Friday, April 30, 2010

How to make flashcards for your kids

One of my husband's favorite memories of his childhood, was reviewing flashcards with his dad. They called them bits and his dad made them into a game. They had vegetables, numbers, colors and letters. Seth wanted to continue this activity with his children, so he set about making flashcards. He did a really good job, but to have them all printed was going to cost us a fortune. That is when I came up with this idea.

A lot of photo printing companies print playing cards, and I found one ArtsCow that will let you do double sided cards, without the spades and hearts and such on them. I googled pictures and use some of my own and uploaded them and ArtsCow even let me write on them. So on one side of the cards are fruits and veggies and the other side have animals. They are super compact and we take them everywhere. She loves looking at the pictures of the animals. I am working on a set for numbers, letters and shapes right now. They weren't that expensive but since ArtsCow ships from overseas, they take awhile to get here and shipping can be expensive. They often have free shipping promotions that you can take advantage of.
Do you do flashcards in your house?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Photo Thursdays - Color Management

Perhaps this seems a bit basic, but it's one of those things that's essential to understand about photos before you start tinkering around.

How many times have you taken a picture and loved what you got, but weren't pleased with the colors in the picture? What exactly is wrong with it? How do you go about fixing it? Some people have a natural eye for what colors are off, like my husband. Other people, myself included, need a bit of training. So, here you go.

All digital photos are made up of three colors: red, green and blue. It's a color management system called RGB. But, wait! How are there thousands of colors then? Well, using a combination of reds, greens and blues, in varying amounts, will create a wide array of colors. Once you understand this, you begin to see how to fix a photo.

Most digital cameras today go heavy on the blues or greens. Film cameras, on the other hand, often tend to go heavy on the red. Either way, it's not that hard to fix. But, you must understand their relationship.

If you decrease the red in a picture, it tends to increase the amount of green in a picture.

If you decrease the green in a picture, it will either increase the amount of red or blue in a picture, sometimes both. A word of caution, be very careful when adjusting the green in pictures. It's easy to go overboard and your pictures will look fake.

If you decrease the blue in a picture, it tends to increase the amount of red in a picture and also has a side effect of making yellows stand out more.

So, how do you put this to good use?

First, find a picture you want to improve - trust me, most pictures could use it. I'm going to use this random picture I found in my family history files. I have no idea who these people are. I choose this picture because old pictures almost always have photo damage and it's more obvious what's wrong with the color. Open this photo in Photoshop.

A quick look at this picture tells you it has too much blue. That means, we need to decrease the blue and probably increase the red to compensate. But, what if you're still not sure which color is dominant? This is where a histogram comes in handy.

A histogram is basically a type of graph that shows frequency. In the case of photos, a histogram is how frequently a certain color appears in a picture. The histogram is divided into three parts. On the left, are the color frequencies of the shadows of the picture. In the middle are the midtone color frequencies. On the right, are the highlights color frequencies.


To open the histogram in Photoshop, go to 'Window' and select 'Histogram.' In the Histogram pallet, select 'Channel' and select 'Colors.' This shows a funky graph that looks like a rainbow mountain range. The colored peaks are the areas that have a lot of a certain color. As you can see in this picture, there is a lot of blue and red in the midtones/highlights.


Great, so where do you start? Let's start with the blues, since that's the biggest problem.

Go to the 'Layers' menu, select 'Adjustments,' and 'Layers.'

In the 'Channel' dropdown menu, select 'Blue.' You'll notice the spike in the blue at the same location in the histogram. Start by lowering the shadows. Go slowly. Then lower the midtones. This starts to take out the blue, but adds green and red. Then, go to the red or green and start to lower the shadows and midtones until it becomes a balanced picture.

The end result? No, it's not perfect. That's because restoring old photos takes many techniques (for later posts), but the color is starting to really show now.

This is one of those techniques that takes hours and hours of practice to really get down. Sadly, it won't always save your picture. Let's face it, some pictures are just bad. But, for most pictures, this is a great tool to save an otherwise average picture and turn it into something great.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wednesdays on the Web: Meet the Fantastic Five

I'd like to introduce you to the Fantastic Five. You are probably acquainted with at least one of the group already:
image source

That's right, they're web browsers! You know, that program you used to get here. and there. and wherever else you've virtually been this morning.One of these five browsers is used by 95% of people who access the internet worldwide (source).

