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!

Spring Festival – Year of the Ox – And the New Normal?

Hello friends,

I’m sharing my thoughts ahead of Chinese New Year, since we will be enjoying the February 12th holiday virtually, this year. When I look back on 2020 and all the fun and festivities I participated in both with CAFAM and Lucky Bamboo Crafts, I’m stunned at how long ago it seems.

Virus, politics, and the world spinning ’round…. not to mention (but I will) personal changes and challenges have made the months seem endless. The upshot has been a slowing of Chinese craft efforts, even though one would think I would have “more time” for these pursuits. Nope…. life has felt constantly arduous, and perhaps the lack of in-person event opportunities has also mellowed my motivation to get my game on. Enough whining, I know….. in the scheme of things how bad do I REALLY have it….?

So here we are in 2021 and the days are getting brighter, the vaccine queue is getting shorter, and do we dare think about late spring and summer in any confident way? You tell me. I have a college student sidelined remotely as her campus tries to pare down their numbers (shshsh that’s kind of nice for Mom!) but it’s yet another thing that feels off-kilter-ish.

A bright spot is our upcoming CAFAM Lunar New Year virtual event. It goes live on New Year’s Eve (Feb. 11th) and I hope you will check it out. Offering leadership (and crafts) to the CAFAM mix has been a good way to stay connected to my board and also celebrate the holiday! Other than that, I’m just trying to keep a positive outlook a day at a time and feel gratitude. Always.  新 年 快 樂!

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!

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.