Dragon Boats and Lobsters

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Photo credit: Hartford Courant

Greetings from Maine! Summer is still here, as far as I’m concerned. My daughter doesn’t go back to school until after Labor Day, of course falling late this year. So I see it as my obligation, living in “Vacationland”, to wedge in more fun with friends and family, and eat more lobster.

I’ve woven a couple of great events into our Lucky Bamboo Crafts schedule this summer… an experience in contrasts. Each gave us a unique opportunity to share Chinese culture with very different audiences.

The Newport Cultural Center near Bangor, Maine hosted a Chinese craft and culture activity time at their multi-purpose center and library. The summer program kids and other local library visitors in that area do not get much exposure to other cultures outside Maine rural life so it was very satisfying to share what I could about China. And with my daughter by my side leading the origami table, this proud mama also got to interject a bit about adoption and being a multicultural, multi-race family.

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Then off to Hartford, CT for the Riverfront Dragon Boat and Asian Festival which I attended for the first time two years ago. I was yet again completely energized by the huge vibrant and diverse crowd. Along with leading the craft tables, I made sure to spend some time watching the dragon boat races, enjoying the performances and eating delicious Asian fare. Now that Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts has been out for a couple of years, it’s particularly exciting when I’m able to still share my inspiration with loads of new people including educators and multi-ethnic families.

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My Crowdtivate campaign was extended for a few more weeks so please check out this link to my video and details! https://www.crowdtivate.com/projects/view/4261  I’m excited to be branching out to craft kits and appreciate the funding that has already been donated to bring this to life.

The months ahead are still being planned for Chinese crafts. The Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, and the Year of the Monkey (as much as I don’t want to think about February in New England) will be my focus for planning some events and designing some new crafts. But for now, the lobster and warm breezes prevail!

Posted in Asian Culture, Book Publisher, Chinese Crafts, Chinese Culture, Dragon Boat Festival, Learn about China, Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts, Lucky Bamboo Craft Book, Lucky Bamboo Crafts, Multicultural Education, World Citizen, Year of the Goat | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Crowdtivate Craft Kits

I’m jumping in here with a brief post to announce the launch of my (first ever) crowdfunding campaign for craft kits with the Crowdtivate platform. I was very lucky to have support from my Singapore friends with putting it together and getting it live. Marketing has never been a strong point for me but it was time to stretch a bit. Only 56 days left to get on board! Also I would love to hear from you with any feedback about this Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts “kit” concept. Yes, I’m ready to make it grow! Here is the link to my campaign page: https://www.crowdtivate.com/projects/view/4261. Many thanks!

Posted in Asian Culture, Chinese Crafts, Chinese Culture, Craft Kits, Learn about China, Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts, Lucky Bamboo Craft Book, Lucky Bamboo Crafts, Multicultural Education, World Citizen | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chinese Culture Craft Kits

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Happy Spring! In Maine I should add a few more exclamation points this year… whew we have had a long wait. But I can now divert attention away from frigid weather and vitamin D deficiency and think crafts again.

I am putting up a crowdfunding campaign soon for my newest little brainstorm- craft “kits” that will be a nice companion to the book. I’m starting small, selecting a few specific craft designs and offering some materials and partial assembly so crafters can dive right in.

This is a new stretch for me… working out my goals and logistics. But my good friend and favorite business guru in Singapore is helping me get involved with Crowdtivate https://www.crowdtivate.com, a wonderful Asia-based campaign platform. The video intro seems to be my biggest stumbling block. Maybe if I hang around with my thirteen-year-old more I can pick up some camera and editing skills. I’ll keep you “posted”.

The Dragon Boat (Duanwu) Festival is coming up on June 20th. This is a great teaching point for educators and many projects and activities can tie into the celebration. I’ve signed on for crafting at the Riverfront Dragon Boat & Asian Festival in Hartford CT on 8/15-8/16 which will surely be a highlight of my summer. Here is the link: http://www.riverfront.org/events/riverfront-dragon-boat-asian-festival

Now is a good time to think about summer camps, teacher gifts, grandparent activities, end of school gifts, and all the ways Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts; Over 100 Projects & Ideas Celebrating Chinese Culture can be a part of the fun!

