Background Investigation

I am a very fortunate man, in that I live with a very low-maintenance wife. She isn’t a nagger, she doesn’t have a spending problem, she doesn’t gossip; she’s just a very cheerful, easy-to-live-with person.

Except for one thing: she must have variety.

This is at odds with my personality, because I tend to find one thing I like and stick with it until the end of time. Still, many husbands have a lot more to put up with, so I grit my teeth and bear it.

In the case of our blog, Kathy can’t stand to have the background be the same, for more than a month or so. Earlier this week I made the mistake of creating a new background image for our dear friend, Tina, on her blog. As soon as Kathy saw it, she knew she ‘needed’ one too.

“I’m tired of these boring old snowflakes,” she sneered. “We need some sunshine.”

Remember this lovely image?
I remember when these snowflakes were ‘all the rage’.

Do you remember when I said that my wife wasn’t a nagger? That’s true, except when it comes to her need for variety. It went on for days. “Where’s my sunshine?” “Why haven’t you put a new background on our blog?” “Why does Tina have a new blog background, but not us?” “What kind of a programmer are you, that you can’t even give us a new background on our blog?”

Yellow and shiny
“Too dull,” she said about this one.

Nope.  Not this one either.
“Too green,” she said about this one.

It was more than a simple programmer could stand, after even a few hours of the incessant bombardment. I tried several different images, but none of them met her exacting standards. Finally, I hit on this one:

Just right!
Even Goldilocks would have liked this one.

“It won’t work,” I told her, gloomily. The way backgrounds work, they tile horizontally and vertically — you’ll see lines and such, and it will look funny. But then an inspiration hit — I could alter this image so it would work.

First, I trimmed out all the excess stuff around the edges of the image, using Photoshop Elements. (I wanted to use Gimp, my favorite free image editor, but Kathy wants me to learn Elements.) I ended up with this image:

No more ugly stalks

This will still result in ugly lines, so I doubled the size of the canvas, made a second copy of the image, and flipped it both horizontally and vertically so that it would blend into itself when tiling. I cropped it on the left so that the flower would show, until I had this:

Flipped around and doubled

And so, we have a new background on our blog. If you don’t see it, try holding down the shift key and hitting refresh on your browser.

I hope you like it. Don’t get too attached to it, though, because its days are already numbered. “Oh, that is so February 2008,” she’ll say, rolling her eyes. “We need something more, Summerish.”


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Photoshop Elements – Black and White w/Color

I love Photoshop! It’s truly an amazing program and I find myself using it often – cropping pictures, removing red-eye, touching up photos, enhancing colors, etc. It can be a bit overwhelming at times, however, especially when I begin to dabble in some of the greater complexities of the software. I’m currently using Photoshop Elements 5. I have a wonderful PSE book by Scott Kelby in my Amazon Wish List.

Maybe it will find its way here in time for Mother’s Day!! Hint, hint. :)

Until then, I find tips online, read blogs, and google with the best of them in order to answer my Photoshop questions. One fun thing I’ve discovered is a SUPER easy way to convert a photo to black and white and then add back in a portion of it in color.

david's new Bible

Sweet boy.
Awesome new Bible.
Boring picture.

Here are the steps to converting a picture to black and white and then painting back in a color.

1. Open picture file
2. Duplicate background layer
3. Go to Adjust color>Hue-saturation
4. Drag saturation slider all the way to the left
5. Use eraser tool where you wish to retain color.

there you go

Much more interesting picture in black and white, cropped a bit.
Doesn’t the Bible just pop!

Super Easy!! A simple google search will yield other methods (even video tutorials) as well as quite a bit of discussion on the best way to achieve beautiful looking black and white photos. This one was simple, quick and produced the results I was seeking.

If you have a Photoshop technique, website or book to share, please leave me a comment!! I’m eager to learn more. After all, I have to do something while I avoid cleaning the garage.


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A Haven of Order

wfmwThis may not look like your typical Works for Me Wednesday tip, but the nuggets of truth and wisdom are there. Buried deep. Beneath our stuff.

