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Category: Creativity

Back in Balance

Back in Balance

It’s been a while since I’ve balanced rocks by the sea, which is one of my favorite things to do. Right now, I’m visiting my relatives on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. It’s the first time I’ve made it to either coast this year. 

It’s been 2-1/2 years since I last visited my Canadian relatives, and it’s great to be back. I’m so glad I didn’t cancel my trip, which is what seemed inevitable last week due to personal stuff, over-scheduling, and Air Canada changing my travel itinerary in a big way. I called to request that they change my itinerary to something more reasonable than having a 12-hour, overnight layover in Chicago. However, the rep said I’d have to pay a $100 change fee in addition to any price difference. I made my flight reservations back in March, and this would nearly double what I paid originally.

When I considered canceling my trip, pictures of my Vancouver-area relatives on my vision board reminded me how important it is to connect with them. I went away for my group retreat weekend immediately before my scheduled trip, and a few dear women there encouraged me to call Air Canada again and speak with a different rep. They also pointed out that leaning into the drama is an Enneagram Four pattern that I might want to be aware of. Perhaps do something different. Get a little distance from it, and avoid letting other people’s issues stop me from doing what’s best for me!

I took their advice and called Air Canada, and everything was resolved easily without any extra charges. I thanked the rep profusely and felt so happy that I could visit my beloved relatives! My cousin generously offered to pick me up from Vancouver airport, which simplified travel plans greatly. 

We spent some time enjoying Granville Island and Stanley Park in Vancouver before taking the ferry to the Sunshine Coast. The timing was perfect for an incredible sunset on the Strait of Georgia.

There is a rocky beach about a 10-minute walk from my relatives’ house where I enjoyed balancing rocks during my previous stay. I never see anyone on that beach. It’s like my own, private playground, and it’s awesome.

I noticed a starfish on the beach and picked it up along with some rocks that caught my eye. My first balance of the year was a fun warmup that featured the starfish.

The next day, it rained lightly the whole time I was on the beach. But I was determined to balance a particular rock that was shaped a bit like the state of Texas. 

This balance wasn’t as cool as the previous day’s starfish balance. If you knew how long it took to accomplish it, you’d probably wonder if it was worth it or if I didn’t have something better to do with my time.

Well, it was totally worth it! In my heart, I KNEW it could be balanced and never allowed myself to believe it couldn’t. I just knew. I was patient, determined, and really tuned in to the energy and engaged my sense of feeling rather than my dominant sense of seeing. But the main thing is that I believed this rock could and would be balanced and didn’t give up.

Balancing rocks teaches me that if I believe in something and don’t allow doubts or distractions to creep in and stop me, I can do it. Not just rocks. Goals in general. That’s why balancing rocks is so gratifying!

And that’s great. But you know what can totally ruin it? Comparing our accomplishments to others.

I’m connected with a lot of stone balance artists, including the legendary Michael Grab and Peter Juhl, who literally wrote the book about rock balancing art. Whether it’s photography, music, teaching, yoga, rock balancing, finances, or anything else, comparing ourselves to others is a surefire way to put the brakes on any positive momentum you’ve generated toward manifesting your goals. It’s not enough to believe you can. You also have to avoid the temptation to compare your work to others if doing so leaves you feeling not good enough.

It’s great if others’ work can inspire you, but if it brings on feelings of inadequacy, you have to train yourself to stay focused on your own work. Keep your eyes on your own paper, kids! Don’t be concerned with what anyone else is doing or try to keep up with the Joneses. Give your full attention to your own work. Please.

The poet, Rumi, suggested: Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray. THAT is the energy to engage with, rather than the energy of comparisons and self-doubt that divert your energy and lead you astray.

This morning it’s raining, so I’m writing rather than balancing. However, I hope to have more opportunities to balance rocks by the sea before I return home. Already, I have some new pictures to bring back with me. Photographing my rock balances helps me to remember how it felt to believe I could do it – and then actually do it! Practicing that feeling is as important as practicing your craft. And sharing reminds others that they can, too…which is also important!

© 2018 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Deep-Freeze Vision Board Inspiration

Deep-Freeze Vision Board Inspiration

I just completed my first personal growth creative project of the year and am excited to tell you about it! It’s a project that’s ideal for this time of year, not just because of the New Year but because the bitter cold, shorter days present a wonderful opportunity for going inward when it’s too cold to spend much time outdoors. 

I overhauled my vision board so it sparkles with fresh, new energy!

I created my first vision board two years ago. It was a simple one on which I glued pictures and words that inspired me and supported my goals. That year, I focused on abundance and freeing myself from abundance blocks and therefore included several positive affirmations related to prosperity. It was a memorable experience because I completed it before going to bed one night, and I hadn’t even fallen asleep before I received a phone call from my daughter who told me she was in labor! It was perfect timing. 

