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The Production Of Church

The Production Of Church

I am month one into a new role at my church as the Stage Team Director. 

This means that I get to think about what’s happening on the stage at our venue, and help coordinate everything from audio and lights to visual presentations.  After watching and participating in church services through YouTube for roughly a year and a half, being back together feels great! 

In recent weeks, we’ve been getting back into the rhythm of Sunday worship services at our venue, a public school in midtown Manhattan. And very soon, I’ll have a meeting with some volunteers who are interested in serving on the Stage Team! I’ve been thinking a lot about how the meeting will go so that’s the topic I’ll write about today to help me process my thoughts a little more…

I was thinking of starting the interest meeting with a quick discussion about service – what is it and why is it important? We are called to be servants of God and it’s a term we hear a lot, but what does that even mean?

A common definition of a servant is someone who waits on their master/boss to tell them what do, then they go off and do the job by themselves. This cycle then repeats indefinitely throughout ones time of servitude. Servants work for their masters. Is that how we should see ourselves?

The most insightful perspective I’ve read on the topic comes from a book called, “Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God” by Henry & Richard Blackaby and Claude King. Right at the start in Unit 1, there’s a section in the workbook called “Learning to Be a Servant of God” (page 17). The author says, “My understanding of a servant is depicted by the potter and the clay”…

In Jeremiah 18:1-6, we read about the potter and the clay –

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.

The clay (that’s us!) has only two things that it needs to do – and both of them are in response to the potter (this is God). The author put it this way:

  1. The clay has to be molded. It has to be responsive to the potter so he can make it into an instrument of his choosing. 
  2. The clay has to remain in the potter’s hands. When the potter has finished making the instrument of his choosing, that instrument has no ability to do what it wants. It has to remain in the potter’s hands to be effective. 

God’s servants don’t work for God, God works through his servants.

My definition of what it meant to be God’s servant (especially in the context of serving at church) didn’t line up with God’s. My approach wasn’t life-giving because it was centered around me and what I can bring to the table or get from the exchange.  It was a whole lot of, “me, me, me” –  how can this help me meet new people, how can this help prepare me for new work opportunities, how can this make me feel good about myself, God must be happy with me because I’m putting so much time into all this serving…. Ummm, no! Honestly, before being challenged by this new framework of servanthood, being a servant of God felt frustrating and unsustainable to me – like how are we supposed to do this (and do it joyfully) every day for the rest of our lives?

The memory verse for the unit ties it together –

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5

God is the one who shapes us into an instrument of his choosing, and then he accomplishes his works and his will through our lives.

He’s not a celestial taskmaster endlessly barking out orders for us to work, work, work… He’s calling us to relationship where as we walk closely with him, and from this place of relationship He transforms us and uses our lives to impact others. We don’t have the ability to do it ourselves. It’s God who works through us. 

So as God’s servant, I just need to remain moldable and stay in God’s hands. 

Outside of that place, I can’t do anything. In that place, the possibilities are limitless because whatever God can do, then I can do. It’s God who is accomplishing all of the work, doing what He wants to do THROUGH my life and obedience. 

So what does all of this have to do with church and specifically church production?  

Well…in planning for the in-person worship experience after going for nearly 18 months with no in-person gatherings, I can already see that my view of what a church service should look like and feel like has changed.

It’s easy to generate a nice, long to-do list of all the work that needs to be done with setup/tear down each week. And I know these lists will definitely have their place (I LOVE lists!) But I’ve also been thinking of ways to create a space where the volunteers are growing (being molded) as they serve, and developing a team mindset that is life-giving and continually pointing us back to the potter – not our own skills and abilities or what we can do for the church.

I’m also thinking about what God wants to do in New York City.  I don’t think the foundational answer to that changes much whether we are in a pandemic or not – He wants people to come to know him, the lost to be found, for us to experience him, walk with him daily, and put our faith in him. Jesus came to seek and save the lost, to bind the wounds of the broken, to redeem… 

So why then do we have to go through the whole routine of setting up the lights and sound equipment and going through all of the trouble from week to week to produce a church service? What does all of that work have to do with all of this? 

I personally believe (and this is what helps me serve when I don’t feel like it – hahaha!) that what we are doing is preparing a place in the city for people to meet with God, learn more about him, worship him, sing to him, pray to him, and to get to know one another too! We are building a tabernacle and place of worship, a place that invites in and welcomes the presence of God. And we are doing it in community.

All of the miscellaneous production things aren’t necessary for God’s presence to be felt among us, but they do help in providing a more distraction-free worship experience for the community. 

Have you ever wanted to sing along to a song that everyone was jamming to, but didn’t know the words? 

Have you ever had to sit in the back of an auditorium or large space and you couldn’t hear the speaker well? (This happened to me a few classes in college) 

Have you ever listened to music that seemed to be out of time and out of tune? 

Yep, I have too. These are just a few of the scenarios we’re trying to avoid and why we take time to think about church production and preparation. 

So we set up the giant speakers and sound system, and the worship team rehearses and develops their musical skills, and we create visually-pleasing media presentations with the lyrics and sermon notes because it helps us offer our best and it helps others who are new to feel like they can be part of what God is doing too in a practical – right here, right now way.  

While we are setting up lights, and connecting microphones, and assembling the projector screen – we are here because God is up to something, he wants to meet with us. We are helping create an environment where more people can join in and be invited into the worship experience, and ultimately start their own journey of knowing God personally.

My heart is that the Service Teams volunteers (Stage Team + People Team + Kids Team) will see their service in the church as an act of worship and obedience. God is working through us to reach this beautiful city we call home.

Birthday Journaling

Subtitle: Thinking about my personal testimony 

It’s all a process.
Life is a process.
I’m a work in progress, and it’s not over. 

