Update on Peter Capaldi who was in Local Hero

To all my fans who read and re-read the post about Local Hero, the movie – I have written in my original posting about Peter Capaldi who played Danny Olson, and mentioned his guesting on The Vicar of Dibley and his winning of an Oscar for a short featurette he worked on with another person.

Peter Capaldi is the man who has just taken over the role of The Doctor in Doctor Who. It is airing in the UK, and can be seen on BBC America. I have not got that channel, and so far have not seen Capaldi in the role. I am eagerly awaiting the chance to see him.

He is just a favourite of mine, ever since I first saw him in Local Hero back in 1983, and watch a couple or three times a year ever since.

Carol Stepp
Austin, TX

Following is a copy of the original posting which I wrote four years ago.

Local Hero could probably be called my favourite movie. This is not because I think it is the best movie; there are others I like equally well. I call it my fave, though, because if I could only have one movie on a desert island, or in some other situation where I would have to choose, this is the one I would choose.

It has a number of things in it that make me say that: actors – one of the main characters is a Scotsman named Gordon Urquhart, and he is played by Denis Lawson. I have liked Denis Lawson since first seeing him as Wedge Antilles in the original three Star Trek movies; he played Luke’s wingman in all three, and had a major role in Return of the Jedi when he flew with Lando Calrissian into the Death Star. He played the family patriarch in the Masterpiece Theatre version of Bleak House.

He is also uncle to Ewan McGregor.

Other stars of the movie inlcude Peter Riegert, Peter Capaldi, Fulton McKay, and Burt Lancaster. It is a story about a smart oilman named McIntyre who is sent by his bosses at Knox Oil and Gas in Houston, TX, to buy up this seaside town named Furness in Scotland, to put in an oil refinery and pipeline. And it is about his adventures in Scotland, where he is like a fish out of water. It is a really funny, but sweet, film, and was produced by the same man, Bill Forsyth, who produced Chariots of Fire.

Mac is a really smart businessman, but he has no clue about life itself, and the little nuances of everyday living. He meets a Scotsman who works for Knox, played by Capaldi called Danny Olson, and we are led to believe that Danny is a sort of bumbling laddie. By the end of the show, we learn that Danny is by far the smarter of the two. Peter Capaldi himself appeared in a couple of Vicar of Dibley episodes, but a few years ago, he won an Oscar for a short film he produced.

Burt Lancaster plays a man named Happer who inherited Knox Oil and Gas from his father, who bought it from the family named Knox, but did not change the name. In the process of trying to buy this little town, the hangup turns out to be a man named Ben Knox who actually owns the beach, and the deed is in a Museum in Edinburgh. The beach was given to the Knox family by the Lord of the Isles some 400 years before as a thank you for a very Scottish gift.

Happer is a big astronomy buff, and is looking for a comet. He tells Mac to watch for it in the constellation Virgo, a concept totally alien to Mac. That is okay, except when it turns out that Ben owns a large telescope, Mac tells Happer who shows up at Furness that Ben is “kind of eccentric; he watched the sky a lot”. The irony is completely lost on Mac. It all results in a Marine Laboratory and Astronomical Institute being planned for the area, and the oil pipeline planted way offshore, and Mac returning to Houston, with Danny staying to work with Mr. Happer.

Along the way we meet a mermaid, see the Northern Lights, see a meteor shower, meet a Russian who sings “Even The Lone Star State Gets Lonely” at a ceilidh, the ceilidh itself, where a real band called the Ace Tones plays, see a young lady with lightning strikes painted on her cheeks and a multi-coloured Mohawk sitting alongside a very old lady on a bench enjoying the same tin whistle music, the same old lady fixing her even more ancient husband’s tie for him and you just know they have been married at least 50 years, an African minister who “came when I was a lad, and just never got away” who calls himself Mordo McPherson, MIGS flying over and bombing the beach (“it’s kind of comforting; if they are bombing the beaches, they aren’t bombing anywhere else”), a group of fishermen who wheel a baby around in a carriage, and no one seems to know who it belongs to; a shopkeeper who is in love with the Russian fisherman, and several other memorable characters and scenes.

