full body of NFL owners for the first time since several missteps by the league involving personal conduct incidents. The agenda was filled with discussion of domestic violence and discipline for misbehavior.

"Our business is to win games," Angelo said. "We've got to win games, and the commissioner's job is to make sure the credibility of the National Football League is held in the highest esteem. But to start with that, you have to know who's representing the shield. We got our priorities a little out of order."

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

Possible Chicago Mayoral Contender Has Surgery For Serious Illness

Thu, 2014-10-09 17:40

By Fiona Ortiz

CHICAGO, Oct 9 (Reuters) - Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, a possible contender against Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the city's elections next year, had surgery on Wednesday for a serious illness, the union said on Thursday.

Lewis has been hospitalized since Sunday, but there had not been any previous information about her condition.

Lewis has not announced she will run for mayor but she has been raising funds and testing the waters.

The African-American labor leader is seen as a potentially formidable opponent to Emanuel, who has seen his support among black voters decline in the three years he has been running the nation's third largest city.

In a brief statement, the union said Lewis is recovering well but gave no details on the nature of the illness or the surgery she underwent.

"I understand that .. many people in this city, want to know about Karen Lewis' health status because they care about the mayoral election in this city," union Vice President Jesse Sharkey said at a news conference, according to the Chicago Tribune.

"I think that's fair enough, but please be aware that's a question that I can't answer," Sharkey said.

A Chicago Tribune poll in August showed Lewis had 43 percent support compared with 39 percent support for Emanuel. However, her war chest of some $70,000 is dwarfed by Emanuel's $8 million in campaign funds.

Lewis has been president of the teachers union since 2010. She rose to prominence in 2012 when she led the city's first teachers' strike in 25 years. She has criticized Emanuel for closing 50 schools, many of them in heavily African-American communities. (Editing by Leslie Adler)

Grads From These Colleges Are Supposedly The Most (And Least) Likely To Get A Second Date

Thu, 2014-10-09 16:21
Sorry, Princeton Mom. The prestigious university's student body might not be the best place to find love after all.

Matchmaking site The Dating Ring analyzed 7,500 post-date feedback forms submitted by 1,600 New York and San Francisco singles over the course of 18 months, all to determine which college or university's alums were most likely to get a second date -- and which were most likely to be left hanging.

So which schools are producing the most crush-worthy prospects?

Private liberal arts college Colgate University claimed the title of most dateable grads among The Dating Ring's clients, with 81 percent of suitors saying they'd like seconds with a former Raider. For some Colgate students, the school's attractive student body apparently even helped them make their college decision.

"I looked at Colgate because my camp counselor said really hot guys went there," alumna Laura McDonald told The Dating Ring, according to a company press release.

Although many of the schools featured in The Dating Ring's datability rankings are considered elite, the least dateable list notably snagged two Ivies: the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University.

It also features the University of California, Berkeley. But Ryan Johnson, a 2013 grad who liked to take his dates to restaurants in Berkeley's Southside neighborhood, thinks Oskis have a lot to offer despite his alma mater's low ranking. He told The Huffington Post that if you're looking for someone who's passionate and talented at what they do, there's no better place to find them.

Check out the most and least dateable schools lists below, but, like Johnson, don't fret the results: with just 316 different colleges represented in The Dating Ring's matchmaking pool -- and only two cities' singles reporting results -- this poll is clearly just for fun.

THE MOST DATEABLE COLLEGES:






THE LEAST DATEABLE COLLEGES:







[h/t Time]

Why Maria Hinojosa Is 'Less Afraid' Of How The U.S. Will Deal With Demographic Change

Thu, 2014-10-09 15:47
The days of a majority-white United States are coming to an end. But it's not something the country should fear, according to award-winning journalist Maria Hinojosa.

In her new TV series "America by the Numbers," Hinojosa, a Mexican-born anchor and executive producer of "Latino USA" on NPR, delves into the data behind the major demographic shift that Census Bureau projections have said will make whites a minority by 2043.

Census projections released in December 2012 say the country's non-Hispanic population will peak at 200 million in 2024, while the multiracial population is projected to more than triple by 2060.

"America By The Numbers," which premiered last week on the World Channel and PBS, aims to cover the issues facing both white America and these newer diverse groups, who make up what the Hinojosa calls "the new mainstream." The eight-part series was produced by Hinojosa's organization, Futuro Media Group, which is also behind "Latino USA."

The series will run until the end of November and cover topics such as Guam's forgotten veterans, Asian-American dropouts, the oil boom on a Native American reservation, the rise of whites in one of Idaho's small towns and more. The Huffington Post spoke to Hinojosa about the project.

The Census projections were released in 2012, following the important role the Latino vote played in President Barack Obama's re-election. Is that what prompted you to produce "America by the Numbers"?

Well, what's funny is that I conceived this program about four years ago. With my team, we came up with this notion of doing data-driven reporting on massive demographic change because we were looking at the 2010 census that had just come out. Of course, they're not the only provider of data, but it was clear that the future of this country was increasingly of color and that Latinos were playing a leading role in this demographic change.

So as a Latina journalist who has been part of the mainstream, it was kind of like, well, this is my moment to really helm a national television series talking specifically about all of this demographic change. When we talked about this four years ago, to be honest with you, people kind of looked at us like "What?!" ... Four years later, people understand what we have been saying, which is that the numbers tell the truth. That's why we named the series "America by the Numbers."

The data is there: This country is increasingly becoming more of color, more immigrant, more LGBT, more diverse, less Anglo-white. And we need historic change in our country. It's going to change us forever, but we haven't really had consistent, deep journalism into what this means.

Once you take a look at each episode, though, you can see that this isn't a "Latino series." It's about all of these different groups and their role in this major demographic shift. How did you guys decide which eight issues to tackle?

