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A Magic Trick You *Should* Try at Home

21 Oct

It took about 10 minutes to make two plates full. And less than 5 minutes for everything to disappear. (Burp!)

Just like magic.

Magic in the Kitchen!

I still can’t get over it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen food disappear that quickly. Okay, granted my in-laws were over at my place, fondly called “Cafe Estebucks,” for the regular Sunday coffee-and-brunch but still, two whole plates worth gone in 5 minutes is quite a feat, right? 😆

You know how it is in those magic shows, where right before they perform some incredible feat, a deep, carefully-modulated voice warns ominously, “Do not try this at home.”  Well, today I’d like to take the opposite path. I dare you, my friends: Do try this at home!

Then let me know if everything disappeared from the plate in record-time as well. Deal? Deal! Awesome. 🙂

What You’ll Need:

  • French bread (I bought mine, but if it’s your kind of adventure to make your own, you can find a great recipe here)
  • French salted butter (I used Président Unsalted Butter, but really any butter that you love will do. Or you can skip it altogether if you’re on a diet :|)
  • Herbs: toasted chopped garlic, chopped basil, a tiny bit of freshly-ground pepper
  • Prosciutto or Salami Milano
  • Fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced

How to Perform the Magic Trick:

1. Slice the loaf of French bread. Spread butter on each slice.

The bread and butter of magic

2. Add toasted garlic bits, chopped basil and a dash of pepper.

Sing as you sprinkle herbs because this is delightfully easy!

3. Thinly slice your fresh mozzarella.

Mozzarella, you rock my world! (So does this cheese slicer)

4. Lay the cheese slices on top of your butter and herbs.

This kind of cheesy, I can take. ~lol~

5. Stick everything in the oven (about 5 minutes at 180ºC or 356ºF). Take the slices out when the cheese turns golden-yellow.

Golden Goodness

6. Bring out your prosciutto or salami milano and lay these on top of the now-crunchy bread with soft melted mozza.

Prosciutto ... Salami Milano ... Delizioso!

7. Serve on a plate and watch everything disappear in less than 5 minutes.

Et voila! Magnifique!

Magic!

Who’d have thought something so deliciously simple could be simply delicious? 🙂

Okay, your turn! Try it out and do let me know if you loved it! 🙂 And do have a magical Friday, my friends!

* Credits for stock photos I used to create the image of the magician-boy: Emitra & Gastonmag at sxc.hu

The Good Stuff

7 Oct

What’cha doing?
Stuff.

What’cha watching?
Stuff.

What’cha eating?
The good stuff.

Yes, people, that’s exactly the kind of stuff I’m talking about right now. Literally good stuff. Yummy stuff. Delish stuff. (You get my drift 😆 ).

But before I get to the good stuff, a little back story to explain why I think this stuff is good.

The hubs and I were talking over dinner last night (regular food for him and diet food for me) and I learned from him that studies say that people’s choice of food is a largely influenced by emotional experience. (Did I ever mention how I love being married to a guy who makes a living studying people? There’s always something new to discover each day!). I thought this made a lot of sense: think of two guys in a pizza joint with two girls they’re crazy for. One guy gets the girl; the other guy gets the bill. 😆  That would certainly explain why the guy who got the girl might develop an intense liking for pizza for the rest of his life, while the other guy might not ever touch pizza with a 10-foot pole.

But I mention that food-preference-emotional connection because it leads to this full disclosure: the reason I love stuffed tomatoes is not just because they taste dang good but also because they stir wonderful 14-year-old  memories.

Back in 1997, when we only had 2 (of what subsequently grew into 5) boys, the hubs and I went to Paris… but we didn’t have much money back then, so we would content ourselves with eating hotdogs from stands and an occasional meal in a resto. (Hahaha! Yeah, life was pretty REAL back then).

Me in Paris in September '97 - Stuffed with 3 layers of clothing and tomatoes 😉

Well, one evening, we discovered a resto that was tucked in the basement of one of the buildings near the hotel we were staying at, and the French guy was selling… (wait for it)… stuffed tomatoes! Man, I died. They were soooo good. Seriously. I was in stuffed-tomato heaven. And since then, I’ve always loved stuffed tomatoes.

So after experimenting in an attempt to recreate the taste in my kitchen recently, I was pretty thrilled to find out that my kids now share my hankering for stuffed tomatoes as well!

And just in case you’d like to get hooked on this good stuff too, I decided to share the process with you (note: make sure you have good experiences while preparing and eating this, because I wouldn’t want you to end up like the 2nd pizza guy :lol:).

The Essential Goods

What you’ll need to have on hand:

  • fresh tomatoes
  • ground meat
  • herbs and spices, including onion and garlic (chopped)
  • asparagus (optional, for those who’d like something to add color and more “chews” to the meal)

The Stuffing and the To-Be-Stuffed

Just a few side-comments here about the ingredients:
  1. Use the biggest tomatoes you can find. You’ll want as much space as you can get for stuffing them. Plus (dieters, pay attention!) – there is as much sugar content in a big tomato as there is in a cherry tomato. So in this case, bigger is definitely better.
  2. Make sure the tomatoes are freshly-ripened, with nice taut skins. It can be a total bummer to have to stuff tomatoes that are overripe and have flimsy skins, trust me.
  3. If you’re dieting, you’ll want to consider buying meat at the butcher’s shop and having them grind it in front of you. That way you can make sure that you’re getting real lean beef instead of fat-laden beef or a mixture of pork and beef. If you’re not on a diet, then you really don’t need to care about this, lucky you! 😆

Alright. All set? Now, on to the process!

Stuff It… Stuff It Good!

1. Wash all vegetables thoroughly. Then slice the tomatoes in half.

Tomatoes and their better halves (lol!)

2. With a spoon, core each tomato half. Don’t throw away the stuff that you remove! Just set that aside because, as your momma and mine always said, “waste not, want not!” 😉

Naked Tomatoes (lol!)

3. Season your ground beef liberally with herbs and spices that make your heart sing. Mix well.

I like herbs a lot, so I threw in Italian and Provence herbs, basil leaves, rosemary, toasted garlic bits, sea salt, pepper, and thyme.

Ground Beef with Herbs Galore

4. On a hot pan with a bit of olive oil, sauté freshly-chopped garlic and onions.

Sizzling garlic and onions

It shouldn’t take long till the garlic and onions turn golden.

Golden Perfection

Misto

Tip: Olive oil in spray bottles is convenient and great to cook with, but I prefer to use Extra Virgin Olive Oil which I transfer into this neat little gadget called Misto. You fill the Misto canister halfway with your olive oil, pump the cover a few times, and you have a wonderful, very light coating to fry and sauté with. (And it’s more cost-efficient since you don’t have to buy olive oil in spray bottles, which are usually more expensive than their bottled-liquid counterparts).

5. Remember the tomato insides that we scooped out? Now’s the time to use them! Drop them right on top of your golden garlic and onions.

Three's Company: Garlic, Onions, Tomatoes

Mix them as you continue sautéing. (The smells should make you swoon with joy right about now).

Sautéing and Swooning

6. When the tomatoes, garlic and onions are all mashed and mixed and exuding that wonderful autumn glow 😉 …

Well, hello autumn-colored yummies!

Drop in your ground beef (which you already mixed with all your herbs and spices).

