Staff SGT Donald Wayne West, Jr., enlisted in the United States Army National Guard on September 11, 2001. As part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Company A of the 150th Combat Engineers served active duty Aug 29, 2004, until Dec 30, 2005. SSGT West returned to college in January, 2006. He married Lauren Ritchie June 9, 2006, at Seaside, Fla. Their son, Donald Wayne (Trey) West, III, was born March 19, 2007. SSGT West completed military service at Camp Minden, LA on Aug 23, 2009.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

SSGT West Completes Term of Military Service


When I answered the phone at 7:30 this morning, a quiet voice on the other end asked, "Hey, Mom. Do you know what today is?" A little baffled, I encouraged Wayne to continue. "It's my last day in the Guard," he replied. "Eight years. Over. Done."

For the next several seconds, we each held our phones in silence. Traffic whizzed past Wayne's car. My own pulse pounded in my ear.

Our eight-year journey started in 2001 as a simple discussion how to help finance Wayne's education at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss.
Who knew the day he enlisted in the Army National Guard would become known as 9-11?

Four years later, our nation still grasping for answers, Wayne boarded a planed headed to Iraq - the most difficult day I've expererienced as his mother. And thankful as we are for his safe return, we still mourn with those families whose soldiers returned in coffins.

Tonight, there are no marching bands. No waving flags. No cheering onlookers. But we who are safely settled with the ones we love are grateful for valiant soldiers like Staff Sgt. Wayne West - who now joins a host of honorable veterans who have truly helped to make America a home for the free and the brave.

Thank you, Wayne. Well done, Son. Well done.

Friday, February 22, 2008

SSGT West Transfers, Says Farewell to 155th BCT


After Wayne returned from Iraq on December 22, 2005, he moved to Louisiana to finish college at LSU-Shreveport and to be near his fiancee, Lauren. Following their wedding during the summer of 2006, the couple established their home in Louisiana, where their son, Trey, was born last year.

After Wayne and Lauren both graduate from college in May, they will continue living in Minden, La., where Wayne will be attached to a National Guard unit at Camp Minden.

Wayne said thank-you for all of of us who were forever changed by his deployment and faithful service to his unit, his brigade and our country.

We'll keep you posted where we're blogging family news next.

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

In Memory of Glenda Powdrill

This morning, we received tragic news that Myron's sister, Glenda Powdrill, died in a one-car accident last night.

According to The News-Star, Glenda sustained fatal injuries when the SUV she was driving overturned on New Natchitoches Road in West Monroe, La.

The car crashed just before midnight while she was reportedly traveling westbound on Louisiana 838 (New Natchitoches Road) in a 2003 GMC Envoy when the vehicle traveled off the right side of the road, the report said.

Glenda apparently overcorrected, then overturned. The release also stated she was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident.

Alcohol use is not suspected to be a factor.

Myron and his other two sisters are with his parents in Louisiana, waiting for the body to be returned from autopsy later tonight. Arrangements will be finalized tomorrow.

Glenda was a respected registered nurse; a faithful wife to Jerry; the loyal daughter of Katherine and Mack McCormick; loving sister to Myron, Maxine and Sandy and mother of two grown children. We will miss her.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Sgt. Galatas' Wife Publishes "A Soldier's Courage"


Remember Norris Galatas, the soldier for whom we've been praying during his courageous battle for recovery from wounds he received in Iraq? Well, his wife, Janis, has written a book chronicling their journey.

Auntie Tracye forwarded a recent email from Janis, just before the book came out. "Norris will spend another year at Walter Reed until they can get rid of the MRSA infection and repair his damaged colon. This will mean two more surgeries. We will just suck it up and drive on," she said. That's the spirit of this couple.

You'll add to their support when you click here to buy Janis's book from Amazon.

Congratulations, Janis!!
And thumbs up to you, too, Sgt. Galatas!

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Monday, December 31, 2007

A Unique Way to Start the New Year

Years ago, Mary Weeks and I shared a conference hotel room in Houston. While there, a housekeeper severely damaged my cello when she accidentally dropped a heavy iron onto the instrument’s soft-sided case. Mary bought me a first-class hard-sided case to prevent that from happening again. Every time I open the case to play my cello, I remember Mary’s generosity. She’s been an instrument of goodwill to lots of other folks, too.

