Category Archives: Family

Yosemite Trip

Discovery ViewI am overdue for posting anything about our Yosemite trip, especially so because we have just returned a month later from our trip to Disneyland. It was good to do two back-to-back vacations this year. I feel we’re getting back into the swing of having fun. Which reminds me: I can’t wait to finish my degree next June so that I can have my life back.

We went to Yosemite during the week of Thanksgiving. Going to Yosemite during the late autumn season has its pros and cons. The cons are not such a big deal though – Yosemite Falls is basically dry, and it gets really cold–especially at night. But the crowds are far smaller, and there are some fun seasonal things to do–especially in the Thanksgiving-season dining department. We were lucky in that the upper roads up to Glacier Point were still open.

Yosemite Valley & HalfdomeOn Day 1 we drove right in to Yosemite Valley and had lunch at the Yosemite Lodge. We had some fresh trout that was absolutely the best, and then went for a walk along the trails along the Merced River. We were staying at the Tenaya Lodge, which was kind of a trek from Yosemite Valley, so we set out a bit early towards the hotel.

Tenaya Lodge was very nice. Just outside the south entrance of the park, this hotel had a couple of nice restaurants both of which catered well to my gluten-free needs. All their pastas were gluten-free, not just something you request! That was cool, although of course I had to order a steak.

The next day was fun: We first did breakfast at the hotel, checked out the trickle that was Bridalveil Falls, then drove in for a hike up along the north side of Yosemite Valley. We had lunch along the riverbank and took pictures everywhere. We caught the afternoon bus tour and got a good description of the history and landmarks of Yosemite Valley. That night they had ice skating at our hotel and s’mores.

IMG_0227.JPGThe final day started with an early morning ranger wildlife discussion for the kids at the Ahwahnee Hotel – a posh old-tyme establishment in a beautiful spot in Yosemite Valley, while I caught myself breakfast in their swank restaurant. Biggest ham and cheese omelette I ever saw – must have been like 14 eggs in there. We then drove up the still-open road to Glacier Point to get the amazing views from the top of the cliffs above Yosemite Valley. Amazing view up there. We drove back towards the south end of the park and had lunch at the Wawona Hotel – not much of a gluten-free selection but at least the waiter and chef were quite knowledgeable and made sure I had a decent and untainted meal. We wrapped it up at the Mariposa Grove and toured the giant redwood trees there before heading back to our hotel and crashing. We headed home first thing the next morning. Great trip – hadn’t been back there since I was a kid, and it was lots of fun this time around.

Some more photos:

Giant Sequoia Little Yosemite Valley IMG_0191.JPG El Capitan

Ed Ellis: Coach, Dean, Friend, and Father

Below is the talk I gave at the opening of the memorial service for my grandfather, Edwin Lee Ellis, last Saturday night at The Athenian School in Danville, California:

My grandfather was always very eager to start off each holiday meal with the tradition of giving thankssaying grace. I always hated that part Id just roll my eyes around and wish I could start eating already. But I always looked forward to it, because that meant that our family was together. We were all holding hands, we were having fun, and we were all about to enjoy a delicious meal.

I think it would be appropriate to start this talk off, on behalf of the entire Ellis family, with a few notes on thankfulness:

