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.