Thursday, December 23, 2010


I am so grateful to be on winter break, although it hasn't really hit me yet that school is over and I can kick back and relax. Rico and I took one what we swear will be our last agricultural development consulting assignment, so the day after school was finished I had to get on the computer and write about program objectives and how to measure the impact of of our client's project in Mozambique. I've also been busy with holiday jewelry orders, which makes me very happy.

My plan for the next few days is to make some jewelry for myself, clean and organize my studio/office, read a book, do some gardening and in general just try to de-stress. The last two weeks of school really did a number on me, and I'm aware that I need to pamper myself a bit in order to be ready for the next semester.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

We Have a Winner!

Thank you to everyone who entered the Alexandra Amaro jewelry giveaway. It was such a delight to read what you all are looking forward to in the holiday season.

Last night Rico did the honors and drew a winner from the bowl of names.

Drumroll, please...

Congratulations, Mary Jane! I've sent you an email and hope to hear from you soon so I can ship out your luxe trade bead earrings.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Holiday Jewelry Giveaway

Hello lovelies,

To celebrate the holidays, I've decided to gift these luxe trade bead earrings to one lucky reader.

Subtle, unique and with just the right amount of sparkle, these earrings feature a pair of 300-year-old Mozambique Island trade beads flanked by pea green Swarovski pearls and faceted yellow quartz globes. They are connected with sterling silver wire and hang just over 2.5" (6.4cm) including sterling ear wires.

It took me over a year to find a matching pair of these clear trade beads, which were originally made in Bohemia and then brought to Africa to use as currency. Due to dozens of shipwrecks over the centuries, many of these old beads wash up on the shores of Mozambique Island, where they are collected and strung on fishing line by local boys. The strands are full of mismatched beads, and it is very difficult to find (nearly) identical pairs.

Contest Rules:

To enter the giveaway, simply submit a Contact Form on the Alexandra Amaro website and tell me what you are most looking forward to this holiday season.

Everyone who sends me a message using the Contact Form between Dec. 1st-5th will be entered in the drawing. On Dec. 6th, I will have Rico draw the winning name from a hat.

The winner will receive these earrings gift wrapped and in time for Christmas. Yes, I will ship internationally. No, I will not fill your inbox with spam and unwanted junk. You can expect an email newsletter from me quarterly at most.

Happy holidays, and best of luck to all!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The End's in Sight

The end of the school semester is fast approaching and I'm definitely feeling the crunch. I have so much work to do in the next three weeks that I almost can't think about it, lest I get completely overwhelmed and feel tempted to just give up and go drink wine. Rather, I'm taking things in about 2-day increments, putting out the most urgent fires, and letting the rest go.

I can't wait for December 17th to arrive. I have a massage scheduled to celebrate the end of the semester, and I plan to spend my month of holiday in the most relaxing way possible. I envision lots of time in front of our newly-working fireplace (Rico and his uncle climbed onto the roof with a pole saw to remove a large pine tree branch that was obstructing the chimney); trash tv and movies under a fleece blanket, flanked by cats; a bit of painting and jewelry-making; running (if it's not unbearably cold and rainy); and sleep. Lots of glorious, glorious sleep.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Maria, Lady of the Wax Print

"Maria, Lady of the Wax Print", acrylic on canvas board, 11x14 inches

After several weeks of painting patterns for my 2D visual dynamics class, we received an assignment to incorporate a portrait of someone who would be the "hero" of our selected pattern. This painting is of a Mozambican artisan and fashion designer named Maria, who I came to be friends with through the fairs at Café com Letras. The portrait is based on a photo of her that I took one day on the veranda of our flat in Maputo.

This was my first ever attempt at painting a person. I wanted Maria to look as if she were being surrounded by this swirling lotus-blossom pattern that I found on a piece of wax print fabric. This painting took about 5 hours to complete, and I am super pleased with the result.

I think it's safe to say I've been bitten by the painting bug. All I can think about these days (other than jewelry) is how much I want to keep painting!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

MAPS and Mimosas - Sunday, December 5th at the Polana

Love animals? In Maputo? Fancy some champagne and a delish brunch?

If yes, then you should definitely attend this great event being organized by my friend Claudia that will benefit MAPS, the Mozambique Animal Protection Society.

When: December 5th
Where: Ballroom of the Polana Hotel
Time: 10:30am - 3:00pm
Price: 2,000 MTN

To secure your place, be sure to RSVP to by November 28th.

Friday, November 12, 2010

I Am Now Officially a Mac Person

I did it. Finally.

After months of putting off the transition, I've officially switched from a PC to a Mac. The switch was somewhat forced by school (CCA requires students to have a Mac), but my old computer was definitely giving me signs that it's ready to go towards the light.

In general I'm really happy with the switch, and know that as I become more familiar and proficient with my Mac, I'll only grow happier. However, at the moment I feel a bit frustrated because I don't know how to do everything I want to on the new computer.

The things I'm most excited about? Adobe Bridge, iMovie and just having a chance to start fresh. I am a bit obsessive about the way I organize my digital files and emails, and my system had become somewhat outdated and overloaded on my old PC. It's super nice to be able to recreate my organizational system, especially now that the focus of my professional life has changed from development consulting to being a jewelry artist.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Color Manipulation

Yesterday in my 2D class I learned how to convert photos from Photoshop into Illustrator and then manipulate the colors. I'm pretty pleased with the result of my experimentation on this photo of my old friend Maria from Maputo, who is a fashion designer.

The purpose of this exercise was to be able to modify and scale up a portrait photo that will be then be painted on canvas, together with a pattern of our choice. I'm not sure exactly how mine will be composed, but I do know that it will be *full* of color.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

La Vida Expatica #6: The Place I Once Called Home Yet Never Truly Belonged

I had lunch with my best friend from high school today. She is due to have her first baby on Tuesday. It was incredibly nice to see her, even if just for a few hours, and the Thai crepes place (how's that for fusion!) we went to in Fremont was divine. I had the peanut chicken crepe and it totally satisfied my craving for spicy comfort food.

M. is my closest friend here in the Bay Area, despite the fact that we haven't really spent a lot of time together since we were 16 (I moved to Brazil to do a student exchange that year, and we subsequently lost touch for nearly a decade). Ironically, life brought both of us to California. She and her husband fled Hurricane Katrina and resettled here. Rico and I, as you know, moved here just over a year ago for his work, to be near my mom, and so I could go to school at CCA.

M. lives over an hour away, but we manage to see each other once every couple of months. I deeply miss having girlfriends nearby, and am reminded of how wonderful that kindred connection can be every time I see M.

Today she asked if I miss living in Mozambique. The answer is yes and no.

Yes a thousand times over to missing our friends, our social life, our global nomad community. The quick bonds formed with people from faraway lands, the dinner parties, the comfort in knowing that you are sharing a common experience. I miss the road trips, the Sunday lunches by the Indian Ocean, the animated discussions about how - and if - development work can really make an impact, about why projects fail, about why we were all there in the first place. Many an existential crisis was sorted out over gin-and-tonics and king prawns.

I have never felt so at home with a group of people in my life. I miss that immensely, the feeling of belonging, of understanding and feeling understood.

