Sounds like a plan. :) Keep us updated on how it goes with the programs. I can do some more searching around if neither of those fit your needs. I'm a major geek anyway, so trying to match you up to the right program will be fun.
I really don't like gimp... I thought PS was much easier to use and it's tidier. It kept installing in Finnish on my old laptop even though I need it in English and I just gave up after a while.
I got PS Elements for free with my Wacom Tablet (a definite must for digital work in my opinion) and then I got a laptop that had Photoshop Cs4 on it already and now I managed to get CS5 for free aswell. :)
I definitely recommend getting PS elements if you're a beginner. I've seen it go for quite cheap here (don't know about the US though)