Prayer flags intentions set free

Following is a link to a photo and video of the burning of the old prayer flags. Thank you to Matthew and Donna for facilitating both. As Matthew wrote when he sent this link,

“As Donna sent your prayers to the heavens.

John Prine saw them safely there.

Almost immediately they rained back down on us all.”

Mar 30, 2020 (2) by Matthew Maloney
— Read on

Flag burning.

Before you get all pissy with me, I’m not talking about the American flag.

I have had the same Tibetan prayer flags hanging in the trees outside my She Shed for several years now. They have done their fair share of sending prayers out through all kinds of crazy Colorado weather. They are kind of like the US Postal Service whose motto is “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Actually, that’s a myth – the US Postal service doesn’t have a motto, never has.

It is time to retire them (the prayer flags, not the US Postal service).

If you look up what Tibetan Prayer flags are created for you’ll find this: “Prayer flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom. The flags do not carry prayers to gods, which is a common misconception; rather, the Tibetans believe the prayers and mantras will be blown by the wind to spread good will and compassion into all pervading space.” I love that –  we can hang our prayers and intentions for humankind in the trees and watch the wind carry them out into the world.

Tibetan prayer flags start out brightly colored and then fade with use. Each color signifies an element — and the flags are always arranged in a specific order, from left to right: blue, white, red, green, yellow. Blue represents the sky, white air, red fire, green water, and yellow earth. All five colors together signify balance.

The best days to hang them are Mondays or Fridays.  However, when they are hung at auspicious moments, the benefit is said to expand. This is especially true when you hang them on the day of a full moon or a new moon. It seemed to me that with the pandemic and the new moon hitting at the same time, that this would be a good time to hang up some new prayer flags and get their intentions out into the universe ASAP.

But what to do with the old ones?  They have sent out so many prayers – it seemed wrong to just throw them in the recycle bin.  I googled it.  Like the American flag,  you never let them touch the ground because they are sacred.  You burn them to honor the compassionate intentions for all beings with which these flags were made. 

So I will burn them and in the same way that the prayer flags’ mantras, prayers, and symbols went out on the wind toward every part of the globe over the last several years, the ashes from my burned flags will float on the wind and return to the earth in a final release of blessings. It seems like this is a good time to do it.

May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe. May you be at peace.


Are you okay?

I woke up this morning thinking about my former students. They live all over the place: NYC, DC, Seattle, LA, Columbus, Cincinnati, Kentucky, Detroit, Dallas, St Louis, Paris, Aspen… well you get the picture.

Many of them work for nonprofit arts organizations which means, because that industry is shut down, they are at home wondering if their jobs are safe and whether they and their families will stay healthy.

It’s a weird relationship a professor has with her students, especially when they are thrown together daily for almost two years. During that time each “class” becomes a family of sorts. They eat together, study together, party together, piss each other off, and basically create relationships that resemble siblings. I was the house mother, career counselor, task master, financial advisor, and probably also called some other things I don’t want to know about. But the bottom line is that I came to love those quirky, brilliant humans.

Now here I sit wondering how they are all doing. I hope they are ok. I pray that their families are okay. I see some of them on Instagram – one has a new puppy, one a new baby, one a new job, one is getting married. I wish I had them all back in the classroom so I could tell them how proud I am of what they have accomplished and let them know that our time together meant the world to me. I’d also tell them I wish we could go back to a simpler time when the biggest worry was writing that stupid fake grant proposal or getting the development/marketing plan finished so they could graduate.

Time slips by, lives move on, and pandemics force us to stop and think about the students who helped us grow as humans. If you are out there CCM Arts Admin, check in and let me know you’re ok. I’m worried about you.

How we deal with it will define us forever.

After more than a generation of a culture that idealized individualism and said selfish greed was good, the coronavirus is forcing us to evaluate whether that is what we want to be as a government, and as a nation.

Heather Cox Richardson, March 18, 2020

I read this blog yesterday morning from Jack’s Place, the residence built by the Shaw Regional Cancer Center for cancer patients and their caregivers. This center was constructed because many of the patients who received care there could not afford hotel rooms in Vail on top of the other expenses associated with a cancer diagnosis. The tipping point was when the founding director stumbled on one of them sleeping in his car.

