Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Jewels and Gols

Don't forget to put your name in the hat for the Alexandra Amaro bracelet giveaway! Details can be found here. Deadline to enter is tomorrow, June 30th. (and thanks to everyone who has already submitted their comment form! it's been great to see who all is out there.)

I'm off to watch Spain vs. Portugal as World Cup fever continues here at Casa Cali.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Feira Junina Crafts Fair in Maputo

If you love Mozambican woodwork, batiks, capulana fashions, jewelry and more, be sure to check out the Feira Junina, going on at the Fortaleza in Maputo from June 29th to July 8th.

These crafts fairs, organized by CEDARTE, are where I gained a lot of confidence and experience as a jewelry artist. It's nice to see them continuing to promote art made in Mozambique.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

La Vida Expatica #4: New Allegiances

After living abroad, one tends to develop patriotic love for countries other than one's own, leading to a crippling infirmity known as Copa mundialis indecisum.

What to do if, for example, the US were to play Brazil in the next round of games? (for the record, I think I'd support the US, if nothing else because I love a good underdog story.)

Or in the case of my friend Claudia, the poster child for international living, do you support Portugal, the UK, the US or one of the African teams?

Who are you rooting for this World Cup?

'La Loca' of All Trades

As the owner of a micro-business, I find myself playing many roles that eventually I'd like to outsource or hire staff to perform. Until that day of predictable cash flow rolls around, however, I will continue to be jewelry designer, photographer, accountant, marketer, graphic designer and investor.

Top on my list of things to outsource? Accounting and photography.

Accounting because, well, it's accounting...and photography because it is so insanely time consuming.

I have very high standards for my jewelry photos, and it's been somewhat of a frustrating learning curve, starting back in Moz where I had to build a light box out of scrap cardboard and tissue paper and hope for the best. Here in California, I invested in a proper light box and professional white-balanced lighting, in addition to a gradient background. It's been totally worth it, and my photo quality has improved significantly...but the fact remains that I'm not a professional photographer and thus spend a tremendous amount of time and effort to get what I consider to be good photos. I'd estimate I have a success rate of 10% to 20%. That is, for every 10 photos I take, only 1 or 2 make the cut.

And then there's the photo editing...white balance, exposure, cropping, resizing for the web. It's easily a 2-day job.

Still, despite my occasional struggles with product photography, I've learned a great deal and have definitely improved my skills.

I've also enjoyed starting to work with models. Recently I did a shoot with Rico's aunt Renata and cousin Juliana. We set up shop in the guest bedroom here at Casa Cali and hoped for the best (I was shooting at 11pm with terrible low light and a tripod that doesn't always like to work). I suppose you can't really get bad photos when shooting two beautiful ladies from Rio de Janeiro, but I was pleased that I didn't muck things up with my amateur photo skills.

Here are a couple of portraits from the modeling session:

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Few Ways in Which Mozambique Changed Me

I've written about this topic previously (here, here, here and here) but always while still living in Mozambique and without the valuable perspective that comes from being away from a place for a while. Some changes were obvious - salvaging still-fresh parts of partially rotten vegetables and fruits, becoming less wasteful in general, being more relaxed and laid-back when things don't go according to plan - but others really took leaving Mozambique and living in California for several months to notice.

Here are a few changes I've recognized since moving to Casa Cali:

- I find it really difficult to be opinionated on subjects that I haven't experienced first-hand. I remember back in high school and college, I was such an enthusiastic debater in the classroom. I'd take positions on novels, case studies, politics, ethics, etc. and passionately argue my view with classmates and even professors. It was relatively easy for me to identify what I thought was right and wrong, what I thought would work and what would fail. Not the case anymore. Living in Mozambique - and very particularly working in "development" - significantly changed many of the opinions I'd previously held dear. I used to be the typical supporter of NGOs, international development projects, humanitarian aid, etc...and now that I've experienced them first-hand, my beliefs have radically changed. My politics have also shifted as a result. I can't help but wonder how many other things I support in theory I'd view differently if only I were to experience them in person (as opposed to reading about them or hearing others' stories).

