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My WordPress Origin Story

I was a journalist when I started my first WordPress blog, this blog.

I didn’t want to start a blog but it was a condition for freelance contributors at OpenFile Montreal.

I knew about WordPress because I’d attended Montreal Girl Geek events where WordPress was mentioned. I attended my first WordCamp Montreal (WordPress conference) in 2011.

I’ve never turned this blog into anything in particular. It’s been a personal blog and a place where I’ve ranted about life experiences. When I lived in Montreal’s NDG neighbourhood, I wrote about Montreal happenings. I don’t post often. But it’s here as an outlet whenever I need it.

I used to be afraid of running a self-hosted site. I kept hearing about sites being hacked or problems with plugins and managing websites didn’t appeal to me at all. I knew HTML and CSS but I didn’t imagine I’d ever learn any PHP or JavaScript.

In 2017 I participated in a Les Pitonneux “unbootcamp” called Lab12 where I was challenged to build a web app in React JS and Firebase. Though that app never worked properly, I learned so much and that experience increased my confidence greatly. In 2018 I did nearly 300 hours of freeCodeCamp lessons, refreshing HTML and CSS skills.

When I walked away from community journalism in 2018, WordPress was on my mind. I wanted to take what I’d learned elsewhere and apply it to WordPress.

After attending and volunteering at a number of WordCamps, workshops and do_action hackathons, I wanted to know more about how WordPress works from a web development perspective. I’d been asked to help people with their WordPress sites and what I could do was limited to customizing themes and plugins. I wanted to do more and learn more. In 2019 I took a WordPress developer course at Skillcrush where I learned how to code a WordPress theme from scratch in PHP and use Advanced Custom Fields, move a website and we practised Git.

I’ve done WordPress courses on Udemy but most of my WordPress learning has been in the field.

WordPress has made it possible for me to work when life hands me proverbial lemons. I’ve faced illness, as has my partner. As our parents age, we are needed much more and having the flexibility to work in a nontraditional way means so much.

I volunteered for nonprofits at Catchafire, a site that matches nonprofits with professionals who offer their skills pro bono. I built websites using tools that were easy for clients to use – so I haven’t always been coding. Lately I’ve done more troubleshooting and maintenance than website building and I’ve gained clients from my volunteer experiences.

I’ve met interesting folks I call WordPress entrepreneurs. I’ve learned so much from attending online meetups or taking courses and tutorials or joining Facebook groups, reading newsletters on LinkedIn.

Some projects are harder than others. For instance, updating a very old PHP theme that is dear to a client is not easy but when I’m done I will feel grateful for the challenge. I am lucky to have clients who are willing to take a chance on me and who are patient.

I feel I am in a weird world where I’m still learning WordPress’s React approach to blocks, how to style blocks in theme.json but also how to work with the latest version of Advanced Custom Fields or write PHP so a theme works properly. GeneratePress and GenerateBlocks are changing constantly and I am devoting time to keep up with the latest updates. The work is varied and always interesting, sometimes challenging and definitely not boring at all. I can build a LearnDash site or fix a slider that after an update suddenly is no longer full width.

Most of all, I’ve met a community of people from every walk of life, people who devote their time to this incredible open source software. It’s lovely to meet others who aren’t necessarily cut from any traditional cloth. Talk to people who work with WordPress and you’ll find they come from all kinds of backgrounds. It’s amazing.

I don’t know where WordPress will take me but I am thankful for the ride.

Another version of this post may be found on stephanieohanley.org


An IWD suggestion for Vaudreuil-Dorion’s city council

It’s International Women’s Day but judging by recent media reports about Vaudreuil-Dorion, there is work to do to make the city truly egalitarian for city councillors.

Last month the only women city councillors on Vaudreuil-Dorion’s city council quit the Parti de l’action de Vaudreuil-Dorion (PAVD), choosing instead to sit as independents.

The reason? According to Global Television, Jasmine Sharma of District 3, Karine Lechasseur of District 4 and Diane Morin of District 5 all took issue with ” a lack of respect, transparency and openness from the mayor (Guy Pilon) and the rest of council.”

