Reflecting on the past year can be difficult because it was such an eventful year. Identifying the highs and lows isn’t straightforward at first glance. Like other years, there was a lot of travel, significant life events, and luckily… many more highs than lows.
Among these moments, one stands out as not just a highlight of the year, but as a milestone in my life.
Engagement in Yosemite
The highlight of my year, and a defining moment of my life, was my engagement to Jacqueline Weir, an incredibly caring, intelligent, and beautiful woman. I couldn’t be luckier to have met her, grown our love together, and now be able to spend the rest of my life with her.
Planning an engagement can be stressful. Getting the ring, scouting a location, and asking her parents for their blessing, is just a taste of what it takes to pull off a successful engagement. I’m sure Jacki would have been happy with something simple, but I typically don’t roll like that when it comes to significant life events such as an engagement.
Planning the Engagement
As 2022 turned 2023, I knew I wanted to ask Jacki to marry me sometime during the year. The question was when and where. We had several trips planned for the year that would work, but an engagement has to be at a special location with meaning.
Asking the Future In-Laws for their Blessing
Call me old fashioned, but before asking Jacki to marry me, I first wanted to be sure her parents were on board. To do this, I had to devise a plan to see them without her that wouldn’t be overly suspicious. Luckily, they were remodeling their pool, which gave me the perfect excuse since we have a pool too.
I called her mom on a Sunday when I knew she and Mark, my future father-in-law, were home at the same time. Before heading to their place, I got a bottle of the finest bubbly and a nice bouquet of flowers. You have to make a good first impression, right?
When I arrived, I pretended to be interested in the pool remodel for about 2 minutes but didn’t waste much time before getting straight to the point. I waited until we were all chatting and then went into my speech about how their daughter is the most special person in the world to me, and I’d like their blessing to ask her hand in marriage.
It took them maybe 30 seconds to get over the shock of the question, but once they did, it was an immediate “yes”! We went out to celebrate afterward. One down, one to go.
Finding the Perfect Time and Place
One day early in the year, Jacki asked, “Hey, do you want to go to Yosemite for a weekend? I reserved a cabin last year, and the waterfalls are flowing more than in the last 20 years!” … I knew this was my window because two things Jacki loves are waterfalls and Yosemite.
The only problem was the date for the trip was coming up fast. So I had to hustle to get a ring and plan how it was going to go down. I’ve never been to Yosemite, but I knew it had to be on a trail with as few people as possible and, most importantly, a waterfall.
The Yosemite waterfall was just the location. It was after a day of fun filled hiking and we decided to check out one last waterfall before dinner. Yosemite waterfall is right by the main park restaurant and wasn’t crowded at that time. This was my chance.
We hiked to the falls, crossed a bridge through the mist, and then onto a winding trail beside the river. I knew this was the perfect time and location, so down on one knee I went. Jacki was surprised at first, and I stumbled on a few first words but eventually got it on track and was able to pronounce my love for her; she said yes!
I’m incredibly happy to have her as my life partner. We’re in the beginning-to-middle stages of planning a wedding for this year. It’s an exciting time, and I can’t wait.
Career Highs in 2023: My Stellar Journey
Late in 2022, I was promoted to General Manager at StellarWP, overseeing all aspects of multiple brands, including GiveWP, the brand I co-founded, iThemes, Kadence, and Iconic. One brand, iThemes, required a lot of direction and refocusing.
Turning iThemes into SolidWP was my biggest focus in 2023.
This project had a lot of moving parts. The legacy brand “iThemes” carried their flagship products iThemes Security, BackupBuddy, and iThemes Sync, along with a handful of other products that didn’t make up much of the revenue. They no longer sold themes and, in the last 4-5 years, were best known for the security plugin.
The entire brand and team needed a makeover to fit the current product line and set them up for future success. And it was my job to make that happen quickly and efficiently. So, with the help of an excellent team, that’s exactly what I did.
The Value of Excellent Project Management
In the past, I have attempted to fill the project manager role for GiveWP. This led to mixed results for a variety of reasons, so we hired our own project manager. That led to even worse results. I was a bit soured on PMing, but I saw the light.
I’ve learned that an effective project manager must be a certain type of person. I found one such person in Alexis Karnauskas, a project manager for The Events Calendar at StellarWP at the time, who we promoted to the new role of Program Manager with the primary responsibility of helping me complete the iThemes Rebranding project.
