Friday, December 16, 2011

Mantras for the Semester

"Perfect is the enemy of good (enough)."

"Rome wasn't built in a day."

There's so much to consider in building a creative business. First, obviously, you must have a well-designed, beautifully made, compelling product. Creating amazing jewelry has been the focus of most of my efforts over the past two years, as without the good pieces it makes no sense to invest in growing the business. However, I'm at a point where my business side needs to make a leap forward. Not the numbers and accounting, although that could use some attention too. Rather I'm talking packaging, website content and layout, product tags, letterhead, logo, business cards, etc. Essentially the whole branding and marketing effort that will really send a professional, polished image to back up my jewelry.

It's so frustrating sometimes because there are so many details and I can't always tackle them all. Sometimes my packaging is not ideal to the shape of a piece, or a label is hand-written instead of stamped, or my website still carries my old logo and branding because I wasn't able to make the change to the new site in time for the holidays. There's just so much to think about and be on top of...

That's when I try to remind myself of the two sayings at the top of this post. Something is better than nothing, always. Baby steps to your goal. Or as they would say in Mozambique, "pouco-pouco."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

83 Down, 2 to Go

This seventeen-week semester is nearly finished. Part of me is extremely grateful for the upcoming break, which I clearly need to maintain my sanity and be ready for another stretch of craziness come January. But another part of me is sad, depressed even. I love being in school and it's so difficult to go from 1,000 miles per hour to essentially zero overnight (at least that's how it feels, even though I'm still super busy with holiday orders).

Also, my friendships have really consolidated this semester and the idea of not being around my girls leaves me feeling a bit empty (most people go back "home" for the holidays, not that many of us are locally based). I am so lucky to be in the metals program with this particular group of people. It took me nearly two years to feel like I've made friends, but now that I have, I can't imagine school without them. We support each other through crises, work out together on a regular basis, pull all-nighters together in studio, make runs for bubble tea (my new favorite studio snack). My friends are a big part of what motivates me throughout the semester, and I will seriously miss them over the next month.

I'm trying to avoid the serious blues this break, however. Strategies include throwing a "come over and do nothing" relax party on Saturday, running regularly with H., enjoying time with family, mini trips to Tahoe and Napa, and staying busy with a couple of jewelry commissions. I'm also itching to troll the local flea markets and salvage yards for storage cabinets, old tools, display cases, and whatever else catches my eye for the studio. Keeping busy is the ticket, for sure.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Light in Sight

One more jewelry project, my chromophobia final, and a paper on a Tibetan Buddhist manuscript are between me and a much-needed break. I'm really burned out (and consequently not thaaaaat stressed) and it's been hard to get motivated to turn out these last projects. I'm close, though, and knowing that gives me an extra boost.

This semester I've prioritized exercise equally with my schoolwork. I don't regret it one bit. I *do* have time to keep working out, and it's not like I have to shuffle my schedule to do it. Honestly I waste a ton of time in my day-to-day, and that hour-and-a-half it takes to start and finish a workout are imperceptibly sucked by internet, chatting, spacing out, doing non-priority chores, etc. When I do exercise, I get the feeling my time is more precious (i.e. I've spent it consciously) and therefore I'm more productive, more efficient, and better at prioritizing the things on my to-do list. Win, win really. I stay fit and manage my stress, and am also faster and more focused at my work.

So why is this so hard to remember *before* a workout, when I will make 1,001 excuses as to why I should stay in studio or simply watch some trash on tv?

Anyhow, I've been much better about the workouts this semester and I feel good. Tonight, for example, I'm going to dance at Hipline for an hour. In semesters past, I'd have cancelled this refundable class in a heartbeat. Not now, though. It will be the highlight of my day.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Traveler Necklaces

Each necklace in the 15-piece Traveler series has the name of a different city worldwide that inspired the color palette. Adding to the traveler vibe, the trade beads used in the design are hundreds of years old and have crossed the globe several times over, starting in Venice or Bohemia where they were made, carried to Africa by the Portuguese, washed up on the shores of Ilha de Moçambique after shipwrecks, and finally brought here to San Francisco in my luggage.

Where will their next stop be?

(The Helsinki Traveler Necklace and the other Travelers are available at

Monday, November 28, 2011


There is a really difficult mind-space for people that hold themselves to high standards when, while learning a new trade or skill, they realize what the best work looks like (i.e. what they desire to make/do) but are unable to perform at that level yet. Often the gap is because these people are still learners, operating in an area where true mastery requires years and years of experience. For some reason, though, it is hard to accept that apprenticeship equals failure on an intrinsic level, that if we don't make bad work there is no way to learn how to make good work.