Posted in Asian Culture, Book Publisher, Chinese Crafts, Chinese Culture, Craft Kits, Dragon Boat Festival, Learn about China, Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts, Lucky Bamboo Craft Book, Lucky Bamboo Crafts, Multicultural Education, World Citizen, Year of the Goat | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Year of the Goat Fun

Lion Dance in Singapore

Back to Singapore! My dear friends hosted me and my daughter (now almost thirteen) to an amazing week of great company, adventures, food and culture. Being over Chinese New Year, we traveled to Asia during the perfect time. New England has NOT been the nicest place to live this winter, and the escape from the bitter cold and unrelenting series of blizzards made the trip all that more sweet. We even got invited with our friends to a home for a special CNY eve hot pot dinner with delicious seafood, meats and veggies, and ‘tang yuan’ with black sesame for dessert. Some highlights:

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Soon after our return I led a craft at Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. This was my “big event” for the season and they offered a terrific Lunar New Year program with many performances and cultural experiences. I also was thrilled that friends and family attended this one. With this event, I learned (again) that a single strong concept and very simple craft can be fun and engaging for all ages. My daughter was proud that her “Lucky Lantern” was selected to offer to the visitors, out of all the designs in my book. We adapted it slightly (fewer cuts and a tracing paper liner) and gave away a tea light with the lantern.

‘Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts’ was offered in the PEM gift shop so I did some book signing as well. Our activity area was very busy all day and it was so satisfying helping to make Chinese culture accessible and enjoyable for everyone since that has been my quest since the beginning:

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I also had a fun activity day early in the month volunteering with my daughter in a Portland after-school program (which we do twice a month). It was exciting to teach our young Somali friends about the celebration of the Lunar New Year. We painted scrolls, adding a “Fu” for a final touch, and did papercuts of “double happiness”:

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I hope no matter which calendar you follow, you have gotten as positive a fresh start to the year as I have, and find many ways to enjoy being creative with your family, friends and students.

Posted in Asian Culture, Book Publisher, Chinese Crafts, Chinese Culture, Chinese Food, Chinese New Year, Learn about China, Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts, Lucky Bamboo Craft Book, Lucky Bamboo Crafts, Lunar New Year, Spring Festival, World Citizen, Year of the Goat, Year of the Ram, Year of the Sheep | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Teaching about Chinese New Year

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Now that we are back in gear after school break, I have some lesson plan suggestions for Chinese New Year in the classroom as you begin your planning. These ideas are all personally “teacher tested” and they can adapt up or down for grade level.

The actual date of ‘Year of the Goat’ (also known as Ram or Sheep) is February 19th, 2015. I point this out because for most districts, this will fall during February break so you will want to celebrate the week of the 9th, or hold off until the end with the Lantern Festival falling on March 5th.

A good approach to keep students engaged is to include the following five pieces (I will not do four- it is an unlucky number- did you know that?). If you have an easy projection method, any part of your lesson can be supported with images and videos. So here goes :

1) History- Start with a brief historical overview about the meaning and significance of the holiday. This is when some students will interject they know “all about it”… but for Western classrooms most don’t think about Chinese culture or the holiday at all for the rest of the year. They can use a refresher! Include common ancient folklore such as the story of Nian the monster (great for younger kids) as well as the meaning behind the lunar zodiac, dances, parades and respectful time and rituals with family.

2) Food- Any teacher knows if you offer something edible, you get a captive crowd (actually that is true for many situations?). This could be as elaborate as dumpling making, or as simple as giving out almond cookies… but either way, discussing the traditional foods of a Chinese New Year banquet and their symbolism should be part of the plan.

3) Decorations- Adorning the classroom with paper garlands and lanterns, ‘Fu’ art, couplets on the doorways, and bowls of citrus, etc… is an essential part of the festive celebration. Lots of red!

4) Craft time- Select appropriate projects to grade level and time set aside. If you want a group activity, making a giant dragon dance head is a good activity to preface a parade around the school.

5) Giveaway- Hong Bao (lucky money red envelopes) are inexpensive in solid packs and a nice gift (in the spirit of the holiday) for your students. You can enclose a shiny penny, a fake gold Chinese coin, or a small toy or candy. If you have trouble finding them locally, there are numerous mail-order sites. Of course the students will already have a snack and a craft and that may be enough!

