Tag Archives: Illinois

More old friends, and some new – day 6

It would have been obvious 2 months ago when the trip was a current affair which day of the week it was, hence the use of numbered days in the post titles on the blog.  But now, it has occurred to me that not even I am clear on the flow of the days.  So I looked it up.  Day 6 was a Friday.  We left Houston on Sunday, day 1.  So far, we’re talking 5 nights away from home, and only one day away from arriving at the furthest point on this trip: Chicago.

We stayed at the Hampton Inn in Bourbonnais.  I had recently found one of my piano and French students from way back on Facebook and he told us that if we were in need of lodging, his girlfriend worked at the hotel and could probably hook us up with a room.  Our plans to find a place to stay weren’t panning out, so we ended up taking them up on the offer.  It was a treat to have a few nights where we could wind down as a family and just enjoy each other’s company.  Thank you Frankie and Megan!  Let me just throw in also that I’ve stayed in a few hotels in my lifetime, and when it comes to breakfast, the Hampton Inn is doing something right.  That’s enough for repeat business as far as I’m concerned!

After the breakfast feast, we went driving around town, taking in more sights that utterly bored the kids: our second home, the duplex where Lavinia was born, the McDonald’s we would walk to for hot fudge Sundaes when Ophélia was still in a stroller, the area where we took Ophélia trick-or-treating for the first time, dressed up as an adorable Christmas present with armholes that wouldn’t allow her to drop her arms.  Poor thing, but she was really cute!  And we also dropped in on our friends-from-way-back John (the most amazing chiropractor in the world) and Savannah, whose kids Jessica used to nanny and are now all grown up.  I wanted to snap a picture of a local Mexican restaurant chain called Taco Johns for our Houston friends (Houstonians tend to be very proud of their Tex-Mex), just because of their tag-line, something like: “Best West-Mex in town” or something or other.  This may shock some of my Texan friends, but mexican food in the North is pretty darn good, as I recall!

The day was more of the same old feeling of familiarity mixed with the unmistakable marks of change.  It’s been years since we’ve been back and so much of the area hasn’t changed a bit.  And yet, much of it has changed.

We had a wonderful time reconnecting with the Henning family, the owners and teachers of “Dance in the Light” ballet studio.  They were very interested in hearing about all that has been going on in our lives, and what’s just over the horizon.  And we loved hearing about all of their stories as well, as we had some catching up to do with Ruth and her 3 daughters, all of whom we got to know through their instruction at the studio.

We wrapped up the day by meeting our amazing friends Thom and Rhonda, and Soleil and her fiancé Rich, at Monical’s pizza, perhaps the most popular pizza chain in the area.  Jessica taught the owner’s daughters voice lessons way back when.  The local Monical’s tradition is to color your pizza with French and Ranch dressings.  They actually bring both dressings to the table in squirt bottles, and though I once mocked and disdained the mere thought of such an odd and unrefined custom, I eventually tried it and discovered that it was way more tasty than I expected.  I can be a real snob.  But I’m open-minded.  You should definitely try it too!  It was a wonderful evening of reconnection and our kids and their kids running around and being super-cute.

And then we crashed in our hotel beds, looking forward to our first day back in Chicago!

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?

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!

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.

Please visit our prayer needs page.  We value your prayers.

Trip to the Windy City

Today we had our minivan worked on to get it travel-ready.

It wasn’t our first choice, as it has proved to be rather unreliable for long trips in the past, but having looked into rental options, we were shocked at how expensive a two-week minivan rental would be and had to consider alternatives.  We even looked into train fares.  I admit that the idea of jumping on a train to Chicago seems very romantic and relaxing to me.  But it limits the possibility of us getting together with people we know on the way.

After all, this trip is not just a sight-seeing and trip-down-memory-lane-type excursion (Jessica and I met and were married in Chicago!), but an opportunity to catch up with friends we haven’t seen in a long, long time, and a chance to invite more people to join our prayer and financial support teams (I’m sure some sight-seeing on the side is in order as well).

So our minivan got a physical today, and one new CV-joint, some kind of bolt/hinge thing replacement, a transmission, radiator and power steering flush later (and some other details), and it has lost much squeakiness and seemed to purr happily when I took it out tonight.  It’s exciting to see that piece of our upcoming trip get ready.

Now we need to nail down our schedule, get meetings with friends and people whom God wants to have hear about our mission endeavors in France, plan where our overnight stays will be, make sure we have enough funds available for it all, and thank God He knows all the other details that need to fall into place as well.

Please pray that this will be an encouraging trip, one that knits our family closer together (that’s a lot of people in a small space for a long time!) and allows us to reach our goal to be at 80% or more of our funding by August 1st.  If you are along the path from Houston to Chicago and would like to meet with us, please let us know!  If you aren’t, but would like to hear more about our story, let’s talk about a skype call, or an old-fashioned phone call!

Thank you for your continued prayers, encouragement, and support.  We are excited to see what experiences God has in store for us in the next few weeks.