I miss many other things, too. The view of the Vila Algarve from our balcony, the tiles crumbling a bit more with each passing day. The streets lined with flowering trees, and the way I started tracking the seasons by what was in bloom: jacarandas, red acacias, yellow acacias. I miss catching bursts of the animated chats had by our building guards, full of whoops and hollers and shrill shrieks of excitement to punctuate the stories being told. I miss Dona Lidia's laugh. Zeca's warmth and reliability. The humility, kindness and hospitality shown by so many Mozambicans. The rich local culture. The mini global melting pot that is Maputo, and increasingly the rest of the country. I miss the pool at Hotel Terminus, site of many a sun-drenched, lazy afternoon, tanning and eating sandes de galinha maionese. I miss the piri-piri, obviously. I could make it at home in the blender, but somehow it's not the same as out of a small communal container on a wobbly restaurant table. I miss the sunrise at 4:30 in the morning in the summer. The nights spent dancing or listening to live music. The markets. I miss bumping into friends nearly everywhere we went. I miss Mozambique because it holds such a special spot in my heart as the place where Rico and I met each other again, fell in love, and started our life together as husband and wife.

Despite all of these wonderful things, there are many I don't miss: the in-your-face poverty, the inefficiency and inescapable bureaucracy, the lack of customer service, witnessing the abuse and exploitation of maids/waiters/workers and realizing that for many well-off Mozambicans that kind of treatment is acceptable, the exploitation of locals by foreigners and foreign companies, the sensation that you were always getting somewhat ripped off because you were white or a foreigner, the often false or tense relationships with the Mozambicans, the finely-tuned hate of "the stare" - an empty-eyed look accompanied by silence that became par for the course in many interactions...the frustration that the Moz experience wasn't what I'd expected - that in many aspects I'd become the typical expat I so swore I'd never be, the sad realization that I, too, looked at people in "local" vs. "expat" categories, that I was overflowing with cynicism, that I continued to do a job I didn't believe in for way too long - one of the motivations being a fat paycheck (the same fat paycheck to international consultants that was so often the topic of our rants on what was wrong with the development sector), the hypocrisy - my own and that of others...the ever-present shadow of depression...the corruption of government officials and others in positions of power, the fleets of white Mercedes and the massive mansions, the decision to give bribes to police or otherwise grease the wheels of the system - and wondering exactly how fast that particular slope would get too slippery to be controllable...the inability to ever be anonymous or feel truly comfortable living in the country.

Some days I am all the way on the "dying of saudades" end of the spectrum; other days I still feel very cynical and am glad that we left when we did. It is all very gray, even as the passing of time affords me a wiser, more objective perspective through which to view our experiences in Mozambique.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The Procrastinator Rears Its Head

One thing about being a jewelry/metal arts student is that you can't really procrastinate. There is simply no way to get things done without putting in days - if not weeks - of hard work. Step by step, building on what you've done previously. At least in my semi-beginner state as a metalsmith, I haven't found out how to shortcut...not that I'd even want to, honestly.

That said, I *can* procrastinate in my other classes, primarily those that require essays to be written. I have a paper due in a few hours for my 4D class and just started writing last night. I have to finish it now, chop chop. I'm writing about the film "Black Orpheus" (1959) and how, while visually, musically and culturally fantastic, it creates and reinforces stereotypes about Brazil and Brazilians in popular media. Fun stuff.

We had total freedom in choosing the piece of media to review for this paper. We were also allowed to write whatever we wanted regarding said work - no guidelines whatsoever, other than "write an analytical paper". I find it funny that in every such instance, I go right back to the content of my first Bachelor's degree (Latin American Studies). Why reinvent the wheel, right?

I think at the very least I should get an A for efficiency: I chose topics in record time, don't have to do that much research because I'm already familiar with the subject matter, and my effort-to-results ratio is off the chart. :)

Now back to writing about Orfeu...

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Boutique Love

Chalcedony, amethyst, swarovski coral pearl and sterling silver necklace. There are matching earrings, but blogger doesn't seem to want me to upload the photo...

Today was somewhat of a milestone in my jewelry career, albeit a quiet one. I made my first wholesale sale* to a lovely shop near Casa Cali that has a very global, high-end import vibe. The owner selected a few pieces from my Imaginarium collection and placed an order for a necklace and matching earrings from my line of floral chain-maille jewelry.

Hopefully this is the first of many such sales. :)

* Wholesale, as in an outright purchase of my jewelry for resale in the shop (as opposed to consignment, where you receive a percentage of the sale when (if) the piece sells). I'm not doing wholesale, as in mass production.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Braving the Elements

Last night Rico and I joined our neighbors at the Bridge School benefit concert. The weather wasn't the best, but we got out the rain gear and blankets and made the most of the evening.

Since school rules my life these days, Rico and I decided to head home early because I needed to do some paint mixing exercises and study for my art history midterm. We missed Pearl Jam, which I'm gutted about, but were able to see some great artists including Neil Young, Lucinda Williams and Jackson Browne.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pattern Inspiration - African Wax Prints

I am so in love with these fabric designs. Such fantastic colors and patterns. I could look at them on google images for hours.

Part of me wishes I'd bought more capulanas while in Mozambique. I am particularly regretful that I didn't buy multiples of this gorgeous blue, green and brown bird print fabric. I keep hoping I'll find it for sale somewhere online, but no luck thus far.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

More Sketchbook Art

"Germs", sumi ink, 11x14

"Brush Palm", gouache, 14x22 (this has some lovely metallic paint, but you can't really see it in the photo)

"Pattern Study #5", oil pastel, 11x14 (inspired by some of Cartier's jewelry where amethyst, turquoise and yellow gold are combined in fabulous gem-encrusted bib necklaces and cocktail rings)

"Tropicalia", watercolor, 11x14

Monday, October 11, 2010

Work Work Work

School is proving to be almost mercilessly intense this semester. I am a diligent student and good at time management, and even so I'm barely keeping my head above water. I can't remember the last weekday when I woke up after 6am, and I can't remember the last weekend when I didn't have to work during what otherwise would be rest or play time. Most days I feel like I've barely got it together...way too much work, very high expectations, never enough time.

Part of me delights in this insane rhythm - I feel like I'm on my own personal Project Runway much of the time - and after all, this is really why I decided to go to art school. I'd never push myself this hard if there weren't an academic structure, peer critiques, and the pride of presenting my work driving me. I'd work hard on my own, but not to the point of exhaustion day after day. I've surpassed even my own expectations of how much I'd learn and what I'd accomplish thus far.

That said, something's got to give. Periods of intense, sleepless work can push your boundaries but they can also push you over the edge. There is no room for creativity when stress levels blow through the roof. I'm aware of this, and have made some decisions to avoid a breakdown.

My art history class and 4D class (essentially digital media) are not priorities. I am content to put in a B-effort in those subjects. The time I'd have to dedicate to get an A is much more valuable used in other ways - in the jewelry studio, working on my own designs, doing assignments for my 2D class (color transitions - I am obsessed!) and doing practical and enjoyable things like sleeping, cooking, relaxing and hanging out with Rico.