The last municipal election here was a bit of a joke. Most positions were acclaimed and the Parti de l’action de Vaudreuil-Dorion ran as the only political party.

Still, in spite of the acclamations, for the first time ever, there were three women on a city council comprised of eight councillors and one mayor.

So when the women left the only political party, it negated these perceived gains made by Mayor Guy Pilon and his entourage.

Now Sharma, Lechasseur and Morin are being told they no longer hold positions on city committees because apparently Mayor Pilon only wants people from his political party on the committees, people who are “on the same team.”

I used to cover Vaudreuil-Dorion city council for the now defunct paper, Your Local Journal. I never had the impression there was much or any debate at council meetings. It surprised me because when I covered the Town of Hampstead for the (also defunct) Free Press, there was always some sort of discussion and sometimes disagreements between councillors. There were even shouting matches.

Having lived here for a while now, I get the impression this city has not really adjusted to its new reality. It’s no longer a small town of 10,000. It now has over 43,000 people.

It’s time for Vaudreuil-Dorion to embrace democracy.

The best thing Mayor Pilon and the rest of the council can do to honour International Women’s Day is to give these women councillors their jobs back on the city’s committees.

And welcome differences of opinion. It’s part of the territory when your city grows.


My IKEA Valentine

IKEA valentine's day ticket on a table

Last week my partner and I had a strange and wonderful experience – we had a fancy Valentine’e dinner at IKEA Montreal’s restaurant.

When I saw an ad about it – two could have meals that included a starter, main course, dessert and a mocktail drink for $39.99, I joked that we should go.

My partner is not crazy about IKEA’s mazes. But he does like their food.

The tickets were selling fast but he managed to snag an early dinner slot.

When we entered the section of the restaurant for the special Valentine’s event, I was surprised.

Were they going to challenge us to assembling furniture while we ate? Did we have to put together our meals ourselves?

No. Everything was relaxing.

our table number 23 was attached to a plant with pretty white flowers

Part of IKEA’s restaurant was transformed into a much swankier version of what you usually see.

After putting our coats on the coat rack, a woman dressed to attend a fancy soiree showed us to our table. Near us a singer played guitar and sang a medley of songs – some sad (for example, Tracy Chapman’s Give Me One Reason) or puzzling (The Eagles’ Hotel California) but mostly upbeat love songs.

A singer-guitarist sits with his back to the window while he performs at IKEA Montreal's 2023 Valentine's Day Event

At the tables I saw couples of all ages. Some young families were there. Groups of friends too.

The waiters were dressed in the black outfits you often see on caterers around Montreal.

As we polished off some bread, I wasn’t sure what to expect of the mocktail, a fizzy drink that included cucumber and mint. The taste reminded of a dill pickle but sweeter. It was refreshing.

A mocktail in a glass featured cucumbers and mint

I had a salad while my sweetheart enjoyed his soup.

A salad for me, soup for him

Main course offerings included choices of a dish with traditional IKEA meatballs or their vegetarian meatball version (“plant balls”) or a salmon dish.

My partner’s meatball dish included potatoes and what looked like a curry sauce. My salmon plate was huge, heaping with vegetables and vermicelli noodles.

A meatball and potato dish with curry sauce, onions, peas and greens
My huge plate with salmon, vegetables and vermicelli noodles. The meatball dish is in the background.

By the time they asked us to choose a dessert we were groaning.

IKEA decadent chocolate cake dessert decorated with strawberries
IKEA Daim almond cake

Somehow we ate our desserts. I had a decadent chocolate torte cake while he chose a slice of IKEA’s Daim almond cake.

I couldn’t finish my coffee and I wished I had skipped all meals that day.

As we were leaving, a woman came up to us with two more gifts: a package of heart cookies and a tin to put them in.

What a fun evening! If IKEA does it again next year, I heartily (bad pun) recommend the experience.

Featured By Nick Youngson - http://www.nyphotographic.com/Alpha Stock Images - http://alphastockimages.com/ - http://creative-commons-images.com/clipboard/fraud.html, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=70444837

Beware of gift card scams targeting seniors

My 85-year-old mom is not stupid. She used to work as an emergency room nurse and she and my dad can finish the New York Times Crossword Puzzle. But recently she fell for a scam that from what my family has learned so far, seems to be affecting many seniors in the Montreal area.