Let’s just call it:

How to Motivate Your Wife to Clean the Garage
by Tim

One of the things I often notice as I stroll up and down our street, is that garages are almost exclusively a male domain. Women may rule the kitchen, the living room and (in some cases) the laundry room, but in most cases men decide how garages are organized. In a day of rampant post-feminism, the garage stands proudly as one of the last bastions of masculinity. Men who walk timidly in their homes, carefully put the seat down on the toilet, and who meekly accept all manner of flowery decor in the bedroom, can still puff out their chest in pride of a well-maintained garage. Testosterone-promoting automotive supplies, tools, heavy shop-vacs, and lawn care equipment reign supreme in the inner sanctum of the garage.

Bikes galore
Run for it, David, before the garage subsumes you!

Some men have each item carefully labeled and kept in its proper place, carving out a quiet pool of order in an ever-changing, chaotic world. Men who can’t parent their children, whose marriages are in shambles, whose finances and careers are spinning wildly out of control, can still have their tools lovingly racked and stacked in the garage.

Not too long ago I had occasion to visit one of my neighbors, and while I was there, he showed me his electrical circuit box. As the garage doors rolled silently up on well-oiled tracks, the gleam from the sealed and painted floor nearly blinded my eyes. Apart from a few tools and supplies, each carefully placed on individual shelves the garage was entirely empty. Even the shelves were discreetly small, and occupied only one of the walls. Waving dismissively at what might have been a fleck of dust on the floor, he gruffly apologized: “Sorry about the mess.” I marveled at the mindset of a man who could so effortlessly maintain a two-car garage as a monument to order and serenity. My eye was caught by the words on the spine of a single tome, on one of the shelves: The Feng Shui of Garages.

An ordered mind?
Not my actual neighbor’s garage, but it might as well have been.

I am not that sort of man.

Our house has, in defiance of all reason, a three-car garage. This is odd, because we have only two cars. It is also curious, because there is really no need at all for a garage in Western Washington, unless you own a car with a water-soluble paint job. If you are afraid to have rain on your car, or dislike running your windshield wipers, you’ve probably already moved to Phoenix.

Feng Shui ... not!
I feel more serene already, don’t you?

When we first moved in to this house, Kathy’s eye gleamed at the sight of this 600 square foot garage. “Look at all the space for bookshelves,” she chortled. (My wife is a bookshelfopath, stemming from a tragic and un-treatable genetic disorder. Her father suffers from the same dreadful malady, and is even now building bookshelves in Texas. He lives in Michigan, but there is no reasoning with those afflicted with this condition.)

“Hey,” I objected, eloquently. “Garages are supposed to be space for men!”

“Oh, how you do babble on,” Kathy replied absently, directing the final resting positions of the couch, game organizer, extra refrigerator and not less than five bookshelves.

Almost enough bookshelves
Wait! There’s room on the wall for another small bookshelf! Don’t tell Kathy!

Over time, we’ve used the garage to store all our Christmas decorations, dozens of bins of clothing, at least five bicycles, lawn toys, two guinea pigs, a fussball table, a treadmill and an elliptical machine. The circuit box is technically accessible, as long as you don’t mind standing on one leg, extending your left arm to the full limit of its reach, and blindly flipping random circuit breakers through an opening slightly wider than your hand.

My secret stash
OK, I admit, a lot of the mess is generated by me, especially the part involving cases and cases of Diet Coke.

I’m also allowed to keep a few tools and hardware supplies there, sprinkled randomly throughout the garage. When my father-in-law visits, we love to play a little game I call Tool Treasure Hunt, while he tries to serve his daughter as general handyman. “You should pay Joshua $100 to organize this garage,” he quipped, toward the end of a hard day of Tool Hide ‘n Seek. “Har, har, har,” I guffawed, in wry appreciation of his wit. One year, I actually found many of my tools before Kathy’s Dad came, but it seemed to take a lot of the fun out of the whole operation. “This is great!” he raved, crossing maintenance items off Kathy’s list with wild abandon. He seemed entirely insensitive to my efforts to lower the bar of male competence in home repairs. Some in-laws are just rude like that, I suppose. :)

Harsh light of day shines on our garage
I was wondering where that card table was hiding.