I've never in my entire life knowingly put in a B-effort. I got a B in Finance back when I was in business school, but I studied my ass off for that grade. It was the only B I've ever received, and I remember feeling equal parts ashamed and relieved. Now I'm happy to get a B in the classes I don't "care about", whereas previously the thought of a GPA that was anything but perfect would give me great anxiety. Priorities change, I suppose.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Mandala Patterns

Pattern Study #4, colored marker, 11x14

I love doing these pattern studies with colored marker. They are completely intuitive, meaning I don't start out with a plan of what I'm going to draw. Rather I begin with one shape, then another one, then add another layer and so forth. The pattern grows organically, and it's always amazing to see what the end result looks like. Each of these drawings takes several hours, and the process is quite meditative. I get into this trance-like state and forget to eat, drink or pee if I'm not careful!

This particular pattern was inspired by the Cartier and America exhibit that I visited a few months ago at the Legion of Honor Museum. I bought a gorgeous book that shows all of the jewelry that was in the exhibition, and I was definitely thinking of the art deco style and the obsession with the "exotic" that are so typical of some of the Cartier designs.

With each pattern that I complete, I can't help but dream of being a fabric designer. I would so love a skirt with this motif!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Hue Studies

My 2D Visual Studies class at CCA is focused on color, which is thrilling to me. I'm thankful to be slightly obsessed with the subject matter because we have a TON OF WORK in this class, and being excited about color helps the 10-18 hours of homework per week go down a bit smoother.

One of our standing assignments is to fill 8 pages in our 11x14 sketchbook each week. I'm doing a lot of pattern studies, which are fun. I'm also working on a series of hue collages, reminiscent of the color posts I did here on the blog some time back.

Here are a couple of examples:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

One Year

A year ago today, Rico and I left Mozambique after having lived there for 5.5 and 4.5 years respectively. It hardly seems possible. That memorable last day feels at once decades away, and yet as fresh and palpable as last week.

I am having a moment of nostalgia as I remember our time in Maputo, in particular. We were part of such a wonderful social group, and it saddens me to think that these people are in our past, that we will never be together again. Most of our closest friends have already moved on from Mozambique, on to new contracts and new lives, be it at "home" or in a different country, a different adventure.

I reminisce fondly, and with massive saudades, about all of the house parties, the road trips, the late afternoon coffees and weekend sundowners. In particular I miss my fabulous girlfriends: Jenny, Kelly, Helen, Zahra, Anel, Lindsey, Claudia, Evy...the list goes on.

I always used to think it was hard to make friends in Mozambique, and in all fairness it really was. People always coming and going, tricky relationships between expats and locals, cliques determined by country of origin and/or place of work. However once you managed to establish a friendship, you could be sure long-lasting bonds would be formed in record time.

Making friends here in the Bay Area has been slow-going, and in some ways even more difficult than in Maputo. We've established really nice relationships with our neighbors - most of whom are in their 40s and 50s - but it's been challenging to make friends our own age. Much of the time I feel like a fish out of water when it comes to being social, in particular with "peers". I have some friends from my high school days in New Mexico, but for the most part they live at least an hour away and I see them very infrequently.

When it comes to friendships, I am definitely of the "quality over quantity" philosophy, and am content to primarily hang out with Rico, my mom and our neighbors. However, there is part of me that aches to have girlfriends again, ones who live in the same city and who I can call up to have a spur-of-the-moment drink, or invite to dinner full well knowing that the house is a mess and we are eating leftovers, just because the pleasure of their company is so desired.

I remind myself that it took a good 2 years for me to feel like I had friends in Mozambique. I'm sure that at some point I'll look back on this post and find it hard to remember what it was like *not* to have a close girlfriend or two near Casa Cali. But today, on this anniversary of a great change in our lives, I find myself wishing that I could turn back time and spend just one evening with my friends in Maputo.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Repetition and Pattern

Repetition and pattern sketch #1 for my 2D visual dynamics class. Colored pen on paper, 11x14.

School is going to be quite the intense ride this semester. I've only had one week of classes, and already I have more homework and studio work than I'd ever imagined. I've had so much to do, in fact, that I've been waking up before 6am every day and working well into the night. Good thing I don't have much of a social life because, if I did, this semester would pretty much be the end of it.

In my 2D class, the teacher flat-out told us that we'd work harder for her class than for just about any other core class (core classes are the basic curriculum that all students at CCA are required to take). She said to anticipate at least 18 hours of work outside the classroom each week, and thus far has made good on that promise.

We've also had to choose a theme for the class. The theme can be anything - cats, skateboarding, black-and-white photography, heaven vs. hell, talking to strangers - but it must be something we are passionate about, as all of the work we'll do in the 2D class will be about this theme. Mine is Repetition and Pattern. Each week we have to fill 8 pages in our sketchbook with some interpretation of our theme. It's a lot more work than it seems. So far I've done 2 pages and spent about 4 hours. At least it's fun work!

In my jewelry class we're working on an assignment where we have to design a thimble inspired by a famous person (dead or alive, fictional or real). The thimble can be more than just a "finger cap", and we've been encouraged to get a bit crazy and creative with what the thimble can be. In essence, we're creating jewelry for the hand. The thimble then has to be housed in some sort of display when not in use, which we also have to make by hand. Finally we have to present the project with a research paper about the famous person who the thimble is for, as well as a discussion about the concept behind our piece.

I'm feeling a bit intimidated about getting back behind the torch. I didn't solder all summer long, and now working with metals seems like such a giant undertaking compared to beading and wire-work. My jewelry class is also full of more advanced students, so I'm feeling the pressure to come up with top-notch projects that have solid craftsmanship. I know the worst part is the anticipation, so tomorrow I'm just going to dive into the project and hope that I haven't lost my skills.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Second Semester

School starts tomorrow. I love the first day of school - the anticipation, the slight nervousness, the sense that great things wait just around the corner.

When I was younger, the first day of school was all about the social scene. Who would be in your classes, what people would be wearing, who would have gained or lost 20 pounds over the summer. Now (thankfully!) school is truly all about the learning for me. I'm looking forward to learning lots of new metals skills, to broadening my creative horizons, to pushing myself to heights I never imagined possible. I get really competitive in school, but the truth is it's competition with myself. I know I'm capable of amazing things if I just apply myself, and at this stage in life (and for the amount of tuition I'm paying), I expect nothing but 100% effort.

My classes this semester are:

Modern Art History
4D Visual Studies (basically a digital media class)
2D Visual Studies (the section I chose focuses on color theory!)
Jewelry/Metal Arts 2B

My life is going to run according to a different rhythm come tomorrow, but I'm ready for it. I had a good summer and feel rested and anxious to get back to work. I'm going to need all the mental strength I can get, friends. Not only to get through the workload and subsequent stress, but because I have 8am classes every day.

(One of) my goal(s) for this semester? Stop the snooze button insanity. I'm going to try waking up to music to see if it makes a difference. Wish me luck!

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Huge Summer Clearance on Select Alexandra Amaro Jewlery

Even though the weather is just now starting to heat up at Casa Cali, summer is nearly over and it's time to clear out some of the Krobo Fusion collection to make room for new jewelry.

Get up to 50% off one-of-a-kind jewelry featuring recycled glass beads from Ghana, sourced through Soul of Somanya.

