Saturday, January 30, 2010

Getting Back on the Horse

The workout horse, that is. It's time to, as they say in Portuguese, tomar vergonha na cara and get back to an exercise regime. I was doing great back in Maputo thanks to weekly sessions with Liliana the personal trainer, but the move to Casa Cali threw a wrench in my motivation (and time) to exercise. Now that I've finally settled into a routine with school, jewelry making, errands and life in general, it's time to get back in shape.

I tried going to a dance class the other day, but the studio was frustratingly closed and I lost my momentum to go back the next week and try again. All of the Nia classes I've found require using the car, which is a huge pain as there is NO parking near any of the studios. I really, really wish I could find a Nia studio near BART, but alas it doesn't look like it's in the cards, at least this semester. So I've decided to go for the next best alternative - personal training near school.

I found a great studio that is literally 1 block from campus, which means it is easy to get to right after class, and the likelihood of procrastination/laziness is much less than if I had to come home and leave again (or drive!) to go to work out. Also, by paying for personal training it actually helps me take advantage of my workouts. I feel a much greater obligation to actually go and give it my all, as opposed to joining a gym or doing group classes somewhere (other than Nia, of course, which I love and am always motivated to do).

I have an intake consultation on Tuesday, and am really looking forward to getting active again. I was so proud of what I accomplished in Moz in terms of core strength and muscle tone, and it's a shame to see that most of it has slipped away in the few months we've been here in California. Time to get back at it, one step at a time.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Photo Day

My gorgeous friend Tara, who flew to Casa Cali a couple weeks ago for a photoshoot for

I'm almost there with the new website. The last few techie kinks are getting worked out as I write, and the only thing left on my to-do list is to take an additional round of product photos.

I am a total perfectionist, and while I already have some beautiful, carefully-edited photos of my jewelry, they feature different backgrounds. It has been a big challenge to me to find a unified-looking way to photograph both dark gems/blackwood pieces as well as bone-white trade beads and have everything look good. The white pieces in particular were really challenging, and I had to resort to using a darker background to make those photos pop. The products look great, but the photos don't look cohesive, which is driving me crazy.

I finally found a background that I think will work for all of my jewelry, regardless of the material. So today I am re-shooting so that my new website will look clean, pulled-together and professional. I think all of the long hours I've spent on my businesses deserve such a presentation. :)

And while I am a perfectionist, I am also a instead of re-shooting all of my pieces and further delaying my site launch, I am only re-shooting the main image for each item. With time, I can update the rest of the photos that appear as thumbnails.

Here's to a happy day as a shutterbug!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Maningue Saudades

Sometimes I miss our life in Mozambique so much I could cry. Not because I wish to move back out of dissatisfaction with our new chapter at Casa Cali (although obviously part of me would love to be back with the girls for leisurely late lunches at Zambi and weekend suntanning at Hotel Cardoso). Rather, I wish we were back in Maputo because I can feel memory playing its old, funny tricks on me already. Nearly five years spent between Maputo and Chimoio, and only a handful of months here in the Bay Area, and already the crisp lembranças of the former are slipping away. Some days it all seems so distant that I can barely believe that I lived one-sixth of my life in Africa. The memories dull, the floorplan of our flat seemingly imprinted forever in my mind begins to contort, the smells fade and the luso-afro slang flutters away.

I wonder, in the midst of these memory-games, what exactly I will carry with me as permanent, faithful memories of our time in Mozambique. It makes me sad that already I am losing part of our experience there...

Perhaps this is a contributing factor to my renewed desire to write?

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Maybe by posting this photo I can perform some sympathetic magic and bring the blue skies back to the Bay...

It's raining again, and while I know better than to complain about water that will be much-needed to prevent summer wildfire disasters, I admit I am longing for sunshine and blue skies. We had four consecutive storms slam us last week, and now it seems there is at least another one lined up for this week. On the bright side, I have great all-weather boots, a wonderful rain jacket, and two cute umbrellas that help me cheer up despite all the gray and wet.

It's been amazing to see how much my wardrobe needed to be tweaked to suit the weather here in Northern California. Not surprising, considering most of what I owned was geared towards living in a sauna (aka Maputo), with a couple of super-heavy overcoats in the mix to get me through visits to New Mexico in the winter. I've had to invest in rain-appropriate clothing, boots, leggings and layering items, in particular cardigans, in order to make my previous wardrobe at all compatible with the temperature here. I obviously didn't want to stop using my old clothes, so I've found ways to layer and make them work in new and creative ways.