I am becoming more aware and (by God’s grace) more intentional each day about getting to know God and spending time with Him. He is my reward, the lifter of my head, and the one that holds it all together. My love relationship with God is the foundation of all that is good in my life, and the true measure of any success I may stumble upon. 

Without him, I go back-and-forth constantly with my thoughts. I quickly become indecisive and easily overwhelm myself with a myriad of decisions day in and day out. These decisions ultimately leave me paralyzed in fear and discouragement because I feel like I don’t know anything, I don’t know what to do, and I have no direction. And that’s when feelings of hopeless and loneliness tag team in the fight. It’s like my mind gets cloudy and all I want to do is sleep because it’s the only way to stop the barrage of overwhelming thoughts. 

But when I spend time with God every day, I gain clarity. I begin to shift my focus and not be overwhelmed with the bigger picture of life and all of the things that are out of my control.  I am then often able to discern specific next steps for my day – even if it’s just spending time with him, or following up on an idea or project, even reaching out to someone to see how they’re doing – He leads me and guides me.  

I have to admit that I don’t always get it right. 

When things are busy and I’ve got a lot on my plate, weeks can go by without my stopping to spend time with God. And the first thing to suffer when I get busy is my relationships. I don’t stop to make that phone call, or to send the text. I enter into survival mode. 

While in survival mode, I still have my gospel and worship jams going in the background as the soundtrack to my overwhelming life, and I’ll often read the daily verse that pops up on my phone, but over time these placeholders to really spending time with God begin to fail at the task of withstanding my anxiety and the pressures of life. I’ll eventually find myself in a rut of feeling overwhelmed with circumstances and things that are happening around me –  it can feel like I’m carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders.  

Eventually, it breaks me down and I have to go back to God and say, “OK, God I’m sorry I got off track. Let’s just spend some time together, thanks for being there.  What are you up to these days? Where have you been moving? Oh, oh yeah, hmmm, how can I get to where you are? Please help me with this, this and this so that I can move with you instead of going this way I’ve been going. And I keep having this thought, so can you help with that too?”

I’ve found He’s always faithful to come through and meet me where I am. He gives fresh insight and ideas, He brings people in my life at the perfect time, and even lets me be a support in other people’s lives at the perfect time when they need it. 

Trusting in God will never grow old (even though I get older with each trip around the sun). It’s a beautiful relationship, and one that I look forward to growing deeper in for the rest of my life. 

I’m thankful for the years that I’ve had of walking with him even though they have not been perfect, I know that all things are working together for good.

God is doing something beautiful in me, and doing something beautiful through me and I can trust that as long as I’m walking with Him that I am still a work in progress – and the same goes for you. We don’t have to feel discouraged when I fail or miss the mark, because it’s not over!  

The Hamilton Mash-Up

The Hamilton Mash-Up

First of all, I’m not a rapper. (This video never gets old.)

Jokes aside, it’s true. I’m not a rapper, but I let me tell you about this one time I did write rhymes.

Before I go any further, I have to first say that Lin Manuel Miranda is a lyrical genius. I often find myself singing or humming lines from not only Hamilton, but Moana and Mary Poppins Returns right on down to his newest release on Netflix, Vivo.

It’s so persistent that I can’t even think “You’re Welcome” without this song coming to mind:

Alright, so here’s the story of how I became a lyricist for one day.

Every year, my church (shout out to everynationnyc.org) has this annual awards-show-like event to celebrate all of the amazing volunteers who team up to make the whole weekly church service thing work. We call it the ENNYS (a play on the Emmy Awards). Last year’s celebration was canceled (like most of 2020), so we decided to bring the ENNYS home to the volunteers. Each person received a hand-delivered care package from the pastors with some goodies and gift cards, and access to this rap video that was made just for them.

As for the rapping part, I had fun using Logic to build the instrumental track, and writing the lyrics. I recorded the demo in my studio (a.k.a my closet). It was even more fun watching the pastors record their parts and seeing the final product come together after many hours of Zach and Teri’s awesome video production and editing.

Here’s the actual final video:

And the rap lyrics, if you want to rap along:

THE HAMILTON MASH-UP, ENNYS 2020 EDITION

Pt 1. GUNS AND SHIPS

How did this dedicated volunteer army, succeed and not cower?
Not retreat, and somehow overpower?

Showing us the church is a body, not a building
Making a difference. Our mission, they’re fulfilling

Yo, turns out we have a sacred weapon
A mighty God we know and love who’s not afraid to step in

He’s constantly strengthening, guiding laying the foundation
The service teams exemplify Him, give an ovation!

It is so nice, it is so nice
To have service teams on our side
It is so nice, it is so nice
To have service teams on our side

Pt 2. WASHINGTON ON YOUR SIDE

It is so nice, it is so nice
To have service teams on our side
It is so nice, it is so nice
To have service teams on our side

Your dedication, only leads to greater admiration
There’s no us without you, that’s a proclamation
EN Kids on the go, still learning as they grow
Hospitality unilaterally brings joviality
And practically Communications has no limitations
Others try emulation, there’s no imitation
the mighty crews from EN Youth and from people engagement
they shine radiant and for them, there is no replacement.
Remained patient as we took it back to the foundation
EN Campus made it happen no self-justification
Worship experience led us to praise brought exhortations
Marriage and Family, building community,
They need a free vacation

It is so nice, it is so nice
To have service teams on our side
It is so nice, it is so nice
To have service teams on our side

Pt 3. HELPLESS

Oh…I do, I do, I do thank you!