For specific ideas, instructions and templates, I encourage you to add Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts to your resource library! You can also check out my Pinterest pages, and my free printable craft off this website. As an educator, you are also probably web-savvy and can do research for your particular class. I think the most important piece is framing how this holiday fits into a multicultural world, and how extremely significant it is to Chinese people, where ever they call home. You will find that sharing the Lunar New Year with your students will tick many curriculum boxes and most of all, will be loads of fun!

Posted in Asian Culture, Book Publisher, Chinese Crafts, Chinese Culture, Chinese Food, Chinese New Year, Learn about China, Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts, Lucky Bamboo Craft Book, Lucky Bamboo Crafts, Lunar New Year, Multicultural Education, Spring Festival, World Citizen, Year of the Goat, Year of the Ram, Year of the Sheep | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Maine Ramblings

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I’m going to resort to a riff and ramble here, in the wedge between fall activities and starting to approach the holidays. Our weather is changing too but thankfully not with the vicious weather pattern around the country right now. My heart goes out to the many thousands dealing with the wrath of winter so early.

The election season this month went from exciting to “exciting” as much of it did not go my way. But I was able to spend an evening with our Commander-in-Chief as he offered up support for our gubernatorial candidate. This was a complete thrill for my 12-year old that is a total U.S. president and politics buff. (Yes she held me captive for the entire 14 count ’em hours of the Ken Burns Roosevelt documentary!) One of the joys of our small Portland host city was an intimate venue… President Obama was right there. Sleeves rolled up and relaxed, he did not disappoint and the energy in the room was charged. But please readers stick with me no matter your leanings…. I do cross the aisle as many of my dearest friends are Republicans!

Talking about Portland, Maine, it continues to grow in a good direction with a few new restaurants that serve up darn good dumplings and Asian fare. These spots are long overdue in my opinion, and although they have a bit of a fusion sensibility in menu and lack the hard-core Chinese cooking my family often craves… we’ll take it! Enough with the upscale pizza joints! This time of year also offers all sorts of crafty fairs from church lunches to uber-cool art college holiday markets…. just love it… sometimes three or four can be roamed in a day. I do try and “buy local” too…. as our culture (thank goodness) moves away from black Friday-style consumerism, and of course meeting artisans from every walk of life, I get inspired to keep my hands making.

My most exciting news is an invitation to participate with ‘Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts’ in the Peabody Essex Museum Lunar New Year Festival on February 28th, 2015. The Year of the Goat (or Ram, or Sheep?) will be a great opportunity to do crafts with kids and celebrate! This eclectic gem of a museum in Salem, MA (www.pem.org) boasts an impressive Asian collection and an authentic ancient Chinese home and its contents reconstructed right on site. Much more on preparation for Chinese New Year in next month’s post!

Stay warm (or cool, depending on your locale) and enjoy the swiftly approaching leap into a time of holidays, friends, family, food, gratitude and peace… in other words everything the gifts of the season mean to you.

Posted in Asian Culture, Book Publisher, Chinese Crafts, Chinese Culture, Chinese Food, Chinese New Year, Learn about China, Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts, Lucky Bamboo Craft Book, Lucky Bamboo Crafts, Lunar New Year, Multicultural Education, Year of the Goat, Year of the Ram, Year of the Sheep | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chinese Adoption- the Magic and the Mysteries

Homeland Trip to Yong Feng County, Jiangxi Province

You would think I’d be used to it by now. Raising a daughter that is so very definitely, positively, undeniably mine. But then I watched the PBS documentary ‘Twin Sisters’ recently about Chinese twins adopted by families as infants- one growing up in a tiny village in Norway, the other in urban California. Many memories and emotions bubbled up again that I had obsessed over long ago through the adoption process and early parenting years surrounding taking my daughter from China and her first family roots.

