Tuesday, December 29, 2009

SALE! 15% to 25% off Alexandra Amaro Jewelry

As you already know, I am in the final stretch of preparing to launch my new Alexandra Amaro Jewelry website. That means writing text, thinking through delivery options and working on my product photography. It also means clearing out some inventory to make space for new collections!

Thus, select pieces at my Alexandra Amaro 1000 Markets site are on sale, reduced 15% to 25%. Antique trade beads from Mozambique Island, handmade African hardwood components, turquoise, semi-precious gemstones, pearls and more!

Treat yourself to a gift for 2010, or get in some early shopping for a special someone with a January birthday. Most of these pieces are one-of-a-kind, so shop now for the best selection.

Stay tuned for the launch of alexandraamaro.com!

Monday, December 28, 2009


Last night I wrote my biography for the soon-to-be-launched Alexandra Amaro Jewelry website. It was much harder than I'd anticipated and took me several hours, not counting the procrastination involved (Facebook, an episode of Law and Order, organizing my desk).

The most difficult part was writing about myself with a focus I've never really had before. All of my previous biographies have been about my experience as an international development consultant - fundraising, business and strategic plan development, etc. I got it done, though, with an appropriate emphasis on my creative, artsy side and am pretty satisfied.

Now to finish writing the descriptions for my product collections...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

We All Start Somewhere

A friend of mine back in Maputo makes beautiful jewelry in her spare time, but despite her obvious talent for and enjoyment of the craft, was embarrassed and incredibly reluctant to show me her work. Why? Because she thought her work was too novice, that it would perhaps be laughed at or dismissed by an "advanced" jewelry artist like myself. Ah, if only I could infuse myself with her perception of me every time I am nervous about my own work...

I told this friend there was absolutely no reason to be ashamed of her work, that we all start somewhere. I showed her the photos of some of my very first pieces, and apparently they were enough to put her at ease. From that moment on, we had a great time showing each other our work, and I ended up leaving her the bulk of my glass beads when we moved away from Maputo.

This interaction reminded me of how important it is to remember our journeys, both to appreciate our progress as well as to remain humble. I look at the first booth I ever set up at a crafts fair and part of me wants to cringe, while another part marvels at how much I have learned over the past 4 years.

When I think about doing exhibitions and fairs here in the US, however, I am reminded that there is still so much to figure out, so many tweaks and adjustments to make, so many logistical and aesthetic hurdles to overcome. At least here it is easier, in the sense that there are companies specialized in exposition booth displays, you can buy tents and tables and cases and whatever else your heart desires to showcase your work.

In Maputo, it was such a challenge. I was basically working with a tablecloth and buletin board for the first year or so. It was like guerrilla fair-participation, working with whatever was available to create the best show possible despite severely limited resources.

Once I was accepted to show my work in the National Crafts Fair in 2007, I knew I had to step it up. I had a client of ours who was a woodworker design some custom displays for my jewelry. They were heavy and bulky, but a great solution for my needs.

Still, it was tricky to do these fairs because the organizers wouldn't allow the participants to bring their own tables - you had to fight it out with the other artisans to get a assortment of oversized wooden blocks and mismatched planks with which to "build" your own stand. My friend A. really saved me last year, because I got the worst set of wooden pieces imaginable. With her background in fashion design and mechanical engineering, however, she was the ideal woman for the job and managed to create a really cute and functional booth for me.

Today I am getting ready for a new phase in my work. My own website - complete with e-commerce functionality - is almost ready to launch. My task today is to write the text for the site including my artist's statement, biography, a bit about the materials I use in my designs, my shop policies and more.

I've been wanting to take this step for so long, but wasn't able due to the restrictions of living in Mozambique. Without a mail system, there really is no reason to put the time and effort into creating a website because you can't ship anything or order new materials. On the flip side, those same restrictions really pushed my creativity because I was forced to work with what I had, to find new solutions, to think outside the proverbial box. It was a very valuable time, for sure.

I'm off to get some tea and a piece of the delicious lemon curd cockaigne bars that I made a few days ago in hopes that the caffeine and sugar will inspire fluid writing. It's been quite the journey thus far...here's to the next step!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Biggest Difference

People frequently ask me and Rico what the biggest difference is between life in Maputo and life in Cali. They want to know how the transition has been, if we've experienced wicked culture shock, if we are feeling like foreigners in a foreign land.