She helped oversee all aspects of the project, and without her, the project would likely still be going on as I write this post. Her ability to wrangle complex and multi-faceted tasks, team members, and timelines is unmatched.
I now know what a good project manager can do for a team and the results they can deliver.
We launched SolidWP in October 2023 after many months of development and QA. During the 13+ years of iThemes, the brand had accumulated a lot of clutter. Knowing which clutter we had to clean up before launch and what could wait took a lot of discovery and understanding. We didn’t get everything right, but we did as much as possible for a smooth launch. And, for the most part, that’s exactly what we got—a pretty darn smooth launch.
We couldn’t do everything we wanted before launch, but got to most of the wishlist items. The website development went down to the wire, email deliverability was a struggle, but the products looked damn good and worked nearly equally as well.
I learned a lot during this project including how complex it is to turn a new leaf on a brand that had lost its way over the years. Since launch, the products, marketing, and team have settled into their new home. Now, the new brand is poised for future growth, and my job is largely done with me hiring my replacement, a new SolidWP Product Owner, at the end of last year.
WordCamps and Conferences
I love attending WordCamps. They are my favorite conferences and are where I’ve made my career. In 2023, I was lucky enough to attend two major WordCamps in WC Europe and WCUS. We also sponsored them under the StellarWP brand.
Conferences allow me to catch up with my friends and colleagues while meeting new ones. I also learn a lot from networking, sitting in on sessions, and collaborating during contributor days. WordCamps are truly valuable.
I was also able to attend Stripe Sessions and see OpenAI’s very own Sam Altman give the keynote. This conference was more Silicon Valley glitz and glamor than a WordCamp. I thought it was a good time, but I found the attendees to be less connected than at WordCamps. It also felt much more sales-y, which you would expect from being a company-based conference.
WordCamp Europe in Athens
If I had to pick a favorite, WordCamp Europe 2023 tops my list. It was in Athens, Greece, at a great venue for sponsors and attendees. Great weather, food, and people. What more could you ask for? Here are a few shots from WCEU 2023:
WordCamp US in Maryland
My next favorite conference of 2023 was WordCamp US outside Washington DC, in Maryland. We sponsored this event as StellarWP, as well.
This conference felt like WordCamps is fully back after taking a COVID-19 hit! It felt like the good ol’ days, and I spent much of the time networking in the “Hallway Track.” I also got to sit on a Community Roundtable discussion on WordCamp sponsorships.
Another great experience was flying in early to tour our nation’s Capitol. I love my country, so seeing the capitol for a long time has been a bucket list item for a long time. This time, I wouldn’t let the chance pass me by.
Quick shout out to Raquel Manriquez, who has been such a good friend this last year and for many years now. We hung out with each other in Athens and DC. She’s so much fun and brings the best out of everyone.
GiveWP 3.0 Launch
The 2.0 era of GiveWP ended with the launch of our 3.0 version last year. We had been working on this major version for more than a year, and it was so good to see it make its debut.
The 3.0 version took so long because we completely rethought how fundraisers create donation forms. This took a lot of discovery, refactoring, and innovation to get right. In 2.0, users largely clicked options to customize their forms; there wasn’t much of a visual aspect to it. Now, it’s completely visual.
We used WordPress’ Gutenberg, or Block Editor, as the backbone for our new visual donation form builder. Users can drag and drop form fields, add custom content, modify donation amounts, edit emails, and more in a modern and reactive interface. It’s quite beautiful, and I’m proud of the entire team for diligently seeing it through to launch.
My New YouTube Channel
Early in my career, I had a lot of fun blogging and creating YouTube videos about my learnings, mainly WordPress. Over time, my effort and focus shifted to building my business, so I stopped blogging and creating videos. I also developed some imposter syndrome that was tough to overcome.
I wrote about my new YouTube channel already, and it’s just getting started, so I won’t get into it much here, but it was an effort I started later in the year and plan on continuing into this new year. Here’s one of my favorite videos I did last year:
Investing in… a Restaurant?!
One of my best friends, Nick Balsamo, is a very talented chef in San Diego. I grew up with Nick and watched him take his passion from a hobby to a full-fledged business. In early 2023, Nick approached me with an opportunity to invest in his restaurant concept: Rosemarie’s Buns and Brews.
I knew the food was good. I knew Nick was not only a good chef but also a hustler. I didn’t know a damn thing about operating a restaurant. Sometimes, you have to trust your gut, though. And that’s exactly what I did.
