Mastering Digital Photography

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“Youn perfectly merges the science, art, history, and joy of photography.”

Do you want to take better pictures? This is the perfect resource for you, whether you have been shooting for several years or have just picked up a camera.

Sometimes, how-to books and guides are difficult to follow because the instructions are complicated, or the writing style is dry.

Not this one: Youn’s Guide to Mastering Digital Photography is written in a friendly, conversational tone that is easy to understand, but don’t let this fool you. He knows his stuff and he knows how to teach it. I agree with the book description: “Youn perfectly merges the science, art, history, and joy of photography.”

Click here to learn more about Jason Youn’s Essential Guide to Mastering Digital Photography,  in both Kindle and paperback format at Amazon.com. Also available at Barnes and Noble and the Book Depository Co in the UK.

 

The Secret Piano: From Mao’s Labor Camps to Bach’s Goldberg Variations

I have been captivated, to the point of losing sleep, by The Secret Piano: From Mao’s Labor Camps to Bach’s Goldberg Variations, the autobiography of Zhu Xiao-Mei, a pianist who was born in Shanghai in 1949, the year Mao declared the People’s Republic of China. Because her family had wealth and education, they were stripped of employment, home, and possessions by the new PRC. They moved to Beijing, living in a tiny 2-room dirt-floor apartment in a siheyuan, once home to honored citizens in in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368 A.D.), now slums in the 1950s. (I took these pictures in 2011of the outside walls of a siheyuan in Beijing’s hutong area, which has been revitalized in the past few decades.)

Zhu Xiao-Mei begins her story when the piano was brought into their cramped living quarters when she was three years old. She speaks of the thrill she experienced in making the piano “talk” under her mother’s tutelage. She tells, without romanticizing, of her family’s sufferings and of her experiences at the conservatory where she was formed into an accomplished pianist by age 10, but where she was also mistreated (to the point of abuse) because she came from a “bad” family (i.e., bourgeois — educated and prosperous even though they had lived in abject poverty for years).

She tells, in straight-forward narration, of her horrific experiences at the labor camps during the Cultural Revolution and her transformation into a Revolutionary who revered Chairman Mao and denounced her bourgeois family. (This is as far as I’ve read.)

This short video shows Zhu Xiao-Mei playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations. (There are longer videos on YouTube if you wish to experience more of her genius.)

When I made my first trip to China in 2011, I was fearful and apprehensive. I toured the ancient sites of Beijing, including the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. The huge visage of Chairman Mao, which overlooks the square, was an unsettling sight for me because of the stories surrounding the man and the horrific treatment of the Chinese people for decades as he rose to power. Over the next two summers as I worked and lived in China, my fear and distrust was replaced by a genuine admiration for and love of the Chinese people.

I am now drawn to historical novels of 19th and 20th century China and to historical accounts of the PRC, the Cultural Revolution, and Chairman Mao. Lisa See’s historical novels (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love, Shanghai Girls, and Dreams of Joy) and her nonfiction narrative of her ancestors, On Gold Mountain, introduced me to the lives of the Chinese people over the last 200 years (including the turbulence of the last half of the 20th century). Zhu Xiao-Mei’s autobiography now deepens my understanding of the strength and grace of the people who survived the Cultural Revolution.

If you are interested in reading more, here is a list of historical fiction about China.

“If a little flower could speak…”

The celosia, which loves the sun, brightens my patio and home.

The celosia, which loves the sun, brightens my patio and home.

I frequently look for quotes to accompany my photographs. Tonight, while searching for quotes about flowers, I was stopped by the power in St. Therese of Lisieux’s words, which caused me to consider my own words and actions.

How often do we deny our God-given talents and gifts under the guise of humility? Why do we diminish or belittle ourselves? Is it because we hope that someone else will compliment us, build us up, and tell us that we are worthwhile?

When we do this, are we saying that God has not blessed us with skills and talents? Or worse, are we saying that we do not accept His gifts and that we do not wish to develop our talents? Or could it be that we simply feel that we are not good enough?

I think that I could learn a lesson from a little flower…and from all of God’s nature. Read St. Therese’s words. What do you think?

“If a little flower could speak, it seems to me that it would tell us quite simply all that God has done for it, without hiding any of its gifts. It would not, under the pretext of humility, say that it was not pretty, or that it had not a sweet scent, that the sun had withered its petals,or the storm bruised its stem, if it knew that such were not the case.”