What happened next is the beautiful. A group of caring people made Jack’s Place happen. They didn’t do it because there was anything in it for them, they did it because it was the right thing to do.

How many times in the last few years have we seen the exact opposite? Partisanship and greed have chipped away at the morals of this nation (and world) and created a very ugly place. It needs to change and if nothing else good comes out of this pandemic, perhaps it will make each of us look closely at our priorities and decide what is right – regardless of whether there is anything in it for ourselves.

We have time now to slow down and reflect on what is important. Is it the big house, the big salary, the next cool gadget? Or is it reaching out to the “guy sleeping in the car” and giving him a place to stay while he undergoes cancer treatment. Are we teaching our children to respect others, the environment, themselves? Or are we encouraging them “to be # 1” regardless of the consequences.

For too long we have lived in an ultra competitive, every man for himself world. This culture is reinforced by our politics, our sports, our media, our entertainment, and even by our friendships. Keeping up in the workplace and in the neighborhood is a way of life. Now would be a good time to stop.

I realize that we have a whole host of issues to confront. For now, since we are all homebound, let’s start with our neighborhoods. How can we reach out to the folks who have lost their jobs, have no childcare, don’t have enough to eat, are sick without healthcare, are alone? Is there someone like that in your neighborhood? Can you find a way to help?

And how about all that “stuff”? Do we really need it? Is there someone else who needs it more? And that job promotion – is it really more important than being with our families and watching our kids and grandkids grow up healthy and happy? Why not plant a garden and share some of the food instead of spend all our weekends making sure our lawns are perfect. Let’s take a walk and breathe in the air and remind ourselves that we have to take care of our planet if we want our grandkids to be able to do the same.

I fully admit that I am guilty of all of the striving, getting, and needing of which I write. But this quiet time is forcing me, and I hope you, to think about what it will be like “after.” As one of the comments on the blog I referenced above said: how we deal with this pandemic will define us forever.

Seth Avett posted this in Instagram today. He read my mind.

Music in Times of Trouble

Today marks the third day in my husband, Russ’, journey through radiation to health.  It also marks the first days of social isolation due to the COVID-19 virus.  We live in crazy times.

Over the last few months as we navigated the territory between diagnosis to treatment, it felt different, but not surreal.  With the onset of the virus and the changes it brings to daily life, it now feels surreal.  It is very much like the days after 911 when the whole world shifted and everything I thought I knew, well, I didn’t.

I am quite sure that I am not saying anything that others have not thought, but today an email arrived in my box and it brought the tears that have been pent up for all these months.

Singing in the Collegiate Peaks Chorale has been one of the most rewarding things I have done in many years.  Besides challenging me to remember how to read music and blend my voice with others, I have made new friends and learned new music.  Brandon Chism, a gifted musician, leads us.  He has challenged us, made us laugh, and taught us more in his short tenure than any other choir director for whom I’ve had the pleasure of singing. I look forward to Monday nights with the Chorale and recently, with all the stress that comes with a cancer diagnosis, it has been a refuge.  For 2 hours I could not think about anything but the music in front of me and the task of getting it right – for my fellow altos and for the Chorale as a whole.

As things worsened with the virus, I knew that the Spring concert would (and should) be postponed. Starting today, we made provisions to continue rehearsing virtually – via YouTube, just in case the virus settled down enough to present the concert at a later date. I was ready.  Then the email came canceling the concert. That wasn’t what brought me to tears.  It was something that Brandon wrote as he ended the email.

“I have decided to continue with our planned “virtual rehearsal” for a number of reasons. Rather than dig into the music functionally, I will lead us in simply singing through most of the repertoire from the beginning of the program to the end. Our purpose in rehearsing serves many needs and desires other than aiming toward a performance, doesn’t it? Our joy in singing together and also the meaning and healing it can bring each of us in our lives. So, use tonight’s opportunity to enjoy this repertoire one more time, and let’s lift our voices together from our homes!”

