Support Our Asian Communities

Jen DeCristoforo, president with CAFAM friends

 

 

 

 

 

Greetings from Lucky Bamboo Crafts! I’ve been trying to push through the stress and exhaustion (sound familiar?) so I could share some updates…. about both what has been happening and what is to come. While other parts of the country seem to be enjoying very warm weather, events, travel, and many trappings of normal life, Maine is still very quiet. This is a result of a cautious governor and strong CDC state leadership (thank goodness). And spring, as always, is slow to arrive.

Lunar New Year ‘Year of the Ox’ was very uplifting and successful for the organization I lead locally, CAFAM. We did an entirely virtual celebration, but that did not mean we cut corners! We offered dazzling performances, traditional stories, a marketplace, lectures, and even a live cooking class with a fantastic local Chinese chef, only requiring registration to participate. I wouldn’t say planning and hosting it was “easier” than our in-person annual event, just different. (But the clean-up was MUCH easier!) You can still access and enjoy the entire event from the CAFAM website and it includes my 2021 craft video!

Just a mention about my merchant side; Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts has been distributed by IPG for many years and our relationship is winding down. They have been a wonderful partner, making my “selling” tools so easy and doing all the shipping and tracking, but now it makes more sense to have it back on me. So please spread the word and check out my website for buying options. I am also transitioning the Amazon store to do the fulfillment for those purchases from here, although the Amazon order process should be identical. I always love being in contact with folks that buy the book, so hopefully this will get me more engaged again with getting books out of my warehouse and into eager hands!

I plan to resume offering Chinese craft activities at some events this summer and beyond. Keep an eye on my calendar. I really miss visiting festivals, camps, libraries, and packing up my bins with great crafts to travel to all kinds of fun places. I’m ready!

I would be remiss to not say a few personal words about the current anti-Asian atmosphere in this country. I had hoped the climate of hostility toward China, and fear-mongering, discrimination, ignorance and racism would move on with the last administration that did so much to incite all of it. But sadly, as covid has continued to ravage the U.S., our Asian and Asian-American communities have been easy scapegoats, leading to tragic and painful consequences. I never thought I would have to worry about my 19-year old adult daughter needing to be careful about where she goes and who might try and victimize her, just because she is Chinese. I am sick, sad and very, very angry.

Here in Maine, our Asian groups, organizations and communities have been partnering in solidarity and communicating with lots of other groups that suffer from the same dangers and attacks; other minorities, LGBTQ, new immigrants, etc…. It has helped a little, just recognizing we have good people around us that will watch each-other’s backs and we’ve organized rallies, vigils and panels. But that is far from enough. I hope you will think long and hard about what small or big actions you can do in your own communities to move us all in a better direction.

Please feel free to leave a comment and let us know how you are doing with planning activities and crafts with your families, campers and students, while you try to help them understand the country and the world right now. I hope you are looking ahead as I am, to a more hopeful, safer, kinder day when our worries will be few. If you would like to know more about Lucky Bamboo Crafts or get in touch with me, please e-mail me at jen@luckybamboocrafts.com. I would love to hear from you!

Spring Festival – Year of the Ox – And the New Normal?

Hello friends,

I’m sharing my thoughts ahead of Chinese New Year, since we will be enjoying the February 12th holiday virtually, this year. When I look back on 2020 and all the fun and festivities I participated in both with CAFAM and Lucky Bamboo Crafts, I’m stunned at how long ago it seems.

Virus, politics, and the world spinning ’round…. not to mention (but I will) personal changes and challenges have made the months seem endless. The upshot has been a slowing of Chinese craft efforts, even though one would think I would have “more time” for these pursuits. Nope…. life has felt constantly arduous, and perhaps the lack of in-person event opportunities has also mellowed my motivation to get my game on. Enough whining, I know….. in the scheme of things how bad do I REALLY have it….?

So here we are in 2021 and the days are getting brighter, the vaccine queue is getting shorter, and do we dare think about late spring and summer in any confident way? You tell me. I have a college student sidelined remotely as her campus tries to pare down their numbers (shshsh that’s kind of nice for Mom!) but it’s yet another thing that feels off-kilter-ish.

A bright spot is our upcoming CAFAM Lunar New Year virtual event. It goes live on New Year’s Eve (Feb. 11th) and I hope you will check it out. Offering leadership (and crafts) to the CAFAM mix has been a good way to stay connected to my board and also celebrate the holiday! Other than that, I’m just trying to keep a positive outlook a day at a time and feel gratitude. Always.  新 年 快 樂!

