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.

Giving Thanks, Sharing Culture

Welcome back! A highlight of this Fall was my California Bay Area trip in October. Although I had a heavy heart for all the suffering in the North Bay as the fires were blazing, I was able to enjoy my smoky travels and saw several wonderful friends. And oh my, we found the most amazing Chinese homemade noodle and dumpling restaurant in Oakland Chinatown!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back home and to the Maine Chinese Conference in Bangor. I got to exhale this year and be an exhibitor only. Mingling and taking part in the workshops was much less stressful than being a keynote, as I had done for the last two years. Of course the small detail of much of it being presented in Mandarin was daunting but motivating. At least I got to train my ear, but I can’t accurately relay the high points, sorry! I did get to present a copy of  Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts as a gift to the visiting Consulate General of China from New York.

Then Thanksgiving came along… the kickoff to the long, multi-culture, multi-faith string of holidays. A wonderful board member from our local Chinese friendship organization described her blend of cultures at Thanksgiving, growing up Chinese-American which I thought was so interesting as we all consider what we include in our own family traditions.

“Growing up as a Chinese-American kid in Ohio and Maryland, we did not have the usual Thanksgiving meal. My mom always said that turkey is “too tough” and had no interest in making one for Thanksgiving, so we would have a big Chinese feast, with duck and soup and dumplings and a million other dishes–which was all delicious, of course. The only problem was going to school and having teachers talk to the class about eating turkey and stuffing and all of that, and feeling like the only kid who did not do that. It didn’t bother me terribly (in part because I was quite happy with what we ate instead), but it underscored the feeling of not being entirely “American.”

Now, with my own family, my kids are very, very into the full-on American Thanksgiving meal, and they love to help cook the various side dishes. For me it sometimes feels a bit like I’m just imitating a tradition, but I do see how we’re in the process of creating our own tradition. We do sometimes insert a bit of Asian influence into the meal, such as a sticky-rice stuffing that’s basically a Chinese dish. Either way, sitting down together for a big, festive meal is certainly a wonderfully universal tradition.”

Maybe my friend’s words echo your own experience. Even as I wrap presents and plan for the Christmas break, the upcoming ‘Year of the Dog’ is on my mind. Our local Lunar New Year planning is well underway and I better start thinking up some awesome crafts that bark! Please check my event calendar as craft dates get set. I’ll also use this time of year to step out of my busy routine to not only think to the future, but reflect on all the people, places and experiences that made my ‘Year of the Rooster’ a good one.

Lucky Bamboo Crafts and Summer Days

We are all squeezing out the last drops of summer and as we move toward the school year, students of all ages will have their staggered (and perhaps staggering) returns to the routines of academic success. Our own lives change too, as we facilitate all the stuff that goes into their launches. I’m in a good spot. My daughter is a sophomore in high school. Old enough to get her act together on her own with minimal effort on my part, but young enough that I avoid a long college road trip with a tearful goodbye. I’m savoring these times.

Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts activity has been a little sleepy over the summer but I had one wonderful workshop to teach about the history of kite making in China and make a simple diamond kite, a requirement for summer fun. The simple instructions can be found in my book. The always enthused head librarian Deb shared ancient Chinese kite-themed poetry that she had gone and researched!

The kids were a beautiful bunch and loved running outside afterwards with a kite ready to take flight. I even met lovely twin girls visiting from Australia, and since their mum was kind enough to buy a book, there may be Australian Chinese craft activities going on as we speak.

This is when I also start planning for the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. Keep checking the events calendar for my appearance dates. I’m giving myself a challenge of figuring out a new craft for this special holiday, or at the very least, giving an older prototype a new flourish.

Since schools and organizations are starting up again and we are all knee-deep in planning, I hope multicultural activities and events will be part of your array. Feel free to contact me if you’d like ideas on how to infuse Chinese culture and crafts into your plans. But first, have (another) ice cream, put your face in the sun, and enjoy these last summer days.

