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., and they have three children. SSGT West completed military service at Camp Minden, LA on Aug 23, 2009.

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!