The repertoire is all written by American composers:  Folk songs, Spirituals, Gregorian Chants (yep, written by an American), and well-known songs from films.  They were written by people – just like us – who have lived through the good and the bad that makes up this democracy.  They used music to express their joy, sadness, humor, love, and longing.  So tonight, through the tears, we will sit alone in our social isolation and “lift our voices” to the messy, beautiful place we call America.

Thank you, Brandon, for leading us, and thank you fellow Chorale members, for joining your voices with mine.

Bekah is 40!

This is my favorite picture of Bekah.  Don’t ask me why, it just is.  We collected over 500 photos of her over the years for her birthday celebration, each one better than the next, but I still love this one best.

Maybe it’s because it shows how at an early age her personality was written all over her face.  There she is sitting in a bucket outside of the cottage we rented on Bruce Beach.  The bucket is supposed to be for washing sandy feet so it wouldn’t get tracked inside.  But to Bekah it was a place to play… who cared about the sand left by so many feet, that just made it more interesting.

As we celebrate her 40th birthday, I celebrate my second daughter, born three weeks early and basically attached to me for the first 6 months of her life.  I’m not kidding, she would not let me put her down.  I wore her in a snuggly during the day and slept with her on my chest at night.  I think she needed to hear my heart.  And sometimes I think she still does.  What mother doesn’t love that?

Being the middle child meant finding her place between two sisters. It wasn’t always easy running interference between them, but the rule was that sisters stick together – and in the end it stuck. Bekah, Emily and Anna are best friends even though they drive each other nuts sometimes.

Bekah walked at nine months and said her first words shortly thereafter.  I’m pretty sure she hasn’t stopped talking since.  If you’ve ever spent time with her you know there is no shortage of interesting conversation.  We’ve had so many “good talks” over the years – conversations about friendship, romances, parenthood, the meaning of life, ideas for her books, her love for her family and, of course, her next travel plans.

Her adventures have taken her to New York, Boston, Chicago, and finally to Denver where she and Kyle have found a home for their family and a place where they can raise their girls with plenty of fresh air and sunshine.  Heck, we liked it so much, we followed them to the mountains.

I am lucky to have been there to watch as she took her first steps as a writer.  I remember sitting on a deck, not unlike the one in the picture, when she turned to me and said, “Mom, I have a book inside me and it has to get out.”  Little did I know that this was the beginning of a writing career that continues today.  And once again, I have seen that little girl sitting in a bucket make something interesting out of an idea.  I am so proud of her tenacity, her imagination, and her transformation into an author.  There is nothing better than getting a phone call from Bekah wanting to pick my brain.  Sometimes it’s about the plot, sometimes a character, or sometimes it’s just to listen to an idea that’s percolating.

Bekah has always been a people magnet and when she married Kyle they quadrupled that strength.  Watching them collect friends and open their lives to them has truly been a joy and, lucky for us, we are often included as part of the gang.  How many parents get to do that?

Then there is the travel. Kyle remains my favorite travel partner, but Bekah is a close second.  She would probably be first but she made me jump off a rock in Scotland.  I injured my knee and I couldn’t hike the next day, so I’m still trying to get over that. If you don’t believe me, ask our guide Gary. He will back me up.

Our trips with the Cranes and their girls have been some of the best travel times of my life:  Spring breaks in the Southwest, the infamous The Ladies Trip – Yurts vs. Disneyland, Scotland, Ireland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany… so many memories, so much Whisky, and more laughter than one person deserves.

Bekah and Kyle’s favorite Avett Brother’s song is “Salvation” has become the family anthem.  Anna gave them a painting that includes some of the lyrics and it hangs in Bekah and Kyle’s living room.  It always makes me tear up because the words are so appropriate.

“We came for salvation. We came for family. We came for all that’s good, that’s how we’ll walk away.  We came to break the bad. We came to cheer the sad. We came to leave behind the world a better place.”