My love for Scotland caused me to look up the places the movie was made. Furness is the little town of Pennan on the North Sea, the ceilidh took place in a little town called Banff, a real ceilidh with real people, where the director was allowed to shoot the scenes of the actors at the ceilidh (thus the real band), and the beach scenes were taken at Morar, which is on the west coast of mainland Scotland, right across the Sound of Sleat from the Isle of Skye. You can see the Cuillin Hills in the background of the shots. Scenes were also shot in Arisaig, which I think is what we would call a county, and that is probably where the Aberdeen scenes were shot. Of course, the real Houston was at the beginning and the end.

Music: Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits fame wrote the music for this film. On the DVD (and I suppose CD) of CT’s The Show, it is listed as Cal/Local Hero. The song for Local Hero, which Neil plays so well on that guitar, is titled “The Sea and the Sky and the Rocks”. And the Cal part is a neat story. Seems that originally the character Mac was to have been named Cal, but in order to put a little more meaning into the characters naivete about life itself, he was simply named McIntyre, and called Mac. The name of Cal is given to a lesser character in the film, but the name stuck to the music.

I recommend the movie to anyone who hasn’t seen it. I am certain it is probably available through Netflix for renting, or Amazon for buying. It was made in 1983.


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I lost

Really, it is true, Alice won her seat as President of our resident council again, but I lost. But then I voted for the other person myself.

It became clear to me last week, before the elections, that I no longer wanted to be on the Board of Directors at the complex where I live. But by then it was too late to drop out because it would have messed up the election cycle for the time, so I had written out a resignation letter prior to learning the results. Then when I discovered I had lost, I did my little happy dance, right in front of the assistant manager.

I won’t go into the reasons why I changed my mind – it would be inappropriate to say bad things about the place I live. And since I still like my apartment, and like the complex itself, I don’t want to say anything bad about it. So I’ll leave it at I think I lost because I am a bit too principled, and perhaps a little too outspoken about some of the things I see not so good here. Anyway, much as I have felt about the national political scene, I just decided that I am “too old” for some of the goings on around here, and really am ready to take that well-deserved retirement I need. I want calm and serenity around me, and if staying out of the limelight will give that to me, then that is what I will do.

So last weekend, I got 13 out of 15 of the college football games right. The two I missed was a) an upset (South Carolina lost) and b) a mistake I made when I chose one team over another – I actually thought I had chosen Miami over Duke, but when I looked at what I had circled, I discovered I had circled Duke, which lost. Oh this world of college football – the week before I got only 8 out of 15, and the sportswriters didn’t fare much better – a whole bunch of upsets. I do love college football.

As for NASCAR, I am still hoping Dale Jr. will pull out a win or two, even maybe the championship. At least all of Rick Hendricks cars are still in the running.

Otherwise, life goes on, and now I am hitting my goal of “happy” again. I do wish I had heard from my niece again, but she does have her own life, with a fairly new husband, and two grown children, and living in a place where I would probably like to live – Tennessee near the Smoky Mountains. But Austin is where I’ll stay because I could never get as sweet a deal as I have here elsewhere, and I know which side of the bread holds the butter.

I have spent a little time on Facebook lately – not enough perhaps – but at least my friends there are still my friends, and I still love them all dearly. As I do you, my readers. Keep on keeping on, I see rainbows ahead (but then looking through rose-coloured glasses will do that for you).

Ta for now, love you all.
Carol Stepp
Austin, TX

Posted in Economics, Friends, Health, Mental health, personal thoughts, Politics | Leave a comment

Hello again.

Wow, it has been about a month since I wrote anything, but I seem to just not have a lot to write about these days.  Probably because I am not doing much writing about politics.

But, I am fine, and staying pretty busy with my duties as Vice President of our Residents’ Council Board of Directors.  About the only thing I am writing right now is as co-writer of our apartment complex’s monthly newsletter.  Since we are having elections for the next board of director’s on the 26th of this month, I am sort of just waiting to see if I make it.  If so, it will be for the next three years.  Both the president and I have opponents, but we both feel like we are not likely to be defeated.  Obviously I refuse to be arrogant about it, and have no intention of cheering for being a winner until the election is over and the votes are counted.  Alice and I have posted a campaign poster on the bulletin boards because if we hadn’t, perhaps the folks would have thought we were just too sure of ourselves.  So we aren’t letting it get by us without showing some interest, but I honestly think the likelihood of winning again is probably fairly certain.  Of course, I will let you know, and in the meantime, I am not taking anything for granted.  I have been wrong before, and shall be again.