You’ve helped us
It’s no surprise, you really represented

You’ve helped us
By making a difference in our city, you really did

Help us
No compromise, even in a pandemic
OR We recognize, we can’t do this without you

You’ve helped us
Shouting it out, there’s no doubt about it

They say
To limit the spread we must stay at least six feet away
We try
We keep on our masks and purell everything that’s in sight

Pt 4. YOU’LL BE BACK

They say
To limit the spread we must stay at least six feet away
We try
We keep on our masks and purell everything that’s in sight

Yes it’s true
Even, despite this arrangement, we do still have Zoom
And we’re here for you
Facetime and phone calls and YouTube until we resume…

We’ll be back, Soon you’ll see
We will all be out of quarantine
We’ll be back, time will tell
Until then, thank you for serving well

Morning prayers, late night calls
We have seen each other through it all
But next year, when COVID’s done
We will have US AN in-person ENNYS to remind you of our love

Da da da da dat da, dat da da da da ya
Da da dat dat da ya da da!

(update May 2022)

I was cleaning up files and found my demo version! Good times 🙂

I Need You (original song)

I used to write music a lot, sometimes with other people, sometimes by myself. Over time I’d gotten away from the habit, but more recently the love for music and songwriting has been stirring up again. Gonna start with baby steps and try to set aside time each week to sift through old files and to organize all the new voice recordings and ideas that I’ve added in the last few months – to at least gather them all and get them in one place. I hope to one day finish all of these songs that have been tucked away.

This one starts with this one long untraditional verse, then it grows into a bigger chorus with the many voices of a choir and beautiful harmonies (unrecorded, but it’s in my head!)

Original song snippet from 2004, “I Need You”. Guitarist, Eli M. @2004 Tamra Thomas (Iroku)

“I Need You” Lyrics:

I can’t make it on my own
I can’t do this without you
I need you more now
I Need You, I Need You

Your love covers my wrongs
It makes me feel complete
I need you more now
I Need You, I Need You

You’ll never let me go
You’ll never let me fall
I find rest in your strength
In this mixed up world, you give me life

Without you it’s not worth living
I praise you
I worship you
I’m in love with you, I’m in love with you

I Need You
I Need You
I Need You, Oh Lord (Repeat)

Infinite Creativity

Infinite Creativity

While walking down the street this morning, I started thinking about beauty. Specifically the places and the things that I consider to be beautiful. These random thoughts about beauty were sparked in me when I walked past a patch of bright yellow flowers growing on the 85th street sidewalk. Yellow is my favorite color, so when I saw them I immediately felt happy and energized and alive. They were beautiful to me. 

These blooming flowers set into motion a train of thoughts on God as the ultimate creator, one with infinite creativity.

I began to think of artists, specifically painters and their artwork. Some of the most inspiring paintings to me are those that show the beauty of nature, but even they are just capturing and putting to paper the beauty they see in the world God made. The greatest artists are able to capture God‘s creativity in such a way that it causes us to notice something we hadn’t seen before, or to feel something we hadn’t felt before. 

Ultimately, great artists have a way of noticing God’s beauty and sharing it with others so they can see the beauty too.

God has created countless beautiful things that spark joy, that make us smile, and that even inspire moments of creativity within us. His creativity is endless!  

The 4 D’s That Keep Us From Accepting God’s Invitation

The 4 D’s That Keep Us From Accepting God’s Invitation

Was journaling this morning and started thinking about the things in my life that have kept me from pursuing a deeper relationship with God over the years. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a personal reflection that I think others can relate to too.

Distraction

We often don’t sit still long enough to get into God’s presence and build this essential relationship with him. There are enough responsibilities, entertainment options, and concerns/cares in life to keep us distracted for all eternity. We must be intentional and purposeful (or as some say, “mindful”) in our pursuit of God. He wants us to put all of our own distractions aside and come to him. 

Discouragement

Sometimes it feels like things are never going to change and we want to drop everything and quit. When things don’t work out, we can feel defeated and fearful and like we are ready to give up. But sometimes this is actually the best thing we can do – STOP 🛑 

We can stop trying to make things happen in our own strength and we can start pressing in to God. We can seek God first and look to him for the day by day guidance. This is the only way to prevent an 11-day journey from taking 40 years.  

Doubt 

We often doubt ourselves and our own abilities and gifts. But the beautiful thing here is that we don’t need to be able to do anything to serve God with our whole hearts – God is the one on the hook for doing the work. We just need to be available for him to use us. And to keep ourselves in a space of God-centeredness.

 

Disappointment

In relationships and life, none of us are short on having moments of disappointment and hurt. We don’t always live up to the expectations of others and we can say that others don’t always live up to ours, even those we love the most. These experiences can keep us from fully pursuing God and his invitation because we think He might let us down or we think he might disappoint us like people in our lives do. But God is not like men. When we get closer to Him he has a way of making crooked things straight. We can 💯 trust him and know that he will do what he’s promised and if he said it that it will come to pass. We can rest on his promises for our lives. 

A Time To Share

A Time To Share

A close friend recently said I should share more. Actually, several friends have given similar advice, summed up in the words, “Tammy, you really should write more.”

“But, I’m not a writer,” I say.

“Plus, there’s not enough time in the world, AND there are already so many voices online that I can’t keep up with it all anymore, AND I like my privacy, AND it stresses me out to even think of having to keep up with creating content for my own site, but most importantly. . .I’m NOT a writer.”

Do you see where I’m going with this?

Even while writing that first paragraph I’ve squashed an argument between my (adorable) sons, watched my eldest son perform top secret fighting moves on his LEGO Ninjago game, been asked to pour a glass of milk by the littlest one, and listened to the Beyblade Burst theme song multiple times – it’s parenting in full swing.