So this weekend has been a busy one thus far. I'm working on my Alexandra Amaro website, which will launch next week. It's taken so much more time than I anticipated to upload all the products, and my collection isn't even that big! I still have a bit more work to go tonight before we do the soft launch on Monday, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I've also been busy with homework for school. I have to draw a still life using proper perspective and contour lines, and for my 3D class I have to make a wire sculpture that shoes movement, volume and mass, and inside/outside space (I've chosen to do a jellyfish). I have to "skin" the sculpture with tissue paper, and I plan on knitting some tentacles to break up the monotony of the wire. Again, much more work than I'd ever anticipated a simple wire sculpture could require, based on my experience with project #1 (baobab tree).

I also plan to make a lemon curd cockaigne and a quiche this evening. We bought eggs at Costco and I'm trying to find creative ways to use them, lest they go to waste.

Hope your weekend has been a good one!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Callused Fingers, Lack of Sleep and an Undeniable Urge to Tell People to Take a Shower

Also known as my first week of art school.

The callused fingers and lack of sleep I was anticipating. Pretty much comes with the territory when you are a metals major and have 8am classes.

What *has* been a surprise is how freaking DIRTY some of my classmates look. The worst part? With a few exceptions, most of these kids appear to be going for this look deliberately. It's all part of the hipster façade, I suppose, but the stained California Raisins sweatshirt plus filthy neon 80's-style sneakers plus holey leggings plus a carefully tilted, grease-stained trucker hat atop a femullet* is just too much in my book.

Then again, my book is ancient in young-person terms and I am admittedly out of touch with many of the current fashion trends, bands, superfoods and technology.

So...enough about fashion or the lack thereof. Additional impressions from my first week at school:

- Tuition is insanely expensive, but I really feel I'm getting value for my money. Teachers seem excellent, class sizes are small (no more than 20 students in any of my classes), studios are well-equipped, there are tons of on-campus resources for students, and the level of performance expected from students is quite high.

- Speaking of performance, school is turning out to be much more work than I'd anticipated. For each hour I'm in a studio class, I spend one hour outside class working on homework or projects. This is completely normal. Thankfully I am good at time management, otherwise I think I'd be on the brink of an anxiety attack right now.

- Aside from wanting to give some of them a good scrubbing, most of my fellow students seem very nice. There is a good mix of ages (I'm not the oldest, thankfully), backgrounds, nationalities, and prior artistic experience. Everyone seems decently motivated to participte in class and excel at our assignments. There is no stigma associated with striving to do well, as can be the case in other academic environments. Nobody is labeled a nerd, and the overachievers simply win the admiration of the rest of the class when they turn in exquisitely made pieces.

- I've learned a lot in one week. I learned to solder (4 different ways!), learned to saw metal, learned to use a gigantic torch with an oxygen hose attached, learned how to put a rice paper skin on a wire structure, and learned how to do contour drawings.

- Even in art school, teachers can make or break a class. I was very apprehensive about taking Drawing I because I have no formal experience, but it's turned out to be one of my favorite classes. The teacher is excellent - she's funny, encouraging and inspiring. She sent my anxiety packing the first day, and I'm quite proud of what I've accomplished in class thus far.

- The downsides, other than the super expensive tuition: lots of expensive supplies to purchase for each class; tons of things to lug around every day (drawing easel, tool box, sketch books, etc.) and no locker access for freshmen from what I've understood; no real lounge on campus, although we are near tons of shops and restaurants; very few drinking fountains (I hate buying water) and cold classrooms. In all, no serious complaints, especially given all the positive things the school has to offer.

I'll check in again around midterms to see what, if anything, has changed about my impressions. The bottom line? I'm really happy I decided to go to art school and become a full-time jeweler.

* The femullet is a term coined in honor of this girl at school who has deliberately cut her hair short on the crown, but rocks a forehead full of curly bangs and a swath of long, greasy hair down her back. She obviously thinks this is a great look, because mullets don't just happen, especially to women. I am practicing restraint not to use my shop scissors to give her an unsolicited trim while we work on our wire sculptures.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Songs for a Stormy Day

And the rain continues...complete with a furious hail storm this afternoon that nearly knocked me off my feet. Here's a sampling of what's on my speakers today in an attempt to combat the gray weather here in the Bay Area. Enjoy!

