Spring of Hope

Spring has sprung! We are waking up in Maine as the weather gradually gets milder, the grass gets greener, and we look ahead to a busy summer. Lucky Bamboo Crafts has been waking up as well.

This was a big month for our local organization, Chinese & American Friendship Association of Maine, especially after the two years of curtailed activity and events. We had a lovely Dragon Boat Festival (端午节) Potluck recently at Portland Headlight. It was a foggy, cool day but our site was perfect for old and new friends to gather, connect and take part in a delicious Chinese meal. We also had authentic zongzi (粽子) to celebrate the occasion which was a special treat.

For crafts, I brought dragon boats with paddles and also incense sachets which was a new design. I loved seeing crafters young and old wearing the sachets around their necks following the tradition of keeping evil away and protecting health. This was also my last CAFAM event as president which felt impactful, but I know it is time, and was lucky to have personal friends and family attend to share the day with me. My daughter is back home from college for the summer and I am giddy with happiness to have her underfoot.

I plan on bringing Lucky Bamboo Crafts to the Riverfront Recapture Dragon Boat and Asian Festival in August in Hartford which is always a wonderful cultural event. My crafts array at the recent Portland event gives me a good head start for coming up with some fun ideas for the Hartford festival which is on a much larger scale. And the races will be back. Paddles up!

Beyond daily life, I find myself looking for hope on a lot of fronts. Since I started penning this post, tragedy has been on all our minds as gun violence over and over robs us of peace and happiness and communities across this country are destroyed in the blink of an eye. As always, I am committed with intense determination to work toward common sense gun laws. Even when it feels hopeless I need to have hope. And other top-of-mind issues of our basic rights being stripped away weigh heavily. Having a 20-year old daughter starting her adulthood in this mess is painful.

Let’s all do what we can. There are so many ways to help, join an org, be a voice, or just pass along some kindness. Yes, the darkness takes over a lot these days but I try to let hope have the main stage. Wishing you a great season ahead, exploring your creativity, embracing many cultures, and don’t forget the fun.

Good Luck Arrives

February can be a hard, icy month in the Northeast. But my heart and spirit (and stomach) were warmed on February 13th when I traveled to Boston to share crafts in Chinatown at the China Trade Center. The annual celebration was back with hundreds of excited visitors enjoying the street parade, firecrackers, traditional lion dances, and indoor activities.

How I had missed the collective energy of ringing in the Lunar New Year and being able to make crafts and “Fu” decorations with the kids to ensure good luck would arrive. The weather was fierce (as always, in mid-February) but we all braved the snow with the determination of the Tiger. And no trip to Chinatown would be complete without enjoying a delicious meal and soup dumplings at a local spot! It was perfect sustenance for the journey back to Maine.

Now that we are into our new year, I am mapping out my Chinese culture activities for the rest of 2022. I hope to bring Lucky Bamboo Crafts back to the Riverfront Recapture Dragon Boat Festival in Connecticut over the summer. I also continue to be active in CAFAM events and initiatives here in Maine, although I will be stepping down as president after being “in office” since 2018. I look forward to less leading and more doing!

Other than that, life is quiet again, but I’m amping up for an adventure to the Pacific Northwest and Vancouver BC. Oh, how I’ve dreamed of this road trip for years! Knowing me, it will basically be a food tour. I’ve never been big on acronyms but YOLO does seem to be chiming in my head. The pressures and violence around the globe are so disturbing, and I am mindful of how important it is that kindness and gratitude be a constant. Having the ability and resources to take a little vacation in April for myself feels like a real gift. Hopefully, I can pay it forward.

The Tiger’s Roar of Winter

Happy 2022! So, do we share these good wishes with mild sarcasm and air quotes or are we sincerely optimistic it will be a much better year?  How can we still be dashed by covid? How can people still not be vaccinated? My immediate family continues to be healthy, but I take it all very personally since one is a front-line healthcare provider that is regularly treating covid-positive unvaccinated people. Can you feel my blood boil?

Well, you get the idea I’m sure, and before I go too deeply into that rabbit hole I will pivot. Maine in January is a chilly, snowy undertaking but the days are gradually brighter and activities, goals and plans for the new year are underway. The biggest holiday on my calendar is the Lunar New Year. We will celebrate the Year of the Tiger on 2/1/22. I’m very involved in two in-person events with Lucky Bamboo Crafts (that will hopefully survive omicron and stay scheduled) and you can get details on the calendar. Time to come up with some new tiger crafts and get the creativity going again!

My daughter will have returned to college so I will have to send a Chinese New Year package and hong bao to campus. (I doubt she reads my blog so this might even remain a surprise!) The school holiday break of nearly a month is winding down, and as a parent, letting her out of my grip never seems to get easier.

But I will carry on with winter with a peaceful spirit. When the weather isn’t too extreme (with bitter cold or blizzard conditions) I find so many ways to enjoy and appreciate Maine each day. Working remotely certainly makes it easier, but comfort food (porridge! soup! a bamboo steamer of dumplings!), and trying to spend time outdoors daily helps me beat the winter blues.