Prices are already marked down, so swing by the Alexandra Amaro website and check out the great deals.

Stay tuned for a preview of the Fall 2010 collection. Expect lots of long, chunky necklaces with a retro feel, stacked pearl bracelets, colorful chandelier earrings, and lots of layered chain elements.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

On Becoming Dependent

I start school in less than a week and have been valiantly trying to make these last few days really feel like vacation. In part, I've succeeded. I've slept in, gone running along the water's edge, had bbq's in the backyard with Rico, suntanned, drank beer, read the entire September edition of Vogue, and watched plenty of trash on tv.

However, in between the sun and exercise and celebrity gossip, I've also been working exceptionally hard. I've been preparing tons of new jewelry for a trunk show at a local boutique, and am trying to get my online inventory up in preparation for the holidays. I also did a record number of translations in August and, despite having sworn to myself that I'd take a vacation, just accepted two new assignments yesterday.

Even though Rico has a stable income these days, it's really hard for me to snap out of "freelancer mode". When you are a self-employed consultant, you never know when your next job will appear, or when your clients will get around to paying you for assignments you've already completed. It's a cash flow nightmare, and Rico and I became very good at dealing with the unpredictability. The key? Accept (nearly) every job that comes your way, even if it means you are triple-booked and working 90 hours a week. You never know, you may have to rely on that income for the next four months.

And thus, even though my husband now gets a regular paycheck that covers our living expenses, I still feel compelled to take on work even though I'm supposed to be on vacation or am super busy with school. Part of it is residual consultant mindset, but part is also a matter of pride. For the first time in my life (well, for the first time since I started college and was weaned off the parental financial teat) I am dependent on another person to pay my bills, put me through school, buy my clothes, cover the mortgage, pay for trips and entertainment, etc.

When Rico and I were in the throes of financial uncertainty back in Mozambique - in the good old days when we were just starting to work as consultants, trying to establish a reputation for ourselves, living off $800 a month - I always thought that having someone else take care of your cash flow worries must be the best thing in the world. Certainly, I am blessed that Rico has a great job, and that our situation allows me the luxury of going to art school and following my dream of being a full-time jewelry artist. However, it's been surprisingly difficult for me to accept that I am now financially dependent on Rico and - to make matters worse - not only am I not bringing in a big income, I'm also running up expenses right and left thanks to the astronomical tuition at CCA.

I don't think I ever realized how much of my identity was caught up in being a breadwinner, being financially INdependent, earning a salary that somehow validated my worth as a professional and as a person. It's been hard to admit, and even harder to let go. Even though I'm happier than I've ever been, and wouldn't want to go back to consulting unless truly necessary, part of me still feels like a "failure" because I'm not bringing in an income.

It's a very strange feeling because intellectually, I know this is ridiculous. That my happiness and well-being are worth much more than any silly salary I walked away from. I feel that $100 earned creating and selling a piece of jewelry is much, much sweeter than $10,000 earned doing some bullshit consulting assignment. However, there is part of me - a stubborn, superficial, distorted-feminist part - that feels ashamed to be dependent on someone else.

Rico has been super understanding of my internal struggle, and keeps trying to get the message through my thick head that his salary is OUR money. He reminds me of the times in our past - when he was studying, or sorting out the logistics of our wedding, or taking care of the bureaucracy of buying our house - when his income was zilch and I was bringing in the big bucks. He asks whether I thought about the money I earned during those periods as our money. Of course it was OUR money. "But that was different," I protest. Rico will then look at me with a raised eyebrow and as me how, exactly, it was different. Of course I have no good answer, and we laugh together at my stubbornness.

With each day that passes, it becomes a little easier to accept that I am lucky enough to be in this situation, that I am deserving of the support of my family and that there is no shame in giving up my income in order to pursue my dream. Now if I could only have the gumption to turn away the next translating assignment...

Riots in Maputo

"Six people, including two children, are reported to have been killed during riots in Mozambique's capital, Maputo, over rising food and fuel prices."

Apparently the local population, tired of increases in the price of bread, petrol, water and electricity, took to the streets in a protest that was organized primarily by cell phone. Unfortunately violence erupted, and people who I've spoken with in Maputo today say the situation is still quite chaotic. There are reports of tires burning in the streets, cars being stoned and vandalized, barricades blocking the circulation of vehicles, and even reports of the police firing live rounds into crowds (although supposedly the police only use rubber bullets). Most people are just staying home, hunkering down until the violence draws to an end.

The news today gave me flashbacks to the riots of 2008, which I experienced first-hand and wrote about extensively here and here.

The main problem, as I see it, is that there is no real solution in sight. Prices will continue to increase, salaries will continue to be miserably low, and the root causes of the social and economic inequalities in Mozambique will persist. While I don't condone the violence, I can definitely see how the poor reach a breaking point when their lives are so unimaginably hard, and yet they constantly witness others (i.e. the fat cats associated with the Government and those who thrive on corrupt business practices) driving their luxury cars, living in their 15-room mansions, and acting like they rule the world. Something fundamental has got to give...until then, expect more headlines like today's coming out of Mozambique.

Friday, August 27, 2010

New Music Obsession

This incredible song came up last night on my Nneka station on Pandora. I am officially in love with Jazmine Sullivan. Divine voice, great beat, inspiring lyrics and - always a plus in my book - lots of piano. Check it out:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Caliente Casa Cali

Today, after nearly a year of worrying that I'd permanently said goodbye to real summer weather, the winds changed and some seriously scorching weather arrived here at Casa Cali. Our window thermometers registered 96F (shade) and 136F (sun), and the cats spent the entire day sprawled belly-up on the floor. We've opened all the windows, popped the tops on a couple of Heinekens, and brought the portable fan out of storage. Even so I'm sweating as I type...and loving every minute!

I am a hot weather girl at heart, and was somewhat saddened at the thought that I'd never be able to use half of my wardrobe again given the cool, foggy tendencies in the Bay Area. While I find it somewhat odd that the hottest days here come in September and October, I welcome the heat and look forward to swimming at The Plunge, the awesome pool that just re-opened around the corner from our house.

While I didn't take any photos of what summer at Casa Cali looks like, here's an image that can give you an idea of what we felt today:

Don't you just love Rico's expression in this photo? Total, unabashed satisfaction. This was taken in Vietnam on our honeymoon back in July 2008. We were touring the Reunification Palace, formerly South Vietnam's presidential palace, which has been left exactly as it was the day before Saigon fell to the North (i.e. a total flashback to the Sixties). Why we chose the hottest, most humid place on earth to visit for a romantic getaway is beyond me, but we had a fabulous time nonetheless. We just sweat buckets the entire time and desperately sought out air conditioning.

I'm off to enjoy another beer and figure out something suitably light and refreshing to eat for dinner. Here's to the heat, friends. I have just under 3 weeks before school starts, and if the weather continues like this, perhaps it will finally feel like I've had a proper summer vacation.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Volunteering in Mozambique

Lovely readers with experience in Mozambique, can you help me out?

I often get emails from people asking about places to volunteer in Maputo and other locations in the country. I have a few recommendations based on my own experience, but I imagine that with your input we can create a list of volunteer opportunities that is much more complete.