To be honest, the culture shock thus far has been minimal. The changes are obvious - we are talking about two very different places and lifestyles, of course - but coping with said changes hasn't been traumatic at all. What we most miss about life in Mozambique is our friends, full stop. The rest is incidental.

However, this evening Rico had a eureka moment. There is one really big difference that impacts our lives and the way we interact with friends, family and the rest of the world on a daily basis.

Any guesses?

I won't be dramatic. :)

The big innovation is that WE CAN RELIABLY SEND AND RECEIVE MAIL. Such a simple thing, but with such a huge impact. Being able to depend on the postal system (and not be at the mercy of terribly overpriced couriers) has made it possible for me to order gemstones and other jewelry supplies online, make custom designs for my customers and ship them within a few days, set up a website with e-commerce capabilites, send Christmas gifts to everyone in the family on time, send letters to friends, fill out and return assorted paperwork, subscribe to Vogue and other magazines, order shoes online and return them immediately if they don't fit, receive and recycle junk mail, pay bills by check, print photos online, order books from Amazon.com...and so much more.

I can't believe this didn't dawn on us earlier.

Winter Senses

Listening: to Wyclef Jean's Carnival, Vol. II - Memoirs of an Immigrant. This is one of the best albums I've ever heard. I have a feeling this is going to be on repeat until Rico and I know all the words. Definitely worth the purchase on iTunes.

Watching: Nina sleeping on a pile of my (no longer) clean clothes. She is the sweetest little cat. She follows me around the house all day, just waiting for a bit of carinho.

Drinking: a Miller Genuine Draft. Not particularly glamorous, but you take what you get when it's raining outside and you can't be bothered to run to the store.

Admiring: my mother-in-law who embarked on a lifestyle change and has lost 20kg since July thanks to aqua aerobics and a healthy diet.

Smelling: my favorite incense in the world (and a big part of what helps me feel the holiday spirit) - Piñon incense from Inciensos de Santa Fe. This smell = New Mexico winter.

Wondering: if the upgrade to QuickBooks Premier will meet my needs. I originally got Pro, but it doesn't allow me to do the raw materials and finished product management that I currently do using Excel spreadsheets. I need the "assembly" function of the Premier version, it seems, to be able to manage my constantly shifting inventory and one-of-a-kind finished jewelry.

Feeling: grateful that the effects of the delicious-but-too-rich-for-my-system smoked salmon served at Christmas dinner last night have passed.

Planning: my business goals for 2010.

Wishing: I could go shopping. I recently had a style consult which involved having my colors done and I'm itching to buy clothes. It's not at the top of the old priority list in terms of how to allocate my financial resources, but a giant shopping spree would be so much fun. :)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Cibo Matto and Markets

I associate the holidays with crazy amounts of delicious food, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to share some market photos we took while in Vietnam on our honeymoon back in July 2008. These photos were taken at Hue, Sapa and Ha Long Bay. Enjoy!

I don't think a low-carb diet would go over so well here.

Bonus points for identifying all the produce in this photo. I believe she's holding guavas, with pomelos in the foreground and maybe small mangoes in the basket?

Various forms of piloncillo/rapadura (pressed brown sugar). Right next to what looks to be dish detergent, of course.

Black seaweed jelly, anyone?

One banana, two banana, three banana, four.

Produce in every color of the rainbow, and a brilliant smile to match from the vendor.

Without a doubt, this woman's purchases will soon be piled in a gravity-defying manner on the back of her motorbike.

I spy with my little eye: dragonfruit, fruta do conde (atamoya), mangoes, the overgrown and hairy cousin of the litchi (whose name I don't remember). What are those small brown fruits?

Paper money for offerings. Easy to be a billionaire.

I never realized there were quite so many varieties of ginger/galangal.

As if I needed any more reason to sweat...but spicy foods really do go down nicely in a hot and humid climate. Especially with a bia hoi (draft beer) to quell the burn.

In case you need another pair of slippers or plastic sandals.

Assorted natural remedies at the market in Sapa.

Incredibly, this huge blanket was covered in wild mushrooms.

