Sunday, July 31, 2011

Jefferson's Grave

Since Monticello was Thomas Jefferson's favorite place on Earth, he arranged to be buried there. Today, his grave -- marked by a larger obelisk erected by the United States government than the original one designed by Jefferson himself -- sits in the Jefferson family's private cemetery. Fenced in and not accessible to Monticello visitors, linear descendants of Jefferson are buried here and the family oversees the management of the cemetery. Jefferson's descendents resulting from his relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings, are not allowed burial in this family cemetery.

While the obelisk that serves as Jefferson's headstone is a common symbol of Freemasonry, Jefferson was not a member. According to his letters and personal documents, Jefferson did not approve of fraternal organizations, although many of his contemporaries, such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Marquis de Lafayette, were Freemasons.

The only element that remains of Jefferson's original design for his grave is the inscription on his grave marker. He only wanted to be remembered for three things, and as such, his epitaph reads:
Here was buried Thomas Jefferson
Author of the Declaration of American Independence
of the Statue of Virginia for Religious Freedom
and Father of the University of Virginia.
His epitaph does not mention his presidency or even Jefferson's tenure as governor of Virginia or U.S. Secretary of State. Interestingly, Jefferson thought of these roles as civic duties, not life achievements. Instead, he focused his epitaph on his considerable accomplishments, which one would have been heralded as a great legacy.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Jefferson's Weather Dial

Thomas Jefferson was obsessed with the weather. Twice every day, he would collect and record weather measurements. He installed a large weather vein to the top of the main entrance to Monticello. However, in case of inclement weather, Jefferson also devised this weather dial that was connected to the weather vein but placed on the ceiling of the main entrance. Instead of needing to walk outside to gather his wind measurements, Jefferson would just need to step out his front door and look up at the exposed weather dial.

Ingenious, right? Jefferson was well-known for devising efficient, easy ways to conduct day-to-day tasks. He even boiled down how to live your best life into ten simple rules. A poster of the Jefferson's Ten Rules, which I've included below, is sold at the Monticello's gift store. I love the rules' simplicity and timelessness. Jefferson selected words and phrases thoughtfully, as evidenced by his evergreen prose found in the Declaration of Independence, intending for his words to live beyond him. He succeeded.
Jefferson's Ten Rules
By Thomas Jefferson
  • Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.
  • Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.
  • Never spend money before you have earned it.
  • Never buy what you don't want because it is cheap.
  • Pride costs more than hunger, thirst and cold.
  • We seldom repent of having eaten too little.
  • Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.
  • How much pain the evils cost us that never happened.
  • Take things always by the smooth handle.
  • When angry, count ten before you speak; if very angry, count a hundred.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Little Mountain

According to our tour guide at Monticello yesterday, Thomas Jefferson was fluent in seven languages. Monticello in Italian -- one of Jefferson's languages -- means "little mountain," appropriate since the plantation was built on a mountaintop.

From Monticello, Jefferson and his family could see the Blue Ridge Mountains and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville to the west. This image was taken looking south from Mulberry Road which runs along the southeastern side of the main house. On a clear day, the Jeffersons must have had quite a view. It is understandable why Jefferson and his family loved this estate so much.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Beautiful Monticello

Today, I finally visited Monticello, the former home of Thomas Jefferson near Charlottesville, Virginia. It was spectacular and lived up to all of my expectations. This is a photograph of the well-known back of the main house, which faces a large lawn bordered by flowering plants and oak trees.

I've always held a deep appreciation of Jefferson's brilliance, but exploring his home today raised it to a higher level. Jefferson designed Monticello himself and personally oversaw its construction. Inspired by his extensive reading about architecture, as well as his years living in France as an American diplomat, Monticello reflects more Roman, Greek and French architecture than the colonial style of the period. He also used the house and 3,000-acre plantation as a laboratory for his inventions and experiments. His innovations, such as doors that automatically open and a wine dummy system to transport wine from the underground cellars to the dinning room, provided efficiencies and ease of living that were before its time.

While Jefferson has his critics, due to his hypocrisy of being an advocate for Americans' freedoms yet owning at least 130 slaves at Monticello, you cannot disregard his contributions because of it. His forward-thinking  and leadership helped a fledgling nation start its journey in the world and billions of people have benefited as a result. Monticello's slavery past may represent what was disappointing about Jefferson, but Monticello as a whole illustrates his greatness.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Birthday Rose

This is my favorite stage in the blooming of a rose -- open just beyond the bud stage, but not at full bloom yet. It symbolizes how we should be as people, structured and yet still open and flexible. It's a hard balance to strike, and usually requires a lifetime to achieve. However, at least nature reminds us in these moments that we too are as capable of achieving this balance as this red rose. Achieving that balance is one of the major challenges I am hoping to make great progress on this year.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Birthday Stargazer Lily

I got flowers! For my birthday!! I'm such a sucker for delivered flowers. It's like the perfect surprise. Luckily, I had my camera on hand to capture it on film.