The television series [is] talking about what we call "the new American mainstream" -- all of it, all of the change. We knew we were going to be basing all of our stories on data. So we knew that we were going to be telling stories about these different communities and the different demographic changes happening with these communities. But I'm also a journalist who loves to tell underreported stories. I love to tell stories around social justice issues ... [The series] really gives us a breadth of opportunity to report and really try to get away from the urban centers so it's not New York, Chicago, Miami, L.A., you know. It's really about what's happening in other parts of the country that are not major urban cities.

With data-driven reporting, I'm always curious about methods and sources. Where did most of your data come from?

We have several researchers. We are triple-checking all of our numbers and our facts and our data ... Pew Research Center was one of our sources. We also hired a researcher who is creating proprietary research for us [and] gathering research from other places. We've been kind of collating some of this research so we can begin to create our own numbers. And also our friends at EthniFacts [were] key in getting us some numbers.

In your first episode, you ask a white man if he feels like he's the minority now. While you were producing the series, did you get a sense that Anglo-whites felt like minorities? Were they afraid of this change?

Well, I think it's hard to generalize. I mean, I think the generalization that I would make is that probably most of the mainstream news [reports have], up until now, really put a lot of this into a context of "change signifies fear." I think what we're trying to do with our television series is in fact put a mirror up to our country. And if we are already in fact the country that is incredibly diverse -- in many cities, already majority non-white -- then why are we fearful for something that is already happening?

Part of the impetus is to say, 'There's no reason to be afraid, because actually this America that you're worried about in the future -- the future is already here.' And there's really nothing to be afraid of. Do we have major challenges? Oh, absolutely. Do we have major issues around racial inequity? Absolutely. Does this inequity lead to huge challenges for us as a society? Just look at Ferguson [Missouri]. I mean, we didn't do Ferguson, but we did do Clarkston [Georgia]. And Clarkston was looking at a place that was majority-white, then became minority-white. But [...] the political institutions didn't change with that demographic change.

So there are lasting and deep consequences for our country if we are not acknowledging that this change is happening. And yes, it means that power is going to shift, but it's not something that at this point that we have to be afraid of. And also -- we weren't able to do this particular segment, but while white America is becoming a minority, white America also continues to maintain the economic majority. So the wealth is still concentrated in Anglo-American hands, and that is something that eventually is going to change, but it's changing a lot slower than everything else.

I wanted to ask about your personal experience with the series. What was the most surprising thing you learned while doing this?

Huy m'ija, I think for me this series has really changed me because it took me to places that I had never been to. I actually think that the thing that impacted me the most was my reporting on the Native American Reservation in North Dakota in Fort Berthold ... The fact that the stories of what's happening on our reservations are not being told really says something about who we are as a country and as a people. So this was very, emotionally for me, very powerful.

As well as my time on Guam. The people on Guam said to me over and over again, "Oh my God, we just wish we were Puerto Rico."

Really?

I mean, they would repeat it: "We just wish we were Puerto Rico." And I would look at them, after all of my experience reporting from Puerto Rico, and I would say, "Why do you want to be Puerto Rico?" And they said, "Because at least then the mainland knows where we are, knows that we exist." So to be with American citizens who are my equal, but who feel completely invisible and not recognized, was also very powerful. So those were probably the most traumatic experiences ...

And I'm less afraid of the future of this country because of this reporting. I'm more convinced that people across our country are open, [and] do want information that helps them understand the times they're living through. They don't want the simplistic black-white, we-love-you-we-hate-you. They don't want that. They really want more information that helps them to understand how our country is changing -- because it is, that is for sure. And we just want to name it and say it.

I mean, in the first two minutes of our television series we say, "White America is becoming a minority." Most news programs don't start like that. But what we love to also say is, "Hey, the definition of 'minority' is going to change too." So everything is changing, and we all have a role to play in this, and it's all about creating dialogue as opposed to fear.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Check out Hinojosa's extended comments on some of the episodes below:

Man Arrested After Shots Fired At Chicago Blue Line 'L' Train: Police

Thu, 2014-10-09 15:27
CHICAGO (AP) -- A man was arrested Thursday shortly after police say he stood on a subway platform and opened fire on "L" train as it pulled into a downtown Chicago station.

Nobody was reported injured, but the 11:30 a.m. incident left passengers shaken, with some refusing to get off when the doors opened and they were told they could leave.

"There were four or five shots (that) hit the train - boom, boom, boom," said John Langston, 50, of Chicago. "I thought it was somebody with a sledgehammer."

Passenger Venesia Parker said that when the train stopped, "Some rushed out, but I stayed on for safety until I could see nobody was out there."

Both she and Langston saw shell casings as they walked through the Blue Line's LaSalle Street platform, near the Chicago Board of Trade building in the city's financial district.

The suspect was taken into custody without incident a short time after the shooting just a few blocks away, and police said a weapon was recovered. However, police did not provide details about the man or the weapon.

Carl Sagan Wanted An Honest Drugs Debate 24 Years Ago, And His Questions Are Still Spot On

Thu, 2014-10-09 14:46
Carl Sagan, a titan of scientific thought and communication, assumed many different roles in his life -- from science's "gatekeeper," to television star on the original "Cosmos," to marijuana user and advocate.

Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, recently posted a handful of Sagan's letters on cannabis news site Marijuana.com. The letters, surfaced from a large Library of Congress exhibit, cover the subject of the plant and the drug policy surrounding it.

One of these letters, written in 1990 and addressed to the president of the Drug Policy Foundation (which later morphed into today's Drug Policy Alliance), discussed the possibility of a drug policy debate on American television. The questions Sagan proposes for the segment are just as relevant today as they were when he originally wrote the letter almost 25 years ago.

Check out Sagan's full letter below:

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