Another one joins the club!

7. Mix the beef well with the tomatoes, onions, and garlic, tossing and turning till the beef is no longer red but not quite brown (more like a light orange color?). Take care that the beef doesn’t overcook. It should be juicy and soft (it’s going to be cooked well enough once it goes into the oven). Trust me, you don’t want well-done beef at this stage.

Keeping it nice, soft and juicy

Once the beef is a nice orange-y color, take the pan off the fire and transfer the beefy goodness to a plate (a hot pan continues to fry even when the flame is gone… but of course you knew that. 🙂 )

8. Take the empty tomato shells and start scooping spoonfuls of the ground beef concoction into them. Pat down to make sure every available space in the tomato shell is filled.

Ooh, we are stuffed!

Tip: Use the spoon to shape the top portion of the ground-beef filling into nice round domes. Just cos they’re cute that way. 😀

9. Gently lay the stuffed tomatoes in your baking trays and sprinkle parmesan cheese on top.

Almost there...

Sprinkle the cheese stingily if you’re on a diet…

A bit o' cheese

… or liberally if you’re not on a diet (lucky you).

You're cheesy, honey.

10. Bake in the oven at about 180ºC (or 356ºF) for about 20 minutes.

If you’d like to add a touch of spring color to your predominantly fall-colored baked and stuffed tomatoes, I highly recommend this:

Steam or lightly boil a few asparagus spears in water sprinkled with herbs. This is super-easy to do and it’s a quick way to get more veggies in your meal!

Greens for the kids

And greens for mom (yeah, that would be me)

11. Serve the baked stuffed tomatoes while hot with a side of herbed asparagus.

Goodness! Stuffed Tomatoes!

Asparagus with a sprinkling of herbs

Want to know the best part of it? This stuff is not just good, it’s healthy too!  Yep, we’re talking about no unwanted baggage! Sure, you’ll lick your lips and pat your tummy when you’re done eating this, but you’re definitely not going to end up stuffing yourself with unwanted weight gain in the process, I promise.

Bon appétit without guilt! 😀

Pin It

PS. If you’re a food lover who happens to be on a diet, you might want to check out the brand-new blog of one of my dear friends (we shared many crazy adventures in college 😉 ). Click on the image below to get to her blog, dietribe (which has awesome photos of food, lemme tell ya).

A Diet Food Blog for Frustrated Foodies

Enjoy! (And if you end up trying this at home, I’d love to know how it turned out for you, so do feel most welcome to come back and hit that little comment box over on the left, right below this. 😉 You are awesome. )

How to Indulge {Without Guilt}

24 Sep

So I admit it. I indulge. Every. Single. Day. And I don’t feel an ounce of guilt about it.

I’m speaking specifically of one thing, of course. Pizza. Guilt-free pizza!

I admit it, I can eat this daily not just because this pizza is totally allowed on my present diet, but even better, it’s super-healthy! I wish I could describe accurately what a great gastronomic delight this is (think of the scene in Ratatouille, where the mouse puts food in his mouth and experiences a whole symphony of bursting colors and lights and flavors. Yeah. That pretty much comes close).

I’ve never considered myself a creature of habit, but eating this is definitely one of the highlights of my every day. 🙂 Here’s how I go about preparing it in my kitchen (a place where I’ve been spending a lot of time recently!).

The Grocery List

Oh yeah. Gotta make sure we have these in stock (or a quick trip to the neighborhood grocery will be in order):

  • green pepper
  • tomatoes
  • portobello mushrooms
  • onions
  • spices and herbs
  • mozzarella cheese (I’ve tried the squares and the fresh; I’d say go for the fresh cos it’s just heavenly)
  • crackers (for the crust)

All set! And now, to make…

Pizza Delizioso!

1. Chop (finely) the tomatoes, onions, green pepper and portobello mushrooms.

2. Mix well.

3. Add spices and herbs.

Here are the spices and herbs that I usually put into mine:

4. Lay 4 crackers on a tin pan. This base will be your crust.

I use Jacob’s Hi-Cal Original crackers, but you could totally substitute this with other crackers, bread or even dough, I’m sure, if you’re not on a diet anyway. 🙂

5. Lay mozzarella cheese over the crackers.

This infuses the pizza with cheesy goodness, with the added side-benefit of keeping the crackers together.

6. Spoon the veggies that you just chopped onto the cracker-and-cheese crust.

7. Lay more mozzarella cheese on top of the mixture.

I’ve tried mozza cheese strips (above), mozza cheese slices, and home-sliced mozzarella (below)… and they all work well, because all the cheese melts in the end and becomes a mass of delightful goodness!

8. Put the whole thing in the oven and bake for 20 minutes at 180ºC (or until the cheese melts into a golden color).

Voila! Time to indulge! Without guilt! 🙂

“That” Dengue Fever Cure

15 Sep

I love living on these islands in the Pacific, I truly do. I love that we have great beaches (love, even, that I can mention “beaches” in its plural form, and that reaching them does not necessarily involve a plane ride). I love that the two seasons–wet and dry–don’t require drastic wardrobe rotations. I love the cheerful tropical spirit of my people.

But there are two sides to every coin, and on the flip side of everything I love about my country is this: come rainy season, you can be sure the news will carry accounts of dengue fever cases, along with the usual precautionary measures and better-safe-than-sorry procedures to follow if you want to reduce your risk of being counted among the unfortunate bodies who happen to get bitten by the bug (specifically, a huge pest of a mosquito, known to insect-lovers as Aedes Aegypti – though I would think it would’ve been more accurate to have named them Hades Aegypti. ).

When my eldest son, now 19, was about 6 years old, he contracted dengue, which required about a week’s worth of hospitalization and hourly pricks for blood tests. A couple of weeks ago, my hubby got it too.

What Is It, Really?

In case you’re one of the lucky non-tropical dwellers for whom “dengue” is a word that needs some googling (learn more about it HERE and HERE), it’s a mosquito-borne viral disease that’s characterized by sudden high fever (that often goes up and down), severe headaches, exhaustion, and pain behind the eyes, muscles and joints. Sometimes it’s accompanied by a cough and sore throat, a bum stomach, a lack of appetite, and that tell-tale rash (petechiae) that looks like little red flat dots. Sometimes it’s not. See, there are 4 different strains of dengue, and some of them could be quickly fatal and some might not be as serious… but all cases of dengue cause stress and fear because you won’t really know what strain you have until you go through the worst of it.

Three things are most annoying about dengue fever:

One –  its symptoms mimic the flu, a cold, a regular stomach bug.

My husband thought he simply had a bad case of the flu till (and this is where I thank my guardian angel for nudging me) on the 3rd day of fever and looking at his weakening state, I suggested that he have a complete blood count (CBC) test. The drop in platelets (that component of the blood that’s responsible for its natural clotting ability) is one of the more certain indications that one has dengue – and on that day, the hubby’s platelet count was 174 (below 250 which was the normal count for his size and age). Eight hours later, in the evening, another CBC was done in the ER of the hospital; his platelet count was down to 134, and he went straight from the ER to his hospital room.

Two – Medicine has advanced now so that you can actually take a dengue test (which requires extracting more blood from you), which can determine whether you’re positive or negative for dengue fever.

