I've Moved

I'm a journal keeper.  This blog served as a wonderful outlet for a couple of years, and I can't bear to close it down...from time to time I go back and browse old entries for memory sake.  But, a year of neglect has passed, and I find myself in an entirely new place in life.  It feels disjointed to add my new experiences to this blog; the gap between then and now is too vast.  So I've started a brand new blog, and I would love for some of my long-lost followers to rejoin my journey!

If you're so inclined, please hop over to For The Love and become a follower of my new adventures in life!

God bless, and I hope to see you there!


Reducing Allergens in the Home:: What Works for Us

My Wyatt:  Comedic genius, bug-scientist, book lover, allergy sufferer.

Anyone who knows my little family is quite aware of my sweet Wyatt's HORRENDOUS allergies.  At around 18 months old, his little nose started running and hasn't stopped since.  He also has bouts of eczema that flare up from time to time when his outdoor allergies are especially bothersome.  Although his allergies are year-round, there are particular times of the year that are far worse than others. 

Jason and I have elected not to have Wyatt undergo the skin testing for now, since he's only 6 years old, and other than tell us exactly what trees/pollen he's allergic to, nothing would change as far as treatment of symptoms goes.  He's on Singulair daily, and takes an over-the-counter syrup daily, too.  He isn't quite old enough for the shots that could specifically target his triggers, so we're just waiting until he's bigger.  In the meantime, we've researched and implemented many simple things that have made a very big difference for our little guy.  I'm sharing with you in hopes that if your pumpkin is suffering, hopefully one or more of these things will help you!

Keep in mind, these are steps that work for our family.  We do not smoke.  We do not own pets (aside from a few sea monkeys and a couple of betta fish).  Those two things alone make a huge difference for most kids...keeping the home smoke-free and pet-free.  I don't expect that anyone will be sending Fido or Fifi packing unless their child's allergies are extremely severe and are pet-induced...but when it comes down to it, our people kids should come before our furry kids...so if you have pets, here are some things that might help:

1.  Keep the pets off of the furniture, especially your child's bed.  Banning pets from bedrooms is a good practice, too.
2.  Vacuum/sweep/mop often.  A vacuum with a hepa filter is a bonus, and the static-cling mops (wet and dry) kick up less dust than the old fashioned broom and dust pan.
3.  Bathe those critters frequently.  Often it's the saliva on the fur that causes the reactions.
4.  Have kiddos wash their hands/face immediately after playing with pets.  If needed, they might want to change clothes, too.

Now, if you're like us and don't have pets, and outdoor culprits and dust are your tormentors, then here are some cleaning steps you can take that make a huge difference.  Obviously, any or all of the following can be implemented in a home with pets, too, and will only help!  I'd like to go ahead and admit right now that I'm a tad compulsive when it comes to cleaning...so to answer your question: yes, I literally do everything on the following list; no, I don't expect you will.  Just read it and choose from it the few things that will easily transition into your routine.  I firmly believe even changing one or two things could make a drastic improvement for your little one.  Here goes:

1.  Do not wear shoes past the point of entry of your home.  So much pollen, dust, dirt, germiness, etc is spread throughout your entire home with every contaminated step you take.  Create a little spot in your entryway or mudroom just for taking off and storing shoes.  Bonus: you'll extend the life of your carpet/rugs.
2.  Vacuum regurlary, especially the high traffic areas.  Don't forget fabric furniture...it collects dust and pollen, too!  And a quick wipe-down of leather, wood, glass, and metal furniture helps, too.
3.  If possible, wash draperies/curtains about once a month or so.  If the fabric is not machine washable, at least use the hose attachment of your vacuum to give them a once over.  And don't overlook mini-blinds...a static-cling duster once a week will keep dust from building up on them.
4.  Dust frequently.  It's unbelievable to me how dusty my house gets in a week.  I eliminated some dried floral arrangements that couldn't really be cleaned, and I gently wipe down my live plants every blue moon.  Old books are really awful about harboring dust, so I just make sure that a couple of times a year, I tear everything off bookshelves and thoroughly wipe everything down. 
5.  Don't forget those disgusting ceiling fans.  Ours rarely get used, so if left alone, they start "growing" a nasty layer of dust.  If yours is past the point of no return, and you don't want to send all of that ick into the air, use an old pillowcase to cover each blade and swipe the grotesqueness into the case.  Other overlooked dust magnets:  light fixtures, trim above doorways/windows, picture frames/mirrors, legs/arms of wooden furniture.
6.  Change/clean your air filter to your central heat & air often.  And if the vent slats are getting gross, vacuum them or wipe them off.  And same goes for your vacuum cleaner's filter if it has one.
7.  Wash pillows/pillow cases and stuffed animals often...along with any other item that regularly goes into that bed.  Or better yet, get rid of the stuffed animals.  That doesn't fly at my house...Wyatt is particularly fond of each and every one of his stupid beanie babies and pillow pets...so they just get laundered...a lot.  And I wash the decorative pillows/cases around the house every month or two, too...I'm not a lunatic about it...just when they seem like they need it.
8.  Don't leave the doors/windows open.  This is a killer for me.  I grew up in a home that would pry open every crevice to let in the beautiful spring time and fall air...at least I have the memories, right?  Nothing is more detrimental to my kid's allergies than the outside air...boo.
9.  Change bedsheets at least once a week.  During the bad times of the year, I change Wyatt's sheets twice a week...and sometimes his pillowcase more.  I'm also really careful to make sure that his bed gets made daily, with the covers completely covering his bed and pillow.  This prevents any dust from settling on his sheets and pillow during the day.  Hey, every little bit matters.  Also, and if your kid is like mine, this ain't gonna be easy:  no playing on the bed.  Think of the bed as a sterile, safe, allergen-free zone.  The less it's messed with, the more likely it'll stay that way.
10.  Nighttime baths, during which the hair gets a good wash every single time, every single day.  Even on the days you didn't go anywhere.  My son protests this particular item on my list more than any other, but it's a non-negotiable.  All day long, dust and pollen get trapped in those gorgeous red locks, and if I don't wash it, that all gets transfered to the pillow and sheets I've tried so hard to keep sterile from allergens.  Sorry, Dude.
11.  Any clothes that have left the confines of your home...even just to go check the mailbox...go into the laundry.