I know this. I can even write about this. But it is SO HARD to embody it, to release the pressure I self-impose to knock it out of the park with every project that comes along. I want all of my work to be amazing, not necessarily for the praise of others (although this is definitely nice, however another minefield in and of itself) but because I am used to being at the top of whatever I'm doing. I know I'm capable of doing impeccable work, and it's hard to accept that it's okay if I can't right now, for whatever reason, in whatever capacity.

I think people doing jewelry or metalsmithing at a high level are particularly prone to this issue. Our field is all about perfection, precision, doing it right the first time because often that's the only option lest you go back to square one with a particular piece. Our eyes are meticulous. We see all of the flaws. Making can be maddening. We get so invested in our work, put in so many hours... It becomes especially hard to look at a piece after blood and sweat and tears (literally. really. i cry nearly every week and can't feel the tips of my fingers) when you know certain things should have been done differently and/or better.

I need to remember - I think all of us in the progam could stand to remember - that other people don't see jewelry through the same discriminating eyes as we do. Other people see the beauty, the creativity, the materials. Not that this is license to do shoddy work, but to remember on those pre-critique mornings that someone out there will think this is the best. piece. ever. made.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Good Feeling

In some ways I feel like this song is getting me through the semester. Just when I'm feeling really down, I'll hear this somewhere. In my car at full volume is the best, but Hipline's shimmy pop class is a close second (Hipline is this amazing dance studio in Berkeley that I've been going to with some of the jewelry girls from school. They have glow sticks and a disco ball during the last class on Thursdays, not to mention super dim lighting (the best idea e.v.e.r. for club-style dance classes that happen in a gym space during daylight hours.))

So Flo Rida's song literally helped me turn around a tearful crisis in the making last week. I was so stressed from my production jewelry class (I'm was working on the 5-alike pendants) that I could tell I was going to cry during critique. Not that my pieces had failed or anything, it had just been an extraordinarily long, hard road and I was at my limit. On my way to school the tears started to fall and then the song came on. It was like magic.

I wonder what my song for next semester will be (they seem to only be magic for a few months at a time).

For now, at least, it seems I know my winter break song. My friend Jimmy shared this with me the other day and I am obsessed.

For the record, summer's song was:

Spring semester's song was:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Carla Makes Jewelry in Maputo

I am so proud of my first jewelry student, Carla, who continues to make beautiful designs with wire and semi-precious stones in Maputo. I fondly remember our one-on-one jewelry lessons, starting with the very basics of how to make a wire loop and progressing through pricing and selling one's work.

Here is a gallery of her work. If you're in Moz and are interested in Carla's work, please look her up! She sometimes participates in events like the International School-sponsored holiday fairs, so perhaps you've already seen her jewelry somewhere.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Five Identical Madness

I mentioned in a previous post, I believe, that I am working on a project for my Production Jewelry class where we have to make five identical pieces. We are allowed to vary one or two design details, and we must incorporate a "foreign" object, e.g. a stone, a found object, a commercial clasp, etc. Each one of my pendants will have a different color scheme/assortment of gemstones and a different patina on the silver.

Here is a (poor quality) photo of one of the pieces I am making. I'm really excited about the design, but the process and the deadline have my stomach flipping and my shoulders in knots thanks to record levels of stress. I don't even want to catalog all of the bumps along the road, but suffice to say I'm past-due with the project and have another marathon night (at minimum) ahead of me. I've been working SO HARD for the last two weeks. It's somewhat disheartening to work at 110% effort and realize that it's not quite enough.

Cue the lesson in perfectionism and remembering why I'm really in school (it's not for the grades, but I admit it's hard to let go of that, too).

I think I'll feel better once I get the rest of my stone setting finished. I have two pendants to go, and the road ahead seems never-ending...

Friday, November 11, 2011

Your Responses = My Next Jewelry Project

Hello friends,

For our next project at school we have to interview people and then design a piece of jewelry or a sculpture based on the responses.

The question is: If you could change one thing about your personality, what would it be?

Feel free to answer in the comments. Thanks in advance for your help!

Monday, November 07, 2011

After Earthquakes

We've had a series of moderate earthquakes here in the Bay Area lately. Nothing big, really, especially for people who are from quake territory, but big enough to frighten me for sure. Part of the issue is that most of the recent earthquakes have been centered just a mile or two from school, so the shaking feels especially strong.

It's terrifying during the shaking, but the disorientation and feeling of "seasickness" that I get afterwards is nearly as bad. It's similar to the feeling you get after a day spent boating, when you step back on dry land but still feel as if you're on the waves. I can feel false quakes for days after the real thing, and the fact that there really *are* aftershocks makes it even worse. I often don't know whether my mind and body are playing tricks on me, or if its honest-to-god shaking. Sometimes I have to look around the room at other people's faces to determine if something is happening or not.