What is going on otherwise is that, of course, college football season took me by surprise, but not too late, and I am as before putting myself up against the seven local newspaper sports writers in choosing the teams to win each week.  I’ve seen some good games already, and am wondering what has happened to the Big 10 this year.  I am also going to think seriously about getting more sports channels because the basic cable we get here at the complex does not have those “premium” channels.  I especially need to get SEC in here.  Admittedly my fave team, Notre Dame, is not in the SEC, and I get to see them on NBC week, but I am also a huge Tigers fan (I know, lots of Tigers out there – just read LSU, Auburn, and Clemson for Tigers), and am not certain of seeing them play every week.

We have been suffering through out standard Central Texas hot temps this summer, but surprisingly, they have not been as hot as they were last year.  Still top 90s, but we have not had nearly as many triple digit days this year as we have in the last couple of years.  Tonight we are having our first “cool” front, to be followed by our first “cold” front tomorrow, so the temperature is not supposed to get above the low 80s.  OK, stop laughing – it really is a relief to us here, but I’m sure some of you are already dealing with pretty cool weather.  I just wish we really had real seasons here – I would love to watch the trees turn pretty colours.

So I’m watching Baylor walk all over Buffalo right now, and really have nothing else to talk about, so I’ll stop for now.  Just remember, I love you all, and wish for peace and love for everyone.  I’ll be back with you soon.  But ta for now.

Carol Stepp, Austin, TX

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Miscellaneous Stuff

My last two blogs were sort of downers, so I thought I’d do something to let you all know I am doing quite well.

The Last Ship:  Is anyone watching this show?  It is a pretty amazing story, and with tomorrow’s episode, will be over for the season.  I am looking forward to seeing how they are going to end the storyline at this point.  By the previews, it looks like it is going to be pretty wild.

Sharknado and Sharknado2:  Is anyone watching these shows.  Sharknado became a big cult favourite last summer, and this summer’s part 2 is just absolutely hilarious.  To begin with, there was a shout-out to William Shatner’s turn on Twilight Zone of years ago, with the shark landing on the wing outside of Finn’s window.  And then to see Robert Hays in the cockpit was a shout-out to Airplane.  And with Finn taking over the cockpit and having to land the plane tied that bit up.  How many of you recognized Kelly Osborne as the stewardess, who loses her head.  Because there are folks who haven’t seen either of the shows, I won’t go into too much detail; there are just a lot of hilarious bits in it, and, an amazing number of folks who wanted cameos – Kelly Ripa, Michael Strahan, Al Roker, Matt Lauer, Andy Dick, Judd Hirsch (driving a taxi), and more.  I understand part 3 is being filmed as I write this.  Watch for the bit about “jumping the shark”.

Actually, I watched a lot of shark movies on SyFy this summer.  The Two-Headed Shark makes me burst out laughing.  How convenient for those two water-skiiers, and those two lasses standing on the pier, that they were just exactly spaced so the two-headed shark could take them both out at once.  LOL.

Jurassic Park and its siblings have been on AMC a lot this summer, and I learned that Jurassic Park IV is also being filmed for release next year.  It supposedly is going to be back on Isla Nublar, and the park is finally going to be opened.  I have discussed with some friends about who will star in it.  The best we can come up with is perhaps the two grandchildren will be the ones who finally open the park, mostly because Richard Attenborough is a bit long in the tooth, his son is dead, and I cannot see either Sam Neill or Jeff Goldblum in their characters wanting to go back.  But after what the two grandkids went through in the first one, I cannot really picture their wanting to go back.  Maybe there is another member of that family we don’t know about yet.  And since the first three movies included storylines about children, I am predicting that the storyline for Jurassic Park 4 may revolve around more children visiting the park.  But no, I don’t have any inside information, and am purely speculating.