St. Thérèse de Lisieux, Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux

Give Students a Chance to Think and Practice

Last day of training in Feicheng City, Shandong Province, China. Tomorrow we begin the three-day trek back home.

I wish to share with you the speech I gave this morning at the closing ceremonies:

Many years ago, I heard a quote that shaped the way I have taught my students. It goes like this: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” As you probably know, this quote is from your great teacher, Confucius.

You know that if you only talk to your students, and your students simply listen, they will probably forget what you say and learn very little. If you show them pictures when you are talking, they might remember, for a while…if they are paying attention. However, when you show the students what to do, if you practice with the students, and then give them a chance to practice on their own, you are giving them the opportunity to DO. You are helping them to understand, to remember, and to learn.

I told you that everything I taught you has the same focus. Everything you’ve learned will help your students to THINK. By DOING….by WRITING, your students will think more deeply. They will understand more about the English language and more about themselves and their world.

Give your students many opportunities to write. You do not always need to give them long writing assignments. Give them short assignments…a few words or sentences can help them to practice a skill, for example, using vocabulary words correctly, using verbs correctly, or using the right punctuation in a sentence.

Make sure that your students write something every day. Make them write words. Make them write sentences. At some point, they will be able to write a paragraph and then a long passage. Use the Active Student Engagement Strategies that you learned from all of us. Use the Reading Strategies and the Writing Strategies. When you use the strategies, you are giving your students many opportunities to DO. You are giving them many opportunities to understand. You are giving them many opportunities to learn English.

I have enjoyed the past few weeks with you wonderful teachers, and I have learned that you are the best people on earth. I thank you for giving me the opportunity to understand you and your incredible Chinese culture. I leave you with another quote from Confucius: “Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” I want to add to the great teacher’s words. “Whatever you teach, and whomever you teach, teach with all your heart.”  Thank you.

Our participants and the people of the education bureau and the four of us American trainers.

Our participants and the people of the education bureau and the four of us American trainers.

I Miss Blogging

Ducks on a pond

Ducks on a pond

In the past, I posted nearly every day. Like a child showing every drawing and scribbled attempt at poetry, I snapped away, made a few edits, posted, and said to the world hey look at me look at what I did! I did it! 

I’m still taking pictures; having the camera in my hand is like holding the hand of a trusted dear friend. However, there have been a few changes in my life. First, I’ve promised myself better health,  which means getting more sleep. Second, I’m more focused on work, prepping for classes and preparing reports. Finally, I moved into a small place, by myself. (Someday, when I find a way to write about this without hurting others, and in a way that it will help others, I will….maybe.) The move has almost doubled my drive time to work and to my son’s house.

Consequently, I have less time to edit pictures, write, post, and read other blogs. And I miss it so.

Most important, for some reason, I’m rarely happy with my pictures. Is my eye becoming more discriminating? Or am I in an artistic slump? The truth is probably a combination of the two.

Last week, between appointments, I stopped at a city park and worked on getting a sharp focus. The above shot of the ducks is the only one out of 83 shots that does not disappoint me.

But I had a treat today as I babysat my best playmate, my granddaughter. She had just gotten out of bed, and because I was focused on work, when she asked, “Grandma Mona, I need your iPad please!” I handed it over and took out my camera, forgetting all about the work.

Christmas Means Family

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Christmas 1955 with my brother Mark.

I loved Christmas. Bringing sugar cookies alive with red and green sprinkles, narrating the Christmas story for Mother’s church group, saving money for months to buy a small deep-blue bottle of cheap cologne for Mother, singing Christmas Carols at Midnight Mass with Daddy, discovering the magic that Santa left under the tree, playing Monopoly with my family, laughing, screaming, teasing. Christmas meant family. Lots of them. In addition to my own family of 6 boys, 4 girls, and parents, I had a huge mess of cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and we spent time with them. The gift of family and time.

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My family: Daughter-in-law with new grand-baby due in February, #1 Son, Granddaughter, #2 Son, and soon-to-be Daughter-in-law

Now my family dynamics are very different. Yesterday, on Christmas Eve, I was blessed to spend four hours with my small family. Instead of the typical Christmas dinner, I fixed a Southern breakfast for brunch: ham, eggs, grits, & homemade biscuits, made a little bit fancy with Mimosas. They’ve gone now. To Chicago. To the other side of the city. To lead their own lives and build their own family memories. I miss them terribly.