This quake-sick feeling is so bizarre, by far the closest I've ever come to wondering if I'm going a little crazy. I decided to try and capture it in a panting for my Chromophobia class, as we're putting on an exposition this week about phobias. The title of the show is "Horror vacui", which means fear of empty space (and is just a very cool-sounding phrase). I wanted the painting to be really busy and visually disorienting to look at.

The end look is definitely different from what I'd originally envisioned, but I am okay with letting the process dictate the result. Here's a bit of the evolution. I think I'm one layer away from being finished, maybe two.

("Seismic", acrylic on canvas, 36x36")

(sorry for the poor image quality. I'm content remembering to take *any* process photos of my art these days.)

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Silicone Molds, Gemstones and Running

Otherwise known as what's on my mind these days.

For my production jewelry class our assignment right now is to make five identical pieces. The idea is for us to utilize molds, jigs and other clever tools and strategies to make our work more efficient.

Although I like production jewelry and plan to do limited production lines once I'm out of school, it's hard to think in production terms. We are so schooled to make elaborate, conceptual, insanely labor-intensive, one-of-a-kind pieces that it's really a challenge to move away from that mindset and design jewelry that is creative and appealing, yet cost- and time-efficient and can be easily produced in multiples. At least its hard for me. :)

I am making a series of bejeweled silver pendants for the five-alike project. In order to be clever and efficient as the class requires, I'm casting the main component of the pendant. Fantastic, except I don't know how to cast. Rather, I'm learning in record speed how to cast (one week to be precise). This evening I poured my very first silicone RTV mold. Tomorrow I will cut it in two pieces and do a wax injection so that I can, on Monday, actually cast my piece. It seems complicated even though I've been told many times that casting is a simple process. It makes me anxious to have my project depend on a process I'm totally unfamiliar with, but I suppose this is good practice for uncomfortable situations I'm certain to encounter down the line.

I went for a short run this morning, which felt really good. I've not been able to run as frequently now that the semester is in session and I miss it terribly. Over the summer my friend H. and I were running five times a week. Now I'm getting in two runs per week, and it's rare for them to be over five miles. Rico and I are signed up to run another 10k on Saturday and I'm trying to align my expectations with my somewhat diminished physical abilities. I'd like to run the whole race really fast and feel fantastic, but I know I'll just have to go through at a slow and steady pace and be okay with the fact that I may just have to walk a bit.

In other news, I register for Spring 2012 classes on Monday. I'm taking Jewelry 3B (the next class in the series, one in which we do one-week projects all semester), Casting (ha, ha), Lost and Found (creating jewelry and other works that incorporate found objects), and a textiles class called Patterns and Pixels (creating patterns on the computer and then printing onto fabric).

I find registering for classes always gives me a little perk, which is especially welcome at this low-energy point of the semester. At a time when I so desperately need a break, it's funny that thinking about more school would get me excited. I guess this is a good sign, no?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ali Lately

One of my favorite chill-out-post-studio-madness activities is to watch Chelsea Lately. I am sort of surprised I like her program (and her!) so much, but I do. Why fight it? I've long accepted that I like trash tv, so in comparison to something like Cheaters or Coco Loves Ice, I suppose Chelsea Lately is highbrow...

Anyhow, it is the perfect thing for relaxing after a crazy week, which this one was without a doubt. I had late nights in the studio at school (3:30 and 4:00 AM), late nights at my home studio (2:30 AM) and plenty of early mornings in the mix.

I got both of my projects done, which was a good feeling. One was a 5-piece suite for Production that was loosely based on vertebrae and done in silver with gold hinge pins (I made a bracelet, long earrings, a pendant necklace, a chunky ring, and stacked thin rings) and a personal identity piece for Jewelry 3A that involved a bejeweled floral/coin piece that fits into various objects. Hard to explain in a nutshell, but I'll post on it (and the production suite) once I get it back from my professor and have a chance to take photos.

There were several earthquakes last week. Two on Thursday that were the biggest I've felt since moving here (4.2 and 3.7, I believe, but these figures may have been modified by USGS). I distinctly felt rolling/shaking, which is different from the "a huge truck just hit the building" feel of the previous earthquakes I've experienced here. I actually got under my jeweler's bench at school for the second quake on Thursday. The epicenter was a mile away in Berkeley and that thing was scary. Jangled nerves, thankfully no damage. There have been several aftershocks, and I've felt all of them. I feel anxious, like I'm anticipating and can almost feel the next one before it actually happens. I guess the best way to describe it is that I feel sort of seasick, like when you get off a boat and can still feel the swaying long after you're on firm land.

I've been trying to counter all the stress with exercise, which is my go-to stress management solution. Running, cardio dance classes, personal training, and today I tried rock climbing for the first time with some girlfriends from school. We did bouldering at a rock gym in Oakland, and I can honestly say it was better than I'd anticipated. I am somewhat afraid of heights and don't enjoy climbing, but it was good to do a new activity and get out of my comfort zone for a while.

