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!

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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.

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Chinese Food for Summer Fun

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I have a confession to make… I enjoy Chinese and all Asian cuisine at least as much as I do Chinese crafts. Ok, maybe more. Or perhaps they are mutually exclusive?

While I was writing ‘Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts’, many suggested I add some food history, traditional cuisine content and recipes. Not only because of other books they had seen with this combo…. (I guess making is making..), but because they looked at me suspiciously when I claimed my Asian foodie obsession could be put aside. Spoiler alert- I did not include food beyond a mention with some holidays. My eating skill far exceeds my chef stylings but I have tried many simple dishes.

I have been craving some lighter fare for summer while I put the hearty stir-fries and rice on the shelf for a while and here is what comes to mind that is fast, fresh and better for the hot weather:

– Cold noodles- many types of noodles and variations can include sesame/ peanut sauce, or light rice vinegar dressing, and crisp julienned veggies; great potluck dish or pack in individual containers for the beach/lake cooler lunch

– Vietnamese cold, fresh spring rolls with shrimp or chicken, rice noodle and vegetables; serve with hoisin or a sauce recipe

– Chicken skewers (I like small, appetizer size) on the bbq- these can have Thai (satay), Japanese (teriyaki) or Chinese flavors; also beef can have Chinese or Korean marinade. Great on a small fire grill at the beach or campground

– Asian slaw- Another great picnic/ potluck dish which can include your shredded favorites- Chinese cabbage, carrot, bean sprouts, scallion, sesame seed (white or black), etc… ; the dressing can be sweet, savory, or with a hot and spicy kick

– Bubble Tea with pearls- this is easiest with a kit from an Asian market; a total hit with kids! Be careful with very young ones- as could be a choking risk (yes I always have my mom hat on!)

Check out my ‘Chinese Foods I Love’ page on Pinterest (linked from my home page); I’ve added some great recipe pins for these ideas. Keep it simple, show others how fun and delicious Asian cuisine can be… and don’t forget the crafts!

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Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts and Gift Giving

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As we all enjoy a busy spring celebrating graduations, events and the end of school, I wanted to remind you of what a perfect gift ‘Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts’ can be for those special people in your life.

Teachers, caregivers, graduates in education and international programs…. all would appreciate this unique and high quality book that they will use for years to come. Will the kids be spending time with grandparents or going on holiday with friends’ families or relatives after school lets out? Send a book along with them to get the activities going for the hopefully few rainy days.

Are your kids going to day or overnight camp this summer? Or do you have a teen that is working at a camp? How about a preemptive gesture (o.k., bribe) to be sure your family will be in good favor with the staff and your kids will get careful and positive attention! Camps are always looking for new craft ideas that don’t require a lot of costly materials.

If you want to pull out the stops, add some small items like a pack of origami paper, some decorative chopsticks, an inexpensive fan, or a simple art supply such as markers. And of course if you know anyone that is bringing home an adopted Chinese child soon, this book is an ideal introduction to Chinese culture for the child, siblings and parents.

You can purchase directly from me, a local retailer, or it is currently nicely discounted on Amazon (and can arrive or be gift shipped in a flash with Amazon Prime) and many other book retail sites. My distributor, IPG has done an amazing job getting the book out and available worldwide!

Happy Spring Gifting and Summer Crafting!

Posted in 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 Horse | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kids as World Citizens

Map from Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts

Map from Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts

Recently my 6th grade daughter had a World Fair celebration at her school culminating from months of research and hard work. It was a gala evening where every student in her grade had a country represented with a tabletop display, interactive presentation, and oral knowledge to share with the crowds of family members. Did my daughter pick China? No, Ethiopa!

As I wandered from student to student, I was reminded again of the great opportunity parents and educators have to open up the world to kids and how eager and receptive they are to learn more, more, more. My teacher training was in elementary art and in the classroom I had it made. Each culture has such a rich history in handicraft, textiles, painting, sculpture…. the list is endless for curriculum ideas. But the bigger view of what a country symbolizes, reveres, and its unique mark on history is well within the capacity of understanding, even for young kids.

I know sometimes adults feel “art challenged” when working with kids. When you are using Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts, perhaps a good place to start is with the Gateway to China section, exploring Chinese culture and sharing the factoids…. even jumping on to your tablet to dig deeper with specific topics on China or where questions are raised.

Then you may find that selecting and starting an art or craft project will happen more organically, based on the curiosity and interests of the kids and you all will have more confidence to be wonderfully creative.

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Chinese Kites for Spring

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Here in Maine this year, I need to grasp on to something for hope that spring will arrive! There are certainly no signs of it yet as we still peek over the snow banks and shiver in the low digits.

China is the birthplace of the earliest kites in the world (yes!), and Weifang, Shandong Province is considered the area of the first designs and construction. There were many functional and interesting uses for kites before they became purely recreational, and the styles are wonderfully varied, including winged creatures, centipedes and geometric wonders.

Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts is being put to the test this week, on an all-important holiday, my daughter’s twelfth birthday. My Diamond Kite instructions (p.86) will guide the ten kids we expect at her birthday party where we will hopefully end up with ten beautiful, airborne kites! I tested and tested my prototype while writing the book, but I’m a bundle of nerves. As the mom AND the author/craft designer the pressure is on. Wish me luck and if spring has already arrived where you are, happy flying!

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Is There Life after Chinese New Year?