  • First of all, we would like to thank the Athenian School for hosting this event, and everyone that has been involved in putting this together. We are thankful for Athenian being such a wonderful institution. We would especially like to thank Eleanor for your caring, your dedication, and acts of kindness too numerous to mention. You are an angel on this earth.
  • We would like to thank the entire Athenian and Chadwick communities for all of the love and support that you all have shown over the years, and especially these past few months. When I organized and printed out all of the get-well email that was sent to my grandfather while he was hospitalized, it came out to be 82 pages long. We read each one of those messages to him. And while he could not always verbally respond very well, he clearly acknowledged each one. Some made him laugh. Some made him cry. Two of the emails we read left him shaking his head in disgust these were confessions of debauchery that both involved master keys.
  • I personally would like to thank two people who are not here today. Without these two my own personal experiences growing up here at Athenian would not have been nearly as rich: They are my next-door neighbor Lester Henderson, who taught me my whole life how to solve problems and how to love music, and my grandmother Georgia Ellis, who taught me how to enjoy life and how to love others. If asked who were three people that shaped who I am today, I would immediately pick Ed, Georgia, and Lester. Thank you to all three of you for everything you have given me.
  • And finally, again on behalf of the entire Ellis family, we are truly thankful to all of you who are here with us on this beautiful evening with this immaculate scenery as a backdrop to celebrate the life of this wonderful person. We are thankful that so may people cared so much about him.

Ed had built a long list of experiences prior to his arrival at Athenian in 1966.

He was born the so of Presbyterian missionaries in Iran, and by the age of 15 he had traveled through the Middle East, Europe, and even Japan. He attended the Stony Brook School on Long Island while his parents continued their mission in Iran, and it was there that he first began his interests in wrestling and football.

Ed then went on to attend Davidson College in, North Carolina, which he chose for the most part because of their wrestling and football programs. It was there that he began studies in education, and near his graduation he was invited by his aunt Margaret Chadwick to join them as faculty at their newly founded school in Southern California. He married his southern sweetheart, Georgia Mae Burroughs, and they immediately drove across the country to California to begin teaching there.

Ed spent the years 1942 to 1949 at Western Reserve Academy in Ohio coaching wrestling and football and teaching math, but by 1949 he and Georgia had three girls and one boy. Since WRA was an all boy’s school, the thought it best to find a school that was co-ed. They returned to Chadwick in ’49, and he served as dean of students and director of athletics there until 1966, when Dyke Brown called him up to ask with some help building up the institution where we now stand.

Ed was always an example of strong moral character, loyalty, trust, dedication and perseverance. In his retirement, Ed remained very active with the alumni associations for all the schools at which he taught and attended, and was very highly regarded by the students whose lives he touched over his long career.

When reflecting on my relationship with my grandfather in the days after he passed away, I recalled one item that kind of summed up how many of us related with him. It was summed up on one small, typewritten scrap of paper taped above his office doorknob, placed just about where your eye would look, if you were opening a door and not exactly beaming with pride about what you were about to talk with him about. If you werent looking, you easily would have missed this. It read:

Don’t trouble trouble,
until trouble troubles youĶ

Those were ominous words for those that had just ascended the long staircase leading up to his office. Does anyone else remember that besides me??? It was there for years just a little yellowing scrap of paper held in place by cellophane tape. I remember it well only because I opened that door about several thousand times in my life, without even thinking about it. And yet, when I was thinking about what Id stand up here and say, somehow that was the first damn thing that popped into my head.

Don’t trouble trouble,
until trouble troubles youĶ

For Fathers Day, it is common to give a gift such as a mug, T-shirt, or card that says Worlds Greatest Dad. I think that I am OK in saying that in the context of Edwin Ellis, this statement takes on a somewhat elevated meaning given the staggering number of persons that saw him as a paternal figure. My grandfather passed away just two days before Fathers Day this year. This Fathers day I was reminded of exactly what he meant to me. For all intensive purposes, and for lack of having one myself, I can certainly say that I saw him as my own father. I know that many of us here have similar feelings.

There is an old Sicilian proverb that says: “Only your real friends will tell you when your face is dirty.” Ed was always open with his opinions, spoke with us directly, and told us the facts right straight to our faces he might have been brutally honest at times, but it was also done with a true sense of caring. He told us exactly what we needed to hear.

