Thursday, April 29, 2010

Steveston robots

Copyright 2010 D Gittins

Robot: "A machine that looks like a human being and performs various complex acts (as walking or talking) of a human being", or a "device that automatically performs complicated often repetitive tasks", or a "mechanism guided by automatic controls". (Merriam-Webster)

What pops in your head when you hear the word “robot?”

(1) A highly sophisticated humanoid with complex brain circuitry and infallible sense of logic as portrayed in Alex Proyas’ “I Robot?”

Sonny, an independent thinking and human-like robot

(2) An endearing figure that rolls around the house completing domestic chores with efficiency and speed, like Rosie the robot maid in Hanna-Barbera’s The Jetsons?

The beloved housekeeper with her signature frilly apron and feather duster

(3) An intimidating machine of superior endurance and strength bent on human destruction and annihilation like James Cameron’s “The Terminator?”

Arnold Schwarzenegger as an unstoppable cyborg assassin sent back to the year 2029 to exterminate the future resistance leader who would save the human race from extinction.

Now I would like to introduce you to a more benign and utterly charming set of robots. You can call them Steveston robots because they are the brainchild of my daughter, who participated in fundraising drive to benefit Haiti's earthquake victims. As part of the requirements, D had to submit between eight to ten works of art and she chose “robot” as her theme. Here are some of what she came up with:

Copyright 2010 D Gittins

Copyright 2010 D Gittins

The One World Art Show & Fundraiser was held at Science World on May 1, 2010 between 7:30 PM and 1:00 AM. Sixty artists from the lower mainland, Vancouver Island, and Milwaukee contributed their time and efforts. Guests could meet the artists, view and purchase their creations, took part in an amazing silent auction while sipping drinks and enjoying live entertainment. D's robots were there to do their fair share in this worthy cause.

Go Steveston robots, go!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Steveston breakfast enthusiasts rejoice!

If you love a full breakfast, without the bother of cooking it yourself, you're in luck.

Steveston offers you hearty meals served with small-town care and attention. And the good news is, all of them come with a view.

Take the Buck & Ear Bar and Grill. It's plain inside - and out - but once you sit down to their generous portions of traditional breakfast offerings, you're hooked. Plus, depending on where you sit, you get a sweeping view of the Third Avenue and Moncton Street intersection or the sprawling Gulf of Georgia Cannery. But regulars claim that it's the reasonable prices that keep them coming back.

Pat's Galley has been welcoming early risers for many years. When the Moncton Street block where it sat was slated for demolition, the owners decided to relocate to the River Song waterfront complex. It’s a lot closer to the Fraser River and customers can enjoy a tranquil view of Bayview Street while reading the papers over their eggs, bacon, and hash browns.

Just across the street from Pat's is Cimona Cafe, reputed to have the friendliest smiles around. Miriam the owner welcomes arrivals with a warm “hello.” If all the tables are occupied, which happens quite often, you can sit on outward-facing stools and, from your lofty perch, get a commanding view that stretches from the Canada Fisheries office all the way to Sockeye City Restaurant. All for the same price as you would pay sitting at a regular table. Not a bad trade off, don’t you think?

Sometimes though, you wake up with a void that only an Egg McMuffin can fill. Well, no fear, McDonald's is also here. On the corner of No. 1 Road and Moncton Street, to be specific. This nautical themed restaurant was once the subject of a heated debate in the community. When word got out that a McD was opening, many local feathers were ruffled. Surely not in Steveston! It would be the start of a precipitous decline to suburban nightmare.

Once the store threw open its door, however, locals started warming up to it. Instead of being an eyesore, the Golden Arches is now considered an integral part of the waterfront community. From its windows, you can observe pedestrians spilling onto the crosswalks while drivers whip their heads left and right, trying to determine when to proceed through the uncontrolled intersection. Given the constant flow of feet, strollers, scooters, bicycles, and cars, it is a miracle that collisions don’t occur more frequently.

Then there’s Steveston's Cannery Café, an old stone house with generous windows overlooking Moncton Street. This sparkling jewel attracts breakfast hunters all year round while its cozy patio is a favourite among those who prefer to dine alfresco in the sweltering summer months.

So, next time you are prowling for a hearty meal to jump start your day, just go down this list and pick one at random. Regardless of where you end up tucking a bib under your chin, chances are you won't be disappointed.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Mother's Day in Steveston

Mother's Day is coming and businesses are ramping up for the great annual spendathon.

