“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.  Live the life you have imagined.”

–Henry David Thoreau

reality-check

Suddenly real…

Today, I clicked the button.

What’s so hard about clicking a button? Most of us click lots of buttons every day. In fact, I do, too. This button, however, wasn’t just any ordinary button. This button committed me to a life-altering change.

I purchased my one way ticket to Australia. Non-refundable.

That single click is, I think, one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life so far. I’ve made purchases this large before (larger, even), but while losing a non-refundable ticket wouldn’t be the end of the world, it will surely be a great motivator to make my dream reality.

Let me tell you how it went down:

I’d been dream-searching for flights–you know, when you don’t have any intention of buying, but you’re looking anyway. I’ve been keeping an eye on what flights cost for some time now, for budgeting purposes more than anything else.

There’s a WordPress conference in San Francisco in October. I went last year, and wanted to go again this year, so I thought, let’s just check the price for a two-week layover in California.

The price was so much lower than any price I’ve seen before, even with all of the permutations of layovers, days of the week, and times of day I’ve been playing with forever. My first three thoughts, in order, were:

  • “I should book this while it’s available.”
  • “No, I need to save more money before I can actually commit to going.”
  • “How much money is in my savings account right now?”

When I realized I actually had the money, right then, to buy the plane tickets, I hesitated–for almost an hour. Arguing back and forth in my head (I’m good at that), I decided to keep looking.

After refining my search and playing around some more with the dates, I realized that, no matter what, there would be at least two layovers; one at LAX; the other, as it turns out, in Fiji.

I have friends (with a couch) in San Diego that I really want to see again before going overseas, so extending the LA layover was pretty much a no-brainer.

“Fiji,” I wondered. “Sounds like a nice place to be for a while.” In fact, inserting the extra week into my trip added just $94 dollars to the cost of the plane ticket.” I opened a new browser tab (by this point I had at least 30 or 40 open just on this one topic), typed in “Hostels Fiji,” and found that I could stay there for just $9/night, a little more than a third of what I pay for rent here in NYC. “$150 for a trip to Fiji?” I thought. “Yeah, that’s happening.”

I still hesitated. I could feel the butterflies in my stomach, moving around as if they were trying to escape a fire. I talked to some friends that I chat with on Skype, and they told me I should go for it. I debated, back and forth, in my own head. “I’m going to do it,” I said.

But I still hesitated. The butterflies were now frantic, as they tried to escape my stomach. I fought them back down.

I typed in my name, then my address, then my phone number. I clicked “Continue.”

I chose seats for each flight (four in all), and clicked “Continue.”

Now, I was presented with a screen; a terrifying, yet promising screen, filled with text fields labeled “Card number,” and “Billing Address.” The button at the bottom no longer said “Continue,” but rather “Pay and Book Flights.”

I must have sat, staring at that page, for–while it felt like an hour–at least five minutes. I had typed in the requested information, moved my mouse pointer to the afore-mentioned button, and waited. My mind raced, “Should I do this now? Should I wait? Oh hey, I got a notification on Facebook. I could use a sandwich. OMG, what am I thinking, my stomach is floating right now! I think I’m going to do it. I’m gonna do it! I’M DOING IT!”

I clicked the button.

And immediately, I felt relieved. All of that anxiety that had built up finally went away, and my stomach settled down to, well at least a light rumble.

There’s still a LOT I have a lot to do.

I need to line up ways to fund my life abroad, get background checks, certified documents, visas, etc. I have six months to raise about $6,000, so I can even make the trip.

But the hardest part is done. I have a plane ticket (well, four) that will take me to my destination, a life overseas.

My dream is suddenly something real, a tangible thing that still may or may not come to be, but is one giant step closer to happening.

Who knew a button could hold so much power?

WordPress Cupcakes

A Decade of Pressing Words

Ten years ago today, I published my first blog post using WordPress,* just 10 months after the platform’s initial release.

It was a scary road back then. You had to create your own theme, there were no plugins, and we hacked core (!) to no limit.

It’s kind of cool how a blog post like that one can be just like a time capsule, showing you a snapshot of the person you were all those years ago. Back in 2004, I was 19 years old, working at a book store for $7.00 per hour. I was studying part time at the local community college in Manassas, Virginia, but I didn’t really know what I wanted from life at that point, so I honestly didn’t put all the effort into it that I should have.

