Tag Archives: Illinois trip

Day 5: Nostalgia hits like a summer storm

Maybe I’m waxing poetic because of the ominous skies outside.  Stormy weather for the next few days is predicted, whereas yesterday was actually clear and hot, reminding me a lot of… Houston.  Ironic, I suppose, that we set out on this drive in the middle of a heat wave; hoping for a little relief from the Houston heat, we’ve discovered that it’s just as hot everywhere else – or maybe it’s just fair.  To be clear, I’m not feeling nostalgic on account of the heat reminding me of Houston!  No, it’s because we just rolled into the tri-city area where Jessica and I spent our first few years of marriage together: Kankakee, Bourbonnais, and Bradley.  And stormy skies always remind me of summer wind and lightning storms in France, walking through the park in the evening, listening to the wind in the trees, feeling it cool my skin and blow through my hair while the trees swayed, it was energizing, exhilarating.

We hadn’t been back to the Kankakee area in about 8 years, and the skies had that surreal tumultuous look indicative of a storm brewing; the kind of impossible sky I’ve seen in famous paintings that make me shake my head in disbelief: these kinds of skies don’t occur in real life.  Only, they do.

We had planned on meeting up with old friends, Tracy and Wayne, for a pool party that afternoon, but they had to cancel, and maybe it was for the best, as the rain started falling hard and cold and would have put a damper on our party, for sure.  But we didn’t bring our swimsuits for nothing.  The hotel we stayed at had a nice indoor pool that the kids and I enjoyed later that evening.

But more than the weather, it was the familiar sights that really brought us to that nostalgic place.  Driving into town, conversation shifted completely to sentences like:

“hey I remember that place”

“Is that where…?”

“That’s where Ophélia was born”

“Up there is where we used to go to church”

“There’s our favorite pizza joint.  It’s still there!”

“Hey, didn’t that used to be…?”

The girls didn’t think it was near as amazing as Jessica and I did.  The day was filled with quick jaunts down memory lane, including paying a visit to Ophélia’s first ballet studio, “Dance in the Light.”  It would be impossible for me to do justice to the wonderful quality of the day here in this post.  I just can’t figure out how to capture it, and I suspect I would just bore you with all the details I would want to cram in – just like the kids’ disappointing reaction to our excitement and delight.

In the evening, Jessica was invited to a La Leche League meeting by a friend that used to be her voice student and who used to babysit our kids.  All grown up with a baby of her own, she thought it would be great fun to invite the founder of “The Leaky Boob” (the online breastfeeding support community Jessica started a little over a year ago) to come and join the evening’s activities.  From what I heard, Jessica, Cosette, Soleil (our friend), and the LLL ladies all had a great time.  Meanwhile, the rest of the kids and I enjoyed some splash time in the hotel pool, followed by a pleasant surprise on the TV: Wall-E!  One of my favorite kids movies.


Day 4: New friends, Old Friends and Krispy Kreme

Many weeks later, I’m finally making the time to continue the Martin-Weber Chicago trip saga.  Oh, dear memory, don’t fail me!

In the last post, I mentioned that our friends owed their limited mosquito population to the abundance of tree frogs inhabiting the lavish local forests.  We were tempted to implement the same method in Houston.  But a draught will do the trick too.  Not much rain this year, so not many mosquitoes either.  But of course it comes at a cost.  Wildfires.  Not in Houston so far, but widespread throughout Texas.  God help those fighting the fires, and those who are in the path of the wind-driven inferno.  And please send us rain.

After our late night catching up with Don and Becky, it was a lazy morning, and then a wonderful day of rest in their comfortable home.  We did go out in the afternoon to meet a friend for the first time at Barnes & Noble, which was the perfect opportunity to pick up a few books for the kids too.  They had already read through the pile of books they had brought from home.

In the evening, Becky had arranged for all of us to get together with the worship team from their church for an impromptu worship jam session.  Deciding to walk to the church, we had to brave a field of weeds and wild grasses which reached up past my knees, and even higher on my girls!  It was a real feat of bravery after the jam session when it was dark and the critters were more active!  I carried Evangeline both directions.  Chasing after baby frogs proved to be very entertaining for our 18 month old, Cosette.  We love that she is as-0f-yet completely fearless of bugs and critters, a notion that goes against the very fiber of her parents’ being.

The evening started with pizza, and Don, the most devoted hot sauce aficionado I know, inspired me to drizzle some of his special sauce on my pizza slices.  So good!  I get tired of the simplicity of my girls’ taste when it comes to pizza.  Uninspiring plain cheese pizza.  But, drip some spicy sauciness on it, and it takes on a whole new life!  Thank you, Don, for reminding me that sometimes, what you need in life is a bit more spice!

The kids ran off to play “peg-your-neighbor-with-a-light-weight-ball,” a game that is surprisingly addicting once you give it a try.  I tore myself away from it to join the grown-ups on the stage, and while the kids continued to get along great with their new friends, Becky got us going on her guitar with old favorites we did back in our Illinois days.  Don took his position on the drums, Jessica grabbed a mic, I was steered to a keyboard (the acoustic piano was a bit removed from the rest of the group), and the rest of the party jumped on other mics and a bass guitar.  In no time, we were jamming like we’d been doing it for years.  It was such a great way to get a bit closer to God and each other.  This went on for some time and Jessica and I got to share a couple of our hymn arrangements as well, and when everyone felt that it was time to wrap it up, we had the opportunity to make a brief presentation about our mission work in France.  Thank you Becky for your spontaneity – we really enjoyed that memorable evening.

Evangeline and Cosette hanging with new friends in the church pulpit!

Driving around in Southern Illinois, and even Eastern Missouri, something about the landscape, the hills, rolling waves of green trees and yellow fields, and a difference in architecture – with seemingly more personality, stronger, darker, older – all these things and more combined together to strike a familiar chord inside me.  A comforting, nostalgic, stilling melody that whispered “home” to my soul.   I hadn’t been sure anymore, but there was no doubt left: we are Northerners.

I’m not sure why I originally included Krispy Kreme in the title of this post, because I don’t think we had any doughnuts that day, but do I really need an excuse to mention utter perfection again?

Back to School and more

It’s been way too long since I’ve taken time to write on the blog.  Much has happened since we took our trip to Illinois.  There was a lot of catching up to do with work, emails and the like, and resettling into a semblance of routine.  As a result, not only was my plan to take you with us on our trip via the blog delayed because of how busy the trip was, it was then pushed back even more from lack of time afterwards as well.  And though I was about to knock out a day or two of our trip tonight, I thought it best to fill you in on what’s new with the Martin-Weber’s since we got back.

That being said, I’ll still give you a quick recap of our excursion to Illinois.  It was beautiful, hot, cramped in the van but only for a few hours a day (so glad we stuck with that idea); it was full of people, old friends, new friends, online friends, many new acquaintances, and more than a few strangers, country folk, city folk, people in cars, people riding the L, people walking in the streets of Chicago and cramming into shops on the Magnificent Mile or exiting one of the numerous theatres in a gush of bodies.  It was sharing our vision for missions in France with very interested and encouraging people, singing one of our hymn arrangements in a worship service and explaining why France is a mission-field at all, listening to people’s stories and praying.  There was so much on this trip.  Caves, Kripsy Kreme, a giant metal jellybean, the Chicago beach, family in St. Louis, a motorcycle ride for 2 of our kids, fast food and tasty food.  The van did great!  Thank you, God!  And so much more, I really do need to finish up our daily diary.

With all these people we met, we still have a lot of following-up to do.  Things are taking off with The Leaky Boob (the online community Jessica started in support of breastfeeding Moms that has turned into very real ministry opportunities), and we’ve had back-to-school plans to nail down.

Today was the first day of school for Lavinia, Helena and Evangeline.  They went to a tiny Waldorf school in town and loved it!  Jessica and I enjoyed some serious productive time.  We had some friends from Dallas stay with us this past weekend, and the Dad, Tim, offered to look at our little Honda Accord to see why it decided not to start for us anymore.  He was amazing; he replaced the motor for the window that had been permanently open and got the car to start, only to inform us that there’s a serious problem with our motor, and the 15 year old sedan should really be replaced at this point.  This was the car we bought right around the time Ophélia was born.  It’s funny how much you can get attached to things.  I know it’s just a car, but it’s also a collection of memories, and an important part of our last 12.5 years.  Our family has also grown to such a point that we’ve come to rely on 2 cars to continue doing all the things we’re a part of, including going to church together – something we haven’t been able to do in 2 months or so.

I feel like I’m kind of all over the place in this update, but here are some concrete things you can pray for (see also the Prayer needs tab):

  • selling and replacing our faithful sedan
  • back to school adjustments (including my teaching schedule)
  • changes in The Leaky Boob
  • our fundraising: still aiming for full funding in the next few months
  • decisions about our future
And you can give thanks with us to our loving God for our 15-year milestone in our marriage, still deeply in love and looking forward to spending the rest of our lives together, and Jeremy’s 35-year milestone earlier this month!

Day 3: Devastation and Delight

Yesterday, after a disappointing free breakfast at the motel – am I just getting old? – we left Miami, OK around 10:30 a.m.  Twenty or so miles later, we stopped at the Welcome Center in Missouri to pick up some pamphlets, thinking maybe we’d stop to take in some local Missouri sights on the way to St. Louis.  I stayed in the car with the girls while Jessica ran in.  A long while later, Jessica runs back out and says that she’d talked with a man who offered to help her who happened to be from a local town called Joplin.  Joplin, Missouri, does that ring a bell?

Just a couple of months ago, Joplin, MO, was hit by a massive tornado.  The man at the Welcome Center knows the area well, and offered to tell Jessica which was the best path to take to see the damage inflicted by the tornado.  Jessica saw a learning opportunity for the girls – not necessarily schooling as much as life lesson – and accepted the offer.  The man then picked up a pamphlet with a small map on the back and drew little arrows with his ball-point pen to indicate the route we should take.  Once Jessica was back in the car, it didn’t take long for us to decide that this was more important than visiting a museum or visiting some interesting caverns (way out of our price-range, as it turned out).  And so we explained what was about to happen to the girls while we drove the few miles to the exit where we were to start our personalized tour.

No amount of explanation could have prepared us, any of us, for the devastation that we saw.  Sure, we saw some images in the news, but they are nothing like seeing the real thing.  At first, we drove down a charming, winding road flanked by green grass and trees.  Then a few houses dotted the side of the road, and we entered a completely normal residential area.  And then everything changed.  It was like a scene from an apocalyptic movie.  On the left side of the road, nothing noteworthy.  But on the right, it was carnage.  Half of the houses we saw were moderately to greatly damaged, roofs caved in or gone, and something like an empty field in the background.  It wasn’t until we followed another arrow or two that we saw the true devastation of the town.  That empty field looked more like a battlefield: most of the houses were razed to the ground.  Only the occasional partial house was left, with words spray-painted on whatever remnant of wall there was, like “Gas Off” and “We’re All OK” which, instead of being the joyful testimony of lives spared, to me attested more to the fact that so many others weren’t “OK.”  All that was left of one house was its chimney.  There were heaps of debris, as big as a house, or two houses, sometimes sorted by material-type like the demolishers are doing to our neighborhood school – only their demolition was planned.  Apparently the twister was 3/4 mile wide and made a 6 mile long path.  When the tornado warning sounded, the local hospital had 24 minutes before the beast slammed into it.  Windows blown in, walls crumbling, patients dragged outside by the wind, everyone bloody, and back-up generators damaged so that the lights went out and stayed out.

I was shocked to see how much debris was still present on site, and that volunteer clean-up crews were still gathering pieces of debris by the armful as we drove by.  I thought that after 2 months, it would all look ruggedly clean.  It goes to show just how massive the destruction was.  One third of the town, from what I gather.  And yet, there were signs of new life.  The bare trees, sentinels watching over the ravaged landscape, stripped of leaves and all but the largest of their branches, are sprouting new leaves – a strange sight, as the leaves have nowhere else to grow but right on the tree trunk itself.  And construction has started in spots, the empty shells of new houses erected, future walls, future homes.  Over 115 dead.  But I haven’t seen a number for how many people are now homeless, jobless, widowed, orphaned.  In the end, no one in Joplin was spared.  Everyone has been hit and rattled to the core.  It was a moving experience for me to drive through the ravaged town of Joplin, to consider the deep wounds not only of the landscape but especially of the people of Joplin.  I will never hear of another tornado strike with apathy again.  If your church is looking for a way to make a difference this summer, or this fall, consider helping out in Joplin.

If you are interested in reading more about the tornado that hit Joplin, the New York Times has a good one here.  I don’t have any pictures to offer, but there are plenty online if you do a simple search.

I don’t have a good segue to lead into the rest of the day.  After searching in vain for a rest area or some sort of park that would work for lunch, we gave up, exited and parked in a Taco Bell parking lot, under a tree, with a grassy area just beyond the curb.  It wasn’t too hot in the shade, and it was only after Evangeline freaked out over her fear of ants and we explained to her that fire ants don’t live this far North, that I realized I could take my shoes off.  And so I did, and enjoyed the feel of the soft green grass under foot.  The grass up North is not the same as the grass in Houston or in Florida, where my grandparents lived and where Jessica grew up.  Northern grass (I’m sure it has a better real name) is so soft that it’s a real delight to sink your toes into – especially compared to St. Augustine grass!

In the evening, we finally arrived at our friends’ house, Don and Becky Long, just North of St. Louis, just across the Mississippi in Illinois.  We did stop for Krispy Kreme doughnuts right before arriving.  Having missed our chance in Dallas, we didn’t want to make the same mistake twice.  And just as we walked into the store, the “HOT” sign came on and we got ours right off the moving contraption – hot, soft, and melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness!

We then spent a wonderful evening with our old friends, Don and Becky, reminiscing and catching up on all that has and is going on in our lives.  It is a blessing to reconnect with friends and feel like nothing in the relationship has changed, that even after nine years you can pick things up right where they left off.  It was a beautiful night that none of us wanted to have end, but that we finally cut off at 3:00 a.m. so that we’d get at least a few hours of sleep.

For the girls it was an evening of hard playing, discovering the joys of an unfinished basement used as a giant playroom, and observing, giggling over and catching frogs.  We noticed a distinct lack of mosquitoes, to which our friends replied that it was probably because of all the tree frogs they had.  The frog chorus was loud and lasted a good long while.  Jessica and I think we might just have to bring some back to Houston with us.  We’d rather have an abundance of frogs over mosquitoes any day!

Day 2 – highlights

It’s been another long day on the road to Illinois.  Long but good.   It’s late, we’re all tired, and the internet is a bit sketchy at this Microtel, so I’ll stick to a few highlights and memorable moments:

  • Thoroughly enjoyed reconnecting with Tiffany, who we hadn’t seen in 7 years or so (this will be a constant theme this trip).   She and Josh, her husband of 3 months, welcomed us into their roomy apartment like it was no big deal, even though they already had 2 boys staying with them, which Tiffany had just driven to St Louis and back to pick up that very day.  The kids played together all morning, and it was sad to have to split them up, closer to 4 than the 2:00 I thought might be our departure time.
  • Jessica, Helena and Evangeline had the opportunity to meet Karen and her kids in person this morning.  Jessica and Karen met thanks to the online HG community that Jessica has been a part of that supports women who suffer through the kind of very difficult pregnancies we have, and when Karen heard that we’d be going through Dallas, she really hoped to be able to meet face to face.  Her family has been through a lot with jobs and relocation (and pregnancies).  The grown-ups had a great time and the kids really hit is off!
  • Singing kids tunes and an old hymn or two at the top of our lungs to distract the little ones: Old MacDonald (you should try putting a donkey on his farm), Holy holy holy, Head & Shoulders Knees & Toes, and an original from Becky (yes, another old friend of ours) called “Fried ham,” to mention a few.  Definitely a highlight.
  • Saw the deer in time to slow down and avoid it tonight.   Also definitely a highlight.  Thank you God for your protection.  Lavinia asks “what kind of deer?”  A bit rattled by the encounter and confused by the question, I say “doe, a deer, a female  deer?”  and then I had to explain that I wasn’t kidding.  : )
  • Got to pay $2 for 3 miles on a turnpike.  I had to explain to Jessica, who was looking for something in the car when we went through the toll-booth, that I wasn’t kidding.  Then when we exited the highway, we were refunded 75 cents.  Really not sure what to make of all that, but it was memorable.
  • Laughed to myself thinking that Jessica, my girl from Florida, gets to stay in Miami tonight.  Miami, Oklahoma!
  • Checking into the Microtel tonight: “how many adults?” “two” “any children?”  “yes”  ah the surprised reaction when I said 5 in response to her asking how many!  Followed by her excusing herself to speak to a manager, who clearly didn’t want to make any kind of decision about this large family wanting a room with 2 queen-size beds!  He shrugged his shoulders, we got the room, and now everyone is asleep but me.  The sleeping arrangements, for the curious: Helena and Ophélia in one bed, Jessica, Cosette and me in the other, Lavinia on this cushion-covered window bench thing, and Evangeline on a 3-pillow nest under the desk.  No complaints from anyone.  What a cute family we have!