So that's what I've been up to lately. I'm really looking forward to getting a couple of days off during Thanksgiving. I'd like to sleep a lot, hang out with Rico and the cats, and do a whole lot of nothing. :)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


I am turning thirty tomorrow.

Everyone is full of advice, ranging from how your thirties are the best years of your life, to how I should have babies soon because I'm getting old, to how I should really be using sunscreen daily because serious wrinkles are right around the corner.

I'm excited, not really feeling any of the crisis OH MY GOD I'M OLD stuff at all.

I am happily married and living in a house and community that I love. I am near family. I am in the best shape of my entire life, having become a Runner about a year ago. I am in art school perfecting my skills as a metalsmith. I'm a working jeweler. I have friends. I love our cats. I am happy and excited to be turning thirty, but not sappily idealistic about what the next decade might hold.

If anything, the one poignant lesson that I've become more aware of at this age is that we really don't have that much time. I can imagine that those of you reading this who are in your sixties are just shaking your heads, thinking Oh, she has no idea. But I do have an idea, if only a small one.

In my twenties and teenage years, I was privileged to travel a lot. I always had the feeling that those places, those people I connected with on my travels would be part of my life again. I went to Roraima and felt like it was no big deal to go back. I went to Greece and had no doubt I'd visit again. Same thing with Cuba, Zimbabwe, Vietnam, Argentina. It seemed so easy to just hop on a plane and go. Time seemed infinite, and travel was one of a select few ways to use my resources.

I was sure I'd see them again, the people that touched my heart over the years. Hannah, Lambros, Gaby, Angel, the Yamamotos, Perry. The list expanded exponentially with living in Mozambique. I felt certain I'd reconnect at some point with all of these special people. Jenny, Kelly, Zahra, Anel, Claudia, Helen, Marcos, Bruno. There are too many to name, really, and now I wonder when, realistically, we'll ever cross paths again.

Time is short, energy fleeting, resources divided amongst many worthwhile dreams and goals (not to mention practical obligations). It is challenging at best to connect face-to-face with those we love. We are lucky to visit twice the places that make our hearts skip a beat. We are envious of those who do what they truly love because we recognize the risks that often go into those decisions.

We must make choices, many choices.

I hope that I choose wisely in the decade to come.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Custom Jewelry: Cornflower Sapphire Set

Here is another one of my custom jewelry designs from this summer. A client wanted me to make some jewelry for his wife's birthday. She happens to be a friend of mine, which is great because I know her style. She wears very small, minimal jewelry and is somewhat conservative in her taste. She loves the color blue and only wears white metals. These were basically my only guidelines.

Here is the set I designed, plus the original sketch. I bezel set sapphire cabochons on a sterling silver backplate that looks like a cross between a cornflower and a cog wheel. I'm happy to say everything was a hit, and my minimalist friend is using these pieces frequently.

Sunday, October 02, 2011


We did it! Our only New Year's resolution* from 2011 can now confidently be ticked off the list. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I'd be able to run for more than an hour without stopping. Even crazier is that I love doing it.

*I had a second resolution, actually: to paint my nails more often. Doing well on that one, too. :)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Custom Tibetan Turquoise Bolo Tie

A family friend had a very large nugget of Tibetan turquoise he acquired while living in Asia in the 1970's. He wanted it made into a bolo tie and asked me to put together a custom design.

This project was full of challenges. First, it's daunting to work with a precious one-of-a-kind object from a client, in particular a soft stone like turquoise that likes to crack. Second, the nugget was very irregular, making it hard to set (at least it presented a challenge for my fledgling stone-setting skills). Third, someone had already drilled two holes all the way through the stone back in the day, so that it could hang as a pendant on a cord, and I'd have to figure out what to do with those very visible, crookedly-drilled holes.

I put together a design that involved prong setting the turquoise nugget, attaching said prongs to a pierced sterling silver backplate, and putting ball rivets through the existing drilled holes so that they'd attach to the backplate. Then I attached a bolo mechanism, brown leather cord, and silver end pieces on the cord.

The client appears very satisfied, and I am too. More than anything I'm happy that I'm increasingly able to come up with a design in my head and replicate it in metal pretty faithfully.

Here's a few photos of the initial sketch and the final piece.

Friday, September 23, 2011

It's Mini-Crisis Time

Yes, already. Just over two weeks into the school semester and that panicky feeling is back. My hope is that more frequent but smaller crises will have a depressurizing effect and thus avoid a whopper of an episode like I experienced last semester.