How can I write and share my work when I’m busy working, creating, (over) thinking, parenting, sleeping, volunteering, cooking, cleaning and everything-else-ing? All I hear them saying is, “Tammy, you should really add one more thing to your to-do list!”

Plus, as if time limitations aren’t enough – I also do NOT like conflict. Some people love debates and being challenged, but that’s not me. Challenge is not something I intentionally set out to encounter or to incite in my everyday life, but writing and sharing opens you up to being challenged in your thoughts and ideas. There’s no way to put your foot in your mouth when you don’t say anything at all! You won’t be misquoted. You can’t be misunderstood. You’re never wrong (technically). Ahhhh, that sounds heavenly doesn’t it? For an Enneagram #9, INTJ, introvert like myself – yes, yes it does.

I like to think that adopting a non-sharing philosophy actually increases productivity by not inviting any unwanted elements into your work and life flow. There are no “likes” to tally, no comments to mull over, and no outside opinions to process beyond those of lovingly supportive family and friends. It’s simple really.

But is moving so far into productivity and progress that we forget to share/invite/connect the best path forward? I’m starting to think it’s not.

I’ve spent the last two decades helping people visually share their ideas, so I’ve seen firsthand how rewarding it can be to have an idea come to mind, then to see it be expressed. And it’s even more exciting when the idea inspires someone else, and they build on the idea creating an even better version.

In the book Show Your Work by Austin Kleon, he quoted another writer/consultant when he said:

The stupidest creative act is still a creative act… On the spectrum of creative work, the difference between the mediocre and the good is vast. Mediocrity is, however, still on the spectrum; you can move from mediocre to good in increments. The real gap is between doing nothing and doing something. 

Clay Shirky, Cognitive Surplus

Ahhh, the gap between doing nothing and doing something is real indeed. Getting started is super hard and not as rewarding, especially when the early drafts and mock ups aren’t so great. But we ALL have to start somewhere. No one is born an expert or a professional.

So this is my attempt to start my journey of sharing. . .

I see the importance of freely exchanging ideas and expressing ourselves through journaling, creative writing, song writing, artistic endeavors – it all has value.

From silly social media posts, random tweets and viral TikTok videos to insightful Clubhouse discussions and informative podcasts, all of these modern modes of sharing provide us with a continuous stream of old and new ideas, old and new sources of inspiration, old and new perspectives.

Lately I’ve been finding unexpected sources of inspiration from the writings and experiences of others. I can pinpoint many times in my life where reading someone else’s stories of trial and error, flat-out failure, lucky successes or hard work were just what I needed at that moment to get me going. Sharing experiences inspires us.

Stories from the Bible teach us about life and give us hope. Personal testimonies from people we know can inspire us. Funny anecdotes entertain us and lighten the mood during a pandemic (thank you Kev On Stage). Stories with “imperfect” endings remind us of life’s unpredictability. Sharing stories connect us.

I may not be a writer, but it’s time for me to commit to making forward progress along my personal creative spectrum from mediocre toward good. I encourage you to jump beyond your impossible and make this your year to close the gap from doing nothing to doing something. Find the time to connect the dots, bring your ideas to life, share your journey, and encourage others to do the same!

How to Manually Generate and Install Let’s Encrypt SSL Certificates with Certbot (Part 2)

How to Manually Generate and Install Let’s Encrypt SSL Certificates with Certbot (Part 2)

In Part 1 we discussed the importance of having an SSL certificate and how to generate them for free with Certbot. As we continue the process, you’ll need access to:

  1. Terminal (on Mac go to Applications > Utilities > Terminal)
  2. CPANEL Admin access where you can access both
    • File Manager (you can also use FTP) and
    • SSL/TLS Manager

Generating the Certificates

In the Terminal app, type this command to create a new certificate (swap your own domain in both spots that say “yourdomain.com”)

sudo certbot certonly -a manual –rsa-key-size 4096 -d yourdomain.com -d www.yourdomain.com

You will probably need to enter your computer’s admin password to proceed, and then type “y” to allow your IP Address to be logged.

In your web browser, follow the steps for creating the two verification challenge files in .well-known/acme-challenge on your server. (For me, it’s significantly faster to use the File Manager tool within CPANEL instead of FTP. )

CPANEL’s file manager tool is helpful and often faster than FTP.
Certbot asks users to create two verification files on their server.

You will do this two times – adding separate files with the verification data to your server.

Once the files are verified your certificate will be created – Congratulations you’re ready to install an SSL certificate onto your server!

In the confirmation message, Certbot tells you exactly where your full chain and private key files are saved. You’ll use a new command (vi) to open these files.

Copy the fullchain.pem file path starting with “/etc/…” (Your file’s actual location may vary.) Type “sudo vi” and paste the file path, then press enter.

sudo vi  /etc/…/fullchain.pem

Copy everything from the starting “—–BEGIN CERTIFICATE—–” down to the last dash in the “—– END CERTIFICATE—-” line. Ignore anything that comes after the top certificate ending.

Example of an SSL certificate file in the visual editor window.

Now, head back to your browser window and open the CPANEL SSL manager. You’ll find it further down in the security section.

Then click “Manage SSL sites”.

In the far right column of the row for the certificate’s domain, click “update certificate”, then scroll all the way down to the section called, “Install an SSL Website.”

Paste this entire fullchain.pem contents that you copied earlier into the space for Certificate: (CRT).

Switch back to your Terminal window and type the command “q:” to close the previous fullchain.pem file.

Next, copy the second file location – the one for your private key. It also starts with “/etc/…”, but ends in “…privkey.pem”.

Type “sudo vi” and paste that second file’s path, then press enter.

sudo vi  /etc/…/privkey.pem

Again, copy everything from the starting “—–BEGIN PRIVATE KEY—–” down to the last dash in the “—-END PRIVATE KEY—-” line.