Stuff I don't do, but you might try:
12.  An air purifier in the home.  Now, I don't have one of these, but we're currently on the search for one.  I've heard mixed reviews on so many models, and I'm not even sure that they'd make a difference, but it seems like they'd really help, so I'll let you know if/when we get one what we think.
13.  Sinus rinse.  Yeah, right...like that's going to happen with my psychotic child...but hey, they work.
14.  Remove any/all carpeting from your home.  This isn't even a financial option for us...just ain't going to happen...so that's why I'm just very diligent about vacuuming often and having it professionally cleaned twice a year.  If replacing the entire house-worth of carpeting with wood or tile isn't an option for you, either, but you can afford to just do the bedroom(s) where your allergy sufferer(s) sleeps, that's a great start!  Area rugs should be used minimally and cleaned often.
15.  No wood burning fireplaces.  I'm such a buzz-kill, I know, but all that soot and smoke permeates the entire room. 

Okay, are you still with me...?  As I mentioned above, Wyatt deals with eczema...most of which is triggered by the dyes and perfumes in soaps, but sometimes a mild food allergy will trigger it.  So I make sure to use dye- and perfume-free soaps and detergents and cleaners whenever possible.  Also, I strive to get all of the dusting and vacuuming done while he's out of the house so that anything kicked up in the air will hopefully have settled before he has to breathe it in.  Best rule of thumb is to know what triggers your kiddo's allergies, and adjust your routines accordingly.  It's a lot of trial and error sometimes to figure it out, but it's well worth the time invested if your stuffed-up kid can suddenly breathe unihibited.

I really hope something here helps you!  As a Mama, nothing is as stressful as watching my little buddy suffer.  Since we've started implementing these things, his medications can keep up and he rarely is symptomatic anymore!  I'd love to hear from you in the comments section if something in particular really helps you!

Just another fun find for my nature-loving, allergic-to-the-world boy.


Light and Hazy...some basic editing tips!

I have only been photoshopping for a little over a year, and to be honest, I haven't even begun to tap into the potential of this software.  Recently, while trying to figure something out, I discovered that I've been doing things the hard way...imagine that.  I have purchased hundreds of preset actions over the past year, but many times I want to achieve a particular effect without using an action since actions tend to be fairly heavy-handed and require lots of adjustments to tone them down to my liking.
I want to share with you how to use nothing but the adjustments that come in photoshop to achieve a soft, hazy edit with sunflare added in for fun.
Step 1:  Pick a pic. 
I chose a photo of my son in his halloween costume that I love...you can see the
SOOC (straight out of camera) on the left.  It was exposed properly, but felt too heavy and dark for the light-nature of the photo...plus, I wanted it all dreamy and such.
Step 2:  Adjust the lighting situation.
To begin, click the little new adjustment layer icon (see pic below) and choose Levels.
That little graph controls the exposure of your photo.  I wanted to lighten up shadows and haze it up a bunch, so I slid the middle slider to the left until I liked what I saw (about 1.33).  Now, you might lose some of the details in the blacks that you want back...you can slide the far left slider to the right a stop or two to darken those blacks back up.  And the one on the far right..?  It will perk up your highlights...I like to bump it over a bit to brighten up all of the whites.  Careful, though...you might cancel out one or the other by doing both...you can preview your changes by turning the "eyeball" icon on/off next to the Levels layer.
Step 3:
I wanted to warm up my already pretty warm pic because my child is an albino red-head and he was pretty pale.  If you click the New Adjustment Layer icon again, this time select Photo Filter (see pic).  I chose the Warming Filter (85).  Just play around with them.  You can click the eye to turn that level on and off to see the difference it makes. 
Special note:  the cooling filter does wonders on orange newborn skin!!  It also fixes that weird yellowish hue from indoor photos if your white balance was off!  And, you can also add really artistic hues to your photos and black and white conversions with this tool!  Don't forget you can adjust the opacity of the photo filter layer if the default is too strong!

