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 Adoption- the Magic and the Mysteries

Homeland Trip to Yong Feng County, Jiangxi Province

You would think I’d be used to it by now. Raising a daughter that is so very definitely, positively, undeniably mine. But then I watched the PBS documentary ‘Twin Sisters’ recently about Chinese twins adopted by families as infants- one growing up in a tiny village in Norway, the other in urban California. Many memories and emotions bubbled up again that I had obsessed over long ago through the adoption process and early parenting years surrounding taking my daughter from China and her first family roots.

There are common questions felt by many international adoptive parents; how will my child frame and overcome never knowing who her birth family is, whether she has biological siblings, the circumstances around her abandonment…. heady stuff for sure. I remember the many nights working on her lifebook (adoption mamas know what this is) into the wee hours… making sure every word was crafted and image vetted to tell my daughter her story in just the “right” way. Is it sad? Is it a joyous journey of serendipity? Is it just what it is?

I read a NY Times op-ed last month about young Chinese today and the rural vs. wealthy urban disparity in educational opportunities. What if my daughter had stayed in her tiny rural town, blanketed in lotus fields? Is “what if” even relevant? ‘Somewhere Between’, another documentary that profiles adopted girls excavates even further the questions and longings experienced by some families. One Chinese-American teen goes so far as to return to China in search of her birthmother. (That’s a spoiler heads-up to preview before sharing with younger kids).

All of these quality written and documentary explorations snag my interest and for a bit, I can’t turn away. It’s all part of the fabric of my family… the reality we live with, juxtaposing daily life with the history which will never be written.

At a recent school conference, my daughter’s teacher reflected on an assignment where students were to construct a timeline of their personal best/worst/significant life events. The teacher said she had pointed out to the class to note anything remarkable about their birth and joining their family. She then implied to us with a grin that my daughter had not really felt there was! Huh?

Perhaps we raised our daughter with a feeling of normalcy and being comfortable accepting her beginnings. That was certainly always our hope and dream. She was seven when I made the long journey back to China with her for a “heritage trip” to visit her orphanage staff and to our surprise, met her foster family as well. She was cool as a cucumber (unlike her mother) and I think it reinforced to her that we DO acknowledge and cherish all of who she is and our great fortune in that. The only other residual effect I can say for sure is I now have a daughter with insatiable travel fever. And at the end of the day, I have to believe love is the answer to most any longing that tries to take hold of her heart.

Is There Life after Chinese New Year?

Don’t get me wrong… the last several weeks of festivals, crafts, dumplings and lanterns have offered wonderful opportunities to be with friends, old and new, at Lunar New Year events all around New England. I’ve also had great support and energy around my book and the craft and culture lessons that I brought to many young audiences.

The Spring Festival right through the Lantern Festival is without a doubt the most significant time of year for Chinese families, and was a perfect time for me to focus on projects and events that teach the strong history and traditions that extend into all aspects of Chinese life.

But what is a Chinese craft book author to do when the decorations come down, the phone stops ringing and the noise of drums and fireworks is far off in the distance? Time to redirect and think about arts and culture integration in the classroom, and all the other places where my fascination with Chinese culture can be shared. I’m thinking about mini e-books, learning Mandarin (in earnest), offering workshops… but for now some recent highlights from Year of the Horse fun:

Boston Children's Museum- we made noisemakers with kids and had a book signing!
Boston Children’s Museum- we made noisemakers with kids and had a book signing!
Asian Studies Academy in Hartford, CT- an amazing school and program!
Asian Studies Academy in Hartford, CT- an amazing school and program!
Horses, scrolls and origami at Portland Public Library
Chinese School dancers in Westbrook, Maine
Chinese School dancers in Westbrook, Maine

And lastly, here is my first foray into t.v. and video… it’s a cute little project done by a  very nervous author! (Click link to view)

Jennifer DeCristoforo demonstrates craft on WCSH 207 program
Jennifer DeCristoforo demonstrates craft on WCSH 207 program

Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts- WCSH 207 Appearance

Year of the Horse 马年

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I’m finding myself at a full gallop right now! The Lunar New Year certainly brings out the revelers that have been waiting for the opportunity to display their red and gold, use calligraphy brushes and ink, and enjoy Chinese crafting fun. I’ve heard this month from teachers, parents, librarians and culture organizations; many that are discovering Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts for the first time.

