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.

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.

Teaching about Chinese New Year

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Now that we are back in gear after school break, I have some lesson plan suggestions for Chinese New Year in the classroom as you begin your planning. These ideas are all personally “teacher tested” and they can adapt up or down for grade level.

The actual date of ‘Year of the Goat’ (also known as Ram or Sheep) is February 19th, 2015. I point this out because for most districts, this will fall during February break so you will want to celebrate the week of the 9th, or hold off until the end with the Lantern Festival falling on March 5th.

A good approach to keep students engaged is to include the following five pieces (I will not do four- it is an unlucky number- did you know that?). If you have an easy projection method, any part of your lesson can be supported with images and videos. So here goes :

1) History- Start with a brief historical overview about the meaning and significance of the holiday. This is when some students will interject they know “all about it”… but for Western classrooms most don’t think about Chinese culture or the holiday at all for the rest of the year. They can use a refresher! Include common ancient folklore such as the story of Nian the monster (great for younger kids) as well as the meaning behind the lunar zodiac, dances, parades and respectful time and rituals with family.

2) Food- Any teacher knows if you offer something edible, you get a captive crowd (actually that is true for many situations?). This could be as elaborate as dumpling making, or as simple as giving out almond cookies… but either way, discussing the traditional foods of a Chinese New Year banquet and their symbolism should be part of the plan.

3) Decorations- Adorning the classroom with paper garlands and lanterns, ‘Fu’ art, couplets on the doorways, and bowls of citrus, etc… is an essential part of the festive celebration. Lots of red!

4) Craft time- Select appropriate projects to grade level and time set aside. If you want a group activity, making a giant dragon dance head is a good activity to preface a parade around the school.

5) Giveaway- Hong Bao (lucky money red envelopes) are inexpensive in solid packs and a nice gift (in the spirit of the holiday) for your students. You can enclose a shiny penny, a fake gold Chinese coin, or a small toy or candy. If you have trouble finding them locally, there are numerous mail-order sites. Of course the students will already have a snack and a craft and that may be enough!

For specific ideas, instructions and templates, I encourage you to add Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts to your resource library! You can also check out my Pinterest pages, and my free printable craft off this website. As an educator, you are also probably web-savvy and can do research for your particular class. I think the most important piece is framing how this holiday fits into a multicultural world, and how extremely significant it is to Chinese people, where ever they call home. You will find that sharing the Lunar New Year with your students will tick many curriculum boxes and most of all, will be loads of fun!

Maine Ramblings

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I’m going to resort to a riff and ramble here, in the wedge between fall activities and starting to approach the holidays. Our weather is changing too but thankfully not with the vicious weather pattern around the country right now. My heart goes out to the many thousands dealing with the wrath of winter so early.

The election season this month went from exciting to “exciting” as much of it did not go my way. But I was able to spend an evening with our Commander-in-Chief as he offered up support for our gubernatorial candidate. This was a complete thrill for my 12-year old that is a total U.S. president and politics buff. (Yes she held me captive for the entire 14 count ’em hours of the Ken Burns Roosevelt documentary!) One of the joys of our small Portland host city was an intimate venue… President Obama was right there. Sleeves rolled up and relaxed, he did not disappoint and the energy in the room was charged. But please readers stick with me no matter your leanings…. I do cross the aisle as many of my dearest friends are Republicans!

Talking about Portland, Maine, it continues to grow in a good direction with a few new restaurants that serve up darn good dumplings and Asian fare. These spots are long overdue in my opinion, and although they have a bit of a fusion sensibility in menu and lack the hard-core Chinese cooking my family often craves… we’ll take it! Enough with the upscale pizza joints! This time of year also offers all sorts of crafty fairs from church lunches to uber-cool art college holiday markets…. just love it… sometimes three or four can be roamed in a day. I do try and “buy local” too…. as our culture (thank goodness) moves away from black Friday-style consumerism, and of course meeting artisans from every walk of life, I get inspired to keep my hands making.

My most exciting news is an invitation to participate with ‘Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts’ in the Peabody Essex Museum Lunar New Year Festival on February 28th, 2015. The Year of the Goat (or Ram, or Sheep?) will be a great opportunity to do crafts with kids and celebrate! This eclectic gem of a museum in Salem, MA (www.pem.org) boasts an impressive Asian collection and an authentic ancient Chinese home and its contents reconstructed right on site. Much more on preparation for Chinese New Year in next month’s post!

