National Adoption Month

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My daughter in China just before travel to the U.S.

“This month, we celebrate adopted children, teenagers, and their diverse families. We work to give more young people permanent families and promising futures. And we encourage our friends and neighbors to open their hearts and their homes to children in need.”

You may think these are my pithy thoughts on adoption, but actually President Barack Obama included these words in his recent official proclamation of November as National Adoption Month. For me, adoption was the only path to parenthood I ever considered. I know this is all a bit heavy for a craft book blog, but of course Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts was created through adoption just as much as my family was.

So this November I’m taking the opportunity to double back, pull out pictures and reflect on the ten years I have been mother to my daughter. The memories of bringing her home are still so fresh; the anxiety and hurdles, and the faith I enveloped myself with when the setbacks mounted.

Adoption has improved every aspect of my life, in some ways that only the wink and nod of adoptive parents can understand, and also in just the same ways every parent is forever changed by raising a child. Lucky is a word that found its way to my book and also reflects how I’ve felt every single day since I received a photo of the baby I would soon travel to China to meet.

This month we are encouraged by our President to think about the role adoption plays in our country and our culture. I marvel at how strong the U.S. policies are on allowing all types of families to move forward with all different kinds of adoption. I know this is a broad stroke statement and people do have difficulties, be they legal, with immigration or with social services support. But with millions of children needing parents in this country and worldwide, it comforts me to know that if a family wants to adopt a child, systems, agencies and resources are in place that will work hard with you to make it happen.

My perspective is not to judge but to ponder; why do so many people choose to only give birth to children when there is already such perfection in the world that they could have for their very own?

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Chinese Culture Close to Home

Chinese School dancers in Portland, Maine

Chinese School dancers in Portland, Maine

Ahhhh Fall. The crisp New England leaves under our feet, colorful splendor on the trees, apples and pumpkins. And for this family, October also brings the new session of CAFAM Chinese School (cafamchineseschool.org) on Saturdays. My daughter is eleven now and has been attending since she was a toddler.

This connection to our local Chinese community as well as adoptive families with Chinese children has become an anchor for us and my daughter has made amazing friends that are literally growing up with her. To have a place to embrace Chinese culture and hear Mandarin spoken alongside English for even a few hours a week is transforming

As an adoptive mom, I have always grappled with the fact I may never know how my daughter truly feels about her birth country and being taken from it. I can never walk in her shoes. However I have to believe that making the effort to spend time with our Chinese friends and participating in programs, events and holidays that celebrate China and give us a deeper understanding of the culture can only be good, not only for her but for me.

Chinese organizations across the country and FCC regional chapters offer many types of language schools and culture programs and I believe ours is one of the best. We offer Mandarin, traditional dance, martial arts, character calligraphy, authentic cooking, art, and often all in one morning. I’ve enjoyed creating many workshops and crafts for the students over the years which also helped me build the confidence to write Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts. The research required to feel equipped to write about Chinese history and traditional arts was immense.

Perhaps in your Chinese and adoptive circles you’ve found great ideas for making connections, family fun,  and learning about Chinese culture. These may be programs that exist or are waiting to be realized. Here in the Portland area we have a tireless steering committee president that does a tremendous amount of work to keep us on track, but we also rely on a huge amount of additional volunteers, guest authors, teachers, Chinese exchange students and people willing to offer different talents and skills.

All it takes is a commitment of time, good organization and a vision. Please leave a comment and share what you are doing in your area. Oh, and by the way, the girl second from the left in the photo is my daughter!

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Teaching Crafts and the Gift of Libraries

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Merrill Memorial Library, Yarmouth, ME- the first library to circulate the book

Recently I celebrated the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival by teaching about the holiday and sharing a moon lantern craft at our public library in Portland, Maine. I’ve done several library events to date, and once again I was met with great enthusiasm, support and flawless organization. Once again I got to spend time with a fantastic children’s librarian (thanks, Jerri!) that was incredibly intelligent, creative, inspired and full of energy.

Public libraries have been so receptive to folding Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts into their event calendars, buying it for their circulation, and getting on board with celebrating different cultures and holidays. (Actually they were already on board… just check out the collection for multicultural education in your local children’s and youth rooms!)

I know I’ve been a bit (ahem) stingy with photos in previous blog entries so here are some highlights of my wonderful library experiences over recent months. You’d think with the amount of time I spend perusing Pinterest, I’d know to offer up more visuals! I confess I’m a bit private and camera shy…. but what I think you’ll see is how “in my element” I am with the kids, the crafts and the fun. I’m not one to sit on an author pedestal autographing books… what fun is that?