That should be good, right? Weeell, here’s the thing: the dengue test is much like a pregnancy test: a positive result means you definitely have dengue fever, but a negative result could very well be a false negative (which roughly translates to: you can’t really breathe too easily because you just *might* have dengue; let’s test again after a day or two). The hubby tested negative when they administered the first test at the ER, but after a week in the hospital the doctor’s diagnosis was positive for dengue.

And three – The thing about dengue fever is there is no medically-sanctioned cure (because it’s viral, there are no antibiotics that can cure it).

So the best you can do is to keep hydrated (first thing the hospital did was to stick an IV into the hubby’s arm), to relieve the symptoms (paracetamol for fever control and hold off on the aspirin as it can contribute to faster hemorrhaging), and to monitor the platelets so that in case it drops way below 100, you can start collecting friends who would be willing to donate platelets in case transfusion is called for. (Yep, they did stick blood-collection needles into the hubby’s battle-weary arm multiple times).

Uh, Didn’t You Say “Cure”?

BUT the title of this blogpost is “That” Dengue Fever Cure, so if there’s no formal medically-sanctioned cure, what in heaven’s name could I be writing about?

Enter the tawa tawa plant (scientific name: Euphorbia Hirta – kinda sounds like Hakuna Matata :P), which is sometimes called gatas gatas in the Visayan areas of my country. Said to be so common around the Philippines, it can be found on rural roadsides and in grassy areas. Loads of friends of mine who either had dengue fever encounters themselves, or close family members with closer calls, had in the past given me first-hand accounts of how effective tawa tawa is as a “cure.” One of the major TV networks even did both a written feature and a live-news feature on it:

So naturally by the 3rd day of the hubby’s hospital confinement and a continually dropping platelet count, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to try out the local herbal remedy recommended by all people from all walks of life this side of the continent. Problem was, I had no previous association with the tawa tawa plant. I had no idea what it looked like. The only information I had stored in my memory was (1) it’s really effective in battling dengue fever and (2) it’s really easy to find, and you’d have the best luck going to Manila Seedling Bank.

The Elusive Search for The Cure

So I googled the map for Manila Seedling Bank and had my driver bring us there. I remember being told that tawa tawa is so widespread (and “wild-spread”) that you didn’t even have to buy it; you could simply ask any gardener at Manila Seedling Bank for a clump of the weeds. I told this to my driver, and as we drove into the compound, he asked the first man he saw (an old man on a bike), “Boss, sa’n makakabili dito ng tawa tawa?” (Where can we buy tawa tawa?) Tsk tsk, lesson number 1: when you say “buy” instead of “get” – now that can put funny ideas in other people’s minds.

The man on the bike said, “Tawa tawa? Naku, walang ganun dito! Sa bundok mo lang yan makikita.” (Tawa tawa? You won’t find any of that here! You’ll only find it growing on the mountain sides). Uh, did I mention I happen to be in a city where the nearest mountainside would be at least an hour and a half away? Sigh. I told my driver to thank the man and drive on, knowing that the blasted plant had to be available in some garden there as my friends had informed me long ago.

Suddenly Mr. Man-on-the-bike came cycling up to the driver’s window and motioned for him to roll down the window. Then with a crooked smile, he offered, “Kailangan niyo ba ng tawa tawa? Kunan ko kayo, sandali lang… magkano…?” (Do you really need  tawa tawa?  I can get some for you, if you want, real quick… for a fee…). And here’s where I have to confess that I had to stifle the urge to stick my head out the window and inquire of him, “Bakit po, nasa kabilang kanto po ba ang bundok?” (Oh, and is the nearest mountainside just around the corner?). Instead, we said no, thank you, and drove on. I told my driver to park and check the other gardens in the compound and ask for, not offer to buy, the weeds.

After a bit, my driver came back holding a clump of weeds with a triumphant smile on his face… and off we went, back home, where I could begin figuring out how to turn those weeds into the curative juice that everyone was raving about.

Back at home base, it took a while for my driver to park the car and bring the weeds up. Just as I was wondering if he had taken the initiative to turn them into tea himself, he came up and said…

“It seems we were given the wrong plant.”

😯

Whaaaahaaaa?

“This is not tawa tawa,” he said, holding up our bounty from Manila Seedling Bank. “This,” he proudly declared, holding up a tiny measly one-inch stem with 3 leaves on it, “is the real tawa tawa.”

Say that again? Oh holy wow. 🙄

Lesson No.2 – Do not go on a search-for-tawa-tawa adventure without first knowing what the blasted plant looks like.

To make a long story short (as short as the distance between the parked car and our back door), my driver happened to bump into curious neighbors’ drivers, one of whom promptly informed him that the bunch of weeds would do nothing for dengue since they were not tawa tawa weeds. Aaaand (this is where divine intervention steps in) that same driver just happened to have a child who was suffering from dengue and therefore he had a sample of the actual weed needed. Fifty bucks (a little gift of gratitude) later, my driver had even more than a handful of the requisite (correct) weeds and the added information that they actually grew in the gardens of the community we live in. (Nice. Now that’s a literal case of looking over someone else’s fence when you had what you needed right in your own garden).

The only hurdle left: how to actually turn these leaves into tawa tawa tea?

Oh Google, thou art my best friend.

I was thrilled, delighted, and grateful to find numerous step-by-step instructions (here, here, and here), all of which definitely gave me confidence to embark on this potion-making adventure, but I was a bit sad that none of them were pictorial in nature. Forgive me for being a bit dense when it comes to concocting herbal remedies, but I believe I would be excused, being a newbie at brewing medicinal teas from leaves and all that. Wistful and wishful, I imagined how lovely it would have been to have photos accompanying the instructions, just so I could really determine if I was on the right track in this culinary adventure or not. (Or maybe it’s the perennial teacher in me that believes in the power of audio-visual aids to accomplish much deeper learning compared to a straight-out lecture).

All of which really meant that I was a hop, skip and a jump away from concluding that if there isn’t a step-by-step pictorial instruction guide on how to prepare this herbal remedy, then why not create one to help all those who might appreciate not just words but the photos to go with it as well?

And So Here We Are

The instructions, ladies and gentlemen, for how to prepare tawa tawa tea. Words courtesy of compiled references from multiple google searches, photos courtesy of me. For you and whoever else might have use for the knowledge. 🙂

1. Take 5 to 6 whole tawa tawa plants (Since I didn’t know what a “whole plant” looked like, I assumed a clump of the weed = 1 whole plant).

2. Wash thoroughly. (You really want to do this, since the weeds grow by the roadside and pulling them out means you take along with it all that glorious soil).

 

Tip: The organic vegetable wash liquid from Rustan’s does a great job of making sure that your weeds are really clean. 🙂

3. Cut off the roots. (Yeah, you won’t be needing those).

4. Put the leaves in a boiling pot and add water. (The instructions I found on the web said “Fill a boiling pot with water.” How big would that boiling pot be? About how much water would that be? Am I being too OC about this? 😆 Uh, in case you are wondering the same thing, just do it by feel. If the leaves are sufficiently submerged in water, I’d say you’re on the right track).

5. Boil the tawa tawa on low fire. (Several of the web resources I found instructed “Boil for 1 minute on low fire” or “Boil for 1 minute in a slow, rolling boil.” Huh. In my case, 1 minute did not even get the water to boiling point, and the water certainly wasn’t rolling. So I’d say boil the stuff till you have a slow, rolling boil… whether that takes 1 minute or 5.)