Step Quattro:
Like I said, I wanted this to be a very hazy, dreamy, super light image.  To get that haze, I clicked the New Adjustment Layer icon again and selected Hue/Saturation.  I slid the Lightness slider until I liked what I saw.  If you start to lose those blacks again, you can always adjust your levels layer by clicking on that layer and playing with the sliders.  You may also benefit from opening yet another Adjustment Layer and selecting Brightness/Contrast...
Step 5:
Flatten your image by going to Layers>Flatten image
You might want to stop here, or if you're like me, you might want to add some sun flare for fun!
Step 6:
Click the Add a New Layer icon (see pic below).  You will need to use the paint bucket tool to fill that layer with black. 
Then, select Filter>Render>Lens Flare.  A cute little dialog box will pop up giving you the choice between several different styles of lens flare.  To pinpoint the origin of the flare (wherever the lightsource should be for your photo), just click the image in the pop up box to move the flare around until you like where it's at.  (see second image below).

Now that your flare is how you like it, click OK.  Next, change your blending mode on the flare layer to "Screen."  You may adjust the opacity if necessary.  If there are any weird spots on a part of the image that you don't like, you can click the icon that looks like a circle inside of a rectangle and then use a black brush to brush off any of that layer you don't like. 

Lastly, I like to run a high pass filter on my image to sharpen it up a tad, and usually a noise reduction filter.  To do the High Pass, flatten your image, then make a new layer by clicking CTRL+J on your keyboard.  With that new layer highlighted, go to Filter>Other>High Pass.  Change the blending mode to Soft Light for a subtle effect, or Vivid or Hard Light for a stronger effect.  (You can adjust the opacity, too, and brush off anything that it's too much on...you'll have to click that rectangle with a circle again and use a black brush to "wipe off" the sharpness where you don't want it).  After that, run a noise reduction filter by clicking Filter>Noise>Reduce Noise.


I Heart Faces Photo Challenge: Best Face of 2012

 Picking my favorite image of 2012 was not an easy task.  Aside from images of my clients, about 99.9% of my photos are of my son...and I love every single one of them.  Even so, I do have my favorites.  Ironically, the photo I've chosen is a selfie. 

I cannot express how deeply personal this photo is...it was the first self-portrait I'd taken in almost two years that I saw myself.  I'd just started coming out of a deep depression, and this photo felt so hopeful to me...that maybe, just maybe I was going to be okay afterall. 

I double exposed it (in photoshop) with a photo of frost-covered tree branches with the sun flaring out from behind the trunk that I'd taken the winter before. 

The dormant tree, sleeping,frozen with ice...the hopeful sun bursting through the twigs, warming them; thawing them; preparing them for the spring that was to come.

This image was submitted to the I Heart Faces photo challenge-- www.iheartfaces.com
Photo Challenge Submission


Make a Card in Photoshop!