This was the most important lesson that my grandfather taught me. I have to say that the hardest moment in my life was sitting with him in that hospital room and telling him what the facts were telling him that stroke, pneumonia, and cancer were not his friends right now, giving him a straight assessment of what his prognosis was, and telling him what he had to do if he wanted to have any hope of recovery. And yet at the same time, it was easy for me to find the will to do it, because he taught me how to behave in these situations: Be direct. Look em in the eye and speak the truth. Be brutally honest, but at the same time with a true sense of caring. Tell them exactly what they need to hear.

And lastly, I would just like to close with saying that we should not feel sadness in Eds passing. The way I see it, there is nothing sad here; nothing to regret. A wonderful, productive, and meaningful life does not end in sadness. We should instead feel great pride in having known him, having learned and grown from him, and having him as a friend and a father figure. So let us now celebrate Edwin Lee Ellis, thank him for all that he gave to us, and be thankful for all the ways he helped us become better persons.

Memorial Services for Edwin Lee Ellis

Wednesday, June 20, 2007, 1 to 4 PM
Wilson & Kratzer Chapel
825 Hartz Way
Danville, CA 94526
(925) 820-2999

Saturday, June 23, 2007, 11 AM
Green Hills Memorial Park
Lot 148, Memory Lawn Section
27501 South Western Avenue
Rancho Palos Verdes, California, 90275
(310) 831-0311

Memorial Service
Saturday, June 30, 2007, 7 PM (tentative time)
The Athenian School
2100 Mt. Diablo Scenic Blvd.
Danville, CA 94526
(925) 837-5375

Memorial donations may be made to The Ed Ellis Alumni Fund at The Athenian School at the above address.

Ed Ellis, Dean, Coach, Teacher, Passes Away at 90

My grandfather, the person whom I really consider like my father actually, passed away today. Below is the obituary I wrote:

Ed EllisEdwin Lee Ellis, longtime high school educator and former dean of students at The Athenian School in Danville, California, passed away early Friday, June 15. He was 90 years old. The cause was a combination of complications from stroke, prostate cancer, and pneumonia. As a former wrestler, it took three heavyweights to pin him down. His passing was as he wished: Peacefully, naturally, in his own home, and surrounded by his friends and loved ones.

Mr. Ellis was born to Dr. Wilder P. Ellis and Jessie Ellis in 1916 in Urumia, Persia. He came to live in the United States at 15 and attended the Stony Brook School in Long Island, New York. He earned his bachelors degree from Davidson College in 1939. He taught at the Chadwick School on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Southern California from 1939 to 1942, went back to teach at the Western Reserve Academy to coach wrestling in Hudson, Ohio from 1942 to 1949, and returned to Chadwick to be the dean of students and director of athletics there from 1949 to 1966.
In 1966, Mr. Ellis was invited by Dyke Brown to be dean of students at the newly founded Athenian School, nestled in the foothills of Mount Diablo. He and Mr. Brown built the school from the ground up, and Mr. Ellis particularly contributed to the development of Athenian���s facilities and sports programs.

In his retirement, Mr. Ellis remained very active with the alumni associations for all the schools that he taught at and attended, and was very highly regarded by the students whose lives he touched over his 68-year combined professional career and retirement. Mr. Ellis was always an example of strong moral character, loyalty, trust, dedication, and perseverance. He was a pillar in his community, and will always be remembered lovingly by his family, friends, students, and colleagues.

Many interesting coincidences occured surrounding this event.

When I got the call at about 1:30 AM that he had passed, I got in the car to go deal with the situation. It is no secret that Hindemith’s Trauermusik is one of my favorite compositions of all time, usually placed No.2 in my top 10 lists, right behind Mahler’s 2nd Symphony “Resurrection.” No, I do not have some weird obsession with death – these are simply sublime, beautiful pieces of music. And so what was on the iPod randomness, cued up for me at 0:00, when I got in the car? Keep in mind I have about 17 GB of music on my iPod, and it would take about three weeks for it all to begin to repeat if played sequentially.

OK that is really no big deal to anyone except for me. I have a special connection with that piece, so it just made for a very reflective drive in the peace and quiet of the hours before dawn, when the streets are still and every star in the sky shines bright.

