Elephant Love


Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai

Let me start by addressing the “elephant” in the room…. and I mean that literally. I traveled with my daughter to Thailand in June and although Chinese crafts were the furthest from my mind, I wanted to share a bit about this life-changing trip. Along with tourist travel, we volunteered for a week at Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. We worked hard basically pampering rescued, previously abused and injured elephants and maintaining their grounds. Participating in the work of an amazing woman, founder Lek Chailert was beyond inspirational.

I highly recommend getting involved with this organization, and feel free to e-mail me or leave a comment if you have questions about the volunteer experience. And oh yes, the mother-daughter time was the best!

I had a sweet event at a small island library last month. We made Chinese shuttlecocks, which was a perfect summer craft. After the construction, my daughter took the kids outside and they practiced traditional shuttlecock games. Thanks, Deb (Library Director Extraordinaire) for another wonderful visit!

Dragon boats book end my summer. In June I attended the Boston Dragon Boat Festival for the first time. The races were exciting on the picturesque Charles River and the activity area was bustling. I will hopefully add Lucky Bamboo Crafts to their mix next year!

In a couple of weeks I will head to Hartford, CT for their annual Dragon Boat & Asian Festival. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve offered crafts there and I look forward to returning with some fresh projects. It’s a great event where the city river park is alive with dragon boat races, performances, food vendors, artisans and organizations.

Yes, my new redesigned Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts website is coming, it really is! I think everyone can relate to the struggle to complete projects that have only a self-imposed deadline. Summer in Maine is in itself a heavy distraction but a good one. I hope you are soaking in summer as well, and finding water, sunshine and good food with family and friends.

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.

Chinese New Year Events 2018

China Trade Center, Boston

As we approach Lantern Festival this week, I’m pleased to share my favorite post of the year chronicling my Lunar New Year events. Each celebration offered a distinctly different approach and cultural experience, and I’ve come away with many warm memories and inspiring ideas. I also have an even deeper understanding of the significance of celebrating Chinese New Year with my family, friends, and the many communities I visited. I’ll let the photo gallery illuminate each account.

Our local CAFAM ‘Year of the Dog’ festival in Westbrook, Maine was a much-anticipated reunion with many old friends. My daughter got in the mix, working at one of the craft stations for the day along with a terrific bunch of other high schoolers from the Portland area. This event required a substantial amount of planning and pre-event craft preparation, and as a board member I had my eyes and ears on many aspects of the jam-packed schedule. It was also our organization’s first year hosting the event under dynamic new leadership. I designed some new crafts including a ‘dragonfly copter’ and of course had lots of ‘dog’ themed activities. The craft area was bustling all day as the excited kids hustled from one table to the next, not wanting to miss a project.

Then off to the lovely Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. I designed original shadow puppets for their maker area to give a nod to their current PlayTime and upcoming China Empresses exhibits. Their ingenious creative director made a lit multiple puppet stage area so the kids could take their assembled and decorated puppets right across the room to play. PEM also had a second art drop-in area to make the ‘Year of the Dog’ pendant from my book. I loved how the directions were clearly displayed and the supplies were beautifully organized for the hands-on crafts. With both of these offerings, I’ve never seen the concepts, instructions and designs from my book taken to such a high level. Since its inception, I’ve really hoped the book would be a “workhorse” tool that readers could expand into full activity days and programs and I saw that come to life (yet again) at the PEM Lunar New Year event.

My last event was on a soggy, gusty day in Chinatown, Boston but nothing could dull the bright faces, pops of firecrackers and drum beats. We were welcomed to the China Trade Building at setup time with fresh-baked pork buns (at which point I knew this was going to be a great day) and had a very popular table all day, crowded with creative kids. After the Cultural Village ended and the last scraps were cleaned up, rather than hustling out of Boston I took a pause with my daughter and we had a meal at Gourmet Dumpling House. Outstanding food in a tiny, chaotic dining room. The gray, drizzled light was dimming outside but the lion dance troupes were still passing by the window now and then, with their drums and seemingly unlimited energy. I truly felt the soul of China that day.

