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!

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.

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!

Back to School

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If you are an educator, you are probably already rolling up your sleeves with curriculum, staff development and spiffing up your area at your school site; I remember it well from my art teacher days.

If a parent, the school shopping along with scheduling fall recreation and lessons may be keeping your days busy while you weave in a bit more summer fun. My daughter is entering 7th grade so I am somewhat “hands off” at this point, but I still get that jittery stomach when school starts up, as does she, with all that her “tween” life demands.

Here are a few thoughts to carry with you to tie Chinese culture into a new school year, whether you are a parent, teacher, activity leader or homeschool educator:

  • Anyone that hasn’t discovered TeachersPayTeachers.com needs to check it out. What an amazing resource! One of my goals in the upcoming months is to post some more lessons.
  • My friend in Singapore has just launched unitedteach.com, a great website that pairs virtual volunteers with classrooms to bring in special themes. Schools will be able to register soon and also, volunteers are needed if you have a talent or area of knowledge to share.
  • If your school has exchange students or teachers from China, remember what a valuable resource they are for learning about Chinese culture, and they would also always appreciate invitations, even while their host families are taking good care of them.
  • The Mid-Autumn Moon Festival comes early this year, on September 8th. It’s a great anchor for a celebration or to start a more robust unit on China. You can even extend through to Year of the Goat on February 19th. Now that would be dedication!

Take heart…. we all will make it over the September “hump”, with backpacks filled, schedules hammered out and early mornings conquered. Here in Maine, as in many parts of the country, it is also a most beautiful and mild time of year with gorgeous foliage to enjoy along with a fresh start.

Is There Life after Chinese New Year?

Don’t get me wrong… the last several weeks of festivals, crafts, dumplings and lanterns have offered wonderful opportunities to be with friends, old and new, at Lunar New Year events all around New England. I’ve also had great support and energy around my book and the craft and culture lessons that I brought to many young audiences.

The Spring Festival right through the Lantern Festival is without a doubt the most significant time of year for Chinese families, and was a perfect time for me to focus on projects and events that teach the strong history and traditions that extend into all aspects of Chinese life.

But what is a Chinese craft book author to do when the decorations come down, the phone stops ringing and the noise of drums and fireworks is far off in the distance? Time to redirect and think about arts and culture integration in the classroom, and all the other places where my fascination with Chinese culture can be shared. I’m thinking about mini e-books, learning Mandarin (in earnest), offering workshops… but for now some recent highlights from Year of the Horse fun:

Boston Children's Museum- we made noisemakers with kids and had a book signing!
Boston Children’s Museum- we made noisemakers with kids and had a book signing!
Asian Studies Academy in Hartford, CT- an amazing school and program!
Asian Studies Academy in Hartford, CT- an amazing school and program!
Horses, scrolls and origami at Portland Public Library
Chinese School dancers in Westbrook, Maine
Chinese School dancers in Westbrook, Maine

And lastly, here is my first foray into t.v. and video… it’s a cute little project done by a  very nervous author! (Click link to view)

Jennifer DeCristoforo demonstrates craft on WCSH 207 program
Jennifer DeCristoforo demonstrates craft on WCSH 207 program

Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts- WCSH 207 Appearance

Crafts for Chinese New Year

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Year of the Horse crafts for Chinese New Year

The Spring Festival (Lunar New Year) on January 31, 2014 celebrates the Year of the Horse. It’s time to start planning your craft activities for school, home, cultural organizations, grandparent time, scouts and of course for your local Chinese New Year festival, banquet or parade.

Here’s a little round up to get you started with some tips from Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts. I annually plan 6-12 kid’s crafts for our large Chinese New Year event in Portland, Maine. I’m in a nice flow of retaining some popular crafts each year, while offering some projects specific to the zodiac animal. You can start a list or spreadsheet considering these guidelines:

Quantity– You’ll need to plan for copies and materials. Duplicate designs or templates for copies on one page where possible. Estimate the number of crafters expected between 3-15 years old. Then add a few extra as some may want takeaways for a sibling at home or a teacher.

Variety– If you are preparing several crafts, include common projects such as lucky red envelopes (hong bao), and a Fu banner. Then add crafts with varied materials, themes and shapes; for example, a puppet, a fan, a mask and some origami.

Supplies– Red, red, red! Get out now over holiday break and pick up red tissue paper, card stock, ribbon, fabric and partyware. Gold is also available in the New Year’s Eve section. Grab red and gold materials while still easily available at dollar and box stores and right after Christmas they are often on sale, as well. Tools (scissors, hole punches, etc..) can often be borrowed if you make the effort. Check your markers, glue sticks and crayons… if dried out or broken, refresh them.

Preparation– Allow time to prepare masters for copies and purchase materials and supplies. Good template shapes are the key to successful crafts. Obviously I’m fond of my designs from the book, but simple project templates and graphic elements (images, Chinese characters, etc..) are abundant on the web. Play around with copies and “old fashioned” cut and paste to get them right. It’s often faster and easier than trying to make a computer graphic.

Crafts are just one piece of a successful event. You’ll want to consider food, decorations and any performance offerings (such as a dragon parade or lion dance). But crafts are often a favorite of the kids. They add collaborative fun and relaxation while teaching about Chinese culture, and result in cool stuff to bring home. Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Teaching Crafts and the Gift of Libraries

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Merrill Memorial Library, Yarmouth, ME- the first library to circulate the book

Recently I celebrated the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival by teaching about the holiday and sharing a moon lantern craft at our public library in Portland, Maine. I’ve done several library events to date, and once again I was met with great enthusiasm, support and flawless organization. Once again I got to spend time with a fantastic children’s librarian (thanks, Jerri!) that was incredibly intelligent, creative, inspired and full of energy.

Public libraries have been so receptive to folding Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts into their event calendars, buying it for their circulation, and getting on board with celebrating different cultures and holidays. (Actually they were already on board… just check out the collection for multicultural education in your local children’s and youth rooms!)

I know I’ve been a bit (ahem) stingy with photos in previous blog entries so here are some highlights of my wonderful library experiences over recent months. You’d think with the amount of time I spend perusing Pinterest, I’d know to offer up more visuals! I confess I’m a bit private and camera shy…. but what I think you’ll see is how “in my element” I am with the kids, the crafts and the fun. I’m not one to sit on an author pedestal autographing books… what fun is that?

Summer Reading Kick-off; Prince Memorial Library, Cumberland, ME
Summer Reading Kick-off; Prince Memorial Library, Cumberland, ME

Folding chopstick cases; Chebeague Island Library, Maine
Folding chopstick cases; Chebeague Island Library, Maine

Chebeague Island Library with head librarian Deb Bowman. This small library has a big heart and is the center of island activity and community connection
Chebeague Island Library with head librarian Deb Bowman. This small library has a big heart and is the center of island activity and community connection

Portland Public Library, Maine; making a moon lantern with paper strips and a straw
Portland Public Library, Maine; making a moon lantern with paper strips and a straw

Times are changing for libraries with the lightning speed of technology growth and the pressure to do more and do it smarter and better, often on less budget. And of course there is the issue of the book. The real one. On the shelf. Will there be a future? All interesting and a little ominous.

Keep visiting your public libraries, make donations, attend events, offer suggestions, bring the kids to storytime…. we need our local libraries as much as our libraries need our community support!