The Moon Still Rises

中秋节快乐

Hello Friends,

Happy Mid-Autumn Moon Festival! Yes, we celebrate this wonderful Chinese holiday on October 1st and yes, despite what has been a really difficult several months (speaking for myself), the moon still rises. My last post was in April. Since then, each month has seemed to deliver a new version of somewhere between lousy and tragic, not made any easier by the gloomy cloud of covid hardships and workarounds that have of course affected everyone and everything.

So where do I go from here? This holiday celebration is the first time our Chinese culture organization CAFAM has put up some virtual event content. I felt initial dread at the challenge, but it was fun and I worked with some great people. My lantern how-to video is the most basic of projects, but we partnered with our local Children’s Museum so it would be super easy for the youngest viewers. For my family, I shipped some mooncakes to my daughter at college. I hope she will gaze at the moon along with me, even though far from home.

Another bright spot is just being in Maine. No matter how tough a day I am having or how terrible the news feed gets, the change of season with both warm and cool days, and the stunning foliage is a great elixir. I’m sure by now we’ve all had enough “alone time” but I find spending time in nature is a reliable safe-distance friendship. I do hope to develop some new crafts and keep sharing Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts with new readers. Events are still not realistic, but I’m a creative person so I should be able to figure this out! Please leave a comment, check out my website, or drop me an e-mail. I could use the company!

Dragon Boats and Sunshine

Now that this lovely summer feels rather finite, I’m reflecting on the Lucky Bamboo Crafts events that have made the summer even more sunny and fun.

I partnered with my local youth librarian, Jill to have a two-session shadow puppet workshop. A great group of kids from the summer reading program was very engaged in learning the Chinese history of shadow puppets and making the puppets and stage. We based them on the classic story of The Great Race and made all twelve zodiac animals from simple designs that I whipped up. But that is always just the beginning… the creativity abounded which resulted in colorful, unique puppets that could be used with either shadow or an open stage.

The Dragon Boat & Asian Festival in Hartford, CT was really an amazing day. Yes, I know I’ve raved about this festival for several years but this was the best yet. For the visitors, racers, exhibitors and vendors the weather was perfect, the river was calm, the performances of many cultures were stunning and varied, and happiness just seemed to fill the air. I offered an array of projects for the kids including chopstick cases, lion masks, lanterns and of course, dragon boats! I loved watching a few adults partake in the crafts as well. Between their dragon boat races and the busy festival events, a craft project, markers and scissors provided a relaxing oasis alongside their kids.

My dear friend Alison spent the day with me which was a huge bonus and kept me smiling. We came up in art college together so how full-circle to be together again, helping kids express their creativity!

I no longer have a daughter that needs help school shopping or lots of re-entry rituals for the new school year. She can just hop in her car and get what she needs. But this is her senior high school year so I’m buckling in for an “exciting” ride while soaking up all the “mom” time I can. And the summer has been filled with music, ice cream, beaches, friends and all kinds of fun, as Maine is always “what’s not to like?” this time of year.

For Chinese culture, my role as president of CAFAM is ongoing and I look forward to being instrumental in offering new events and meeting newcomers to Maine in the months ahead. First will be a couple of events for Mid-Autumn Moon Festival not long after Labor Day, and I’m planning some fresh crafts around Chang’e, the jade rabbit, and of course the moon!

Lucky Bamboo Crafts Summer Fun

Greetings from Vacationland, Maine. We’ve been pretty cranky around here with the months of chilly, rainy weather but skies are finally brighter and the parkas and boots have been stored.

I’m brainstorming on new craft ideas and have a few events on tap for the summer. I’m joining a local library summer reading program for a shadow puppet workshop based on the traditional Chinese zodiac story of The Great Race. I love collaborating with their skilled and enthusiastic staff.

I’ll also travel to Hartford again in August to lead the crafts for the Dragon Boat and Asian Festival. That is always a long, non-stop day outdoors in the park where I meet great people, offer tons of crafts, and enjoy celebrating the wonderful and diverse community in that area. I may never step into a dragon boat myself but I sure love watching them compete!

This spring has been a busy time for our local CAFAM (Chinese & American Friendship Association of Maine) organization offering some great events. As the president, I’ve been learning the ropes of this new leadership role, while trying to freshen up our website and reach out in new directions. Thankfully, we have a wonderful, active board to support these efforts! A couple of recent highlights have been…..

…. a musical performance and talk by a Chinese rock group that got embroiled in a fight to the highest court to keep their name, The Slants.

…. our annual CAFAM picnic to celebrate friendship, food, and to vote in our board for the upcoming year.