It’s interesting to look back and see how I got from there to here. Shortly after my first blog post, I left the book store to go work at Target as a cashier. It wasn’t too long before I found my way to the pharmacy to help out as a cashier when the lead pharmacy technician was out for maternity leave. The pharmacist saw in me someone whose potential was being wasted as a cashier, so she encouraged me to learn to be a pharmacy technician myself.

So, I left the community college, and enrolled in a pharmacy technician certification program, got my certification before even completing the program, and started as a pharmacy technician with Target at $12 per hour. Not too long after that, I started a blog called PharmCountry.* Originally, I started blogging about news in the pharmacy industry, but eventually it became a place for me to tell stories about work, and eventually morphed into a personal blog.

I even started a blogging service aimed at pharmacy bloggers. The service never really got off the ground, but one of the first users of the site is still successfully blogging to this day. When I shut down the service, I bought her the domain pharmacychick,com and I still host it. It’s one of the most popular pharmacy blogs around.

Over the last ten years I’ve made several resolutions to blog more, and every time I kept to it for a while before letting life get in the way. Sometimes it was writer’s block, sometimes I was busy, and sometimes, I just didn’t have anything to blog about.

After seven years of working for Target, I left for a job at Apple, where I currently work as a mobile device technician. I’ve been there for three years, and make quite a bit more than I ever made at Target. I’ve made very close friendships at Apple, as well. These are people who share my passion for technology, and some of them even use WordPress, and come to me for help.

I became active in the WordPress community when I moved to New York in 2009 and attended my first WordCamp. I became a member of the local meetup group, and to this day have attended/volunteered at almost all of them. Since then, I’ve attended, volunteered, or spoken (sometimes all three) at more than a dozen WordCamps and various meetups around the US. I’ve made close friends in cities all over the country.

Thanks to the WordPress NYC meetup group, I met my four colleagues/friends at Tadpole, a development company we started two years ago. It’s been growing slowly, but surely. I’ve also taken on a part-time job at CyberChimps, doing support for their themes as well. Hopefully, before too long, I’ll be doing WordPress work full time, and I’ll be able to fulfill my dream of traveling, blogging, and helping WordPress users full-time.

It’s kind of amazing to think about all the different roles WordPress has played in my life. A place to collect my thoughts, a learning tool, a way to make new friends, a reason to travel to different places, a source of income, and who knows what else the future holds in store?

Only time will tell, but looking back at the last ten years, I’m looking forward to the next ten.

*Apologies for the archive.org links. I didn’t keep backups of my old sites.

The road traveled.

Not all who wander are lost

I was born to be an explorer.

As a baby, I climbed all the way to the top of my family’s stand-up piano. From that perspective, it was like climbing Everest. Luckily, when I fell off of it, I managed to fall back down the front, and not over the back, which would’ve meant tumbling down a flight of stairs. I did manage to have stitches put in on both my chin and the back of my head.

When I was 2 or 3 years old, the family dog (a cocker spaniel/poodle mix, just a little bit smaller than me at the time) taught me how to climb the fence into our neighbor’s back yard.

Around age 5 or so, I scared my mom half to death by grabbing the hand of one of her daycare kids and leading her on an adventure around the block. One of the other daycare kids squealed, and we were found out before we made it half-way round.

A year or two after that, I added up all the pennies I had managed to save, enough for a bus fare. I just walked out of the house without telling anyone, got on the bus, and rode it all the way around back to my house (about a 90-minute ride).

For 11th grade (and the second half of 12th grade), I decided to transfer from my suburban Maryland high school to a high school closer into Washington DC for a magnet program. I ended up making closer friends there than I’d ever had before.

The summer between my 11th and 12th grades, I got to have a summer “job” at that school (I say “job” in quotes because it only payed a $120/week stipend). I had to take public transportation there and back, and every week or so, I’d try to find a different way to get home. Once, I almost got stranded because I caught the wrong train. I had to ask a stranger for bus fare to get home, but I got there.

I once went to a tech event in downtown Washington, DC, and had so much fun, I forgot to leave in time for the last bus back to my home in Northern Virginia. I ended up spending the night in the Union Station Amtrak waiting area. When the police came around making sure everyone had a ticket, I told them I had a friend coming in on the first train in the morning and was waiting for them to come in.

In 2008, I took a train from Washington to New York to see a movie in the Staten Island Film Festival. The film, despite the festival’s name, was showing at Brooklyn College, way out on the 2/5 line. I almost got stuck in New York on the way back, because I didn’t know about the redirection caused by subway work. I went outside, hopped in a cab, made it to Penn Station about 10 minutes after my train was supposed to have left. Luckily, it was 30 minutes late.