I recently had a friend tell me that Bekah is effervescent.  Maybe that’s what I like about that photo.  I can literally see her energy bubbling up.  When she is in the room, as my mom used to say, there is never a dull moment.

Happy Birthday, Bekah! We love you. You clearly leave the world a better place.


Don’t ask me how I got myself into this, but I’m taking a drawing class with “real” artists. One of them, my new friend, Conrad, convinced me that I could do it.  She should go into sales.

So, there I was standing in a “real artist’s” studio with people who actually know what they are doing introducing myself and telling them that I had absolutely no talent.

It’s not about talent they kept telling me.  So then what is it about?

Our teacher, Jude, pulled out the definition of “draw.”  What the heck, it doesn’t say anything about putting a pencil to paper until about the fourth definition.  Here’s the first one:

Draw: to bring, take, or pull out, as from a receptacle or source.

Okay, I thought, maybe there’s something to this no talent thing.

As we set up our paper and chalk I could feel my heart beating.  Then we started.  As soon as my chalk hit the paper a huge lump began to form in my throat.  Where did that come from, I thought.  Then my friend Maartje came to mind… and her twin sister. I remembered the text she sent me as she sat beside her dying sister. “Saskia just passed away peacefully.  I held her hand.  It was just her and me, just like we came into this world.  She looks beautiful.”

I started to draw.  I drew a circle with a line through it.  I drew the dark and the light – the here and the not here – and all the time, I wept.  I wept for Maartje and Saskia.  I wept for my friends who have lost children, grandchildren, beloveds. I wept for myself and the loss of my parents.  I wept for the time lost that cannot be recovered. Mostly I wept because I know that I have moved into a time in life when these kinds of loses will become more frequent.

And then I smiled – because as I drew I saw the oneness of all of it. I thought about a verse from the Bhagavad Gita: ‘Never was there a time when I did not exist, or you, or these kings; nor will there come a time when we cease to be.’

Maartje has lost her sister, but they are still together because they share the same deep history.  The same will be true as I face the inevitable loss of more friends and family.

 This art stuff isn’t at all what I thought it was. I think I’ll take some tissues with me next time.  Who knows what will come up… we’re painting this week.


A Year and a Half in…

My beloved Canadian Uncle Peter sent me an article after the recent election of Doug Ford, a man who is made in the image of President Trump. His comment was,”Now we must hold on to the saddle during unfamiliar and unsettled times.” This was my response:

If I have learned anything over the last year and a half, it is that I was living in a liberal bubble. With the exception of one or two people in my life, we all thought alike and thought the rest of the world did too.

The shock of Trump’s election and the continuing circus that followed caused me to take a hard look at myself and to try to understand how this could have happened in the “land of the free.”

I am beginning to understand, but I had to work through a lot of anger and sadness before I could.  And I had to learn to have conversations with those who disagreed with me, not to change their minds, but to understand why their experience of life in the US brought them to vote the way they did.

This is hard stuff.  It has unearthed lots of prejudice, sexism and racism. It’s ugly.  But I believe this is part of a process the nation must face to move on.  Turns out once those things are “out” and understood in civil conversation, there is hope that change will come.

I am rereading THE BOOK OF JOY, which is the story of the week long meeting between the Dali Lama and Desmond Tutu. These are two of my heroes. They have endured more than the average person and yet have found joy in the midst of it all.

One of the stories told is of Bishop Tutu getting cut off in Miami traffic.  Now if you’ve ever driven there, you know how crazy it is.  When it happened he remained calm and when asked why, he said he was thinking about the other driver and wondering if they were on the way to the hospital for the birth of a child or to be there for death of a loved one. That would not have been my reaction… at least not until I had gone through the last year and a half of introspection.

Soon after the election of Trump, I met a Canadian man who said that he thought this election might have been a “good” thing.  I was horrified.  Turns out, if we survive his special brand of crazy, we may come out the other end with a much better understanding of the many layers that make us Americans.  And maybe, just maybe, we will learn to listen a little better and to take the responsibility of voting and governing more seriously.  We’ll see.  I suspect it will be the younger generation who will make that happen. I choose to be hopeful.