Let your light shine so all may see…

IMG_0298“Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.” Buddha

“Arise, shine; For your light has come!  And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.”  Isaiah 60:1

I am a Catholic Christian, born into a large Catholic family from the Midwest of the United States. Most of my warmest childhood memories revolve around ceremonies and traditions of our faith, and all of them involve the lighting of candles.

During this time of year, my Jewish friends celebrate Chanukah (Hanukkah), the eight-day Festival of Lights; they light one candle each night on the Menorah.  I understand that Buddhists observe a religious Light Festival in October, and that the Hindu celebrate Diwali which involves the lighting of small clay lamps filled with oil to signify the triumph of good over evil.

Jesus is called the Light of the World. There are at least 80 references to LIGHT in the New Testament, and almost that many in the Old Testament. We are told to not hide our light under the basket, and are reminded, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:16

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We light the candles in the Advent Wreath in anticipation of Christmas Day when we celebrate Christ’s birth (although He was probably born in the spring and not in December, but the time of year truly doesn’t matter, does it?). This is my dining table, lit with candles in anticipation of my Christmas dinner with my family around this table. Look closely; you can just make out the chairs, quietly waiting for the warmth of the love of family.

Aross the world and across all faiths and traditions, we share similar beliefs, hopes, and dreams. The metaphor of light weaves a bright powerful ribbon that could, if we let it, join us together as humans searching for life and love in what can be a harsh, cold, and dark world.

As the Buddha said, I cannot live without a spiritual life. I light candles to symbolize the light that my Christian beliefs bring into my life and to remind me to be a light to those who are struggling with darkness.

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.  Genesis 1:3

Weekly Photo Challenge: Reflections

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I require my students to reflect on their learning, to take their written pieces and describe their strengths and, more important, what they will do to produce better writing the next time. They also must reflect on the text they read, answering the question, “So what?” They need to determine, “What does this novel mean to me? What can I learn about life or the human condition by reading it? How can I make my life, and the lives of those around me, better as a result of reading this book (or article, or poem)?”

The great philosopher Socrates urged his pupils to reflect on their lives:

 The unexamined life is not worth living.

When I sit down with my journal, I reflect on my day, my week, my life, holding up a mirror, so to speak, to my words and actions, examining what went right and what didn’t. Then I make promises to myself and to God that I will do better. However, that is akin to my students writing, “I will work harder” in their reflections about writing. I try to figure out what I can do to make tomorrow better, much the same as when I ask the students to get specific (“I will use parallel structure.”).

Reflection

Now, don’t these two scenes just invite you to sit on a blanket at the edge of this mountain pond and quietly reflect?

Do yourself a favor, and check out more reflections and responses to this week’s photo challenge.

New to The Daily Post? Whether you’re a beginner or a professional, you’re invited to get involved in our Weekly Photo Challenge to help you meet your blogging goals and give you another way to take part in Post a Day / Post a Week. Everyone is welcome to participate, even if your blog isn’t about photography.

Strength in Fragile Beauty

Geranium Blossom: 1/6400 sec at f/5.0, 105 mm, ISO 200

Geranium Blossom: 1/6400 sec at f/5.0, 105 mm, ISO 200

I was dog-tired (Where did that expression come from? My little Sophie sleeps all day. How on earth could she possibly be tired?) … I digress … I was beat, dragging myself in the door a few hours ago; I vowed to eat a small bite, walk Sophie, and go to bed early … I mean before 8 PM and get up at 4 AM to grade the pile of papers in my bag.

I set the timer, allowing myself 20 minutes to respond to and comment on my favorite blogs. That was 1 1/2 hours ago. Just as when I reach for “just one more and that’s all” piece of the scrumptious Ferrero Rocher chocolates or “just one more and I’m hiding the box” of the incredible chocolate covered delights in the big red tin from Costco, I have read “just one more” blog — at least 20 of them because they are so inviting, and I’ve edited and uploaded “just one more” image — quite of few of them.

And now, just one post and that’s all:

As I indulged in coffee and quiet time on my patio this past weekend, I noticed the morning sun streaming through a fallen geranium blossom. The image speaks of isolation, but not loneliness. Although a fragile, whisper-thin bloom about to die, it is beautiful and strong in the sunlight.

We can be like this. Isolated, but not completely alone. (See the small impression of another blossom in the foreground?) We can be fragile, yet strong, because we gain strength through the gentle light of our God, through the quiet of prayer and meditation, through the warmth of our friends (those we see and speak to face-to-face or those we speak to through the Internet), and possibly through our work, whether it is a job, a career, or a passion.