Summer Reading Kick-off; Prince Memorial Library, Cumberland, ME

Summer Reading Kick-off; Prince Memorial Library, Cumberland, ME

Folding chopstick cases; Chebeague Island Library, Maine

Folding chopstick cases; Chebeague Island Library, Maine

Chebeague Island Library with head librarian Deb Bowman. This small library has a big heart and is the center of island activity and community connection

Chebeague Island Library with head librarian Deb Bowman. This small library has a big heart and is the center of island activity and community connection

Portland Public Library, Maine; making a moon lantern with paper strips and a straw

Portland Public Library, Maine; making a moon lantern with paper strips and a straw

Times are changing for libraries with the lightning speed of technology growth and the pressure to do more and do it smarter and better, often on less budget. And of course there is the issue of the book. The real one. On the shelf. Will there be a future? All interesting and a little ominous.

Keep visiting your public libraries, make donations, attend events, offer suggestions, bring the kids to storytime…. we need our local libraries as much as our libraries need our community support!

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Being Multicultural

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Courtesy of Hartford Courant

The car was packed and I headed down to Hartford to the Dragon Boat & Asian Festival along the Connecticut River. I didn’t know what I would find at this two-day event where I had signed on to run children’s crafts and promote my book.

What I found was true multiculturalism.

The first person to buy my book was a lovely and energized man that is principal of an Asian Studies school with a young and diverse student body. He commented that it was good for his students to see “people that look like you” at the source of this Chinese culture book. Meaning of course, not Chinese or even Asian. His point was very deep for our fleeting encounter and how I wished I had an hour to engage with this inspiring community leader with a lot to say.

I realized, looking around at the swarm of families… Hispanic, African-American, Filipino, Chinese, Indian, and from numerous other parts of the world… that I was not an outlier… an imposter… for being there promoting Chinese culture. (You guessed it- I sometimes feel that way.)  My race and ethnic background were not the focus. It was how and what I teach others…all others… in order to bring cultures together to grow as one world- in this case, teaching and fascinating children about China.

Everyone loved making my paper dragon boat craft with drinking straw paddles but what I sensed even more was a community of people with a true desire to be together with no boundaries. Even with several languages being spoken at my art table at once, everyone was smiling… mothers to mothers, children helping the children beside them and comparing their coloring skills, tattooed, bronze-skinned teens needing a respite as they checked their phones, and Asian elders enjoying the young energy while carefully inspecting my book for authenticity.

Granted, these festival visitors had an easier opportunity to expose themselves to vastly different cultures in such a diverse city, and could seek to understand their neighbors in work, school, worship and recreation. It is more of a challenge in other parts of the country including where I live. But true multiculturalism seems to be an active way of life and attitude, not just a status quo through proximity.

The dragon boat races were happening just over the bank and the shared passion for this Chinese tradition could be felt with every synchronized stroke as the slender boats sliced through the water. Over ninety teams represented every age, race and culture. And we all belonged.

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Lucky Bamboo Crafts joins IPG

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Just when I thought July would be a bit sleepy for book action, the most exciting step of my book publishing journey has happened. As of this month, Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts: Over 100 Projects & Ideas Celebrating Chinese Culture is being exclusively distributed by Independent Publishers Group (IPG) (www.ipgbook.com) to retailers in the US and Canada. How fantastic is that?

They are a respected and huge distributor in the book industry and I was accepted through their small press division, Small Press United. What this means for me is that there will be someone else’s oars in the water along with mine, as a cousin put it so well. Actually it’s more like a cruise ship alongside my dinghy. IPG has a top-notch sales force and boundless marketing muscle.

I’m looking forward to my book having reach to so many more that can enjoy it, and now being able to focus my energies on special events and targeted niche marketing efforts. Oh yes, and also enjoying life a bit more and time with my daughter without perpetual sleepless nights and sweat on the brow. Here in Maine that means beach combing, festivals, lobster and friends. The summer is so fleeting and sweet!

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Lucky Bamboo Crafts- The Selling Journey

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Now that I’m promoting the book, many have asked, “How are you selling it?”. Getting the book in people’s hands does not happen overnight, especially from a new author. This step is a continuation of my blessing and curse of being a homegrown self-publisher that up to now has not yet worked with a publicist or marketing firm. Distribution is in my future (I guess that is my cliffhanger), but I have been “intimately” involved with every action of getting the book some exposure and sales. Yes, in other words I-did-everything.

My friend Joyce has a lovely fine art and handicraft gallery http://www.holeinthewallstudioworks.com/ and hosted a book signing for me recently. Along with Chinese dumplings and refreshments, we offered origami chopstick holders as a little giveaway. As I was folding and preparing them, I thought of what a creative experience the selling part of this journey can be with the right attitude, patience and limitless imagination. It was a balmy, beautiful evening with old friends and new, where I was able to shine and just be an author, not a frazzled promoter. I also sold a nice heap of books!