Mary and I haven't seen each other for a long, long time; but she was a regular reader of Wayne's World while he was in Iraq.
Last year she started her own battle:
Mary Weeks-Ayala, 44, has endured 18 months of chemotherapy to adequately reduce the number of tumors in her liver to make her eligible for surgery. Already part of an elite three percent who survive Stage IV colon cancer past 12 months, Mary now needs money for two operations to keep her alive.

Click here to read Mary's story in her own words.

The short version is side effects from intial surgery and ongoing treatment to reduce the number of tumors in her liver forced Mary to give up her job as an accounting professional. To make matters more difficult, her husband recently lost his forest-products related job.
Their only insurance is an expensive COBRA policy.

At the end of her blog post, Mary and her husband humbly ask for our help now. They need 4,500 people to purchase one gift album from RIBBONS FOR MARY, the online store they set up to earn money to pay for two operations Mary needs to save her life.

Buy a gift. Save a life. Here's how you can help:

1. Click here or copy and past this link into your browser window.
http://aayala10.ordermygift.com/Products/Thumbnail.aspx?ctg=14287&ast=443938&rtl=14287

2. OR, if that doesn't work, Click here .
- When the new window opens, click the "General Collections" tab in the top left corner to choose your album.

Thanks for your patience and your compassion.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Merry Christmas from the Wests


Wayne, Lauren and Trey thank all of you for the love and support for the last two years.

Click here to watch their touching Christmas video.

(If the above link doesn't work, try to copy and paste this:
http://www.elfyourself.com/?id=1610296053 )

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Tell Them Thanks



Kathy, a regular contributor to our 150th BCT family chat room, introduced us to the "Tell Them Thanks" campaign. Watch this short video, to learn an easy, unintimidating sign to signal your support and to say thank you, whenever and wherever you want to.

This weekend, Myron and I are saying thanks to SSGT Wayne West and his wife, Lauren, for sharing their son, Trey, with us.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Days of Infamy



Within the living memory of Americans are two deadly surprise attacks against the United States: Japan's assault on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Both times, the Library of Congress sent people out to record the voices of ordinary Americans as they reacted to a changed world.

Listen to voices of these Americans reacting to each incident, as produced by American RadioWorks. (Note: This content may require the latest RealPlayer, which is not available on Windows 95, Mac OS9 or Linux systems.)

[A portion of this post has been removed by the author.]

Death is difficult, even under the best of circumstances. One 13-year old boy seems to understand it better than most of us. Listen to Logan's phone call to a local radio station.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Taste of Dixie Thunder

In the wake of Operation Iraqi Freedom, one journalist and one photographer from the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal spent 30 days in central Iraq with the 155th Brigade Combat Team to bring everyone back home a taste of Dixie Thunder. We remember well.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Prayers for Sgt. Grayson "Norris" Galatas


While most soldiers attached to the 155th ponder news of their alert status, Sgt. Grayson "Norris" Galatas is still fighting for his life, two years after returning with our brigade.

Sgt. Galatas was wounded April 19, 2005, when the 10-ton Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck (HEMTT) he was driving exploded after running over a 155mm artillery round.

Today's email from a concerned 155th aunt asks us to pray for his healing:
SGT Norris Galatas has yet another infection, and now is facing surgery #21! This time his buttocks wounds are infected, not the abdomen, where he just had surgery to clear out an infection there. He has got the staph infection that is going around the country... He has a long road to recovery and still walking it in faith! Please pray for him and his wife, Janis.

If ever I start to feel pressured by the busy-ness of the holidays, I promise to pray for Sgt. Galatas and other wounded warriors instead.

155th Brigade Alert Hits News


Online family discussion boards were active yesterday with news the 155th Brigade Combat Team has been put on alert for possible mobilization in 2009.

In this article, published by the Commercial Dispatch in Columbus, Miss., Maj. Gen. Harold A. Cross points out the Department of Defense order is an alert, not a mobilization order - which would mean deployment is imminent. The alert does, however, direct more money and equipment to the unit for training, he says.

Meanwhile, Wayne is now living in Minden, La., completing final exams for his next-to-last semester of college at LSU-Shreveport. He is a Finance major.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

2007 Nutcracker Parade


The 24th Annual Nutcracker Parade is now in formation. One by one, soldiers are snapping to attention, mustering memories as they march to the beat of a distant drum.

