Photographing the Moon


I may be cynical about a lot of things, but the spectacular-ness of the natural world is not one of them. So last night, I went down to the corner of our street to stare at the sky for a while with my husband. And we took a camera and tripod with us.

Before the digital-photography era, I was pretty comfortable with a single-lens reflex camera. I knew my way around F-stops and shutter speeds. I even developed my own negatives and prints in the darkroom. When I finally gave in and got a digital camera before a trip to Australia back in 2006, I never learned how to apply the skills I had to the digital world, and sadly lost the ability to manually adjust settings on my camera. I rely on automatic settings and blind luck to get OK-looking photos, which is why I was so pleased to have some of last night’s shots turn out much better than I’d expected. Here’s a few, straight off the camera.

A CSS Adventure


If you have a WordPress site you’d like to tweak the look and feel of — but you aren’t sure how — you might like to check out my CSS Adventure presentation from this year’s WordCamp Montreal. During the 40-minute session, I walk you through the basics of using CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) to make small changes in the design of a site. Follow along with the accompanying workshop site and demo site.

Very special thanks to my colleague Michelle Langston, who originally co-developed this workshop with me.

Dynamite Girls


In the early 1980s, I was a Dynamite Girl. That is, inspired by my subscription to Dynamite Magazine, I formed an all-girl club with a posse of grade-six friends, appointing myself as its president.

Unlike what you might imagine, the club was serious and secretive. We had detailed typewritten rules and minutes, Liquid Paper-laden formal agendas and questionnaires. We took anonymous polls and collected dues.

Ensconced in my suburban basement, we planned fundraising endeavours like backyard sales, and creative projects like publishing a newspaper. (Whether we actually followed through with these grand plans, I can’t remember.) We tried to solve mysteries, scanning the local newspapers for connections between crimes in the neighbourhood. That undertaking I’m pretty sure never panned out.

Rule #6: No fooling around.

Here’s a typical rundown of a Dynamite Girls club meeting, based on the official typed minutes from March 4, 1981:

  1. All members wrote down on paper what they wanted to talk about but disguised their writing.
  2. We talked about maturing and what we would do if we got our period.
  3. We talked on a loopline and got a french guy after more than 1/2 hour of trying different numbers.

Googling doesn’t turn up much about these mysterious “looplines,” but they vaguely sound like the eighties telephone version of today’s online chat rooms. (Our parents would have been horrified, I’m sure.)

It’s clear that along with the sober fundraising and mystery-solving projects, we also talked about typical girl things like bras and periods. We used a code phrase – “certain matters” – to refer to something I can’t even remember, but was probably boy-related. When we took that secret poll about things we each wanted to do in the club, one piece of paper said “I want to talk about ‘certain matters'”; another said “I want to talk about things of adolescence”; and a third said “Do you guys want to have a social? I do but I don’t know where to have it!!!!!” Only one lonely piece of paper said “I WANT TO PRICE BOOKS!!” Even with the “disguised” handwriting, I can tell that this one was mine – apparently I was mostly keen to get going on the backyard sale.

The club’s collection of paper artifacts gives me a peek into my pre-adolescent world, before heavy angst hit and female friendship became more complicated. I was able to indulge my urge to organize and plan, even as my friends and I entered the turmoil of teenagedom, my gang of dynamite girls.

Lightbulb Moments


When I talk about helping people learn WordPress, I use the phrase “lightbulb moments” a lot. One of my favourite things is watching people have those flashes of clarity as they suddenly understand things that were only fuzzy before.

Which is why, when I get a reply like this in the WordPress support forums, my heart goes a little fluttery.

Wow, you just taught me more in the last 30 seconds than I’ve learned in the last month. It’s like a lightbulb just turned on. Thank you!

You’re very welcome. And here’s to the next lightbulb moment in your WordPress journey.

stuffed creature holding lightbulb

Photo (cc) by Aaronth

Summer Scenes


I’ve spent a bit of time at the end of this summer relaxing and recharging, which for me, doesn’t come naturally – I’m much more comfortable keeping busy and crossing items off my to-do list. While up in the country for a few days without much Internet, I even managed to read an entire book in under 24 hours – and I’m positive these two things are closely related. :D

My People


I walked into the large hotel meeting room in San Diego with some nervousness. 125 people I’d never met before filled the space, with just as many laptops dotting long rows of tables. A mosaic of international WordCamp and WordPress T-shirts adorned the motley crew, who’d assembled from around the world for a week of activities.

I remember having one very strong, distinct thought, as I scanned the room:

These are my people.

I’d been hired full-time by Automattic as a Happiness Engineer only a few weeks earlier – on August 20, in fact – and this was my first company-wide Grand Meetup.

Three years later, I’m still there. Automattic is now 400-strong. My colleagues are special people – funny, smart, considerate, generous – and many are also my friends. I have a wonderful team that supports and appreciates me. I feel completely comfortable to be myself.

I help people understand how to use WordPress – and delightedly watch some develop a passion for it. I teach, guide, mentor, speak. I learn new skills and refine existing ones. I love what I do, maybe even more than I did at the start.

Thank you, everyone, for the last three years. Here’s to all the adventures still to come.

You Can Call Me Kathy


I voluntarily gave up my name in 1992. It was an act of convenience, nothing more.

Until that year, everyone called me Kathy. Well, everyone except my bubby, who would say “Kathryn Mavourneen!!!”* as she squeezed my cheeks hard, in that grandmotherly way.

Kathy Stickers

Remnants of my past

I had started working on a kids’ television show as assistant director, sitting in a control room all day – alongside the switcher and director – while communicating over the intercom with the rest of the crew in the studio next door. The floor manager, who acts as liaison between the studio and control room, also happened to be named Kathy. A Kathy in the control room and Kathy on the studio floor was simply not feasible, only a recipe for confusion. Being younger, I offered to give up my name, returning to the full given name of my birth, Kathryn.

And I never went back.

Of course, those who already knew me as Kathy found it hard to start calling me something else, and family and pre-1992 friends still, to this day, sometimes call me Kathy out of habit, unless they’re introducing me to someone new. I don’t mind too much, even though I’ve never really felt like a “Kathy,” chatty** or otherwise.

When I started working for Automattic and answering questions in the public support forums, I noticed a strange phenomenon. People there sometimes call me Kathy, even though my name is right in front of them. It threw me off at first. Now I’ve gotten used to it. You can call me Kathy, I don’t mind. Whatever works. Just don’t spell my name with a C. (Kidding.)

forum screenshot


* Until today, both my mother and had always assumed that “mavourneen” was a Yiddish term of endearment. Only when I started researching it, did I realize there’s in fact no such Yiddish word. As it turns out, all along, my late grandmother had been very likely referencing a song written in 1837, probably this Nelson Eddy version, since according to my mom, bubby was a big fan of his. Apparently, “mavourneen” is a term of endearment derived from the Irish Gaelic mo mhuirnín, meaning “my beloved.” Who knew?

** Until Googling during the writing of this post, I had no idea that Chatty Cathy was actually a talking doll from the 1960s. I learned a lot today.