Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas

Ah, sweet memories...  

Remember what it was like to sneak downstairs before dawn on Christmas day, seeing that Santa had enjoyed his cookies and milk and then finding piles of gifts under the tree?  Thank goodness some of them had your name on the tag.  Phew!

Uncle Jim and Auntie wish all our nieces, nephews, readers of the Auntie Times and all cats, tabby and otherwise, a joy filled holiday and that everything you wish for comes true.

Auntie and Uncle Jim

Monday, November 19, 2012

Red, White and Fun all Over!

Today is November 19th and a very important day for les Monégasques, the citizens of Monaco. 

It's Monaco's National Day and everywhere you look, red and white flags are fluttering from balconies and windows, children are eating big cookies covered in red and white sprinkles and the Prince and Princess along with the entire royal family make a brief appearance at the palace windows for their annual wave at their loyal subjects.

While all of that traditional hubbub is fun for the first eight or nine times, the real action is just a stone's throw away in Port Hercule, the exact same place where multi million dollar race cars zoom around competing in Monaco's annual Grand Prix in May.  

So, what could be more exciting than all the commotion at the palace?  Monaco's Annual Fun Fair of course!  Monaco's National Day always marks the last day of the three week Fun Fair  and since it was the last day, Auntie and Uncle Jim high tailed it to the Port to try our hands at winning a stuffed animal or two and enjoy an afternoon snack.  Even though Uncle Jim was happy to go to the Fair with Auntie, I think Uncle Jim would take the Grand Prix over a ride on the bumper cars any day!
The Fun Fair is a bit like a North American County Fair, filled with wild rides, games, junk food and lots of people but without the traditional agricultural component, baking competitions and smelly barns.

Sharpshooting Auntie won a nice Princess mug
Auntie loves to play the games. 

Remember the Derby Race where Auntie won a gnome for all of her friends last year ?  Well Auntie lost at the Derby Game this year so there are no nice new gnomes for anyone this year.   

But all was not lost.  Due to dedicated target practice at the shooting range, this year Auntie shot out the centre of 3 targets with a 22-calibre rifle and won a pretty Princess mug.  Easy peasy!

Playing all those games can work up your appetite.  If you have a sweet tooth, you'll find clouds of Cotton candy bigger than your head in 10 different flavours, feather light doughnuts, crêpes with Nutella or Grand Marnier sprinkled on top, crunchy churros, and then wash it all down with some wine or beer.  On Thursday my friend Diana bought 6 candy apples and they were all gone by Saturday! 

I'll confess that Uncle Jim and I love sharing a big plate of delicious Socca and for dessert,  some sugar coated yeast doughnuts that are as light as air and made while you watch. 
The rules of Hop Hop
While Auntie is good at the shooting games, Uncle Jim's an expert at the "Hop Hop" game.  Many years ago, we met the guy who owns the Hop Hop game and he told us that his grandparents started the Hop Hop game and now he and his wife, and their deaf and blind dog continue the tradition and travel all over France bringing the Hop Hop game to Fun Fairs all around France.  

To play the Hop Hop game, you pay 5 and the nice Hop Hop guy hands you about 15 plastic rings, each ring is about the diameter of a cantaloupe.  You stand at the edge of the Hop Hop booth and throw the rings at different do-dads that are each perched on top of little stands.  There are about 100 different things to chose from, from an iPod to a long sausage!

It may sound easy but to win, the ring needs to go all the way around the stand, not just rest on the top of do-dad.

Of all the things there were to win, Auntie liked a cute little light up dog and Uncle Jim went to work trying to win it for Auntie.

Uncle Jim threw one ring after another.  "Paff," "ping," "zoop" went the rings, bouncing here and there.  Auntie was starting to worry that she'd never have that little dog.

Sweat popped up in little drops on Uncle Jim's  brow.  He'd already  thrown almost all of his rings and hadn't won yet.  Uncle Jim had good aim.  but the darned rings kept landing on the dog and got stuck there and didn't fall to the bottom of the stand.  

