WordPress for Beginners

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Earlier this month I gave a free, two-hour intro to WordPress workshop at YES Montreal. It was part of their women and technology program, geared to helping folks find technology-related jobs or start their own business.

I love teaching beginners – guiding people to those “lightbulb” moments when they finally understand the difference between posts and pages, tags and categories, or some other WordPress particularity.

While I enjoy watching the participants pick up a ton of knowledge, I’ll admit that I have an ulterior motive for doing these workshops. Once you’ve been using WordPress for a while, it becomes easy to forget what it’s like to learn all this stuff from scratch – the sense of overwhelm, the “why isn’t it simpler” frustration. As someone who does tech support for a living, I find it immensely valuable to have my beginner-memory refreshed once in a while. Being surrounded by people just learning the ins and outs of WordPress reminds me that not much is as obvious as it seems after using a tool for a while and becoming completely comfortable with it. These intro workshops are like getting a WordPress-empathy booster shot.


I’ve brought over two pages devoted to WordPress resources for beginners that had been living on another site: WordPress Resources Online, and WordPress Resources in Person. Feel free to check them out and pass them on.

WordPress workshop at YES Montreal

Photo by Alex Ruaux

 

Superhospital

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I’ve always been fascinated by hospitals and the world of medicine: curious about the secrets of “authorized personnel only” zones, addicted to shows like House and ER, and devouring behind-the-scenes tales like The Night Shift.

Today I had a chance to tour my neighbourhood’s brand new “Superhospital”, before patients and staff move in next spring. The McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) will consolidate several large – and aging – Montreal-area hospitals on one site, including The Montreal Children’s Hospital, Royal Victoria Hospital, and Montreal Chest Institute, as well as the Research Institute and Cedars Cancer Centre. A new Shriners Hospital for Children will also be housed nearby.

The visit was a rare opportunity to explore a huge, pristine, health-care facility before the first blood draw is taken and first baby born. Here’s what it looked like.

 

 

Girls Learning Code Day 2014

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girls learning code resultsOn November 8, nineteen cities across Canada – from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Whitehorse, Yukon – hosted free events for National Girls Learning Code Day, a Ladies Learning Code initiative. I had the pleasure of mentoring at the English HTML and CSS workshop at Google’s Montreal office, while others volunteered at the French workshop a few blocks away.

Twenty girls aged 8-13 – supported by an array of moms, dads, aunts, and other grownups – took over the Googlers’ colourful conference and dining area. Several mothers told me their kids had dragged them here, their husbands usually being the techies in the family. I was glad their daughters persisted since I think the moms learned a lot too!

Throughout the day, the girls used Mozilla Thimble, a free tool that provides a side-by-side real-time preview while building a site. We went over basic HTML tags, using lots of easy-to-understand analogies and interactive questions at each step. Over the course of the morning, we built out a brilliant analogue web page on a big white board, to help visualize HTML page structure. Lead instructor Alex Ruaux kept the day lively, adding CSS to the mix after a kid-friendly lunch of pizza and (yes! guilty pleasure!) Rice Krispie squares. Other treats for the kids included stickers, funky “style your code” tattoos,” silicone wristbands, and even a Google loot bag laden with sunglasses and more goodies.

At the end of the day, each girl – except the shyest ones – got up and presented the web page they’d spent the day creating. From a dog-walking business to a compendium of April Fool’s stunts, to expressing their love for Super Cats, horses, dolphins, and of course, Minecraft, the girls’ passion for both their subject matter and the sites they’d built was clear.

Pineapple Sundae

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Before my great-aunt Leba (Presner) Mayerovitch died a few years ago, she lent me some thick photo albums, in which I found some family pictures I’d never seen before. This is the story behind three of those images.

Shia Presner in front of his drugstore - pineapple sundae 10 cents

Shia Presner in front of his drugstore

My grandfather Samuel “Shia” Presner was a second-generation Canadian whose parents escaped poverty and anti-Jewish sentiment in Poland around the turn of the twentieth century, coming to Canada and settling in Montreal.

Education was the clear route to success in the new world, but despite top marks, when Shia applied to medical school at McGill, the well-regarded university in his hometown, he quickly discovered he wasn’t welcome. A “a strict quota” limited “Jewish enrolment to 10% of all students” in the Faculties of Medicine and Law. (This was not a friendly time for Jews in several parts of Canada. My father remembers being told about a prominent resort in Quebec’s Laurentians with a sign at the entrance proclaiming: “No Dogs / No Jews.”)

