Good Luck Arrives

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

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

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

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

The Tiger’s Roar of Winter

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

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

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

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

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

Looking Back, Looking Ahead with Lucky Bamboo Crafts

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

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

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

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

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

 

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!

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.

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!

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.

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!