Auntie's nerves were frayed.  When Uncle Jim only had one ring left, he paused and took a deep breath.  Auntie kissed him for good luck.  Maybe she shouldn't have.  A nice kiss could be distracting for Uncle Jim. The Hop Hop guy stopped what he was doing to watch too. Uncle Jim furrowed his brow and squinted.  You could tell that he was concentrating with all his might.  Uncle Jim lifted his arm, threw his last ring and ... Yeah!  It landed on the dog and dropped all the way to the bottom! Uncle Jim won the light up dog for Auntie with his last ring!  

I've become quite fond of the little dog.  It changes colours every few seconds and it has become one of Auntie's favourite things and a nice memory of this year's Fun Fair.  In fact, Auntie has kept it lit so much that the dog is almost all worn out and the colours are starting to look a bit pale. Time to change the battery.

Last year we won gnomes at the Fair.  This year it's a charming light up dog.  Who knows what we'll win next year?  Maybe a giant stuffed tiger or a goldfish in a bowl.

I'd better ask Uncle Jim to start training now.

Eenie meenie miney moe!

Chestnuts roasted on an open fire


Yeah!  The next fair is in Menton!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Playing with a Full Deck of Cats

Well, would wonders never cease!  Cat has turned up again, this time he's back in France, of all places, smack dab in the same country where his story began.

Isn't it funny how things happen sometimes?  Not an hour or so before rediscovering Cat, I was telling new blogger buddy and writer extraordinare Heather of Arles the riveting story of Cat over lunch.

Do you remember Cat?  Of course you do!  Cat was the furry feline drifter who arrived one day at our house in Menton, cost us hundreds of euro for surgery to remove a dangerous tumour, ate like a pig, became quite fat, and then ran off when we put him on a diet.
Playing cards for every occasion
It all started last Saturday when Uncle Jim and I were visiting Montpellier, a charming city in the south-west of France.

After lunch, we wandered into an astounding toy shop.  While poking around, I was drawn to a glass display case filled with a beguiling assortment of playing cards and Auntie's keen eyesight fell upon a deck of 3-D cat cards.  Of course, Uncle Jim was more than happy to buy Auntie a little gift.
We perched in a little café nearby, ordered tea and cake, and as soon as the waitress scurried off, Auntie tore open the package.

There they were, 52 fabulous cards, each with a different cat printed on them.  The cards were even better than I was hoping.  Along with the 52 cat cards, there were two joker cards but these two jokers were dogs. Ha!

Uncle Jim eyed the cards suspiciously and pointed out that more accurately, they were lenticular cards, not  3-D cards as was claimed on the package.

Lenticular, funicular, perpendicular,  it didn't matter to Auntie.  She was just happy to have those funny cat cards to play with.
Auntie shuffled the deck, dealt out 11 cards to Uncle Jim, 11 cards to herself and thus began our first game of "Cat Gin."

Well, towards the end of a that first cat-filled game, Auntie considered her options.  She needed one more card to win, the 5 of diamonds.  Uncle Jim grinned at Auntie. The air was tense.  I think he only needed one card to win too.  Auntie put out her paw and lifted a card off the top of the pile hoping this would be the right card.  What a surprise!  Not only was it the 5 of diamonds, the card I needed to win the game, but there was Cat, a little chubbier than he was the last time I saw him, staring back at Auntie in all his lenticular glory.  With that I shouted, "Cat Gin" and lay down my cards.

Thanks to Cat, Auntie had won the game.
"Cat Gin!" Auntie wins thanks to Cat!
While Uncle Jim shuffled the deck for our next game, Auntie had time to reflect on the last time she saw good old Cat.  It was in Tokyo a few years ago.  Cat was playing the lead cat in Robert Heinlein's play, The Door into Summer at a theatre in Ginza.  Auntie has a little theory as to how Cat wound up on these playing cards...

Ha ha.  The Jokers are dogs!
Since the cards were made in Taiwan, perhaps the Taiwanese business man who made the 3-D cards was in Tokyo on a business trip.  One evening, he took a break from business and decided to see a play.  Since he was designing cat cards and was, generally speaking, fond of cats, he bought a ticket to see The Door into Summer.

Mid way thorough the play, Cat entered, stage left.  The Taiwanese business man who was starting to doze off after a big dinner of sushi, stood up, pointed at Cat and shouted, "get me that cat!," "he'd make a great 5 of diamonds!"  The play stopped, a deal was struck, and the rest is history.