The scammers posed as Amazon Security and phoned our mom explaining they needed help with an investigation. They spent a week grooming her and gaining her trust. Then last Friday they gave her an assignment. She was to go to a local pharmacy and purchase $2,000 worth of gift cards. This included Apple gift cards, plus a $50 Amazon gift card for herself. They would reimburse her for any amounts spent. They gave her a deadline.

So she fed our dad supper and asked a neighbour for a ride to the pharmacy. He didn’t know the purpose of the trip. She tried to buy $800 worth of gift cards but the pharmacy stopped her. The neighbour tried to stop the transaction but our mom insisted she was buying gift cards for her children. The pharmacy obliged and she walked out with three Apple gift cards of $100 each, plus a $50 Amazon gift card.

The neighbour phoned my nephew to alert him to what was going on and my nephew called my sister. When she arrived at our parents’ house she found our mom on the phone with the scammers. Mom couldn’t read the codes properly so the scammers got nowhere with the Apple gift cards. They wanted her to send them photos but my sister stopped that from happening. The woman scammer even told told my sister she felt she was our mother’s daughter!

My sister intercepted phone calls so that when the scammers tried again on Monday they weren’t talking to our mom but my sister posing as our mom. This time they were calling from RBC (Royal Bank of Canada) headquarters and the assignment was to purchase Joker prepaid Mastercards. When my sister said she didn’t have a car, they told her to take a taxi. They were quite bossy, apparently.

My sister spoke to the police. I don’t believe our mom has reported the crime to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. We’ve warned her not to trust anyone who sends her out to buy gift cards and to be wary of people who ask for personal or financial information.

When my sister told me about the scam, I phoned the manager at the Jean Coutu selling the gift cards. My approach was my parents have lived in the community for over 50 years and are longtime customers of that Jean Coutu and its predecessor, Cumberland Drugs. Could the manager please help us prevent our mom from purchasing gift cards and getting scammed? He planned to look out for her at the counter and they weren’t going to sell cards to her but legally there was nothing they could do. They repeatedly warn seniors about scams and he said they’d even sold gift cards to seniors who were on the phone giving codes to scammers but they couldn’t do anything to stop it because seniors are adults who can make their own decisions. My sister had a heated discussion with the manager about the store’s approach.

Yesterday that same manager phoned to say their Jean Coutu has decided their policy now is if someone wants to purchase gift cards and the staff has any doubts about the transactions, they’ll refuse to sell any cards.

Scammers preying on isolated seniors sickens me. It would be wonderful if this story could help even one senior or vulnerable individual.

Featured Vaudreuil mosaic tractor

Vaudreuil-Dorion art

I’ve lived in Vaudreuil-Dorion for six years now. Because I don’t drive and walking around can be challenging, I don’t always notice what’s around me.

This tractor was built in 1949 but is now serves as art, an ode to this suburb’s agrarian past. All over the city you’ll find these artful gems. As I understand it, they are the fruit of community endeavours, where people gathered (and prepared?) the materials used to create gorgeous mosaic pieces.

This piece of art was created by Tina Struthers and Monica Brinkman.

In the next few weeks I will post photos of different outdoor art works so you can get an idea of the amazing and quirky nature of this city that I still don’t really have a handle on.

Featured Photo by Cedric Fauntleroy from Pexels

Nurses and Christmas vacation

I am the daughter of a nurse. For years my mom worked as a trauma centre nurse on the night shift at the Montreal General Hospital. Before that, I remember her working as a float nurse (a bit like a substitute teacher, a nurse who is dispatched wherever they are needed) for the Montreal General and for the Julius Richardson, now the Richardson Centre in Montreal.

For many, many years our mom worked Christmas Eve or New Year’s. I don’t recall a “normal” Christmas. Because she worked nights she slept during the day until the afternoon and Christmas Eve or Christmas was usually affected by this. So was New Year’s.

My mom was the main breadwinner for our family of five and the reason she took these shifts even when she had seniority was because other nurses weren’t available and patients needed nurses at the hospital. Her big heart would not allow the hospital to be without staff. As well, our family needed the money. Nurses were paid overtime for any work they did over Christmas and New Year’s.