Each Christmas since Wayne was born, our family has bought a nutcracker to guard the coming of a new year. Stationed in a position of honor, he heralds our hopes and defends our dreams. In staunch silence, he protects what we hold dear.

Two years ago, our nutcracker parade featured a soldier of honor dressed in army camouflage to welcome Wayne home three days before Christmas.

Today begins a new round of waiting. The phone has rung again. All is quiet, very quiet, on the home front...except for our prayers.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mother's Day 2007


Before Trey was born, other women told me next best thing to being a mother is being a grandmother. With that in mind, this post will conclude Wayne's World. We thank all our readers, many of whom shared comments and links to other worlds.

We are especially grateful to all the men and women who continue to serve in the military on behalf of the United States of America -- including Wayne, who is continuing his commitment to the Army National Guard.

Thank you, First Sergeant West. We salute you.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Seems Like Only Yesterday


On June 9, Wayne and Lauren will celebrate the first anniversary of their wedding at Seaside, Florida.

This Mother's Day weekend, the couple are sharing their love with Lauren's folks in Minden, LA.

When I talked to Wayne a minute ago, he was poolside, soaking up some sun, after having completed a week of final exams at school.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Donald Wayne West, III (Trey)



What joy! Today, Wayne and Lauren welcomed the newest member to their family -- a nine-pound, 19-inch baby boy they named Donald Wayne West, III. Mother and baby are both doing well. Daddy Wayne is bonding in the nursery.

All 22 visitors in the waiting room are clammoring for a view!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Wedding Day

By any stretch of the imagination, this is not an official recap of the wedding week, but one story deserves special treatment this morning.

During the rehearsal dinner last night, I was sitting next to Wayne when he phoned Patrick Bacon, his best man and battle buddy from Iraq, seated only two tables away.

"Dude! Did you hear the news today? They got him. Zarqawi is dead, as in d-e-a-d," Wayne reported.

Eyes wide, mouth open, head thrust forward, Patrick pulled his fist toward his chest with a defiant, "YES!"

Two men, two veterans - 'brothers from another mother,' as they say - nodded to each other, smiled, then lifted their glasses to acknowledge a great wedding present.

This is one mother who smiled with them.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Minus Seven Days - Not So LIttle Anymore

Later today, we'll load up and hit the road for our WWIF (wedding week in Florida). I haven't slowed down long enough to really think about how close the wedding is.

What I have thought about is how fast the time went by from when Wayne was a little boy, picking up shells at the beach.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Minus Nine Days - 155th to be Honored Thursday


According to The Clarion Ledger, the Mississippi Armed Forces Museum, which chronicles conflicts from the early 1800s to the present wars in the Middle East, will soon be home to a monument honoring thousands of soldiers who braved the battlefields of Iraq.

A monument dedicated to the Mississippi National Guard's 155th Brigade Combat Team will be unveiled Thursday at the museum at Camp Shelby just south of Hattiesburg.

Camp Shelby opened in 1917, and tens of thousands of soldiers, including the 155th, which spent most of 2005 in Iraq have trained on its 136,000 acres.

The brigade was made up of 3,500 Mississippians and marked the largest deployment of Magnolia State soldiers since World War II -an era in which 100,000 soldiers trained at Camp Shelby.

The brigade -with members from Pennsylvania, California, Washington, Texas, Puerto Rico, Virginia, Missouri, New Jersey, South Carolina, Vermont, Utah, and Arkansas - was attached to the II Marine Expeditionary Force.

The monument will join the museum's roughly 17,000 artifacts that include an exhibit honoring Mississippi's 26 Medal of Honor recipients and the 44 Medal of Honor recipients who served or trained at Camp Shelby. The monument will be placed so it faces markers dedicated to World War II, said museum director Chad Daniels.

"One side will be World War II and on the other side will be the global war on terrorism," Daniels said. "The placement is important. The 155th has a lineage with the 31st Infantry Division from World War II, also known as the Dixie Division, which is directly across the street from where the 155th monument is going to be."

The 155th deployed from Camp Shelby in January 2005. Fourteen Mississippians died in Iraq. Purple Heart medals were given to 123 soldiers for combat injuries or deaths. Other medals that went to members of the brigade include 328 Bronze Stars, 2,000 Combat Badges and one Silver Star, said Maj. Gen. Harold Cross, Mississippi's adjutant general.

