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.

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.

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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 Adventure from Coast to Coast

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The foliage is still splendid in Maine, and the apple trees are weighted down with the last weeks of their bounty. This time of year never gets routine for me, as I drive along and see the doorways dotted with bright orange pumpkins and the frosty mornings give way to golden, glowing afternoons.

But just a few weeks ago I was far from New England, in the San Francisco Bay Area taking a long overdue trip to visit several close friends. A leisurely day in Chinatown was at the top of my list and my wonderful friends Andrea and Dan were ready to rally. We wandered for hours, and each shop, business and historical building was rich with culture and tradition and fueled my curiosity. I never tire of learning about the artifacts, artwork, symbols and products that are quintessentially Chinese. After a sumptuous dim sum lunch I gathered up my Chinatown purchases (research, right?) and headed back over the Bay Bridge with my friends. Oh my, what a day!

This week I am attending the Maine Chinese Conference in Bangor http://www.bangorchinese.com/CONFERENCE15.HTML, where I’ve been invited to be a keynote speaker about ‘Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts’, as well as a workshop leader. I look forward to being part of the synergy of foreign language educators, professionals from China, exchange program directors, and Chinese culture experts from around the globe. I’ll be walking the crafty side of the aisle, and will contribute my experiences of bringing crafts into the Chinese language classroom. There will also be exhibitors offering everything from Mandarin tools to educational opportunities both here and in China. All this in Bangor, Maine you ask? Why yes! I’m sure I’ll come away with new friends and many fresh ideas and opportunities to continue on my path of Chinese crafts and culture.

Dragon Boats and Lobsters

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Photo credit: Hartford Courant

Greetings from Maine! Summer is still here, as far as I’m concerned. My daughter doesn’t go back to school until after Labor Day, of course falling late this year. So I see it as my obligation, living in “Vacationland”, to wedge in more fun with friends and family, and eat more lobster.

I’ve woven a couple of great events into our Lucky Bamboo Crafts schedule this summer… an experience in contrasts. Each gave us a unique opportunity to share Chinese culture with very different audiences.

The Newport Cultural Center near Bangor, Maine hosted a Chinese craft and culture activity time at their multi-purpose center and library. The summer program kids and other local library visitors in that area do not get much exposure to other cultures outside Maine rural life so it was very satisfying to share what I could about China. And with my daughter by my side leading the origami table, this proud mama also got to interject a bit about adoption and being a multicultural, multi-race family.

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Then off to Hartford, CT for the Riverfront Dragon Boat and Asian Festival which I attended for the first time two years ago. I was yet again completely energized by the huge vibrant and diverse crowd. Along with leading the craft tables, I made sure to spend some time watching the dragon boat races, enjoying the performances and eating delicious Asian fare. Now that Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts has been out for a couple of years, it’s particularly exciting when I’m able to still share my inspiration with loads of new people including educators and multi-ethnic families.

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My Crowdtivate campaign was extended for a few more weeks so please check out this link to my video and details! https://www.crowdtivate.com/projects/view/4261  I’m excited to be branching out to craft kits and appreciate the funding that has already been donated to bring this to life.

The months ahead are still being planned for Chinese crafts. The Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, and the Year of the Monkey (as much as I don’t want to think about February in New England) will be my focus for planning some events and designing some new crafts. But for now, the lobster and warm breezes prevail!

Crowdtivate Craft Kits

I’m jumping in here with a brief post to announce the launch of my (first ever) crowdfunding campaign for craft kits with the Crowdtivate platform. I was very lucky to have support from my Singapore friends with putting it together and getting it live. Marketing has never been a strong point for me but it was time to stretch a bit. Only 56 days left to get on board! Also I would love to hear from you with any feedback about this Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts “kit” concept. Yes, I’m ready to make it grow! Here is the link to my campaign page: https://www.crowdtivate.com/projects/view/4261. Many thanks!

Chinese Culture Craft Kits

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Happy Spring! In Maine I should add a few more exclamation points this year… whew we have had a long wait. But I can now divert attention away from frigid weather and vitamin D deficiency and think crafts again.

I am putting up a crowdfunding campaign soon for my newest little brainstorm- craft “kits” that will be a nice companion to the book. I’m starting small, selecting a few specific craft designs and offering some materials and partial assembly so crafters can dive right in.