A few of my friends have photoshop elements, but aren't photographers, so they really don't use it enough to know the ins and outs of it.  One of the MANY, MANY things that PSE allows one to do is to create custom cards using photos (or not!).  The process is fairly straightforward, but it can be daunting if you've never done it, and without the knowledge of the little "extras," they can appear kind of flat. 
In no way am I pretending this is a fancy example, but it's just to get those of you who want to play around comfortable enough that you can start creating your own cards!
Wyatt's piano teacher rewarded him recently with a carton of ice cream and sugar cones, so a "thank you" card is in order...here's how it was done:
1.  Open a "new" file in Photoshop.  I typically know what size I'm going to print it (in this case, 4x6) so I format the size of the file accordingly and set the resolution at around 200 (so it doesn't pixelate on edges of the shapes).  Also open any photo(s) you plan to use in the card.
2.  Next, I hop over to the tab where I usually see all of my effects and actions, and select "CONTENT."  You can use that little drop down to further filter (by color, season, activity, etc), or you can click one of the little icons to filter by type (backgrounds, frames, shapes, etc).
Since this is for a piano teacher, I picked a sheet music background...double click, and voila!
3.  Next, I wanted to create a window for the photo I chose.  On the left hand margin, I selected the shape tool (looks like a heart, but if yours looks like an ellipse or rectangle, right click it, then pick the heart from the pop-out menu).  Once you select the shape tool, the shape tool bar appears at the top of your screen (see photo below).
Click the drop down and scroll through the shapes until you've found one you like.  Once you've selected your shape, simply click and drag the shape onto your background.  You can resize or reshape it by selecting the "move" tool (looks like a 4-way arrow) from your tool box on the left margin.   
I selected two shapes:  one large rectangular shape to be my picture window, and one elliptical shape to serve as a plaque for text.
Let's say that you're NOT using a photo for a particular shape...
Photoshop's default foreground/background is white on black.  If you click on the top box (foreground), you can select any color from the little pop-up box, and THAT will be the color of the shape you make. 
If you want to reset it to default, click the teeny tiny boxes at the bottom left of the boxes...the double arrow swaps them, in case you're wondering.
 4.  Once you've made your shape, you might want to add dimension to it.  Reselect the shape tool, and make sure that the shape-you-want-to-work-on's layer is highlighted in the layer box on the bottom right hand side of your screen (that shape's box will be black, while the rest are gray).
With that shape highlighted, go to the top toolbar on your screen and click the style drop-down box.  From here, you can add bevels, shadows, glows, patterns, etc to that shape!  The teeny double arrowhead on the right corner will pop out another list of options so that you can layer. 
I added a bevel and a drop shadow.
5.  Now that your shape is all 3-D and junk, you can do the fun part:  add text or a photo!  To add a photo, highlight that shape in the layer box, then, click and drag the photo of choice from the open files at the bottom of your page (remember that one you opened right after you created a new file in step 1?).  It'll be all the wrong size and in a totally idiotic place, so you'll have to resize and move it.  Select the MOVE tool from your toolbox and work with it until it's the right size, then move it directly over your shape.  Next, click the little green check mark that pops up to signify that you like that placement.  Now, to set the photo to the new shape, hit CTRL + G.  Voila!  If you need to move it around again, just highlight the photo layer in the layer box, select the move tool, and nudge it until you like it.
 Although usually my insistence on "eye-balling" everything works out just fine, it was obvious that I didn't have anything centered, and it was bothering me.  If you need help lining stuff up, go to VIEW and click GRID.  It'll give you a nice little grid to measure off of, and you can turn it off the same way when you're done with it.
6.  Next, I wanted to add text to the ellipse shape.  Select the text tool from your toolbox (it's a capital "T") and choose the font, size, color, and any effects...bold, italic, centered, etc...from the toolbar at the top.  Click the cursor on the shape where you want your text.  DO NOT freak out if you can't see it...it's on the background, not the shape.  See...mine did it, too: 
What you've got to do is go over to the layer box and click the eyeball for that shape's layer to turn it off.  Now you'll see your text (sometimes, you have to turn off two or three layers if you've gotten really ambitious!).  Right click your text and select "bring forward" or "bring to front" depending upon your situation...in this case, bring to front.  Then click the shape layer's eyeball again to turn it back on! 
7.  I was feeling all artsy-fartsy, so I used the shape tool again to add little music notes and base/treble clefs to the card as well...I just reset the foreground to black first, then I used the move tool to place them.
Like I said, this is a very simple example.  You can go all crazy, layering shapes and textures and adding banners, yada yada yada.  At least now you know how to get started!


Rock the Shot Photo Challenge:: Pets

Whenever I see pet photo contests, I'm usually pretty bummed because we have no furry little critters for me to photograph.  We tried the whole dog thing last year, and it was a debacle of great proportions.  My hubby hates cats, and I don't want to deal with the STINK that comes with rodents or reptiles.  One day, while wasting time after church, the three of us ran into a pet store "just to look."  Twenty dollars later, we were on our way home with these guys and all of their get-up.
Wyatt calls them Sponge Bob and Patrick, but we all know that after two days, they became MY fish, so I renamed them:  GOP and DNC.
To get this shot:
I set this up perpendicular to my front window, which lets in lots of natural light.
I set the clear tank on top of a book covered with a white piece of printer paper, and put my white reflector behind it as a backdrop (you could use poster board).
I used a stack of books to sit my camera on (my tripod was too tall).
My camera settings:
50mm 1.4 lens
Spot metering (my focal point was on the center divider)
f/2.5 (+1 stop on the exposure meter)
1/160 sec shutter speed
ISO 100
Auto white balance
My SOOC was decent, but I adjusted the color, sharpness, brightness and levels in photoshop, then cropped it.