  

Tip: You’ll know you’ve boiled sufficiently when the water changes color.

6. Let the concoction cool.

7. Throw the leaves and stalks away (yeah, they’re kinda like single-use coupons 😉 ). Pour the tea / juice / colored liquid into a pretty container (presentation always counts! 🙂 ).

8. Et voila! You’ve done it!

Then you let the patient drink the brew in a glass instead of water for an entire day (To me, that would mean a minimum of 4 or 5 glasses of the tea a day, even if one should drink 8-10 glasses of water. I wouldn’t subject anyone to strictly drinking this solely instead of water, but that’s just me).

I tasted it before giving it to the hubs, of course: empathy required it. The hubby hated the taste and said it tasted like Nawasa juice (a joke for bad-tasting water), but I thought it simply tasted like… well, earthy, bad tea. 😆

Epilogue: A day after subjecting the hubs to what he called the Triple T (Tawa Tawa Torture), he was released from the hospital. His platelet count hadn’t gone up to normal levels yet, but they were above levels of concern, and the doctors gave him clearance to complete his recuperation at home.

The hubby thinks that the sickness had simply run its course. Me, I prefer to think that all the prayers of friends and family, hospital care, and the tawa tawa tea – in that order, mind – helped him on the road to recovery. 🙂

So for whatever it’s worth, I hope these pictorial instructions may help anyone in need now or in the future (though I hope even more that no one will ever have need for it, i.e., that everyone will be dengue-risk-free).

PS. Additional research has yielded that dengue fever occurs in other places around the world: “Dengue is prevalent throughout the tropics and subtropics. Outbreaks have occurred recently in the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Cuba, and in Paraguay in South America, and Costa Rica in Central America.”

How to Make a Laptop (in 17 Easy Steps)

14 Feb

It’s no secret that I’m a hybrid wannabe. Here’s the thing, though: the biggest reason why I don’t do much hybrid stuff is because I never have enough time (or motivation) to get out a whole bunch of yummy, textural stuff then create stuff with actual scissors and glue and rulers and cutters while making sure that my younger kids don’t accidentally, say, touch the hot glue gun and then clean everything up after. Phew! See how tiring that was just to read? Can you imagine actually doing it? (Hybrid experts, I salute you!) 😀

So when one of my sons takes home a school project that requires parental participation, I sigh and scratch my head, but really, I’m secretly delighted because I have no choice! I have got to get down on my knees and put my hybrid skillz (whatever little I have 😉 ) to work!

This weekend, it was my six-year-old boy’s turn to be my school-project-partner. The task: Create a toy laptop using at least 5 different recycled or old materials.

Nice.

Well then… there was nothing to do but get to work! (And maybe get the camera out, too, so that in case you ever find yourself having to create a toy laptop from recycled materials, you just might find some cool ideas here! 😉 )

STEP 1: Do the caveman thing: hunt and gather!

First order of the day: Collect all the junk you can get your hands on. Never mind if you won’t end up using half of them. It’s just nice to know that you’ve got enough junk to create with (and by using them, you make space for even more junk to collect! Win!)

STEP 2: Have the essentials ready.

Essentials in this particular case would be the project instructions, your hand-drawn diagram of what the finished project might look like, a list of possible materials to use for each part, and yes, that ever-essential super-mug of coffee (or Diet Mt. Dew or hot cocoa, or whatever makes your little hybrid heart happy).

Step 3: Rule it!

Grab the biggest carton that you can find. (I knew there was a good reason to hold on to that box of my laptop stand! 😆 ). Get the metal rulers out (a metal ruler doesn’t get nicks like plastic rulers do, in case your cutter decides to get naughty and cross paths with it). Start trimming off the edges you won’t need.

Step 4: Get a super-cute hybrid helper.

Just because it’s always fun to work with a cutie. 🙂

Step 5: Slot it.

Cut little slots into the sides to create flaps, which will then become the fortified sides of your box.

Step 6: Nip and tuck.

Or, actually, fold and tuck… the sides of the box. Use masking tape to keep the flaps down, in case your carton is thick and refuses to stay down.

This is going to form the body of the laptop. (I’m just sayin’… you know… just in case the box starts to resemble something a pizza would be delivered in… which I think it kinda did for a while. And that’s how I knew we needed to break for a snack 😆 ).

Step 7: Tape and cut.

Oookay. When your tummy is settled and happy, get one side of an old gift box and measure it so that it fits inside your main carton. This will form the base upon which your keyboard will rise. 😉

Tape the sides of the keyboard base. Then cut out 4 strips (measured to fit in the inner part of the other side of your main box). The leftover carton trimmed from the box comes in handy for these little pieces.

Step 8: Got foam?

If your old box came with packing foam inside it, like mine did, do the happy dance! If it didn’t, any semi-stiff material that you can find lying around will do the lift-up job.

Let me explain the how’s and why’s:

Cut up strips of foam and stick them around the sides of the keyboard base. Oh, and the middle part too! This will take care of the extra cushioning you’ll need so that the keyboard base doesn’t lurch inward once eager kid-fingers start “typing” on the keyboard.

Step 9: Bring out the gun.

Turn the keyboard base over, take your glue gun and shoot glue over the sides where the keyboard edges meet with the lower part of the carton.

Step 10: Slice and dice.

Take the leftover carton and cut little strips for the trackpad (scissors come in handy for curving the corners of the trackpad) and then cut the strips into little squares to form the keys.

Stick all of these temporarily with masking tape on any expendable piece of carton, just so you can see how the keys will all line up (plus it makes it much easier to paint them, which is the next step coming up).

Step 11: Go forth and spray.

Step outside into the great green garden, carrying old newspapers to protect the grass… and spray away with old paint left over from various projects.

Step 12: Be Sharp(ie)!

When the paint has dried, take your Sharpie pen and write the letters and symbols of the keys on the little painted cardboard squares.

TIP: It helps to copy from a real laptop! 😀

Step 13: Monitor, monitor.

Print out whatever image you want to use as your monitor image. For our project, I transformed my Facebook page into my son’s using Photoshop. I replaced the profile photo strip with photos of him working on the project. I included an imaginary conversation between his teacher and him, which was a great place to list all the materials he used on the project. 😀

Step 14: Have an apple.

Print out your logo, cut, and paste on the cover of your “laptop.” (I briefly considered using a mango or some other tropical fruit, but Apple won in the end. Hahaha).

Step 15: Watch the wires!

Take a pipe cleaner and bend it a bit. Stick this onto a strip of black leftover carton (folded in half to create both sides). Tape a tiny piece of cut-off pipe cleaner to form the other metal side of the plug. Stick back and front sides of folded carton with glue gun.

Step 16: Check it out!

Check if your laptop looks fine. Do a whoop and a victory battle cry together with your cutie hybrid helper!

Step 17: Fall in love…

… when you see the look of sheer delight and excitement on your little project-partner’s face!

And voila! You’re done! Wooooooot!!!