Later in the year, I created another vision board – a supercharged feng shui version – after returning from a life-transforming trip to visit relatives on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. Spending nearly two weeks with them was a profound experience that helped me to better understand myself and where I come from. In the company of relatives who share my love of nature and my affinity for artistic creativity and writing, I experienced a sense of true belonging and being appreciated for who I was, rather than feeling like the family oddball. Finding my tribe right in my family tree changed everything, and a new vision board was in order.

I loved my feng shui vision board! I learned how to make it under the guidance of a mentor who is a feng shui expert, and it’s different from a “typical” vision board because it has separate spaces for each of the nine areas of the bagua:

  • Wealth, Prosperity, and Abundance
  • Fame, Reputation, and Recognition
  • Love and Marriage
  • Family and Community
  • Health and Unity
  • Children, Creativity, and New Beginnings
  • Knowledge and Wisdom
  • Career and Life’s Journey
  • Helpful People and Travel

I put my vision board on the wall next to my bed, and every morning it was the first thing I saw when I woke up. Then I’d bring it downstairs so I’d see it during the day. It was with me day and night, and I even photographed it and printed out a mini version to carry around with me. The energy coming off it was that powerful, and I found it to be a highly motivating tool for creating a more authentic and empowered life. 

As I achieved various goals, I’d remove those pictures/words from the vision board, to make room for new ones and keep it current.

However, I noticed that for the past month or two, my vision board remained on my bedroom wall. The spaces on it made the placement of the remaining pictures and words seem not quite right (visual person that I am), and it just didn’t have the oomph it used to have. I didn’t feel drawn to it because it felt cluttered. There were some pictures and words on it that didn’t resonate anymore, especially in the Career section. Too many different possibilities which made me feel pulled in too many directions. 

Also, I’d recently undergone another big, inner transformation as a result of decluttering my entire home and focusing on mindful self-compassion for the past year. Now it was time to declutter my vision board and infuse it with fresh energy that fit with the new me! 

I used the existing structure to revamp each section, and now it sparkles with inspiring energy again, and it doesn’t stay on my bedroom wall! I enjoy creating simple, daily rituals to keep me focused on what’s most important and recently came up with a new one that features my vision board and feels really good, too!

I love to give myself hand and foot massages and remembered that I have a foot massage roller that I haven’t used in a while and Chinese medicine balls, as well. So I put them under my bed and start the day sitting on the edge of my bed and using the hand and foot massagers while looking at my vision board for a few minutes and reminding myself of what’s most important. Sweeeet!

It’s a great way to get focused first thing in the morning.

Another ritual I enjoy is to look at my vision board while doing my “tea meditation”. (I wrote an article about it.) Essentially, it involves practicing feeling the feelings of attaining my vision board goals as I hold the cup of tea in my hands, and imagining those feelings going into the tea before consuming it. It’s one of my favorite cold weather meditations!

If you’ve never made a vision board, it’s pretty simple to do! It used to be that you’d need a stack of magazines to look through for inspiring words and images, but Google searches make it so much easier to find inspiring images now! Magazines are still good sources of words, but you also can print out words yourself using different fonts and colors. I hold onto the Omega and Kripalu retreat center catalogs that come in the mail, for words and ideas. Hay House and Sounds True have some really great book and audiobook titles that are great for vision boards! And my Inspirational Photo Gallery and Instagram account is filled with “quote pictures” (my latest creative passion!) – some of which I included on my own vision board. There are so many sources of vision board inspiration available!

There are apps to create virtual vision boards, and another option is to create a Pinterest board for a vision board. However, there is value in creating a physical vision board because you only have a limited amount of space to fit what’s most important to you. That cuts out a lot of clutter and can help you stay focused.

Making a vision board is a great cold weather project. I really appreciate this time of year because it’s a time to go inward, get in touch with yourself, and decide what you want to cultivate in your inner garden this year – how you want to expand. If you’re interested, Google “vision boards” for some inspiration, and give it a go! 

© 2018 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Spirit Lanterns: Illuminating Aspirations

Spirit Lanterns: Illuminating Aspirations

Happy New Year, everyone!

I’ve been busy planning and setting intentions for 2016 and am stoked to discover a wealth of resources for manifesting goals! I feel like I’ve tapped into a mother load of resources, which brings to mind the adage, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” Teachers and active support networks of women coming together virtually to inspire and encourage one another!

For the past few weeks, I’ve been working with a tremendously creative and inspiring tool: Leonie Dawson’s  2016 Create Your Shining Year in Life workbook.

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This workbook is so full of goodness that it would be impossible to describe it with only a few headlines or examples! It begins with wrapping up and reflecting on the previous year and includes a page to list everything you’re grateful for from 2015, which is a great exercise because gratitude is key for moving forward! The rest of the workbook focuses on creating a shining new year in all areas of life by setting inspired goals and listing resources you have to support you along the way. (My favorite page is the self-created list of “Things to Do When Everything Sucks!”) There are pages for affirmations, mottos, and plenty of space for creating a dream board. I’m having so much fun (with my colored Sharpies) brainstorming and imagining, setting intentions and goals, breaking goals into actionable steps, and writing the steps in my day planner. It’s something I can look back at throughout the year to help me stay on track. I’ve never done anything like this before and think it will be a catalyst for serious growth.

I anticipate that various pages in this workbook will inspire blog material throughout the year, but for now I want to start with something simple: choosing a “sacred word for the year”.

When I was teaching, I’d create an elaborate binder for each school year to keep me focused on what was most important and in alignment with my core values and aspirations. The cover of the binder featured a picture embellished with my word for the year. The word served as a compass to help me navigate the year. Since the binder also housed my weekly lesson plans for the whole year, I saw the cover every day and was reminded constantly of the intention I set for the year. It was a powerful tool!

So choosing a “sacred word for the year” was not something new. Before choosing my word for 2016, I made a list of words to consider. I kept the list in my phone and added to it whenever something new came to mind. I finally decided on abundance. Yes, I think it’s high time to expand my horizon and focus on that word!

Truth is, I never made money a priority in my life and was never intentional about it. Money was not something I considered when it came to choosing either a college major or a spouse. It simply didn’t show up on my radar. I lived simply and with some creativity learned how to live on very little. But since resigning from my teaching job, I’ve been doing some conscious work on my attitudes and beliefs about money because I think I’ve been selling myself short and cutting myself off from the flow. Lately, I’ve been stretching myself to use my brain in ways that are entirely new to me and realize that developing a healthy “money mindset” is critical. It seems clear that all my life, the attitudes I’ve held toward money have obstructed the flow of prosperity in my life. Now I am curious about this energy and feel inspired to experiment with it and see what I can do with a friendlier attitude toward it. So I’m working first and foremost on raising my “money vibration,” which goes hand in hand with pursuing professional opportunities.

But abundance isn’t only about money. It applies to all areas of life, and gratitude seems to be a fundamental part of it – which is why it felt so worthwhile to make a list of everything I was grateful for in 2015. This year, I intend to be conscious about how I am either allowing or cutting myself off from the flow of abundance in my life. To keep my sacred word front and center, I am printing the photograph below and mounting a small print on both the refrigerator and the inside cover of my daily planner and a larger, framed print on the wall of my work space.

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To supercharge my word for the year, I identified what habits and actions will draw more of the quality of abundance into my life. I also created a unique lantern for my meditation space with my sacred word and several other words to (literally) illuminate my aspirations and intentions for the upcoming year. This includes qualities that I anticipate will be useful to have in my toolbox for the year, to support what I want to accomplish. Words to uplift and inspire me when things don’t go the way I want them to. Reminders to help me stay on track.

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Here is another view of my multi-colored lantern:

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And here is a Spirit Lantern I made several years ago that ended up being a powerful manifestation tool back when I was pursuing a teaching job in a competitive job market:

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I’ve received numerous requests to share instructions for making Spirit Lanterns, so here goes!

Materials:

  • smooth glass jar or straight vase (I like to repurpose 16-oz. salsa jars)
  • sheet of handmade/natural/mulberry paper from an art or paper store (either a large sheet or a few 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheets)
  • Mod Podge (either matte or glossy)
  • paintbrush or foam brush
  • inkjet or laser printer
  • a few sheets of regular copy paper
  • tape or glue stick
  • glitter (optional)
  • silver and/or gold Sharpie pen (optional)
  • sparkly star stickers (optional)
  • charms
  • thread
  • hot glue gun and a few glue sticks
  • ribbon, raffia, or twine

Instructions:

Step One: Brainstorm, Layout, and Print Your Words

  1. Brainstorm and select the words you want to include on your lantern. For best results, limit your list to no more than 12 words.
  2. In a word processing program, type out your list of words, leaving space between each word. (Eventually, you will rip out each word by hand, so you’ll want to leave enough space to do so.) Use whatever font(s) please you. At times, I’ve used a variety of fonts for one lantern. Other times, I’ve only used one font (and think I like this effect best). I prefer to use a calligraphy or script font, such as Caflisch Script (a free download).
  3. Test print your words on a sheet of regular copy paper to make sure the words are the right size.
  4. Print your words on a sheet of mulberry or handmade paper. I recommend cutting this paper a little smaller than a regular sheet of 8 1/2″ x 11″ copy paper and then either taping or using a glue stick around the edges to adhere the mulberry paper to the regular copy paper so the delicate paper won’t get eaten by your printer. In the past, I’ve been able to print directly on the mulberry paper, but the printer I have now is too rough for such delicate paper. Use the “best” print quality setting.
  5. After printing onto the mulberry paper, detach it from the copy paper.
  6. Tear each word out by hand, leaving as little paper around the words as possible without tearing into the word. If there are difficult to tear fibers, use scissors to cut through them, and then continue tearing.