If you are like most people, you haven't really given your web browser much thought. That's okay; I'm not really sure it hurts their feelings. If you're a mucho web-savvy blogger, you may have thought about it a bit more. (And you should definitely check out your blog in at least Internet Explorer and Firefox to make sure that what you see is what your users see.) Either way, humor me and think about your web browser for 10 minutes now. Use some unused brain cells. (On a related note, did you know that the "fact" that's often tossed around about us only using 10% of our brains is a myth? Read more about it here.)

I've compiled a few notes about the Fantastic Five for your reading pleasure (but there will be a quiz! actually, just homework). I'm not an expert and I haven't personally used all of these browsers, so I'd love to hear what you have to say about them too!

image source
Internet Explorer
In the spirit of full disclosure, I must tell you that Internet Explorer (IE) and I do not get along. I cannot fully explain it at this time, so we'll chalk it up to personal preference.

IE is the most common web browser. If you use a PC that runs Windows, IE came already installed on your computer. About 50% of web users and 34% of Housewife Eclectic readers (that's you!) use IE.

You should use IE if you don't want to download/learn another browser (for which I will take the liberty of calling you lazy...) or if you often need to use its compatibility mode to view older websites (which really should just be updated, I believe).

IE is only PC-compatible--sorry Mac users. If you're a PC user looking for a fast, secure browser that follows most web standards and won't bog down your computer.... IE isn't for you. Sorry. IE will do the job, but the next 4 browsers will probably do it better. IE and I do not get along so well, but if you and IE are living in harmony, I'm happy for the both of you. Just please make sure you install all security updates. :)

image source
Firefox
Again, full disclosure: I use Firefox daily. I love Firefox.

Firefox is IE's biggest contender, pulling in just over 30% of users worldwide and 43% of you housewives (woohoo!). Firefox is available for Windows PC, Mac, and Linux (another operating system).

Firefox is fast, safe, and customizable, but it sweeps me off my feet with its available add-ons. I dabble in HTML (not real web programming), and Firefox has so many add-ons that are so helpful with finding bugs in my code (more on those next week because I love them so much!). Add-ons can also help you change the look of your Firefox browser, customize the functions of your Firefox browser, and so much more. There is a very large community that develops for Firefox, so there are literally thousands of add-ons.

The only real flaw I've found with Firefox is that it crashes occasionally. With tabbed browsing, one tab crashing sometimes crashes them all. The latest versions seem to have fixed that, though.


image source
Chrome
Chrome is a relative newbie on the browser scene, but it's quickly gaining popularity for its speed. The fact that it is a Google product gives it major brownie points in my book, because I see Google as a company that perpetually improves and adds on to their products. (Yes, that was an unpaid testimonial.) Also, my favorite Greek will soon be working with Google, so I'm pretty excited about that, too.

Anyway, Chrome has 7% of users worldwide and 8% of you all. It is, according to many reviews and comparisons such as this one, the fastest of the web browsers, as well as being secure and reliable. It is also customizable like Firefox, but since it's newer on the scene, not as many add-ons are available... yet. So far, the browser is only fully available for Windows but is in beta testing (read: almost ready) for Mac and Linux, too, so Chrome is definitely an up-and-comer worth the free download.

image source
Safari
Safari is built for reliability and pulls in just under 6% of worldwide users and 13% of y'all. Safari is a bit more minimalist in its simple design and straightforward function. It gets you where you want to be on the web without many add-ons or other unnecessary frills.

Because Safari lacks in frills that I love to (over)indulge in, I use Safari when I need to see the web with fresh eyes: no ad-blockers, none of my personal settings. Safari is available for both Mac and Windows operating systems.


image source
Opera
Opera is the browser that you've probably never heard of unless you are a techie or happen to have run with the tech crowd at some point. (I am in the latter group.) Opera is used by only 2% worldwide and, as far as we can tell, none of you. :) Opera runs on Windows PC, Mac, and Linux, and is also a very popular browser for mobile devices and phones.