Switch back to your SSL Manager in the browser window and paste this super long string of odd text and numbers into the Private Key (KEY) box.

Click the blue button to “Install Certificate”.

If everything has been entered correctly you’ll see a pop-up window confirming the new SSL certificate has been installed and is now active and accessible via https on yourdomain.com.

Certbot will send a renewal reminder via email 30 days before the SSL certificate expires. Follow these instructions step by step again to generate and install a new certificate before the old one runs out and you’ll have no issues with the pesky browser warnings.

How to Manually Generate and Install Let’s Encrypt SSL Certificates with Certbot (Part 1)

How to Manually Generate and Install Let’s Encrypt SSL Certificates with Certbot (Part 1)

What is an SSL Certificate?

In the simplest terms, SSL certificates allow the secure transfer of data between a browser and a server. The SSL certificate itself is installed at the server level. When a site is secure, it will load in your browser over https (<– the “s” is for “secure”) and you’ll see a padlock icon in the URL bar like this:

Do I need an SSL Certificate?

SSL certificates are essential for websites that handle sensitive user info like email addresses or credit card numbers. But even if your site isn’t collecting “sensitive” information, it’s still a good idea to use SSL for visitor confidence. Some web browsers will display a warning to visitors if the page is loaded over https, but an SSL certificate is misconfigured or not installed. The warning I see most often looks like this:

How do I get an SSL Certificate for my website?

I’m glad you asked! Some hosting providers offer support for Let’s Encrypt SSL Certificates with their website hosting plans. They’ll typically use an automated version of Certbot (Let’s Encrypt) to handle the certificate creation and renewals on their servers. If your host does not have this option, then you can still add Let’s Encrypt certificates to your server manually using tools like Certbot or ZeroSSL.

In this tutorial, I will be using Certbot on macOS to get Let’s Encrypt SSL certificates.

Let’s Encrypt certificates are provided free by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and they expire after 90 days. The manual process I’m outlining here works great for securing a handful of domains, but if you have lots of websites to manage, then it can be a burden to have to repeat this process every 90 days.

Another option for low-cost SSL certificates that renew yearly is SSLMate. These start at $15.95 and you’ll only have to update once per year instead of every 3 months.

Getting Started

Before we begin, you’ll want to make sure that you have access to:

  1. Terminal (on Mac go to Applications > Utilities > Terminal)
  2. CPANEL Admin access where you can get to the
    • File Manager (you can also use FTP)
    • SSL/TLS Manager

Using Terminal & Command Line Basics

Terminal is a command line interface for Mac. For those of us old enough to remember the days of DOS or checking email through Telnet portals back in the late 90s, using Terminal may bring a feeling of nostalgia. Command Line may feel intimidating at first, but once you learn a few basic commands you’ll gain confidence. Here are some commands that are essential to know when starting out:

Command Line Basics

pwd = print working directory (directories are folders)
ls = listing (this command lists all of the contents in current directory)
ls -al = more detailed listing that includes hidden files
clear = clears the screen
cd = change directory
.. = move back up in the directory
../.. = move back up 2 directories
cd~ = move back to the home directory
man (insert any command i.e. – pwd) = get help
sudo = used to temporarily move into super user role
vi = enter visual editor for command line
:q = quit

If you’d like to learn more about this powerful tool, here’s a helpful article on command line usage from Lifehacker.com.

STEP 1: Install Certbot via Terminal

Open Terminal and install Homebrew by running this command:

sudo /usr/bin/ruby -e “$(curl -fsSL https://raw.githubusercontent.com/Homebrew/install/master/install)”

Command for installing Homebrew in Terminal. It will take about 5 minutes to run.

After Homebrew installs, use it to install Certbot by running this command:

brew install certbot

Installing Certbot using Homebrew.

Use command line navigation to enter the directory where you installed Certbot. On my computer, it can look a bit like this:

pwd (I do this first to see what directory I’m in to start)
ls (I sometimes list the directory contents right away to see what’s inside. You’re looking for the certbot folder. If it’s not there, you’ll want to do some more navigating around until you find it…)
cd certbot

Once you’re in the Certbot directory, you’re ready to jump to Part 2 and start generating certificates.

Working Smarter Not Harder With Dubsado

Working Smarter Not Harder With Dubsado

Where would I be without all of the smart folks who have gone before me? Where would I be without the brave ones who’ve made their mistakes both publicly and privately, and who have lived to tell the tale? I’d be lost in a sea of subscription apps trying to manage my business the hard way.

So, where am I going with this?

I’ll back up and start by sharing that I build websites and design stuff for a living and have been doing it for over 20 years. I don’t often share about my business directly when I’m talking to new people (I’d much rather listen to what others have to say and learn from them). But sometimes, it’s good to be more open and share too. So here it goes:

As a “creative” person, I didn’t think much about business systems when I first started my design and web company. Client on-boarding, workflows, automation – these terms were foreign to me. Over the years I read a lot, listened to an insane amount of podcasts and used trial and error to build what pretty much required about 4+ paid subscription apps to manage. Here’s what my process looked like:

  • New client reaches out to me through email or phone (always unscheduled)
  • We’d chat for a few, I’d take some notes and promise to send a proposal/estimate soon.
  • I would stop everything else I was working on to spend the next few days writing the proposal and laying it out via my InDesign template to make it look pretty.
  • After drafting the perfect proposal, I’d convert this proposal to a PDF and upload to Adobe eSign. Sometimes clients still preferred to fax the contract or print, sign, and snail mail it back to me.
  • Then I used Freshbooks to accept the deposit, manage payments, and track project time.
  • To make things even crazier, I was also in the process of building my very own client portal with a custom meshing together of a WordPress database and Dropbox.