In our travels abroad we have met people from the UK and the EU who are dealing with the same thing.  They all point to Canada as the nation that is “nice.”  I hope Canada can work through this in a more civil way than we have.

Good luck, Uncle Peter, it’s a hell of a ride.

The Fairy Loch

Last week hiking with some friends at the top of the Continental Divide, we ran into two hikers. One of them had an American flag sticking out of the back of his pack and my friend asked if he was a veteran. “Yes,” he said. “Thank you for your service.” Those simple words brought back a profound memory.

In June when we were hiking in Scotland, our guide took us to the Fairy Lochs. It was a beautiful hike – like all the others we had been on. But this one was different because our intention was to visit the memorial crash site of an American WWII bomber.

On June 13, 1945, three months shy of the end of the war, a USAAF B-24 Liberator bomber was on its way home to the US. It carried a crew of 9 from the 66th Bomber Squadron and 6 crewmen from Air Transport Command. Only one was over the age of 40. Most of them were in their 20s.

No one knows what happened, but as they made their way home to the US, they diverted over the Scottish mainland instead of flying over the Western Isles. They began to lose altitude and hit the summit of Mt. Slioch, lost their bomber doors, and finally crashed into the Fairy Loch, spreading wreckage everywhere. No one survived.

I stood looking at the memorial and the twisted rusty metal of the wreckage, and a profound sadness came over me. These young men had survived the war – they were on their way home. They had mothers, fathers, children, and lovers waiting for them. No one got a chance to thank them for their service.

As we walked out of that place – all of us a little shaken- at the very end of the Loch was a beautiful garden of water lilies. Did relatives put them there or did the universe plant them in memory of these young men’s service?

Shortly after I returned from Scotland, I had the opportunity to visit the armory where my grandfather commanded the Ontario Scottish Essex Infantry. He served in both WWI and WWII and he came home to a family and a good job, visibly unharmed. Seeing him in the front row of photos with his soldiers flanking him was incredible. The man I knew rarely talked about the war and I imagine that it might have been difficult to articulate what it was like in the trenches. He believed serving his country was his duty, but I wonder now how he managed to merge back into his life after his experiences overseas. Did anyone thank him for his service?

Maybe that’s why I still can’t shake the image of the Fairy Loch and it’s sadness. We continue to send our young men (and now women) into war and they continue to serve our country. Now we have bigger, even more powerful and precise weapons. Like the twisted metal of the wreckage I saw in Scotland, veterans who return often find themselves unable to physically or mentally cope with living. They deserve our thanks and much more.

So from now on when I see a soldier, I will go out of my way to thank him (or her) for their service. And when I see a lily pond, I will thank the universe for remembering too.

Em Turns 40; Wait What?

April 1, 1978, 6:30AM 

Me:  I think I’m in labor.

Russ:  (Accompanied by uproarious laughter) Sure you are.  Good one.

Me:  I’m not kidding

Russ:  Not falling for it.  I’m no April fool.

April 1, 1978, 11:52PM

Me:  I told you I was in labor.

Although I have had many April Fool’s day jokes played on me since then (including one by Anna involving a rubber band and a kitchen sink sprayer that will go down in history), my favorite joke that turned out not to be a joke was your birth.  This is your birthday – your 40thbirthday. And that’s no joke.

You arrived on an unusually sunny, warm day.  Your baby personality was the same.  Easy going, happy, and except for a bazillion earaches, healthy.  You were just the kind of kid to break in a 24-year-old mom who had no idea what she was doing.

Here are a few of the things that I remember about being your mom:

You were the first baby on both sides and much adored by your grandparents and (lucky you) your great-grandparents.  You also had the great good fortune of looking just like your dad – which added to your mystique on his side of the family.  Why is it that moms go through pregnancy, delivery, nursing etc… and the kid ends up looking like the dad?

Your first road trip at about 3 months old was a tour of Michigan with your future in-laws, husband, and us.  No we didn’t plan it quite that far in advance, but more about that later.  We toured Mackinaw Island on bikes, and despite all my best efforts, you got your first sunburn.  I felt like the worst mom in the world and I learned that sunscreen must be reapplied hourly.