Royal Pains:  I haven’t formed a final opinion on this season’s show.  I didn’t much like the storyline about Evan getting involved financially with the gangster-like character.  I like Paige going into business for herself with her former boss, especially if they are going to work truly free-lance.  I am glad Hank got a girlfriend, and has been working as a doctor again, but looking at the previews for next week, I don’t want to see him not become a member of the Board of Directors.  I am truly hoping it has to do with his wanting to just be a doctor, and not because his girlfriend is going to be able to see again.  I liked Divya before she had Sashi, but I think that storyline will get better, and she will be our old Divya again, even with her little girl.  Jeremiah I still like, and I hope he finds himself getting a little less stiff with women.  The sister:  I am frightened of what she is going to do with those prescription forms, and I hope she is found out before she does any more harm to Hank.  She grew up as a con artist, and her selling photos has already got Hank in trouble.  I honestly don’t know if she should become a permanent part of the show; for the time being she is still listed as a guest star.  Finally, this last week, did any of my friends who used to watch All My Children recognize Alicia Minshew (who was listed under her married name as a guest star), who played Kendall, as Joe’s wife?  I had to watch it twice to be sure it was her.

We just had our nominations for the new Resident Council Board of Directors, and elections will occur in September, near the end.  We don’t know the nominations yet, but I know all of us on the present board decided to run again, and I’m pretty optimistic about our chances of winning again.  But I refuse to be arrogant and say we will.  I’ll just have to wait like everyone else.  I am enjoying working with our present, and I hope to be next president, on our newsletter.  I have even figured out a way using my computer to print it out in Spanish as well as English, as we have five households in this apartment complex, who speak no English.

We are having our usual hot Central Texas summer, though we have not had as many three-digit temperatures this year as we had last year.  August is a good time to stay inside, though.

As for politics, I am still a fan of Barack Obama, and hope he will get the backing he needs this coming election to give him the people who will enable him to do more for the US.  I would love to see a bill passed to work on the infrastructure and put more people to work.  The stock market has really been fluctuating, but I think that is just a pattern for the country.  However, I am staying out of politics for the first time in 68 years.  It has been so ugly, and so frustrating, it has done nothing to help me with my stress and depression.  I am very sad that people are having to fight the same fights I did 50 years ago, and to see we are still a nation with too much bigotry.  I hope we grow up soon, or I don’t think our country will be a country very much longer.

So for now, I’m going to close this.  Just wanted to let you all know I am still here, still working on “happy”, and still enjoying my life most of the time.  The news about my sister affected me a lot more than I thought it would, but I know where the blame lies, and I am getting where I need to be.  I’m supposed to be going to Corpus Christi for a visit in the next two or three months, but I’m not sure I can go that soon, since she is no longer there.  We will see.

I love you all, and hope your lives are going well.  And if not, then I am sending you best wishes over the ether to help make it better.

Take care,

Carol Stepp, Austin, TX

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With the death of Robin Williams, at his own hand, caused by severe depression, it appears to me that this blog needs to be written. That is because it is something I know about, and I am seeing that there are many who still do not understand, and are writing bad things about what has happened.

Depression comes in two forms – the rare form which is just a sadness that won’t go away and is treated by MAO Inhibitors, which actually work to change your mood through the drug. The more common form is called clinical depression, and is a physical illness, caused because your brain does not put out the endorphins your body needs, and is treated by SSRIs. These are known by names such as Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Celexa, and other brand names. I would not be arrogant to try and tell anyone what they need – Paxil works perfectly for me.

Paxil basically stops the stoppage of endorphins in my brain so they can’t be spread throughout my brain, and raise my mood naturally. They must be taken with some conditions, such as not using NSAIDS (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.), which can interfere with their use. Because it is a physical condition, I cannot ever quit using my Paxil.

Some problems people have – alcoholism, drug-use, over-eating, nymphomania, shopping til you drop, and such other disorders – can be related totally to depression. I was a drinker for years, and when I finally quit drinking, I started having anxiety, mild agrophobia, panic and other stress conditions that were finally diagnosed with the help of a very good psychiatrist, and I underwent therapy with a psychologist and a medical therapist twice in order
to come to terms with it.

And in these economic times, with a Congress that won’t give anyone help, doesn’t seem to care about the people, the people that are losing their jobs, their homes, cannot feed their children, cannot get another job, and especially men who feel useless because maybe their wives are having to support the family (men suffer sometimes worse than women, but women suffer too), and the problems raised by lack of money or sleeping on the street, or a having to ask for government help when they have always been self-sufficient, depression is actually an illness running rampant now.