A little Chilean-Swedish rap to kick things off:

Some Jamaican music that reminds me of Maputo( why don't these girls get more airtime in the US??):

A bit of kwaito from South Africa:

It's not a dance party without a little Naija:

Gracias a la vida...musica mexicana linda:

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Chuva Vem Me Dizer...

Well, I wanted to post Marisa Monte's "Segue o Seco" video, but it won't let me embed the video. It's raining cats and dogs outside and it made me think of the rain-related lyrics to that song, although it's about the lack of rain in the Nordeste rather than excess water like we are getting at the moment at Casa Cali.

So instead, here's another Marisa Monte video with some of the sweetest, most clever lyrics every. It's in Portuguese, but I believe there is a translate feature. I'd be curious to know if it's at all accurate because this is a hard one to take out of context.

Anyhow, I'm on storm drain duty this morning. We have a drain next to our house that collects all of the runoff from the street (it's the lowest point on the block) and in theory channels the water through a tube down to another storm drain, and eventually to the Bay. The problem is that it gets clogged up with leaves and sticks quite easily, thus blocking the drain and causing the runoff to accumulate and spill over into our front garden causing a mini-arroyo.

Usually Rico is the one to brave the rain and unclog the drain using a broom, but he's at a meeting so that duty fell to me this morning. Of course, it's the hardest rain of the season and by the time I got my boots and rainjacket on, the water had pooled up and was halfway up my calves. I couldn't even find the drain because there was so much water, so I had to use my bare hands to feel around for the debris, then clear away handfulls of debris until the drain was flowing again. I can appreciate how people get hypothermia so quickly in cold water. After about 30 seconds of cleaning, I couldn't feel my fingers at all, and rainwater seeped into my rubber boots over the top brim, making my toes go numb as well.

Anyhow, the situation is under control and I'm now going to make a cup of tea and start on my homework for drawing class. I have to do contour drawings of a pair of my shoes, which should be fun. I'm torn between my Hugo Boss black high heels that are full of pleated leather, or these cute purple mules by Clark's that have a stacked heel and nice detailing on the toe.

Or, I suppose I could draw my rain boots...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


School is great - I'm really enjoying it despite sore hands from hard-to-bend wire I'm fashioning into a baobab tree - but all I can think about is Haiti.

I've donated to relief efforts and I'm praying, but that seems like such a small drop in the bucket of the help - both physical and spiritual - that Haitians, residents of Haiti and all of their loved ones need right now.

You can donate $5 through Wyclef Jean's foundation by texting YELE to 501 501. You can also donate via the Red Cross and multiple other relief organizations and NGOs that work on the ground in Haiti.

This is a good reminder to make sure you are ready for a potential earthquake if you live in an area of seismic activity. I'm going to review the earthquake preparedness manual I picked up at Home Depot the week we moved here to be sure we aren't overlooking anything major and that our preparedness kits are updated and complete.

Remember, the safest place in an earthquake is underneath a sturdy desk or table. There are reports of a Brazilian who survived the Haiti quake because she was under a table - everything else around her collapsed. If you are in bed when a quake hits, hang on to the bedpost or bed frame and try to cover your head with a pillow. If you are driving, try to pull over and set the parking break. If you are in a theater, stadium or other public building, don't panic and don't try to leave until the shaking has stopped. As counter-intuitive as it seems, the safest thing is not go outside your home or any other building until the shaking has stopped.

This is part of the reality of living in Casa Cali. All we can hope for is that we are prepared and lucky.

God bless Haiti and all those affected by this disaster.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Student Routine

I had my first day of school today. It was great, but I am exhausted. I guess this whole 6-hours-a-day-in-studio-classes thing will involve an acclimation period.

Still, it is so cool to be doing this. I had Jewelry and Metal Arts I and Visual Studies in 3D today, and I'm super excited about both classes. The jewelry studio is full of incredible tools, and in my 3D class we get to build giant sculpture-like things using wire, plaster, wood and many other fun materials.

I already have homework, and a supplies list a mile long.

Notes to self:

- Get a backpack.
- Leave a pair of ballet slippers in my jewelry locker at school so I can put them on if I forget to wear closed-toe shoes.
- Buy a pair of cute sneakers.
- Get in the habit of packing my own lunch. I paid $5 for a simple turkey sandwich today, which is definitely not sustainable.
- Drink a coffee after lunch.