Yesterday was a frustrating day and I had a wee, mini breakdown. We're doing logo design in my Production class and I'm not happy with mine. I'm close, but just not there yet. We also received our first really big assignment - to design a suite of five related pieces - and I was feeling wholly uninspired, like I couldn't conjure up a good idea if my life depended on it.

I think a lot of this is quite normal given the nature of the program at CCA and the kind of discipline and dedication that metalsmithing requires. I also think my mindset and emotions were affected by not having eaten properly during the day, not having run since Sunday thanks to a sinus cold, and being on hour 7 of studio classes.

I went for a run today and immediately felt better. Things are once again more in perspective. I still don't have a logo design that I like, I still don't know what on earth I'll do for my five-piece collection, but I have faith that those solutions will come.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Wheel Turns On...

School is back in session, life again has taken on that roller-coaster feeling as I try to reconcile deadlines, projects and my own jewelry work with the fact that time is limited, as is my energy. I've gotten better at cutting back on activities and trying to be sure I'm not spreading myself too thin. I delete emails about art openings, community events, travel bargains, discounts at my favorite stores all because I know I can't be tempted by these fun and interesting possibilities. I can only keep up with so much.

Outside my school obligations, I am able to dedicate myself to Rico and my family, running, a limited amount of my own jewelry production, and a very occasional concert or dinner out with friends. I laughingly said to our neighbors the week before school started, "See you in December!" Except it wasn't a joke...

I actually like having to prioritize, though. I think it leads to more quality time spent with people, more focus dedicated to the activities you know are essential. And I really appreciate my leisure time, that's for sure.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The First Step is Admitting You Have a Problem

We All Have the Running Bug

On Saturday my mom, Rico and I did our first race. It was 4 miles on a hilly trail, and we all did exceedingly well for our age divisions. We were accompanied by my friend H, who is my running buddy and in the same program at school with me, my cousin A, and his friend J. They all have done races before (including my cousin who has done the NY Marathon for Team Fox!) so not surprisingly they did really well, too.

We are training up to a 10k on October 1st and are all giddy about our running plans.

Here's a few photos from the 4 mile race. Note the gigantic smiles on everyone's faces!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Relaunch, Refresh, Recreate

Dear Friends,

I'm getting ready to re-launch my Alexandra Amaro jewelry website to better reflect the work I've been creating in art school. To celebrate (and to make re-listing my inventory easier), I'm offering 20% off any piece online, even those already on sale.

Use coupon code RELAUNCH at checkout, good through August 31st.

Stay tuned at for the new site, coming soon!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Sounds of Last Semester

It's fair to say that music played a big role in me getting through the grueling workload of last semester at CCA. I'd listen to music while running (my number one favorite stress management technique), I'd blast the BPM station on my trial subscription of satellite radio while driving to and from the studio (coffee in hand), listen to Pandora while doing homework, and every once in a while use my iPod while working (although not often enough - I'm torn between how nice it is to listen to my own music over the din of the studio vs. needing to hear for social and safety reasons).

Now every time I listen to certain songs, I relive those long studio hours, tired nights driving on 580, and how running was still really hard.

Here's two of the highlights from the soundtrack. I highly recommend. Motivational songs, amazing women, gorgeous voices and faces, and the best male backup dancers you will ever see, guaranteed (definitely worth watching the Kelly Rowland song until the end).

Monday, August 15, 2011

Roomba Ran Over a Cat Turd

Yes, sadly, that happened. The how's and why's are still unclear, and honestly I'm fine with that. The fact that we had a rogue cat turd lying around somewhere for the robot vacuum to discover is knowledge enough.

After many Q-tips, half a bottle of Lysol, and enough swearing to make our bad-ass Coast Guard neighbor blush, Roomba is clean again. Rico now has infinite credits in the gross-household-jobs bank.

And we've got our eye on those cats.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Grand Small Space

I am such a sucker for a well-used small space. This outdoor area at the back of a wee historic atelier in Santa Teresa was simply brilliant. A pool, tables, a sink and counter for making cocktails and a snack, and plenty of plants - all without feeling overcrowded. I love the modern, clean look, quite unexpected in the midst of such a neoclassical, antique-y, bohemian neighborhood. Plus, who can resist a space like this with such a gorgeous view of downtown Rio?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Brazil July 2011: The Roundup

Trip Highlights:
  • Selling the Casa Rosa. By far the most efficient turn of events possible. The house had been on the market for many months already, and Rico and I decided to go down to Rio to clear out all the furniture and the few personal belongings we had there so that, when a sale did eventually take place, the Casa Rosa would be ready to hand over. Never in our wildest dreams could we have anticipated that, not five minutes after stepping in the house the first Monday of our trip, the phone would ring and our broker would let us know that an offer had been made by an extremely serious buyer. Within 24 hours the house was off the market, and we were busy moving furniture and taking care of the initial paperwork for the sale.
  • I anticipated this being a really hard trip for me. It was, but only for a small moment. I'm happy to report that selling the Casa Rosa really did feel like the right thing to do. I had no remorse in letting go, my desire to cling completely dissipated. Simplification really feels good, as does recognizing and accepting when a particular chapter has run its course, as opposed to fruitless, tiring attempts to prolong it unnecessarily.
  • I got over one of my fashion hang-ups and actually wore Havaianas in public in Brazil. The mere thought of wearing flip-flops outside the house and/or beach used to provoke a cold sweat in my afraid-to-be-identified-as-a-foreigner person. I'm over it. When my feet are swollen and it's hot outside and I have blisters, I'll wear Havaianas and like it. Aside from going into the lobby at Citibank, I didn't even feel weird doing it!
  • The opportunity to catch up with most of the family and friends we wanted to see. So nice to reconnect.
  • Rico and I redecorated my mother-in-law's apartment. It looks amazing. We bought only a couple of pieces, relying rather on rearranging what my m-i-l already had and supplementing it with furniture, lighting, and paintings from Casa Rosa.
  • Rico and I celebrated our 3-year wedding anniversary. It was a treat to be in the Casa Rosa and at the church across the street, hard to believe that so much (and yet so little) time has passed. We had a photo shoot to say goodbye to the house and to celebrate our anniversary. The proofs arrived yesterday, and they look amazing.
The Lowlights:
  • I realized that, not only do I get slightly motion sick, I am *really* afraid of sailing at anything but a children's pace. We went sailing at Angra, which was incredible, but the winds were good and the boat was big and eventually we were at an extreme angle hauling through the water. For Rico and his family, it was paradise. For me, it was tear-inducing. Literally. I was so scared by the feeling that the boat was about to capsize, I couldn't help but cry. Not my finest moment, but everyone was very kind and understanding.
  • Speaking of such things, I also am increasingly scared by air travel. After years of not partaking, I am now a happy airport and in-flight drinker. And if I didn't feel like such shit after taking sleep aids or something like Valium, I'd be all over those, too.
  • I ate way too much fried food in Brazil. Inevitable, really. Everywhere you look there is a fried treat. Bars, highway rest stops, street fairs - hell, even breakfast - are the glorious kingdoms of bolinhos, pasteis, coxinhas and more. And if you manage to avoid the fried stuff, you will be satisfied to encounter large quantities of puff pastry, cheese and sweetened condensed milk. Not surprisingly, I put on a little weight.
  • To be fair, Brazilians do eat lots of healthy, fresh things. And drink lots of beer. :)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Rose Chapter

The other night I indulged in a pity party on my mother-in-law's veranda, a good half hour of hot tears and thick, wailing sobs provoked by the impending sale of the Casa Rosa. I thought about the parties I'd never throw, the atelier I'd never have, the friends I'd never make, the sense of community that would remain forever fleeting. It felt like I'd somehow failed, given up not only on my bohemian dream life in Santa Teresa, but given up on Brazil.

And then, after that good crying session, there was a shift. I was sad, yes, but it was as if a fog had lifted and I could suddenly see the bigger picture. Casa Rosa was but a chapter (and a wonderful one, without question) in a much greater story, one in which I wasn't the lone protagonist but a member of an interconnected cast. Selling the house was a collective decision for a collective good. A shared future. Family.

At the end of the day a house is just a house, no matter how spectacular the salmon pink Neoclassical columns or the crystal chandeliers or the banana grove in the winter garden. It's okay to say goodbye and move on, even if your dreams and plans involved a different ending.

I frequently remind myself that selling the Casa Rosa doesn't mean that I've lost my traveler's spirit, that I've abandoned my international lifestyle, that I've become somehow less special because I don't call Santa Teresa home. A house is not an identity, and if it has become one, priorities should be reexamined. A house is just a house, and it is a welcome feeling of lightness to move on, to simplify, to let go of attachments.

I feel satisfied, centered, at peace. It's not the address or the neighborhood or even the country that matter, it's who you are with. I am looking forward to the next chapter, full of family and friends, at home at Casa Cali or wherever else the story takes us.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Farewell to the Garden

One of my favorite aspects of the Casa Rosa is the internal courtyard. The banana grove, the lion head fountain, the mini pool, the pedra portuguesa that replicates the paving pattern of Copacabana beach... Some of the features were there when we bought the house, but much of the current look is thanks to upgrades we made over the years. Perfect for a garden party. Happily we've had many a great festa in that courtyard, the crowning glory being our wedding reception. :)

The Master Packing List for Traveling Light

Last year Rico and I traveled to Brazil for nearly 3 weeks with only a small carry-on suitcase each. This year, we have traveled with a bit more stuff (a lot more, really, in my case). My big, not-at-all-surprising revelation has been that I would have been just as happy with half the clothes and knick-knacks. I could have easily gone carry-on only for this trip as well, and have really learned what is essential and what is not.