Spicy? Or extra spicy?

When you're on a boat, the market comes to you. This particular boat offers Oreos and other packaged cookies/crackers, bottled sodas, water and candy.

Do you have change for a 20?

Look, ma, no hands! (This boy was incredible - he could maneuver the boat in any direction using only his feet.)

Everybody texts.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holiday Spirit

I'm not particularly into the holidays. I think it's because most of my Christmasses for the past decade or so have been spent in tropical splendor (or at least in Maputo, or on a plane on my way to tropical splendor). Being from New Mexico, I associate Christmas with cold weather, snow, luminarias, bizcochitos, fireplaces with piñon wood, posole, tamales, real Christmas trees and presents on Christmas morning. It seems that without those triggers, the holidays didn't feel "real".

I remember the first time I spent the holidays in the Southern Hemisphere. It was 1997 and I was living in Maringá, Paraná in Brasil. My host family had taken me to the beach in Santa Catarina state, and we celebrated with the traditional midnight dinner on December 24th (in this case, on the roof of the resort town's tallest apartment building), lots of drinking, card playing and samba dancing. There wasn't really a gift exchange, which made me feel a bit like the odd one out since I'd prepared a little something for each member of the family. Most of Christmas Day was spent sleeping, then when the effects of the previous night's festivities had worn off, we all went to the beach. It was so incredibly un-Christmaslike that I was actually quite sad.

At some point over the last 12 years, I got over it.

I suppose I spent so many Christmasses on a plane by myself (always the cheapest day to travel over winter break, and every year from 1997 - 2002 I went back to Brasil for the end of the year) that the absence of a holiday tradition ceased to matter. Holidays were in my head, were easily celebrated on off-days whenever family was together, and many times simply involved a phone call or small dinner celebration. I wasn't sad anymore at the absence of a traditional New Mexico Christmas, but I also ceased to get into the spirit that much.

Now that Rico and I are in Casa Cali, back in the "cold" weather and the land of the Christmas-obsessed, we've tried to resurrect some of the holiday excitement. We had grand plans to buy a Christmas tree - a live one with a root ball, of course, to be kept on the deck semi-undecorated until planting time thanks to our cats (they'd be up in the tree and knocking off all of my precious family ornaments in no time were it left indoors as a "present" to them) - but that just didn't happen. We had other priorities, I suppose, and got busy with things like work and driving a van full of furniture back from New Mexico. So no tree this year...

However we did manage to muster up a bit of Christmas festiveness: we bough red chile lights, and fully plan to put them somewhere visible before the actual holiday has passed. That, and I plan to bake a bazillion Christmas cookies to give as default gifts to our extended family and neighbors.

The big Christmas present, however, was one that Rico and I agreed would be our one and only gift to each other (we're not really into exchanging presents à la US tradition). We purchased a Sonos, a fabulous music system for Casa Cali that allows us to listen to whatever we want in different rooms. Music was definitely one of the things missing in our life (we sold our iPods and speakers prior to leaving Maputo), and we couldn't be happier now that we have a soundtrack available for working, cooking and entertaining. Amazingly, I actually listened to holiday music the other day: a Baroque Christmas, unearthed from my huge collection of classical cd's. Baby steps to full holiday spirit, I suppose. Baby steps...

Monday, December 21, 2009


Lately my mind has been so full of ideas that I've felt almost anxious. I keep a pen and paper nearby at all times - a notebook on my desk for design ideas and lists of materials I need to buy, a Moleskine in my purse for random marketing ideas and things I can't forget, pieces of scrap paper in the kitchen for shopping lists and appointment reminders - and still, despite transferring the bulk of what's in my head to paper (or the computer), I still have this feeling of go-go-go that won't let me rest.

Most of my busy mind is due to my career change from full-time international development consultant and part-time jeweler and translator, to full-time jeweler and part-time translator (and although I'm not formally taking any more consulting assignments, it seems I can't get out of that role - nearly every friend I hang out with these days ends up getting advice from me about how to grow their current businesses or how to start a business they've always dreamed of). I am really taking this transition to being a self-sustaining artist quite seriously, and despite the fact that I am *tired* these days, it's really a pleasure to have so many details to sort out, so many decisions to make and plans to put into action.