PS. And if it looks like your little ones aren’t going to sleep early that evening because they’ve “got work to do” on their laptop, don’t say I didn’t warn you! 😉

Resolutions, Resolutions

6 Jan

Have you made yours yet? 😀

I make daily resolutions (easier to do a check and balance that way, and there’s something very soothing when, if you find you’ve been unsuccessful with the day’s resolution, you know you have the option to say, “Well! Tomorrow’s another day!” a la Scarlett O’Hara 😉

Still there’s something quite auld-lang-syne-ish (okay, I just invented that adjective, haha ) about making the traditional New Year’s Resolutions.

So… what’s on your list?

Guess what’s at the top of mine.

dsc_0172-jan051

Hehe… I’ve been oinking along since the middle of December, shame! (Well, I had to put the new weighing scale to good use, right? 😉 )

Seriously. Oinking. So this must be at the top of my list, most definitely.

live-todo2009

And there’s more.

More walking, for one.

My 16-year-old son has been convincing me that I need exercise while respectfully omitting the “older people need all the exercise they can get” part, something I am grateful to him for. Bahaha!

Speaking of which, some days ago, my 13-year-old R –who’s a total movie buff–and I were talking about… surprise!… movies. He was telling me he didn’t want to watch some movie (I forget which one, but I think it was One Flies Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) because he couldn’t stand to see Jack Nicholson with hair (it was filmed in the 70s). He said it wouldn’t seem like Jack Nicholson if the guy had hair.  ???  (Don’t worry, I didn’t get it either >teehee< )

So I said, “Why? How old was he when they filmed that movie?”

He said, “I don’t know, but he certainly had more hair than he has now. He’s really old now. He’s ancient! He doesn’t have much hair left.”

“Really?” I said. “How old is he now?”

“I don’t know… Old! Forty?”

Ahem. 😯

So. I must walk if only to prove my youth to my growing sons. Aside from the fact that exercise is good, of course. Especially in this ooooold age of ours (*tongue in cheek*).

Okay, so I won’t kill you with all the details behind my resolutions.

But I will just mention this, because it has to do with the word for the month that my dear friend Jes blogged about here.

What was your word? Mine was… tada! PRAY! Hence my No. 3 resolution! PRAY more! Don’t get me wrong, I do pray everyday. But I figure it’s a wonderful thing to do more of, and one can never lose by doing it more.  I also truly believe that work done to the best of one’s abilities and offered up is prayer, so this is my way of reminding myself to turn everything I do into prayer. 😉

So. Five resolutions. Spiritual, health, personal aspects: check, check, check. I’m good. (I figured I’d stop at five. Five is do-able. Six? Seven? Eight? Too much room for me to fail. Haha! I’ll go the safe route and stick with five. )

What about you? What are your new year’s resolutions? If you share them with me, then we can encourage each other and cheer each other and support each other throughout the year! We’ve got… what, more than 300 days to make sure these things happen! Alright!

New year, new lessons: Stitching, anyone?

I have to say… I am totally a sucker for cheap thrills, and one of the biggest sources of thrills for me is learning a new thing! There are few things that make me feel more alive than discovering new things, no matter how tiny and little they are in the bigger scheme of things.

So… did I say I spent the latter half of the holidays (till New Year’s Day) in the southern mountains with my sisters and brothers? Did I mention that most of our time was spent exercising our jaws and stomach muscles? (READ: oink! oink!)

Anyway, we stayed at this fab fab fab place (and no, we don’t own it–we rented it 😀 ), with space huge enough to house 4 families (which we were), with an almost 180-degree view of the world’s smallest volcano and lake within a lake (it’s one of the places that author Patricia Schultz lists in her book 1000 Places to See Before You Die).

I was so awed by the place that I just had to take photos… so I took 8 photos of the view as you come down the stairs from the entry, knowing at the back of my mind that Photoshop would help me stitch them together. I’d never attempted to use Photomerge in the past; in the past I had always stitched photos by hand (Riiiight. That makes it sound a bit like doing a cross-stitch sampler, doesn’t it? 😛 ).

So I tried Photomerge for the first time last night, and oh, boy, I hafta say… it’s the *easiest* and most thrilling thing to do! Loooove how Photoshop takes all the hard work and does it for you! The only thing you need to do is (1) have enough RAM; and (2) know how to fill in the missing places once the photos have been stitched together (something that can be accomplished with the clone tool).

So. I began with 8 photos and ended up with this one:

thouse-stitch-8x26w

(You can click on the image if you want a larger view. Originally, this photo was roughly 12+ inches by 36+ inches after stitching. I reduced it to about 8×26 in).

I promised some of my girlfriends that I’d share how I stitched this together (it’s really easy, and I so love sharing easy stuff!) Note: I use CS3, so am so sorry if you use PSE, but I’m totally in the dark as to whether Photoshop Elements 7 has this function as well or not. 😳

Here’s how to do it with CS3:

1. Open your photos that you want to stitch into a single panoramic photo.

2. Drag your photos onto a single document. Make sure that you hold down Shift as you drag in each photo so that it comes in centered on your document space. It doesn’t matter if on your layers palette you notice transparent spaces on some layers as a couple of photos end up in different areas of the total document size. As long as they’re centered when they come in, you’re good to go.

I used one of the photos as my base document and then saved it under a different name so that I don’t write over the original photo. It’s important to ensure that none of the photos save for the background layer is locked. Otherwise the photomerge function won’t work.

It might be good to note, too, that if you’re pulling photos straight out of your camera and you shoot in super fine mode  or whatever the highest quality of your images are in your camera, you’re going to end up hogging the memory of your compy… so ideally you’d want to ensure that you have enough RAM to work with (if your RAM is limited, you’ll probably want to close other open documents and programs while you’re stitching).

Since I shoot 98% of the time in RAW, I first saved all my photos (without post-processing them) as jpegs. I post-processed at the end, after the photos were stitched.

3. Once you have all your photos in the single document, shift-click on the top and bottom layers to select all of them (they should all show up highlighted on your layers palette).

4. Go to Edit > Auto-Align Layers > Auto. You’ll get four options (Auto, Perspective, Cylindrical, Reposition Only) in the popup menu… I chose Auto. Guess what. I ended up with a stitched photo that looked like the Cylindrical option icon. I guess Auto makes the best decisions for you, which is a great way to do away with all the guesswork!

5. Wait while Photoshop does all the work. Go get yourself a cup of cafe moccha, or maybe munch on some Royce Potato Chip Chocolates (ha! Now you know what I was doing)… because depending on the number of photos you’re stitching together and your RAM, and oh yes, your patience level as well, this is going to take a bit of time.

6. When you come back, munching and sipping, you’ll be delighted to see on your monitor that Photoshop has done all the hard work for you.

Initially I started out with 14 photos to stitch, actually. There were some similar views, so when my stitched panorama came out, some of it looked a bit wonky. Not a problem. I found the layers that those almost-duplicate photos were on and deleted them from the layers palette.

It also helps to know before you take the photo that you’ll want to take each series of photos from the same height, more or less, if you’re planning to stitch them. (So, ideally, if I wanted a shot of the entire window view, I should’ve used a tripod, moving from left to right as I shot the photos… then to get the roof area, I would’ve tilted my camera on my tripod,  again shooting from left to right. That way, I wouldn’t have ended up with huge gaps on my stitched photo and would have probably not needed to do any work with the clone stamp tool. But that’s in retrospect. For next time. 😉

Now you might find that your photos look a bit strange with different shades on them (assuming you didn’t do any post-processing beforehand); if this happens, worry not! Photoshop, our dear friend, will take care of that for you too! Here’s how:

7. With all your layers still highlighted on your layers palette, go to Edit > Auto-Blend Layers.

Wait patiently, knowing that this will take significantly less time than the stitching did a few minutes ago.