This beautiful arrangement of red and pink stargazer lilies, gerbera daisies and roses arrived at my office yesterday and immediately brightened my day. It was a touching gesture from a dear friend in celebration of my birthday. It's arrival instantly perked up my office and filled the hallways with its intoxicating scent.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Lucky 33

Today is my birthday; I'm turning 33 years old. I'm looking forward to this new year ahead and feel that it will be a lucky one for me. Why?

I'm generally not a superstitious person, but there are a few family superstitions that I follow. One of them is the belief that numbers are lucky if they are a multiple of three. If I play the lottery or pick seats on an airplane, I always use numbers that are divisible by three. It sounds silly, I know. I don't really have any evidence that it is true, but it is comforting to follow.

So, cheers to 33! Here's to it being a phenomenal (and lucky) year.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Light Purple Pansy

If only the air outside was as light as this purple pansy. For the past few days, the hot humid weather in DC has been miserable and unbearable. It's never a good sign when you can actually "feel" the air due to the heaviness of the humidity. It's like when I lived in California, I was able to "see" the air due to growing air pollution.

With more than 29 states in the United States issuing heat advisories right now, hopefully those climate change naysayers will finally get the clue that "something" is happening to the environment and this change is increasingly making life more difficult for us.

Special thanks to Willis Carrier who invented modern air conditioning in 1902. It is an invention that is making life bearable right now during this heat wave.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Light over Dark

Lots of sad news today. Norway. Amy Winehouse. The Horn of Africa. News with tragic headlines and depressing details. Each day, we face multiple notices of passings, struggles and pain. At times it can feel overwhelming, as if we are being swallowed up by the darkness of the world.

It is an understandable perspective, but a limited view of life's big picture. While the dark elements exist around us, we are also surrounded by light and positivity as well.

In this image of the Georgetown Waterfront at twilight, you might focus just on the surrounding darkness. But look again. In the midst of the encroaching night, there are still lights present in the distance and light from what remains visible of the setting sun streak the sky. Light always accompanies dark. And hope always present in times of despair.

In spite of the upsetting news of the day, we must seek out the light in the darkness and let it guide us to through darker days.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Pink Roses Salute the Blue Sky

Happy Friday! To end a week of flower posts, here's another photo taken at Ten Barton Community Garden last weekend of pink roses in bloom. Even though these roses were past their prime, they are still so striking. Like the sunflowers in earlier posts this week, the blue sky created a beautiful contrast for the pink roses.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Looking at the Sun

I love challenging my camera to zoom in and get as close as possible to my photo subject. Often, it reveals a different side of the photo subject. Close-up, the center of this sunflower takes center stage and forces the blue sky and vibrant yellow petals to become supporting players in the scene. The sprial pattern of the sunflower's florets draws your eye while the center's darker color provides contrast to its surrounding lighter-colored petals.
The sunflowers at Ten Barton Community Garden also caught the interest of lots of insects, including several bees who keep landing on the florets and ruining my image. Between you and me, I'm not fond of insects. While some nature photographers believe including bugs in your composition adds character, I think they draw focus from my true target -- the flowers and plants they landed on.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Finding Your Inner Sunflower

Nothing says "Good morning!" like sunflowers. In full bloom, sunflowers always look so alert and ready to face the day. Its happy design deters them from every looking drowsy or weak.

In the middle of the week, when trying to get over that Wednesday hump day, I try to be a sunflower. I focus on being as bold and focused as the sunflower featured in today's post.

Yesterday, a friend on Facebook started quoting lyrics from the film musical, "Singin' in the Rain," starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor. Her reminiscing reminded me how much I love that movie and one of my favorite songs featured in it, "Good Morning." If you're feeling sleepy, watch Kelly and company perform this song in the film below and I'm sure it will perk you up and inspire your inner sunflower too.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Twin Sunflowers

Sunday's weather in DC was sunny with clear blue skies. While offering tricky conditions for photography, the bright skies also created contrast, making colors appear brighter like these yellow sunflowers. Not only is the yellow bright and vivid, but with sunlight shining behind it make the sunflowers' petals seem transparent. I feel happier just by gazing at them. Don't you?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Bird on Sign

Near my home is a community garden. As I photographed the blooming summer wildflowers there over the weekend, this winged visitor joined me to take in the view as well.