Because she worked over Christmas most years she was not with us at church for Christmas Eve. She always cooked a full Christmas dinner even while exhausted. I remember her being near tears at Christmas. My sisters and I often woke her when we made too much noise on Christmas Day. and she never slept enough. Working five nights on, two nights off, or whatever that schedule was, plus being called in at the last minute to fill in when other nurses cancelled shifts, can really affect a person’s well-being. On our kitchen calendar, the month of December was covered with blue Xs noting the nights she had to work. Nurses often work 12-hour shifts and then they have to do paperwork or make reports at the end of their shifts so a 12-hour shift can often be longer than 12 hours. I don’t know much about what her shifts were like. I just know they were often incredibly stressful and the breaks she had during those shifts were never long enough.

Why am I mentioning this? A news report yesterday (Friday) said the West Island health authority (CIUSSS de l’Ouest de l’Île de Montréal) had issued a memo ordering nurses, technicians, managers and other staff who work in the West Island health region that any vacation time scheduled over the holidays would be cancelled, right up until Jan. 30. The reason? Mounting COVID-19 cases and a staff shortage meant the vacations wouldn’t be possible and the authority needed to deploy staff to high-risk sectors even while resources were being cut.

Late yesterday the authority backtracked and reversed its stance. Now instead of automatically cancelling their vacations staff are being asked to volunteer to cancel their vacations or to work overtime shifts.

Yes, there’s a nursing shortage and we’re in a pandemic and with 7,435 deaths, 871 hospitalizations and 160, 023 confirmed cases province-wide it’s an all-hands-on-deck situation. Even with cases mounting during this second wave of COVID-19 in Quebec, I don’t think it’s fair to pressure nurses or any healthcare staff to give up vacations they very much need. There must be a way to find other staff to replace them. There is no point in causing more burnout and suffering during this terrible pandemic. Surely there are other nurses, perhaps even foreign-trained nurses and doctors and other healthcare professionals, army staff, who could be recruited to work over the holidays.

I implore the Quebec government to listen to the voices of nurses and other healthcare staff who have done so much for everyone during this pandemic. They deserve a rest and time off. Their families and loved ones deserve to remember them as relaxed and happy during the holidays, not fearing for their lives.


COVID-19 Health care?

I ran out of eye drops. Finding a doctor to prescribe them was harder than I expected.

It’s a weird story. I hadn’t visited my ophthalmologist in ages. When my pharmacy informed me the prescription for my eye drops was expired, they gave me a one-month refill. I stupidly took for granted the idea that my ophthalmologist was still running his clinic. I hesitated to see him because of the pandemic but figured I could simply ask his office to renew the prescription and arrange for an annual checkup later on.

It was usually easy to get an appointment with my eye doctor. He would see me the same day I phoned or only a few days later, unusual in the specialist world where appointments often take months to arrange but something I greatly appreciated.

I never expected to find his phone number out of service.

When I phoned last Wednesday and heard that message, I was in shock. I Googled his name and noticed comments on a review site that said all the patient files were transferred to Quebec’s Collège des Medecins (professional order of Quebec physicians).

The Collège des Medecins website confirmed the worst. A September 2019 Collège ruling states my ophthalmologist is not allowed to prescribe any type of drug. Patient files are temporarily in the care of the Collège.

I wondered why patients were not informed of this.

The way Quebec’s medical system works, to see an ophthalmologist you have to get a referral from a doctor or from an optometrist. There is no way around it.

Getting a referral can be difficult. Because I needed new eye drops I was in pain. The pressure in both of my eyes was rising and I knew that if I didn’t get more glaucoma drops I would end up in hospital.

So I phoned my family doctor’s office thinking he would be able to help.

No such luck. His medical secretary told me I could have a phone appointment with him the next day. The time she cited for the appointment was nearly the same time as a vet appointment we had for a sick pet. I told her that time would not work for me. She stressed that the doctor was very busy and his time slots were filling up. She didn’t suggest another appointment time. Frustrated, I told her I would try my luck with doctors in my area.