Have you had an experience volunteering in Mozambique? With what organization? Would you recommend it to others? Were there any prerequisites (language, specific skills, etc.)? How did you find about the opportunity?

Here's my recommendation for people who want to volunteer: get involved with MAPS, the Mozambique Animal Protection Society. Visit their website for more information about how they are helping stop animal cruelty in Mozambique and how you can help.

I look forward to seeing your recommendations in the comments!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Free Shipping!

Southwest Treasure Necklace - turquoise, coral, lapis lazuli, carnelian, angelite, horn and Thai Hill Tribes silver

I am offering FREE SHIPPING through Aug. 31st on all Alexandra Amaro jewelry, anywhere your global heart desires. Just select the Free Shipping option at checkout, no promotion code necessary. Shop new Summer 2010 pieces now at

Fans of Nature

Isn´t this palm frond incredible? Click on it to get the full, zoomed-in effect - totally worth it. Just look at those subtle colors and angles. Something about the way the ´leaves´ overlap reminds me of the designs made by the wind as it races over sand dunes.

I find constant inspiration for art in the forms found in plants, flowers and shells. My mind is now racing with possible jewelry designs thanks to this gorgeous, geometric plant outside my father-in-law´s house in Angra dos Reis, Brazil.

Versatile (7 Random Things)

I´ve decided to play along after seeing Gem´s great responses. This is the Versatile Blogger award, and I´m tagging you all to share 7 random facts with the virtual world. Here are mine:

1. I am fairly certain I qualify as someone who suffers from OCD, but have never done anything about it (i.e. therapy) because my life isn´t made unmanageable by my funny little habits. One of my compulsions is with numbers - in particular the number 13. I am especially satisfied when there are 3 sets of 13. For example, if I am cooking and know that the veggies I´m stir-frying (or whatever) need just a bit more time to be perfectly done, I start counting in sets of 13. I either have to do 3 or 9 repetitions to feel like all is right in the world. Sometimes I´ve burned my food because I don´t want to stop at 2 sets of 13, or God forbid at the number 8 or some other unacceptable integer. That said, I can usually make my desire to have a perfectly cooked meal override my compulsive counting patterns. Other ways in which counting to 13 appears in my life: prior to diving into a pool or the ocean, while annealing a piece of metal, while running (I count my steps), and while trying to fall asleep.

2. I like dogs, but can´t stand the way they smell or to be licked by them. I also have a healthy fear of big dogs, at least until I get to know them well enough to trust they won´t jump on me or try to bite.

3. I am the fastest typer you will ever come across. I think I could set a Guinness Record, if such a category existed. (Maybe it does...who knows, this could be my ticket to fame!) I type so fast that I score off the chart of every words-per-minute software I´ve ever used. I´m definitely over 80 wpm, and am super accurate. I also hit the keys - in particular the space bar - with such force that I eventually rub the letters off the keyboard and leave burnished, shiny marks in their place. I can also hold conversations with people while I type and it doesn´t really affect my speed or precision, or my ability to make sense while I talk. Rico often makes fun of me and will randomly tap his fingers lightning-fast on a table, suggesting that I´m just typing gobbeldy-gook instead of real words. I think part of my typing speed is due to the fact that I played classical piano for 15+ years and developed super power muscle memory in my fingers. If all else fails, I´d make a damn good court reporter.

4. I´ve never baby-sat in my entire life. I don´t particularly feel comfortable around babies or kids, although I believe I´d like to have a family at some point.

5. I am somewhat obsessed with almond-flavored desserts. Marzipan, almond paste, almond extract - I love them all. Once my friend Marlen gave me a giant tube of marzipan as a gift and I ate the entire thing pure in just 2 days. The most delicious dessert I´ve ever eaten is an almond frangipani tart with nectarines from a bakery in Berkeley called La Farine. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

6. I have issues sharing utensils, glasses and food with other people. I´m totally grossed out by the idea of ingesting someone else´s residual saliva. It´s to the point that I´ll willingly give up whatever I was eating or drinking and let the other person finish it, rather than take it back and think about how I´m consuming their spit. I can override this instinct if necessary (to save face in social situations) but it takes a big mental effort on my part. I hope never to be offered chicha if I ever visit Peru. I think it would make me vomit.

7. I have problems regulating my body temperature. 99% of the time, I feel cold and have a really hard time warming up, even while wearing wool socks and a sweater, and sitting under layers of blankets. My hands and feet are usually like blocks of ice, and they often go numb and lose all circulation (I have Reynaud´s Syndrome). However, even if I have white digits and am trembling with cold, my body - in particular my core - radiates heat. It´s especially pronounced at night, when seemingly a switch flips and I go into nuclear reactor mode. I give off insane amounts of heat while sleeping and when relaxed, and yet all the while feel cold. Go figure...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Speaking of Jeans and Curves...

This morning in Rio's leading newspaper, O Globo, there was an article about how Levi's is launching a new line of jeans called Curve ID that (gasp!) take into account the fact that women have multiple body types and waist-to-hip ratios. Here is a press release in Portuguese that talks about how these new jeans are designed to "highlight feminine curves". There are three levels: Slight Curve, Demi Curve and Bold Curve. There is also a fourth level that will be launched separately, Extreme Curve, that's geared toward those with a super ample booty. I notice, however, that they all seem to be skinny jeans...sigh.

Levi's in South Africa was way ahead of the global curve on this one (ha, ha). Back in July 2008, I purchased a pair of EVA Fit Levi's in Johannesburg and was pleasantly surprised that they actually fit, without gaping in the waistband, tightness in the thighs, or absurdly long legs. The EVA Fit is a South African-designed style that, after great success in-country, was introduced in the US and quickly became a best-selling model. I've never seen the EVA in stores in the US, however, and suspect they may have been re-branded with a different name.

One little factoid from O Globo that stuck with me: women try on an average of 10 pairs of jeans before finding one that fits and looks flattering. Awful, no?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Carry-on Only Update

We're nearly to the end of our trip to Brazil and I wanted to post an update about how it's been traveling for 2+ weeks with only the contents of a carry-on suitcase. In a nutshell, it's been great. No hassles going through customs, no gigantic bags to haul around, and appropriate clothes for every occasion and type of weather we've encountered thus far. That said, there are some little adjustments I'd make if I could go back in time and pack this little suitcase again, namely:

Things I wish I'd brought along:
  • lightweight baseball cap (I miss having a hat when I go running);
  • pair of lounge pants (I brought leggings, which are fine and comfortable, but somewhat limiting in that they have to go *under* other layers, not over);
  • another set of workout clothes (I brought 2 sets, but I've actually been really good on this trip and exercised at least 7 times. It's been okay just washing the workout clothes I have, but an additional set would have been great);
  • thin pair of socks/knee-highs that can be worn with ballet flats (it's been COLD);
  • a hoodie, or some other long-sleeved top that can be worn while working out (I've used my regular long-sleeved top, which has been okay, but I miss my hoodie);
  • a travel umbrella (we've borrowed one from family for this trip, but it would be necessary in any other context);
  • fabric beach bag;
  • capulana/kanga/pareo or whatever you like to call a beach wrap. Ideally one that could double as a scarf.
Things I wish I'd left at home:
  • dressy tank top (I brought 2, which was one too many);
  • quite so much makeup...I would have been fine with just the colors I wore for the wedding;
  • set of gold costume jewelry (haven't worn it...was intended to make my outfits "dressier", but we ended up not going out at night at all this trip);

In all, a pretty good job. Assuming that I don't have to bring a floor-length formal gown and fancy high heels on our next international trip, I should be able to adjust the contents of my suitcase according to the above lists and still be within the 17.5 lb weight limit. And if it's a domestic trip, I have no worries since airlines don't seem to care how heavy your bag is as long as it is the appropriate dimensions.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Rio Through New Eyes

It's been a while since I've actually lived in Rio - since 2001, to be precise - and it's always interesting to see the city through non-resident eyes. When you live in a place, after a while even its most strange and wonderful and shocking aspects become commonplace. Stay away for long enough, and when you come back for a visit they hit you in the face.