Upon its arrival, I quickly changed my camera mode to enable multiple photographs at a time, hoping to capture at least one good image of the bird before it took flight. No sooner had I taken three frames of the bird sitting on this garden sign in the community garden, it flew away to rest nearby and enjoy the flowers from a more private vantage point.

From the Kennedy Center Terrace

Have you seen the HBO documentary, Citizen USA: A 50-State Road Trip? Directed by Alexandra Pelosi, (daughter of House of Representative member Nancy Pelosi), the film travels across the U.S. to attend naturalization ceremonies in all 50 states and meets brand-new U.S. citizens to find out why they chose America as their home.

It's so moving to listen to each person's reason for coming to America and choosing to become a citizen. Many share their desire to enjoy America's vast opportunities, but some seek more basic needs -- the ability to walk safely in their neighborhoods; the opportunity for all of their children to receive an education; and/or the option to freely practice a religion or none-at-all.

Native-born Americans, separated from their immigrant roots by generations, may take these opportunities for granted. Living in the nation's capital, you need only look at this patriotic vista to be reminded of America's promise to become a "shining city on the hill," and fulfill the dreams of the tired, poor and "huddled masses yearning to breathe free" who begin new lives within its borders.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Wicked Dessert

So, what could be better than seeing finally seeing the Broadway musical, Wicked, in person? Nothing, but this delightful dessert in honor of Wicked's run at the Kennedy Center came close.

Served by the Center's Roof Terrace Restaurant & Bar and created by Executive Pastry Chef Ben McCormick, this Pistachio Mousse Cake topped with a chocolate witch's hat was a perfect ending to a delightful dinner before showtime. Although our table's true hit of the dessert course was baked Alaska dessert, our Wicked-inspired dessert provided a great introduction for the evening's performance in the beautiful Kennedy Center Opera House.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Still Blue Heron

In spite of the traffic and city noise, lots of wildlife live along the major highways in Virginia, especially near the George Washington Parkway that runs along the Potomac River in Northern Virginia.

The noise from the well-used GW Parkway doesn't keep the regal Great Blue Heron away. Whenever I walk along the Mount Vernon Trail with its runners, bicyclists and walkers between the Potomac River and GW Parkway, I often see Blue Herons lounging by the riverside. They seem unconcerned by human onlookers and stand very still, which is perfect for us nature photographers. While the wildlife doesn't mind us stopping, the other users of Mount Vernon Trail do; pausing for longer than a minute elicits shouts and curse words from fellow trailblazers. Apparently, they don't appreciate the surroundings as much as I do.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Northwestern Shoreline

My memory has been playing tricks on me this week, drawing out all of these reminiscing-like observations for the blog. This morning, I awoke with a strange song playing in my head -- Christopher Cross' "Sailing." Now, where did that come from? I haven't heard that song in ages.

Besides being a devotee of Cat Stevens, my father always loved the singer, Christopher Cross. What do both of these singers have in common? They are both singer-songwriters who had huge careers during a particular decade -- Stevens in the 1970s and Cross in the 1980s -- and then fizzled out.

Growing up on an island, my Dad spent a lot of time on boats and so the lyrics of "Sailing" was very relevant to his life. While he is not a yachtsman, I know he misses being near the water and enjoying the freedom of sailing.

Perhaps today I'm longing for that freedom as well, which is why the Christopher Cross song popped into my head this morning. On the commute to work today, as the bus crossed over the Potomac River into the city, I admired the people kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and sailing on the river. Being out on the water would be a great way to start the day.
by Christopher Cross

It's not far down to paradise
At least it's not for me
And if the wind is right you can sail away
And find tranquility
The canvas can do miracles
Just you wait and see
Believe me

It's not far to never never land
No reason to pretend
And if the wind is right you can find the joy
Of innocence again
The canvas can do miracles
Just you wait and see
Believe me

Takes me away
To where I've always heard it could be
Just a dream and the wind to carry me
And soon I will be free

It gets the best of me
When I'm sailing
All caught up in the reverie
Every word is a symphony
Won't you believe me

It's not far back to sanity
At least it's not for me
And when the wind is right you can sail away
And find serenity
The canvas can do miracles
Just you wait and see
Believe me.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Living Artfully

Although I haven't taken a ballet class in 18 years, those eight years of training as a child is still paying off. By complete happenstance, my parents selected a local ballet company led by a woman -- Marilia Walsh -- who was a former Brazilian prima ballerina trained in Russian classical ballet. She was strict and unyielding. She pushed, and pushed, and pushed, demanding that our bodies move in ways I didn't think it could.