Of course, the best Mother’s Day presents tend to be light on the wallet but heavy in the effort department.

A brooch my daughter fashioned for me in elementary school

A mini plaque my son drew and coloured that still hangs on my kitchen wall

When my children were in elementary school, I used to receive a rather elaborate invitation in early May. The school scheduled the Mother’s Day tea in shifts to accommodate the number of attendees. As soon as one group of cars drove off the school parking lot, a new one would roar in to take their spots. The guests of honour would assemble in the library, six per table, and take in a few hours of delightful entertainment.

The main attraction was, of course, a table laden with an array of homemade cookies, plastic utensils, paper plates and cups, and huge steaming pots.

Under the watchful eye of presiding teachers, students would place dainties on a plate and pour tea into matching cups and - ever so gingerly - carry both to where their mothers were seated.

I remember one particularly keen little boy who decided that if one teaspoon of sugar was good, then three heapingfuls would be phenomenal. There was a collective gasp as mothers exchanged looks. The tittering quickly dissipated, however, when the boy's mother lifted the cup to her lips, drank the brew, and pronounced it the best tea she had ever tasted. The child beamed with pleasure. He offered to get mom another cup. A look of alarm crossed mother’s face and she quickly suggested that they let other students have a turn first.

That’s a mother for you - unruffled in the face of unbelievable pressure with an almost superhuman ability to sail through socially awkward moments with great aplomb.

On another occasion, a little girl waited anxiously for her mother’s arrival before the start of the tea ceremony. She kept dashing to the window, every fibre of her tiny being straining to spot that one special car. She was finally ordered to take her place among her classmates and wait her turn. Although her face remained unmarred by worry, we all felt the dread that must have swelled inside her as the gap of time narrowed and the possibility of being the only mother-less student grew more real.

As indeed happened.

There was a palpable “what now” stirring of apprehension in the air.

One teacher suggested in barely a whisper that perhaps the little girl could serve someone else’s mother. A nod later, and with utmost poise, this little girl set down tea and cookies in front of a total stranger.

It wasn’t until the ceremony was drawing to a close that the object of her yearning finally made her appearance. You could almost feel the collective sense of outrage being leveled at this woman for such an unspeakable miscarriage of maternal duty.

Each year, the carefully orchestrated Mother’s Day tea would end with gifts and songs dedicated to mothers everywhere. As the girls poured their hearts into every syllable, the boys smirked and fidgeted, and all the mothers in the room - including Mrs. Tardy - replayed their individual birthing scenes – après all the pain of course – and feeling completely validated by the sweet angelic voices and the wispy beribboned plants at their elbows.

Once, a mother was so moved that she literally lost it! At first, she tried to preserve some sense of decorum by dabbing at the corner of her eyes, but this soon gave way to a muffled sob, heaving shoulders, and free flowing tears.

I was shocked. Horrified, in fact. Is this normal? I wondered. May be it’s just me though, I reasoned. After all, I didn’t cry when I watched Jennifer die on her hospital bed in Arthur Hiller's Love Story

or when I followed Rose's ascent to the top of the grand staircase for a reunion with her beloved Jack in James Cameron's Titanic.

But it's time to leave memories of Mother’s Day past behind and look forward to the one looming ahead.

Let me use this opportunity to wish all Steveston mothers the best in flowers, chocolates, dinners, hugs, kisses, and – best of all – the annual Mother’s Day tea.

Enjoy it and, whatever you do, don’t be late! And if, unlike me, you are the overly-emotional type, tuck a box of tissues under your arm and sit way in the back of the room. Please...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Ruby and Lucy at the Prickly Pear

If you ever walk past the Prickly Pear before it opens, you may see a mostly-black cat sitting in the window.

I spotted Ruby early one Saturday morning and was immediately smitten by her white bib and patch around her nose. On the other side of the glass, she stretched to her full height and started to rub furiously against a dried branch. Ah, such a Kodak moment, if there ever was one.

I whipped out my camera and tried all sort of settings but getting a good shot of a moving target, especially when partially obscured by the reflective glass was just about impossible. At least for an amateur photographer like me.

When I returned the following weekend, Brian the Prickly Pear owner gave me permission to take as many photos of Ruby and her sister Lucy as I liked - if I could find them.