So Shia did the next best thing, as did many of his friends: he became a pharmacist. After graduating, and thanks to a loan from his brother-in-law, he opened a drugstore around 1936 on busy Ste-Catherine Street West in downtown Montreal, just a few doors west of Crescent. He dispensed prescriptions at the back of the narrow shop, served up chocolate sodas and malted milks at the “luncheonette” counter, and sold all manner of knick-knacks, or should I say tchotchkes. Evidently the pineapple ice cream sundae was also a big seller.

Crescent Drug Store

Crescent Drug Store, Shia Presner at far right

My grandmother Lillian (Bierbrier) Presner helped customers with cosmetic purchases in a role then called a “beautician,” which didn’t really take advantage of her Bachelor of Commerce degree. (She would put her education to use later in life, starting a mortgage company.) The store stayed open seven days a week – even though some Sundays saw only one or two customers – because Shia felt an obligation to be available, just in case someone needed some toothpaste or Aspirin or an urgent prescription filled.

After acquiring two more pharmacies around Montreal, my grandfather’s three-pack-a-day (unfiltered!) cigarette habit took its toll, and he was hit with a heart attack in 1955. He quit smoking and scaled back his work, selling his stores but still practicing pharmacy until the age of 80. He died three years later when I was 16.

Shia in his pharmacist's overcoat

Shia in his pharmacist’s overcoat

Shia, thank you for persevering in the face of ignorant and prejudiced people. I’m glad you found a profession you were proud of, even though it wasn’t your first choice. I wish I’d gotten to hear your stories directly, but am still grateful to have learned them now.

Shia, my brother Jeremy, and me

Shia, my brother Jeremy, and me

Special thanks to my dad Bob Presner for help piecing together and fact-checking the stories in this post.

Friendly Printing

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I love cooking, and I enjoy trying out recipes I find across the Web. When I see a recipe I want to make, I print it out and file it in one of my binders. Tragically, many recipe sites – including one of my favourites, Chocolate-Covered Katie (healthy vegan desserts; check it out!) – don’t have a function that lets you print out a recipe without the unneeded images, comments, navigation, header, and other extraneous bits that use up ink and paper.

Until recently, I’d always copy-paste each recipe into a Word document before printing, formatting it in my beloved Gill Sans font, and adjusting margins and font size to get it onto one page. This took up a fair amount of time.

My online Print Friendly bookmarkletrecipe life changed forever when someone pointed out that Print Friendly – makers of a WordPress plugin – also offer a browser bookmarklet that can be used to easily print anything on the web. It lets you do things like automatically remove graphics, shrink the font size, and hide any text you don’t need. Mind = blown.

Print Friendly also makes a WordPress plugin and offers an option for WordPress.com – though if you’re adding recipes to WordPress.com, I’d recommend using the recipe shortcode instead, which comes with a built-in print feature.

Printing out recipes may sound old school, and perhaps someday I’ll go digital. But for now, the Print Friendly bookmarklet is just the ticket, and has made my online recipe adventures even more pleasurable.

Print Friendly Modal Window

Let’s Talk About How to Grow Garlic

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Do you love garlic?

Fortuitously spotted at the Park Silly Sunday Market in Park City, Utah

At this year’s annual Automattic all-company Grand Meetup, the four-minute flash talk I gave my colleagues was a crash course in growing garlic.

Many folks later told me they were inspired to try growing garlic in their own backyards, so I thought I’d expand on the presentation, which was just an overview. (Four minutes is very short!)

The tips on garlic-growing were gleaned from a workshop by farmer Dan Brisebois, one of the organizers of the Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue Garlic Festival. Some of the specifics are geared to climates like mine – plant hardiness zone 5a – where the ground freezes during the winter.

Preamble

I readily admit that I’m far from a gardening expert. I’m also a lazy gardener who can never remember to water what needs to be watered, trim back what needs trimming back, or otherwise pay close attention to my poor little garden.

I’ve also discovered that local squirrels very much enjoy consuming the fruits of our garden labours, without even so much as a thank-you, or note of appreciation.

The good news? Garlic. It’s easy to plant, requires almost no maintenance, and the squirrels could care less about it.