In the spirit of creating the perfect minimalist packing list for our next trip (and for you to use, too) I offer the following guide. This list is geared for a destination that has a moderate climate that is somewhat unpredictable (e.g. San Francisco Bay Area in the summer, Rio de Janeiro in the winter), so the clothing choices are layering-friendly. Also, there isn't anything for really cold weather, although in my experience you could easily throw in a heavy jacket and boots and tailor things as necessary for chilly climates. This list should get you through 1-3 weeks of travel, with the occasional need for washing underwear/socks/exercise wear. Here are my suggestions:

- 1 pair black trousers
- 1 pair dark jeans
- 1 pair cargo or khaki pants
- 1 casual skirt
- 1 pair shorts
- 1 pair leggings
- 1 pair lounge pants

- 1 lightweight jacket
- 1 zip-up hoodie sweatshirt
- 1 cashmere sweater
- 3 long-sleeved tops
- 5 short-sleeved tops (some fancy, some casual)
- 5 tank tops (some fancy, some casual)
- 3 dresses (1 beachy, 1 casual, 1 fancy)

- 3 sets workout clothes (+ sports bras, socks)
- 3 pairs regular socks
- 1 bikini
- 8 pairs underwear/3 bras
- 1 belt
- 1 pashmina scarf
- 1 lightweight scarf
- 1 kanga/capulana/pareo
- 1 baseball cap or sun hat

- 1 pair mary jane-style high heels
- 1 pair ballet flats
- 1 pair leather sandals
- 1 pair havaianas flip flops
- 1 pair running shoes or canvas sneakers

- complete set of travel-sized toiletries
- sunscreen
- makeup
- jewelry
- reading material
- cell phone
- camera + charger
- wallet + passport
- a laptop or ipad
- glasses and sunglasses
- empty water bottle
- breath mints or gum

I've found that I have a few "warrior pieces" that are super versatile and can easily be dressed up, dressed down or layered. These include a lightweight navy blue jacket from Pilè ou Face that can go effortlessly with a fancy dress or a pair of jeans; a pair of dark stretch jeans in a slim bootcut from Adriano Goldschmeid; a sailor-inspired striped top that goes with everything; a long-sleeved black lace top from Victoria's Secret catalog; and a black shift dress that is appropriate for an afternoon with friends or an elegant evening dinner. I also swear by my high-heeled mary janes from Clark's Indigo. They are super comfortable and instantly dress up any outfit.

Do you have any "warrior pieces" to recommend?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Classification Fever

I am incapable of passing an unfamiliar tree, fruit, vegetable or animal without feeling a desperate need to identify it. Languages, too. Hearing people speak some strange tounge makes me go crazy. I want to know what it is, where they are from.

I keep a running mental tally of things I need to google. The latest searches have been prompted by the caimans that hang out in the canal down the street from my m-i-l's house (jacaré do papo amarelo), the medium-sized rodents I spotted in the bushes while on a run yesterday (pretty sure they are cotias), and the tree full of mango-like yellow fruits I saw while eating lunch in Santa Teresa this afternoon (cajás).

I remember frantically trying to identify the caterpillar that stung Rico a few years ago while cleaning vines out of the pitanga tree (tropical relative of the io moth caterpillar), not to mention the myriad snakes spotted along the roadside in Mozambique (forest cobra, puff adder, and what I'm nearly positive was a black mamba).

When I'm able to make a classification it gives me such great satisfaction. Like all is well in the world because I strung together the magic combination of key words to find the beast or fruit I so desired to identify on the internet.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Jet Lag and News of a Sale

Traveling East is always so much harder for me than traveling West in terms of jet lag. Although I love to sleep, I really dislike sleeping in (strange, I know) so the fact that I'm not tired at night and then sleep until 10 or 11 in the morning is really hard for me to manage. It makes me feel like I've wasted half the day, and there's nothing I can do about it until I've adjusted to the new time zone (by which time, of course, it's time to go home).

At least my jet lag is compatible with our social schedule here. Cariocas like late nights, and nearly every day we've arrived home between 11pm and 2am after birthday parties and bar outings. We've had a chance to catch up with many friends and relatives, which has been wonderful. A welcome balance to dealing with the Casa Rosa and the general stress of trying to get a few too many things done in a short number of days.

The big news is that it seems the house has sold. Rico and I literally set foot in the Casa Rosa last Monday and the phone rang with the offer. We were getting ready to do our 'despedida' photo shoot when the news came, which gave a bittersweet but ultimately very satisfying sense of closure. I wonder if you'll be able to see that look in my face in the photos? Our photographer is on holiday, so we're anxiously awaiting the proofs when he returns.