Sometimes you just need someone to talk to, but if it is bad enough to need chemical help, you need to start out with a psychiatrist because s/he is who has to prescribe, and watch over, your pharmaceutical usage. Once you have it under control, most regular doctors will prescribe your meds for you.

My depression appears to have started when I was very small, when I was led to believe that my father did not want me. I later learned that my mother had abandoned him, and was lying to me and my sister, but by then the damage had been done. I was also continually told that I was no-good, and was going to hell, practically every day of my life. There were some good thing – being in the high school band was a big help for me – but once I got out of school, and moved away from the home I was raised in, I began drinking. I drank for about 15 years, all through the years of Vietnam, and the crazy 60s, but I finally quit in 1973. I had been raped, and had slept around promiscuously, and given away three daughters by then. I am certain that even though I felt rather numb by then, like nothing could touch me any longer, my subconscious decided to let me know otherwise.

Not all the bad things happened to me – my sister being burned badly when I was 16 and she 13, my stepdad who favoured his own two children over me and Patti, the deaths of more than one friend to violence of one form or another, giving away my children, and apparently my distancing myself from friends and family distancing themselves from me, leaving me to fend for myself, all worked over the years to bring me to a state of depression strong enough to cause me to go suicidal, and then to develop PTSD.

It does not seem appropriate for me to detail every little thing in my life that lead to my problems – I got my first therapy in 1989, which carried on into the early 90s. Then I got a job that made me very happy, and was involved in several activities that made me feel good and whole, and I got off the Prozac which I was then taking.

In 1995, the happy little world I had built for myself collapsed, and I went suicidal for the first time. Between my friend Joyce and a cat I had, I was dragged back by into the world, got into MHMR, and was put back on Prozac. After a year or two, I discovered the Prozac was making me mean, and I got on Paxil (apparently going through menopause clashed with the Prozac). I was working again, and doing well. But I was not happy – I was just living from day to day and minute to minute. Finally I found another job I loved, and was doing well for two years. I even tried to get back off the Pax, but a change was made where I worked that left me in a position I hated, and I once again went suicidal.

I saw a psychiatrist who put me back on the Paxil, and went through another round of therapy with a mental practitioner. I finally realized that it was probably time for me to retire, and stay on the meds. I retired (forcibly, actually) at 62, but worked for several years as a temp, mostly to pay for my Paxil, because I had no insurance. But once I got to 65, and became eligible for Medicare, I finally quit working completely. Life still didn’t go smoothly – I discovered two of my friends were not really my friends, and that was discouraging. But I finally got into my housing in 2009, and today I am truly happy.

Yes, I get a body blow now and again – the blog I recently wrote about my sister’s death was enough to take me back to a bad place – but staying on my Paxil (with an occasional Klonopin for extra stress) allowed me to get through this without further damage to my psyche.

Now I am not alone in this – my story is not unique – I would not even write about it, but really, folks, you make a judgment on someone like Robin Williams, and you are most likely making a bad judgment on him/her. Even if you don’t understand the exact reasons why, you need to accept that there is a reason. In Robin Williams’ case, I know there has been some publicity about his depression and his therapy, but really, he was a very public person.

How many of you, meeting him, would expect him to crack jokes to you, and never let you know he was hurting. His publicist and agents were probably on to him continually to keep a sunny face to the world.

Have you seen the commercial about how painful depression can be? This is true. Depression can be physically painful. You either cannot eat, or cannot stop eating. You either cannot sleep, or you cannot, or don’t want to, get out of bed in the morning. You are either a workaholic, or you would rather sit in front of the television, not really seeing it, or anything going on around you.

If you have a panic attack, you believe you are having a heart attack. The symptoms are exactly the same. Then you call 911, and they come and either take you to the hospital, or you refuse to go. Because once the EMTs are there, the panic seems to stop. Then you are left feeling ashamed, or embarrassed, or worthless.

I’m not kidding you, and I bet most of you know someone who is going through exactly the things I’ve mentioned, and you may not know what is “wrong” with them (WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU – SNAP OUT OF IT), and that is just exactly the wrong thing to say to someone going through this. If your loved one, or your friend, will not tell you what is wrong, it is because they are ashamed or embarrassed to say anything to you. Sometimes it may take an attempt at suicide to make you understand. Sometimes the person will go through the motions of suicide, but doesn’t really succeed. That is a cry for help.