Well, that’s what’s happening here. My teen daughter (now a rising senior) drifts further away with her summer freedom (sniff, sniff), but I am so proud of her independence and maturity. And she now has her own car, a true sign that my value is waning since shuttle service is no longer needed. But I still manage to wrangle her for some of my cultural events. We’ll be close to home this summer… but who knows… we may take an impromptu short trip in August if we can stand to leave Maine during the best month of the year. It’s all good!

The American Dream

Recently I attended a citizenship ceremony at my daughter’s high school. She sang with her choir to welcome sixty-six new citizens from thirty-five countries that call Maine their beloved home. So many emotions washed over me as the oaths were being recited and American patriotic songs filled the air.

There was nothing but joy being expressed in that auditorium… from the families themselves, from the students and teachers seeing democracy and American values unfold before their eyes, from the immigration officials, and from people in the community just like me that simply wanted to attend this life-changing occasion to congratulate them on completing their long paths to bright futures in this country.

This was an obvious reminder of our own family experience. We immigrated our child from a foreign land. Her life in America is a happy, full and positive one, and she is every bit as entitled to grow up and live her life here as I am, having been born in Massachusetts.

We all hear the venom being spewed from our POTUS. “We’re full”. Randomly deporting people that have lived their lives here for decades and raised families. Separating parents and children with no humane consideration. I’ve even heard from other international adoption families that there is a renewed urgency to get additional documentation and citizenship verification for their kids that are now in college. Just in case.

These are dark times for America. I don’t often use this platform to take a position but this issue is undeniably intertwined with my family story as well as what I try and promote with my crafts and teach about world culture. We are all thinking about the immigration issue. Today I just needed to say something. And in our little town in Maine, for a few minutes, I had some hope.

Xīnnián kuàilè! (Happy New Year)

Lucky Bamboo Crafts

If you follow the lunar calendar as I do, you know today is Lantern Festival, the 15th and last day of the Chinese New Year holiday. What a perfect time to review the amazing weeks I’ve had partaking in celebrations for ‘Year of the Pig’ all across New England and sharing Lucky Bamboo Crafts. Most of the events included my daughter’s help and company (and driving on her permit) which was the best! I know this is a long post but I’m proud of the great attendance and cultural education at every one of these events and wanted to include as much as possible.

Sure, I put a lot of work into designing and planning the crafts, but also had enthusiastic and incredibly professional, welcoming hosts at every event. I loved meeting inspired parents, grandparents, educators and hundreds of excited kids, ready to roll up their sleeves and make some crafts. Many children even wore Chinese attire, hairstyles and accessories to show their (adorable) passion for the culture and holiday.

Ok so let’s get started! First was the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine. CAFAM and the CMTM have been mutually hosting some cultural events and it’s been a great partnership! We made mini-lanterns and offered tastes of Tang Yuan. A local Korean organization also brought some wonderful displays and snacks since the museum wanted to highlight the connections of different Asian lunar celebrations.

Next came our local CAFAM event. I was invested heavily in the months of planning all aspects of the day with our board members including numerous craft tables. Whew! We had a wonderful celebration and even hosted a special guest erhu musician from Boston.

Our volunteer site, LearningWorks was the perfect place to share some cultural fun since the children from many countries that are in that after school program are always teaching me so much about their own cultures. The teachers were so kind to turn over their busy classes to us to make dragon puppets and talk about this time of year in Asia.

Merrill Memorial Library right here in town hosted a small event through their children’s library program. Although they’ve had my book in their stacks for years, this was the first time we’ve been invited to offer activities, and it was a great opportunity to meet our local neighbors!

Peabody Essex Museum is always a beautiful venue to host Lunar New Year and build upon their great collections of Chinese art and many Asian-themed activities throughout the year. They have a huge maker space that is equipped for the crowds. The fan project we offered was perfect for toddler through teen, and kids (and parents!) got really creative with the embellishments. They had a fun lantern riddle hunt throughout the museum too!

How we love our Boston Chinatown friends! Bringing crafts to the Chinatown Main Street celebration was a perfect way to round out the holiday. Our craft table in the China Trade Building was a popular hub, even with all the action going on around us. And our young Chinatown friend CG comes and finds us every year and loves helping out. Once we wrapped up, we made sure to linger in Chinatown for a nice meal while the firecrackers popped and the lions munched on their offerings outside the restaurant.

And in other news, I have recently accepted the president position for the Chinese & American Friendship Association of Maine. I look forward to new and exciting events, initiatives and working with wonderful people both on the board and in the community in 2019. Along with that, I’ve been updating my website with new links and projects so do check back from time to time. Now that I’m back in Maine, I’m tidying and storing the sprawl of craft projects and supplies around here as we still dodge snowstorms every few days. But spring will come.