There are common questions felt by many international adoptive parents; how will my child frame and overcome never knowing who her birth family is, whether she has biological siblings, the circumstances around her abandonment…. heady stuff for sure. I remember the many nights working on her lifebook (adoption mamas know what this is) into the wee hours… making sure every word was crafted and image vetted to tell my daughter her story in just the “right” way. Is it sad? Is it a joyous journey of serendipity? Is it just what it is?

I read a NY Times op-ed last month about young Chinese today and the rural vs. wealthy urban disparity in educational opportunities. What if my daughter had stayed in her tiny rural town, blanketed in lotus fields? Is “what if” even relevant? ‘Somewhere Between’, another documentary that profiles adopted girls excavates even further the questions and longings experienced by some families. One Chinese-American teen goes so far as to return to China in search of her birthmother. (That’s a spoiler heads-up to preview before sharing with younger kids).

All of these quality written and documentary explorations snag my interest and for a bit, I can’t turn away. It’s all part of the fabric of my family… the reality we live with, juxtaposing daily life with the history which will never be written.

At a recent school conference, my daughter’s teacher reflected on an assignment where students were to construct a timeline of their personal best/worst/significant life events. The teacher said she had pointed out to the class to note anything remarkable about their birth and joining their family. She then implied to us with a grin that my daughter had not really felt there was! Huh?

Perhaps we raised our daughter with a feeling of normalcy and being comfortable accepting her beginnings. That was certainly always our hope and dream. She was seven when I made the long journey back to China with her for a “heritage trip” to visit her orphanage staff and to our surprise, met her foster family as well. She was cool as a cucumber (unlike her mother) and I think it reinforced to her that we DO acknowledge and cherish all of who she is and our great fortune in that. The only other residual effect I can say for sure is I now have a daughter with insatiable travel fever. And at the end of the day, I have to believe love is the answer to most any longing that tries to take hold of her heart.

oct. blog

Posted in Book Publisher, Chinese Culture, Chinese New Year, Learn about China, Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts, Lucky Bamboo Craft Book, Lucky Bamboo Crafts, Lunar New Year, Year of the Goat | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Learning Mandarin…. Maybe

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Now that my daughter is settled back into school and learning is a focus around here, I’m thinking about one of my own goals- I want to learn Mandarin. This is not new, just deferred over and over again with many fits and starts. Life has gotten in the way for me, with several months of unexpected “down time” as far as starting new pursuits in earnest and having the time and energy for them. But I’m hoping to move beyond the day-to-day of my job, mum commitments, and essential tasks and try to stretch again.

Why? Admittedly, I have a very “what’s the point?” nature and am proprietary with my time. I know Mandarin will not be essential for any of my upcoming plans. But who knows what new plans may emerge as a result of getting my feet wet? I certainly will travel back to China eventually… and with some language under my belt perhaps I can be a cultural participant vs. a confused tourist. As with Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts, knowing some Mandarin will reinforce to my daughter the importance of our multicultural world view, attitude and life.

I would also love to reach out to my local Chinese community more, and in their native tongue. There are lots of events and “practice Mandarin” roundtables and also our local Confucius Institute that can bolster this effort. Our high schools and colleges host many Chinese exchange students and teachers that would always embrace another Chinese speaker.

What will be the plan… online tools and videos? (Including Fluentlee.com, a great online real time language instruction site). Classes or immersion with a private local teacher? Pinterest is a good source to get started and I’ve already rounded up some helpful pins on my ‘Learn Mandarin’ board. I’ve put a couple of apps on my iPad too…. now the commitment! Yes I hear the collective sigh… don’t we all have those many goals as we turn the page, or the season, or the life change, or the birthday or the year? But that’s what makes us feel alive, and reminds us that the future can be full of wonder and growth (at any age!).

And how about my Chinese twelve-year-old? Well the reality is she has embraced learning French with such ease and determination, I don’t want to break her stride and insist on a “come with” on this language journey. Maybe she will catch the fever later on. She definitely embraces the idea of being a world citizen, but that seems to be spread across several continents, not exclusively Asia.

Ok I’ve stated my plan. It’s documented in the e-world and for now, I have run out of excuses. Have you or your kids taken on Mandarin and why? How have you learned and what has made it fun and kept you motivated? I’d love to hear from you!