Step Two: Prepare and Cover Your Jar

  1. Begin by cleaning your jar and removing any label residue if you’re repurposing it. (Goo Gone does the job well.) Make sure the jar is dry before proceeding.
  2. Cut your decorative paper to a size that will cover your jar with some excess left over. You will want the paper to extend about 1/8″ above the rim, and a couple inches beyond the bottom (to cover the bottom surface).
  3. Paint the entire outside of the jar with Mod Podge.
  4. Cover the jar with the decorative paper. Smooth it out as completely as you can. Try to have as little overlap as possible where the two ends of the paper meet, but make sure there’s no gap. If there’s a gap or you don’t like the way the overlap looks, you could run a strip of matching washi tape vertically along the seam. Trim the paper so it’s flush with the top rim of the jar.
  5. Cut slits in the paper that will allow it to cover the bottom of the jar, and carefully fold the slits over the bottom so it is covered completely. Smooth it out as much as possible. If you end up not having enough excess on the bottom to cover it completely, you can cut out a circle nearly the size of the diameter and adhere it.

Step Three: Embellish Your Lantern with Words, Charms, and Other Details

  1. Apply Mod Podge to the places where you want your words. Smooth out the words.
  2. When all your words are adhered to the lantern, paint over the entire lantern with a coat of Mod Podge. Let dry.
  3. At this point, you can embellish the lantern with designs and/or stickers. I love to take out my metallic Sharpies for this and make spirals! You might want to decorate with a few shiny star stickers.
  4. Cover with another coat of Mod Podge, and let dry. I like to sprinkle some fine glitter in the Mod Podge for the final coat!
  5. If you are using charms, attach each one to a few inches of fine thread. Find places for them to hang so they are not covering any words. Put a dab of hot glue near the top of the rim, and attach a thread to the glue so the charm dangles in the space where you want it. Do the same for the remaining charms.
  6. Use hot glue to secure ribbon, raffia, or twine around the top of the lantern, to cover any threads in the glass (that allow the lids to screw on).
  7. Place a tea light or votive inside the lantern (inside a small votive holder if you wish), and enjoy and reflect on your illuminated words!

I recently listed Spirit Lanterns for sale in my Etsy shop, so if you’d like one but don’t feel like making one on your own, I’d love to create a customized lantern for you using your sacred words for the year and/or even an inspirational quote!

© 2016 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this blog post, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness mentor whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York. 

Creating Board Games Based on Children’s Literature

Creating Board Games Based on Children’s Literature

One of my favorite aspects of teaching is sharing quality literature with children – which is rooted in positive, engaging experiences I had reading and discussing books with my own children. When my daughter and son were in elementary school, they rarely were seen without books in their hands. They toted them around wherever they went. When my son was five, he began creating movie posters and sequels based on favorite books. It was something he loved to do! Some of my favorite family memories revolved around J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter book series. My daughter began reading the series  when she was in third grade and introduced us to the first movie, which got us hooked. From then on, we spent summers anticipating the release of a new book or movie in the series. We completed the series through a combination of reading aloud and listening to audiobooks together.

Following the release of the fifth book, we created a Harry Potter Monopoly board game as a family project just for fun. But it could have been a great school project, as well. Creating a literature-based board game is a creative alternative to the standard book report. Comprehension can be demonstrated through the creation of questions written on cards, directions located on the board, and/or illustrations. For example, cards and game spaces could reference positive events that move a player forward and negative events that set a player back. Creating a board game also can be a means of reinforcing lessons in social studies, science, and math, and integrating technology. It even could be an alternative form of autobiography. The level of technology used in creating a board game can be varied according to factors such as student capabilities and home or classroom resources.

The rather involved and high-tech process of creating our Harry Potter game touched upon numerous learning standards for English Language Arts (ELA); Math, Science, and Technology; and the Arts. This post will describe in detail instructions for creating board games from books. It also will describe the specific procedures involved in designing our Harry Potter Monopoly game.

Choosing a Theme and Format

Materials:

  • Store-bought board games

After reading the book, the first step in creating your own game is to choose a theme. The rich details in the Harry Potter series offer endless possibilities. However, virtually any book or series that appeals to a child could be incorporated into a game. For example, picture books written by Eric Carle or Jan Brett are well suited to the basic Candyland format.

It goes without saying that there are many different kinds of board games. The next step is to examine a number of pre-existing games. Consider theme, rules, design, and whether they are based on skill, chance, cooperation, or a combination. After comparing and contrasting a few different games, you can begin thinking about what kind of game you would like to create. We chose to create a Monopoly game, which is a fairly complicated undertaking. However, simpler formats could be based on examples such as Candyland, Slides and Ladders, Trivial Pursuit, or Sorry.