We've managed to tie up a lot of loose ends in the last week. The house seemingly has sold (still have to close, so it's not a 100% done deal yet), we've sorted out our housekeeper/caseira B.'s situation and hooked her up with another job, we've sold/donated/moved most of the furniture that was still in the house, and in general it feels like a clean end to the chapter. It's so incredibly nice to simplify and move on while the moving is good, even if it's hard to say farewell to such a special house.

Here are a few photos from our trip thus far:

Friday, July 08, 2011


Every other day or so, Rico and I have been going running along the beach near my mother-in-law's house here in Recreio neighborhood. To get to the beach, we have to cross a small wooden footbridge over a drainage canal. The canal runs through a residential neighborhood and is surrounded by paved streets and apartment buildings on either side. There is a narrow swath of forested area along the margins.

Imagine my surprise when we spotted a fat caiman (a type of alligator commonly known as a jacaré) lounging in the water as we walked along the creaky bridge just a few feet above the canal's surface! Upon closer inspection, it wasn't just one lone caiman; there were eight, a whole group of scaly beasts ranging in size from just over a foot long to well over five feet with a belly the girth of a whisky barrel.

Apparently these urban alligators are quite common and residents don't even look twice they are so used to them hanging out in the canal.

I did some googling and found out the exact species:

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Rio Trends: Workout Jumpsuits and Knee Socks

This lovely trend is hot right now in Rio. Patterned fitness jumpsuits with knee-high socks pulled over the legs. I've also seen many ladies with these socks over regular gym pants. Their fashion sense may be questionable, but at least their bodies look good!


After a very long, line-filled trip, we've arrived in Rio. I have to say it was one of the worst arrivals in the city I've ever experienced.

We had a foreshadowing when, while pulling away from the jetway in Atlanta, our plane lost all power. The auxiliary power failed and we were left in the dark, literally, with no lights, engine, aircon, or PA system for the attendants to offer an explanation of what had happened. My stomach was in knots as they finally managed to recover power and we taxied toward the runway on our merry way.

The flight itself was uneventful. Arrival in Rio, however, was awful. The line for immigration stretched outside the labyrinth where weary travelers wait for processing by the federal police, all the way into the corridor that circles the airport where you first get off the plane. We waited in line for over 30m just to get in the proper line for immigration (foreigners vs brasileiros). We waited another 40 minutes in the foreigners line, thinking that because I don't have Brazilian residency we had to go through with the tourists. Apparently we were wrong and could have sped through the locals' line. Now we know...

Baggage claim and customs were a crowded mess. Imagine a metro car during rush hour, with people smashed up against each other, others trying to push their way in an already super crowded train, and others desperately attempting to wiggle their way to the door in time for their destination station. That's what the entire arrivals section felt like. Another hour and we were finally out.

The saga didn't end there, though. Exiting the airport we got stuck at a blitz, what people here call police checkpoints. We idled on the highway for another hour. We are used to blitzes, but this one was different. The army showed up, and soldiers on motorcycles pulled rank and "took over" the military police blitz. After quite some time, an escorted convoy of buses zoomed by. They were from the Jogos Militares da Paz, the Military Games for Peace (now there's an oxymoron for you!). We thought all was ok after that point, but when we finally inched our way to the actual checkpoint, we saw 4 officers with dead serious expressions, guns loaded and actively pointed towards the occupants of the vehicles going by. They were not messing around. We had to lower the windows and hope that all was ok as we drove past. This is definitely not common in a blitz. These guys were ready to shoot, a testimony to what kind of trouble they were anticipating coming through the blitz that morning.

Four hours after our plane arrived, we finally made it to Rico's mom's house. My comment to Rico was that I'm glad this wasn't my first impression of Rio, otherwise I don't know if I'd be motivated to come back for another visit!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


I am agonizing over what clothes to take to Brazil. Usually I am such an efficient packer. Last year we traveled carry-on only for a 2 week trip and I was fine. But this year, my packing skills and objectivity have gone out the window.

It's almost like if I bring the perfect mix of dresses and lounge wear, going-out clothes and beach attire, boots and sandals, I will somehow be prepared for whatever emotional craziness comes my way. If I just have the right outfit, everything will be okay...or so it seems with all the obsessing over details I've been doing in the last two days trying to pack this damn suitcase.

So what am I bringing? Lots of black. More dresses than I'll likely manage to wear. High heels. Tall boots. Workout clothes and running shoes. A fuschia raw silk scarf that I've never used here at home. Gloves. Sunglasses. Havaianas.

I hope it's the right mix.

Good Times with Good People

One of my favorite things about the Casa Rosa is that over the years we were able to host so many friends, friends-of-friends, and relatives. Here's a few memories.