Photoshop Actions – More Than A Creative Outlet – They’re a Way of Life!

Today is the first day of my four day weekend and it happens without me having to use any vacation time.  That is like GOLD.  So, that also means Photoshop starts singing a siren song in the wee hours of the morning, calling me  from bed, “Come play…come play!”

As I was looking through my list of projects I want to work on this weekend, I found my favorite image from 2011.

It was accidental, one of  dozens of shots that day, and I just happened on the right set of actions in Photoshop to enhance it.  It also helps to have a gorgeous model.  (I’m just a tad biased.)

Do you know what actions in Photoshop are?  They are so cool.  It’s like a Macro in Excel.  You just do one little click with your mouse and all these magical things start taking over  your photo.

Here is the image from above SOOTC – Straight Out of the Camera:

Not bad, right?  I was happy with it when I transferred it from my camera.  But then I started fiddling around with some actions I installed from Get Totally Rad.  You can get them free by signing up for a subscription.  Click here.

Once you receive the email with the actions:
1)  Click the link to download the actions.
2)  Double-click to open the zip file after it finishes the download.  Double-click on the .atn file to open it.  This should cause the actions to automatically load into your Photoshop program.
3)  In Photoshop, click on Windows/Actions.  This should open your Actions Palette and you should see the Totally Rad actions in the palette.
4)  Play with it!  Open a photo in Photoshop.  Make sure your background layer is selected in the layers palette.  Highlight the action you want to use and then, at the bottom of the Actions palette, click on the “play” button.  (It looks like a little arrow pointing to the right.)

The actions will create their own layer in Photoshop so if you don’t like the result you can delete the layer and start over again.

So, from the SOOTC image, I then used the Troy action from the TRA2 Demo and this is what happened:

Photoshop Action - Troy from TRA2 Demo

I liked it very much but I was still playing around with the actions and then happened upon the Dirt Bag action from the TRA2 Demo.  It just adds a little grunge:

Photoshop Action - Troy and then Dirt Bag from TRA2 Demo

So from this:


To this:

Totally Rad Actions - Troy and Dirt Bag

I just loved the effect and, when all is said and done, it takes about 3-5 minutes from out of the camera to save for the web or print.

Most Photoshop actions are geared and priced for the professional photographer but here are a few additional websites where you can get free actions:

MCP Actions
The Light’s Right Studio
Pioneer Woman

If you have Photoshop, give some of these actions a whirl.  Let me know if you have any trouble and I’ll try to help.  If you have Photoshop Elements, there are also free actions for that software but they are harder to find and install.

Actions rock!  My only problem with them is that they’ve made me lazy about learning how to do my own edits.  They are handy when you want to get something out quickly.  They are perfect solutions for moms with gazillions of photos to process.

Not that I resemble that remark.  Nope not at all.  Let’s see…where is that other photo of the kids that I want to edit?  I think it was #8,332…


Pink Feathered High Heels – They’re Better to Give Then Receive

Merry Day After Christmas!

I’m resting today but I just want to show you Jessie’s new shoes:

They have barely left her feet.  She wore them yesterday to my in-laws’ party paired with a lime green Easter dress.  Nothing beats pink, feathered high heels when you are a seven-year old girl.  It is first grade haute couture.

The heels were one of my favorite gifts.  The other was the Kindle Fire I gave to Mark.  Men are so difficult to buy for and Mark always manages to make sure I’ll be pleased with my presents.  I felt under pressure this year especially since I didn’t do so well last  year with his gifts.  I pestered Max multiple times, “Are you sure he’ll like it?”  It was the first gift Mark opened and I could tell by his eyes he was happy with it.  What a relief!

“It is better to give than to receive,” is not an entirely selfless act.  I love receiving presents and I received many this year that I love.  But when you give a gift that is just right, that is appreciated and you know you did good, that is a great gift right back atcha.

Cookie Girls

Every year, me and the girls (yes, I know that’s poor English) have Cookie Night.  I don’t see them much anymore.  I think this is the second time in 2011.  This is the one and only reason that I miss my old life before marriage and family.  I miss going around the corner to Edee’s for a cup of coffee.  I miss our excursions to TJMaxx and a restaurant of our choosing for lunch or dinner.  I miss our birthday get togethers.

But, I didn’t miss cookie night!

This is Edee, the head chef and hostess.

This is Lyn.  I turned around in first grade and said, “Will you be my best friend?”  I haven’t been able to shake her loose since.

This is Delana sporting her new svelte figure.  I’m so jealous, Dee!

Jean left before I could snap a pic but here is one from last year’s Cookie Night.

There was a ton of baking going on.  I made my cookies ahead of time and brought them with me.  All I had to do was sit, talk and eat.  (I is the smart one of the bunch.)

There were a lot of successes.

There was only one batch gone wrong.  Some No Bakes that refused to solidify.   I think this batch has to go in the Cookie Hall of Shame.  This does not conjur visions of SugarPlums…

I had the magic seat.  I had a chance to catch up with everyone as one by one they sat down next to me and we got our chat on.

First was Jean.  She was showing me all the things her iPhone is capable of doing via voice activation.  Techie stuff scares the Intel out of me.  I keep seeing my Christmas future of gadget gifts that I will have no clue how to use.  Jean must have seen the fear in my eyes because she switched to showing me photos of her office Christmas dinner.  She has a new job that she loves with a solid company.  That was no small feat in 2011.  Merry Christmas, Jean!

Edee sat down briefly when it was Jean’s turn to bake.  I think this was the only time she sat down all day and night.  By that time, the Bee Gees were vocalizing loud and clear through some kind of iPod technology.  Each song from “Words” to “I Started a Joke” to “More Than a Woman” was called as someone’s favorite all time Bee Gees song.  Edee and I settled together on “How Deep is Your Love”.  It took us back to Saturday Night Fever, John Travolta and high school crushes.  We were too young and inexperienced to recognize unhealthy relationships so these songs can remain sweet and romanticized.  Merry Christmas, Edee!

Delana sat across from me.  She has a cute mannerism of slapping her hands together when she finds something amusing.  However, she was busy demonstrating her two-fisted cookie technique and had her hands full.  It goes something like this:  Nibble, nibble out of one hand, giggle, giggle, nibble, nibble out of the other hand, chit chat, nibble, giggle and so on.

Delana has moved into a new house near Edee.  They go walking, take yoga classes together and leap cookie calories in a single bound.  Merry Christmas, Delana!

Lyn is also moving into a new house with her new family.  No small task around the Holidays.  She will be entering parenthood a second time around although this time she will be exploring the step-parent arena which, even in the best situations, can sometimes be a tightrope walk.  Especially in the beginning.  But Lyn is quick to laugh and things are starting out wonderfully for her.  Merry Christmas, Lyn!

I’ve known these Cookie Girls since at least first grade.  Check this out.  Edee keeps our senior pictures in her hallway so she can see us everyday.

If the Divine Greene Girls were the women that showed me how to make a family, the Cookie Girls were the ladies that helped me navigate the path to get there.  That path, if not treacherous, was sometimes less than innocent.  We can all count at least one time that we are lucky to still be here.  Together we pushed curfew limits, supported each other through broken hearts, broken families, and loss of loved ones.  We used to debate over our favorite brand of beer.  Now we debate over our favorite brand of ice cream.  We are there for each other through birthdays, graduations, new homes, new jobs, new kids, and new grandkids.

Cookie Girls minus One - Where's Lyn?

We are the Cookie Girls and we leave each other the cookie crumbs to find our way home.

How To Child Your Parent Through the Holidays

It’s been a busy week and, I admit it, I’m feeling the Holiday crunch and stress.  Fortunately, Jess has offered up her old soul wisdom to help guide me. 

1) Pace yourself.  We’re not quite done with the tree.  We do a little almost every night.  Jessie hangs about 5-10 ornaments, decides she’s had enough and moves on to other things.  But after five days, we’ve had the chance to take the sentimental journey of each of our special ornaments.  Things are looking festive and we’ve had the fun spread out a little bit.

2)  Show up and go through the motions.  Jess had choir practice Wednesday night.  She is Kid #1 in her upcoming Christmas Cantata at church this Sunday morning.  Please note the lovely red sequined ruffles under her poor shepherd costume.  Jess struggles with the words to the songs and can often be seen in a gaping yawn in the middle of the chorus.  However, she never hems and haws about practice and puts her whole self into the motions and her one small line.  When the older kids rehearse, she smiles in admiration as if it’s Taylor Swift or Barbie right in front of her.

3)  Express your joy.  This morning, when I asked Jess what her favorite part about yesterday was, she said it was that Max and Charlie came to her 1st Grade Holiday Concert.  She was overjoyed that her brothers showed up to watch her sing and dance.  Max and Charlie were operating in #2 yesterday – Show up and go through the motions.  Max just arrived home from Western after completing his last final exam.  Charlie, a freshman in high school, peeled himself away from his video games to attend.  But, that’s the thing with #2, it helps others get to #3.  Jessie’s performance soared to a higher level due to her elation at seeing her brothers in the audience. 

This was the evening that actually saved me from drowning in self-pity due to the hectic schedule.  If I ever wonder that Jess understands the true meaning of the Holidays, she proves it to me over and over if I just pay attention.  Never mind good parenting skills during the Holidays.  What everyone should have is good childing skills!

After all, it began with a little child.

Thanks for the lessons, Jess!

Encouraging Words

by:  Peg VanLoo
art by:  Katya VanLoo – age 4

     The language we use when doing artwork with children can make the difference between their being comfortable expressing themselves or being constrained to produce images that WE find acceptable. Think about the big, colorful paintings of preschoolers and how quickly many children fall into “coloring book” drawings. When we trust children to create work that expresses their unique points of view instead of our preconceived notions, it can lead to wonderful and marvelous surprises. 

Here are some suggestions:

     “Fill the whole space,” is a good way to encourage kids to “think big”.
     Say, “That makes me feel ______ (excited, scared, peaceful, etc),” instead of, “That’s good.” It’s less judgmental and it helps the child think about his picture in a new way. 
When a child shows you her work, NEVER ask, “What is it?” “Tell me about your picture,” will get you a much more interesting reply, plus it doesn’t imply that the picture must BE something.
Help children “stretch” by asking them questions like “”I see this area of your picture is darker (more detailed, has fewer lines, etc), could you tell me about that?”  
Try to lead them into thinking about and planning what they’re doing.
     If a child asks you a question like, “What color is ____?” or “How do you draw _____?” guide them by showing them the object if you can. (I once took a bunch of kids outside and had them put their arms around a tree & pick up the leaves & look waaay up to its top. They made marvelous tree pictures after that!)
If you can’t show them, ask them questions – “Have you ever seen, held one? What was it like? What color would you like it to be?” etc.

Remember, we always want to encourage, never judge. And have fun!

Operation Good Cheer*

This is the second year that coworkers from my company have participated in Operation Good Cheer.

Operation Good Cheer is an annual, all volunteer, Christmas gift-giving program sponsored by Child and Family Services of Michigan, Inc.  The recipients of this program include some of the most troubled and vulnerable children in Michigan.  The children, as well as some disabled adults, were removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect and reside in out-of-home placement facilities such as foster homes, group homes or residential treatment facilities.

My coworkers, thanks to the coordination efforts of Marianne Barkholz and Alan Morgan, had the opportunity to give generously to several of the program’s recipients.

Each of the participants receives a “Wish List” which includes a personal profile of the child or adult along with six gift choices.  An encoding system ensures the confidentiality of the participant and the gifts’ final destination.

There were so many bikes this year!  I’m so proud to work with such generous people.

Transportation companies volunteer their services for the gift collection and deliver them to Oakland County International Airport.  The following day, volunteer pilots gather to fly the gifts to numerous airports located across the state.  Agencies greet the pilots, collect their gifts, and deliver them to each child before Christmas morning.

This was only the second stop on this truck’s route.  It’s almost half full already!

They’re almost done and off they’ll go to their next scheduled stop.  Can you see how this might be the most fulfilling work day of the year for these guys?

2010 Program Statics:

  • 4277 children were sponsored.
  • 44 nonprofit agencies participated.
  • 262 individuals and groups sponsored children
  • 17 trucking companies transported gifts
  • 350 volunteers & pilots volunteered their time, services or aircraft for gift delivery

For further information regarding Operation Good Cheer, the Children’s Entitlement Fund or any of the services Child and Family Services of Michigan, Inc. provides please contact:

*The majority of this post was reprinted from the Operation  Good Cheer brochure.