At the time, I dreaded going to ballet classes. I didn't have the "right" figure and was plagued by weak ankles and knees -- both not ideal for ballerinas. When given the choice to pursue tap dancing or ballet in my teens, I jumped at the opportunity to continue taking tap and leave Mrs. Walsh, and the pain, mirrors and merciless barre behind. Little did I know how I would carry those eight years of ballet lessons with me for the rest of my life.

Like this figure sculpted into a fountain in Philadelphia, I have fabulous posture due to Mrs. Walsh's routines and exercises. When I begin to slouch, my body automatically corrects itself as if it remembers Mrs. Walsh's cane banging on the wood floor when our shoulders rolled forward during barre warm-ups. I'm always aware of my balance and body's movement when walking, unless I'm sleep deprived and clumsiness rules the day

My love for dance and classical music, especially George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" can all be traced back to Mrs. Walsh. I was a Sugar Plum Fairy in "The Nutcracker" and a swan in "Swan Lake." She brought the sparkling world of the arts into my soul and I've been enjoying the journey through music, dance, plays and art ever since. My eye for photography composition is rooted in what she taught me as a dancer to understand and appreciate the human body's lines and form.

One day when I am a parent and looking for a dance program for my children, I hope there will be a Mrs. Walsh available to teach them not only how to dance, but how to live artfully and beautifully.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Sailboat at Sunset

In just seconds, life can quickly change. After almost 33 years of living, it is an occurrence that I still find unsettling. I just can't get used to it.

This morning seemed normal until I checked out my Facebook feed, as I do every morning, and discovered that an old friend was having an abnormal morning. Today, she woke up to a life without her husband who died unexpectedly yesterday. I don't know the details. At this point, I don't know that it matters. One day he was here and then the next, he was gone.

This news has altered my whole day. How I will speak to people today will be different. How I will respond to situations will be different. I will be different. In a matter of moments, our lives can change in the most unexpected ways. Our challenge is to be able to adapt, but even before that, we are challenged to live in each moment as if the next one is not guaranteed.

Buddhists believe in the art of mindfulness, one of the seven factors for enlightenment. It is the practice of being present in the current moment, and not distracted by the past or the future. It is being aware of everything in order to have the presence of mind to fully embrace your own life each moment.

For example, this photograph was taken in a state of mindfulness. I took this photograph at sunset while sitting behind Mount Vernon -- George Washington's estate -- looking out over the Potomac River. Since this sailboat was so far away, most photographers might have ignored it. However, there was something so peaceful about it that I felt it was worth waiting for it to move closer to my camera position. I watched it sail through my camera lens until it was close enough to capture this image.

While in the scheme of things, especially in light of today's news, this seems very minor, it was a photograph I've always treasured and the best image I've taken of a boat at sail so far. The photograph captures a moment that I will always remember and now will not be lost. I hope my friend holds on to her own special moments whether captured on film or just in her heart, so they can bring her comfort during this difficult time.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Another Tidal Basin Swim

And the Kodak Pulse strikes again and displays another forgotten, yet beautiful, photograph from my photo collection. Every spring when the Cherry Blossoms bloom, I always try to capture the Tidal Basin ducks swimming beneath the blossoms. After several attempts, I usually only walk away with one good composition with the ducks in them.

Why are these ducks so difficult to photograph? Well, the ducks who hang out at the Tidal Basin are really fast swimmers. Due to the crowds visiting the Cherry Blossoms, they rarely exit the water so the "ducks on land" photos are not an option. If I want to photograph the ducks, I have to film them while they are in the water.

During the early morning hours, the Tidal Basin ducks enjoy two things -- swimming really fast across the pond and diving under the water to eat. Both of these activities are not very photogenic. However on occasion, I'll get lucky and place the camera in the right place at the right time to create a composition like today's post taken in 2009. Thank goodness Kodak Pulse pulled it out of the archives for all of us to enjoy once again.

Friday, July 8, 2011


One of the best benefits of engaging in social media communities, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and now Google+, is that I've expanded my opportunities to learn from others. I'm a lifelong learner, which is why I am constantly reading, watching documentaries and films, visiting museums and historical places and talking to people. Through social media, I can do that 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and my options for information sources are now limitless.

