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!

The Unthinkable Spring

So here we are, and as a family member said when they closed the schools seemingly ages ago, “we’re really in it now”.

After a rocky Lunar New Year season here in Maine and around the globe, I had certainly hoped by April, I would be talking about crafts in a lighthearted way, not as a survival tool for housebound families. Kind of sucks the life out of it, so I will not even attempt to spin cheery ideas in a self-indulgent way. But you know crafts are good, and I’m sure you’ve got enough junk, recyclables and art materials to do them without entering a store or buying online, so give the kids a challenge. You can start with a “treasure hunt” around the house to gather the stuff.

We of course all have zillions of project sources and ideas that were already existing and never tapped (I may finally figure out the e-lending at my local library), community and school outreach for kids, and those that are taking the opportunity to dish out some new content now, that may have staying power for their businesses after this moves on. On that last piece, I say it without judgment… even if it’s not my style during this crisis to draw attention to my own ventures. These are horrible times and people with a mob of kids under their roof need all the help they can get. Thankfully a lot of the stuff popping up now is free. Don’t forget to look on your own bookshelf too… (if you’re wondering, that’s the large piece of furniture where those dusty folios with pages live). Everyone has some long-forgotten arts & crafts books.

But of course the bigger picture…. for me, the constant bad news is very difficult to take and the chirpy celebs saying “we will get through this together” and “this is the great equalizer”…. really? Maybe I’m just in a fragile and gloomy frame of mind but enough. I just hope those celebs are paying all their service providers throughout the crisis while they are furloughed. Maids, nannies, chefs, stylists, manicurists, drivers, personal assistants, gardeners, trainers…. as I doubt those folks feel equal in their resources to cope with a pandemic.

Well, perhaps I’ve pontificated for long enough. We are all dealing with variations of this scary, uncertain, unthinkable time and the impact on our lives. Amidst all the heartbreak, I hope you stay safe, stay healthy and stay home. I’ll be back during brighter times…. J.D.

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.

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.

Dragon Boats and Sunshine

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lucky Bamboo Crafts Summer Fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The American Dream

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

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

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

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

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