This is a new stretch for me… working out my goals and logistics. But my good friend and favorite business guru in Singapore is helping me get involved with Crowdtivate https://www.crowdtivate.com, a wonderful Asia-based campaign platform. The video intro seems to be my biggest stumbling block. Maybe if I hang around with my thirteen-year-old more I can pick up some camera and editing skills. I’ll keep you “posted”.

The Dragon Boat (Duanwu) Festival is coming up on June 20th. This is a great teaching point for educators and many projects and activities can tie into the celebration. I’ve signed on for crafting at the Riverfront Dragon Boat & Asian Festival in Hartford CT on 8/15-8/16 which will surely be a highlight of my summer. Here is the link: http://www.riverfront.org/events/riverfront-dragon-boat-asian-festival

Now is a good time to think about summer camps, teacher gifts, grandparent activities, end of school gifts, and all the ways Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts; Over 100 Projects & Ideas Celebrating Chinese Culture can be a part of the fun!

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!

Staying Put

Author Jennifer DeCristoforo and daughter; Photo credit: Dennis Welsh Photography
Author Jennifer DeCristoforo and daughter;
Photo credit: Dennis Welsh Photography

Maine is an official “Vacationland” right now. Better yet, I get to enjoy it as the ultimate “stay-cation”  with my daughter. I am never more proud and happy to welcome guests, enjoy the festivals, assure people the lobster is not overrated, look out at the sparkling ocean and boast about Maine until even the Chamber of Commerce feels like an under-performer.

Then the world taps on my shoulder. There’s the wonderful new friend from Hong Kong (Maine in the summer) that found my book on Pinterest. Also in Maine now, my dear Singapore friends that we visited on their turf not long ago. And I sense my 12-year old feels the same tug as does her mother. As she turns the corner from child to teen, she wants it all. She feels so grounded and secure in our small Maine town, and cherishes her friends and school. But she talks of the future… with wanderlust that keeps her suitcase at the ready. “When is our next trip?” (Quebec City in a couple of weeks). I also wonder what conversations she has with her few but close adopted Chinese friends… do they ponder who will get back on another trip to Asia first? And her Dad and I have accepted that her college experience will be in D.C. at the very closest.

But with these thoughts my heart also fills with grief… the “world” just doesn’t seem to be doing too well right now. The level of suffering… from war and terrorism to children scrambling into the U.S. desperate and alone…. all results in senseless death on a grand scale. As a parent it is tough to navigate; do I shelter my daughter from this world she wants to discover or have her gradually step foot on to real street?

For now in the glorious summertime, staying put, body and mind, gives me a breather. I can be selective and grab just the good stuff that ‘Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts’ and international friends offer from the world experience. I can volunteer with my daughter in our local Somali refugee community and see some happy outcomes from a war-torn nation. And as for the harsh and  relentless newsfeed, we can turn it off when it gets to be too much. If only that were true for everyone.

Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts and Gift Giving

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As we all enjoy a busy spring celebrating graduations, events and the end of school, I wanted to remind you of what a perfect gift ‘Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts’ can be for those special people in your life.

Teachers, caregivers, graduates in education and international programs…. all would appreciate this unique and high quality book that they will use for years to come. Will the kids be spending time with grandparents or going on holiday with friends’ families or relatives after school lets out? Send a book along with them to get the activities going for the hopefully few rainy days.

Are your kids going to day or overnight camp this summer? Or do you have a teen that is working at a camp? How about a preemptive gesture (o.k., bribe) to be sure your family will be in good favor with the staff and your kids will get careful and positive attention! Camps are always looking for new craft ideas that don’t require a lot of costly materials.

If you want to pull out the stops, add some small items like a pack of origami paper, some decorative chopsticks, an inexpensive fan, or a simple art supply such as markers. And of course if you know anyone that is bringing home an adopted Chinese child soon, this book is an ideal introduction to Chinese culture for the child, siblings and parents.

You can purchase directly from me, a local retailer, or it is currently nicely discounted on Amazon (and can arrive or be gift shipped in a flash with Amazon Prime) and many other book retail sites. My distributor, IPG has done an amazing job getting the book out and available worldwide!

Happy Spring Gifting and Summer Crafting!