The big task at hand these days is designing and launching my website. I am working with a professional web designer for this (who happens to be the husband of a girl I went to high school with) and it's been a really interesting process. Thinking about how my site will physically be laid out has forced me to re-examine and brainstorm about everything from my mission to my product collections to my brand image. Tomorrow I need to write the text for the site, but we are pretty close to wrapping everything up, and with some hard work www.alexandraamaro.com will launch in January.

As part of launching my website, I wanted to give my blog a mini-makeover so that visually it is more coherent with my site. I changed templates and made some changes to my blogroll that resulted, unfortunately, in the latter getting deleted. I tried to recreate the list to the best of my abilities, but I fear I may have forgotten someone. Please let me know if this is the case.

I am off to eat a pork sandwich, have a beer and do some sketching of design ideas for my Spring 2010 jewelry collection. Stay tuned!

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Quest to Become a Social-ista

No, not as in an ideology or political orientation. Lord knows that my time in Mozambique moved me firmly to the capitalist side of the equation. No quiero ser socialista, I want to be a Social-ista - as in a Fashion-ista - but instead of being a devotee of the latest designer collections and accessories, my quest is to interact with friends, friends-to-be and all of the other people who come across my path inbetween.

You see, I am an "ambivert". I first heard this term on the personality and style questionnaire developed by Wardrobe 911 as part of their style consult (a very fun experience, by the way). It means a person who is primarily introverted by nature, but who can be extroverted in inspired little bursts or simply when the situation calls for it. What a welcome relief, after all these years debating whether I am the 'E' or the 'I' in the Myers-Briggs test, to find there is a third category, an intermediate term that validates what I've known about myself all along. (I am either an ENFP or INFP depending on the day.) There are few things I love more than to be alone with a cat in my lap and some solitary hobby with which to occupy myself, but on occasion I can be the unabashed life of the party.

Being an ambivert is great, but if I'm not careful I can slip nearly 100% into the introvert category and spend all day at home, every day, day after day. It's super easy for me to just hang out with Rico and the cats (and my Mom now that we are in Cali), ignore my phone calls and emails, and isolate myself from the rest of the world to the point that when the opportunity to go out and be social presents itself, I find it completely daunting and honestly unappealing. I love my own company, but there is a point where I nest into a cycle of isolation that, in the long run, I know isn't ideal.

I do not want to become a person who is house-bound by choice at age 30. I don't want to get into the rountine of living a limited life here in California just because it feels comfortable and is easy. The period right after a move is so critical because it establishes many of the habits and patterns you will have for that chapter in your life. I really want to approach this Casa Cali life with awareness and an open mind. I want to push my boundaries and learn new things. I wan to explore this great area with Rico and find people, places and things that we really enjoy. Part of what makes this difficult is that we have such a fabulous home and love each other's company so much that we don't feel particularly dissatisfied just hanging out at Casa Cali.

I know that having friends and a life outside my mind and my home is important, healthy (and fun!), but I'm at the point where I have to remind myself of that fact in order to branch out a bit. I want to meet friends in the city, go out for drinks, go dancing, go see live music, go to museums, go to the park, participate in art shows, see the redwoods and the beaches. All of these things and more are within reach. It's just a matter of doing them...

Thus the somewhat early resolution for 2010 to become a social-ista. I want to seek out the few friends I have here in the Bay Area and cultivate those friendships, even if it seems like an extraordinary hurdle to leave the house, get on BART and interact with other people. Just yesterday I met two friends in the Mission for ice cream and coffee. We walked around, chatted about life and business, got caught up on the 3 years or so it's been since we last saw each other. It was incredibly nice to be with them, and to venture out on my own for an afternoon. Although part of me wanted to call and cancel the morning prior to our outing (I'd already schemed a list of plausible excuses to reschedule), I'm really glad I didn't. I had a great time, and hope we can do it again soon.