In reviews, Opera is hailed as being the best for older, slower computers because it requires minimal resources to run, meaning your computer can run faster. It also starts up faster and is secure. However, Opera struggled with web multimedia such as Flash in many tests, and few add-ons are available.

Thanks you for the 10 minutes of humoring me; I hope I haven't bored you to tears! So, here comes the homework. (I know, drag...) Since I'm fairly certain that none of you out there have used all 5 of these browsers, I want you to try one that you haven't used much before. Download the browser of your choice by clicking on the titles above. Once you've installed the browser, use it for all of your daily web travelings. Just for one day, longer if you feel like it. Then, report back and let me know what you think. Love it and decide to switch? Great! Hate it and decide that you will never again stray from your web comfort zone? Also totally okay. This is just a learning experience. In the next week, I'll be dedicating a day each to Safari, Chrome, and Opera. (I already know that IE and I can never truly live in harmony.) Next Wednesday, we'll report and share our findings. Happy browsing!

Sources
http://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/best-web-browsers-2009-reviewed-ie8-firefox-chrome
http://www.consumersearch.com/web-browser-reviews/compare
http://sixrevisions.com/infographics/performance-comparison-of-major-web-browsers
http://www.notebooks.com/2010/03/11/web-browsers-reviewed-compared-and-ranked
http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/firefox-chrome-opera,2558.html

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tasty Tuesdays- Scones

Remember this pizza? Well, I use the same recipe for my scones as I do for the pizza crust. It works great because then when I make pizza, I can make extra dough and refrigerate it for the next day. Just remember it is better to let your dough come to room temperature before you fry it. It lessens the chance of having a doughy inside when the outside is done.

1 Tablespoon yeast
1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons oil
3 cups f lour
3 Tablespoons sugar

Mix dough and let rest. Then roll out, cut into squares and fry in hot oil until the outsides are brown. This makes a pretty big batch, as it is meant to fill a 9x13 pan for pizza. You can cut in half if you want. We serve these with honey butter (3 equal parts butter to 1 equal part honey), and powdered sugar. You can also make big ones and use them for Navajo tacos.

Monday, April 26, 2010

How to do a simple applique

Do you have shirts laying around for your kids that are just plain? I picked up this blue onesie sometimes back, but I thought it needed some spunk. So here is what I did.

1. Decided what I wanted on the shirt. After I decided on a butterfly, I went online and found a butterfly picture that I liked. I then printed out the butterfly at a a reduced size.
2. I traced my butterfly onto Heat n' Bond paper.
3. I then ironed the paper to my shirt.
4. Knowing that my child is rough on her clothes, I then sewed a small zigzag stitch on my machine around the outline of the butterfly.

Voila! A whole new look. You don't necessarily have to sew the zigzag but it is less likely to come off your children's clothes if you do. You can also applique over ugly logos on your kid's shirts.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Photo Thursdays- When your photos give you the blues

This is a how to fix for a reader. If you get home and your photos look something like this, there is something you can do to fix it.
In Picasa, you can open your file and go to tuning then play with the color temperature. That should help but it won't be perfect. If you want to really be able to fix it, find someone with Photoshop and follow this simple process.

1. Open PhotoShop.
2. Go to "Image," "Adjustments," "Levels"
3. Press the "Auto" button. This fixes most of the problems 90% of the time. You may have to do further touch up. Either way, proceed to the next step. If it looks awful, press "Ctrl-Z" on your keyboard. Even when Auto looks pretty good, I do further touchups almost every time.
4. In the dropdown menu above the picture in the Levels palette, select "Blue"
5. Carefully and slowly move the shadows and midtowns to the right. Start with the midtones. Be careful. The more you do this, the more it tends to suck out the red and add the green in the photo.
6. You will probably need to add some red back in the photo, so select "Red" from the dropdown menu above the picture in the Levels palette.
7. Carefully and slowly move the highlights to the left. As you do this, it might blow out the picture. To compensate, carefully (and in a minor way), move the shadows to the right.
8. Your picture should look good. Press "OK."
9. Now, your picture may be a little flat, so add some contrast by going to the Contrast palette. Don't add too much.