You survived the next several years, in spite of me and with the addition of two sisters, who added to the general chaos.  Through all of it, you were still a happy little kid.

Your first sentence was “helping Daddy.”  Again, why not “helping mommy?”

When we asked you at age 5 what you wanted to be when you grew up you told us that you wanted to be the first female major league baseball player.  It’s good to have goals.

Now things were not always perfect.  I specifically remember that after about a week of asking you what you had done in school and getting your favorite answer, “nothing,” I walked in on you telling Dad that he had to do something about me because I was “driving you nuts with all the questions.”

Life in Cleveland was a blur of activities, bomber runs, Girl Scout meetings (including the famous “overnight” at the Holiday Inn) and sailing. You were also getting ready for Jr. High… Ugh – I hated those years.  They were the “grunge” years – flannels, crap jeans, mean girls, 14-year-old angst – and I still hadn’t gotten the hang of asking the right questions.

Something happened around that time – You found theatre and a world where you flourished.  I remember seeing your first play in Jr. High.  Dad leaned over at one point and whispered, “Who’s that kid, she’s good?”  It was you. You had transformed into your character so well that he didn’t recognize you.  You were good.

The theatre and the friends you made there carried you through your high school years.  You shone while you were on stage.  You found people who thought like you – who got it. When it came time for college, you headed off to CCM to pursue “the dream.”  We were so proud of you and so terrified that you would join the legions of talented actors who never got a job.

Four years, a ton of work and graduation found you in NYC living “the dream.”  Dropping you off at your apartment in New York for the first time was the hardest thing I ever did.  As I got into the taxi to head to the airport I cried harder than when I dropped you off at college.  The guy sitting next to me in the plane must have thought someone died.

Not long after you got to New York, I got “the call.”  You just didn’t have the passion to make it in the business.   Okay – so now what?  Well, you had been working at a boutique hotel, so you thought you might try that. You took the “back office job” doing something called dynamic pricing and it turned out to be a perfect place for your talents. Who woulda’ thought that an actor and an excel spread sheet could make such beautiful music together?

Fast-forward a few of years, some very fun family Christmases in the City, a really bad boyfriend, and a move to Chicago.  Now all three sisters were in the same city.  This was a golden era for “the Rents.”  We could drive 5 hours and spend time with all three of our girls, new grandbabies and enjoy the fun Chicago scene.  It was like New York, but with wider, cleaner streets.  You were so happy to be with your sisters again – and to be Auntie Em. I think spending time with the nieces prepared your for what was in your future.

Now flash back to the trip you took when you were 3 months old with your future in-laws.  Here’s the rest of the story:  30 years later, the Yingers (future-in-laws), were ready to retire and chose Buena Vista, Colorado as their retirement destination.  Our families stayed in touch for all those years after college and we decided it would be fun to have a two-family reunion, dubbed Schningerfest.  Everyone showed up. Long story short, a couple of years later, you and Ben got married in a joyous wedding attended by friends from all over the country and Canada too.  Now there are 5 more young Schningers attending Schningerfest.  Chaos has moved out of our house and into yours.  So much for the peaceful single life.

Over time you found an outlet for your creativity in crafting.  You can make anything – and often you are working on a project while you are on a conference call for work (how do you do that?).  You are still in the hotel business – now consulting from home (with five kids, how do you do that too?).  You direct plays at your church and you are an amazingly patient mom. I’m pretty sure you ask all the right questions too.

It is so lovely to watch the trajectory of your child’s life.  You have made your dreams come true.  The only thing that would make it better for me would be having you closer. But overall, seeing you with your babies, beloved by your husband and living a life full of friends and meaningful work makes me very happy.

So Em, on your 40thbirthday, one last thing:  Remember when you told me you hadn’t taken a bite out of the cake even though you had chocolate icing all over your face?  This time, use a fork.

April 1, 2018

Me:  Happy birthday my lovely child.  Thank you for making me a mom.  I love you.