Even as he spoke, Ruby dove under a display stand and took refuge behind the curtain of lush tropical plants. It was difficult to imagine this shy retiring creature as my avid window greeter just a week before.

The four-year old siblings have the run of the store, as well as the expansive outdoor nursery that opened out to the grassy area bordering Bayview Street. But regardless of where they venture out during the day, they always return home at the end of day. After all, they like to keep each other company when the store's gates and doors are closed for the night.

From what limited photo ops the cats gave me, I couldn't tell the sisters apart. A helpful staff told me that Ruby was the one with a little bit of grey on her back. I was also informed that Ruby was the braver of the two, or was it the other around? In any case, at least while I was there, they were both in hiding - one in a box behind the cash register and the other sandwiched between tall display stands. And who could blame them, when the shop was abuzz with shoppers, baby buggies, and dogs on leash.

Someday I wish to meet both Ruby and Lucy out in the open. With no cacti, glass window, or service counter between us.

Till then, I'll just take the occasional peek into the store window - before the "open" sign is hung on the door - when the cats feel comfortable enough to just be their mellow selves.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A belated ode to Chico, a Steveston cat

From my past ramblings, you can probably guess that I am an ailurophile.

Believe it or not, it didn't start out that way. At one point, I was a self-proclaimed dog lover and habitually extolled such incontrovertible canine virtues as loyalty, patience, affection, and courage in the face of danger.

Cats, on the other hand, are known for their fickleness, disdain for human frailties, pathological aloofness and, except for a few documented cases, would would be the first ones to flee a burning building.

Some cat fanciers fool themselves into taking these qualities as signs of intelligence. I personally think they are just manifestations of the cat’s hyper developed instinct to watch out for number one.

But when we picked out Chico from the litter in what used to be Richmond Mall's Pet Habitat, drawn as we were to his perky ears, oversized paws, and confident stride, we didn’t know how quickly he could make us switch allegiance from one set of paws to another.

Chico as a kitten

Throughout his all-too-brief stay with us, Chico never ceased to amaze us with his:

* Spunkiness – confronting raccoons that occasionally strayed into our backyard was a welcome nocturnal pastime
* Prodigious appetite – anything left unattended was an open invitation to sample
* Generosity – birds with broken wings and dead rodents were routinely served up in an old shoe
*Determination - rebounding after a car accident which left him blind in one eye and significantly weaker, Chico re-invented himself as an even more fierce warrior than before
* Wisdom – even as his body wasted away due to an undiagnosed intestinal problem, he retained his quiet dignity and thirst for life
* Trust – as he surrendered himself to the vet's final ministration and faded from life in my husband’s lap

Chico in his last days

In the throes of the emotional upheaval immediately following Chico’s demise, I was consumed with an overwhelming need to document his life. With pen in hand and a palm size spiral bound notebook, I casted my net far and wide and pulled in memories from some vast unknown reservoir. They flowed out, sometimes in drops and trickles, and sometimes in a great bruising gush that soaked me with an unbearable longing to stroke his soft fur and hear his plaintive cry just one more time. Yes, I was grieving…

My ode to Chico was finished in less than a week. Feeling spent, yet oddly cleansed by my unrelenting pounding on the keyboard, I pressed the “save” key and walked away from the computer. A quiet interval was essential to let all those words settle and new ones to percolate to the surface.

Alas, it was precisely during this brief period of recouping and recharging that my husband decided to “clean up” the PC. And you can guess what he managed to sweep into cyberspace along with the odd collection of bad photos and recipes from a not-so-favourite aunt.

I attempted a second try at the draft. After all, the notes were still there. The photos were still there. The pain, though dulled with time, was still there. But the driving force that had charged my spirit had dissipated, perhaps for good.

Life’s lesson for dear SL readers:
* Hug your cat often
* Take loads of photos
* Take more photos
* Keep a diary
* Back up that diary
* Don’t let your husband near that PC – ever!

Even though we now have another cat, Roi, that is Chico’s opposite in every respect, I still feel something stir inside me whenever I spot a grey tabby – which would explain why I am such a shameless sucker for a neighbour’s cat, which I have dubbed Tabster, who slinks over to our back door just about every day for a free treat or two.

Tabster the mooch

But no cat can ever replace Chico, our beloved Steveston cat!