Lunar New Year; Celebrating with Lucky Bamboo Crafts

Chinatown, Boston, MA

We had a spectacular Lunar New Year season sharing crafts at events and I’ll get right into the highlights. This photo gallery should help illustrate all the fun! I got to roll out some new ideas, toss around some Mandglish, and celebrate from different venues and perspectives. I’ve been waiting a whole year for my favorite holiday!

First up, I constructed a dragon (from my book) for Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA, to use at their spectacular event that draws huge crowds. I thought their idea of the kids creating their own “scales” to apply to the train worked out beautifully!

Our local CAFAM organization celebrated with performances, food, workshops, and crafts in Westbrook, Maine. This was my biggest commitment, as I designed/selected all the crafts, purchased materials and handled set up for a large area of table stations, which I supervised throughout the day. To my delight, I caught up with several old friends and their (much grown!) China adopted kids. I was also able to share ‘Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts’ with some new enthusiasts!

I volunteer with my daughter at an after school program and got to share some traditions of Chinese New Year with our lovely, energetic little group. Most of the kids are new African immigrants and we had some fascinating conversations about different cultural celebrations and norms, and they even picked up a few words of Mandarin.

Next stop, Boston, MA, for a truly exciting day with ‘Chinatown Main Street’, the key organization for Chinese events in the city. It was held at the China Trade Center on a day of crazy, snowy weather, but we would not be deterred and traveled down from Maine. The site was alive with activity and drumming, as frequent Lion Dance troupes came through, hungry for hong bao, lettuce and oranges to start an auspicious year. There were also scheduled performers, a few vendors and some Chinese artisans.

All the ‘Year of the Rooster’ events brought back so many sweet memories of when my nearly 15-year old daughter was young and she was the “customer” at the craft tables and activities. Now she stays by my side, setting up the crafts, guiding the kids, answering questions, and keeping everything moving smoothly. Thank you, honey! I will never tire of seeing the crowds of young, happy faces as they dive in with markers, scissors and glue. A beautiful mess! Popular make-and-takes this year included a rooster lantern, paper folding, a hand drum, a lion dance mask, and a papercut fan.

March may come in like a lion, but we are relieved to be over the hardest days of winter in Maine, as the sun gets brighter and the snow pack starts to recede. Now it’s time to look for new ways to introduce Chinese crafts and culture in educational arenas, blog guest interviews, and in ways and places I have yet to discover. I’d love to hear your comments on what kind of shape that can take and what new craft designs are on your wish list!

Year of the Rooster- Holiday Fun

Happy Holidays to all my blog friends. Whether you are a teacher, festival organizer, librarian or just a family member interested in Chinese culture and crafting, thank you for checking in! The last couple of months have been busy with all kinds of activities, Lucky Bamboo Crafts events, work with my higher education job, parenting a high school freshman, and of course the unexpected. Jury duty, cleaning up early winter blasts; I’m in ‘ready for anything’ mode for sure!

I’ve posted a free project template for a ‘Year of the Rooster’ lucky money envelope (hongbao). Simply click back to my homepage and enjoy! I’ll be leading Chinese New Year crafts locally with our Portland, ME organization event, as well as with Boston Chinatown Main Street at their Chinese New Year Cultural Village. Although I will not be visiting Peabody Essex Museum this year because of a schedule conflict, I’m making a large dragon head and parade costume for an interactive activity they will offer to their Lunar New Year visitors for the kids to embellish. Then they will parade the dragon. Great idea, Caryn!

And of course with Christmas and Chanukah this weekend we can all step back and take a break from the routine to celebrate. That’s an order! Along with family fun, I use the time leading up to the new year (and then the lunar new year) to reflect and plan. (Well ok, I’ll also be blinging up a dragon head!). It’s been a wild ride in recent months with domestic politics and world turmoil. Finding that calm, peaceful, purposeful place in our lives is challenging. I’m a bit wrung out. But what choice do we have but to be hopeful, generous and kind, even in small ways. Our kids are counting on us.

