Mooncakes and Mandarin

As I look out my window at the New England postcard of blazing autumn color, the events of late summer seem long passed. But I did want to recap the Dragon Boat & Asian Festival in Hartford, CT. I had a great day of crafting with the kids and had a dear friend helping out (thank goodness!). I also made a new friend that offered paper folding and was amazingly skilled. She was a math teacher and also runs the origami club at her school.

In September I helped lead crafts for the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival at The Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine here in Portland. This was extra-special for three reasons; I had never partnered with the dynamic outreach director at the museum but had wanted to after floating ideas with her for years. Also, I participated as part of our CAFAM organization so had some other crafty board members by my side. And lastly, it’s always more fun when my daughter participates! She had a great time and remembered being a small child there herself, climbing on the firetruck and shopping for play food.

Mandarin classes are underway and I’m already experiencing the huge positive difference in working with an excellent teacher rather than tackling it on my own. This is what she does! It feels odd to have homework, a text and workbook, and be on the student side of life, but since my daughter is currently looking at colleges(!) I guess I’m serving as a fine example! Well, we’ll see…..

Next post, I’ll be ballyhooing my updated website and will have ‘Year of the Pig’ planning in the works. New crafts, for sure. For now, get out and vote!

Summer Crafts that Celebrate Asian Cultures

Summer camps and programs are right around the corner and whether you are planning for overnight campers or a day program, I’m sure that “arts & crafts” are an important part of the mix. Why not give your crafts an Asian twist or have an international celebration where you teach about many cultures while having fun? Here are some project ideas for Chinese crafts from my book to help you along: Scroll painting has a long history (literally!) in China. You can get a roll of butcher paper (brown will look ancient!) or cut a large, narrow section of a sheet and paint or draw a group scroll. Think of a banner turned on its side. You can use a specific story for the art or be more general and just have the kids come up with some Chinese themes and/or simple calligraphy. Performance crafts will get kids more invested in larger activities since they are used as part of a show. Ribbon sticks (for Chinese ribbon dances) or shadow puppets (and they can also make the shadow stage) are both loads of fun. You can see my Lunar New Year post from February for some shadow puppet ideas. Paper folding is a wonderful social activity and quite addictive! Have a good supply of origami paper available all the time. You’ll soon discover your secret paper folding masters! Instructions are easy to find online, and if you find you have some awesome crane folders, create group chains and mobiles to decorate the camp. Use a basic napkin holder with a top weight or arm to keep your paper organized and safe from breezes. Kite making is an activity I’ve offered many times in summer programs. It seems “old school” that kids would know how to whip up a simple diamond kite, but not the case! And if you want to dig into the rich history with older kids, you can explore more complex designs, and artwork can be painted on the surface with basic craft paint. Happy flying! Dragon Boat Festival races are popular worldwide on the June 18th holiday and extend right through the summer, especially in the United States. Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts includes a reproducible template and instructions to make a kid-sized version. And if you make the boats water-worthy, you can have your own races! I’m attending the festival in Boston this weekend and look forward to all the Asian fun to kick off summer.

Crafts, Creativity and Connection

Every few months my loyal readers (please say you are out there) may notice my post is less thematic and more a grab bag of thoughts and stories. Well, here we are! First, the photo… let me explain, or perhaps it needs no explanation. I resist the temptation to use this blog as a political forum, but I will admit I’m absolutely rabid about increasing gun sense and safety in this country. I’ve always valued connection, but am now more than ever making sure my efforts extend to issues that really matter and (in my opinion) really need to change to have a civilized society.

Learning about world culture and teaching kids the value in that through crafts has always been my focus while sharing my book. But now with the (longstanding) out-of-control access and abundance of guns in this country causing a lack of safety for students of all ages and their educators, I’m forging a stronger relationship with the gun sense community. I feel it’s an obligation, not a choice, and my daughter is on board too. I do this while having friends and family from all political walks of life, and heck, I live in Maine where rural gun ownership and hunting are the status quo. So I am respectful of all (well er, most) views. But one thing we can surely teach our kids is that there are times when we owe it to ourselves and others to Take a Stand!