Less than one year later, I moved to New York, which has been the biggest adventure of my life.

There’s a quote from Doctor Who, when he meets Rose Tyler. He grabs her hand, and she gets a glimpse into his existence:

I can feel it, the turn of the earth. The ground beneath our feet is spinning at a thousand miles an hour. The entire planet is hurtling around the sun at sixty seven thousand miles an hour. And I can feel it. We’re falling through space, you and me, clinging to the skin of this tiny little world.

Sometimes, I feel like I can feel it, too. If I close my eyes, I can visualize my position on the earth, or at least within the city. I can imagine that I’m not the one moving, but rather the earth is moving under me. When I fly across the country, the feeling intensifies.

The Doctor tells Rose to forget him, but who can forget such a feeling? I may not be able to visit other worlds, but that’s okay. There’s plenty to explore on the one I have.

Besides, I don’t really a timey-wimey blue box that’s bigger on the inside to get lost on an amazing adventure.

Photo credit: Gratisography

Woman-carrying-stack-of-files

Devil in the details

Have you ever looked into applying for a visa for another country? As you’d expect, there are a lot of details to keep track of. Luckily, Australia’s immigration department keeps everything online, and it’s not that confusing.

On top of the cost of the visa (A$420) and the requirement of sufficient funds (A$5000), there are a lot of required documents I have to provide:

  • Certified copies of:
    • Passport Biographical page
    • Birth Certificate (must include parents’ names)
    • School Transcripts
    • Bank Statement (showing sufficient funds)
  • FBI Background Check (6-10 week turnaround)
  • Local Police (NYPD) Background Check
  • Two Passport photos (by far, the easiest document to obtain)

Of course, obtaining most of those documents comes with a fee, ranging from about $20 to $50 each. I also need to pay for health insurance while I’m in Australia (they appear to require it, or at least strongly recommend it; it’s hard to tell from the language on the website). The traveler’s insurance that comes highly recommended, World Nomads, will cost me about $900 for the year, which is just about how much my current insurance premiums cost.

My flight should cost around $1000 to $1300 (one way). I also need to buy a new (bigger) suitcase, which should cost a little over $100 on Amazon.

Altogether, I need to save at least $7,200 USD before I leave (and at least $5,000 before I apply for the visa). Since I started actively saving my money in early December, I’m already up to $1,900 (including money from web development, $150 or more from two paychecks each, and $300 in gifts), so I’m already about a quarter of the way there. Not too shabby for one month.

Sydney_skyline_at_dusk_-_Dec_2008

One Way Ticket

I love to travel.

Almost everyone who has met me knows this to be true. In any conversation, I usually find a way to talk about where I’ve just been, or where I’m going next. It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up, what I get distracted thinking about during the day, and the last thing I think about before going to sleep. Traveling even permeates my dreams (when I’m not having nightmares about work, that is).

So, this year, I’ve come to a decision. I’m going to start traveling on a long-term basis.

Why travel long term?

I read somewhere that Americans travel internationally a lot less than people from elsewhere in the world. In fact, only about 20% of Americans even own a passport (I’m proud to be one of them). Part of it is that our country is so big, most of us travel to other parts of the US before traveling internationally (and indeed, most of my travel has followed this pattern). But that’s not the only reason:

  1. We can usually only take one or two weeks off at a time, and a 14 hour flight each way doesn’t sound appealing,
  2. The media paints other countries as something to fear,
  3. We’re ignorant of cultures that aren’t ours, so we don’t think to go and explore them.

Traveling, for me, is a way to learn more about the world we live in, meet awesome people, and gain life experiences in ways I can’t do any other way. I’ve met people, learned lessons, and had experiences that would be impossible for me to have if I’d never left home. As much as I love reading, and learning, you can’t beat sitting down with someone over a drink or a meal and having a conversation.

I already travel more than most people, I think, and I’m grateful that I am in a place in my life that I can. Due to the fact that I work retail, I can schedule my work days around traveling, giving away shifts as needed, and optimizing my use of vacation days. This year I’ve taken 5 major (week-long) trips, and a few small ones visiting my mom in DC or spending a day somewhere nearby like Boston or Philly.

The most difficult part about traveling this way, is that at the end of a whirlwind week of activity, I have to return to so-called “normal life.” I spend the other 47 weeks of the year thinking about where I want to go next, where I want to go back to, and lamenting the fact that I’m not there now.

Maybe it’s just a case of “the grass is always greener,” but my thoughts seem to always be in another time zone.