My family doctor does not use Quebec’s public medical appointment system. Like many Quebec family doctors, he’s on the Bonjour-santé appointment system. When I searched for him in that system, he had no availability at all on Thursday and Friday. Searching for and booking a phone appointment with another doctor on Bonjour-santé would cost $18.95.

On Wednesday I used the Quebec government’s free medical appointment system to book an appointment with a local clinic in my area. It was for 10:20 a.m. on Thursday.

I waited patiently on Thursday morning. Nobody called. I kept checking my phone. I phoned the clinic. I couldn’t reach anyone. So I texted their answering machine and filled out the form for patients who don’t have family doctors at their clinic.

No one called me back. I phoned the R.A.M.Q., the Quebec government department that manages Medicare. I told them I’d made a phone appointment but the doctor never called. I wondered if perhaps they had a wrong number on file? I removed my old phone number from the file and double-checked that they had the correct cell phone number. They did. They told me try again and book an appointment with the same clinic the next day.

Just to be 100% sure the R.A.M.Q. had the right phone number for me, I emailed them my cell phone number.

The pain kept getting worse and I wondered if I should go to a hospital. In the wee hours of Friday morning I booked another phone appointment with the clinic in my neighbourhood. For good measure, I took screenshots of what I typed in the phone field on the government’s medical appointment system. I definitely typed the correct phone number.

They were supposed to call me at 11:30 a.m on Friday. No one called. I texted them. No one responded. Later on Friday I once again filled out forms on their website.

I am still puzzled as to why I never heard from them. Before the pandemic happened, I went to their clinic and they provided excellent health care the last time I saw them. There was definitely some sort of miscommunication. If I typed my phone number incorrectly that first time I sort of understand but the second time? I don’t know what happened. I waited for them and expected to hear from them.

I phoned 811 and explained the situation to a nurse. She told me to look for an emergency optometrist. I phoned an optometrist in Dorval that advertised eye emergency services during the pandemic. No answer and their website suggested they’d gone back to regular hours. I called my optometrist. They suggested the Jewish General’s ophthalmology department. I left a message on the office voicemail at the Jewish. No one phoned me back.

Another optometrist’s office was sympathetic but could only fit me in for an appointment a week later.

I tried Bonjour-santé. From what I could see of the site results, there were no doctors available at Montreal clinics for phone appointments anywhere on Friday afternoon.

I phoned the Royal Victoria Hospital and they transferred me to a regular ophthalmology clinic. No one answered. The line for the emergency department at St. Mary’s Hospital was continually busy.

I phoned a hospital in Hawkesbury, Ontario, where many people in my area go because there is almost no waiting there, the care is good and it’s about as far as traveling into Montreal. They didn’t have an ophthalmologist on staff but said I could come in. They would call someone in if they needed to.

I was about to head to Hawkesbury when I remembered the Queen Elizabeth Health Complex had a clinic that was patched in to many other resources.

I wish I had phoned them earlier. They were amazing. The medical secretary was friendly and empathetic. She told me to book an online appointment with their clinic via the government’s medical appointment system. When I tried, the system refused to let me book because I had already had my appointment for the day (the one where I was strangely stood up a second time). When I called her back and explained the system wasn’t letting me create an appointment, she booked me for 2:50 p.m..

A nurse called right on time. The doctor called about an hour after the nurse. My story was weird but this kind doctor was there for me. She gave me the prescription and referral for an ophthalmologist I desperately needed.

I feel incredibly lucky I was able to reach the Queen E’s Urgent Walk-In Clinic. Without their help I would probably have ended up in hospital.

Through all this it occurred to me that our sick bird has better access to medical care than I do.

Emails from the government’s appointment system inform me I may be charged for both Thursday’s and Friday’s appointments because I was not there when the doctor phoned. Most likely, the doctor dialed a wrong number and now I will have to get logs from my cell phone provider to prove they never phoned my number and I don’t owe $50.00 for two appointments I never got.

I believe in public medicare. While I won’t pay for telephone appointments I never got because a doctor phoned a wrong number, I would be happy to pay something if paying made it easier get access to a doctor who truly looks out for you.