With this picture, I added some overall highlights and I cropped the photo because I felt it showed too much nothing. I am more than willing to help you guys fix your photos. I prefer if you upload them to flickr or picasa web albums and send me a link from their sites, so I know where you are sending me to. My husband would be angry for days and days if I got a virus on my computer, so I am trying to be careful.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wednesdays on the Web: Security

So, I had a fun topic all picked out for today's post. And then my email account was compromised. I was hacked. (I am just starting to be able to say it out loud.) So today we'll be talking about web security instead. :)

We can't determine the extent to which the hacker infiltrated my accounts and/or my computer or even exactly how it happened, so I will be completely reformatting my computer to be better safe than sorry. I spent almost 3 hours changing my online passwords. Having your electronic life compromised is a terrible feeling, every bit as bad as having someone walk into your home uninvited and look through your things. Because I sincerely hope that none of you *ever* have to experience this, here are a few ideas for keeping your accounts and your computer secure.

Protect your computer with anti-virus software and a firewall. Norton, McAfee, I don't care. Just have some type of internet security and keep it properly updated. These programs can't always protect your from doing stupid things (such as downloading suspicious files), but they can protect you from most things and even sometimes lessen the blow if you actually do something stupid, such as download a suspicious file that turns out to be harmful.

Don't leave your computer unattended. I used to work in an office of web programmers and leaving your computer unattended, even just for a minute, was a punishable offense. You'd come back to a dancing Hello Kitty, switched mouse buttons, and worse. Friendly reminders to keep your computer secure. So, know who has access to your computer and take control of it. Home computers might not be as big of a worry, but laptops certainly are. If you're working on a public computer, be sure to log out of everything before you leave.

Install all software updates. In addition to helping the software run better, these software updates address security issues. It's especially important that you make sure your operating system and web browser(s) are updated.

Be password-smart. Change your passwords regularly (every 3-6 months is recommended) and create a *new* strong password every time you change your password. Use a different password for each online account. The best way to do this without having to remember umpteen and a half passwords is to create one strong root password and then individualize it by adding a prefix or suffix unique to each account. A strong password is one that
  • is not a word that can be found in the dictionary
  • does not include personal information for you or your family (names, birth dates, etc)
  • contains 7+ characters
  • uses a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters (* . ?)
  • is easy for you to remember and hard to guess, such as a the first letter of each word in a line of your favorite song or a unique phrase
You can protect your passwords by never giving them out (especially in an email -- that's called phishing),  not storing them in your web browser (especially on a laptop), and not writing them down (resist the temptation! You're much better off to set security questions and write down the answers to those in the event that you forget your password.) 

If you'd like help in establishing a root strong password, you can try the custom password generator at goodpassword.com. For more information about password security, check out these resources from MIT and The University of Chicago

Be smart in general. Don't open suspicious emails or attachments, follow suspicious email links, or download files from suspicious sites. Even if it looks like it's from someone you know, if it looks suspicious (i.e., not what they would usually send you), don't open it. You can always contact that person to verify that they actually sent you the strange email. :) All of the spam messages sent from my email account included a strange name (for my part of the world) in the subject and only a link (to a pharmaceutical website) in the body of the email. I don't know many people make a habit of sending emails like that, so consider that suspicious! Don't open it! Delete it! Being cautious and checking things out first usually takes only a few minutes and will save you hours of frustration if the message or file is actually harmful, and the hours of worry while you run your anti-virus search.

Also, be critical of what sites you purchase from online. I very rarely purchase from sites that don't accept PayPay, because PayPal is safe and guards my information and my identity. For the sites that I have to use that don't accept PayPay (such as paying my utility bill online), I have a separate card to use for online purchases only. I've also been looking in to PayPal's Secure Card feature, which generates a Mastercard number for online purchases. I've hit a wall, though, and can't find how to actually create a Secure Card... Any help there?

You can also help protect yourself just by being informed. Both Norton and McAfee have sites dedicated to consumer education so that you can be aware of potential threats and how to protect yourself. I'd recommend checking those out. 