Why now?

I’ve been wanting to travel long term for a while now. We’re talking at least a decade (or more). Once a year or so, I get obsessed, and plan out where I want to go. Then, I get a little distracted, or realize that it’s a lot of work, or I just don’t have the money.

So why is this moment in time different? Well, for one thing I’m much more financially stable now than I was even a year ago. I finally have the ability to save money decent amounts of my income.

I’m still young and foolish enough to do this. I don’t have a lot of responsibilities, either familial or financial. I don’t have a spouse or kids, and I don’t own a home or have a large amount of debt. While I do have some student aid debt, it’s not a lot, and if I plan right, I’ll be able to pay it off even as I travel.

Also, in the last two years, I’ve actually gotten to take trips on a semi-regular basis (4-5 times a year). In March 2012, I took my first (and so far, only) transatlantic flight to London (with a side trip to Paris). Since then, I’ve been to twelve other cities in the USA.

I’ve caught the bug, and I want more.

The main catalyst, though, is that December 12th was my 29th birthday. I know, you’re thinking, “What’s so special about 29?” Well, I realized that I only have one year left to make my 20s awesome. So, yeah, I’m having the “30 years” crisis-mode thing a year early. I don’t like being late for things.

The Plan

So, for my birthday this year I wanted to set a goal. I picked six months (because a year just felt too far off to be a tenable goal). So, I’ve decided; by my 29 1/2 birthday, June 12th, 2014, I will be jumping on a plane and heading away from the USA.

My goal is to travel the world! I’m going to try to get a Work and Holiday visa in Australia, which will allow me to live there and work short term jobs (lasting no longer than six months) for up to a year (allowing me more time to save money). That way, I can transfer to an Apple Store for six months in Australia as my gateway to the world. After that, I might hop around southeast Asia for a bit, or head to South America, Europe, or wherever my journey takes me.

I plan to use this blog to keep an ongoing journal of my travels, including my preparations leading up to the big jump.

So…

I know what you’re thinking, though: How in this world can I afford it? It’s a matter of setting priorities.

We spend money on what’s important to us. That could be tech (like the iPads and iPhones I’ve bought over the past few years), movies, going out, ordering in, etc. If travel isn’t a priority, you don’t save up for it. Since I want to make travel a priority for me, I need to evaluate my priorities.

So, I’m cutting back on expenses. Every cent that doesn’t go towards food, rent, or bills (and the occasional night with friends; I don’t want to be a hermit). I’ll buy cheaper food, refrain from snacks, and cook as much as I can. I should be able to save around $150-200 from each full-time paycheck alone, and that doesn’t even include the “extra” money coming in from the freelancing.

I should be able to save around $8-10,000,enough to get me to Australia, between savings, selling some of my things (like my keyboard, my bed and desk, etc.), and the freelance work that I do. Plus, I’ll be able to keep working on the freelance stuff while I travel.

And I’ll be able to save more money in Australia, so once I leave there, I’ll have plenty of funds to take off and explore.

Thankfully, traveling in the parts of the world I’m going to focus on (after Australia, that is) is a lot cheaper than within the US or Europe. We’re talking places where you can live comfortably on $10-15 per day (including food, room and board).

A good meal is often the equivalent of $2 USD, and food at the market is pennies. Buses go everywhere for just a dollar or two, and who knows, maybe I’ll find new friends to travel or stay with for a while.

Even still, it won’t be a years long vacation. I’ll have to work hard to save up money, make it last, and find ways to earn my keep along the way.

There are extremely cheap hostels (I’m a card carrying member of Hostelling International), and things like couch surfing, etc. to help me save money along the way, too.

Aren’t I scared?

Well, of course I’m nervous, but I intend to live by the motto, “Do what you fear, don’t fear what you do.” I’m ready for an adventure. I have friends and family that love me that I know I can rely upon of I get stuck in a jam, and I have a job that will be relatively easy to come back to if times get too tough out on the open road (Apple is always hiring, and new employees you don’t have to train are always valuable).

The fact is, the world is a lot less scary than we tend to think it is. I want to get out there and experience it for myself. Will I get into tight spots? Sure, I will. But, to me, the benefits of seeing the world far outweigh the risks.

I need your help!

I’ve read a lot about being a lone traveller, and what I’ve learned is, the effort is rarely by just one person. I’ll have to rely on my friends and family for emotional support. A couple of people I’ve talked to about this have mentioned they have family in another country that would love to host me, but if you know of anyone else, or anywhere in particular I should go, please let me know!