Here are some of my observations about the cidade maravilhosa this time around. (Our last trip was in March 2009, and somehow it seems there have been big changes in Rio since then...or perhaps it's just my frame of reference that's changed - from Maputo to Casa Cali). At any rate, here are my thoughts:

- The traffic in Rio these days is horrendous. It's always been bad, but somehow it just seems that much crazier, chaotic, congested and aggressive. The first day we arrived in the city, I was hit with a wave of confidence and thought, "I can totally drive here." After the do-what-you-please, traffic-law-ignoring attitude of drivers in Maputo, and now the high-speed, think-fast attitude of drivers in California, I somehow felt prepared to get behind the wheel in Rio. After just one day in the city, I'd changed my mind. I don't drive in Rio by choice, and I believe it will stay that way. Quite frankly, I'm amazed there aren't 1,000 accidents each day. Traffic here is the definition of organized chaos, and I'm happy to remain a passenger.

- Everything is EXPENSIVE. Ridiculously so. Consumer goods are, in general, three times the price in the US. Anything imported is absurdly priced. Even food and drinks are super expensive, and it sadly seems that Rio is no longer a city in which one can get simple, fresh eats for less than R$10. I don't think Rico and I managed to go to a restaurant and spend less than R$75 (the exchange rate is about US$1 to R$1.75) and we were going to pretty run-of-the-mill places and ordering modestly. Even a serving of pasteis or bolinhos (fried pastries that Brazilians love to eat as appetizers) is at least R$20. Preparing food at home is definitely the way to go, but sadly that wasn't an option for us on this trip, as the majority of of our social and family events were geared around restaurants.

- Despite the plethora of fresh fruits and vegetables available, Brazilians really love their fried foods and snacks. Fast food is commonplace, and there are multiple national chains. I don't understand how people can eat so much oil and fritura and maintain such trim figures. That said, it's definitely more common to see overweight people in Rio (and I imagine in all of Brazil) these days. I routinely see women who are "bigger" than me in the streets, which was something rare 10 years ago.

- There is a massive real estate bubble in Rio at the moment. It's a hot topic among cariocas these days, trying to figure out whether it's a bubble that's bound to burst, or simply market valuation that's here to stay for a while. Part of the upswing in real estate prices is due to the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016 that will be hosted in Rio. Another factor is geographic limitation. Like San Francisco, Rio is a city of mountains/hills and sea, which means there are natural boundaries to how much the city can grow (thus driving prices of existing real estate quite high). Furthermore, there are a few neighborhoods (e.g. Ipanema, Leblon, Urca) that are highly desirable to live in and will always have greater demand than supply. Additionally, there has been appreciation due to certain neighborhoods being rehabilitated/"gentrified" (e.g. Lapa, Santa Teresa, parts of Zona Norte) and, plain and simple, time passing and Brazil developing. A final factor is that Brazilians are increasingly getting mortgages and financing their real estate, meaning they are willing to purchase properties for a higher face value. It will be very interesting to see what happens... Personally, I think it's a bubble.

- Women are very, very trendy in Rio. Fashionable, for sure, but very specifically trend-followers. I am amazed at how many beautiful women wear clothes that are horrifically unflattering just because they are the latest runway trend. Most specifically, low-cut skinny jeans on women who are blessed in the hips department. They end up looking like they've got two chicken drumsticks for legs instead of beautiful, shapely curves. It's disproportionate to their shapes, and my inner fashion cop wants to take photos of them to see if they actually think the look is working. I feel authorized to speak on this subject because I am one of the many ladies who isn't really flattered by the whole skinny jeans look. Other trends seen during this trip? Jumpsuits (many in loud, neon prints), 80's style back in full force, ankle booties, and shorts with tights.

- Small bikinis. I know I was once totally on board with this one, but apparently the size of my bikini has grown with each year I've lived outside Brazil. I felt like my current bikini was more appropriate for a granny than a girl in her late 20's. Tomorrow I'm off to buy a new one, although I doubt I'll ever wear it in public in the US. :)

- Manicured nails all the time. Color of choice right now: blue! (especially dark, gray-tinged, metallic blues). I try, but I can't keep up. But seemingly Havaianas are now acceptable in more social situations and in public than ever before. I still can't bring myself to wear flip-flops out of the house, but who knows on another trip I might just give it a whirl.

- Santa Teresa is full of tourists (wandering through the streets with cameras in hand, worry-free!) and lots of cute new shops and restaurants. Seems like the cool, bohemian neighborhood is more interesting than ever. There is a hotel down the street from the Casa Rosa that has a bar I'm dying to try, there is a new German restaurant on the corner, and there's lots of new artsy graffiti in the streets, including a gorgeous mural of the Brazilian national soccer team in the Santa Teresa street car, surrounded by all sorts of African animals in a fusion homage to the World Cup in South Africa.

There are many other observations to add to this list, but I'm going to call it a night. I just got hit with a wave of sleepiness, and it's best I head upstairs lest I fall asleep here on the veranda.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


My Facebook status from a few days ago:

"Ali la Loca just took a big, greedy, excited bite out of what she swore was a chocolate bon-bon...only to discover it was a fucking artisanal piece of soap."

Someone gave my mother-in-law a pretty little basket full of what looked to be white and milk chocolate bon-bons. For some reason, she thought they were stones. Both Rico and I were convinced they were chocolates. To prove my point, I took a big ol' bite out of one of the 'bon-bons'...and immediately realized that all of us had it wrong. I spent the rest of the day with very clean teeth and a disgusting, perfumey taste in my mouth. Lesson learned: smell before you bite.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

When it Rains, it Pours

Yesterday, after four days of hard work and dozens of hours logged at the computer, I finished my translating assignment and got ready to seriously enjoy the rest of our holiday.

What arrived in my inbox this morning? Another translating assignment. Seriously!

Thankfully this one has a reasonable deadline and I'll be able to space out the work a bit better. Also, the forecast is for thunderstorms this weekend, so at least part of our time in Angra dos Reis (a beautiful beach town down the coast from Rio) would have been spent inside regardless of my workload.

I am equal parts happy (because I need the work and am satisfied that my translating business is growing) and disappointed (because, damn, I really wanted this to be a vacation). Meh.