Stay warm (or cool, depending on your locale) and enjoy the swiftly approaching leap into a time of holidays, friends, family, food, gratitude and peace… in other words everything the gifts of the season mean to you.

Chinese Food for Summer Fun

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I have a confession to make… I enjoy Chinese and all Asian cuisine at least as much as I do Chinese crafts. Ok, maybe more. Or perhaps they are mutually exclusive?

While I was writing ‘Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts’, many suggested I add some food history, traditional cuisine content and recipes. Not only because of other books they had seen with this combo…. (I guess making is making..), but because they looked at me suspiciously when I claimed my Asian foodie obsession could be put aside. Spoiler alert- I did not include food beyond a mention with some holidays. My eating skill far exceeds my chef stylings but I have tried many simple dishes.

I have been craving some lighter fare for summer while I put the hearty stir-fries and rice on the shelf for a while and here is what comes to mind that is fast, fresh and better for the hot weather:

– Cold noodles- many types of noodles and variations can include sesame/ peanut sauce, or light rice vinegar dressing, and crisp julienned veggies; great potluck dish or pack in individual containers for the beach/lake cooler lunch

– Vietnamese cold, fresh spring rolls with shrimp or chicken, rice noodle and vegetables; serve with hoisin or a sauce recipe

– Chicken skewers (I like small, appetizer size) on the bbq- these can have Thai (satay), Japanese (teriyaki) or Chinese flavors; also beef can have Chinese or Korean marinade. Great on a small fire grill at the beach or campground

– Asian slaw- Another great picnic/ potluck dish which can include your shredded favorites- Chinese cabbage, carrot, bean sprouts, scallion, sesame seed (white or black), etc… ; the dressing can be sweet, savory, or with a hot and spicy kick

– Bubble Tea with pearls- this is easiest with a kit from an Asian market; a total hit with kids! Be careful with very young ones- as could be a choking risk (yes I always have my mom hat on!)

Check out my ‘Chinese Foods I Love’ page on Pinterest (linked from my home page); I’ve added some great recipe pins for these ideas. Keep it simple, show others how fun and delicious Asian cuisine can be… and don’t forget the crafts!

Kids as World Citizens

Map from Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts
Map from Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts

Recently my 6th grade daughter had a World Fair celebration at her school culminating from months of research and hard work. It was a gala evening where every student in her grade had a country represented with a tabletop display, interactive presentation, and oral knowledge to share with the crowds of family members. Did my daughter pick China? No, Ethiopa!

As I wandered from student to student, I was reminded again of the great opportunity parents and educators have to open up the world to kids and how eager and receptive they are to learn more, more, more. My teacher training was in elementary art and in the classroom I had it made. Each culture has such a rich history in handicraft, textiles, painting, sculpture…. the list is endless for curriculum ideas. But the bigger view of what a country symbolizes, reveres, and its unique mark on history is well within the capacity of understanding, even for young kids.

I know sometimes adults feel “art challenged” when working with kids. When you are using Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts, perhaps a good place to start is with the Gateway to China section, exploring Chinese culture and sharing the factoids…. even jumping on to your tablet to dig deeper with specific topics on China or where questions are raised.

Then you may find that selecting and starting an art or craft project will happen more organically, based on the curiosity and interests of the kids and you all will have more confidence to be wonderfully creative.

Chinese Kites for Spring

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Here in Maine this year, I need to grasp on to something for hope that spring will arrive! There are certainly no signs of it yet as we still peek over the snow banks and shiver in the low digits.

China is the birthplace of the earliest kites in the world (yes!), and Weifang, Shandong Province is considered the area of the first designs and construction. There were many functional and interesting uses for kites before they became purely recreational, and the styles are wonderfully varied, including winged creatures, centipedes and geometric wonders.

Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts is being put to the test this week, on an all-important holiday, my daughter’s twelfth birthday. My Diamond Kite instructions (p.86) will guide the ten kids we expect at her birthday party where we will hopefully end up with ten beautiful, airborne kites! I tested and tested my prototype while writing the book, but I’m a bundle of nerves. As the mom AND the author/craft designer the pressure is on. Wish me luck and if spring has already arrived where you are, happy flying!