Learning Chinese

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Hello, friends! Before you assume this is yet another “think out loud” pledge to myself to learn Chinese (yawn), I promise you I am posting some useful information. There are so many good ways to take on the study of a new language, and you’ve read about my foray into learning Mandarin. I continue to be committed to daily lessons….. on YouTube. I’m so impressed with the huge variety of great teachers and language lists that can be accessed so easily. I have not drilled down much with getting subscriptions because I simply can’t decide on one site I want to follow sequentially. So I’m basically “skipping rocks” on the surface for now, just pulling up all sorts of videos. As I advance, this may get frustrating and if so, I’ll get more structured with one or two complete courses in earnest.

Some considerations for my lesson choices are attention level, daily mood, level of difficulty, cultural context, repetition technique, situational conversations, association with visual Pinyin, and time I have to spare at each sitting. Here are  just a few of my current favorites with a link to a sample of a video lesson from each:

Yuting https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gX3xCsoTbDs is a charming and funny instructor with an animated personality and cute video production techniques. Her “Top 25” style videos are great for picking up essentials.

Ben from Learn Chinese Now https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=raG_Ysu3b4A usually pairs with a female instructor, and their discussions that support the language learning are always helpful to fully explain the concepts. He has a pleasant, straightforward style.

Fiona from Mandarin Made Easy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bze1eKu5Aac is a lively and upbeat instructor who uses a variety of formats from solo and paired lessons (I especially like Gwilym) to “day in the life” visits and experiences around the world including her Taiwanese culture.

Mike from Learn Chinese with Mike https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gy8SHpbQ004 took some getting used to, with his “cool dude” laid-back style. But his lessons are done well with thoughtfully organized content, and as he writes on his whiteboard, you feel you are right in his garage(!) with him.

Yangyang with Yoyo Chinese https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxeLo3hVe0w is one of the most polished and comprehensive teachers. She barrels through an impressive series of lessons, but her presentation style doesn’t vary much, so I watch her channel when I’m just in the mood for nuts and bolts.

I’ve also been streaming podcasts when driving for long stretches. Although I haven’t explored much in this arena, one I like a lot is Dimsum Mandarin http://www.languagedomus.com/courses/view/2/dimsum-mandarin. Chung has a well-paced and articulate style and you can download free podcasts or subscribe.

Hopefully this will give you a head start on trying some new resources. I don’t think it’s one size fits all so you will find your own favorites as you explore the many great channels. Meanwhile, I’m going to keep at it with the hope that you can teach an old dog (or middle-aged mom?) new tricks. Kuàilè de chūntiān!

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!

Back to School

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If you are an educator, you are probably already rolling up your sleeves with curriculum, staff development and spiffing up your area at your school site; I remember it well from my art teacher days.

If a parent, the school shopping along with scheduling fall recreation and lessons may be keeping your days busy while you weave in a bit more summer fun. My daughter is entering 7th grade so I am somewhat “hands off” at this point, but I still get that jittery stomach when school starts up, as does she, with all that her “tween” life demands.

Here are a few thoughts to carry with you to tie Chinese culture into a new school year, whether you are a parent, teacher, activity leader or homeschool educator:

  • Anyone that hasn’t discovered TeachersPayTeachers.com needs to check it out. What an amazing resource! One of my goals in the upcoming months is to post some more lessons.
  • My friend in Singapore has just launched unitedteach.com, a great website that pairs virtual volunteers with classrooms to bring in special themes. Schools will be able to register soon and also, volunteers are needed if you have a talent or area of knowledge to share.
  • If your school has exchange students or teachers from China, remember what a valuable resource they are for learning about Chinese culture, and they would also always appreciate invitations, even while their host families are taking good care of them.
  • The Mid-Autumn Moon Festival comes early this year, on September 8th. It’s a great anchor for a celebration or to start a more robust unit on China. You can even extend through to Year of the Goat on February 19th. Now that would be dedication!

Take heart…. we all will make it over the September “hump”, with backpacks filled, schedules hammered out and early mornings conquered. Here in Maine, as in many parts of the country, it is also a most beautiful and mild time of year with gorgeous foliage to enjoy along with a fresh start.

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.

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.

National Adoption Month

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My daughter in China just before travel to the U.S.

“This month, we celebrate adopted children, teenagers, and their diverse families. We work to give more young people permanent families and promising futures. And we encourage our friends and neighbors to open their hearts and their homes to children in need.”

You may think these are my pithy thoughts on adoption, but actually President Barack Obama included these words in his recent official proclamation of November as National Adoption Month. For me, adoption was the only path to parenthood I ever considered. I know this is all a bit heavy for a craft book blog, but of course Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts was created through adoption just as much as my family was.

So this November I’m taking the opportunity to double back, pull out pictures and reflect on the ten years I have been mother to my daughter. The memories of bringing her home are still so fresh; the anxiety and hurdles, and the faith I enveloped myself with when the setbacks mounted.

Adoption has improved every aspect of my life, in some ways that only the wink and nod of adoptive parents can understand, and also in just the same ways every parent is forever changed by raising a child. Lucky is a word that found its way to my book and also reflects how I’ve felt every single day since I received a photo of the baby I would soon travel to China to meet.

This month we are encouraged by our President to think about the role adoption plays in our country and our culture. I marvel at how strong the U.S. policies are on allowing all types of families to move forward with all different kinds of adoption. I know this is a broad stroke statement and people do have difficulties, be they legal, with immigration or with social services support. But with millions of children needing parents in this country and worldwide, it comforts me to know that if a family wants to adopt a child, systems, agencies and resources are in place that will work hard with you to make it happen.

My perspective is not to judge but to ponder; why do so many people choose to only give birth to children when there is already such perfection in the world that they could have for their very own?

Chinese Culture Close to Home

Chinese School dancers in Portland, Maine
Chinese School dancers in Portland, Maine

Ahhhh Fall. The crisp New England leaves under our feet, colorful splendor on the trees, apples and pumpkins. And for this family, October also brings the new session of CAFAM Chinese School (cafamchineseschool.org) on Saturdays. My daughter is eleven now and has been attending since she was a toddler.

This connection to our local Chinese community as well as adoptive families with Chinese children has become an anchor for us and my daughter has made amazing friends that are literally growing up with her. To have a place to embrace Chinese culture and hear Mandarin spoken alongside English for even a few hours a week is transforming

As an adoptive mom, I have always grappled with the fact I may never know how my daughter truly feels about her birth country and being taken from it. I can never walk in her shoes. However I have to believe that making the effort to spend time with our Chinese friends and participating in programs, events and holidays that celebrate China and give us a deeper understanding of the culture can only be good, not only for her but for me.

Chinese organizations across the country and FCC regional chapters offer many types of language schools and culture programs and I believe ours is one of the best. We offer Mandarin, traditional dance, martial arts, character calligraphy, authentic cooking, art, and often all in one morning. I’ve enjoyed creating many workshops and crafts for the students over the years which also helped me build the confidence to write Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts. The research required to feel equipped to write about Chinese history and traditional arts was immense.

Perhaps in your Chinese and adoptive circles you’ve found great ideas for making connections, family fun,  and learning about Chinese culture. These may be programs that exist or are waiting to be realized. Here in the Portland area we have a tireless steering committee president that does a tremendous amount of work to keep us on track, but we also rely on a huge amount of additional volunteers, guest authors, teachers, Chinese exchange students and people willing to offer different talents and skills.

All it takes is a commitment of time, good organization and a vision. Please leave a comment and share what you are doing in your area. Oh, and by the way, the girl second from the left in the photo is my daughter!

Lucky Bamboo Singapore Adventure

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The weeks seem to fly by and there is so much I want to share about my craft book experience.  A highlight of February was my trip to Singapore with my daughter.  Now that the books are safely in the warehouse and I’ve at least started the selling engine (although it is always thirsty for more gas…), it was time for some fun.

Why Singapore?  I had the book printed by a fantastic commercial printer there… a relationship I revived from early professional days as a product development manager.  A book like this is only as good as its printing and production so I definitely had been focused on that aspect of the project with great care and planning right from the start.  We had an opportunity to tour the plant and visit with the lovely family that owns the corporation and I felt like everything had come full circle.

I also have some dear friends that live there as expats and they were warm and wonderful hosts.  We normally only see them in the summer here in Maine, so what a treat to experience their Singapore life with the new routines, cultural differences, and balmy weather!  On top of that, we got to celebrate the end of Chinese New Year together, and attend one of the most elaborate, exciting and colorful parades in the world!

Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts goes to press!

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Welcome, crafty friends!

After years of researching, crafting, writing, drawing and lots of fretting, I can finally say that Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts first edition has been printed and shipped from the factory!  It will be available for fulfilling your orders in just a few weeks.  There is a lot of hip, hip hooray going on around here and as I tackle the next phase (sharing this book with the world), I will definitely be starting the Year of the Snake with many challenges, but also a huge feeling of accomplishment.

I plan to use this blog to update you on my book-related news, offer Chinese cultural information and also share even more Chinese craft ideas and project tips that could not fit into my already jam-packed book.  I’m excited to have you along!