- As a result of the above phenomenon, I am overwhelmed by voting here in the US. There are a few issues I have a clear opinion on - for example, supporting our schools and a woman's right to choose - but others have me on the fence. Immigration, budget cuts, taxes, environmental protection. I can understand both sides of most of these issues, and feel like somewhat of a sucker if I'm swayed by a tv ad or political debate. I think there is so much smoke and mirrors, and apparently I've developed a big dose of cynicism about the political process in the last 5 years. I just don't know what to believe, and after my changes of heart in Mozambique, I feel like I might be wrong on a whole host of other things I currently support. I'm registered as an Independent voter because I really struggle to even choose which political party I most closely identify with and want to support.

- I also find myself avoiding controversial discussions like the plague. I think I've always been somewhat of a natural diplomat (and some would say my star sign doesn't help - I'm a Libra), but post-Moz I really don't want to get into it with people. I don't want to debate politics, religion, healthcare reform, immigration. I will, however, get on a soapbox about my experiences in international "development"...but that's only because I feel minimally qualified and entitled to an opinion because I worked on-the-ground with so many different players in the aid/development scene.

- I have become a total homebody. This makes me laugh because I was such a wanderer and adventurer for so many years. I used to think that "settling down" would mean I'd given up my dreams in life and become boring. :) Nowadays, there is nothing more that I want than to stay home with Rico, work in the garden, make jewelry, play with the cats, watch tv and cook delicious meals. It's really hard for me to get out of the house, which I'm aware can become problematic, but for the time being I'm giving myself a break. I think the move to the US and the subsequent career/lifestyle changes it brought about really took it out of me, more so than I'd ever really anticipated. We've now lived in Casa Cali for 9 months and I still feel tired and somewhat disoriented a lot of the time. I do make myself venture out - to the city to meet friends for dinner, to go to a new restaurant near the water - but it takes a colossal effort and makes me appreciate our home that much more.

- I love the anonymity that living in the Bay Area provides. I can go shopping, go for a run, go for a coffee or whatever and I blend in with everyone around me. I don't attract attention unless I want to. The flip side is that it's much harder to make friends here than in Maputo. No real surprise there, for sure, but it's sort of shocking that Rico and I have only managed to make friends with one other couple and our neighbors since moving here. We have other friends, but they are people I went to high school with and therefore only required reconnecting rather than the entire process of meeting and establishing a friendship. I'm aware that the lack of friends is tied to the homebody tendencies described above, which is fine for now. I miss having close friends, but I simply don't feel ready to put in the energy to meet a bunch of new people. I'm sure that will come, though. I remember having lived in Mozambique for 1.5 years and feeling like I had no friends. That sure changed! :)

I suppose it's hard to attribute these changes solely to having lived in Mozambique. In the last five years I also got married, did an overhaul of my professional life, and generally did a whole lot of growing up - all of which have surely influenced my personality and perspective on the world. Still, I feel it's impossible to separate "Life in Mozambique" from any of those other events - they're all so interconnected and definitely influenced by our time in Africa.

Anyhow, I have many more observations about our life in Mozambique now that we've been away for a while. Bit by bit I hope to process through them and share my conclusions here on the blog.

Edited to add:

On a lighter note, I've also stopped reading so much celebrity gossip now that we are living in California. I still enjoy an occasional visit to Perez Hilton, but I'm not checking multiple times a day for updates. I suppose it's a testament to 1) how much I procrastinated in Mozambique, and 2) how much better I am using my time here...although we do watch a whole lot of tv. :)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Alexandra Amaro Jewelry Giveaway!

Do you love summer, bright colors, and centuries-old treasures?

Do you like winning free jewelry?

(I thought so!)

In honor of my favorite season, I've decided to do the first-ever Alexandra Amaro jewelry giveaway: the Fiesta Fada Bracelet. This cheerful bracelet features a mix of 300-year-old trade beads recovered from shipwrecks off the coast of Mozambique Island. These special beads are then paired with turquoise, lapis lazuli, angelite, coral and sterling silver to create an upscale-boho design.

Contest Rules:

Using the Contact Form on the Alexandra Amaro website, tell me how you found my blog or my jewelry site. Know me in "real life"? Drop a line just to say hi!

Everyone who sends me a message using the Contact Form between June 22 - June 30 will be entered in the drawing. On July 1st, I will have Rico draw the winning name from a hat.