Blink your eyes a few times, and voila! MAGIC! The white balance and all the shades on your photos will be blended so they look … PERFECT! Or… sometimes, almost perfect, in case you end up with some transparent areas on the sides of your stitched photo.

Now what to do if you a less-than-perfect panoramic photo with some gaps on its sides on your monitor, same as the one I found on mine? (hehe. Don’t you just love experimenting? You learn a lot that way! LOL) Again, no worries! 😀 Paint in the missing parts with your clone stamp tool. That should take you longer than the stitching process… but since the stitching is the harder part of it, and Photoshop has done it all for you, what’s there to grumble about with the clone stamp tool at one’s disposal, right? heehee.

9. Do whatever post-processing you want to do with your photos, in case you shot in RAW, and voila! Perfect panoramic photo! YAY!

Now, for a bit more about the scene on my stitched photo:

This house was awesome (as you can probably tell, since I’m still raving about it a couple of paragraphs down this post.)

You enter through a gate and drive down a relatively short path till you get to the front door and the rooftop deck where you can host parties and get-togethers (as long as there’s no slight drizzle) and have a 360º view of the landscape.

You enter through a massive wooden door and go down a couple of flights of stone steps and enter a huge place where you have a split-level living area connected to the dining area with an equally huge kitchen right beside the dining area.

There are four huge bedrooms with their own bath/washrooms (perfect to house my little family and my sisters’ families… we moved in for New Year’s Eve as we had been staying at our own place in the country club earlier).

Then there’s a nice little pool which the teenagers were the only ones brave enough to dip into (cold winds, cold water? No, thanks!). Beside the pool area, with its uber-lush pine trees on one side, is a viewing deck from which you can marvel at nature’s wonders… and if you fancy a warm adventure with water but without the biting wind, there’s a sauna/hot bath a few garden steps below (I wasn’t brave enough to try that either… because it involves getting out into the cold winds before you get back to the house, haha!)

Surrounded by nature on all fronts, thank goodness we only encountered this little fella in the garden:

leafinsect01

Well, whaddayaknow? A visit from one of those leaf insects that you see on the pages of National Geographic. I normally don’t like bugs (hate, hate, hate cockroaches… you can’t even get me to squish one. Ugh, that awful crunch as you smack them–notice I say “you” smack them because I’ll be the one running in the other direction at 200mph. And they fly! And they bite! And they stink! Uggggh. Shudder.)

But this is no roach. So okay, I’m fine with this, and I can stick around long enough to take its photo. Since we were in the mountains, I only had one lens with me (my lucky brother brought his macro… I’d love to see how his photos turned out!). I wonder how the poor insect felt with all those lenses a million times larger than him, all aimed at his little body. My nephew “held” the insect on his old and tattered book, and it crawled onto the ledge long enough for us to shoot a few more frames till my sister said “Eeeek! Get it out now!” End of photo session. 😆

One more time, up close, sans macro:

leafinsect02

Recalling the Resolutions (Do you feel the freebie coming? :D)

What was No. 4? Create weekly? Let’s take that resolution seriously today, and let’s see what we’ve got here:

Oooh! A freebie! 😆

But first, I want to say THANK YOU to all of you for your warm fuzzies and for sharing with me how you’ll be doing Project 365 (or some variation of it). The 12 on 12s is a great idea! I have to admit that I’m still sitting on the fence on this one, wondering if I’ll end up doing a daily (20% chance), weekly (40% chance), or a monthly (40% chance) project. I’m wondering: if I just upload my daily photos onto my blog, does that count? ROFL. (Oh man. I so feel like Charlie Brown right now, sitting on the playground bench, watching everyone play and wondering what to do next. bwahahaha)

So anyway. You know how there are ten million options open to everyone, and anyone can do what their heart desires, right? (That’s what I love about scrapbooking and art and creating! There are no hard and fast rules! Just create! And have fun!)

One of these many options I’ve heard about is this other easy approach to housing and documenting the photos, which involves using a 4×6 slip-in photo album and turning it into a scrapbook (think: you have the option to put in photos or journaling tags or digitally scrapbooked 4×6 pages, or whatever you fancy!). Have you heard about this?

Personally I love the square size of 8×8’s so I probably won’t be attempting this anytime soon (and need a reason to use all the Bind-It-All schtuff I ordered! :D). But I can imagine wanting to try this approach one day. So for those who are doing this approach now, and for those who are doing the regular 12×12 or 8.5×11 or 8×8 or whatever size pages, this freebie mini is for you and you and you! Anyone can use it!

I made this chipboard journaling tag, with rubbed-on designs, which you can use for Project 365 or anything else, really. (It just came in really handy for jotting my resolutions on, haha!) And it’s sized at 4×6, so if you want to go the hybrid route and print this out and write on it, and then slip it into your 4×6 album pocket-pages, or attach it to your cardstock, you can! Or if you want to digitally attach it to your purely digital layout, you can too! (I didn’t include shadows so that you have total freedom with how you want to position it on your layout and where you want the lighting effects to be).

livedesigns-freebiemini03-img

Click on the image to download. And thank you so much for the love you leave as you download. 🙂

I’ll be back soon with more photos to share… for now, I have to get to tutoring the kids with their homework, and doing my own homework as well! 😉

(((hugs))) and see you soon, sweeties! 😀

Too Cool!!!

2 Jun

Okay, I’ve just had an incredible a-ha moment, and I want to jump for joy! Course I needed to run back to you and share the joy! (Uh… if you’ve already known this, then clap your hands and pretend you’re hearing it for the first time, okay? 😆 Just kidding!!! 😆 )

So I’ve begun working on a kit that I want to give as a freebie (nudge nudge wink wink!) 😉 When I work on a freebie, I make these little squares and fill them with colors, while I try to decide on a color scheme for the kit…

Well, I got carried away with playing, and before long I had about 80 squares to fill with colors. I had copied and pasted these squares originally (think 80 layers)… and wait! Before you go zzzzz on me, let me tell you what I was wanting to do… I wanted to move up the 1st to the 8th row so I could accommodate one more row of 10 squares below them. Normally, I would select the top layer in the layers palette, hold down shift, then select the last layer on the layers palette. This, as you know, would select all the layers in between as well, so that I could move them as one entire group.

Confession time: a good deal of stuff that I’ve learned about Photoshop has come from playing and experimenting (of course the base of my Photoshop knowledge has always come from my dear friend Jessica)… Anyway, so I was in that playful mood, and I thought: well, what would happen if I just draw a selection around all these squares that I want to “catch” using my move tool?

So I tried it… and guess what? IT WORKED!!! WOOOHOOOOOO!!!!

So actually, if you want to select several items on your workspace / layout, select the Move tool and draw around it (make sure you have the Show Transform Controls checkbox checked so you know what you’re capturing with your move tool)… and when you let go of your mouse button, all that were included in your selection become highlighted on the layers palette and you can move them as a group!

