Craftivism and Ice Cream

Aaaaaah summer in Maine and this is the time I enjoy most to take part in all the gifts of the season. As much as I feel moments of wanderlust to get on a plane or take a long road trip (just because we CAN), I seem to remain hunkered down, gently encouraging my far-flung friends to travel in my direction, instead.

News! Lucky Bamboo Crafts book sales fulfillment has now officially been transitioned to a wonderful company in VA, Nataraj Books. IPG kept my book relevant and available and was a great partner for 8+ years and I now look forward to the next chapter (so to speak)! Nataraj Books is a South Asian-owned business, and they carry my book in their catalog in addition to now handling my warehouse and fulfillment needs. Lucky me!

Craftivism! I was excited to be able to join my creativity, interests, and causes in a recent event for gun safety. During the Wear Orange weekend in June, I brought together gun sense messaging, a craft kit and online tutorial, and leadership from an Asian community activism group in Maine, Unified Asian Communities.

It was such a natural fit for me, as I often feel my personal “buckets” are too far apart and “craftivism” is a concept I am going to continue to pursue. As we’ve all been forced to think about our lives in “hybrid” mode, I’m thinking of more ways I can join my passionate volunteer work with my skills in the Asian cultural craft arena.

CAFAM! I’ve been voted in as CAFAM President for another year, and am proud to continue to provide leadership to our largest Chinese culture organization in Maine. The previous months have been intense with lots of Asian community advocacy during this climate of targeted violence and racism. Along with that, we have started to flourish again with programs, resources, and planning events for summer and fall.

I’m also wearing my Lucky Bamboo Crafts hat again for getting out to events and sharing crafts with kids which is always an elixir for me. Keep an eye on my event calendar!

It certainly feels good to finally have some “news” and be more hopeful about the months ahead, rather than totally focused on what we can’t do, and just staying safe. I hope you are enjoying the same newfound freedom, and are fully vaccinated (oh my goodness please say you are). Life will never be what it was before the pandemic, but as we try and heal and step softly into the future, let’s hope that different can be good. Very good.

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!

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!

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.