First a bit about ‘Year of the Horse’. It is the seventh zodiac animal in the twelve year lunar cycle. Someone born under this wood sign is said to have traits of strength, focus, attractiveness, patience and loyalty. It is a personal favorite because my nearly twelve-year-old daughter is a “horse”.

Just to chronicle a bit of what I’m up to (you can check the calendar for details):

  • Taped a segment for a local t.v. show (WCSH207) airing on Chinese New Year, 1/31/14
  • Steering the craft tables at our local CAFAM Chinese New Year celebration
  • Making noisemakers at the Boston Children’s Museum CNY event
  • Attending the FCCNE event held during the Boston Children’s Museum day
  • Leading Chinese New Year crafts at Portland Public Library
  • Teaching workshops at the Asian Studies Academy in Hartford, CT
  • Bringing CNY crafts to a neighborhood center serving new immigrant families where I volunteer with my daughter

Please pardon my lack of crafted word and deep thought this month; I’m buried in lists, creating horse designs, craft supply shopping and coordinating the next few weeks of celebrations and appearances. After the Spring Festival winds down I’ll put away the glitter and paint, pack up the decorations, enjoy my cleaned up house (crossed fingers on that one but it’s an important tradition for the holiday!), and start looking ahead. What will be next for Lucky Bamboo Crafts? I’ve only just begun!

Crafts for Chinese New Year

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Year of the Horse crafts for Chinese New Year

The Spring Festival (Lunar New Year) on January 31, 2014 celebrates the Year of the Horse. It’s time to start planning your craft activities for school, home, cultural organizations, grandparent time, scouts and of course for your local Chinese New Year festival, banquet or parade.

Here’s a little round up to get you started with some tips from Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts. I annually plan 6-12 kid’s crafts for our large Chinese New Year event in Portland, Maine. I’m in a nice flow of retaining some popular crafts each year, while offering some projects specific to the zodiac animal. You can start a list or spreadsheet considering these guidelines:

Quantity– You’ll need to plan for copies and materials. Duplicate designs or templates for copies on one page where possible. Estimate the number of crafters expected between 3-15 years old. Then add a few extra as some may want takeaways for a sibling at home or a teacher.

Variety– If you are preparing several crafts, include common projects such as lucky red envelopes (hong bao), and a Fu banner. Then add crafts with varied materials, themes and shapes; for example, a puppet, a fan, a mask and some origami.

Supplies– Red, red, red! Get out now over holiday break and pick up red tissue paper, card stock, ribbon, fabric and partyware. Gold is also available in the New Year’s Eve section. Grab red and gold materials while still easily available at dollar and box stores and right after Christmas they are often on sale, as well. Tools (scissors, hole punches, etc..) can often be borrowed if you make the effort. Check your markers, glue sticks and crayons… if dried out or broken, refresh them.

Preparation– Allow time to prepare masters for copies and purchase materials and supplies. Good template shapes are the key to successful crafts. Obviously I’m fond of my designs from the book, but simple project templates and graphic elements (images, Chinese characters, etc..) are abundant on the web. Play around with copies and “old fashioned” cut and paste to get them right. It’s often faster and easier than trying to make a computer graphic.

Crafts are just one piece of a successful event. You’ll want to consider food, decorations and any performance offerings (such as a dragon parade or lion dance). But crafts are often a favorite of the kids. They add collaborative fun and relaxation while teaching about Chinese culture, and result in cool stuff to bring home. Gong Xi Fa Cai!

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?

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!

Time for ‘Year of the Snake’

Year of the Snake

Excitement is starting to build here in Maine for the ‘Year of the Snake’ festivities for the Lunar New Year that begins on February 10th.  I have enjoyed being an active member of the Chinese & American Friendship Association of Maine (CAFAM) for years and we host an impressive event that attracts a huge crowd.  These days I’m busy preparing Chinese New Year snake crafts for the activity tables for our event on February 9th.

These crafts need to be crowd-pleasers so I make sure they can be prepared in large quantities and are simple enough for young crafters on the go.  I’ve designed snake puppets and other snake projects along with traditional crafts like hong bao.  You are most likely busy planning your own celebrations to share with family, friends and your community.  Xīn Nián Kuài Lè!