Don’t get me wrong… the last several weeks of festivals, crafts, dumplings and lanterns have offered wonderful opportunities to be with friends, old and new, at Lunar New Year events all around New England. I’ve also had great support and energy around my book and the craft and culture lessons that I brought to many young audiences.

The Spring Festival right through the Lantern Festival is without a doubt the most significant time of year for Chinese families, and was a perfect time for me to focus on projects and events that teach the strong history and traditions that extend into all aspects of Chinese life.

But what is a Chinese craft book author to do when the decorations come down, the phone stops ringing and the noise of drums and fireworks is far off in the distance? Time to redirect and think about arts and culture integration in the classroom, and all the other places where my fascination with Chinese culture can be shared. I’m thinking about mini e-books, learning Mandarin (in earnest), offering workshops… but for now some recent highlights from Year of the Horse fun:

Boston Children's Museum- we made noisemakers with kids and had a book signing!

Boston Children’s Museum- we made noisemakers with kids and had a book signing!

Asian Studies Academy in Hartford, CT- an amazing school and program!

Asian Studies Academy in Hartford, CT- an amazing school and program!

Horses, scrolls and origami at Portland Public Library

Chinese School dancers in Westbrook, Maine

Chinese School dancers in Westbrook, Maine

And lastly, here is my first foray into t.v. and video… it’s a cute little project done by a  very nervous author! (Click link to view)

Jennifer DeCristoforo demonstrates craft on WCSH 207 program

Jennifer DeCristoforo demonstrates craft on WCSH 207 program

Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts- WCSH 207 Appearance

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Year of the Horse 马年

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I’m finding myself at a full gallop right now! The Lunar New Year certainly brings out the revelers that have been waiting for the opportunity to display their red and gold, use calligraphy brushes and ink, and enjoy Chinese crafting fun. I’ve heard this month from teachers, parents, librarians and culture organizations; many that are discovering Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts for the first time.

First a bit about ‘Year of the Horse’. It is the seventh zodiac animal in the twelve year lunar cycle. Someone born under this wood sign is said to have traits of strength, focus, attractiveness, patience and loyalty. It is a personal favorite because my nearly twelve-year-old daughter is a “horse”.

Just to chronicle a bit of what I’m up to (you can check the calendar for details):

  • Taped a segment for a local t.v. show (WCSH207) airing on Chinese New Year, 1/31/14
  • Steering the craft tables at our local CAFAM Chinese New Year celebration
  • Making noisemakers at the Boston Children’s Museum CNY event
  • Attending the FCCNE event held during the Boston Children’s Museum day
  • Leading Chinese New Year crafts at Portland Public Library
  • Teaching workshops at the Asian Studies Academy in Hartford, CT
  • Bringing CNY crafts to a neighborhood center serving new immigrant families where I volunteer with my daughter

Please pardon my lack of crafted word and deep thought this month; I’m buried in lists, creating horse designs, craft supply shopping and coordinating the next few weeks of celebrations and appearances. After the Spring Festival winds down I’ll put away the glitter and paint, pack up the decorations, enjoy my cleaned up house (crossed fingers on that one but it’s an important tradition for the holiday!), and start looking ahead. What will be next for Lucky Bamboo Crafts? I’ve only just begun!

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Crafts for Chinese New Year

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Year of the Horse crafts for Chinese New Year

The Spring Festival (Lunar New Year) on January 31, 2014 celebrates the Year of the Horse. It’s time to start planning your craft activities for school, home, cultural organizations, grandparent time, scouts and of course for your local Chinese New Year festival, banquet or parade.

Here’s a little round up to get you started with some tips from Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts. I annually plan 6-12 kid’s crafts for our large Chinese New Year event in Portland, Maine. I’m in a nice flow of retaining some popular crafts each year, while offering some projects specific to the zodiac animal. You can start a list or spreadsheet considering these guidelines:

Quantity– You’ll need to plan for copies and materials. Duplicate designs or templates for copies on one page where possible. Estimate the number of crafters expected between 3-15 years old. Then add a few extra as some may want takeaways for a sibling at home or a teacher.

Variety– If you are preparing several crafts, include common projects such as lucky red envelopes (hong bao), and a Fu banner. Then add crafts with varied materials, themes and shapes; for example, a puppet, a fan, a mask and some origami.

Supplies– Red, red, red! Get out now over holiday break and pick up red tissue paper, card stock, ribbon, fabric and partyware. Gold is also available in the New Year’s Eve section. Grab red and gold materials while still easily available at dollar and box stores and right after Christmas they are often on sale, as well. Tools (scissors, hole punches, etc..) can often be borrowed if you make the effort. Check your markers, glue sticks and crayons… if dried out or broken, refresh them.

Preparation– Allow time to prepare masters for copies and purchase materials and supplies. Good template shapes are the key to successful crafts. Obviously I’m fond of my designs from the book, but simple project templates and graphic elements (images, Chinese characters, etc..) are abundant on the web. Play around with copies and “old fashioned” cut and paste to get them right. It’s often faster and easier than trying to make a computer graphic.

Crafts are just one piece of a successful event. You’ll want to consider food, decorations and any performance offerings (such as a dragon parade or lion dance). But crafts are often a favorite of the kids. They add collaborative fun and relaxation while teaching about Chinese culture, and result in cool stuff to bring home. Gong Xi Fa Cai!

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