Fall Foliage and Celebrating the Moon

Greetings from leaf peeper season here in New England. It passes so quickly but never disappoints as we enjoy cider, pumpkins, and country fairs. And did you know chrysanthemums have a rich Chinese history?

I got to celebrate two Mid-Autumn Moon festivals locally. The first was our CAFAM celebration and potluck. As president, I had a bigger role and needed to MC the event… not my comfort zone but nobody threw tomatoes (or dumplings) so I guess I pulled it off. We had such a wonderful array of performers, I wanted to be sure and give them proper introductions.

The second was at the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine and my daughter participated as well. We offered a lantern craft with the educational director and enjoyed seeing all the young faces in that great kids’ environment. By the way, the museum is breaking ground on a new Portland location and I can’t wait to see the growth of what is already a wonderful destination for local families and tourists alike.

I’m looking forward to exhibiting at the Maine Chinese Conference later this month in Bangor. This is the only annual Maine conference completely devoted to Chinese language, education and culture.  But honestly, the focus of life now is my high school senior and her college admission process. I can hear the collective groan… it’s a hectic and stressful time. There’s so much positive hope and excitement for the future but man-oh-man I’m exhausted and I’m not even the prospective student. And the bittersweet emotions are already kicking in… this is “it”.

When I post again, Halloween and Thanksgiving will have passed as will some college application deadlines and I’ll be turning to Lunar New Year planning. But for now, I will try my best to enjoy these days with my daughter, even the tough ones.

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.

Duanwu Festival and a World for our Kids

Lucky Bamboo Crafts dragon boat

Hello and Happy Spring… As we thaw out in Maine,  I’ve tried to keep my mind on planning events and sharing new crafts, but I can’t seem to shake my anxiety toward the instability in today’s world. I wake up with it and go to sleep with it. What happened? Well we know what happened… wars and changes in many governments and seemingly endless destructive world upheaval that feels completely overwhelming and out of our control.

And the suffering is real… including millions of children worldwide, as well as those foreign-born who happened to want to make America their home in recent years. So many are being dealt an unfair hand. How do we teach our own kids to be world citizens, embrace and share our many cultures and religions, and just be kind and compassionate when they see the daily barrage of exclusion, deprivation and suffering of innocent families that is not only visible, but accepted?

This is a sensitive issue for my family, having a child that IS foreign-born and was immigrated through a smooth and non-discriminatory process to live the American dream. We can’t give up on believing everyone can do better, take action, and somehow change the course of our future. Shouldn’t this country set the example for the world stage?

Ok, sigh, now on to happier stuff…. Duanwu Festival time! This year the holiday celebrating the legacy of the Chinese poet and scholar Qu Yuan falls early-ish on May 30th so make your plans! This is a great time to get outside and find where there might be dragon boat races near you. Often they are pushed forward to the summer and I’ve linked a few in the New England area below:

Boston Dragon Boat Festival is June 10-11th

Lake Champlain Dragon Boat Festival is August 5-6th

Riverfront Recapture Dragon Boat & Asian Festival  is August 19th (I’ve offered crafts at this event for many years)

Rhode Island Chinese Dragon Boat Races & Taiwan Day Festival is September 9th

You can also check out my Pinterest pages with lots of great pins of dragon craft activities, Duanwu traditions, and recipes for delicious glutinous rice dumplings (zongzi). The team sport of dragon boat racing is a great example of unification and camaraderie of people from all parts of the globe and different ethnicities. Even if simply enjoyed as a spectator, sharing this kind of cultural event with your family can help us all be shoulder-to-shoulder in appreciating and encouraging diversity in our communities.

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!

How to Make a Lantern

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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.

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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.

Chinese Crafts for Summer Camps

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Hello, Summer! We are enjoying the change of pace in Maine as the state swells with visitors looking for beaches, ice cream, lighthouses and relaxation. Many of your kids are also headed to summer camps in places like Maine, and camps are a great place to introduce Chinese crafts. (I think you knew where I was going with this!)

Day camps usually need quick make-and-takes while overnight camps often have a well-stocked art area where more involved projects can be done (many steps, or involving dry time in between). I’m excited to be leading a craft session this week at a local Chinese Dragon Camp through the Bangor Chinese School. It is a short timeframe since it’s a day camp with a rigorous Mandarin learning schedule, and we are making kites and chops which are both in Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts. I have modified both projects to simplify the steps and cut the time considerably. The campers are grades 4-12 so I can have high expectations of their ability to follow the steps at a good clip.

Some of my other favorite Asian culture camp crafts are fans, floating dragon boats, shadow puppets (and stage), paper making and knot tying, depending on the age level. If you don’t have multicultural or heritage camps in your area, consider how culture-specific projects can be worked in with your usual ‘greatest hits’ for camps crafts.

One other mention this summer; two wonderful bloggers that are passionate about multicultural parenting have recently posted reviews of my book. Please check them out and share their lovely work at: www.hybridparenting.org and Oaxacaborn.com.

The camp atmosphere is wonderful for teaching kids about being world citizens. Music, cooking, dance and storytelling are just some of the other activities that can be rolled into an international theme. The best part is you have the great outdoors to be your art studio and you can gather materials from nature. Happy Camp Crafting!

Learning Chinese

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Hello, friends! Before you assume this is yet another “think out loud” pledge to myself to learn Chinese (yawn), I promise you I am posting some useful information. There are so many good ways to take on the study of a new language, and you’ve read about my foray into learning Mandarin. I continue to be committed to daily lessons….. on YouTube. I’m so impressed with the huge variety of great teachers and language lists that can be accessed so easily. I have not drilled down much with getting subscriptions because I simply can’t decide on one site I want to follow sequentially. So I’m basically “skipping rocks” on the surface for now, just pulling up all sorts of videos. As I advance, this may get frustrating and if so, I’ll get more structured with one or two complete courses in earnest.