The monument "commemorates the service of the Mississippi National Guard personnel and the other service personnel that served with them in Iraq," Daniels said. "It's something that when these fellas come back they can show their children and their
relatives, 'Here is something I was a part of."'

The museum opened four years ago on a base with a fascinating history. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, the first Japanese-American to serve in Congress, trained at Camp Shelby with the Japanese-American 442nd Regiment. It became one of the most decorated units in the war.

Camp Shelby was also a prisoner of war camp that housed thousands of Germans during World War II.

Today, the camp is training soldiers for duty in Iraq and other crisis areas. Nearly 20,000 soldiers have trained there since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Retired Gen. Emmett H. "Mickey" Walker, a decorated World War II veteran and former head of the National Guard Bureau under President Reagan for whom the museum is dedicated, has said the facility at Camp Shelby rivals any military museum in the world.

The monument dedication will coincide with the annual Mississippi National Guard Retiree Day, which gives former soldiers a chance to reunite and see the changes being made at the base, said Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Tim Powell.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day 2006



Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day because it was a time set aside to honor the nation's Civil War dead by decorating their graves. It was first widely observed on May 30, 1868, to commemorate the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers.

For this family and many others like us, Memorial Day will never again be just another day to play golf or to sleep late.

This time last year, we were learning lessons about sacrifice as did other military families before us. Only ours was more immediate.

We weren't waiting to receive handwritten letters. (Thank goodness! I think I got TWO all year!) We strained to hear the ding of Yahoo Instant Messenger. We huddled over our computers hoping for an email, or at least a new post from Kevin Kelly. We scanned family message boards, grateful to share good news.

Sometimes, silence was deadly.

Whenever communications were cut off, we held our breath--knowing in all probability, one of our soldiers would not be coming home alive. Like some horrible lottery, we waited with other mothers, wives and girlfriends, wondering who would get the one phone call or visit they dreaded most. This morning, I'm particularly sensitive to the pain of those families in our brigade who lost a loved one.


It is the Soldier, not the reporter,
Who has given us Freedom of the Press.

It is the Soldier, not the poet,
Who has given us Freedom of Speech.

It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer,
Who has given us the Freedom to demonstrate.

It is the Soldier, not the lawyer,
Who has given us the right to a fair trial;

And it is the Soldier--who salutes the flag,
Who serves the flag, and
Whose coffin is draped by the flag--
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

By Charles M. Province
To all our men and women serving or who have served in the Armed Forces, and to those families who have endured hardship for the cause of Freedom, thank you.

"Now the Lord is that Spirit:
and where the Spirit of the Lord is,
there is liberty."
1 Corinthians 3:17
God bless you all.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Eleven Days and a Wake-up

Although it's 11 days until Wayne's wedding, it's only five days until we leave for Florida. We've got out-of-town guests in our home for the Memorial Day weekend, I'm in the middle of magazine production and I've got another story to write for Hot Springs Village Voice before I go. It also might help if I pack...check, after I go shopping.


Unlike our middle son, Bret, I'm not sure I could make it as a newspaper journalist. I'm too finicky about about my "writing environment." Conversation is off-limits. Television playing in the background is a definitely taboo. That's particularly unfortunate, because my home office has no doors, and I'm right around the corner from the living room, my husband's easy chair and the constant chatter of the box.

Most music doesn't work, either. Music with words or a beat is a big no-no. My mind automatically jumps to the rhythm or the lyrics.

I've found only one thing that assists my creativity: Solo Piano Radio - Music to Quiet Your World.

Television is on in the next room, where Myron is also giving a carpet-green putting lesson to his guest. The wife is also up, and she's talking on the phone to her daughter back home.

Now that I've already served everybody breakfast, it's back to the June cover story, for at least another hour...and a little more volume on Solo Piano Radio in the headset.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Minus 16 Days - Combat Diaries Tonight on A&E

My friend, Josh, over at Biggie Fries, posted a reminder to watch a documentary tonight about his Marine friend's combat unit.

Tune in to A&E tonight at 8 p.m. CST to view Combat Diary: The Marines of Lima Company.

Click here to watch a preview.