Designing the Layout

Materials: 

  • Paper (larger is better)
  • Pencils, pens, makers, and/or crayons

After selecting a format and a theme, it’s time to design the board by sketching a rough version on a piece of paper. For example, you could create a meandering design like Candyland or a grid of squares like Chutes and Ladders.

Game templates (click to view and/or download)

This step might involve some mathematical computations, in order to create evenly sized spaces or determine how many spaces can fit. Now is not the time to make a final version of your game board. It is best to wait until the rest of the materials have been created so you can test it out to see if it really works.

We examined our store-bought Monopoly game and plotted the individual spaces on our Harry Potter board by identifying significant locations and innovations mentioned in the books. After reading the fifth book in the series, we decided on the following color-coded spaces:

Purple: Wizard Chess, Quidditch

Light blue: Privet Drive, The Burrow, Grimmauld Place

Magenta: Platform 9 ¾, The Leaky Cauldron (pub/bed and breakfast), Eeylops Owl Emporium

Orange: Flourish & Blotts (bookstore), Madam Malkins’ Robes for All Occasions, Ollivander’s (wand shop)

Red: The Three Broomsticks (pub), Zonko’s Joke Shop (had we made the game after reading subsequent books, this would have been Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes) , Honeydukes (sweets shop)

Yellow: The Infirmary, The Library, Slytherin House

Green: Hufflepuff House, Ravenclaw House, Gryffindor House

Dark blue: Dumbledore’s Study, Ministry of Magic

There also were four spaces related to transportation (Hogwarts Express, The Knight Bus, Portkey, and Floo Powder) and two related to magical inventions (Invisibility Cloak and Time Turner). There were two special spaces: Snape’s Dungeon (lose a turn) and Lab Fee (make a payment). There were three Trivia Challenge spaces and three Chance spaces. When a player lands on these spaces, he or she chooses either a Trivia Challenge or Chance card (described below). The four corner spaces were: “Go” (collect money), Azkaban (jail), Free Parking, and “Go to Azkaban.”

Creating Cards

Materials:     

  • White cardstock or blank, unlined index cards
  • Scissors and/or a paper cutter
  • Stamps, stickers, pens, colored pencils, or crayons (low tech version)
  • Ink jet printer, page layout or drawing program, Internet access, browser, and clip art (high tech version)

Cards are an optional but effective means to demonstrate comprehension and incorporate the book’s events into the game. Blank index cards work well. They can be used whole or cut in half. First, write questions or statements on the front of the card. You could include positive events that move a player forward and negative events that set a player back. Then decorate the back with stamps, stickers, simple drawings that are easily reproduced, or even digital images.

If you decide not to use cards, directions and/or illustrations on the game board can serve the same purpose. For example, you could write directions on individual spaces that reflect events in the book. One (Winnie-the-Pooh related) example could be: “Tigger is stuck in a tree; go back three spaces.”

Here is an example of a Simple Board Game Template.

Our Harry Potter Monopoly game required two sets of cards. First, we created “Trivia Challenge” cards. For these, we came up with multiple-choice format questions about characters, places, and events in the books. This activity was rather time-consuming; we ended up with 250 cards and could have kept going! We started by writing the questions on index cards but then decided to give them a more “professional” appearance by putting them into a desktop publishing program, with 15 cards per sheet. (Correct answers were indicated in purple ink.) After formatting all of our comprehension questions, I searched for and then downloaded a whimsical PDF image of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I used the image to create a design to be printed on the back of the cards. Finally, I printed the cards on cardstock, front and back, and we cut them to size.

HP Trivia cards

After completing the set of Trivia Challenge cards, we made “Chance” cards with Harry Potter scenarios and consequences that involved going to a certain space on the board or paying or receiving money. This was fun for everyone. A couple examples we came up with were: “You came out in the wrong fireplace; go back 3 spaces” and, “Snape caught you wandering the corridor at night; advance to Snape’s Dungeon (but don’t collect any money for passing ‘Go’).” After creating about 50 of these cards, I designed a back, printed the cards on cardstock, and then we cut them out.

HP chance cards

Creating Game Pieces

Materials (choose one of the following):

  • Flattened marbles (in different colors)
  • Small, polished stones with or without stickers
  • Light cardboard (cereal box weight) and pens and/or pictures and glue
  • Small, dull stones, Mod Podge, glitter, a small paintbrush, and small photos or other images
  • Any other small objects

Almost any small objects can be used for game pieces. The most important considerations are that they can fit on the board spaces and be easily distinguished from one another. You can make a simple game piece by putting a sticker onto a smooth stone. Or you could make a simple cardboard game piece by drawing a picture or design on a small piece of light cardboard. (Alternatively, you could glue a picture or photo onto the cardboard.) Cut out the game piece. Next, cut a ½” rectangle from the same kind of cardboard. Cut a slit in the middle of the rectangle, going halfway through. Also cut a slit of the same length in the bottom of the playing piece, and fit the two pieces together to create a standing figure. Or simply save game pieces from commercial games.