I will now go to bed and finish this tomorrow.  Who knew highlights could be so wordy?

Our journey to Illinois, day 1

Perhaps the most difficult part of any trip is the actual departure.

Sunday, July 17, I woke up at 6:45, like I do every Sunday, to go play for the 9:15 worship service at St. Andrews Presbyterian church in Houston.  It was an early start to the day, after a late night making 4 double batches of muffins, Cake Pops and People Puppy Chow for the road.  What fun is a road-trip if you don’t have yummy snacks?!  Meanwhile, at home, Jessica and the girls were packing and cleaning.  But the thing is, it’s really hard to focus on things like packing and cleaning when you’re so excited about going on a trip!  I got home after my enjoyable morning at church, and joined right in on the preparations.

Lavinia was very concerned that we hadn’t yet gone to the bookstore to buy the last book in the Percy Jackson series, which she was hoping Jessica would read to the girls on the road.  She kept coming up with ideas as to how, where, and when we could stop to purchase the book.  Jessica and I kept answering that we’d have to see, that we didn’t have the time right then, but that we really wanted to get the book too.  It was hard to stifle a smile every time because we had already procured the book and stashed it among the schooling activities we were taking along; they’d never think to look there!

We finally rolled out of our driveway at 5:00 in the afternoon, after some friends dropped by, and we visited with 2 wonderful neighbors who just had to see our family before we took off.

We made 2 stops on the way to Dallas.  The first one was in Huntsville, because Jessica and I could not face another 3.5 hours in the car without coffee.  The second was in the middle of nowhere; there are a lot of in-the-middle-of-nowheres between Houston and Dallas, as the girls fascinatingly point out.  That stop was to change a stinky diaper (TMI?  Just the reality of traveling with small children, for us!).  That stop was also the point when we pulled out the first ziploc bag of muffins; banana muffins, as it were, and still a little frozen.

I’ll spare you the details of the very long couple of hours left, where patience was tested, little ones were restless, and there were always multiple things going on at once with the kids (music, reading, movie, eating, drinking, crossing that proverbial dividing line between seats, practicing French, etc.)

We were very happy to arrive at our friends’ home in Dallas, around 9:30.  We visited for a while and hit the sack.  Now, Monday morning, Jessica is off to La Madeleine to visit with a friend, the kids are playing here at our friends’ house, and we’ll plan on driving half-way to St. Louis after lunch.


  • Jessica took the girls to the homeschool store near our house to get an activity book each; they came home with 3 or 4 each.  They love them some workbooks!
  • We improvised with the trunk of the van so that the cooler would be a bit more accessible without it having a bunch of stuff on it or crushing other stuff under it.  A wooden board and a couple of crates later and we have 2 levels in the trunk.  We’re very proud of this creative structure.  I hope to share a photo later.
  • At just the right moment, when kids were getting restless and it felt like we might start in on whining yesterday, Jessica produces the book no one thought we had, and so the saga continues, much to the surprise and delight of our children.

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