If you can't watch tonight, additional airings are:

Thursday, May 25 9pm/8C
Friday, May 26 1am/12C
Saturday, May 27 8pm/7C
Sunday, May 28 12am/11C & 1pm/12C
Monday, May 29 8am/7C & 2pm/1C

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Minus 18 Days - How Old Are You?


Take the Eons 50+ Challenge

Lately, I catch myself taking deep breaths and saying, 'You can do this. Take the long view. Everything's gonna be alright.'

I've worked hard to quit being such a control freak. A few years ago, I nearly slapped the person who told me my determination to be a good mother was really more about misplaced pride than it was about my son's well-being. Now, I want to slap anybody who says when a daughter marries, you get a son; but when a son marries, you're SOL.

One good thing about living in a retirement destination like Hot Springs is nearly everybody is in transition of one sort or another. But nobody sits around and whines about being old. We embrace the opportunity to give back, make a difference and leave a legacy.

Eighteen days away from Wayne's wedding day, I realize the only way I'll keep sane is to enjoy the moment, and the next moment, and the next moment, and the next moment...

Yesterday, I got a shot in the psychological arm when I opened the mail to find an invitation to think ahead from Eons, a company celebrating life that begins at 50.

"We're inspring a generation of boomers and seniors to do more, see more, learn more and be more on their way to the reachable goal of living to be 100," the company literature says.

To encourage us to take the long view, Eons will award one lucky person $15,000 to help achieve the #1 thing you want to accomplish in your life after 50. People who register will receive one chance to win for each goal entered. The more goals, the more chances to win.

Want your chance at the $15,000? Visit Eons 50+ Challenge and share the #1 thing you want to accomplish in your life.

Use prize code 30952. (Must be 50+ to win.)

I feel better already, just from having started my list.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Minus 26 Days - Lessons I've Learned from My Son

Blip… Blip… Blip…_____________________________.

Everything was fine until the fetal heart monitor flat-lined, 12 hours into hard labor.

“Your baby has turned breach,” the doctor said matter-of-factly, summoning the delivery team. “We need to do a C-section…now.”

Less than an hour later, you were born healthy and whole, thank goodness. The night of July 1, 1983, you taught me it’s not how you start, but how you finish, that really counts.

By the time you were four, we were well into homeschooling—not just for you, but six other children with whom you shared your room and your toys five days a week for seven years. Instead of sleeping late on Saturday morning, you popped out of bed, ready to scour neighborhood garage sales for new stuff we could ‘show the kids on Monday.’ You taught me the best way to learn is by teaching someone else.

At seven, you were ready to see the world.

“When will you take me on an airplane?” you asked one early summer night, wide-eyed as I tucked you into bed. Where? “Disneyworld, of course,” you continued. “We can look for a good deal in the travel section of the Sunday Times.”

By Sunday, you had a goal. Four days, three nights in Orlando - including airfare, rental car, hotel and continental breakfast – for $1100. I agreed to spring for park tickets if you could come up with $1100 in 12 weeks.

By Wednesday, you had a plan. “Remember when the youth group at church was going to paint house numbers on the curbs, but they never did? I could do that!”

By Friday, you were on a mission. “Your Number’s Up – Curb Painting by Wayne West” was a new business on the block. With a tool box containing disposable gloves, a set of stencils and two cans of spray paint, plus a fanny pack carrying business cards, a pen, a receipt book and change – you were ready to conquer the neighborhood.

And conquer it you did! You painted over 200 curbs, learned how to bank, how to tithe, how to save and how to write thank-you notes. The week after Labor Day, we boarded a Delta jet with a flight crew so impressed by your efforts, they introduced you as their honored guest to the rest of the passengers. That summer, you taught me how to work a dream from the end to the beginning.

But what happens when an otherwise stable kid moves to a different city and has to start traditional school for the first time as a six grader – all while his parents are getting a divorce? You not only made new friends, but you also made the honor roll and were voted “Most Christ-like Student” by your peers. That year, you taught me it’s not the hand you’re dealt, but how you play your cards that really matters.

Then what happens when a promising athlete’s high school closes unexpectedly four weeks before his junior year, and he has to choose between a familiar school in his home town or a strange boarding school eight hours away? You took the high road again, accepting a scholarship to Baylor School in Chattanooga. On your own now, you continued to choose the right path, earning recognition for leadership and achievement in academics and sports. During those two years, you taught me what you do is based more on who you are, not so much on what you have.

