Summer Scenes

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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

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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

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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

Proof

* 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.

Summer Doc Roundup

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I’m a longtime documentary lover. I used to gorge on them, attending the early years of the now well established Hot Docs documentary festival in Toronto and volunteering on its pre-selection jury. In my film production days, I worked on making documentaries too; one of my most memorable experiences was travelling to Prince Edward Island to film a biography of Anne of Green Gables author Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Over the last decade my doc-watching has waned, in favour of absorbing dramatic series like The Sopranos and Dexter, or more recently, Breaking Bad, House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. Simply put, I’ve let documentaries slide.

Subscribing to Netflix has brought new documentary inspiration, despite its rather limited collection. (My guess is that the lack of doc selection is related to the smaller selection of titles in Canada overall, but I don’t know for sure.)

Here are a week’s worth of docs you might like to check out:

  1. Tig – comedian Tig Notaro shares her compelling journey, making us laugh even while she takes us through a series of personal tragedies.
  2. Pink Ribbons, Inc. – thought-provoking look at the breast-cancer fundraising industry, and all the contradictions and complexity that lie within. A National Film Board of Canada classic.
  3. Erasing Hate – follows a former white supremacist as he goes through a long process to remove the hate-filled tattoos that cover his body. Touching, despite the “voice of God”-style narration that I’m not a fan of.
  4. An Honest Liar – layered biography of James “The Amazing” Randi, who I never realized was born and grew up in Canada. Moving and nuanced portrayal of a man who’s devoted his life to debunking “paranormal and pseudoscientific claims.”
  5. The English Surgeon – a British neurosurgeon helps a collegue in Ukraine handle difficult cases, many of whose brain tumours could have been cured had they been diagnosed and treated sooner. Made me appreciate working in a field where the decisions are never life-or-death.
  6. Miss Representation – compelling analysis of women’s portrayal in pop culture and media, and how it affects, reflects, and shapes policital and societal reality.

Do you have a favourite documentary, whether classic or recent?

The Secret Garden

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In a secluded corner of a large open field, tucked behind a suburban university residence, lives an oasis of thriving vegetables and herbs. It’s hard to find unless you know exactly where it is and what you’re looking for. I’d even say it’s a secret garden.

On summer and early fall Tuesdays and Thursdays, this collective teaching garden opens a teeny farm stand to the public, selling bunches of whatever it has enough of that week. Today there were zucchinis as large as my forearm and delicate bundles of mint. I opted for an imperfect cucumber, a bright yellow summer squash, a wad of yellow and green beans, and some mixed lettuces. Four lonely zucchini blossoms tempted, but I’ll wait for next week when hopefully the crop will be larger – this week’s torrential rain wiped out most of the delicate flowers.

With the recent heat and humidity, cooking has not seemed appealing. I’d completely forgotten about the nearby veggie patch; this week’s local crop has inspired me again. Thank you, secret garden.

Party Sandwiches

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There is no rational explanation for my obsession with party sandwiches.

Small rectangles of the most boring soft, crustless white or whole-wheat bread, layered with chopped egg salad or canned tuna or salmon, some in double-decker combinations: there is nothing remotely exciting about party sandwiches. You could easily make them yourself. And yet if you try, they never taste the same.

Bland comfort food at its finest, trays of party sandwiches have consoled mourners at post-funeral gatherings in my family ever since I was a child. When my maternal grandmother died I made sure to order plenty for everyone who came to pay their respects.

If I’m sick and my tummy is not up for the usual curries or sushi or tacos, I crave a plate of party sandwiches.

More recently, party sandwiches have become my go-to travel and pre-trip food. The night before an early flight, they serve as a light supper. Perfect plane food, too. Small and compact, and not too smelly.

Party sandwiches are plain. They are unassuming. They don’t make a fuss.

In the end, they’re just sandwiches. But like anything that’s greater than the sum of its parts, they’re also so much more.

Party sandwiches, potato knish, dill pickles

Tiny Creature

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I thought it was dead at first.

A tiny creature, just a few inches long, dark grey or maybe brown, attached to a larger organ of some kind by a thin tissue fibre.

And then the little thing squirmed and let out a few plaintive meeps. And I knew it had to be a kitten. A newborn kitten.

It lay just behind the latched gate of a daycare centre. Shane asked if I had a scissors or knife on me so he could sever the fibre tied to the organ – we weren’t sure what it was, a placenta, maybe? With one hand on my phone to call the SPCA to see if they were open, I walked around to the daycare centre’s front door to see if anyone was around. The door was locked, and I couldn’t find a doorbell. The SPCA website was not responsive and it was next to impossible to find the phone number on the tiny mobile version.

I rounded the corner back to the kitten, but it was gone. Shane explained that in the moments I’d been out of sight, the mamma cat had come looking for its baby, gave the human interloper at “WTF?” stare, popped the kitten into her mouth, and walked off with baby and attached placenta.

Shane looked bereft.

Over Indian food, he told me that we’d nearly gone home with a newborn kitten to add to our menagerie of three felines.

Maybe next time.