Here’s a screen shot:

 

You’ll see that there’s a bounding box around the squares that I selected with the move tool (it appears as you draw around the squares with your mouse, so it’s a great guide that lets you know just which items you’re selecting). And over on the layers palette, you’ll see all the layers are automatically selected.

TOO COOL!!! Hee hee hee.

Well, that’s it for the intermission! Just wanted to share an a-ha moment with you! 😆

 

She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountains..

18 Mar

when she comes… 😆

Hello from the mountains!!! I’ve been stuck here (happily, I must admit–mostly. I’d be in heaven if I had my desktop here with my CS3 and my dsl connection) for almost a week, spending vacation time with family. I’m writing now from my dinosaur laptop, which doesn’t even have 1GB of RAM (yeah, yeah, sorry isn’t it?)… so, much as I’ve been dying to design and scrap some layouts, I just don’t have those options open to me right now. But you know what? I’ve been scribbling on my notebooks my ideas for more designed freebies, and I promise you when I get back down to civilized lowlands, I will have a lot of gifties waiting to be created and shared with you! Woohoo!!!

I am posting here though on quick notice, upon request from my friend and fellow Spraggirl, Susan. She referenced me on her blog (bless her!) regarding how I keep track of my layout credits, and she has requested me to repeat the instructions for those who have been wanting to know more.

So… here they are, my dear Susan, and many thanks once more!

The Importance of Credits

I really believe that listing credits is a hugely important habit to form, especially in the world of digital scrapbooking where we often share our layouts on galleries, on our blogs, or even in magazines if we’re lucky enough to get published. I have never yet come across a TOU (Terms of Use) from a designer who says “Please, whatever you do, don’t give me credit and don’t say that I’m the one who created this item you’re using to create your layouts!” 😆 Some do say “credit is not necessary” but they’ll also tell you that if you do decide to give credit, they will certainly be appreciative and grateful.

Considering that it only takes a minute to list these credits down, why not take that extra step to express our gratitude and appreciation for the hard work that designers put into making these designs that we happily use to display our fondest memories with, right? (Because it really is not easy to design stuff… fun, definitely–I love it!–but it is a lot of hard work that goes into the littlest thing that is created… and a lot of love! So it’s always nice to give love back when it’s given to us in the form of the digital schtuff that we’re using).

So… credits. Love ’em. Keep them. Announce them. You know the saying, “Give credit where credit is due” ? Lot of wisdom in that one. 😉

So how do I do it?

I’d like to believe that everyone in the scrapping world would love to give credit (scrappers are an amazing bunch of loving people)… the problem, I think, comes in when we have used items, changed our minds, replaced those items, and then at the end of it all, we forget from which folder we pulled out this paper and that element… 😆

So I think the easiest way is to keep track of the credits as soon as we pull in the background paper (which I assume is always the first thing we get onto a new document) and then keep adding to that… and editing the credits to reflect changed items either as we go or at the end when our layout is complete.

There are a million ways to do this–and I think this ability to do the same thing in different ways is what makes digital scrapbooking rock! It’s simply a matter of finding which way works best for you! Some people keep a notepad open where they list the items; other people make a new layer and write all the info there; etc. I’ve tried several ways as well (including making an Excel file to keep track of everything), and through trial and error, I’ve found the best way that works for me is to use the File Info option in Photoshop. (I’m sure also that I’m not the only one who has discovered this, so I can’t take credit for thinking up this process! 😀 )

Both Elements and full-version Photoshop have this File Info option.

This is how I keep track of credits:

1. Go to File (on Photoshop main menu)) > File Info. Bear in mind that we need to have a document open in order to have this option open to us. Otherwise, with nothing open on our workspace, we won’t see this option open to us).

File Info

2. In the dialog box that opens, we can put in the title of our document or layout, we can put our name as the creator, and in the Description box, we can also type in all the materials we’ve used, together with the designers who’ve made them.

File Info Dialog Box

NOTE: Screen shots are from PSE5 since that is the only program I have loaded on my dino laptop. 😉

The great thing about this is as I work, I input the information in the File Info box instead of having to open another document or file to keep track of the credits. And when I save my layout, the File Info gets saved along with the document. YAY! No more having to save and store together two different files referring to the same layout!

Then, when we need to put in the credits (say, if we upload our layout into a gallery or onto our blog), all we have to do is click on File > File Info, highlight the content in the Description box that contains our credits list… then copy/paste the information onto the Description area on our gallery upload dialog box, and voila! It’s all there!

What I love about this is that it’s kept separate from the LO itself, but in the same “drawer”– if you will– so that it never gets “lost”. Also, if midway I decide that I want to replace a particular item that I’ve used on my layout and inputted into my File Info, all I have to do is delete that item from the list in my File Info box and add in the replacement details. Then when I hit Save to save the file, everything is replaced as well with the updated credits list. Awesome, isn’t it?

Hope this is of help to anyone who can use the info! (By the way, the File Info of your photo files already contains all the EXIF details pertaining to your photo–isn’t that marvelous?)

Alrighty then, back to the mountains! Catch you again soon!

Extra(ct)! Extra(ct)!

27 Jan

😆

Sorry, I couldn’t resist that! 😀

I’m putting my scrapping on hold for a little while to answer a question that my friends Heather and Kari asked on our playground about extraction. I’ve tried more than a million times (okay, so maybe I  exaggerate, but it certainly felt like a million times! Maybe it was 999 times at least ) to post my answer, but the words ended up garbled and jumbled and doubled… in short, my post would have left my friends more confused than helped.

So… I decided to post it here, so that everyone can share in the answer as well (unless it doesn’t interest you, in which case you’re perfectly welcome to skip along to the next topic. 😆 ) Before we start, kick your shoes off and wiggle your toes, get real comfy and grab a cuppa joe or a tall glass of iced tea, because this is not going to be a short post. haha.

Alrighty then: Our topic for today, dear class of two (or more) 😆 , is How to Extract.

I can tell you how to do it in PSE5 and in CS3… I have no idea how to do it in PSE6 but I suspect it should be pretty similar to PSE5.

Extractions

There are many ways to extract objects using various tools (magic wand is an option, as is using the background eraser)… but I’ll share with you what I work with best (Caveat: I’m no expert, okay? I’m just a Photoshop-player 😆 )

The first step is to work with a duplicate layer. Always a good thing. 😉

FOR PSE5
1.  Go to Image > Magic Extractor

2.  In the dialog box that pops up, you’ll find instructions at the top. Just follow them. Keep in mind that the red-pen tool (1st on the left) will define the parts you want to keep and the blue will define the parts you want to remove. You can make simple dots or lines or squiggles (whichever rocks your boat) to cover these areas, though I’ve found that if you’re dealing with a photo that has very similar colors, it helps to get as much variations of those colors marked. The red and blue pen tools (not their real names; those are just nicknames I’ve given them because of how they look) are actually brushes; therefore, you can adjust these to the size you want using the [ and ] hotkeys.

3.  When you’ve done this, click on Preview on the right. If the extraction looks not great at all, don’t worry. We’ll fix that up in a minute. Take the purple eraser (3rd tool, left) and erase the blue and red marks you just made. If you need to, click on the magnifying glass towards the bottom to zoom into your image so you can catch those red/blue marks that may not be immediately visible from a more distant view. Click on the hand (last on the left) to move your image around your workspace if needed. Just make sure you get all those red and blue marks erased.