Every day, I'm surprised by something someone has shared on their profile and today is no exception. Peter Shankman, a well-known public relations and new media expert, often shares articles, resources and ideas that make me go "Hmmmm." Today on Facebook, he posted a quote by actor Morgan Freeman that gave me pause:
I always tell my kids if you lay down, people will step over you. But if you keep scrambling, if you keep going, someone will always, always give you a hand. Always. But you gotta keep dancing, you gotta keep your feet moving.
It's the perfect thought to end this busy week. We should always be in motion. This doesn't mean that we need to be busy all the time or fail to enjoy the quieter moments of life. Freeman means that we should always be moving forward and when we do, there will always be people to help and support our forward progress. It's only when we hesitate, pause too long, or start losing ground, that champions are harder to find, even within ourselves.

Like Auguste Rodin's sculpture, "The Call to Arms," we should face each day with our arms spread wide and the shout, "Charge!" on our lips. With that attitude, there is no obstacle that we can't overcome and infinite supporters available to hold us up and help lift us toward success.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Melodic Wooden Path

This photograph was taken during a weekend stroll around Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial -- an island that sits in between the District of Columbia and Virginia in the Potomac River.

One of my favorite elements of the island is that its dirt trails occasionally turn into wooden paths carrying visitors over marshes and creeks. These wooden paths are long enough to fully enjoy the sounds of your footsteps echoing as you walk.

I love that sound, especially when the forest around you is silent except for the sounds of your hallowed steps and wildlife communicating around you. The thudding sound created by our feet striking the wooden planks of the paths resembles the thud of our heart beating -- accelerated if we're running and slower if strolling. My preference is strolling; it's better for picture taking.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Visiting Goose

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I'm still working on improving my animal photography. Thankfully, several zoo visits in the past year have provided more opportunities to practice that skill, but it still needs work. More often than not, my portraits of animals tend to be blurry or capture them in an uninteresting positions.

Last year during a visit to Burke Lake in Virginia, I apparently caught a visiting Canada Goose just strolling along the banks of the lake who paid little attention to either human visitors or even my camera. With the blue lake water as a backdrop, the goose's gray, white and black plumage seems to jump out of the frame, drawing the eye to its regal stature. Even though I prefer not placing my photo subject in the center of the composition, the goose belongs there.

Next time I encounter these winter vacationers in the area, I hope I can capture the geese in flight. They are such beautiful, elegant birds, when flying. Plus, it would be a great challenge to capture the geese in motion without resulting in a muddled final image.

Rediscovering the Archives

Last Christmas, I read about Kodak's new digital photo frame -- Kodak Pulse -- which is Wi-Fi enabled, allowing the frame to be refreshed and updated through the Internet. Users can upload photos directly to the frame or link it to existing Kodak Gallery or Facebook albums. Also through a unique email address, you allow family and friends to email photos that would automatically display in the frame.

I knew this would be the perfect holiday gift for my parents who love to showoff photos of our growing family. Sure enough, it was a big hit. Since then I've recommended the frame to everyone. It is the perfect way to keep grandparents informed of the events and special moments in the lives of their children and grandchildren or a way to say "hello" or "I'm thinking of you" to someone struggling at home with a long-term illness. After finally purchasing one for my own home, I discovered that the Kodak Pulse is another way for me to enjoy the thousands of photos I've taken over the past 10 years as an amateur photographer and unearth new photos for this blog.

Keeping track of my expanding photo archives has been challenging. The frame became a solution to this problem by displaying older images I had long forgotten, such as this image taken near Reagan National Airport during autumn with the Washington Monument in the background. I took more than 140 photos during this photo excursion a few years ago and at the time, overlooked its interesting color and composition.

Each day, I look forward to discovering what photographs my Kodak Pulse will reveal and its potential as future posts on the blog. I'll be featuring some of these rediscovered photographs in the next couple blog entries.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I'm Back

Hello again! I know. It's been awhile. I took a break from blogging recently not because I ran out of things to say, but ran out of the energy to say them. In spite of that, I've missed sharing with you. I have been touched by those daily demands for a return of my photo posts (thanks Mom). Since I need to make up for lost time, I will try to post several photos each day to make up for missed days. Hopefully if all goes as planned, this interruption is only that and won't be repeated any time soon.

To start off the make-up period, today's post is a close-up photograph of a flower growing in a neighbor's front yard. One day on my way home from work, I decided to photograph it. I was dressed in office attire and high heels, squatting in the road to take this photograph. Let's just say that the passing cars received quite a view. This striking flower proves that beauty can grow anywhere, even in your neighbor's yard.