Who knows where cat may pop up next?  Being immortalized on a deck of playing cards will be a tough act to follow.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Jesus in the Spokes

Imagine our surprise when Uncle Jim phoned our dear, long time friends Jack and Ann to plan a popcorn-fuelled movie night just to be told that Jack  wouldn't be joining us.  He'd been in a serious cycling accident.  Oh no!

After Uncle Jim hung up,  Auntie got the scoop.

Jack had hopped on his bicycle to ride downtown to buy a prop for a photo shoot he was planning for the coming week.

You see, Jack is a professional photographer and a good one at that.

Three of these and you won't feel a thing!
After Jack bought the prop, it started to rain so he put the prop in a bag and hung the bag on the handle bars of his bicycle. 

In an strange combination of fate, irony, and just bad luck, the bag with the prop swung into the spokes of his front tire.  His bike came to a screeching halt and Jack flipped over the handlebars, ass over tea kettle, splat onto the pavement.  Ouch! 

It wasn't a pretty sight.

At the hospital the news was grim.

Jack had a broken rib, a collapsed lung and a broken collar bone.

Poor Jack.

Auntie and Uncle Jim jumped in our car and zoomed to the hospital to visit Jack, bring him some of Auntie's ginger cookies and cheer him up.
Wrong place at the wrong time

When we arrived, Jack was lying in his hospital bed, surrounded by beeping machines.  He looked quite pale and had tubes sticking out of him here and there, making him look like a cross between a pin cushion and a Cyborg.  Not a pretty sight!

Despite the gravity of the situation, Jack was concious and in good spirits, no doubt helped along by regular doses of pain medication and attentive, pretty nurses.

The bedside conversation bounced along and Auntie's curiosity got the better of her. Auntie needed to know what was at the root of all this mayhem.

"What was in the bag that swung into your spokes, Jack?"  I asked.

"Oh, a crucifix."

Auntie's jaw dropped.

"A crucifix?"  I asked.

"A crucifix." replied Jack.  "I was going to use it for a photo shoot I was planning." 

Auntie couldn't believe her ears.

Your time is up!

Did Jesus have it out for Jack with some sort of a karmic message?  Hopefully not.

Well, we can all breathe a sigh of relief now that Jack is on the mend, with nothing more than a few scars, a broken bicycle, a scratched up crucifix and a riveting cocktail story.

Well, as with any dramatic event that intersects with your life, Auntie learned a few things from Jack's experience:  First, we are very lucky to have caring people to help us mend, whether they are doctors, nurses, bystanders or good friends.  And two, if you need a crucifix, have it delivered.

Safety first boys and girls!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Youth with a Mission

Can you believe how quickly this summer has flown by?  Auntie can't.  It seems like just yesterday I was blowing up pool toys, setting out lawn furniture and stringing up my Tiki lamps!

With the end of summer comes the beginning of a new school year for the youngins.  One by one and in groups, they  scampered by my house on Tuesday morning en route to their first day of school.

The little ones, accompanied by their smiling parents, were all kitted out with shiny new backpacks and unscuffed shoes. The older ones slunked by, either alone, or in groups of friends.  This back to school parade gave Auntie a chance to contemplate the younger generation...
If you believe everything you read, today's youngsters are nothing but a bunch of marauding, hoodie wearing bandits, lazy as sloths except for the energy they can drum up to check their Facebook, text their friends, and lift Cheetos and cola to their insatiable mouths.

Auntie knows better than that.  Thanks to nieces and neighbours, this summer Auntie attended two eye-opening events for youth that were very different from each other but at the same time, both offered opportunities to lay the groundwork for a very optimistic future.
Commandant Mark Watson

Not far from the airport in Ottawa, down a long, long road past an expansive lawn with big, noisy jets flying overhead is Hangar 11. Hangar 11 is home to the 742 National Capital Air Cadet Squadron, the largest Air Cadet Squadron in Canada.  It's also where my brave alpha niece, Nora, spends her spare time and energy.

The Air Cadet motto is "Our Youth, Our Pride," and after witnessing their year-end 49th Annual Review, I think they deserve their distinguished title!
Instead of floating around all summer like dandelion seeds, these youngsters from 12-19 years old learn survival skills, travel the world, participate in flight activities and win scholarships.  Some of the keeners go on to earn pilot's licences but in the meantime, they all seem to share the unique feeling of belonging to something bigger than themselves.  What could be a better flight path into adulthood than an attitude of humility, discipline and purpose?