We made magical game pieces out of small, smooth stones. First, I downloaded and printed images of several of the most prominent Hogwarts students onto plain white paper. For a low-tech alternative, children could draw and label their own characters on paper, cut out Harry Potter character images from print ads, or use stickers. We carefully cut around the images and then decoupaged the images onto the stones using Mod Podge mixed with a bit of fine glitter. We applied three coats of the Mod Podge and allowed the stones to dry between coats. Once the final coat dried, we had magically sparkling, beautiful, and durable game pieces.

HP game pieces

Printing Currency (for Harry Potter Monopoly)

Materials:

  • White cardstock
  • Internet access
  • Ink jet printer
  • Scissors

We decided that our Harry Potter Monopoly game could be played either with regular Monopoly money or wizard money. Conveniently, the Harry Potter section of the Activity Village Web site (http://www.activityvillage.co.uk/harry_potter_coins.htm) contained free downloads of galleons, sickles, and knuts. I printed out several sheets of all three kinds of wizard currency, on white cardstock. Then we cut out the coins. We had to make lots of them! It became clear that players could accumulate ridiculous amounts of galleons (the largest coin) during the game, so we decided to use regular Monopoly $50, $100, and $500 bills to represent 50, 100, and 500 galleons, respectively.

HP money

Creating Mortgage Cards (for Monopoly)

Materials:

  • Page layout or drawing program
  • Ink jet printer
  • White cardstock
  • Colored pencils or crayons

To make mortgage cards, I returned to the file in which I created board spaces. I enlarged the spaces, eliminated the images, and listed the rental amounts. There is actually a “dollars to galleons” converter on my favorite Harry Potter website, and I determined rental amounts by using the regular Monopoly properties as a guide. We decided to include both dollar and wizard currency amounts on the mortgage cards. This fairly time-consuming step was one I did on my own. After printing the mortgage cards, we colored them in manually with colored pencils because we liked the effect.

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Testing the Game

Before making the final version, it is highly recommended that you test the game by playing it a few times. That way, you can discover what elements need to be changed, eliminated, or added in order to make it work better. Refrain from making the final version until you have it just how you want it.

Before testing the game, it’s good to talk about how to help the creator(s) of the game by providing kind and constructive criticism. For example, you could establish a rule that before someone suggests an improvement, he or she must say one good thing about the game. Suggestions must be useful and neither critical nor hurtful. In the end, the creator(s) of the game has the final say.

When we tested our Harry Potter game, we found it cumbersome to work with a large amount of galleons, so we decided to also use regular Monopoly $10 and $20 bills to represent 10 and 20 galleons. We also realized that, depending on the age, math ability, and attention level of the players, using three types of wizard coins might slow down the game too much. Therefore, we added an option to use only galleons (the coin with the highest value). If players decide to use only galleons, they would also determine whether or not to round sickles to the nearest galleon. For example, if there are 17 sickles in a galleon and the cost of a given property is 20 galleons, 12 sickles, and 18 knuts, players could decide to simply consider the price to be 20 galleons, or to go an extra step and round the number of sickles up or down to the nearest galleon. In this case, 12 sickles would be rounded up, making the price 21 galleons.

We also realized that we needed to spell out on an instruction sheet the number of knuts in a sickle and the number of sickles in a galleon. In addition, we had to determine a realistic reward for answering a Trivia Challenge question correctly. Finally, we found it necessary to designate in writing the number of coins and bills players would receive at the beginning of the game.

 Constructing the Game Board

Recommended materials:

  • Corrugated cardboard, illustration board, a cereal box (unfolded and trimmed), or an old, unwanted game board
  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Scissors
  • Poster paper or tag board
  • Elmer’s glue and paintbrush
  • Permanent markers (Sharpies work well)

Optional materials:

  • Double-sided tape or spray adhesive
  • Wrapping paper, mulberry paper, etc.
  • Stickers
  • Clear contact paper
  • Waxed paper
  • Magazine photos
  • Paint
  • Felt
  • Colored paper
  • Aluminum foil

You can be as creative as you want with this step—though simpler tends to be better. In general, games are easier to play when the board is less cluttered. Begin by sketching the design using a pencil and a ruler. You could draw directly on cardboard, draw on poster paper and then glue the paper to the board, and/or cover the board by gluing wrapping paper or mulberry paper all around it. You could paint the board; glue on felt shapes, colored paper, or foil; draw on the board with permanent markers; create a collage out of magazine or book illustrations; or create designs, logos, etc. using a computer. To better preserve the board, consider laminating it with clear contact paper. (If you are drawing on poster paper that will be glued to the board, laminate the poster paper prior to gluing.) Make sure that the spaces are large enough for the game pieces to fit on them. We found that cutting the board in half is an easier alternative to creating a board that folds. If you use glue, you can prevent warping by wrapping the board(s) in waxed paper and pressing them overnight (or longer) under a stack of heavy books.