It is also a time of renewal for my advocacy areas of focus. There are so many ways to be “a helper” as Mr. Rogers always used to point out. We are still in a difficult place, but hopefully your life involves more real hugs, your kids are active and healing from their losses, and we all have brighter days ahead.

Looking Back, Looking Ahead with Lucky Bamboo Crafts

The days are so short, dark, and cool as we head into the quiet peace of late Fall.  Along with that, it’s time to plan the festivities of a real holiday season after missing so much last year. The struggles seem more scattered now. High prices and a multitude of supply disruptions. Schools caught off-guard with sudden covid surges. Trying to live normally but still trying to cope with the trauma of what has been lost in the last nearly two years.

I talk about this first because the pandemic is still first on everyone’s minds and still greatly affecting everyone’s lives. But what gratitude I feel for having the vaccines now so available, even to children, and even to those that want a “boost”. Hopefully, by now, the naysayers have been firmly pushed into their shame corners and will stay there.

So, looking back. It was wonderful to see the CAFAM community and local friends turn out at our Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. We gathered at a beautiful venue overlooking Portland Headlight and the tasty food and warm conversation were abundant.

Just a couple of weeks later, I was one of the presenters for a CAFAM historical marker unveiling in Portland. For those from afar, you may not know that Portland…. and Maine have a rich history of early Chinese immigrants settling here. We honored one particular family for their contributions and you can read more about them here. The best part was that several of the Goon family members, some elderly, traveled to Maine to attend! As they stood in front of their childhood home, I felt our ceremony and remarks were very meaningful and we were all so filled with positive emotion.

And now, looking ahead. Lunar New Year is taking shape, and we are moving forward with a local performance and celebration. Details to come in my event calendar, and Lucky Bamboo Crafts may hit the road with some other events, as well. Hopefully ‘Year of the Tiger’ will bring lots of good fortune (and dumplings) and fewer hardships for everyone. My “empty nest” has been pretty calm, although I miss my daughter terribly as she finally gets to partake in a normal college campus experience. Time to turn some new pages in life, with projects, work, travel, crafts, new friends, and 2022 may even be the year of Mandarin. While giving thanks, for sure.

 

Craftivism and Ice Cream

Aaaaaah summer in Maine and this is the time I enjoy most to take part in all the gifts of the season. As much as I feel moments of wanderlust to get on a plane or take a long road trip (just because we CAN), I seem to remain hunkered down, gently encouraging my far-flung friends to travel in my direction, instead.

News! Lucky Bamboo Crafts book sales fulfillment has now officially been transitioned to a wonderful company in VA, Nataraj Books. IPG kept my book relevant and available and was a great partner for 8+ years and I now look forward to the next chapter (so to speak)! Nataraj Books is a South Asian-owned business, and they carry my book in their catalog in addition to now handling my warehouse and fulfillment needs. Lucky me!

Craftivism! I was excited to be able to join my creativity, interests, and causes in a recent event for gun safety. During the Wear Orange weekend in June, I brought together gun sense messaging, a craft kit and online tutorial, and leadership from an Asian community activism group in Maine, Unified Asian Communities.

It was such a natural fit for me, as I often feel my personal “buckets” are too far apart and “craftivism” is a concept I am going to continue to pursue. As we’ve all been forced to think about our lives in “hybrid” mode, I’m thinking of more ways I can join my passionate volunteer work with my skills in the Asian cultural craft arena.

CAFAM! I’ve been voted in as CAFAM President for another year, and am proud to continue to provide leadership to our largest Chinese culture organization in Maine. The previous months have been intense with lots of Asian community advocacy during this climate of targeted violence and racism. Along with that, we have started to flourish again with programs, resources, and planning events for summer and fall.

I’m also wearing my Lucky Bamboo Crafts hat again for getting out to events and sharing crafts with kids which is always an elixir for me. Keep an eye on my event calendar!

It certainly feels good to finally have some “news” and be more hopeful about the months ahead, rather than totally focused on what we can’t do, and just staying safe. I hope you are enjoying the same newfound freedom, and are fully vaccinated (oh my goodness please say you are). Life will never be what it was before the pandemic, but as we try and heal and step softly into the future, let’s hope that different can be good. Very good.

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!

Lunar New Year – 2020

Welcome to my favorite post of the year, when I get to reflect and share the Lunar New Year festivities for Lucky Bamboo Crafts. As I write this annual post detailing the events that crowded my schedule, my memories go to experiences more than crafts. We rang in the Year of the Rat and also the year of the coronavirus. This made for an unusual and complicated Chinese holiday season. Navigating the planning, collaborating with the Chinese and non-Chinese communities, and just the general solemn and concerned atmosphere impacted both directly and indirectly, all my events and how I handled my participation and leadership. But along with all the bad news of how serious the crisis has become, there was plenty of joy and celebration.