What have I missed? What do you do to protect yourself online? Sorry for such a bummer topic to start off you Wednesday. :(

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

7 Layer Bean Dip



This is so delicious, my husband begs me to make it. Here is what you need:


  • Refried beans
  • Sour Cream, 8 oz
  • Taco seasoning packet
  • Avocados
  • Olives
  • Cheese (You are supposed to use cheddar but I use Colby jack because it has a little more flavor)
  • Tomatoes
  • Green Onions


Take a large dish, I use a pie plate, and spread the refried beans in a layer on the bottom. You can do a little or a lot, that is up to you. I actually, make half of mine without refried beans at all. If you know me, you know that I don't so much like to look at beans, let alone eat them and yes, down here next to the border that makes people think I am crazy.



Take 8 oz of sour cream and mix it with HALF of the seasoning packet. Then spread that on top of the beans. Next comes your shredded cheese. Then chopped tomatoes, olives, avocados and green onions.


You can also come up with your 7th layer, buy using guacamole that you put on after the sour cream and before the cheese, but in our family we prefer the avocado chunks so that people who aren't avocado lovers can pick them off. Don't look at me on that one. I LOVE avocados!

Then serve as a dip with tortilla chips. Want to make your own delicious chips without all the work? Go here.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Let your kids make a decorative display plate- Great Mother's day gift for Grandma!

Did you see my post about changing my URL?

Are you in need of a mother's day gift? These are perfect and super simple. Grab a cute plate from you local store and hand your kids PERMANENT markers and let them go at it. You can trace their hands or just let them draw a pretty picture. When they are done, spray the plate with clear gloss spray paint. A pretty decoration to add to any home.

Do not eat on them if you do it this way! If you want to be able to eat off of them, use porcelain paint pens and bake them in the oven. A post about how to do this coming soon.

Friday, April 16, 2010

How to make a bow holder

I know that I have shared this before, but it has been a really long time and I have a really cute, new holder to share.

First of all you need a piece of wood, or other topper. You can get the cute ones at the craft store that are already carved, some of them are even already painted. My husband got on a carving kick last week and made me the caterpillar you see below.

Then you take a length of grosgrain ribbon, I usually cut mine to about 30 inches of ribbon. This particular bow holder was made to fit two ribbons, but I can usually only fit one.
Fray check the ends of your ribbon and then hot glue to the back of the holder. Get a hanging bracket and hot glue, don't nail it, to the back of your holder. Usually the holders are thin enough that if you nail them, the nails go through to the other side.
Hang on the wall and voila!. Wow, I think my bow obsession just came to light. My name is Debra and I have a bow problem.....

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Photo Thursdays- The Photoshop Basics

I have gotten a lot of requests for a tutorial for some of the photoshop basics. So, here it is. These are the things that should be among the first that you learn about photoshop.


The first thing we are going to talk about changing, is the lighting in a picture. Open your photo and then open levels. (Go to image/adjustments/layers or Crtl-L) The layers box will look like the one below.
There are three little triangles at the bottom of the histogram. The one on the far right, brings more highlights into your photo. If you pull it to the left, it will add more, as in the picture below. It brightens all the light areas.
The middle one does your midtones. A lot of times when you have a dark picture, this is where to start but be careful, this can also make your pictures look flat (like they don't have enough contrast). Pulling to the left, brightens the mids and to the right, darkens.
The far left one darkens the shadows. As in the photo below.
There is a drop down menu on in your levels box at the very top. It usually says RGB but you can change it to say an individual color. This gives you the ability to add a certain color or take away a certain color from a photograph. For instance, I have red selected in the photograph below.
and now green. This feature is really helpful if your pictures have a lot of blue/red or any other particular color in them.
Another basic feature is to change the hue/saturation levels in your photo. (Go to image/adjustments/ hue/saturation.) Saturation allows you to change how much or how little color is in your photos. In the photo below, I upped the saturation so the colors are extremely vibrant.
In the photo below, I changed the colors of the photo by playing with the Hue slider.
and this is what it looks like when you take the saturation bar the other way. Your photo goes black and white.
Another extremely important basic is controlling the brightness/contrast. (Go to image/adjustments/ brightness/contrast.) By sliding the brightness slider to the right you make your photo brighter (as in the photo below) and by sliding it to the left you darken it.
With the contrast slider, you can add contrast or take it away. This allows you to put contrast into photos that feel flat. (right=more contrast, left=less contrast)
Every photo is different, so in order to figure out exactly how to fix your photo, you are going to have to devout yourself to a little bit of playing around.


