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.

Rejuvenation

As we enjoy the holiday season in Maine, I find reasons for gratitude at every turn. I try and give where I can, be compassionate, and reflect on what was a good year. This hasn’t been an easy time to peddle kindness in this country. But perhaps the holidays will bring out the best in people and also offer a fresh start for anyone that feels their selfish, divisive or small-minded behavior in 2018 didn’t really work for them.

So where else is there rejuvenation? Well, right here at Lucky Bamboo Crafts! My redesigned website is finally launched. It combines the essentials from the earlier version with a whole lot more to explore. My hope is for this new site to constantly grow and change as I add content, have new adventures with my book, and offer usable Chinese culture printables, ideas and instructions just for you!

As always I’m looking forward to the Lunar New Year festivities in February and have many craft events on the schedule for ‘Year of the Pig’. Please check out my calendar for details and come join in the fun! Wishing everyone happy, healthy and joyful holidays and I’ll see you in 2019!

Chinese New Year Events 2018

China Trade Center, Boston

As we approach Lantern Festival this week, I’m pleased to share my favorite post of the year chronicling my Lunar New Year events. Each celebration offered a distinctly different approach and cultural experience, and I’ve come away with many warm memories and inspiring ideas. I also have an even deeper understanding of the significance of celebrating Chinese New Year with my family, friends, and the many communities I visited. I’ll let the photo gallery illuminate each account.

Our local CAFAM ‘Year of the Dog’ festival in Westbrook, Maine was a much-anticipated reunion with many old friends. My daughter got in the mix, working at one of the craft stations for the day along with a terrific bunch of other high schoolers from the Portland area. This event required a substantial amount of planning and pre-event craft preparation, and as a board member I had my eyes and ears on many aspects of the jam-packed schedule. It was also our organization’s first year hosting the event under dynamic new leadership. I designed some new crafts including a ‘dragonfly copter’ and of course had lots of ‘dog’ themed activities. The craft area was bustling all day as the excited kids hustled from one table to the next, not wanting to miss a project.

Then off to the lovely Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. I designed original shadow puppets for their maker area to give a nod to their current PlayTime and upcoming China Empresses exhibits. Their ingenious creative director made a lit multiple puppet stage area so the kids could take their assembled and decorated puppets right across the room to play. PEM also had a second art drop-in area to make the ‘Year of the Dog’ pendant from my book. I loved how the directions were clearly displayed and the supplies were beautifully organized for the hands-on crafts. With both of these offerings, I’ve never seen the concepts, instructions and designs from my book taken to such a high level. Since its inception, I’ve really hoped the book would be a “workhorse” tool that readers could expand into full activity days and programs and I saw that come to life (yet again) at the PEM Lunar New Year event.

My last event was on a soggy, gusty day in Chinatown, Boston but nothing could dull the bright faces, pops of firecrackers and drum beats. We were welcomed to the China Trade Building at setup time with fresh-baked pork buns (at which point I knew this was going to be a great day) and had a very popular table all day, crowded with creative kids. After the Cultural Village ended and the last scraps were cleaned up, rather than hustling out of Boston I took a pause with my daughter and we had a meal at Gourmet Dumpling House. Outstanding food in a tiny, chaotic dining room. The gray, drizzled light was dimming outside but the lion dance troupes were still passing by the window now and then, with their drums and seemingly unlimited energy. I truly felt the soul of China that day.

So that’s where my focus has been for several weeks. One last bit of news… Wes Radez of the Chinese American Family website has posted a profile about Lucky Bamboo Crafts and a lantern tutorial, perfect for the aforementioned Lantern Festival on March 2nd. This Oakland, CA based company puts out wonderful, informative content on all aspects of Chinese culture and how to share it with your family and community.

Until next time, I wish you a most auspicious year ahead.

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.

Mid-Autumn Mooncakes in Maine

The leaves are changing and dropping and the beach chairs have been retired for another hibernation. We are easing into Fall with weeks of crazy-balmy weather in Maine.

I was slated to dish up Lucky Bamboo Crafts at two Mid-Autumn Festival events but sadly, the Boston Chinatown Main Street organization needed to cancel due to heavy rain. However, I was invited to a delicious dim sum lunch with the lovely director, Courtney Ho before I headed back north. Hopefully I will catch them at their Lion Dance Competition in November.

The next day I was back in Portland, at the CAFAM Mid-Autumn Festival. I’m on the board now, so I was especially devoted to a successful event, and we delivered with a full festival program and several musical performances. This is perhaps the most Chinese-attended event in Maine during the year with bilingual conversations in the air and a sumptuous potluck of homemade Chinese food. I was in heaven!

My craft area was on major cute-alert as the pictures display. We made a lantern (adapted for Moonfest), along with some paper folding and as always, personal creations by the kids.

I learned more this year about how the Mid-Autumn Festival fits into the Golden Week. In Boston, they were kicking off the week with China’s National Day (celebrating the founding of the PRC in 1949) on October 1st and dignitaries were visiting the city. Most families in China have paid holidays and use this entire week to travel, with the Moon Festival holiday falling mid-week. I always love learning more about the culture and significant holidays in China!

I’ll be traveling to the San Francisco Bay Area soon to visit beloved friends. I also may stop in on a couple of Bay Area companies interested in my craft pursuits. One item on my wish list is to further explore Oakland’s Chinatown, and although much smaller than the iconic San Francisco Chinatown, there is a vibrant Asian community, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to find an incredible dumpling.

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.

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.