What was way weirder was the circumstances regarding Psalm 23:

This was read to my grandfather shortly before his passing, by my aunt. He was a very religious man, and that was one of his favorite prayers. That same night, my wife was rehearsing with the choir she plays piano for, and they were playing a work that used this text late the night before, just a couple of hours before his death. After running through that work, the power went out and my wife was complaining that this was some depressing funeral music – just kidding around to the conductor and the pastor. But then the pastor, who is at the very least an extremely intuitive person, began to pace and became overcome with a sense of anxiety. He said to my wife that he needed to go over to visit my grandfather that night, as in immediately after rehearsal, around 10:30 PM if they rushed over right after rehearsal. They called and I of course told him to go get some sleep and come over at a more reasonable hour the next afternoon. But he was right…

Finally, something poetic that was also read to him that night, from St. Therese of Lisieux, which my aunt wants to have read at his memorial service:

May today there be peace within. May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content knowing you are a child of God. Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.

I am not myself a spiritual or religious person, but I do find these words and these occurences and these coincidences to be beautiful, and poetic, and memorable.

Erhu, Zhonghu, Pipa, and Guzheng

There are three traditional chinese instruments that I find fascinating: Erhu, Pipa, and Guzheng.

ErhuThe Erhu (二胡) is a two stringed bowed instrument that is played like a viola da gamba, resting the instrument on a leg and bowing with a loosely-haired bow that is situated between the two strings and pulled in a similar style as a German bass bow or gamba bow.

(Incidentally, the chinese word for “to play a stringed instrument” is “l��,” (���) or “to pull.” For example, a literal translation inquiring about one’s violin-playing capabilities might be phrased as “n�� hu√� l�� xi��o t√≠ q√≠n ma?” (�Ω��������∞���������?) Or: “Can you pull the violin?”)

This afternoon as I was hanging out in my parents-in-law’s house, I noticed two erhu’s sitting in the corner, and Yingwen’s dad said he had been learning the instrument over the past year or so. I asked him to show me how it was done and he obliged, demonstrating the basics of bowing and fingering technique.

The two strings are tuned a fifth apart, and they are close enough so that both strings are fingered at the same time. But you don’t bow both strings at the same time. The bow hair runs between the two strings and you change the direction of force in or out to alternate which string you are hitting. To increase bow hair tension, you have to use your fingers to pull the hair out away from the stick, similar to many historic western string instruments.

Fingering is also slightly different than your traditional western string instrument, in that there is no fingerboard. You simply lay the finger at the point where you want to stop the string and out comes the note.

Other than all that, it feels very much like playing a very tiny bass with a German bow. Not too bad at all. I noodled around until I found a decent rendition of the melody from Dvo≈�√�k’s 9th Symphony, 2nd movement – pentatonic scale, common to both American spirituals, the blues, and traditional Chinese music.

The zh≈�ngh√∫ (�∏≠�ɰ) is a deeper-pitched version of the erhu. I would seriously like to pick one of these types of instruments up, and figured I’d go for zhonghu since I tend toward the lower-pitched spectrum of instruments.

The p√≠p√� (����∂) is a kind of Chinese plucked string instrument similar to a guitar or lute. This instrument is even more interesting to me than the pipa. I have one recording of solo pipa performance and it is quite an interesting style. From what I can tell, the right hand technique is pretty challenging with it’s sustained tremolos. I’m hoping we can swing by a music instrument shop sometime while we’re here so I can take a look and possibly try one out.

Guzheng PlayerFinally, the g��zh��ng (�����) is another Chinese plucked string instrument, but this one sits on a table and is rather long at about one meter long. It is like a harp or a zither, with moveable independent bridges underneath each string.

If I had free time (ha ha ha ha ha), I’d try learning each one of these instruments. This is the great thing about vacations when you’re an over-busy person: being able to try out something new and different.