Finally, what happens when a college freshman enlists in the National Guard to help pay for tuition the same day the Twin Towers get bombed? You didn’t back out. Instead, you prayed in front of an entire congregation, “Father, thank you for the authority you have set in the earth. Bless our President and members of the houses of Congress with wisdom to make good decisions for our country. Bless the parents of those of us who have been called to serve with the courage to let us go.” That day, and during 16 months of active duty in Iraq, you taught me difficult decisions are based on principle, not convenience.

Back on American soil now, you’re ready to spread your wings again, this time on the warm currents of love.

As you begin a new life with Lauren, your precious bride, I honor you for the man you have become. I remind you of lessons already learned—how to work diligently, to save regularly, to give sacrificially and to love lavishly. I gratefully acknowledge the cloud of witnesses who have helped us along the way. I treasure the blessing you have always been, and now bless your going out with the empowering presence of the One from whom all blessings flow.

Love, Momma

P.S. Brush your teeth. Have nice manners. Use good judgment.
And call me.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Minus 49 Days - There's No Place Like Home

Imagine my delight when other journalists covering Albuquerque's Tricentennial Celebration told me this weekend's edition of USA TODAY recommends our hometown of Hot Springs, Ark., as a great place to houseboat.

In family news, Wayne's aunt Teresa (my sister) called yesterday with another great story about her 7-year-old daughter, Sarah Grace. Asked by her teacher to write something about 'patience,' Sarah penned, "Patience is when your cousin is in Iraq and you are waiting for him to come home safely."

Now, just how precious is that kind of faith?

Wayne has been back in the States for 122 days now. Every one of those days is precious, too.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Minus 52 Days - Generating Traffic after Easter

Most of you have met our entire family, but for those who may have forgotten, let me reintroduce Wayne's Aunt Teresa, and her quite bright 7-year-old daughter, Sarah Grace, both residents of metro Atlanta.

On the way home from Easter service at church Sunday, Teresa prompted Sarah's thinking about Jesus' mother by saying,"If you could ask Mary one question, what would it be?"

In a split second, Sarah answered: "Did you nearly pee in your pants when you saw that stone had been moved??"

I decided today the entire driving population of India must think with the same lightening speed as Sarah. Have you ever seen how those people drive? Watch this!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Minus 55 Days - Married and Preparing for Marriage

Thanks to everybody who has emailed asking if everything's OK in Wayne's World. Yes, we're fine, and especially grateful that Wayne has made such a smooth transition back to civilian life. He reports for Alpha Company's first drill since their return from Iraq the first weekend of May.

Since we last posted, kidnapped journalist Jill Carroll was released by her captors. Our readers joined thousands of others praying for her release. In fact, one of our brief emails to her was published in the CS Monitor and broadcast on CNN. We join her parents in thanking everyone who supported their successful efforts to see their daughter returned safely.



In our own family, things have stayed busy. Since our last post, Wayne grandmother, GG, married Wilford Pickett. Shortly afterward, they moved to their new home in Hot Springs Village, America's largest gated community.


The Picketts' new home overlooks the Ouachita Mountains, a special delight for GG, who has longed to live near mountains ever since she left her childhood home in north Georgia.




About the same time, our friends and mentors, Dr. and Mrs. George Monta, came to Hot Springs to perform my official ordination to Christian Ministry. Other friends and family joined us from Louisiana for the ceremony held at Lookout Point Lakeside Inn.


Shortly after that, our good friends and former Soldiers Angels, Bill and Ellen Walker, along with Von and Beaure Talbot, hosted a lovely cocktail buffet shower for Wayne and Lauren.








The night of the shower, our Hot Springs friends braved a torrential rainstorm to enjoy Ellen and Von's gracious hospitality and good food, as well as to honor Wayne and Lauren.

Other than that, we've made a couple of trips to the coast - one to Florida, another to Califonia.

Next week, we're headed to Albuquerque.

Happy Easter, everyone!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Mnus 104 Days - Need a Letter?

The only thing bigger than Samara O'Shea's smile is her heart.

In the business world, the twenty-something Manhattanite is associate editor for Country Living Gardener magazine. In real life, the tall blonde-for-the-moment author of Letterlover.net is a ghostwriter for anybody who can't quite find the write words to get a message across.

