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Rising from Ruin is an on-going MSNBC.com special report chronicling two coastal Mississippi towns, Bay St. Louis and Waveland, as they rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

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This project is evolving. Our daily dispatches coverage has been retired. Click here to see what happened in the area between mid October and January 1, 2006.

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Dear Steve,

Hope this letter finds you well, and if not, cheer up! Things could always be worse! The reason that this first letter comes to you from age 36 is that all of the other letters I wrote were washed away in the great storm of 2005. Shows what you get for not being organized and having all of the letters together in one place where they could be found. However, I'll try to summarize the advice that I wrote to you before, and probably just keep it on the Internet so that it won't be lost in future tragedy.

First off, when you meet a girl named Heather at John Leon's wedding, just go ahead, drop what you're doing and marry her right off the bat. You'll wind up married to her anyway, and won't ever regret that decision regardless of circumstances.

Pay attention in Spanish class! No, really, you'll really need to know how to speak it, not "just kinda' but as well as you possibly can! Es muy importante para estudio Espanol! (See! You needed it already!)

Credit cards are a bad, bad, bad idea! Stay away from them, stay off of them, don't get any new ones, and try to pay off the ones you may have now. All you'll have to show for them are a bunch of useless things that you'll lose in the storm anyway, and a crippling debt that will keep you from traveling.

When you deliver Ben's honeymoon present, the Ring Cycle painting, YOU drive the whole way!

Keep in closer contact with your cousins throughout the country, as they are so kind, and care for you more than you will ever imagine! (Especially Miles and Frickie Martschink, who are BOTH a lot funnier than you'd believe!)

Don't procrastinate. Write all of those letters to people that you mean to write. Write down and record all of those songs you think of, send off those packages, and do those paintings (but don't just hang on to them! Send them out to people and galleries, and such!).

Be kind in your dealings with people, and try to pursue your interests gently. Leave your grudges behind, as they take up a lot of time, and give you no happiness.

Remember to get the Chinese "chop" that Guangyu gives to you for your birthday, along with Heather's baby picture book. These are really about the only "things" you'll regret not taking.

ALWAYS make sure your insurance premiums are paid, and on Aug. 27, 2005, don't bother boarding up your windows. ... Go to the beach and paddle around on more time instead.

Take care til we meet again,

Steve at 36

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Steve; a good letter to yourself. Feels like the century letter I wrote to self 12/31/99. And Happy Birthday! Hope you and/or Heather can find some place to get or bake a chocolate cake - or any flavor cake you wish! (Just save the chocolate for me, in case I ever make it to Ol' Miss.)

Steve, Happy Birthday

Steve,....man you are rambling.....don't freak out because another year passes.....we are like wine....we get better ...with age....HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!

Dear Steve,
Cousin Nancy, out here in Oregon, how strange that this chain of events has given me the blessing of getting to know you, really know you for the wonderful, resilient person you are through your writing. I think, as another member of the sentimental clan we have sprung from, filling our lives with souveniers and momentoes, how much I want to be like you. Happy 37th, dear cousin. How appropriate to send this message on the strands of electrons rather than on card to stash in a drawer. You were too young to remember meeting me but I hope some day we will have a chance to greet each other face-to-face and not buy a souvenier but make a memory of a good time shared instead. Love, Cousin Nancy

Who cares if Pres. Bush visited? I couldn't care less and neither could most of the residents in these hard-hit areas. I can think of 1000s of other people that would have sparked more interest.

man....it's been several days....do you think .....this will ever be updated?.....i hope mississippi has not been forgotten.....MSNBC....get on the ball!!!

Thank you Steve for reminding us what is important, and what really matters as we journey through this life. Blessings to you and Heather.

Happy Birthday, neighbor!

Let's pray that the hurricanes stay away from the Gulf Coast this year. The ones that fizzle out are always best. Hope this year is better than last year for you.

Steve, now do you really feel any different @37 instead of 36?.....no i didn,t really either....life goes on.....and hopefully.....on and on and......on

I used to live at 1360 North Beach Blvd. in Bay St Louis, MS. Is there anything left of my grand old mansion?

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