I think if my Lunar New Year events had started today, that wouldn’t have been the case and there would have been far more disruption and low attendance, because of how much the outbreak has grown. This was so apparent as I watched the Four Continents skating competition coverage last Sunday (figure skating is my jam) and the camera panned to the audience of thousands of white and black dots… everyone… I mean everyone with masks. And it was in South Korea, not China. I’ve worn those masks in China during both SARS and H1N1. The stress, fear, isolation, and uncertainty being reported brings back vivid memories and my heart goes out to those suffering, quarantined and displaced. Ok, well on to my chronicle…..

The Peabody Essex Museum Chinese New Year event is always such a treat! The place was packed with families eager to watch the performers and belly up for some crafts. As always, I had terrific museum folks guiding the way and offering help. I was set up in the new wing atrium; what a beautiful space with light streaming in. I can’t wait to visit in the warmer months and enjoy the new garden court. I wrapped up the day with an early dinner with my dear friend Heidi, a Salem, MA “local” before heading north.

At our after school volunteering site in Portland, my daughter and I taught a lesson to the class on Chinese New Year. This always encourages the kids to share their own rich stories of holidays they celebrate. Along with the numerous students from African countries, a lovely, young Vietnamese student looks forward to getting up each year and sharing the similarities to China of her Tết family traditions. The kids always enjoy having one of their peers help lead the discussion and compare cultures with us as a “co-teacher”.

Our local event with the Chinese & American Friendship Association of Maine (CAFAM) was by far my biggest commitment. I was in charge of the entire event this year, not only the crafts. I’d say the biggest feather in my cap was bringing a top-notch performing group up from the Boston area, Chinese Folk Art Workshop as our main stage act. And just as our board thought our planning was pretty solid, we found out that two NY Chinese Consulate officials were going to fly up to attend. We felt grateful that they would make the trip and worked a small welcoming ceremony into the day. Thankfully, my Chinese friends on the board could help with the language challenges and appropriate protocol!

The day was also filled with workshops, crafts (of course), food, and demonstrations. Whew! My daughter handled the Lucky Bamboo Crafts table while I scrambled around. Good weather, hard-working people and commitment to the cultural mission of our event all were in our favor.

Chinatown! Who doesn’t love Chinatown? The day after the large CAFAM event, I shook off the fatigue and headed to Boston with my daughter/co-crafter for a day at the China Trade Center. We were lucky enough to have several friendly and energetic teens from the local Chinese community help us throughout the day, and the folks from Chinatown Main Street welcomed us warmly, now that we’ve participated in several of their cultural events. This always feels like an outing more than a workday, even with several hours spent at the tables with families passing through and enjoying the projects. The lion dancers come and see us, gobbling up red envelopes from the children. We can hear the firecrackers outside, and never leave town without a delicious meal at a local restaurant. My daughter also grabbed a bubble tea for the road, and I think Kung Fu Tea is now a new favorite stop.

The Lantern Festival on February 8th was the perfect time to wind up my activities and events. Seems I had now come full-circle, ending up at my local library with Chinese animal zodiac activities. The children’s librarian, Jill does such an amazing job, and after the previous two days of icy, inclement weather, this was a great morning for families to connect, catch up, and shake off the winter chill.

So now the lanterns have come down and the crafts are packed up. What will spring bring? Projects and craft planning. Focus on my job, causes, politics and the people and things I care about. A college decision from my daughter along with an 18th birthday. A heavy heart for her mom. And the knowledge that the future will be bright for our family, even if very different. Thanks for stopping by!

Gratitude in the New Year

Hello, my friends and thanks for checking in to see what’s new at Lucky Bamboo Crafts. The year is winding down and many of you have already celebrated one or more holidays. I hope you are enjoying the gifts of the season with family and friends, while always remembering those that are alone, financially challenged, sick or suffering; those for which the holidays can be especially tough.

The Maine Chinese Conference in Bangor in October was a great place to network with many different factions that are committed to language education, along with introducing folks to what CAFAM and Lucky Bamboo Crafts can offer. I enjoyed wearing both hats and was lucky to have Shannon, a fellow board member spend the day in Bangor with me.

Jen and Shannon with Jing Zhang, Director

Maine Chinese Conference

Lunar New Year seems so close (January 25th, 2020), and our planning is in full swing for our Maine CAFAM celebration including a fantastic performance troupe from Boston. I have also been offered the coveted spot with Lucky Bamboo Crafts to be in charge of crafts at both Peabody Essex Museum and Boston Chinatown again this year. This always fills me with pride and just a wee bit of panic, since they are both such huge events. But I am testing out some craft ideas (yes, including rats!) and thinking about fun materials and it always comes together. Before I know it, there will be smiling little faces and scraps flying. Please check out my events calendar for the details.

This has been a challenging 2019, trying to give my best to my job, keep engaged in Chinese culture, carry the leadership of CAFAM and navigate my daughter’s senior year, along with some other family challenges. And of course the rest of life… volunteer service, friends, and even too many dentist appointments! But as we turn the page and ring in 2020, there is always an opportunity to get on a fresh track with gratitude and renewal. That’s my plan.