So here's to being a Social-ista in 2010, to getting back to my ambivert roots and throwing off the cloak of (temporary) total introversion. School will help, I'm sure, but I also don't want it to be a substitute for getting out there on my own, or with Rico, for no reason at all but to explore and be social.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Apparently I have developed an accent when I speak English. Obviously I have an American accent, but judging from the curious inquiries from people here in California, it's anything but standard or recognizable. Usually people ask where I'm from, and when New Mexico isn't a satisfactory answer they probe on, asking where I grew up, where my family is from, if I speak any other languages, and so forth until finally, unable to pinpoint the explanation they are after, they simply say, "You have a funny accent."

Well, what can I say? The only thing notable about my English, I believe, is that it is nearly accent-less. Not a lot of slang, no regionalisms, no twang, nothing really odd other than the fact that I pronounce my words properly, enunciate as to be easily understood, and use correct grammar. All of these years living abroad, teaching English to foreigners for some cash on the side, and interacting with people who are from different parts of the world and have different levels of fluency in English has led me to speak a seriously neutral variant of my mother tongue.

I wonder if this is one of those things that will adjust over time, or whether I will keep this CNN English from here on out...

What about you long-term expats out there? Have you had this experience, where people back "home" tell you that you've acquired a foreign or strange accent? I'd be curious to hear about your experiences.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Special Offer: 20% Off Bracelet + Earrings

Dear Blog Friends,

As you know, I have taken the plunge and quit my day job, and am now working to grow my jewelry business. I'd like to invite you to become a fan of Alexandra Amaro Jewelry on Facebook and help me grow my fan base. You will be able to see my new work as it becomes available, and will have access to special offers.

Right now, I am offering a special holiday discount to say thank you for your support. Become a fan of Alexandra Amaro Jewelry on Facebook and GET 20% OFF WHEN YOU BUY A BRACELET AND EARRINGS ONLINE at http://www.alexandraamaro.1000markets.com/. Details and an offer code are on the Alexandra Amaro Jewelry official Facebook page.

Thank you for your support. This has been a fabulous journey thus far, and I look forward to sharing more of it with you as I start school in the Spring and make this dream a reality!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

1000 Markets

I have expanded my online presence to include a new shop for my jewelry. You can view and purchase select pieces from my jewelry line at www.alexandraamaro.1000markets.com. I currently have my Antique Mozambique Island Trade Bead collection and my Contempora Hardwood Jewelry collection in shop. Visit my shop now for some great one-of-a-kind gifts for the holidays!

Custom designs are welcomed - email me at alexandra@alexandraamaro.com or leave a comment if you are interested in designing a piece for yourself or a loved one.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

What Is the Obsession with Pomegranate?

I mean, seriously! Why is every last thing from fabric softener to "flameless luminary" faux candle air fresheners to hand creme scented with pomegranate these days? And don't get me started on all the granola bars and juices that are pomegranate-flavored. I get all the health benefits of pomegranate, but this seems like a overload.

I remember a few years ago when the big thing was cranberry. What's next, I wonder. Fig? Satsuma? Passion fruit? We all know that açai is already on the horizon (as a weight loss supplement, no less!) so I suppose that's off the trendy list...

In other news, my mind is slowly being corrupted by commercials. Rico and I watch at least one episode of Law & Order and one of Criminal Minds each night - it's our favorite way to relax at the end of a work day - and the commercials during these shows are just terrible. They are also lamentably effective. For the last two days, the Geico commercial with the talking pothole has been stuck in my head. I have a talent for imitating accents, and I can do the ditzy Southern, "Oh, naaaaaaaaaaaoe!" spot on. "Hawld on, lemme get mah ce-lyoo-lur, call ya a wreckur." Please tell me you know the commercial I'm talking about. I did it on the phone for my friend Jenny in Moz the other day, and I think she thought I was losing it. Still, I laugh every time I see the stupid thing on tv.

Other top commercials on the mind: the whole "Love Stinks" series by Swiffer, Geico again with the Russian thug pipes the car backs into, and a top contender for my favorite ad on tv at the moment, the Mucinex animated mucus guy that dances at the Cough-a-Cabana, invites all his animated mucus relatives for the family reunion, and protests, "Twelve aowahs!" at the purported duration of the medicine.

Yes, mush. My brain is turning to mush. I should be filling my mind with QuickBooks and taxpayer id#'s and brilliant ideas for how on earth I'm going to manage being at 8am classes for the next 3 years...come to think of it, it's not surprising I want to watch trash at the end of each night. ;)