In other updates, my creative side feels satiated right now, even though I’m not currently making lots of kid crafts and running around with bins of materials. I’m taking small opportunities to connect with people about China and crafts in a multitude of ways. I recently exhibited at FLAME, a foreign language educator conference, and was able to spend the day with mostly secondary teachers that offer Mandarin in their schools and go quite in-depth with their curriculum.

I met a visiting teacher in Portland from Jiangxi, China (my daughter’s province) recently and am enjoying getting to know her. I’m so impressed when educators come to Maine, never having been to the US, and put down temporary roots as they try and learn the customs and city. She actually found me through my book that a colleague had gotten for her as a gift. She makes beautiful, artistic flowers from wire and silk. We instantly felt connected by our passion for Chinese crafts.

My last news of inspiration is the “under construction” re-design of my website. You may see a few changes that cross over into this blog as well, as I likely will move the whole shebang to WordPress. So this is the part where I tell you I’m finally going to take a course and get nimble with my blog and site, right? Why do that when I have the wonderful and talented webmaster Lisa Montagna available to help? I’ll still have my hands full deciding on content, rewriting copy, and updating the design and styling with scribbled layouts. (Yes, I’m old school!) My vision is for the website to be much more than a landing page for my book and have images, instructional videos, resources, and lots to explore. It could very well take me on a new path.

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.

Global Maker Kids

Another summer is here and some fresh ideas and activities are a must to enjoy the balmy days and less structured time with your kids. Summer camp and program leaders are also brainstorming and locking down schedules. I always like to get in the mix with a few thoughts so this can be a joyous and creative time with opportunities to grow and make, with a global twist. So how do you be a maker? It seems to be everywhere.

I just walked into my local library and was greeted by this display which featured several “maker” books for kids. Ok I am first to admit the “maker movement” seems like an overdone buzz phrase since my whole existence has been in a “maker space”. But even if it’s a rebranding of inventive creativity, often used in schools (the too cool for school ones?) and usually in relation to STEAM curriculum, I can still glean some good inspiration from the concept with only a slight smirk. Especially since much of the synergy seems to be focused on a world view of kid power. 

So what does this have to do with Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts? The “making” has of course always been for me about exposing kids to world culture through embracing their creativity. Over the summer, that can take many forms. So here are a few ideas that sit well with summer days:

Volunteer– Ok, very general, but as I heard the the thud of school being out for my teen, I knew I had to be creative about perhaps suggesting something worthwhile for her open summer schedule? She is volunteering as an assistant at an amazing writer’s book making camp at The Telling Room, an organization that develops young talent with an international focus. Look around… you’ll inevitably find ways for your kids to dip their toes into new experiences while offering some help. Win, win!

Museums– Don’t let the school field trips be the only historical and cultural exposure your kids get. Staycation or vacation, look around and find current exhibits, even at the smaller, quirky and often forgotten museums. It’s a great activity for those too hot or too rainy days. (And our town offers free day passes to many. Check around!)

Camp– If you are a director or counselor, there are so many ways to make and learn… (and of course any of these can also be done at home or the summer cottage!). Grow an ethnic vegetable garden, learn and make international games, make an instrument, have a world culture “fair” or dinner… and crafts, crafts, crafts!

Recycle and repurpose– If you’re going to make, you need stuff, right? Put a bin somewhere this summer and toss in cartons, leftover paint, scraps, string, paper, cans with lids (instant drum?), and any odd little bits that can help inspire makers. It will be ready for your kids and their friends and cousins when they feel creative. Good idea to do a “quick grab” smaller bin with basic supplies nearby, (scissors, tape, markers, glue gun, etc…) as well… to save YOU time hunting around the house when you’d rather be drinking iced tea!

I was also lucky enough to write a guest post for Globe Trottin’ Kids which tells a bit about my journey (if you’re new here) but also collabs with a wonderful website and blogger that is committed to all these virtues I’ve described. Please check her out!

Enjoy, explore, and keep in touch!

Lunar New Year; Celebrating with Lucky Bamboo Crafts

Chinatown, Boston, MA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Year of the Rooster- Holiday Fun

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

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

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

How to Make a Lantern

jaderabbitlantern

 

 

 

 

 

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

Tools and Materials:

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

Instructions:

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

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

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