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 summer (to all those in the Northern Hemisphere) and best of luck to all!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

La Vida Expatica #3: The Essential Items for Travel

In the last post in the Expatica series, I talked about the random, sentimental, and often times impractical items we expats insist on hauling halfway around the world and back. You guys had some fabulous contributions, by the way. Teapots, teddy bears, books and more books. My favorite, however, was shared off the blog by my friend S., a UK expat living in Mozambique, who said that her 5-year-old daughter most certainly qualified as 'impractical'.

This time, however, I'd like to touch on the practical, ultra-useful items that are at the top of the list for any trip, long or short. As expats, we (hopefully) learn to travel light, to use products that have multiple functions, to bring clothing that transitions easily from day to night. I'd imagine we have some awesome tips to share.

As I get ready to pack yet another suitcase (we're going on a little jaunt to the Houston-area for a friend's wedding), I'd like to invite you to share the top five items you absolutely must have in your suitcase, be it for a weekend trip or for a year-long posting.

Mine are:
1. large pashmina-style scarf (I'm always cold)
2. earplugs
3. pair of ultra-comfortable ballet flats (my faves are Born brand)
4. havaianas (gets you through beaches and icky showers)
5. mascara (favorite is YSL)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Today Was One of Those Days

It all started when I was reading the paper this morning. There was a cutesie little feature on "quotes from dads" submitted by readers.

SHIT, I thought, not again*.

I'd forgotten Father's Day. Or so I thought for about 20 minutes until I frantically went on Amazon.com to pick out a present for overnight shipment, debating whether to cook up an excuse or just be straight and admit I'd forgotten, and saw a page full of grills and gadgets and geeky stuff perfect for Dad.

It's next Sunday. Sigh of relief. My present's already in the mail.

Then I got ready for a nice, productive day all by myself here at Casa Cali. Rico and my mom had an all-day meeting, so I was looking forward to organizing my office, making some jewelry, doing laundry and catching up on emails. We only have one car, so I was ready to spend the whole day at home.

It was too good to be true, though. I soon discovered I'd spaced a workout session with my trainer at 4pm - all the way in Oakland. And I had no car.

Thankfully my mom lives about a 30-minute walk from our house. I managed to email her in the middle of their meeting and get permission to use her car. I'd have to go on an unexpected walk, but I thought I'd solved my logistical problem...until I remembered that I HAD NO DRIVER'S LICENSE. It had stayed in Rico's wallet after our jaunt to the local bar yesterday to watch the World Cup game.

Shit. Again.

Still, I thought I'd go ahead and risk it. I walked to my mom's house, got her spare key, found her car in the building's garage, and promptly hit another obstacle. I couldn't figure out how to get the damn garage gate open from the inside without the clicker. My mom had said there was a box where you could use the key to open the door, but I couldn't find it anywhere.

I went in search of the maintenance man to help me, but he was nowhere to be found. I finally had to ask some random couple walking their dog if they could show me how to open the garage door from the inside. I tried to put on my most innocent, "I'm not trying to steal anything or break in" face possible.

The stupid key box turned out to be about the size of a walnut and was hidden all the way in the darkest corner of the parking garage. I never would have found it without that neighbor.

So then, after all the car and garage drama, I was finally with vehicle and on my way to the studio in Oakland to work out, praying for no cops along the way.

Upon arrival, my trainer - who is never, ever, ever late - wasn't there. Turns out she didn't have me in her schedule. I managed to work out with another trainer who was free at that time, but still, I felt so crazy.

I NEVER have days like this, where everything seemingly goes wrong, or at least deviates significantly from the plan. Sometimes I have a little scheduling hiccup, or forget about a doctor's appointment...but a whole sequence of stuff is rare. It sort of knocked me off kilter, so I'm doing what any sane girl would do at the end of a day like this:


* Last year I forgot my Dad's birthday, and couldn't believe I'd make a similar mistake two years in a row.

My Favorite Necklace

Friday, June 11, 2010

CCA 1st Semester: Jewelry/Metal Arts I

Jewelry/Metal Arts I is an introductory class for people working with small-scale metals, either jewelry or sculpture. It's essentially a crash course in soldering, sawing, hammering, filing, riveting, texturizing, patination and tons of other basic joining, forming and finishing techniques.

It's also hard as hell for an intro-level class.