Some considerations for my lesson choices are attention level, daily mood, level of difficulty, cultural context, repetition technique, situational conversations, association with visual Pinyin, and time I have to spare at each sitting. Here are  just a few of my current favorites with a link to a sample of a video lesson from each:

Yuting https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gX3xCsoTbDs is a charming and funny instructor with an animated personality and cute video production techniques. Her “Top 25” style videos are great for picking up essentials.

Ben from Learn Chinese Now https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=raG_Ysu3b4A usually pairs with a female instructor, and their discussions that support the language learning are always helpful to fully explain the concepts. He has a pleasant, straightforward style.

Fiona from Mandarin Made Easy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bze1eKu5Aac is a lively and upbeat instructor who uses a variety of formats from solo and paired lessons (I especially like Gwilym) to “day in the life” visits and experiences around the world including her Taiwanese culture.

Mike from Learn Chinese with Mike https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gy8SHpbQ004 took some getting used to, with his “cool dude” laid-back style. But his lessons are done well with thoughtfully organized content, and as he writes on his whiteboard, you feel you are right in his garage(!) with him.

Yangyang with Yoyo Chinese https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxeLo3hVe0w is one of the most polished and comprehensive teachers. She barrels through an impressive series of lessons, but her presentation style doesn’t vary much, so I watch her channel when I’m just in the mood for nuts and bolts.

I’ve also been streaming podcasts when driving for long stretches. Although I haven’t explored much in this arena, one I like a lot is Dimsum Mandarin http://www.languagedomus.com/courses/view/2/dimsum-mandarin. Chung has a well-paced and articulate style and you can download free podcasts or subscribe.

Hopefully this will give you a head start on trying some new resources. I don’t think it’s one size fits all so you will find your own favorites as you explore the many great channels. Meanwhile, I’m going to keep at it with the hope that you can teach an old dog (or middle-aged mom?) new tricks. Kuàilè de chūntiān!

Chinese Crafts- Here Comes the Monkey

MCCblogbest

As we approach 2016, I’ve done a lot of contemplation on balance. I have a job I enjoy in project management, I’m raising a wonderful thirteen-year-old (yes, I even like her when she refuses to look up from her iPhone), and I have a cherished circle of friends that are anchors in my life. It all gets nicely rounded out by my Chinese craft and culture pursuits. Each area of my life makes the other areas richer… a yin and yang of sorts. So, on to the crafty stuff…..

The Maine Chinese Conference was such a worthwhile event, spearheaded by a lovely dynamo of a lady named Jing Zhang. I gave both a keynote speech and demo (without fainting) and even was on the local news https://wabi.tv/2015/10/31/maine-chinese-conference-at-husson-university/. The conference area was packed with educators, language specialists and business leaders that had a common commitment to offering more language opportunities and cultural partnerships in Maine. An event like this really helps me see where I belong- with these likeminded people sharing ideas, educational tools… and food! It also motivated me to finally, finally(!) start to learn Mandarin. My baby-step approach; 365 days of study (which has been any form of media, flash cards, etc..) which was started on my birthday last month. Then I’ll see where I am, and consider a tutor in the future. Loving it!

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I’m thrilled to be invited back to Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA for their Year of the Monkey, Lunar New Year festival on 2/13/16. I’ll be doing what I enjoy most; leading the craft activities and sharing Chinese culture through projects from ‘Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts’. I’m currently updating my website with a ‘Year of the Monkey’ free printable to get you started with your own projects. Check out my Pinterest pages too… lots of food, craft and culture pins to help you plan your projects and events.

So here come the holidays, for what ever calendar you follow. Some have already passed. It’s the perfect time to get together with friends and family for crafts (which make great gifts), and to also make some goals to learn something new or explore a long-held passion more deeply. May you find a peaceful balance in your life in the new year!

Dragon Boats and Lobsters

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Photo credit: Hartford Courant

Greetings from Maine! Summer is still here, as far as I’m concerned. My daughter doesn’t go back to school until after Labor Day, of course falling late this year. So I see it as my obligation, living in “Vacationland”, to wedge in more fun with friends and family, and eat more lobster.

I’ve woven a couple of great events into our Lucky Bamboo Crafts schedule this summer… an experience in contrasts. Each gave us a unique opportunity to share Chinese culture with very different audiences.

The Newport Cultural Center near Bangor, Maine hosted a Chinese craft and culture activity time at their multi-purpose center and library. The summer program kids and other local library visitors in that area do not get much exposure to other cultures outside Maine rural life so it was very satisfying to share what I could about China. And with my daughter by my side leading the origami table, this proud mama also got to interject a bit about adoption and being a multicultural, multi-race family.

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Then off to Hartford, CT for the Riverfront Dragon Boat and Asian Festival which I attended for the first time two years ago. I was yet again completely energized by the huge vibrant and diverse crowd. Along with leading the craft tables, I made sure to spend some time watching the dragon boat races, enjoying the performances and eating delicious Asian fare. Now that Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts has been out for a couple of years, it’s particularly exciting when I’m able to still share my inspiration with loads of new people including educators and multi-ethnic families.

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My Crowdtivate campaign was extended for a few more weeks so please check out this link to my video and details! https://www.crowdtivate.com/projects/view/4261  I’m excited to be branching out to craft kits and appreciate the funding that has already been donated to bring this to life.

The months ahead are still being planned for Chinese crafts. The Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, and the Year of the Monkey (as much as I don’t want to think about February in New England) will be my focus for planning some events and designing some new crafts. But for now, the lobster and warm breezes prevail!