In March 2023, I invested in Rosemaries, and we opened up our first location in north Mission Beach, California, right up the road from where I play volleyball nearly every week. I wrote about the investment at the time, but since that post, things have been going very well. Nick and the team are continuing the path to success, so much so that there’s even discussion of opening Rosemarie’s #2 this year.
Friends and Family
When I look back on the past year, the moments I remember fondest are the times spent with my friends and family. They’re what keeps me motivated and content in life, and I try to spend as much time as possible with the ones I truly care about.
We took the most memorable trip that we’ve taken as a family in a long time in 2023.
Switzerland, Italy, and Croatia
Yes, I went to Europe twice last year. It was awesome. The first time was for WCEU, as mentioned above, but the second time was for my brother and sister-in-law’s 40th birthday. Nearly my entire family went!
Jacki and I started the trip off by flying to Zurich, Switzerland, on business class and staying a night on Lake Zurich in an amazing hotel in the penthouse room. Not too shabby!
We toured Zurich, swam in the lake, climbed a tower, and then caught a train to Interlaken, a town in the Bernese Oberland region of central Switzerland. That’s when we, by luck and some chance, met up with my brother and crew. On the same train!
Beautiful doesn’t even begin to describe this part of the world. We saw glaciers, hiked to mountain peaks, went through caves, rode a mountain rollercoaster, and so much more! If you get a chance, I highly recommend you visit this part of Switzerland. It’s truly magical.
Oh yeah, and I have to mention that my best bud Augie also came for the trip!
After Switzerland, We Caught a Train to Italy
We really loved Switzerland and it was hard to leave but the time had come to hop on a train to Lake Como, Italy, and meet up with my parents, siblings, and other members of the 40th birthday party.
I had a good time at Lake Como, and it’s very beautiful, but when coming from Switzerland, it’s hard to beat those Alps. It was still amazing, and we had a wonderful 3-days touring the various towns on the lake, including Bellagio and Menaggio.
My favorite part was spending time with my family and Jacki to celebrate my bro and wife’s 40th birthday party. We rented a boat and went on the lake, biked around the lake, and had fun spending time together.
After Italy, We Flew to Croatia
Now that Italy was wrapped up, it was time for the final leg of our journey. Just like we started, we ended with Jacki and me spending some much-needed alone time together, vacationing.
We flew into Split, Croatia, toured the old town, and saw all the amazing architecture. Split wasn’t my favorite city, but Jacki loved it. The food was great, and the people were friendly and inviting. My favorite part of northern Croatia was going to the island of Hvar, where we rented a Vespa and rode it around the entire island.
After Split, we rode in a private van to Dubrovnik, which was my favorite. It’s the city where much of Game of Thrones was filmed and is truly a place you must be in to appreciate fully. We spent a few days seeing the city, walking on the outer walls, eating amazing food, and people-watching.
After seeing the city, on the last day we decided to rent jet skis and go to the islands. This got a bit hairy because we were caught in a rainstorm out at sea which got a bit scary for about 20 minutes. Luckily, the storm passed, and we had a good day.
I’ve always heard Croatia is beautiful and a place to visit if you’re going to Europe. Now, I’m a true believer. It lived up to all my and Jacki’s expectations.
My 38th Birthday in Vegas
Typically I don’t too much for my birthday. This year was a little different. We went to Vegas with my best buddies and had a blast. We stayed up late, gambled, ate too much, and saw “O” at the Bellagio.
Now I can say I’ve been to both the real Bellagio and the casino in one year!
My Grandma’s 96th Birthday
I’m lucky to have my Grandma in my life still. She’s a spitfire, has a sharp mind, and has helped shape who I am today. That’s why celebrating her 96th birthday was such a memorable moment last year.
My Grandma lives in Portland, Oregon, and made the trip to Southern California with my Aunt to celebrate her birthday with the family. The fact that she’s willing and able to do that meant a lot to me. It was very special to be able to see her and the family that day.
Additional Notable 2023 Family & Friends Events
In addition to the big trip to Europe, there were many other good times spent with the ones I care about most in 2023.
- 🎸 Blink-182 concert with family
- 📖 Book of Mormon with Jacki
- 🌅 Adam and Tom’s house hangouts
- 🌵 Weekend in Anza-Borrego with Friends
- ⛵️ Sailing on the San Diego Bay
- 🎶 TesseracT concert with friends
In 2023, I worked hard to focus more on personal improvement. This included learning new things, working on my mind and body, being more present, and improving existing skills.