After the first week, once students had an idea of what J/MA I would consist of, at least 4 people dropped the course. The rest of us soldiered through what would prove to be a semester full of learning, experimentation, lots of frustration, and some triumphs.

Working with metals is no joke. The technical aspect alone is so challenging that it's tempting to make the design aspect an afterthought. But it's art school, so clearly that wasn't an option. Instead we put in studio time. Lots and lots and lots (and lots) of studio time.

Over the course of the semester, we made only four projects in J/MA I. Approximately three to four weeks per project, save for our ring assignment which only took one. There are many dozens of hours dedicated to each project, sometimes for a deceptively simple end product.

This was one of the main changes for me in terms of how I look at jewelry design and production. Prior to taking J/MA I at CCA, the longest I'd ever spent on one projet was probably about 5 hours, including design time. Now I've made pieces that take upwards of 60 hours of production time, and that's only the beginning.

Previously I'd let my materials inform my designs. This was, in part, a forced decision due to the relative lack of jewelry-making materials in Mozambique. I worked with what I had, resulting in astronomical creativity but little planning. My jewelry was intuitive, my process completely flexible and spontaneous.

Now it's just the opposite. I must plan extensively for each piece, including to-scale drawings and cardstock models. I make technical models and sample pieces to test the way a particular piece of wire will bend or the exact color a patina will produce. It's a lot of work, and I'm still getting used to the process. Regardless, I can see the massive jump in the level of my pieces, not just because I have learned new technical skills but because of the sheer amount of time I dedicate to my jewelry.

Here are photos of the jewelry I made this semester. I already posted these images on Facebook, but there are important people in my life who read this blog but are anti social networking, so I thought I'd re-post.

My very first attempt at metalsmithing. The assignment was to make a piece of jewelry based on a personal symbol. I chose the African Daisy, a flower that is able to flourish in any environment. I used layers of brass and copper to make a pendant, then stamped and sawed away at the metal to create the desired effect. I used a cluster of sterling silver rivets in the center of the flower to give texture and put a very dark patina on the copper so it turned black.

This project was insanely difficult. I had problems getting the circles to solder together, and the cluster of rivets pushed my technical skills. Getting the patina to get as dark as I wanted it was also hard. Overall, though, I was really pleased with how the pendant turned out. I plan to put it on a long, thin leather cord and wear it to death.

Our second project was to make a sterling silver ring. Here are some of my initial sketches for the project. I was drawn to curvy, floral shapes initially, but then I remembered how hard it is to saw curves in small pieces of metal. So I decided on a very precise, geometric design to make my life easier since we only had a week to work.

I actually designed the ring for Rico, and he now wears it on his right forefinger. It suits him perfectly - I'll have to get a photo at some point.

Our third project was to take an organic object and abstract it to get inspiration for a piece of jewelry or small sculpture. I chose a piece of star coral that I'd found on the beach in Mozambique. These are my initial studies of the piece of coral, and of a few other items in my collection of sea treasures. I was especially interested in the shapes inside the pores on the coral's surface. They looked like tiny, cell-like flowers, repeated endlessly in a perfect illustration of 'organized chaos'.

I took some inspiration from the Ibo Island metalsmiths and thought about a chain-maille style necklace using the floral shape from the pores on the coral's surface. Each daisy-like component started out as a straight piece of wire, which I then shaped by hand and soldered shut. I ended up using 78 tiny flowers for my necklace.

I joined all of the floral components with handmade jumprings to make a chevron shape. I love the way multiple imperfect elements can come together to create the illusion of something perfect and symmetrical. If you look really closely at this necklace, you'll see that there is no true middle point, and that on one half the flowers are joined with 2 rings, and on the other they are joined with only 1. It's a bit hard to see in the photo, but in person it's a really cool effect.

This necklace is my very favorite piece of jewelry at the moment. I love wearing it and feeling how the metal drapes over my collarbone and chest like fabric. I can't wait to start limited production of this design for sale!

Our final project was to make a box. It could be any shape or size, but had to include a lid and have at least one stone bezel set on it somewhere. I decided to make something rectangular with a hinged lid, figuring that it was best to start with a simple design and work my way up from there.
Even a simple design was super hard. I realized that I have an awfully difficult time visualizing a 3-D box in detail, how the sides come together, how the lid should fit. Even my sketches and model looked funky, and it only "clicked" for me once the box was already cut and built. I definitely learned some good lessons on this project, and would like to make more boxes even though it was such a challenge the first time around.