Mooncakes and Mandarin

As I look out my window at the New England postcard of blazing autumn color, the events of late summer seem long passed. But I did want to recap the Dragon Boat & Asian Festival in Hartford, CT. I had a great day of crafting with the kids and had a dear friend helping out (thank goodness!). I also made a new friend that offered paper folding and was amazingly skilled. She was a math teacher and also runs the origami club at her school.

In September I helped lead crafts for the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival at The Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine here in Portland. This was extra-special for three reasons; I had never partnered with the dynamic outreach director at the museum but had wanted to after floating ideas with her for years. Also, I participated as part of our CAFAM organization so had some other crafty board members by my side. And lastly, it’s always more fun when my daughter participates! She had a great time and remembered being a small child there herself, climbing on the firetruck and shopping for play food.

Mandarin classes are underway and I’m already experiencing the huge positive difference in working with an excellent teacher rather than tackling it on my own. This is what she does! It feels odd to have homework, a text and workbook, and be on the student side of life, but since my daughter is currently looking at colleges(!) I guess I’m serving as a fine example! Well, we’ll see…..

Next post, I’ll be ballyhooing my updated website and will have ‘Year of the Pig’ planning in the works. New crafts, for sure. For now, get out and vote!

Elephant Love


Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai

Let me start by addressing the “elephant” in the room…. and I mean that literally. I traveled with my daughter to Thailand in June and although Chinese crafts were the furthest from my mind, I wanted to share a bit about this life-changing trip. Along with tourist travel, we volunteered for a week at Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. We worked hard basically pampering rescued, previously abused and injured elephants and maintaining their grounds. Participating in the work of an amazing woman, founder Lek Chailert was beyond inspirational.

I highly recommend getting involved with this organization, and feel free to e-mail me or leave a comment if you have questions about the volunteer experience. And oh yes, the mother-daughter time was the best!

I had a sweet event at a small island library last month. We made Chinese shuttlecocks, which was a perfect summer craft. After the construction, my daughter took the kids outside and they practiced traditional shuttlecock games. Thanks, Deb (Library Director Extraordinaire) for another wonderful visit!

Dragon boats book end my summer. In June I attended the Boston Dragon Boat Festival for the first time. The races were exciting on the picturesque Charles River and the activity area was bustling. I will hopefully add Lucky Bamboo Crafts to their mix next year!

In a couple of weeks I will head to Hartford, CT for their annual Dragon Boat & Asian Festival. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve offered crafts there and I look forward to returning with some fresh projects. It’s a great event where the city river park is alive with dragon boat races, performances, food vendors, artisans and organizations.

Yes, my new redesigned Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts website is coming, it really is! I think everyone can relate to the struggle to complete projects that have only a self-imposed deadline. Summer in Maine is in itself a heavy distraction but a good one. I hope you are soaking in summer as well, and finding water, sunshine and good food with family and friends.

Summer Crafts that Celebrate Asian Cultures

Summer camps and programs are right around the corner and whether you are planning for overnight campers or a day program, I’m sure that “arts & crafts” are an important part of the mix. Why not give your crafts an Asian twist or have an international celebration where you teach about many cultures while having fun? Here are some project ideas for Chinese crafts from my book to help you along:

Scroll painting has a long history (literally!) in China. You can get a roll of butcher paper (brown will look ancient!) or cut a large, narrow section of a sheet and paint or draw a group scroll. Think of a banner turned on its side. You can use a specific story for the art or be more general and just have the kids come up with some Chinese themes and/or simple calligraphy.

Performance crafts will get kids more invested in larger activities since they are used as part of a show. Ribbon sticks (for Chinese ribbon dances) or shadow puppets (and they can also make the shadow stage) are both loads of fun. You can see my Lunar New Year post from February for some shadow puppet ideas.

Paper folding is a wonderful social activity and quite addictive! Have a good supply of origami paper available all the time. You’ll soon discover your secret paper folding masters! Instructions are easy to find online, and if you find you have some awesome crane folders, create group chains and mobiles to decorate the camp. Use a basic napkin holder with a top weight or arm to keep your paper organized and safe from breezes.

Kite making is an activity I’ve offered many times in summer programs. It seems “old school” that kids would know how to whip up a simple diamond kite, but not the case! And if you want to dig into the rich history with older kids, you can explore more complex designs, and artwork can be painted on the surface with basic craft paint. Happy flying!

Dragon Boat Festival races are popular worldwide on the June 18th holiday and extend right through the summer, especially in the United States. Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts includes a reproducible template and instructions to make a kid-sized version. And if you make the boats water-worthy, you can have your own races! I’m attending the festival in Boston this weekend and look forward to all the Asian fun to kick off summer.