To make our Harry Potter game, I formatted the spaces in Quark Xpress (desktop publishing software), using the regular Monopoly board as a guide. This was the most time-consuming step. It involved searching the Internet for free and appropriate clip art to download. (Alternatively, children’s drawings could be used.) Images for the board spaces were comprised of: chapter illustrations from the books, stills from the Harry Potter movies, and general clip art found on teacher Web sites.

After selecting images for all of the spaces, I converted U.S. dollars to wizard currency with the help of The Harry Potter Lexicon Wizarding World Currency Converter. At the bottom of each of the spaces, I listed a price for that “property” both in wizard money and dollars to give players some flexibility about which kind of currency they want to use in any given game. After listing all of the prices (using the regular Monopoly board as a guide), the game spaces were ready to be printed onto cardstock and cut to size. We printed the game pieces with the colors at the top of the spaces already filled in and decided we didn’t like the way they looked. So we printed the game pieces a second time, leaving the color rectangles empty, and then colored them in ourselves with colored pencils. We all agreed that the colored pencil effect looked much better.

To assemble the game board, we lined up all of the spaces on a large piece of illustration board to make sure everything fit together all right. I cut the board in half (for more convenient storage) and used Elmer’s glue to cover each half with dark green mulberry paper embellished with gold threads. Next, we glued decorations to the center of the board (spaces for the Trivia and Chance cards, game logo, the Hogwarts shield, an illustration of Harry, and gold stars). Then I carefully arranged the game spaces onto clear contact paper (with the front of the game spaces against the sticky side of the contact paper), put glue on the back of the game spaces, attached the contact paper to the game board (making sure that the spaces lined up precisely), smoothed the contact paper down, and trimmed the edges. To prevent the board from warping, we individually wrapped both halves in waxed paper and pressed them under piles of books for 24 hours.

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Packaging and Storing

Materials:     

  • Shoe box or larger box
  • Permanent markers
  • Rubber bands
  • Ziplock bags
  • Small tin container (such as Altoids; optional) or fabric pouch

The final step is to organize and package all of the parts to the game. To keep the game intact, you’ll want to rubber-band cards together and keep game pieces and other paraphernalia in plastic ziplock bags and/or small tin containers. If you can’t find a box large enough for storing the game board, then store everything but the game board in a shoebox, and rubber-band the board to the shoebox, or just keep the board and shoebox next to each other. In a classroom setting, it’s preferable to store the board inside the box if at all possible. Decorate the box so it can be identified clearly. When the game and packaging is complete, the game can become part of the classroom resources for indoor recess or center time, or an addition to your family’s game library. Students or siblings can exchange their games with one another and enjoy playing one anothers’ games.

In our case, we rubber-banded the three sets of cards (Trivia Challenge, Chance, and mortgage) separately. Then we put the three different kinds of “coins” into ziplock bags. We stored game pieces and dice in a revamped Altoids tin. First, we created a “Game Pieces” label for the top of the tin. We laminated the label with wide tape and then attached it to the tin with double-sided tape. Then we measured and hot-glued a piece of felt to the inner, bottom surface of the tin to make a nice cushion for the game pieces. We stored everything (cards, money, game pieces) in a shoebox. We sometimes used glass jewels for hotels and tiny, colored pebbles (fish tank gravel) for houses. Other times, we used the regular Monopoly houses and hotels for our Harry Potter Monopoly set, but left them in the regular Monopoly set until they were needed.

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Conclusion

For our family, the process of creating a Harry Potter Monopoly game was much more involved than we initially anticipated. However, my children got to practice a variety of skills, had a great time demonstrating their comprehension of the Harry Potter book series, and were obviously proud of the way it turned out. The finished product was a beautiful, one-of-a-kind game that everyone was eager to play.

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (susantarameyer.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Narragansett Rocks

Narragansett Rocks

Several people have expressed interest in rock balancing, so I decided to do a separate post on balancing rocks in Narragansett.

My husband and I have very different styles. He is a performer (a professional musician) and doesn’t mind balancing rocks where there are lots of people around to interact with. He tends to create a lot of balances in a short amount of time…and keeps going! And he doesn’t mind working in the intense heat of the midday, summer sun.

I, on the other hand, prefer to retreat to a more private, picturesque spot and make it a meditation, thinking photographically. My balances are smaller and simpler than his, but I find beauty within the simplicity.

It’s all good.

At Scarborough Beach on our first day of vacation, I wandered off to adjacent Black Point to explore the tidal pools and found the perfect, quiet spot to balance rocks.