My favorite part of the box project? Learning to bezel set stones. I had 11 moonstones laying around that I'd received as a gift, and decided this was the perfect opportunity to put them to good use. It was really hard to get the bezel wire to solder to the big box lid without anything melting, but somehow it all came together. I gave this box to my mom for Mother's Day, partly because the gray, twilight colors remind me of her love of the pre-dawn hours, but also because I knew she wouldn't care that the hinges aren't lined up exactly right and therefore the box never closes 100%. ;)
Bottom line? Metals is insanely hard work, but equally rewarding for those who are passionate about jewelry/sculpture and disciplined enough to put in the necessary planning and production time.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Cherry Fanatic

It's no secret that I love cherries. Along with figs and fresh medjool dates, I am capable of eating them until I am sick. I just can't get enough!

A couple of weekends ago, I convinced Rico to go with me to Brentwood, an agricultural town in the Sacramento delta, to pick our own cherries. His immediate reaction was like Why on earth would anyone drive for 45 minutes in order to pay to pick fruit in the heat of summer? but he indulged me and we ended up having a great time. At least I did. I think Rico just enjoyed seeing me act like a child on Christmas as I searched for the darkest, biggest, juiciest cherries in the orchard.

After about 30 minutes of picking, we had 11 pounds of cherries and decided to call it a day. True to form, I ate about 6 of those pounds of cherries in the following week. When the fabulousness of the fresh fruit had weaned, I decided I'd make jam. I'm happy to report it was a successful project, and I now have all of the home canning supplies necessary to make jam out of the endless blackberries that have taken over our garden. Should be a tasty summer!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Reciprocating the Love

It's funny how we make friends in this age of blogs and forums and Facebook. Over the past few years, I've come to know the J sisters - two fellow global nomads originally from Angola but with incredibly international backgrounds - through our respective blogs. While our online friendship is super enjoyable, I wish I could meet Jo Ann and Jess in person, as I just know we'd have a great time cooking, listening to cool world music and talking about our love for writing.

While I don't foresee a meet-up in the immediate future (the girls live in France), I can still share a bit of the love here. Both Jo Ann and Jess have been awesome supporters of my life-change to become a jewelry artist, and they were kind enough to feature my work on their sites.

First Jess ran this very cool intro to my jewelry on her blog, Cartas à Filó-sofia. It's written in Portuguese, but is still worth checking out for the non-lusophone out there because she has a smashing fashion sense, lives in Paris, travels a lot and takes lovely photos documenting it all. If you can read her words, you're in for a treat as she is a talented writer as well.

Then Jo Ann, Jess' older sister, did this in-depth interview with me as part of her ongoing series of portraits on writers and artists. The original interview was conducted in English, then she translated it into French, the language of her blog. Jo Ann is a writer herself - like the "real" kind, with published novels and no alternate day job - and she really knows how to capture someone's personality and story by just asking 10 questions. If you are a writer or artist and are in need of a professional yet engaging biography, you should very definitely contact Jo Ann through her portraits site Jo Ann Ècriture.

Now, if only airfare were just a tad cheaper right now so I could say thanks in person...

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Mozambique Island: Summer 2010 Collection

Here's a little preview of the latest antique Mozambique Island trade bead jewelry over at Alexandra Amaro.

I find such pleasure in figuring out how to transform these special old beads, especially since no two are exactly alike and many are so weathered by the centuries under the Indian Ocean that it's hard to imagine them in an elegant design. By mixing them with silver, gemstones and pearls they take on a new life, dressed up and ready for cocktail parties and jet-setting holidays.

Blue Tesouro Necklace - antique trade beads, lapis lazuli, freshwater and swarovski pearls, sodalite, sterling silver

Black Tesouro Necklace - antique trade beads, onyx, freshwater and swarovski pearls, smoky quartz, sterling silver

Fiesta Tesouro Necklace - antique trade beads, lapis lazuli, coral, turquoise, angelite, sterling silver

Fiesta Fada Bracelet - antique trade beads, lapis lazuli, coral, turquoise, angelite, sterling silver

I am in the process of listing these and many more pieces from the Summer 2010 collection on the Alexandra Amaro site. Have a look and let me know what you think!