Look Ma! My self-hosted blog!

I started my blog, Holliday’s Inner Workings, on WordPress.com last March (almost a year ago already!), mostly to improve my writing and communication skills. I had recently moved from my small town upstate to New York City for graduate school at Columbia University, so I figured my blog was a great way to keep friends and family updated with my life.

It took awhile to get into my groove, to find where my personal writing style fit in the blogosphere. Over the next few months, I found that I was getting the best response with my humorous posts about everyday experiences, reviews, or special events. And I was actually getting subscribers from across the WordPress community, not just those friends and family members.

I got engaged in August to my super WordPress-savvy boyfriend, so it was only natural that we should have an awesome wedding website. We obtained a domain and I started learning about the world of plug-ins and CSS. Where have these been all my (blogging) life? Our website was looking amazing (sorry, it’s now expired…just trust me when I say it was cool), and the fact that I was learning more about WordPress was fantastic.

This made me realize just how boring my personal blog was. Now that I knew how to actually do stuff and make things look the way I wanted, I felt constricted, and that was frustrating. Then, about 4 months ago, my desire to self-host my blog was made even greater when I went to WordCamp Raleigh in North Carolina. I actually wrote a whole blog post about my experience and thoughts, so go check that out at your leisure!

After returning from that trip, I decided I was going to take the plunge and self-host my blog. I chose my domain name easily, kept the title Holliday’s Inner Workings, and started going to town on my new website. I went to WooThemes to browse through their theme offerings. I wanted something that emphasized a blogging environment and could act as a good foundation for my desire to customize and make it look the way I want.

I ended up deciding on Peddlar because of its overall appearance and its ability to integrate certain features that I could use. Because this theme’s “usage is intended to be hugely diverse,” I figured I could focus it more on posts rather than e-commerce, photography, etc. And if, down the line, I wanted to integrate more of those aspects into my blog, Peddlar seemed to have the capacity to do so.Peddlar WooThemes

I imported the old posts from my WordPress blog and started playing around with CSS, learning how to change (pretty much) anything I wanted! I was able to make my homepage look the way I wanted. I could finally toy around with plug-ins as well; so far, I’ve stuck with what JetPack offers for statistics and sharing. It wasn’t always easy and a few things took me hours to figure out on my own, but it has been rewarding learning this through my own explorations, making mistakes and triumphs along the way.

When I decided my website was good enough to introduce to the world, I wrote a post about it, letting my subscribers, Facebook friends, and Twitter followers know that I had relocated. Since then, I’ve continued tweaking my website, have redirected my WordPress blog to my new domain, and am happy that I now have the freedom and know-how to customize and personalize it.

My First WordPress Conference: WordCamp Raleigh 2013

This past weekend I went to North Carolina for WordCamp Raleigh. This was my first time in North Carolina and my first time ever attending a WordPress conference. I’ve never attended a conference that wasn’t for church youth groups or K-12 teachers, so this was a totally new experience for me.WordCamp-Raleigh-Banner

My fiance, Tom, was set to speak at the conference, so I wanted to go and support him as well as learn some stuff along the way. Tom works for WooThemes, a WordPress platform provider that offers a wide selection of themes and plugins for website developers, bloggers, and businesses (among others). So he has a lot of insight on all things WordPress, as well as a whole ton of general software engineer (AKA computer programmer) knowledge.

I was actually pretty nervous about going. I mean, I am going to school to be a middle/high school math teacher. Sure, I’ve had this blog for 8 months, and I’ve been learning a lot since we’ve been working on our wedding website, but I was worried that everyone at the conference would be of Tom’s caliber. So I  wouldn’t be able to connect with anyone because they would all be too knowledgeable and I would be uninteresting and unrelatable.

I told Tom my concerns before going but he reassured me that there were people from all levels, all backgrounds, and all ages that I would not be left out. I figured I was going to see Tom speak, so that was the main focus. Anything I learned and any connections I made would be a bonus.

I can honestly say that I am so glad I went – it was a great learning experience and I met a lot of cool people! Plus I got to see Tom in his natural habitat with a bunch of computer-enthusiasts. And I got to brag that I was with him. Win-win.

I’ll admit that I was a bit lost during some of the outside conversations when Tom was with other programmers. So I mostly sat back and listened or kept to myself because there was no way I would have any sort of input on the subject. This was sometimes discouraging because of my previous reservations about attending the conference. But there was always another conversation going on close by that I could slide into if I felt I could contribute.

Overall, the workshops/sessions that I went to were great. They used #wcraleigh so that everyone could connect and get insight on other talks, pull quotes from the different speakers, and give updates about their conference experience. Needless to say I used Twitter more in those 6 hours than I have in months. And it reminds me of how great social media can be. And also how annoying. But I won’t get into that so I don’t end up offending anyone.

In one of the sessions I attended, I learned that there actually exist plugins that allow you to drag and drop elements, making layout construction/manipulation so much easier! I can’t tell you how many times, while working on our wedding website, I’ve looked at it and said, “I want this here, and that to move there…” The problem is that I don’t know how to code all that, so I usually just accept the way it is and try to get over it. But this weekend the heavens opened and now I’m going to give the plugin a spin.

And I realized that I am not the only one who was blown away by this; the majority of those in attendance were making noises of exasperation, relief, excitement…so many noises that just made it known that this was not something we all were aware of. So I know that I speak for most of the people at this session when I say thank you Brett Bumeter for the insight! He tweeted out his slides, so check them out to get an idea of what he talked about. If you’re interested, the one I found to be most helpful was Page Layout Builder.

I also went to a talk by Hal Goodtree that focused on creating content as a blogger while thinking and writing like a publisher. This session was really informative, covering the best approaches, techniques, and plugins, so I plan to employ plenty of those suggestions to be a better blogger.

And, of course, I went to Tom’s talk which focused on sliders. I had been keeping up with the #wcraleigh hashtag throughout the day and was getting ready to post a picture of Tom giving his talk. I noticed that a couple of people had tweeted kind of negative views on sliders towards the beginning of his presentation. There was nothing negative about Tom, but I was surprised to find that for some reason some people just do not like sliders and see no point or place for them on websites. tom wordcamp

Funny enough, by the end of his talk, a few people tweeted about having changed their view and that Tom might have convinced them to use a slider for their blog! I’m really proud of him for getting so involved in his trade (this was the third WordCamp he spoke at this year) and putting himself out there to inform others of what he’s learning.

One decision I made over the weekend was that I want to move this blog from wordpress.com to .org. Now that I know what I’m doing a little more and have been using WordPress pretty consistently, I’ve realized how limited I am with a .com blog. I’ve gotten more familiar with plugins and CSS since working on our wedding website, so I’m realizing how little I can do to customize my own blog, unless I pay to upgrade in WordPress. And that’s been driving me nuts. So that will definitely be changing soon.

If you’re interested in checking out future WordCamps, look at the schedule here. They are held all over the world – USA, South America, India…everywhere! And the registration doesn’t cost much, honestly. Everyone working and speaking at the event are volunteers – none of them are getting paid to put this together. That shows their dedication and enthusiasm for the realm of WordPress, right?

So if there’s one close to you and you would like to learn more about WordPress and connect with cool people that want to do the same, I would highly recommend that you do it! Now excuse me while I go become an awesome blogger…