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By the time I returned to the beach, Jack had created more balances than I could count and was attracting a lot of attention. Most everyone who walked by stopped to take pictures. As we began to pack up at the end of the day, a boy who appeared to be about 12 years old came along with his mother, siblings (I’m guessing), and a long stick. I watched him wind up, wondering if he’d dare to follow through, and then – smack! – he knocked down one of Jack’s balances. When his mother realized the artist was close by and had witnessed the act of destruction, she apologized and promised her son would put the rocks back like they were. We had to laugh because that wasn’t possible; it takes skill and practice! We’d always wondered who was responsible for knocking down rock balances, and now we had the answer: Boys with sticks!

The next morning, I got up at dawn to experience and photograph the sunrise over the ocean. Then I headed back to Black Point and found three of my five balances still standing on the rim of a tidal pool.

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I walked back to the beach to see which of Jack’s balances lasted through the night.

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On my way back to the car, I stopped to fully savor the waves crashing against the rocks and created a few more simple balances. The sound of crickets accompanied the sound of the waves in a soothing, coastal symphony. The rhythmic sounds and aromatic ocean air, along with the feel of the wind against my skin and the rocks in my hands – all within such a magnificent landscape – was a wonderful sensory experience. To awaken so many senses simultaneously is to feel truly alive!

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Later in the day, we headed to Point Judith to balance more rocks. Here are a couple of mine:

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And here are some of Jack’s. (He created many more balances that were difficult to photograph due to their angle relative to the ocean and sun.)

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Looking toward the lighthouse, we noticed some rock balances and before leaving took a walk to check them out. We were astonished to find easily upwards of 500 rock stacks, balances, and arrangements! I couldn’t capture an image that illustrates the sheer number of balances or the vastness of the area. It was nearly overwhelming to be in the midst of it!

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The next morning, I woke up bright and early and went to the same spot as the previous morning to view the sunrise. Then I walked along the rock jetty opposite the lighthouse and was drawn to a quiet spot to balance rocks as waves crashed against the jetty and onto the beach. I can say without hyperbole that I’ve never felt more in my element than when balancing rocks at sunrise at the ocean in complete solitude (although kayaking and playing piano under the right circumstances come close). I love how simple balances look with waves crashing around them. Something about that really speaks to me of achieving balance within the “full catastrophe” of life, to borrow a phrase from Jon Kabat-Zinn. I played around with the same base rock and different combinations and angles on top.

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Meanwhile, Jack prepared to head to a beach very close to the house where he had balanced lots of rocks the previous day. He found them still standing and noticed kids approaching them to knock them down. However, older people intervened to protect the rocks and thanked him for beautifying their beach with art.

The temporary and vulnerable nature of balanced rocks is part of its appeal, in my opinion, for it mirrors the transitory nature of life. It’s much like a sand mandala that Tibetan Buddhist monks create with great patience, devotion, and attention to detail, only to have it ritualistically destroyed and the sand returned to nature.

Some friends and followers have inquired about how to get started balancing rocks. Balanced stone artist, Peter Juhl, has put together some useful resources, including his book, Center of Gravity: A Guide to the Practice of Rock Balancing, and his Temporary Sculpture website. They are excellent, inspiring starting points.

After publishing this post, I’m heading to my classroom to get set up and am bringing a basket of ocean rocks with me. This year, I intend to introduce my kindergartners to rock balancing, stacking, and arranging!

The photographs in this blog (except for those attributed to other owners) and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a “custom print” in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (susantarameyer.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Flower Parade: A Visual Meditation

The Flower Parade: A Visual Meditation

Today I would like to share a video I made over the weekend for my mom, who loves flowers.

I have started measuring time in flowers. All along, I hoped my mom would live long enough to see her flowers come up in the Spring, and many of the purple and white crocuses already have come and gone. Now the daffodils are in full bloom, and the lilac buds are getting bigger each day.

I recently showed my mom a photo I took of a tiny lilac bud to let her know they’re on the way, and we talked about how lilacs are simply the best, most fragrant flowers of all (well, tied with orange blossoms and jasmines, in my opinion). My mom used to bring lilacs to my grandmother. The gift of lilacs is something she and her mom had shared for as long as I can remember. I long to clip some lilacs from the bush in our front yard and bring them to my mom so their fragrance will fill the house and lift her spirits.

Lilac time is the next milestone I hope she will be able to experience once more. Then again, she loves her roses, too. But we’ll take it one flower at a time and not get ahead of ourselves, for each should be savored.

I love it when the light shines through!

I originally had intended to make this the first video for which I partnered with a talented local musician who produces shimmering, relaxing ambient music. However, during production, I realized I had to use a version of Pachelbel’s Canon in D from my mom’s CD collection. I think she convinced both my sister and me to have it as the processional song in our weddings, and she also wants it to be played as people arrive for her funeral service. So there was no question in my mind that my flower images needed to be paired with Pachelbel and to save the partnership debut for the next video!

It’s a very relaxing video, and I hope you will enjoy it.


E-mail subscribers, click HERE to play video.

photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (www.susantarameyer.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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