My system worked, but it wasn’t the smartest way to do things. It drained valuable time and energy because every single step of my old system required me to stop the real work of creating and doing what I enjoyed doing. I spent more time managing my business subscription apps than actually growing my business.

That all changed when I found Dubsado!

I learned about Dubsado through another designer who’d used it for sending proposals. Since it was free without a time limit, I decided to test it out for an upcoming project proposal. I’m not going to lie – setting it up was almost like having a second job. But I love how the Dubsado team is always there to help, their tutorials and videos are easy to understand, and the users’ Facebook Group is very active and supportive.

I took a few months to convert all of my proposals, contracts, forms and questionnaires into the Dubsado platform, and after about 6 months of juggling multiple apps I fully downsized to two – Dubsado and Acuity Scheduling. (Dubsado recently released a scheduling feature, so once that’s in place for me I’ll be able to cancel my Acuity account too!)

Now I no longer cringe when an organization reaches out to me about a new project. I no longer have to stop EVERYTHING to build a proposal or send an estimate because I’ve already done the work up front in creating my master templates. And it makes it easier for my clients too because they can do everything in one neat client portal – accept contracts, make payments, view delivered files, review agreements, reference project documents and more. It’s truly a game changer for me as a solo entrepreneur.

If you’re curious about Dubsado and want to give it a try, here’s a sign up link that will get you 20% off your first month if you decide to upgrade to a paid account. (I’ll also earn a free month so it’s a win-win for both of us!)

You can either click the link to sign up, or sign up from their main site with my code ‘panoramicweb’ to get 20% off.

Once you’ve tried it out, please let me know how it changes how you manage your own business. Enjoy!

Clutter Decluttered (Part 2)

Clutter Decluttered (Part 2)

When it comes to staying on top of the latest TV shows, entertainment news and music – the 15-20-year- ago Tammy would have been able to blurt out random celebrity facts, song lyrics, liner credits. . .you name it – all without needing to Google it. But things changed for me over the years (new interests, 2 kids, LIFE) and now I’m usually the last one to hear about EVERYTHING! So when it came to this topic of tidying and neatness, I was proud to be the first of my friends and family to discover Marie Kondo and her books about organization.

When I heard last month that Netflix was releasing a new series “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo”, I was thrilled! It’s been fun sharing this excitement with friends who have been Kon-verted after hearing of my own tidying adventure of how we downsized from a 4,565 sq ft home in NC to our amazingly awesome (and compact) 975 sq ft NYC apartment.

I stumbled across the the KonMarie method of organizing when researching a better way to organize our stuff that survived the first purge of the relocation. After watching a few of her videos, I quickly learned the most efficient ways to fold and store clothes. Then, I picked up her book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” because I NEEDED to learn more.

As a lover of strategic planning, including developing and implementing systems, I was drawn to the fact that the KonMarie method was more than series of tips for organizing and cleaning. She gave me a plan to follow: Start with clothes, then move on to books, then papers, then Komono (miscellaneous stuff), and then tackle the sentimental items last. Simple enough. I also liked the idea of storing things by category, to me it made perfect sense.

Armed with a plan of action, I began my tidying adventure full of optimism. I survived parts 1-3 and wrote about that journey in my original post on decluttering. This post you’re reading now picks up my adventure with organizing Komono items.

Before we moved back to New York City, I worked for weeks to clean the attic and sort through all of the closets in the house. I was most proud of having whittled my growing Christmas décor collection that once took up an entire side of the attic down to 3 plastic storage bins. With storage constraints, I knew I couldn’t bring much to our new home. We’d gotten all of our belongings down to only what could fit in the 12 foot Penske moving truck. We decided that if it didn’t fit in the truck, then it didn’t need to go.

Our NYC apartment has a very large walk-in storage closet and by the end of the 2nd month in our new space it was filled to the brim. I couldn’t even take out a coat or stroller without first emptying out what was stuffed in the front, and then I’d jam it all back in wherever things would fit. It was a mess. I never thought that I’d have the capacity to get rid of even more stuff after getting rid of so much already, but the need to free up more space was evident.

BEFORE – The walk-in storage closet filled to capacity. Sigh!

One chilly Saturday afternoon when a good friend was in town staying with us (hooray for free babysitting!), my first order of business was to take everything out of the closet and to start attacking it KonMarie style. Going through each item one by one created an even bigger mess in the kitchen and living room, but at least there was a method to the madness. After many, many hours of opening up containers, sorting through items, and figuring out what sparked joy and what did not – I managed to discover a truckload full of items to donate or throw away.

Dropping off donations to Goodwill.

That night we took the donations to our local Goodwill. I tried to get rid of the larger stroller too, but it wouldn’t fit in the SUV with all of the other stuff so it survived the cut this time and stays parked in our building. It felt so good to come home to a closet that now looked like this:

AFTER – The walk-in closet has space to walk in!

Having attacked my clothes, books, papers and now the household Komono items, I feel so much lighter. This whole process is one I recommend to everyone, even the most organized.

Improving Your Website’s Page Load Speed

Improving Your Website’s Page Load Speed

I’m old enough to remember having our very first dial-up connection to the internet with AOL. The idea of having an ongoing connection to the internet wasn’t even something we could fathom as teenagers. We had a greater level of patience with connectivity issues – including when someone in the house needed to make a phone call and they kicked you off line in the process. Everything was slow and the internet was all one big magical mystery.

Fast forward a few decades and now we not only have constant access to the internet, because of our mini pocket computers (aka cell phones) the world is literally at our finger tips.