"I've always found letters to be an effective way to give someone else true insight into your hidden thoughts," she said at lunch Wednesday. "Letters can bring harmony where there is bitterness or even closure where there is emotional chaos."

At 20 cents a word, Samara's sentiments are cheaper than flowers, less fattening than candy and last longer than a kiss!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Minus 108 Days - Warm Thoughts in Icy Weather

Temperatures plunged in Arkansas this weekend, driving most folks inside for a long winter’s nap. For us, even church was cancelled.

Speaking of church, my sister, Teresa, forwards the online version of her church’s weekly newsletter to the family every Friday. This week, she tagged a couple of sentences tucked away in her pastor’s remarks with this question, “Guess whose little girl he’s talking about?”
(The pastor is speaking of her daughter, Sarah, Wayne’s 7-year-old cousin.)
It's Thursday afternoon and I am still basking in the glow of our Global Impact Celebration…Already some have shared with me incredible stories about their Faith Promises. One little girl made a Faith Promise of about $40, which is her entire savings. After hearing how some people in Haiti eat mud to survive, she was moved to give all she has to global outreach.
In a follow-up email, Teresa shared, "Sarah said a prayer at lunch that Sunday thanking God for her food, and prayed 'for those who sometimes have to eat dirt to fill their bellies.' She continued, her asking God 'to give them the faith to suffer through it.'"

Actually, our family comprises a history of faithful Christian servants, including pastors, music ministers and classroom teachers. In preparation for additional responsibilities, I’ll be formally ordained to Christian ministry March 2 by my good friend and mentor, Dr. George Monta, who will be arriving with his wife Thursday. We've planned the ceremony at Lookout Point Lakeside Inn, a beautiful bed and breakfast inn here in Hot Springs, owned by Ray and (Rev!) Kristie Rosset.

While the Montas are here, we’ll travel to Louisiana this weekend to celebrate my mother's marriage to Wilford Pickett, a true southern gentleman and Baptist deacon from Delhi, LA, who swept mom off her feet last fall. The day after Christmas, while seated near a window viewing the fireworks from Cinderella’s Palace at Disneyworld, Wilford admitted to her, “That’s how you make me feel, and nothing would make me happier than for you to become my wife so that we can spend the rest of our lives together.” (Awwwww!)

Today, I’m scrambling to finish the March issue of Hot Springs Life & Home magazine before I fly out tomorrow to squeeze in a press tour to Honor Mansion, a beautiful bed and breakfast inn located in Sonoma wine country, 60 miles north of San Francisco.

Down in Louisiana, where the roads weren’t quite so treacherous this weekend, Wayne and Lauren were either studying or getting ready to study for their first statistics exam on Wednesday. Otherwise, everything seems to be progressing right on schedule for their wedding in June.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Minus 126 Days - Rehearsing for Dinner in Seagrove Beach

In Poland, the Catholic tradition of Candlemas celebrated on February 2 is called, "Mother of God Who Saves Us From Thunder." We need it today here in Destin, Fla., where heavy thunderstorms are forecast all day and into the night.



I’m here with Debra Lindley, formerly Operations Director for the Louisiana Folklife Festival for the past 11 years.
After hurricane Katrina soaked up the funding sources for her job in our sister state, she decided to move to Hot Springs. I’m taking full advantage of her event planning and floral design talents to help me plan Wayne’s rehearsal dinner at the Old Florida Fish House, an casually upscal new restaurant just past Eastern Lake, headed east on scenic Highway 30-A.

To help choose the rehearsal dinner menu, we tried seafood gumbo and corn crabmeat bisque for our soup selections. Fresh mixed green house salads were enhanced by homemade dressings. Debra chose blackened redfish with angel hair pasta and crawfish tails for her entree. I had grilled tournadoes of beef with scallops and lump crab meat nested under a delightful hollandaise-type sauce. Double yum!

Right now, we’re staying Gulfside at the Holiday Inn on the Beach, a three-star family-oriented hotel now undergoing extensive renovation in preparation for peak season. The rest of the day, we’ll explore other options for accommodations closer than 27 miles to the wedding and rehearsal dinner sites. At the rate traffic was moving on our way in at at 4 p.m. yesterday, a 27-mile trek during tourist season would probably take two hours. Seriously.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Minus 128 Days - We're Jazzed!