But tough as it may be, if you see things like any of the above in a friend or loved one, try your best to get him/her to get help. Sometimes it won’t work, and things go to hell. But most of the time, it can help. If someone wants to talk about something, don’t be tempted to say things that sound trite or uncaring. Listen, pay attention, they are crying for help.

I am always open to listen to people. Being able to talk about my problems, my fears, or just my experiences, helps me a great deal, and always did help. That is why I expressed myself so much over the episode with my sister’s death, and learning about it the way I did. It helped me heal. I am okay, not in any danger of falling back into the destructive things that hurt me for so long (over 30 years), and I will be there for anyone who wants to talk to me.

Please read and think about this. I care for you, and all those who are hurting mentally, as well as physically.

Love to you all,
Carol Stepp
Austin TX

Posted in Friends, Medicine, Mental health, personal thoughts | Leave a comment

Hatred among Families

apologize to anyone who has already seen this, or who knows the story already and have commented to me. But as of today, Thursday, it still has not shown up on my Facebook page, and there are people who need to see it. Please understand I am not milking the event for sympathy – I just need it to be seen more widely. Please bear with me. This is the last time I will send it.

Written Tuesday, August 5, and published then for the first time.

I am feeling a little bitter today. I learned yesterday that my blood sister (we share the same mom and dad) died in January 2013, and nobody let me know. I understand that there are family members who knew about it, and attended a memorial service for her, but her husband convinced the rest of my family to keep it a secret from me. I knew he disliked me, long ago, but I did not realize how deep that hatred went.

I found out quite by accident when I was speaking to my niece, her daughter, by Facebook, which she was rarely on, and never replied to my messages, but she read something I wrote about how I was going to Corpus Christi this coming fall, and I was going to call Patti and see if she was interested in seeing me.

My niece wrote me an email telling me about her death, not realizing I never was told about it. I am horrified that for all this time, she probably thought I did not care because I never sent any cards, made any phone calls, or showed up for the memorial. I did not know about it.

I loved my sister, but she and I, after our childhood, went our separate ways for some years. I to live with our dad, who my mother abandoned when we were still small children, but after I returned in the mid-60s to Corpus, she and I lived together, and spent a lot of time together. After I moved to Austin in 1975, I stayed in steady contact with her, but knew her husband did not care for me, and I tried to stay out of her life to some extent. I used to call her regularly, but Harold would answer the phone, and I finally told her if she needed me to call me. I never heard from her again, and figured she was being loyal to her husband.

Patti was burned pretty badly over 80% of her body when she was 13. She was not expected to live, but she fooled all the doctors and survived the burns. In her later life, she did start having quite a few medical problems due to the scarring, and the trauma done to her body. My niece told me that she had begun having balance problems, and she fell off of a chair. She apparently seemed to be okay originally, but she went unconscious and was taken to the hospital. We underwent surgery for a haematoma, but it was too late, and she died. My niece and her family spent the Christmas just prior to that January, and is so happy she did.

Members of my extended family did not like me because of my political beliefs, and my spiritual beliefs. They are also good Church of Christ folk, who, I guess, felt that I was not worth knowing because of my different beliefs. Very condemning of me, as were outlying members of my family. But it seems extreme that they felt like this extended to not telling me my sister had died.

I learned that one niece knew it when it happened, and she told me she was threatened with being disowned by her family when she threatened to tell me anyway. Part of me understands that completely, considering my own experiences with them, but part of me thinks she should have let me know one way or another within a few months, when it was too late for me to try to go to some memorial or other.

Instead, now that I have learned it, I have heard only from the one niece, who has apologized, and told me how horrible she felt. I actually believe her, and she will not suffer for it. I need, of course, time to forgive them, but I will never forget it. I could pardon it a lot easier had I not now know that I must have had a really black name for not being able to talk to them, or get the news.

Sometimes it is not worth trying to get your family to like you, no matter how long you live, and what you do in later life. But venting this here will start my healing process. This may just be a bit of a warning that if you are estranged from someone you love, you might have this happen to you. I don’t recommend you have to change, but you should be ready for anything.