We’ve become more savvy with navigating the internet, and less patient with slow loading websites. According to a recent Think With Google article on Mobile, Data and Measurement, “53% of mobile site visits leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load.” No one likes traffic.

Embed from Getty Images

Page Speed matters to Google and is factored into their rankings for mobile searches. So if optimizing for search engines is your thing, you can’t discount the importance of fast-loading web pages on your site.

Every second counts.

So how can you tell if your site is a slow poke online?
There are tools like Google’s Page Speed Test and GTMetrix that let analyze your own site’s performance. They also give recommendations of what you can do to improve your site’s page speed.

Before doing my own site’s optimization, I ran a quick analysis for this site using GTmetrix to show you what you don’t want your score to be. . .

Yep, that’s right! A big fat red “F”! The page took 5.2 seconds to load which is crazy. So now that we know the unfortunate truth, what can we do to speed things up?

The first two items under the recommendations column tell us that serving scaled images and optimizing images will give us a boost. So let’s do it!

Serve Scaled Images

It’s not uncommon to take a photo, upload it to the WordPress media gallery, and then use the WordPress built-in resize tool and CSS to make it fit the space.

The problem with this method of resizing after uploading is that the web page still loads the full-sized image along with its extra data. The resize action all happens in the twinkling of an eye, but when the same action happens 10x, 20x, 30+ times on a single page – that’s a lot of unnecessary data being transferred just to display a smaller version of the image!

One solution is to use an image editing tool like Photoshop (or even Canva) to resize the image to maximum 1920px wide before saving. If your image won’t be used in full screen, then you can size down the width even more.

The page speed report can be a useful starting point for images that need to be resized, saved again and re-uploaded at a smaller size. But, before you get started with resizing to serve scaled images, let’s also look at how we can also optimize images with compression.

Optimize Images

When I say “image optimization”, I’m essentially describing a process where you get your image file size down to the smallest it can be without sacrificing the quality. The smaller the file size, the faster the images will transfer from the host server to your browser window, and the faster the web page will load.

Saving optimized images through GTmetrix

The beautiful thing about the GTmetrix tool, is that in your report it will give you a link to view (and save) the optimized version of the image. You can manually save the new images and swap them out on your site and voila!

A savings of just a few kilobytes seems small, but when compounded over tens and hundreds of images throughout the site it begins to add up!

Saving optimized images with Photoshop

If you want to do this manually and have access to Photoshop, then I’d also recommend converting any PNGs to JPGs if you don’t need the transparent background to reduce your file size even more. In my own example, I was able to reduce the image size from 307KB down to 88KB by adjusting the file settings to JPG, Quality: 70%. TIP: Anything in the 60-80% quality range will be safe for most web images to compress them with little to no noticeable difference.

I was able to reduce the image size from 307KB down to 88KB by adjusting the file settings and image type.

At this point you may be wondering if this image optimization process will take 5 months or 5 years because you already have hundreds of images saved to your website. If that’s you, then wonder no more. I’ve saved the best for last 🙂

There is a web app called Imagify by WP Media that helps with image scaling and compressing all in one! There is also a WordPress plugin that will bulk optimize your site’s current images and auto-optimize images directly on your website as you upload them to the media gallery. The free version has some limitations, but it’s a good place to start if you have too many images to tackle the issue manually.

Once you get it all cleaned up, remembering to resize and compress images before uploading will be the key to keeping your website at top speed.

The page load time went from 5.2 seconds to 3.5 seconds,
and the page size went from 12.4MB down to 1.89MB. Whoo hoo! But we aren’t done yet. . .

After optimizing most of the images on my site, I was able to bring my score up to a C+! I’ve never been one to accept average, so next we’ll get into making some caching adjustments and a few other tricks to bring the final page load speed to an A+!

Until then, happy image optimizing!

Behind the Scenes: Editing the Family Christmas Photo

Behind the Scenes: Editing the Family Christmas Photo

Behind the Scenes: Editing the Family Christmas Photo

Christmas cards make me smile. I LOVE receiving cards and postcards from friends and family, sharing them with my husband and kids, and displaying them around the room as a reminder of how blessed we are.  Over the years it has become one of my favorite moments of the season. 

And as much as I love receiving printed Christmas cards, I also enjoy creating our family’s card so that we can share updates and holiday wishes too.

This year’s card was special for me because our family recently moved back to New York City. I wanted to take a family photo that had an urban vibe to it.  Fortunately, the rooftop of our building has a fantastic view of downtown Manhattan + my mom came to visit us for Thanksgiving, so I had an ideal photo shoot location and a designated photographer to help out this year. Being able to avoid the need to find and hire a photographer at the last minute was a huge win!

On a cold and cloudy Sunday afternoon, I set up a tripod and adjusted the settings on my Fuji XT-1 camera so that my mom could just take the shot. It took a lot of trial and error to get the positioning and the settings correct.

Initially, I used the 18-55mm zoom lens, but this early photo was too wide.  Even though I shot in RAW with the image size setting, when I cropped the photo close enough to where you could see our faces, the picture was grainy and too small to be used in print. 

I switched to my 35mm F1.4 lens, repositioned my mom and the tripod, and we shot another round with the photo background framed a little better so that I would need to do less cropping. This time we took a ton of close(r) up pictures, but I still didn’t like how we were standing because of various heights and visual focal points.  It looked too busy and still wasn’t quite right.

After more trial and error out on the cold and windy rooftop, we finally figured out that it looked best to have the little guys standing in front on top of the outdoor stools to add little more height.  A few more frames later and we got a picture that I was excited to share!  

Final camera settings on my Fuji X-T1 with the XF35mm F1.4R lens: ISO 800, f 8.0 1/60 sec.  No flash.