Six Weeks Dry
You know, I like to kick back a brew or two. But this year, I wanted to challenge myself to see what kind of change an extended period of umm, not doing that… would have on me. It was difficult at first because, I like to drink beer… a lot. But eventually, as time progressed, I settled into the motions of sobriety.
I learned a lot about myself during this time, and it reinforced in me that, with strong willpower, you can achieve almost anything. I lost weight and gained muscle, focus, and drive.
Since then, I’ve cut way back on my beer drinking and am maintaining a healthy balance. Jacki loves it, and so do I. This year, I’m going to take the same break.
For the past 5-years, volleyball has become an essential part of my life. It’s brought me a motivating and positive group of friends and has helped me develop new skills. 2023 marks my fifth year playing the game, and I love it more each time I’m on the beach.
One notable achievement was winning a league tournament against a highly skilled group of players, some rated A/B by CBVA. I love competing, and winning is even more satisfying.
Like Volleyball, guitar is an outlet for me. It gives me a chance to unwind and focus on making music. I like to play both electric and acoustic guitar. Lately, I’ve been finding myself reaching for the acoustic more. So much so that I decided to buy myself a nice Martin acoustic to encourage me further.
I’ve been driving a 2006 BMW as my main car for the last few years. I leased a Volvo for a few years but switched back to the BMW when it was time to return it. That’s been my main vehicle for the better part of the last 15 years. And it was breaking down.
Godspeed You! White Emperor!
… New Car
It came time to treat myself. So, after much thought and searching, I bought a Mercedes GL43. It’s totally tricked out:
Despite some battery-related issues, the new whip has been treating me well. I finally have my bat mobile!
Home Improvement Projects
Remember I talked about learning new skills? Well, one I wrote about recently is home improvement. Last year, I revamped my garage and my biggest project to date: building over 100 feet of new fencing in my side yard.
Building a fence is hard work. The most difficult part is digging the holes for the fence posts. The ground where the fence is being built is filled with rocks which makes it even more difficult. As well, each hole has to be at least 3-feet deep.
The garage project took me about 8-12 weeks of weekend work to complete. The fence has taken me about 6 months, and I’m almost done with Phase I of the project, which is the side yard.
I’ll be writing a post about the fence project once it’s completed, but for now here’s some action shots:
[Shots coming soon, I need to get them from Jacki!]
Making the News
I’m in a battle with the San Diego Water Utility. They’re not a well-run department, at all. So much so that they just dump huge bills on you after claiming you had a leak… to the tune of thousands of dollars.
Being a journalism major, I wasn’t going to just pay it quietly. After seeing reports of others having similar experiences, I reached out to CBS 8 and told them my story. They picked up the report and had a camera person and reporter out to my house the next day.
Journalists play an essential part in our society. I’m going to continue fighting for better water utility management. It’s vital to our region that they do their jobs effectively. The press is one tool I’m using to help push them along.
2023 Travel Summary
To wrap up this post, I wanted to compile all the places I traveled to this year:
- 🇬🇷 Greece, Athens for WCEU
- 🏜️ Anza-Borrego, California for vacation
- 🇮🇹 Lake Como, Italy for bro’s 40th birthday
- 🇨🇭 Zurich and Interlaken, Switzerland for vacation
- ⚔️ Split and Dubrovnik, Croatia for vacation
- ⛰️ Yosemite to get engaged!
- 🌃 Atlanta x2 for work meetings
- ♠️ Las Vegas, for my birthday
- 🌉 San Francisco, x2 for Stripe Sessions and Stripe pre-Dreamforce dinner
- 🇺🇸 Maryland and Washington DC for WCUS
- 🚗 Ventura for Grandma’s 96th b-day
- 🏀 LA for UCLA versus AZ
Reflecting on a Year of Milestones and Looking Forward to 2024
As 2023 drew to a close, I found myself reflecting on a year filled with remarkable milestones and invaluable experiences. From the unforgettable moment of my engagement in Yosemite, to career achievements at StellarWP, and the adventures traveling, each experience has contributed to my personal and professional growth.
The year was also a testament to the power of relationships – be it the many occasions with family and friends, the successes with colleagues, or the new connections made throughout the year. Looking ahead, I’m filled with anticipation for the opportunities and challenges that 2024 holds.
With a heart full of gratitude and a mind eager to explore new horizons, I step into the new year ready to embrace whatever it brings, continuing my journey of growth, discovery, and making a meaningful impact.