Tomorrow I have Drawing I and History of the Ancient Arts. Should be a fun day.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Divine Lunch

Ever walk into a building or a home that leaves you in awe of its design and decoration? This happened to me the other day while at lunch with family and friends at THE PLANT Organic Cafe at the Embarcadero in San Francisco. The ambience in this restaurant is incredible, and happily the food lived up to the expectations set by the decor. It didn't hurt that we got one of the best tables in the house, on the enclosed patio with a view of the bay. :)

Highly recommended for foodies and design lovers alike.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

A Sigh of Relief

I met many nice people, including some girls who I hope will become friends.

I wasn't the oldest incoming student.

I didn't get lost.

I didn't feel overly nervous.

I had fun.

In all, a great day one of orientation.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

First Day

Tomorrow I have my first day of orientation for new undergraduate students at CCA. It's been such along time since I've had this feeling - the mix of nervousness, excitement, anxiety and curiosity that accompanies the first day of going to a new school. I wonder what my future classmates will be like, if there will be anyone in the jewelry program who is remotely my age, if I will be looked at as the cool older girl who has traveled the world and has fun stories, or as the lame old girl who is painfully out of touch with all things current and fashionable. I wonder what outfit I'll wear - the *real* source of agony for the first day :) - what shoes will look cute but be sufficiently comfortable for my 7-block walk from the subway to campus, whether I should bring an umbrella or a notebook or snacks or my portfolio, just in case.

At least the first day of school means that likely everyone is in the same nervous boat...

I remember the last time I had a first day at school. It was in 2000, at Ibmec (Wikipedia page in English here), the business school in Rio where I eventually ended up meeting Rico, as well as the friend who was responsible for convincing each of us to move to Mozambique. I was 18 at the time and had just moved to Rio two weeks earlier. I knew exactly one person in the city - a friend of a friend of a business associate of my mom's - who had kindly helped me check into a cheap but safe hotel in Flamengo neighborhood. I remember sitting alone in my room at Hotel Florida, watching a novela on tv, driving myself crazy with anxiety wondering if I'd manage to a) find the subway station in Flamengo, b) get off at the right stop downtown, and c) find the skyscraper in which the school was located without getting lost, getting mugged, or having a breakdown.

I managed, of course, and almost immediately met an equally nervous girl who ended up becoming one of my best friends. How was such a quick bond formed? In the midst of one of the swankiest, richest, chic-est environments ever, she and I were the only students wearing Havaianas flip-flops and carrying backpacks. The rest of the girls were all about designer purses, manicured nails and high heels. Which is funny, because my style is more like those girls now than I could have ever anticipated.

Anyhow, here's hoping I have the good luck at orientation to meet a nice, "old" (i.e. born before 1985) girlie-girl who loves fashion, dancing and travel, and who feels similarly in need of a new friend.


Today, if I had several hundred spare dollars to spend on frivolous things, I think I'd book myself into a luxury hotel for a couple of days. I'd eat room service, get my nails done, take a bubble bath and watch tv. I believe my urge to snuggle up in luxury is influenced by the weather - it's really foggy outside at the moment, and looks like it will start raining at any second. I also have a touch of allergies, so it would be a great day to be pampered.

Seeing as a 5-star vacation isn't in the cards today, I suppose I'll go for second-best: cats, green tea with raspberries, a boiling hot shower, wool socks and some good music on the Sonos. And, of course, jewelry making. And reminiscing...

Check out some of the incredible places Rico and I stayed while in Vietnam for our honeymoon. The last two photos are from a *boat* that we took through Ha Long Bay. Incredible...

Makes me want to paint the walls of my office and finish decorating!

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Treasures from Ilha de Moçambique

I just got a shipment of antique trade beads from Mozambique Island (thanks to my friend A for being the courier) and I couln't be more excited. I love sorting the strands, identifying the different beads and dreaming up new designs. These beads are incredible - on any one strand there can be an assortment of 400-year-old Hebron beads made in Palestine using salt from the Dead Sea as an alkali, 500-year-old carnelian agate beads from India, 150-year-old Islamic prayer beads, 300-year-old Venitian, Bohemian and Dutch glass's like a treasure chest.

I'm currently working on some designs for Spring that mix strands of the tiny trade beads with gemstones and big, silver flowers made by Thai Hill Tribes artisans. Can't wait to launch the collection!