Any more questions? E-mail me at debrajoyhawkins @ gmail.com

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

New feature: Wednesdays on the Web

Hello Housewives! I am Lorene, and I am so happy to be starting out a new feature here on Housewife Eclectic. Before I get in to the specifics of what exactly this new feature is all about, here's a little bit about me:
My beautiful family!
I am married to a wonderful elementary school teacher who serenades me daily (often from the shower). We have a beautiful baby boy who is 6 months old and growing like a weed! I am formally trained as a technical writer (which is not as boring as you imagine!) and do some part-time writing and editing work from home. I post my own craft projects and recipes as Lu over at I am just Lu. I can't say that I'm a successful crafter or blogger, however, because I spend far more time searching for inspiration and projects than I do actually executing the projects...

My obsession with searching the web is why I am here today on Housewife Eclectic. Wednesdays on the Web each week will highlight just a few of the thousands of wonderful *free* resources available online, as well as occasionally discuss other web-related topics. If there is a topic you would like me to research and discuss or a type of resource you've been wondering about, please let me know! Leave me a comment or drop me an email using the email in my profile.

I am currently training to run the Wasatch Back, a 188.2 mile relay race, so today's web resources are all fitness related.  

MapMyRun.com, a personal favorite, harnesses the power of Google Maps to allow you to map, save, and share your routes for running, walking, cycling, and even swimming. Mapped routes show distance and elevation change as well as route notes, including information about route surfaces (sidewalk, gravel, smooth, rough) and the surroundings (high traffic, low traffic, residential). You can also connect with friends, either by searching for specific friends or by using FacebookConnect to log in to the site, to see their training and routes. Training schedules are available with paying membership, but all other features are available with the *free* membership.


ActiveTrainer offers many of the same functions as MapMyRun.com, including training logs and stored routes. Training schedules are, sadly for freebie seekers like me, only available to paying members, but ActiveTrainer has 8 tools in addition to the Route Creator, each of which help you either track or calculate figures important to your training. Try out the Heart Rate Calculator, Race Planner, or, my favorite, the Hydration Calculator with your free membership.



My Pyramid Tracker by the USDA allows you to track your diet and exercise. Your foods are automatically divided into the USDA-defined food groups, which are more familiar to most of us than the protein, carbohydrate, and fat groups that some online diet trackers use. Plus, it's always good to brush up on your food pyramid. :)


The Daily Plate is a diet and weight loss journal that helps you track your diet and exercise as well as your weight and goals. The Daily Plate seems to be the best of both worlds, combining route tracking with calorie counting, but I can't report much more than that because I just discovered the site myself. :) One unique feature that I love and will spend more time exploring the recipe database: member-submitted recipes that include nutrition facts.


What resources, online or off, do you use to help with your fitness goals?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tasty Tuesdays- Sweet and Sour Meatballs

Meatballs
About 2lbs of ground beef
1 c. Rolled Oats
2 egg, lightly whisked
1/4 c. dehydrated onion
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1/1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
2/3 c. milk

Combine the above ingredients and form into balls. Put a single layer in a 9x13 pan.

Sauce

1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. vinegar
2 tsp. mustard
1/2 c. BBQ sauce
2 tsp. Worcestershire Sauce

Combine to form sauce.

Pour the sauce on the meatballs and then bake at 350 for just over 30 minutes. Serve with rice.

Monday, April 12, 2010

How to make a "Where I've Been" Board

I found this little memo board at the dollar store last month. Yup, the dollar store. I brought it home knowing it was a good find, but I had no idea what to do with it. Remembering a goal I had as a child, to visit all 50 states, this is what I came up with.


It holds a map, so that I could put pins in the places I have been. It was really easy to make. I sanded the memo board and painted it black. I googled for maps of America and found one I liked. I re sized it to the size of the board and the printed it. I modge podged it to the board. After it dried, I put my pins in. I think my husband approves of this project because he asked if we could put pins in for him too.