I will miss my sister Patti, even though I had not seen or talked to her in a long time, because I now live in a world where she isn’t any longer. Patti, I have always loved you, my dear sister.

Carol Stepp
Austin, TX

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My Best Friend

My best friend in the world is named Joyce Tianello Snodgrass. Today, August 4, is her 60th birthday. She is now embarking on her second circle of life, according to Eastern Astrology. But more on that in a minute.

One note before I begin. She happens to share her birthday with a man whom I adore, the President of the United States, Barack Obama. I say she shares because today is his 53rd birthday, and so she had it before he was born. Happy birthday, Mr. President.

Now back to Joyce. I first met Joyce Snodgrass in 1979, when we were both members of the Austin Civic Chorus. We did not become best friends then, though we stood next to one another in the alto section. She later disappeared, and I learned eventually that she had not passed the auditions. I do not understand that because she has a fine voice. But perhaps the director recognized that it was not a voice suited to a large orchestral piece like Handel’s Messiah, which was our traditional fall piece every year. Perhaps it just wasn’t a big enough voice, but she does beautiful work with folk and rock-style music.

Our paths crossed again when we were both employed by the Astronomy Department at the University of Texas. That was when we started to become pretty close, and discovered we shared a the same great, but skewed, outlook on life. We found we shared a love of music, and the outlandish world of the science fiction lover. We were both highly intelligent, and could find humour in the same places many folks don’t see humour.

As our friendship grew, we found ourselves once again working in the same place, a public radio station called KUT radio. She worked in the taping department, I worked upstairs in scheduling. And the friendship grew even more.

But our paths seemed to converge finally as a lasting friendship when I became very depressed in the mid-1990s, and she (and my cat Melissa) were the sole reason I did not commit suicide in 1996. She because she fought for my life, Melissa because I could not find my self capable of leaving her behind. Joyce fought for me again and again through the next several years, and because of her, I live today, having overcome the things that were causing me to despair of life.

She is retired now and living more than 20 miles away, and does not drive into town often. But we stay in touch by telephone, and while she still loves a bit of night life, and has other friends she does things with, and I am happier to stay home these days, we are still close. I think she does not always understand how much she means to me, even though I tell her often that I love her, but she was born in a much more reserved world than I was, where people she grew up with were not as demonstrative as I am.

Joyce has done so much to improve my life, that I feel that today, on her 60th birthday, I need to say so in a much more public way – thus this blog.

Now to the Chinese Year of her birth. Joyce was born in the Year of the Wood Horse. In Chinese Astrology, a cycle is 12 years of the totem, times five different areas of each totem. Wood, fire, metal, air, water. Today she begins her second cycle of the Wood Horse.

The definition of a Wood Horse: Friendly, cooperative, and less impatient, this type of Horse could be the most reasonable of the lot. But s/he will still resist being dominated. The Wood element enables him/her to discipline his/her mind better and s/he will be capable of clear and systematic thinking. The Wood Horse will have a happy disposition and be very active in social affairs. Amusing and a good conversationalist, he is not overly egotistical and will not constantly vie for the headlines.

But as he is progressive, modern and unsentimental, he will throw out the old and welcome in the new. Changes and new inventions capture his imagination and he will not shrink from trying the unconventional.

He will like to explore many other fields, but will try hard to fulfill his responsibilities first. The strong, high-spirited, and sanguine Wood Horse does not have a lazy bone in his body, but he would do well to learn to be more cautious and discerning.

I tell you that Joyce would disagree with many of these traits, the one about systematic thinking, but I think if she really thought about it, she would discover that she really does think systematically about the important things in life, but she occasionally sees importance in mundane and minor things, and hesitates often in wondering if she is doing the right thing. Joyce is married to a very nice fellow, Bill, who is also very intelligent, and an inventor, and I think sometimes he expects things from her that are not reasonable. But she likes him, and I think he is a nice guy, and they have been together for over 35 years, so it works for them.

Anyway, Joyce, happy birthday, have a great day, and a great second circle of life, as long as it goes on. Perhaps you and I will both be lucky enough to attain the beginning of the third circles of our lives, when we are both 120 years old, though I will reach it 14 years before you do.

Love from

Carol Stepp
Austin, TX

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