How to Make a Lantern

jaderabbitlantern

 

 

 

 

 

Would you like to learn how to make the easiest lantern ever with your kids? As the author of ‘Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts; Over 100 Projects & Ideas Celebrating Chinese Culture’, I have shared hundreds of Chinese-inspired projects and craft designs for every occasion and setting. But recently I was preparing the craft station for our local Mid-Autumn Moon Festival and I wanted to bring something new. And easy. And festive. And versatile.  This Jade Rabbit lantern worked out beautifully for all ages.

Tools and Materials:

  • paper party cup
  • chenille stem
  • paper graphic art
  • LED tea light
  • scissors
  • markers, etc. for coloring
  • glue stick
  • hole punch

Instructions:

  1. Punch two holes near cup rim opposite each other, with one on the cup seam
  2. “Squash” cup so holes are in the middle and cut some openings on each side in any shape
  3. Re-shape cup and attach chenille stem through holes for handle
  4. Color in (if needed) and cut out graphic
  5. Glue graphic to inside rim of cup, positioned between the handle holes
  6. Place tea light in cup

Another great thing about this lantern; it can be adapted to any holiday or theme. Halloween, Lunar New Year, Christmas pageant, Lantern Festival…. even a kids’ sleepover activity. Just find the perfect image or graphic online (or draw one) that would look nice on the edge of the cup, and copy to the right size and number of duplicates.

So there’s my little inspiration. Maine is aglow not only with lanterns but with foliage, and we’re making spicy-sweet apple and pumpkin creations. I hope you are also enjoying this special time of year. Leave a comment and let me know how your lanterns turn out!

Summer Sun and Chinese Dragon Fun

Jennifer DeCristoforo
Dragon Boat & Asian Festival, Hartford

Lucky Bamboo Crafts have been part of the fun over these summer weeks. Life is a little slower, the weather is divine, and what better time to enjoy sharing crafts and Chinese culture with kids.

In July I headed to the Bangor Chinese School with my daughter to lead a workshop during their Chinese Dragon Camp. We made kites and chops in one short session which was pretty ambitious, but the kids ranged up to high schoolers and were great listeners and workers. They enjoyed coming away with authentic projects to bring home and share with their families. We loved walking the hallways beforehand and hearing intensive Mandarin classes going on in room after room. Dancers practiced in every corner. The camp was so alive with culture.

Dragon Camp, Bangor, Maine

 

 

 

 

 

This month I was in Hartford, CT again for the Dragon Boat & Asian Festival along the river. This year was extra special as my good friend Alison came up from Greenwich, CT and joined me. The kids made dragon boats, chopstick cases and other simple crafts. This is always a spectacular event of races, performances, activities and food.

JenHartfordd JenHartford2 JenHartforda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now that I’ve shared craft projects with all ages, sizes of group and types of event, I am much calmer, more confident and let each event simply unfold. But just a small “pearl”… the constant in being successful has not changed since I first rolled out Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts. Prepare, prepare, prepare. This would seem obvious, but I’m quite methodical about starting my supply list early, bringing ample quantities of the craft for a big crowd, and always throwing a little something extra in.. coloring sheets and crayons, origami paper, etc.. so there are choices for all ages. A craft session can really crash and burn if there is a whoops like glue sticks forgotten or insufficient pre-prep of a craft that makes the project too time-consuming and frustrating for the kids.

The summer has been glorious on every front for me and the upcoming autumn days will be bittersweet, as my daughter enters high school. At 14 she is a wonderful partner and helper with craft events and in life, but it’s hard not to be aware of the fleeting time that has passed since I first started developing this book. She’s a young woman and I say that with pride and astonishment. As you start corralling school supplies and reviewing team schedules with your kids, I wish you a good transition and will be back soon with education-focused ideas.