So that’s where my focus has been for several weeks. One last bit of news… Wes Radez of the Chinese American Family website has posted a profile about Lucky Bamboo Crafts and a lantern tutorial, perfect for the aforementioned Lantern Festival on March 2nd. This Oakland, CA based company puts out wonderful, informative content on all aspects of Chinese culture and how to share it with your family and community.

Until next time, I wish you a most auspicious year ahead.

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.

Duanwu Festival and a World for our Kids

Lucky Bamboo Crafts dragon boat

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

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

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

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

Boston Dragon Boat Festival is June 10-11th

Lake Champlain Dragon Boat Festival is August 5-6th

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

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

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

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.

Summer Sun and Chinese Dragon Fun

Jennifer DeCristoforo
Dragon Boat & Asian Festival, Hartford

Lucky Bamboo Crafts have been part of the fun over these summer weeks. Life is a little slower, the weather is divine, and what better time to enjoy sharing crafts and Chinese culture with kids.

In July I headed to the Bangor Chinese School with my daughter to lead a workshop during their Chinese Dragon Camp. We made kites and chops in one short session which was pretty ambitious, but the kids ranged up to high schoolers and were great listeners and workers. They enjoyed coming away with authentic projects to bring home and share with their families. We loved walking the hallways beforehand and hearing intensive Mandarin classes going on in room after room. Dancers practiced in every corner. The camp was so alive with culture.

Dragon Camp, Bangor, Maine

 

 

 

 

 

This month I was in Hartford, CT again for the Dragon Boat & Asian Festival along the river. This year was extra special as my good friend Alison came up from Greenwich, CT and joined me. The kids made dragon boats, chopstick cases and other simple crafts. This is always a spectacular event of races, performances, activities and food.

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Now that I’ve shared craft projects with all ages, sizes of group and types of event, I am much calmer, more confident and let each event simply unfold. But just a small “pearl”… the constant in being successful has not changed since I first rolled out Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts. Prepare, prepare, prepare. This would seem obvious, but I’m quite methodical about starting my supply list early, bringing ample quantities of the craft for a big crowd, and always throwing a little something extra in.. coloring sheets and crayons, origami paper, etc.. so there are choices for all ages. A craft session can really crash and burn if there is a whoops like glue sticks forgotten or insufficient pre-prep of a craft that makes the project too time-consuming and frustrating for the kids.

The summer has been glorious on every front for me and the upcoming autumn days will be bittersweet, as my daughter enters high school. At 14 she is a wonderful partner and helper with craft events and in life, but it’s hard not to be aware of the fleeting time that has passed since I first started developing this book. She’s a young woman and I say that with pride and astonishment. As you start corralling school supplies and reviewing team schedules with your kids, I wish you a good transition and will be back soon with education-focused ideas.

Chinese Crafts for Summer Camps

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

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

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

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

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

Lucky Bamboo Crafts- Lantern Fun

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The Chinese New Year holiday has come and gone (boohoo!), ending with the Lantern Festival on February 22nd. My daughter and I celebrated on a large scale as well as with a dinner at home.

We participated in another successful and festive event at Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. They were such wonderful hosts to us, as we oversaw the craft area and lantern-making. I whipped up some ‘Year of the Monkey’ bookmarks from my template (linked from my website) as a giveaway to mark this particular lunar year.

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I also invited a few friends to a dinner at my home for our private celebration. The girls did monkey papercuts (we always like to include this ritual), and we had Kung Pao Chicken on the menu, along with bowls overflowing with oranges and tangerines. What made it extra special was the inclusion of a visiting kindergarten teacher from Chengdu that is a wonderful new friend. She showed me her wok cooking tips and there was some Mandarin in the air (not yet from me, however… but I’m still studying!).

I think my friend from Chengdu was happy to have lively and friendly company on the new year. It must be a hard time to be apart from her family in a place like Maine where so few celebrate the important occasion.

March is around the corner, and the milder air won’t be far behind. I hope to energize my craft activities this spring and summer and will (literally) keep you posted!

Chinese Crafts- Here Comes the Monkey

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

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

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

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