Posted in Book Publisher, Chinese Crafts, Chinese Culture, Learn about China, Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts, Lucky Bamboo Craft Book, Lucky Bamboo Crafts, Multicultural Education, World Citizen, Year of the Goat, Year of the Sheep | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Back to School

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If you are an educator, you are probably already rolling up your sleeves with curriculum, staff development and spiffing up your area at your school site; I remember it well from my art teacher days.

If a parent, the school shopping along with scheduling fall recreation and lessons may be keeping your days busy while you weave in a bit more summer fun. My daughter is entering 7th grade so I am somewhat “hands off” at this point, but I still get that jittery stomach when school starts up, as does she, with all that her “tween” life demands.

Here are a few thoughts to carry with you to tie Chinese culture into a new school year, whether you are a parent, teacher, activity leader or homeschool educator:

  • Anyone that hasn’t discovered TeachersPayTeachers.com needs to check it out. What an amazing resource! One of my goals in the upcoming months is to post some more lessons.
  • My friend in Singapore has just launched unitedteach.com, a great website that pairs virtual volunteers with classrooms to bring in special themes. Schools will be able to register soon and also, volunteers are needed if you have a talent or area of knowledge to share.
  • If your school has exchange students or teachers from China, remember what a valuable resource they are for learning about Chinese culture, and they would also always appreciate invitations, even while their host families are taking good care of them.
  • The Mid-Autumn Moon Festival comes early this year, on September 8th. It’s a great anchor for a celebration or to start a more robust unit on China. You can even extend through to Year of the Goat on February 19th. Now that would be dedication!

Take heart…. we all will make it over the September “hump”, with backpacks filled, schedules hammered out and early mornings conquered. Here in Maine, as in many parts of the country, it is also a most beautiful and mild time of year with gorgeous foliage to enjoy along with a fresh start.

Posted in Book Publisher, Chinese Crafts, Chinese Culture, Chinese New Year, Learn about China, Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts, Lucky Bamboo Craft Book, Lucky Bamboo Crafts, Lunar New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival, Multicultural Education, Spring Festival, World Citizen | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Staying Put

Author Jennifer DeCristoforo and daughter; Photo credit: Dennis Welsh Photography

Author Jennifer DeCristoforo and daughter;
Photo credit: Dennis Welsh Photography

Maine is an official “Vacationland” right now. Better yet, I get to enjoy it as the ultimate “stay-cation”  with my daughter. I am never more proud and happy to welcome guests, enjoy the festivals, assure people the lobster is not overrated, look out at the sparkling ocean and boast about Maine until even the Chamber of Commerce feels like an under-performer.

Then the world taps on my shoulder. There’s the wonderful new friend from Hong Kong (Maine in the summer) that found my book on Pinterest. Also in Maine now, my dear Singapore friends that we visited on their turf not long ago. And I sense my 12-year old feels the same tug as does her mother. As she turns the corner from child to teen, she wants it all. She feels so grounded and secure in our small Maine town, and cherishes her friends and school. But she talks of the future… with wanderlust that keeps her suitcase at the ready. “When is our next trip?” (Quebec City in a couple of weeks). I also wonder what conversations she has with her few but close adopted Chinese friends… do they ponder who will get back on another trip to Asia first? And her Dad and I have accepted that her college experience will be in D.C. at the very closest.

But with these thoughts my heart also fills with grief… the “world” just doesn’t seem to be doing too well right now. The level of suffering… from war and terrorism to children scrambling into the U.S. desperate and alone…. all results in senseless death on a grand scale. As a parent it is tough to navigate; do I shelter my daughter from this world she wants to discover or have her gradually step foot on to real street?

For now in the glorious summertime, staying put, body and mind, gives me a breather. I can be selective and grab just the good stuff that ‘Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts’ and international friends offer from the world experience. I can volunteer with my daughter in our local Somali refugee community and see some happy outcomes from a war-torn nation. And as for the harsh and  relentless newsfeed, we can turn it off when it gets to be too much. If only that were true for everyone.

Posted in Book Publisher, Chinese Crafts, Chinese Culture, Learn about China, Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts, Lucky Bamboo Craft Book, Lucky Bamboo Crafts, Multicultural Education, World Citizen, Year of the Horse | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment