Mooncakes and Mandarin

As I look out my window at the New England postcard of blazing autumn color, the events of late summer seem long passed. But I did want to recap the Dragon Boat & Asian Festival in Hartford, CT. I had a great day of crafting with the kids and had a dear friend helping out (thank goodness!). I also made a new friend that offered paper folding and was amazingly skilled. She was a math teacher and also runs the origami club at her school.

In September I helped lead crafts for the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival at The Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine here in Portland. This was extra-special for three reasons; I had never partnered with the dynamic outreach director at the museum but had wanted to after floating ideas with her for years. Also, I participated as part of our CAFAM organization so had some other crafty board members by my side. And lastly, it’s always more fun when my daughter participates! She had a great time and remembered being a small child there herself, climbing on the firetruck and shopping for play food.

Mandarin classes are underway and I’m already experiencing the huge positive difference in working with an excellent teacher rather than tackling it on my own. This is what she does! It feels odd to have homework, a text and workbook, and be on the student side of life, but since my daughter is currently looking at colleges(!) I guess I’m serving as a fine example! Well, we’ll see…..

Next post, I’ll be ballyhooing my updated website and will have ‘Year of the Pig’ planning in the works. New crafts, for sure. For now, get out and vote!

Elephant Love


Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai

Let me start by addressing the “elephant” in the room…. and I mean that literally. I traveled with my daughter to Thailand in June and although Chinese crafts were the furthest from my mind, I wanted to share a bit about this life-changing trip. Along with tourist travel, we volunteered for a week at Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. We worked hard basically pampering rescued, previously abused and injured elephants and maintaining their grounds. Participating in the work of an amazing woman, founder Lek Chailert was beyond inspirational.

I highly recommend getting involved with this organization, and feel free to e-mail me or leave a comment if you have questions about the volunteer experience. And oh yes, the mother-daughter time was the best!

I had a sweet event at a small island library last month. We made Chinese shuttlecocks, which was a perfect summer craft. After the construction, my daughter took the kids outside and they practiced traditional shuttlecock games. Thanks, Deb (Library Director Extraordinaire) for another wonderful visit!

Dragon boats book end my summer. In June I attended the Boston Dragon Boat Festival for the first time. The races were exciting on the picturesque Charles River and the activity area was bustling. I will hopefully add Lucky Bamboo Crafts to their mix next year!

In a couple of weeks I will head to Hartford, CT for their annual Dragon Boat & Asian Festival. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve offered crafts there and I look forward to returning with some fresh projects. It’s a great event where the city river park is alive with dragon boat races, performances, food vendors, artisans and organizations.

Yes, my new redesigned Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts website is coming, it really is! I think everyone can relate to the struggle to complete projects that have only a self-imposed deadline. Summer in Maine is in itself a heavy distraction but a good one. I hope you are soaking in summer as well, and finding water, sunshine and good food with family and friends.

Summer Crafts that Celebrate Asian Cultures

Summer camps and programs are right around the corner and whether you are planning for overnight campers or a day program, I’m sure that “arts & crafts” are an important part of the mix. Why not give your crafts an Asian twist or have an international celebration where you teach about many cultures while having fun? Here are some project ideas for Chinese crafts from my book to help you along: Scroll painting has a long history (literally!) in China. You can get a roll of butcher paper (brown will look ancient!) or cut a large, narrow section of a sheet and paint or draw a group scroll. Think of a banner turned on its side. You can use a specific story for the art or be more general and just have the kids come up with some Chinese themes and/or simple calligraphy. Performance crafts will get kids more invested in larger activities since they are used as part of a show. Ribbon sticks (for Chinese ribbon dances) or shadow puppets (and they can also make the shadow stage) are both loads of fun. You can see my Lunar New Year post from February for some shadow puppet ideas. Paper folding is a wonderful social activity and quite addictive! Have a good supply of origami paper available all the time. You’ll soon discover your secret paper folding masters! Instructions are easy to find online, and if you find you have some awesome crane folders, create group chains and mobiles to decorate the camp. Use a basic napkin holder with a top weight or arm to keep your paper organized and safe from breezes. Kite making is an activity I’ve offered many times in summer programs. It seems “old school” that kids would know how to whip up a simple diamond kite, but not the case! And if you want to dig into the rich history with older kids, you can explore more complex designs, and artwork can be painted on the surface with basic craft paint. Happy flying! Dragon Boat Festival races are popular worldwide on the June 18th holiday and extend right through the summer, especially in the United States. Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts includes a reproducible template and instructions to make a kid-sized version. And if you make the boats water-worthy, you can have your own races! I’m attending the festival in Boston this weekend and look forward to all the Asian fun to kick off summer.

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.

Global Maker Kids

Another summer is here and some fresh ideas and activities are a must to enjoy the balmy days and less structured time with your kids. Summer camp and program leaders are also brainstorming and locking down schedules. I always like to get in the mix with a few thoughts so this can be a joyous and creative time with opportunities to grow and make, with a global twist. So how do you be a maker? It seems to be everywhere.

I just walked into my local library and was greeted by this display which featured several “maker” books for kids. Ok I am first to admit the “maker movement” seems like an overdone buzz phrase since my whole existence has been in a “maker space”. But even if it’s a rebranding of inventive creativity, often used in schools (the too cool for school ones?) and usually in relation to STEAM curriculum, I can still glean some good inspiration from the concept with only a slight smirk. Especially since much of the synergy seems to be focused on a world view of kid power. 

So what does this have to do with Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts? The “making” has of course always been for me about exposing kids to world culture through embracing their creativity. Over the summer, that can take many forms. So here are a few ideas that sit well with summer days:

Volunteer– Ok, very general, but as I heard the the thud of school being out for my teen, I knew I had to be creative about perhaps suggesting something worthwhile for her open summer schedule? She is volunteering as an assistant at an amazing writer’s book making camp at The Telling Room, an organization that develops young talent with an international focus. Look around… you’ll inevitably find ways for your kids to dip their toes into new experiences while offering some help. Win, win!

Museums– Don’t let the school field trips be the only historical and cultural exposure your kids get. Staycation or vacation, look around and find current exhibits, even at the smaller, quirky and often forgotten museums. It’s a great activity for those too hot or too rainy days. (And our town offers free day passes to many. Check around!)

Camp– If you are a director or counselor, there are so many ways to make and learn… (and of course any of these can also be done at home or the summer cottage!). Grow an ethnic vegetable garden, learn and make international games, make an instrument, have a world culture “fair” or dinner… and crafts, crafts, crafts!

Recycle and repurpose– If you’re going to make, you need stuff, right? Put a bin somewhere this summer and toss in cartons, leftover paint, scraps, string, paper, cans with lids (instant drum?), and any odd little bits that can help inspire makers. It will be ready for your kids and their friends and cousins when they feel creative. Good idea to do a “quick grab” smaller bin with basic supplies nearby, (scissors, tape, markers, glue gun, etc…) as well… to save YOU time hunting around the house when you’d rather be drinking iced tea!

I was also lucky enough to write a guest post for Globe Trottin’ Kids which tells a bit about my journey (if you’re new here) but also collabs with a wonderful website and blogger that is committed to all these virtues I’ve described. Please check her out!

Enjoy, explore, and keep in touch!

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.

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.

Dragon Camp, Bangor, Maine

 

 

 

 

 

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.

JenHartfordd JenHartford2 JenHartforda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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!