Monday, August 09, 2010

A Translator's Life

When people ask me what I do for a living, my answer nowadays is that I am a jewelry artist. Plain and simple. No mention of my previous incarnation(s) as an international development consultant, or grant writer, or director of an HIV prevention program.

However, I do have a side job: I am a translator. While not an occupation I want to pursue forever, it pays the bills and keeps my Portuguese grammar skills and vocabulary up to speed. Translating also pays well and is a relatively flexible job. Since I'm a freelancer, I can choose which jobs I want to accept, and I can arrange my work schedule as I please (as long as I meet the often-tight deadlines, of course). I can also work from any location, as long as I have a computer and internet access.

There are downsides, however. The main one is that translating can be a VERY BORING job. Although the documents I work with are relatively interesting (mostly related to agricultural and value-chain development in Lusophone Africa, with a bit of economic development and policy stuff thrown in), translating is a tedious occupation. Not only do you have to research obscure terms and be sure your syntax is correct, there is the issue of deciphering and "correcting" poorly written source documents. Translators, unlike editors, don't have a free hand to clean up shoddy just have to wade through the original author's BS and errors and try to make your version sound coherent. Seriously, I am often shocked at what kind of documents are being submitted to/by the world's leading NGOs, consulting groups and development bodies.

The other problem, at least for me it seems, is that translating assignments always seem to come in at the most inconvenient times. I'm grateful for the work, of course, but my last three assignments have been 1) during finals week at school, 2) the weekend a friend came to visit from Austin, thus killing our plans to be touristy, and 3) during our current holiday in Brazil. All three of these assignments have been from new clients, so I didn't really want to turn them down.

As a result, instead of spending the day in Santa Teresa with Rico, I'm here at the computer at my mother-in-law's house, researching the Portuguese terms for things like castor beans, cow peas, integrated pest management, and farmer field schools. When I get a bit frustrated with the situation, however, I must remind myself that while I've had to "give up" four days of holiday, this one little job has in effect paid for my plane ticket down here and is therefore totally worth the sacrifice.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

One of the Many Things in My Suitcase

Neon red, fully beaded, hard to sit in, and spectacularly glamorous. There's nothing like the formal gowns that are par for the course when attending a Brazilian wedding. Some of you may recognize this particular dress - it's what my mom wore to our wedding two years ago in such grand style.

Rico was a groomsman (his cousin Rafa was the one getting married), and had the sweet deal of a rented suit. When we picked up his outfit, I was greeted by rack after rack of colorful women's attire. Next time we come down to Brazil for a wedding (yes, there's already another one on the horizon), I'm totally renting a gown. It's relatively cheap (R$130-480 depending on the style) and it means I don't have to shove a floor-length dress in my carry-on.

The wedding was really wonderful, except for the cold. The party was at this gorgeous colonial mansion up in Alto da Boa Vista (a neighborhood in the mountains above Rio) and mother nature really let us have it. Pouring rain, bone-chilling wind and temperatures around 50F/10C. You know what they say, though, over in Italy: "Sposa bagnata, sposa fortunata." A bride who is rained upon is a lucky bride. Hopefully that proves true for the young couple that were married last night.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Ruby and Chartreuse

I absolutely love color. The brighter and the more unique the combination, the better. I swoon for coral, fuschia with turquoise (even though it's a total 80's reference), amethyst with lemon...and on and on. I imagine that, if you've seen my jewelry, you know that I am a chromophile.

I especially enjoy working with colors that are a challenge - that is, they are difficult to combine with other tones, are generally considered as "ugly" (browns, oranges and yellow-greens frequently end up in this category), are hopelessly connected to a specific look (e.g. light pink being sweet and girly) and so forth. One of the reasons I'm so drawn to the Mozambique Island trade beads is that they come in a rainbow of colors, all thrown together somewhat wily-nily on fishing line by the boys who find the beads on the beach. I try to work with every single bead on those strands, every shape, every color. It pushes my creativity, makes me look at the beads with new eyes.

Here are a few new pieces from the Alexandra Amaro Mozambique Island collection that incorporate some of my very favorite colors: ruby and chartreuse.

These Cascata Earrings feature a mix of 300-year-old Mozambique Island trade beads and Indian Rubies, with a faceted pear-shaped ruby dangling from the bottom of the cluster. The tiny trade beads are in shade of pink from dusty rose to pomegranate. Pink trade beads are incredibly hard to find, and it literally took me hours to find them among the sea of reds in my collection. I love how delicate this design is, how these old beads worn by centuries under the Indian Ocean can be elegant and feminine.

I loved working with the pink trade beads so much that I decided to make a matching bracelet. This Venezia Bracelet features a mix of antique Mozambique Island beads, Indian Rubies and lovely red-violet Hydrabadi Garnets. I incorporated a mix of handmade Thai Hill Tribes silver beads to add texture and add to the asymmetrical interest. I could look at the shades of pink and purple in this bracelet for hours; no two beads are alike.

This is the Hebron Bracelet, featuring some of the most unique beads found at Mozambique Island. First, there's the history. These beads were originally made some 400 years ago in Hebron, a city in Palestine that has a long glass-making tradition. The artisans who made these beads used salt from the Dead Sea as the alkali in the glass fabrication process, which I find incredible. The beads were traded into Africa by Arabian and European merchants, where they were used as currency to obtain local goods including spices and gold.
Second, there's this brilliant yellow-green hue. It took me ages to find the right match for such a strong color, but it was worth the work. I think this turquoise is the perfect combination, giving the old beads a hint of spring. Handmade Thai Hill Tribes silver saucers and a stamped toggle clasp add to the bright, ethnic look.

Such a unique color begs for a matching set, so I made the Hebron Necklace. The texture in these 400-year-old beads is incredibly beautiful. While making this necklace I thought many times about the trajectory of these artifacts...who made them, who purchased them, how many people over the centuries have handled them before they came to me. I wonder who their next owner will be. Someone who loves color and history, I hope. And maybe a redhead or strawberry blonde? I think the chartreuse and turquoise would be just stunning on someone with that coloring.

Credit Where Credit's Due

Like a Hollywood starlet who doesn't recognize Spanx and liposuction when talking about her youthful figure, I'd be amiss to leave out the Antler Size Zero suitcase when discussing my packing skills. There's really no way I could have done carry-on only without this baby.

My old carry-on was a nondescript Jansport model that weighed in excess of 10 pounds. Definitely not feasible when the international weight limit for hand luggage is just 17.5 pounds! So Rico and I set out to find new, super lightweight carry-on suitcases.

After much research online, we decided to go with the 22" Antler Size Zero, which weighs a mere 5.3 pounds. I'm not used to paying $199 for a tiny little bag, but I can say with confidence the price was well worth it. You can fit a surprising amount of stuff in the suitcase, and it is very cleverly designed. I got the bronze color, Rico got black.

10 out of 10 stars, in my book.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

On the way back I'll be 640 pages lighter

We made it to Brazil without incident and are currently enjoying a few days of the good mountain life in Monte Verde, Minas Gerais.

The route we flew was fantastic, a new flight LAN started offering in July. It's billed as a direct flight from San Francisco to São Paulo, but there is actually a refueling stop in Lima. You get out of the plane in Peru, go through security, have enough time to pee and buy some water, then get back on board. In all, it's 9 hours on the first leg, then 4 on the second. Definitely recommended for people flying down to Brazil from California.