I’ve talked to many children at schools and libraries and gotten some wonderful comments and jubilant reactions to the book. I’ve also shared crafting projects at these events that are thrilling to the young makers and to me as well, to be able to offer a real thing (right here, right now) to craft and take home.

I’d like to say that describes my entire selling experience. The reality consists of many, many hours on the computer writing promo mail, making phone calls to stores, dipping my toe into social media (truth be told, Pinterest is the only platform I actually enjoy), planning appearances and events, maintaining Amazon, sending out review copies and talking about my book until even I get sick of it.

But I believe in it and the book I now hold in my hands truly reflects my original vision. Even with the second-guessing (that probably occurs with all authors the minute their book goes to press), I’m proud of what I’ve created, and so far, customers are finding it unique and useful and fun. When I receive a review like this http://www.biculturalmama.com/2013/06/100-kids-projects-for-celebrating.html I can smile, knowing the book is landing where it should be, finally standing on its own.

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Dragon Boat Festival Fun

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Now that spring has arrived (in Maine, we add a “finally” to that), the Dragon Boat Festival season is almost upon us. Although I embrace all Chinese cultural activities, I do get a bit of a “one track mind” steered toward celebrating Chinese New Year. This year I aim to discover and experience more about the dragon boat traditions and this fascinating holiday.

On the 5th day of the 5th lunar month (June 12th this year), Duan Wu is celebrated. Honoring the history of the great poet Qu Yuan, the holiday is usually spent at the waterfront where dragon boat races are the main event. Glutinous rice dumplings (zongzi) are enjoyed by hungry paddlers. Children wear incense pouches to ward off evil spirits. Drum beats and laughter abound as families gather for the fun.

In August I travel to the Riverfront Dragon Boat & Asian Festival in Hartford, CT to run a kids’ crafting area while promoting Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts. I look forward to being right in the action while hundreds of racers from far and wide show off their colorful vessels as they try for victory. I will also enjoy many other cultural exhibits and performances happening during the weekend and of course… the food.

I plan to adapt a dragon boat project from my book… one of my favorites. It will need to be an easy make-and-take for hot and tired young festival visitors with only a few free minutes. I hope to provide a little crafting oasis in the huge, active festival area. I’m thrilled that I was invited to participate!

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Making Art with Kids

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Lately my book marketing pursuits have led me back into the elementary classroom, where I’m asked to bring a culture project to do with the kids.  With each visit I am reminded as to why teachers love what they do, year after year.  Every time a group of children lights up as they dive into art making, I can only describe my feeling from head to toe in one word…. happy.  I’m reminded of the wonder and freedom kids have when they pick up a brush full of paint or construct something original out of paper.  They get lost in the process and in their private world of imagination and often look at their results with pride and disbelief… “did I really make that?”.

Recently I made mini-scrolls with first and second graders.  It is a great, manageable format for trying out brush painting, calligraphy or just simple drawings.  I constructed the scrolls ahead (easy!) so we could get right to it.   I offered visual reference and guidance for painting pandas and bamboo.  I was pleased when some of the students proceeded to completely ignore me and paint what meant China to them including maps, pagodas, lanterns and lots of dragons.  As only a guest author, I could not be held accountable when they didn’t stick to the plan!

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Lucky Bamboo Singapore Adventure

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The weeks seem to fly by and there is so much I want to share about my craft book experience.  A highlight of February was my trip to Singapore with my daughter.  Now that the books are safely in the warehouse and I’ve at least started the selling engine (although it is always thirsty for more gas…), it was time for some fun.

Why Singapore?  I had the book printed by a fantastic commercial printer there… a relationship I revived from early professional days as a product development manager.  A book like this is only as good as its printing and production so I definitely had been focused on that aspect of the project with great care and planning right from the start.  We had an opportunity to tour the plant and visit with the lovely family that owns the corporation and I felt like everything had come full circle.

I also have some dear friends that live there as expats and they were warm and wonderful hosts.  We normally only see them in the summer here in Maine, so what a treat to experience their Singapore life with the new routines, cultural differences, and balmy weather!  On top of that, we got to celebrate the end of Chinese New Year together, and attend one of the most elaborate, exciting and colorful parades in the world!

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Time for ‘Year of the Snake’

Year of the Snake

Excitement is starting to build here in Maine for the ‘Year of the Snake’ festivities for the Lunar New Year that begins on February 10th.  I have enjoyed being an active member of the Chinese & American Friendship Association of Maine (CAFAM) for years and we host an impressive event that attracts a huge crowd.  These days I’m busy preparing Chinese New Year snake crafts for the activity tables for our event on February 9th.

These crafts need to be crowd-pleasers so I make sure they can be prepared in large quantities and are simple enough for young crafters on the go.  I’ve designed snake puppets and other snake projects along with traditional crafts like hong bao.  You are most likely busy planning your own celebrations to share with family, friends and your community.  Xīn Nián Kuài Lè!

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