Truth be told, this garage is frequently cleaned up. Whenever our Small Group Bible study meets at our home (we alternate months with another couple), Joshua is pressed into service. In exchange for being allowed a free pass to watch the Lord of the Rings movies (all three of them, of course) he tidies everything up so that the hordes (sometimes as many as 20) of children have somewhere to go. As you can see, it has been a few weeks since we hosted Small Group.

When I heard that Scott was featuring a Tour of Scary Garages on his blog, I knew that the time had come for me to take my place near the top of that list. Let this be an encouragement, in contrast, to all the well-organized men out there in bloggy-land.

Stop by Rocks In My Dryer for other helpful ideas. Let me know if you find anything that tops this one.

Project 366 – Day 57

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Moms Don’t Get Sick

I thought moms weren’t allowed to get sick. Isn’t that some sort of Code among mothers?

Kids can go from one illness to the next, dads fall by the wayside when the sniffles hit, but moms (stalwart and strong) walk confidently through the colds, flus, and plagues of the winter months.

one pathetic mama

Isn’t that a flattering picture!

Would someone please explain to my immune system that I do NOT have time to be sick. I have to teach school and take care of my family. I can’t read books with a scratchy throat and runny nose. Our church is hosting a marriage conference this weekend and I have responsibilities. There’s no time in my schedule for napping!

get me some meds

Stop taking my picture, I’m sick!

Usually I sail through these times with nary a sniffle or cough. I’m available to hand out tissues, dispense medicine and offer helpful suggestions like: “Drink plenty of liquids. Have some tea. Get back in bed and rest a bit.”

Not this time. Someone put on the water and get me some tea!

Sarah's got my tea!

Thank goodness I bought some delicious new teas this weekend.

Now to find the perfect spot for a nice nap.


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A Soldier’s Homecoming

Today we had the privilege of celebrating the return of a soldier from our church, who spent the last fifteen months deployed in Afghanistan. An active member of our Small Group Bible study, Jason was greatly missed by many in our church family, and by his wife and four children who remained here in Washington while he was overseas.

Frankly, we were all very worried for him, afraid for his physical safety. Last May we mourned with Emily at the memorial service for her fallen husband, also named Jason, and also part of our Small Group and Adult Bible Fellowship class at church. I wrote about his death and the death of my Grandmother in this post.

Jason, the summer before he left for Afghanistan

We are fortunate that one of the wives in our Small Group is well-organized and administratively gifted (she is, after all, a West Point grad). “When you come to the party,” she encouraged us, “bring with you letters or cards of appreciation, thanking Jason for his military service.” The kids picked out a card and signed it, and Kathy and I each composed a short note. I was very glad to have a chance to express my gratitude in writing, not only to Jason, but to the many who quite literally lay down their lives for our country.

Jason –

As we celebrate your return from your overseas deployment, I want to take a few moments to tell you how much our family and church body appreciates your sacrifice and courage.

Your willingness to serve our country and the people of Afghanistan merits the highest praise and honor from those of us who were permitted, by your sacrifice, to stay home in relative safety. The work in which you were engaged, to bring peace and stability to that war-torn country, did not go unnoticed. Through your efforts to contain and pursue enemies of our country, families and communities like ours can enjoy a day-to-day lifestyle that is largely devoid of fear of terrorist attack.

As citizens, we are proud of our military forces, but we recognize that the work that you did as an ambassador of democracy did not come cheaply to you our your family. The physical discomforts you experienced and the extended separation from your family were high costs, which you paid in courage, honor and in obedience to your calling as an officer in our Army.

We rejoice with you in your safe return home, and in your re-uniting with your family and with our church. We continue to lift you up in our prayers as you adjust to being home.

Please know that I greatly admire your selfless courage and honorable conduct in serving our Nation, and that I am deeply sensitive to the debt that is owed to you and to the other soldiers who have served, by our civilian community.

This blog seems a rather public venue for what was intended as a private note of thanks. Still, as I reflected on the party this evening, I determined to publicly honor this man who smiled and so casually down-played the difficulties and dangers he faced.

Welcome home, Jason, friend and brother.

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