On the plane, I read "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" from cover to cover. I don't think I've ever read so much, for so many uninterrupted hours, in my entire life. Doing the math, I was averaging about 50-60 pages per hour. The book was fantastic, and I can't wait to read the next one in the series. Hopefully I'll find someone in Rio who wants to read the book, and I'll buy a replacement copy for my mom once we're back in the US. That baby takes up a lot of precious space!

Rico and I have been enjoying our time in Monte Verde immensely. This is where we really have the opportunity to have a vacation while in Brazil. We're up in the mountains, in the middle of nowhere, with no obligations or people to see for several days. Our time will be spent eating delicious food (Rico's dad is a professional chef, among other things), drinking vintage wines, running along trails and hilly dirt roads, getting massages at the spa at Rico's dad's hotel, and sleeping. Lots of sleep.

Then, once we're feeling duly rejuvenated, we'll head to Rio to deal with all the pending issues that come from owning a home in one place and living in another continent entirely. We haven't been back to Rio since March 2009, and the to-do list regarding the Casa Rosa is, unfortunately, a long one.

We're also looking forward to attending Rico's cousin's wedding, to which I will be wearing a very loud, very neon-red, very va-va-voom formal dress. That is if my arse hasn't doubled in size from a miscalculation of the gourmet food: running ratio during our week in Monte Verde. :)

Speaking of clothes, so far the carry-on suitcase capsule wardrobe has treated me quite well. I'm trying to photograph my outfits so you can see what kind of a toll efficient packing has on fashion. Hopefully the trade-off is minimal!

Tonight at dinner (mandioquinha soup, cassoulet, pear confit), I sold my Fiesta trade bead bracelet off my wrist to one of Rico's dad's friends. A very unexpected sale, but one that left me super happy. It's always such a thrill to tell someone about the Mozambique Island trade beads I'm so fascinated by and have them "get it". It's moments like this I must remind myself of when the accounting and website updates and creative droughts get to me.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Success! (plus some tips for carry-on only international travel)

I totally, 100% nailed the challenge. I've got enough clothes and shoes for 3 weeks in Brazil packed into the above carry-on, and I'm still under my weight limit (currently at 16.3 pounds). My hope is that the dress I'm going to wear to Rico's cousin's wedding will fit perfectly in the bit of space left in the suitcase, and that it won't send me over the 17.5 pound limit. As my friend Sayama put it, it's a capsule wardrobe extraordinaire!

A commenter on my previous post asked a simple question, but one I definitely want to address here: Why bother going through the hassle and potential inconvenience of only taking carry-on luggage on an international trip, when we can easily check a bag for free?

Part of the answer has to do with practicality. We will be traveling quite a bit while in Brazil, jumping between various destinations and staying with multiple relatives within each city. The idea of lugging a big ol' suitcase around is quite frankly unappealing. Furthermore, there is the advantage that you don't have to wait around at the airport for your luggage to come out before you can clear customs. You also avoid the all-to-common stress of losing your luggage for a couple of days. If everything you need fits into a small bag, you're good to go in any situation!

The other part of the answer is more subtle and has to do with the part of my personality that is constantly waging a war on clutter. At home, I strive to purchase only what is needed and to keep only what is actively being used or displayed. Why should my approach be any different when I'm on the road? Yes, it's nice to have options, but if I can make do with 4 shirts instead of 15, I should do it. After all, even though I'm a pro at packing a suitcase, there is always stuff in there that I don't end up using. Dead weight that is hauled around, space that is taken unnecessarily. By doing carry-on only, I'm forced to carefully analyze what I really need and what I will use. It's a challenge, but every single time I've traveled with a minimalist philosophy I've been very, very happy.

Here's the complete list of what's in the suitcase:

- 1 pair black trousers
- 1 denim skirt
- 1 pair khaki shorts
- 2 pairs leggings
- 1 cashmere sweater
- 2 long-sleeved tops
- 5 t-shirts
- 5 tank tops
- 4 summer dresses
- 2 sets workout clothes
- 2 sports bras
- 2 pairs socks
- 1 bikini
- 7 pairs underwear/2 bras
- 1 brown belt
- 1 pair fancy black sandals
- 1 pair brown leather sandals
- 1 pair brown leather ballet flats
- 1 pair havaianas

Not in the suitcase (i.e. my travel outfit):

- 1 pair jeans
- 1 tank top
- 1 long-sleeved top
- 1 lightweight sweater-wrap
- 1 pashmina scarf
- socks/underwear
- 1 pair running shoes

Going in at the last minute:

- 1 floor-length formal dress

Items for my (big) purse:

- complete set of travel-sized toiletries
- makeup
- jewelry
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
- cell phone
- camera
- wallet + passport
- a laptop (!)
- glasses and sunglasses
- empty water bottle

The key to making it work? Choosing main color schemes (mine are blues + brown accessories for casual looks, and black + black accessories for fancy looks), ensuring you can mix and match your pieces to get lots of possible outfits, choosing several smart accessories that can change the look of your clothes, avoiding bulky shoes, and taking the lightest-weight clothes possible.

My selection of clothes and accessories will get me through a formal wedding, a trip to the mountains where it will be cold and we'll do some hiking, a trip to the beach where it will be hot and we'll do some sailing, and plenty of walking + dining + going out with friends in Rio and São Paulo. Hopefully I've chosen well, and won't be forced to buy clothes or shoes while in Brazil (although that's always a great excuse!).

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Making Those 17.5 Pounds Count

Friends, I am up for a big challenge. Rico and I are going to Brazil for three weeks, and we've decided to travel with only carry-on luggage. That means one bag each, with a weight limit of 17.5 pounds (plus a giant, heavy purse for me!).

See the lovely suitcase above? That's it. I wanted to take a photo with my Havaianas for scale, but Pria hopped on and decided to do a bit of modeling for y'all. So now you can put the carry-on in perspective with my size 8 flip-flops as well as our 18-pound cat. The full scope of this challenge hits home when I realize that the total weight of my clothes and shoes (plus the 5.3 pounds of the suitcase) must be less than big boy Pria.

We're going to a wedding while in Rio, to which I will be wearing a full-length neon red beaded gown. Part of me suspects it will take up half my alloted suitcase space and at least as much of my weight limit. We'll also be going to the mountains, which means I'll need to bring some cold-weather clothing as well.

So far my packing list includes:

- 1 pair jeans
- 1 pair black/gray trousers
- 1 wool sweater
- 2 light cardigans
- knit black pencil skirt
- 2 pairs leggings
- 3 casual dresses
- 3 tank tops
- 3 t-shirts
- 2 long-sleeved shirts
- 1 bikini
- 1 set lounge clothes
- 2 sets of workout clothes
- running shoes (which I may be doomed to wearing on the plane since I doubt they'll fit in the suitcase...nothing says gringo like running shoes while traveling!)
- formal dress
- sparkly black sandals
- ballet flats
- lint roller
- pashmina scarf

We'll see how it goes! Packing starts tonight, after a few requisite loads of laundry. :)