The next task was figuring out which card we liked. I’ve used Shutterfly for years now, so out of habit I checked there first and came across this design which would fit nicely with our landscape photo. 

But when I dropped in the photo, it didn’t “feel” complete or ready to share.

So I decided to make some color adjustments and tweaks using Photoshop and Lightroom.  First, I used a fun photoshop action to add a snow effect because falling snow makes everything look better.

Then, in Lightroom, I used a Cinematic Lightroom Preset to give the photo an antique look that I thought would go well with the gold foil lettering on the card. 

After editing the photo, I uploaded the new version to Shutterfly and this was the final result. 

I couldn’t have been happier with the design and feel so excited to share the cards with our friends and family this Christmas season!

What to Expect When Your Business Succeeds

What to Expect When Your Business Succeeds

What to Expect When Your Business Succeeds

This morning I decided to treat myself to a Starbucks vanilla latte and a delicious ham, swiss & egg breakfast sandwich. (Yum, yum!)  Most days I eat on the go, but today I grabbed the stack of mail lying undisturbed on the kitchen counter.  An oddly shaped rectangular magazine (or so I thought) slid out and grabbed my attention. It looked like a catalog, but it didn’t have the words “catalog” written on it. A quick flip through the pages revealed that unlike typical catalogs, this one had realistic product drawings with lengthy, story-like product descriptions and looked like it came from a different era all together. This was my introduction to the J. Peterman Company and their Owner’s Manual catalog.

It’s in my nature to research, to dig in when something catches my attention and to learn more. A simple perusing of the catalog then led to an online search where I found an article in the Harvard Business Review written by John Peterman himself in 1999 after his catalog business failed and was sold to another business man.

Mr. Peterman had an idea that grew from one item that he loved – his cowboy duster.  I flipped through the catalog to see what this the coat was all about and must admit that I personally haven’t seen anything else like it. I’d never seen a catalog with drawings instead of real pictures.

In the article, he thoughtfully shared about the The J. Peterman Company’s ascent, issues they faced, mistakes they made, and the lessons he learned.

As a 38 year old African-American female (and a self-proclaimed entrepreneur), I didn’t expect his story to resonate so strongly, but it did. 

J. Peterman said,

“Managing managers wasn’t something I set out to do; it was a job requirement that was incorporated by default into my position because my original idea for a business was a good one.”

This quote brought to mind another book that I read last year, “The E-Myth” by Michael E. Gerber. In case you’re wondering. . . the “E” in E-myth stands for “Entrepreneurial.”

I remember feeling a growing sense of relief with every chapter as Gerber put into words what I was only beginning to see in my own experience as an entrepreneur.

The greatest takeaway from “The E-Myth” for me was this (in my own words):

Having talent and a strong desire to pursue a specific passion or activity often leads us to believe that we should start a business. We dream of days when work no longer feels like work, and we can do this thing we love to do 24/7. The irony is that as your business grows, with each success you’ll find there is less time to do what you love to do.

This takeaway is meant as an encouragement, a caution to avoid the idealistic myths surrounding the entrepreneurial life.

One of my mantras is that life is a series of choices. As entrepreneurs today, we have an advantage because so much information is readily available to us and we can easily look at the examples of others, ask for help when we need it, learn from our own failures and, when we’re ready, share our failures so that others can learn from them too. Although I’ve never met either of these men, I’m glad they decided to share their own stories of success and failure.

I highly recommend The E-Myth book to anyone who wants to start, or who has started their own business. It gives practical advice on how to avoid the traps many entrepreneurs face during the various life stages of their business. And just for fun, check out the online J. Peterman catalog and be amazed by the illustrations and unique product descriptions.

Overcoming Creative Paralysis

Overcoming Creative Paralysis

Recently, I was chatting with a long-time friend of mine who always encourages me to write things down. Her logic is that I have a degree in journalism, so I should be writing. But honestly, it’s the degree that makes me hypersensitive about writing because it implies that I have mastered the subject when I know that is not the truth.

In my head, I know what great writing looks like. I have read it, analyzed it, and admired it. I used to write for fun, but after college I began constantly analyzing and reanalyzing my own work to the point that I don’t even write for fun anymore. Yikes!

I now like to think that ignorance is bliss when it comes to being creative. Knowing too much about anything in the creative realm can cause paralysis because with this newfound knowledge, it becomes easier to compare where you are, what you think you’re capable, and what you’ve done with what you know and work you admire from others. Ten times out of 10, comparison leads to a feeling of pride or discouragement, and for me, these meander into a creative paralysis. Comparison is the pathway that leads to the death of creativity.

The quote on the side was a mini pep talk I gave to myself during an internal debate about my procrastinating with writing…

“Jump in! It’s less painful when you do it quickly. Like with swimming, the discomfort is drawn out indefinitely when you linger and slowly wade into the cold waters. Just do it afraid!” – me

So my big takeaway is TAKE A STEP. Or better yet, JUMP IN! If there’s something you enjoy doing don’t get sucked into the black hole of information gathering and comparing. Go for it!

Photo by Bookblock on Unsplash

Hello! I’m Tammy and I am so happy you’ve stopped by my little corner of the internet. This online space doesn’t really have a theme, it’s just a collection of my thoughts and experiences – what I’m learning, seeing, doing, figuring out…

Right now, I own and manage a website design/development company in New York City, and I also work with my church in the stage/production/worship space. Outside of what I do professionally, I’m a wife and mom of two fast-growing boys, and I love music (singing, creating, producing/mixing, listening, going to shows – music makes me happy). I’ve been on a start and stop journey for years learning how to play electric guitar and piano… so those are some of the topics you might see me writing about these days.

I hope you’ll feel inspired as you browse around. Enjoy!

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