In Conclusion…

I’m excited to begin this  journey, and I hope my friends and family are excited for me, too. I know there will be worried questions about my decision to do something different with my life.

While I’m sure there will be questions, roadblocks, and the like, I’m confident that I can make this happen.

 

WordPress Happiness Bar

You know more than you think you do: A guide for helping to support WordPress

This weekend at WordCamp San Francisco, I helped to mentor new contributors on supporting WordPress on the WordPress.org Forums. We covered a lot of tips and guidelines for answering question in the forums, so I thought I’d share them.

You ARE an expert (at something)

I talk to a lot of newer WordPress users at WordCamps and meetups, and whenever I mention giving back by answering questions, I usually get the same response:

But I’m not an expert. I’m not qualified to give that kind of help.

And my answer is always the same:

You know WordPress exists, therefore you know more than someone else.

Anyone who’s been using WordPress for even a short time has the ability to teach someone else about it. We each have a responsibility and an incentive to help others, especially new users, get the most out of the software. With more people using, developing, and evangelizing WordPress, the community will grow, and the software will get even better.

Getting started in the WordPress.org forums

Alright, so you’re convinced, and you want to help out. Let’s get started! Here’s a few tips:

Be familiar with how the forums work – Check out the Forum Welcome page on the codex. There are a lot of tips and tricks there on how the forums work; things like tagging a thread with modlook if they need to be reported to the moderators, and Posting large blocks of code.

Look for posts with no replies – The easiest way to find questions to answer, is to click the No Replies link at the bottom of the main forums page. Don’t start at the top of the page though, as they’re listed with the most recent on top. Start at least a couple of pages back, and that way questions won’t get left behind.

Answer what you know – There are volunteers of every skill level in the forums, so don’t feel like you need to answer every question that is posted. In fact, if you answer the easier questions, it frees up the more advanced volunteers to focus on the questions you can’t answer.

Ask for information – Often, the person posting the question doesn’t give enough details for you to answer the question right away. What plugins are they using? Can they give a URL (or at least screenshot)? If there is an error involved, what is the exact error? What browser/platform are they using?

Use your resources – I learn by teaching, so I’ll often take on a question that I don’t know the answer to off the top of my head. Look up information on the WordPress Codex, or even check in the #WordPress IRC channel to see if someone knows the answer. (The IRC channel is also a great place to help out if you like more direct interaction.)

Stay with your threads – One of the worst things you can do is abandon a thread after you’ve started responding to it. If you’ve requested additional information from the original poster, make sure you respond when they give it to you. Since the thread is no longer listed in the “No Replies” page, it’s less likely to get picked up by another volunteer. To keep tabs on the threads you answer, make sure to subscribe to them. You can either click the “Subscribe to Topic” link on the right side of the page, or click the “Notify me of follow-up posts via email” checkbox before submitting a reply. (I’d definitely recommend setting up a mail filter, so you don’t get inundated.)

That’s it!

That’s all there is to it! Just by answering a few questions, you’ve started contributing to the WordPress community. Congratulations! The more people we have helping others, the stronger our community will be, and the better the WordPress experience will become. Thanks!

P.S.:

If you’re someone who helps out in the forums (or is just getting started), let me know in the comments if you have any additional tips or tricks. If you haven’t gotten started, and are still worried about getting started, please post below, too!

Welcome from WordCamp Chicago 2013

Hey there. If you’ve arrived at this site, it’s probably because you met or saw me talk at WordCamp Chicago 2013 this weekend. I kind of threw this site up quickly so I’d have somewhere to link to my slides, but there’ll be more coming soon, I swear!

Resources

Free Fonts

google.com/webfonts/
fontsquirrel.com
fontspace.com

Free/Paid Fonts

myfonts.com

Subscription Fonts Services

typekit.com
fontdeck.com
webink.com
webtype.com
kernest.com

Pay Per Font Services

fonts.com
typotheque.com
fontspring.com

More Free Fonts

http://www.creativebloq.com/graphic-design-tips/best-free-fonts-for-designers-1233380

http://www.designyourway.net/blog/resources/60-fresh-free-fonts-youd-consider-using-in-your-projects/

http://sixrevisions.com/resources/free-icon-fonts/

Blogs, Tutorials and other resources

http://nicewebtype.com/

http://ilovetypography.com/

http://www.1stwebdesigner.com/css/css3-text-effects-typography/

http://www.fontsquirrel.com/tools/webfont-generator/