Merry Christmas from Ralph, Pam, and Beau Soule

Pictures/collages to accompany this update can be found at this location.

Pam turned the big "five-ohhhhh." Beau announced that his mom was half a century old to his high school classmates and teachers, a real surprise, er gift. It was nice that some teachers emailed to wish her a happy day.  She didn't want a party, but just to quietly ease into her 5th decade without too much notice.

Beau turned 16 in February. We’re sure that his high school was aware of this also. Number one son Bryan (23) graduated from University of North Florida in April. Beau’s classmates certainly were aware of this since Beau got two whole days off in order to attend.  Ralph and Pam are very proud of Bryan for graduating and of Beau for working so hard in high school.

Pam’s friend, Janay, who she’s known since the age of 13, came to visit from Nevada. We also connected with Pam’s brother, Rich, when he came to work in Williamsburg. We took Rich to dinner at Christiana Campbell's tavern (George Washington's favorite) in Colonial Williamsburg. Pam always considers it a real treat to see Rich.

Pam's mother Betty passed away; she is greatly missed, but Pam and her sisters are even closer now and remind themselves of wonderful memories of their mother in their frequent phone calls. Pam has even become a Skype “geek,” much to Ralph’s surprise, with her sister Nancy’s tutoring.

Ralph and his team delivered two aircraft carriers with Newport News, CVNs 77 and 70. He still plays soccer on Sundays, but leaving the house at 6:10 am is too early for Pam and Beau to be interested in watching the games.

Ralph's dad was so intrigued by the netbook that Ralph bought that Ralph had to cut him off at the Best Buy and get him a Macbook Air.

We took a vacation to Cato, NY to visit dear friends, Sherryl and Jon, stopping to tour the Gettysburg battlefield on the way. Ralph and his brothers helped his parents, Joan and Lyle, celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Joan pointed out that her parents and grandparents all were married for 50 years or more – no pressure there!

All our love to you and wishes for a great holiday and a wonderful new year! Both Ralph and Pam are available on Facebook if you want to “friend” us. A longer version of this letter with links to pictures is available for those who dare at http://rtsoule.squarespace.com/soule-family-update/. Our email addresses are rtsoule198214@aim.com and pamsoule@soulefamily.org.

Our son Bryan graduated from the University of North Florida with a degree in History at the end of April. It only took a little coaxing from Ralph to get him to go through the graduation ceremony-Bryan is not much for ceremonies. We attended the graduation with Ralph’s parents, Joan and Lyle. After the ceremony, the mother of Bryan’s girlfriend Sara invited us for dinner at her home. The trip was very short, just two days, but it was a true delight to see our Bryan graduate. One of the highlights of the trip was that Bryan gave his graduation cap to Beau (he could not fit it on his head anyway, proving they were only adjustable to a point), making Beau feel very special.

We were definitely graced by the presence of Pam's high school friend Janay. The two ladies arranged an action packed schedule of touring, visiting Pam's favorite places including local sights in Yorktown and Williamsburg, Monticello (Pam’s favorite) and nearby Charlottesville sights that included a winery and staying at a bed and breakfast. The visit of Michelle Obama and her daughters put a crimp in their Monticello plans, turning a two-hour visit into a five-hour visit - making the whole visit more even more unforgettable than normal.

Ralph keeps very busy at work and with soccer (Sundays only). His team and Newport News delivered two aircraft carriers this year, first the USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) after construction, commissioning, and trials and then the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) after completing its refueling overhaul. He started two blogs, one just at work (behind the firewall) and one on his own website. The last overhaul of the USS Enterprise (CVN 65), the world's oldest nuclear vessel (pronounced “wessel” for you Star Trek types) continues to challenge everyone associated with it, Newport News started the refueling overhaul of USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) 29 August, and USS New Mexico (SSN 779) conducted new construction  sea trials before, during, and after Thanksgiving. In what little spare time there is, Ralph and his senior managers are working on a performance improvement plan designed to get better support from Navy headquarters and improve the ability of Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Newport News, to influence the shipbuilder to improve their processes and results.

We made a short excursion (ten days) to upstate NY in August to visit friends, stopping at Gettysburg to tour the battlefields (something that has been on Ralph's list for some time). Pam drove nearly the entire way,  leaving Beau in his iPod world and Ralph to navigate (Pam's personal GPS) and read (his favorite activity on long trips or just about any time). At the Gettysburg battlefield, there were some appeals from the back seat to the Geneva Convention (unheeded, of course) as Pam drove around the monuments and observation areas under Ralph's direction and narration of battle trivia. Ralph had made only a brief detour to the bookstore, under the watchful eye of Beau lest he get lost in the shelves browsing. The cyclorama (360 degree painting) was particularly impressive. While we were visiting our friends at their house in the hamlet of Cato, we went to Syracuse (about 40 min east) to sample the bill of faire at Dinosaur BBQ (local favorite) and tour the Erie Canal museum (learning that the traffic signal for cars and the Brannock Foot-Measuring Device for shoes also had their origins in Syracuse). Ralph was summoned for a one day trip to DC unexpectedly, but we hardly noticed. Beau and Ralph attended a Renaissance Festival, saw the movie “GI Joe,” and played mini-golf. On our last day, we all went to the Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls (next door to the church where the Declaration of Sentiments was signed in 1848), and toured the House of William Seward (stabbed the same night Lincoln was assassinated, part of the same plot) in Auburn, NY.

Beau update. He is making good progress and working very hard at getting through high school. The challenges of a kid with autism are many; Beau is maturing and handling life very well. He’s made wonderful friends, and participated in a bowling league this past summer. He made the trip to NY with flying colors and charmed people in Cato NY. He is in a very supportive environment in high school, although being grouped with other kids just like him is a challenge for him and his teacher.

Pam lost her mother, Betty, in June. This was, of course, very difficult for Pam, but as life goes on, she’s found herself enjoying being closer to her two sisters. They’ve supported each other through this time; it’s been a blessing to have them. Pam is helping Beau in getting through high school day-to-day. Sometimes it’s a moment to moment challenge, but all in all the path is going smoothly. She is still taking a break from active work in massage therapy, but studying to recertify in late 2010 or 2011. She is connected to the massage world through friends and previous coworkers. She’s been asked to write for the AMTA, and thoroughly enjoys being connected again. Mid November, she was hoping to take a trip to a beach house at Nags Head, NC for a fun weekend with friends, but all came to naught as tropical storm Ida (formerly a hurricane) combined with another storm and came up the east coast, drenching Hampton Roads and coastal North Carolina, closing bridges and tunnels.. We stayed above water, but Nags Head was hit hard. 

Ralph and his brothers helped his parents celebrate their Fiftieth Wedding Anniversary in September. He received help with the guest list and identifying the venue from Lyle's buddies at the VFW and each of his brothers contributed to the event. We ate dinner at La Bella Italia in Virginia Beach.  Some of the photographs Ralph took can be found here http://picasaweb.google.com/ralph.soule/JoanAndLyleS50thWeddingAnniversary?feat=directlink.

Ralph had to prematurely "retire" the BBQ we have owned since 2000 since it caught fire. Ralph argues the fire was due to natural causes and that it could have happened to anyone, but the other occupants of the house are dubious.