I really like it. I have always wanted to be a traveler and this makes me feel like I am tracking a goal.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Consumer Reviews Make a World of Difference

I love shopping, but I'm terrified of purchasing anything more than $20. It may even be something I truly need, but once I get to the store, I freeze up and panic. What if it doesn't work? What if there is a better product I don't know about? What if there's something better I could spend my money on? Like a Cricut.

Unfortunately, I've had to face this fear multiple times in this past year as we moved and have been settling in our new place. It's been difficult, but the thing that's really helped me through it has been online user reviews. Nearly every major online retailer has these online user reviews, usually in the form of a star rating and comments. These are amazingly useful in deciding which product to purchase, and if you have a husband like mine who despises shopping only second to reality TV, this cuts down on the amount of time needed in the store.

Today, we went to Wal-Mart, looking to buy a new vacuum. We'd received one as a wedding gift and we loved it at first, but like my father-in-law says, all vacuums die after a couple years, no matter how expensive. Ours hasn't picked up an ounce of dirt in months. It's been very frustrating and the crunching of the carpet finally got to me.

Before we went to the store, we looked at the online reviews. The first trick is looking at the star rating system, but don't be fooled by how simple it may seem. A product may have four out five stars, but only be reviewed by three people. Is it that reliable then? Maybe. Maybe not. Fortunately, nearly every vacuum on the site I was interested in had fairly good reviews. We went to the store, grabbed the vacuum -- which happened to be on sale -- and we were out. My husband didn't even have time to whine, and he even tolerated my craft aisle obsession.



Speaking of Wal-Mart, I've been impressed with their reviews. Sometimes it's hit and miss with Wal-Mart products, so you want to be careful if you're going to spend the money. The online reviews help alleviate the frustration with that and most reviewers tend to be fair and at least some of the comments address your questions about the product. We've found our TV, vacuum and kitchen table through the online Wal-Mart reviews. And hey, even if you don't like buying stuff at Wal-Mart, use their reviews and get the product elsewhere. It's the information that matters.



Have you used online reviews to help buy a product? What was your experience like?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Tasty Tips- Quick and Easy Tortilla Chips

Buy a package of corn tortillas. Quarter them. You will be left with four triangles from each tortilla. Fry them in hot oil until the oil stops to bubble. They will be crispy. Sprinkle with salt immediately.

These are SOOO good. I come up with excuses to have them for dinner.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

That is one way to swap a head- Photo Thursdays

I usually do my tutorials in Picasa, but this is one thing you really need Photoshop for. So what do you do when you get the perfectly cute picture of the baby but it is not the best picture of mom?

Find another picture and swap the baby's head, of course.
This is what it looked like when I was done.
There is more than one way to swap a head. This is just one way. I have swapped heads different way but this is the first one I was taught.
First open BOTH pictures in Photoshop at the same time.
If you see the far left of the picture below, you will see that I have selected the clone stamp tool. Select it the clone stamp as well.
In the upper left corner, as in the photo below, you can select your brush size and type. Select and very straight forward brush and pretty small brush around 15 or so.
Open the picture with the face you want. Can you see where my brush is, on the photo below? It is at the corner of one of his eyes. I do that so you have a very specific starting point. Bring the brush over his eye and clone (by pressing alt over the eye). Then go to the other picture and start clicking, at the same spot you did in the other picture. In our case, his right eye.
Keep clicking until you replace the baby. You can do the whole baby or just his head. Since his dad's hand was on him in this picture, the only way I could make it look realistic was to replace the whole baby. Try not to go over the edges of the baby when you replace or you are going to be replacing other parts too.

After he is replaced, use the clone tool to replace and fudge the lines. I needed his mom to have a little bit more arm because Baby was covering some of it. So I cloned her arm and brought it down to cover the gap.
Add some levels and brightness and you are finished.
Some people have this idea that you can replace any head in any picture with any head from another picture. The pictures need to be the same distance away, or the head is going to look way too big or small. The pictures also need to have similar lighting or it will look extremely fake. Most of the time, just taking more pictures is a better option, unless you are in love with a photo and you think you can pull a head swap off.

More ways to swap a head later. If you have any questions, e-mail them to me @ debrajoyhawkins at gmail.com