Monday, January 04, 2010

Making Connections

I love it. I just answered an email from a guy who is from the Bay Area, lives in Brazil, is in Nigeria currently, and is doing a spontaneous trip to Maputo in a few days. I gave him tips on what to do in the city, where to stay, what delicious things to eat.

I am continually amazed at what has happened to my circle of friends as a result of my blog. Rico and I have been lucky and/or destined to meet some incredible people through this medium. J, who became our very-best-friend and was my maid of honor at our wedding; M and K, our mirror-couple in terms of nationality who now live in our old apartment; C and D, (who technically we met thanks to my jewelry work) who are front and center in this special group; T and M who have become my source for current Maputo blogging; M and D who hosted us in Joburg several times; J who I met in Rio and is a fellow jeweler and writer (and was also meant to be in our wedding until she got sick, poor thing; J and J, the sisters in France who feel like friends from long ago; Tia L who became our roommate in Maputo; B who hosted us for some badass churrascos; A and M, who were very close to us right from our first dinner together...

Seriously, the list goes on. It also isn't meant to be exclusive of anyone. There are many other fine friends out there - some of whom I've met, some I havent - who will appear in future posts, to be sure.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

I'm Already Home

Now that the holidays are drawing to a close, many friends who traveled away from Mozambique to see their families or have an adventure in tourism are now heading back "home". It's very strange not to be going back to Maputo with the rest of them.

I read on Facebook about girlfriends' plans to meet up for basil mojitos, to have lunch at Zambi, to get caught up on the end-of-year gossip, and to meet the new babies in our group...and I feel so sad that I won't be joining them. Such is the life of the expat. You are eternally destined to be missing something, someone, somewhere.

I am incredibly happy to be in our Casa Cali, with Rico, establishing our new routines, setting goals for 2010, watching tv and working in the garden. It is the life I've always dreamed of, no doubt. But that is unfortunately no cure for the saudades that periodically fill my heart.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

I Tried.

I made a resolution to get back into dancing in 2010. I found a studio in Berkeley with cool worldbeat and Nia classes. I checked their website. I called to be sure they were open and got an answering service with the list of classes for today. After absolutely no indication they might be closed, Rico drove me to the studio and I was greeted with a padlocked door and no information about when classes will resume.

So frustrating. It certainly wouldn't have taken much effort to replace the regular phone message with holiday closure information, or to put a little note on the website. You'd think with all the exercise-related New Year's resolutions out there, the'd be savvier to the needs of new clients.


Try again another day, I suppose.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Retrospective and Resolutions

2009 was the year in which...

I (finally) decided to stop doing development consulting work.

I chose to become a full-time jewelry artist.

I worked the equivalent of 3 full-time jobs during our last months in Mozambique in order to make as much money as possible before the big career change.

I applied to and was accepted at the California College of Arts.

Rico and I decided to leave Mozambique and relocate to the Bay Area.

We bought and moved into our first house, Casa Cali.

We bought our first new car, a Subaru Outback.

I traveled to Brazil (Rio, Angra, São Paulo, Monte Verde), South Africa (Nelspruit, Kruger, Hazyview, Johannesburg, Barberton), Kenya (Nairobi), Mozambique (Bilene, Tofo, Macaneta, Nampula, Ilha de Moçambique), and the US (California, New Mexico).

In all, 2009 was a good year for me (and I believe for Rico as well). I know it was not that way for everyone, so I am particularly grateful for our blessings.

2010 will be the year in which...

I start regularly going to Nia and other dance classes again.

I get a massage at least once a month to deal with my recurrent back pain.

I launch my jewelry website, complete with new product lines and photos of models wearing my creations.

I get my jewelry into at least 3 retail shops/galleries.

I join the Point Richmond artists' cooperative.

I make the effort do my hair and makeup every day.

I learn to parallel park properly. Sigh.

I go to Houston, Providence and Boston to visit my dear friends Hannah, Kyle, Angel and my cousins AJ and Renaud.

Rico, Clauds, Dave and I go to Burning Man.

I actually use the phone to talk to the people I love in this world more frequently instead of only putting the poor thing to use as an alarm clock.

I paint the walls of my office a beautiful color.

2010 will be a year of hard work and changes, but I hope to reap great pride and happiness as a result. Best wishes to all of you for the New Year.