Allow me to share my yearly ritual:

Planting

garlic stock

  • Plant your garlic in the late fall, as you would with flower bulbs like tulips. I usually plant mine in late October.
  • Garlic needs to grow in well-drained, sandy or clay soil. It doesn’t like to sit in wet soil. You can add some compost or composted manure to your soil before planting.
  • Get some good garlic with large – but not gigantic – cloves and split them up. Make sure each clove still has a little of the “basal plate” attached, which is where the roots will grow. Dig small holes about 2-4 inches deep and place one clove in each hole. Plant smaller cloves shallower, larger cloves deeper. Space your plantings in rows 4-6 inches apart, root-side down. Leave 12-15 inches between rows. Plant in full sun.
  • Cover the soil with a thick layer of dead leaves, hay, or even cardboard. Do not use cedar mulch, as it’s too acidic. Mulching helps keep the ground fully frozen throughout the winter so the bulbs survive and don’t rot.
  • Rotate your garlic – don’t grow it in the same spot every year. Dan recommended ideally reusing the same plot only after 4-5 years.

Spring

spring garlic shoots

  • By mid-spring, you should see green shoots starting to poke up out of the ground, through your mulch. If you don’t see anything coming up, move the mulch away to warm up the ground a bit more. Once the shoots start coming up, push the mulch back around the plants.
  • Mulch also helps with weed control and keeping moisture in the ground. You can water your garlic once a week if it’s a particularly dry year, but if your soil is well-mulched, you may not need to water your garlic at all – I’ve never done it.
  • After June, do not water so the bulbs start to dry out gradually, once the leaves have stopped growing.

Scapes

garlic scape

  • Certain types of garlic form gorgeous, delicious, scapes. Snap them off once they’ve curled up to direct growing energy back into the plant’s bulb underground.
  • Garlic scapes are tasty in everything from omelettes to pesto. Store them loosely wrapped in a plastic bag in your fridge’s crisper drawer.

Harvest!

garlic just out of the ground

  • Your garlic is ready to harvest when there are about 5-6 green leaves left on the plant. Each leaf corresponds to one layer of skin around the bulb. Don’t let all the leaves die down or you’ll be harvesting individual cloves and not bulbs.
  • My garlic harvest usually takes place in late July or early August.
  • Very carefully loosen the soil around each bulb with a small trowel or shovel. The garlic is extremely delicate at this stage and it’s super easy to damage a bulb when you’re pulling it out, so be careful with your fragile crop!
  • Pull out each bulb, leaving on most of the dirt. Removing heavy chunks of clay is fine.

Curing

garlic curinggarlic in bowl
  • Bring all your cloves inside, to a cool, dry, dark place where they will cure for a few weeks. The 2-3 week curing process ensures that each stem dries and closes completely, so you can store your garlic for many months afterwards.
  • Lay out or hang up each plant in a way that air can circulate around it, so it dries evenly. I usually lay out my garlic in the basement, on a dryer rack sitting in a laundry basket, or some other type of makeshift structure. Don’t place it in direct sunlight.
  • After a few weeks, take one plant and completely cut the stem about a few inches above the bulb. If the stem is completely white, with no green still showing, it means the garlic is cured and ready to store.
  • Trim up the roots on each bulb (not too close of a shave!) and wipe off the dirt. You can also remove one or two layers of outer skin if you like.
  • Once it’s cured, don’t ever wash the garlic or place it near water.
  • Your cured garlic should last 6-8 months in a cool, dark, dry place, depending on the type of garlic you’ve grown.
  • If you find the willpower – I  never have – save some of the bigger cloves to plant next year.

I hope you enjoy growing garlic as much as I do!

All photos by me except slides 1, 2, 4, 5, 9, 10, 34 via iStockphoto

Ladies Learning WordPress

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Yesterday I had the huge pleasure of mentoring at another Ladies Learning Code workshop, led by the multi-talented Elida Arrizza. This one was very close to my heart, since it was WordPress for Beginners.

The 40 participants learned a ton throughout the day, from installing WordPress locally, to getting a handle on The Loop, through customizing a theme.

Ladies Learning Code WordPress Agenda

The Day’s Agenda

Have a peek at the slides and learner files on Github and some of the day’s tweets:

I’ve had a blast mentoring with Ladies Learning Code and look forward to more events in the fall. Special thanks to Nancy Naluz for bringing LLC to Montreal and doing a fabulous job organizing the workshops.