4.  To refine your extraction, use the dotted circle brush (4th) to add to the selection parts that may have been inadvertently removed earlier, or the dotted circle eraser (5th) to remove parts that were left behind.

5.  When you’re happy with what you see, click on OK and that’s it!

Pretty easy right? Beats using the magic wand tool and the background eraser tool (which can sometimes remove parts from your extracted item that you wouldn’t want removed).

For CS3:
1.  Select the layer of the object you want to extract. Go to Filter > Extract

2.  Define your tool options (brush size, colors you want to use for highlighting and filling, etc.)

* Check Smart Highlighting if you’re extracting an object that has well-defined edges.

* Check Texture Image if you’re dealing with a lot of texture either in the object itself or in its background.

* Smooth – Choose 0 or a small value; you can always change this in the next extraction if it needs tweaking later on.

3.  Select the Edge Highlighter tool and drag it so that it slightly covers both edges of the object (a bit of the inside of the edge of your item and a bit of the outside or background that you want to remove). If you’re dealing with wispy stuff, choose a larger brush. You can use the eraser tool if you need to erase wrongly marked highlight areas.

4.  Use the Fill tool to fill the highlight-defined area.

5.  Click on Preview. Hitting the Show button will allow you to see both the original and the extracted views. I recommend using the Display view as well, so that you can see if there are any stray leftovers. You can use Display to view your extracted image against a color background for better viewing. This comes in really handy when you’re extracting something light and you need a darker background to detect stray marks.

6.  If you find stray marks in the background area, use the Clean Up tool. If you press ALT while using the cleanup tool, you can also bring back areas that were inadvertently deleted from your extracted image.

7. Click OK when you’re happy. And voila!

Pretty easy to extract, isn’t it? Gotta love Adobe. I mean, really.

GoodReads Great Read

Okay, so how pathetic is it that I haven’t been able to update my goodreads site? I have tons of books spilling over on my bookshelves and yet as of a few hours ago, my goodreads bookshelf had ONE (that’s right O. N. E.) book on the “read” list.

Well, that’s changed as of today. (There are now more than one. 😆 )

I have two piles of books to read. And to cover. They remain untouched. Except for one book that I touched today. And boy, am I thankful I touched it today!

Writing Motherhood by Lisa Garrigues

This book was given to me by my childhood favorite playmate/bookmate/cousin, who’s also happens to be a published poet in the US (so proud of her!), last Christmas. Because I’ve been totally consumed by my January playthings (LOAD, the 2peas course, the NWR course at our playground, designing freebs), I haven’t been able to do much more than glance at the nice orange cover and make a mental note to open it one day soon.

Well, I did today, and I was hooked.

I have to say (and you’ll probably think I’m quirky for saying this, and you’ll most likely be right), I always judge a book, not by its cover but by its first line. 😀 If the first line or the first paragraph grabs at me and shakes me enough to make me sit up and say “wow!” then it has me at hello. 😆

This book had me at the first line on its inner bookflap.

This book totally made me think of my playground friends! Its very title already made me think of this wonderful bunch of creative playground sisters that I have: “Writing Motherhood: Tapping into Your Creativity as a Mother and a Writer” (Okay, so maybe not 100% of us are mothers, but I’m sure 100% of us have moms 😆 )

The bookflap blurb says “Drawing on her own efforts to balance the demands of motherhood with her dream of writing, she (Lisa Garrigues, the author, who is also a longtime writing teacher) shows readers how everyday life can be a rich source of stories, and how writing can provide a means to both understand and document their experiences.”

Cool! 8)

Doesn’t it make you want to read more about it? 😀 I did a review on the book on my goodreads site; I’m not sure it’s a great review, but it should give you an idea of what it contains. You can click here or on my goodreads link over on the sidebar on the right if you’re interested to know more.

Alright then. I need to go back and do some creative work (and resist the temptation to finish this book tonight!). I’m again 3 days behind on LOAD and a lot of days behind on my next freeb for you!

As the great Tigger would say, Tata For Now! 😀

Serendipitous Delights

25 Oct

Okay, I need forgiveness from you for being absent again for quite a number of days. I promise to get a freebie up here in the next 24 hours. Life has been crazy hectic again, but FUN FUN FUN this time around! (Well, the other projects were fun, but I was itching to do digital scrapbooking, which is my P.A.S.S.I.O.N… and now my projects basically center around this, so… I’m having fun swimming around in things to do! 😆

Just passing by quickly, before I start working on more freebs for you (Fall / Halloween / Sistah… which one first???), to share something so wonderful! I was flipping through one of my old issues of Digital Scrapbooking magazine (which I totally loooove, along with Creating Keepsakes, that mother of all scrapbooking mags, and Simple Scrapbooks, which is my absolute fab go-to for inspiration and my personal no. 1 mag simply because it totally fits my style of scrapping)… I’m digressing here…

Anyway, so I was flipping through the mag while waiting for my son to be dismissed from his class, and I discovered in one of its pages a fantabulous way to get rounded corners on a photo!!!! WOOHOO!!! (Is there anyone in the house who doesn’t do digital scrapbooking? If you haven’t tried it out yet, let me just tell you, you NEED to discover this passion in you and you’ll cross over to the Dark Side quite quickly! heheheh… not to mention the community is the BEST I’ve ever seen on the worldwide web in my entire life!!!! Many of my best friends I met at Jessica’s playground!!!)… ah, but again I digress.

On to this serendipitous discovery I made in the pages of the mag. Here’s how to do it (oh, and it works for both Photoshop full versions and PSE!)

1. Start off with the photo you want to use. Do all the adjustments and tweaking that you want to do with it. (And always work with a duplicate of that photo, or save it under a different filename so that you don’t write over the original).

2. Select the Custom Shapes tool from the toolbar on the left (in PSE5, which I use, it’s the 20th from the top… or you can just hit the U-key and get it instantly. 😉

3. In the options menu of the Custom Shape tool at the top of your workspace, use the dropdown triangle beside “Shape” to choose the rounded rectangle shape. If it’s not immediately there, click on the tiny triangle on the right side to bring out the flyout menu, and click on Shapes. That will bring up the menu of shapes under Custom Shape tool and you can find the rounded rectangle shape there. Select it.

4. Next, click on the dropdown triangle of the icon that looks like a speech bubble (to the left of the “Shape” also on the options toolbar) and choose Fixed Size and enter the width and size of your photo. If you don’t know what the width and height of your photo is exactly, just make sure that when you draw out your custom shape, you are able to eyeball it so that it fits your photo size as closely as it can.

5. One more thing to do: Also on the options menu, in the box that says Radius, change the corner pixel size of your rounded rectangle to a value below 1pixel. The magazine recommends 0.25px.

6. Hold down CTRL and click on the rectangle layer so that you can select the rounded rectangle. Then up on the main menu, go to SELECT > INVERSE (or simply type in SHIFT-CTRL-I) and voila! That deletes the corners, leaving you with nice rounded corners!!!

Isn’t that amaaaaazing??? Just wanted to share with you the happiness of discovery! Spread the digi love, people! 😆

Now back to work! See you in a bit! 🙂

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