The bake table was a sell out by night's end
I'm sure we'll be seeing many of these Cadets volunteering their time to help others or at the controls of an aircraft.  Be sure to wave or salute the next time you see one flying overhead.

Not long after my memorable visit to Hangar 11, Auntie attended another notable event for local youth.  This time it was the Glebe Collegiate's annual musical extravaganza coincidentally, with a military theme, Battles and Victories. Lucky for Auntie it was taking place right down the street from our summer shack in Ottawa.

A peek inside the fertile mind of the high school student
The neighbourhood buzz was that the event was a sell out and I think the buzz was correct!  The line to get into the auditorium snaked up and down the hallways for half a kilometre so Auntie had a good chance to put her snooping eye to work observing the inner workings of the school.

The bulletin boards and hallways were festooned with class projects and posters promoting the Student Council elections.  Many of the performers were milling around, excitedly anticipating their eminent big moment on stage.

A basketball machine. Michael Jordan, watch out!
The fund raising bake table near the auditorium entrance was doing a booming business and the cupcakes with bright blue icing were quite popular judging by the people passing us with blue lips, teeth and tongues.

At long last the line flowed towards the auditorium and once we found our seats we settled in for a memorable evening of entertainment.

It was a bit like watching an early episode of the popular programme, Glee without the students' backstabbing politics and angst ridden, hormone driven histrionics.

One after another, quartets, choirs, and orchestras performed, each act followed by cheers, photo flashes and applause from the crowd.

Everyone was playing and singing his or her heart out and then, "poof."  The whole thing seemed to be over as soon as it started.

We all wandered home in the warm summer night, our hearts infused with song.

Even though both events couldn't have been more different, they both left me filled with renewed hope and optimism for our younger generation. 

Thank goodness for nieces and neighbours who invite Auntie to these fabulous events!

I can hardly wait until next year!

Timothy Austen, Fearless Students' Council President.  See you next year Auntie!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Things are Looking Down!

When Auntie was a very little girl, one of my favourite TV shows was The Friendly Giant.

"Once upon a time, not long ago and not far away"  the show began as the camera moved along the street of a charming little town. The Friendly Giant's soft, soothing voice would tell us about the town's comings and goings as the camera moved slowly along the street, sometimes past the train station, sometimes past a farm, the general store, or the post office, giving us a little tour until we reached a big boot.  That boot was bigger than one of the town's buildings and that big boot belonged to the Friendly Giant!

Up and up the camera moved from the Giant's boot, up along his leg as he told us to "look up, waaaay up!"  For us viewers, "way up" was past his tummy, past his chest, finally stopping at his smiling, familiar face.  

But that wasn't all.  We went higher still when the Friendly Giant invited us to join him for a story in a turret high up in his castle.  That's about as high up you can get when you're 5 years old without being on a plane!
My Dad was an "up looker" as a child
The Friendly Giant taught us that there were always good things to see when we looked up.

Looking up runs in our family too.  I think I first learned to look up from my dad who was also a skilled "up looker" in his own right.

As a child I was content and happy to look up until my 10th birthday when all that changed. On the way to the nearby skating rink I found a scattering of $2 bills lying on the ground in the snow.  What a find!  After that day I was convinced that looking down was a good thing too.

I still enjoy looking up but I must say that looking down came in handy when Auntie moved to France and looking down meant avoiding piles of stinky dog poo.  

Looking down at Jesus

By far the most interesting thing I've ever seen looking down is when Auntie and Uncle Jim saw an image of Jesus on the 16th step of a staircase while we were descending towards the subway in Kowloon.

No doubt about it, while looking up is quite popular, looking down is easier on your neck and you just never know what you'll find.  

So the next time you walk around your neighbourhood, why not "look down, waaay down"  for a change?

There are some strange and wondrous things down there!
Looking down at a Monarch butterfly

Looking down at a mermaid

This guy knows how to look down

Oh no!  Someone from New York melted!

"Can you please put back the Nice Matin Menton (Newspaper) to Christian, thanks"
Looking down in Tokyo

Must buy birdseed, newspaper, new perch ....