For 16 months, Uncle Sam has held up the yellow ribbon in our front yard, showing our support for Wayne until he returned from Iraq. Although he actually arrived at Camp Shelby on December 22, it wasn’t until this past weekend he came to “Momma’s house” in Hot Springs for the official yellow ribbon cutting ceremony.




Rain on Saturday turned into sunny and mild weather on Sunday. After sharing communion and Wayne’s favorite breakfast, we all headed to Isabella , one of eight golf courses at Hot Springs Village, the country’s largest gated community. The other three golfers in the foursome agreed our returning soldier would shoot par or below before the match ever started.


Sunday evening, Wayne and Lauren arrived to a standing ovation at the Hot Springs Jazz Society’s annual membership dinner and dance, as president Bob Seekatz thanked him for his service on behalf of the United States. Throughout the evening, blog readers and other friends congratulated Wayne on his return. He’s probably never been hugged and kissed by so many mature ladies since his arrival at the Dallas airport when he came home on leave in September!

The house is relatively quiet again, except for Angel, our canine boarder who has been a guest while Wayne’s grandmother has been out of town.

Debra, Wayne’s adopted aunt who enjoyed touches of Wayne’s humor throughout the weekend, is also still here making plans to move to Hot Springs in the near future. She and I are leaving today, headed to Florida to finalize plans for Wayne’s rehearsal dinner. My guess is we’ll drive through Louisiana close enough to drop off the computer he left at “Momma’s house.”

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Minus 131 Days - Joy Unspeakable and Full

After Wayne and Lauren arrived yesterday, we eached gulped down chicken salad wraps before heading to the theater to see Queen Latifa's new movie, "Last Holiday."

In this delightful remake of a 50-year-old flick, a mousey New Orleans department store employee who learns she has a terminal illness decides to turn her "Book of Possibilities" into "Book of Realities." Her last wish is to be cremated, saying, "I lived my whole life in a box. I don't want to be buried in one."

After the movie, Lauren spent a couple of hours discussing wedding dreams from her notebook of possibilites with my talented friend from Louisiana, Debra Lindley. A few feet away, Myron stroked the carpet with his new Scotty Cameron putter by Titleist, which he says he 'bought as a present for himself to celebrate Wayne's homecoming!' Around the corner in the office, Wayne finished a couple of online quizzes for a college management class before it was time to dress for the evening.

To celebrate Wayne's official homecoming to Hot Springs, we made reservations at Chef Paul's restaurant, rated 3 Diamond by AAA and winner of Wine Spectator's Award of Excellence.

Refined sophistication is tempered with personal touches to create a comfortable ambiance at this popular dining destination. Guests are seated amidst specially commissioned paintings by Carole Katchen, one featuring Chef Paul Uher (pronounced "you-er"), andChef Jeff, brothers who own Chef Paul's. Katchen used the restaurant as a background to feature special friends in other paintings. Paul's father's shaving mug collection from around the world accents the decor.

During dinner, Chef Paul visited with us for over an hour, describing his recent appearances at Harrods of London and a castle in Scotland. Laptop in hand, he also introduced us to Uher Cookin’ Wild, a weekly 30-minute wild game cooking show he hosts on the Men’s Channel and Healthy Living Channel.

Born in upstate New York, Uher described his hard-working parents as 'the best in the world.' His mom was a soprano with perfect pitch and a innate knack for details. Uher's dad followed his own dream by getting into the restaurant business at age 52, after having taught mentally challenged children for 20 years. Paul and Jeff obviously inherited their parents' legacy of hospitality, which we enjoyed last night.

"I can say without qualification," he recalls proudly, "when my mother and I did a party together, there was never, never, never a time things didn't go perfectly."

And things certainly went perfectly for us. Elegantly satisfied from the meal and thoroughly inspired by our host, we headed home. Each of commented how our evening at Chef Paul's seemed like a real-life continuation of the movie we had seen earlier in the afternoon.

The beautiful irony, as I told the others in the car, is that when I interviewed Paul last year, all his recent accomplishments were just dreams written in his own spiral notebook. Now, his possibilities are becoming realities.

Congratulations, and thank-you, Chef Paul!

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