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Designs by Alina:  Handcrafted jewelry fabricated with gold, pave diamonds, and choice pearls for the sophisticated modern-classic woman. Beauty and inspiration forever entwined. Lifestyle blog on design, travel, fashion, family.

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A few musings from my travels and experiences that inspire me as well as what's new for Designs by Alina.

Blog Travel, family, interior design, jewelry design and fashion.

 

 

Christmas on Fire: a Tale of Silver Lining

Alina de Albergaria

The power of recall

Early morning…white robe…tears…confusion.

I remember it with remarkable clarity: the horror when I saw the second Twin Tower collapse on live television. Was it a replay of the first? I also recall attending a press junket in New York when the final verdict in the O.J. Simpson murder trial was read. Silence…disbelief…bewilderment. The 1994 earthquake had me standing in my Los Angeles living room with the thought "at least I will die happy." The ease with which those memories can be called upon astounds me.

Not so with the Thomas fire. There is no single moment to archive, no single flash of consternation but many which collectively take on a myriad meanings.

December 2, 2017

 
 

When our family hosted a Christmas party in early December, we could not have foreseen the fury that mother nature would unleash a mere two days later, one that would cast an ashen shadow on the year’s most luminous of seasons. I don’t recall where I was when news about the Thomas fire broke, but three days after that initial ember dared extend its reach, Ventura had lost over four hundred structures and our own little piece of paradise found itself on the brink of terror.

 
 

Casting a pink hue in our sitting room, the obscenely alluring sunrise foretold the story of a battle lost, and that evening a breathtaking sunset (in the literal sense) prompted our family to flee the following day.

On the move

It was December seventh, three days after the fire enkindled. Hastily tossing what we could into a suitcase, we drove up to Pismo Beach where we were to meet up with other Santa Barbara families in search of clean air. The plan was to stay for a day or two until the fire and wind subsided. What were we thinking? At a mere 10% containment, 0% on the side menacing to creep into our city, we would not be returning anytime soon.

But surely one could dream of being home for Christmas, right?

On the drive up, one of my friends cautioned about a small fire she saw along the way. Minutes later another described in a panic that the small fire had presented itself on her path as an ominous cloud of smoke through which she and her three children had blindly driven. She warned me to "stay the %*$# away!" A third friend threw in the towel short of her destination in favor of a nearby theatre where she and her family were hoping to shed a few layers of frenzy. Determined to reach our hotel, we located an alternate route just before the 101 North was shut down.

Our first evacuation night marked the beginning of a sort of kinship that many of us don't get the opportunity to experience. Planning dinner with friends can sometimes be logistically challenging, but mother nature made her voice clear causing prior commitments to vanish like mist in the rain. With nerves frazzled, our family found comfort seated with friends and strangers who like us allowed their anxiety to morph into laughter and a good dose of much needed silliness.

 
 

While in Rome

Within a couple of days we were living like locals, eating lots of fried food, hanging out on the pier and trying our luck at bowling, but our voracious crew was ready for more and soon our teens, tots, dads, and a few moms were in the sand dunes kicking up dust without a care in the world.

 
 

Nighttime's revenge

I was having a tough time reconciling the loss of many with our own sense of joy. One death had been recorded and the parents of a dear friend of mine, who had already lost a house to fire, were now facing an apocalyptic return to their Ventura home, the only one standing within blocks of bereft chimneys and charred landscape completely leveled to the ground. Nighttime took its revenge with images of horror creeping into my mind like ants to their colony, flagrant thoughts intent on stripping me from the comfort and joy I had found in my Santa Barbara pack.

By our third day away from home the fire, which would eventually become the largest in our state's history, was threatening our own community despite the efforts of hundreds of firefighters battling flames day and night.  Merciless winds and severe dry weather conditions caused it to spread with such ferocity that our new refuge, 100 miles away, was completely veiled in smoke prompting us to pack up once again and seek asylum.

My husband rented a car and drove back home with our son to retrieve priceless objects like wedding albums and the tapestry from his childhood homes in Italy and Portugal. More importantly, he offered safe harbor to our housekeeper who had been suffering through the Santa Barbara smoke, as well as our dogs and leopard gecko who had stayed behind.

Silver lining

Imagine that you are somewhere between nine and eleven roaming free on a 500 acre playground peppered with wild turkeys, deer, and some of your favorite people skipping alongside you. Days brim with swimming, hide-and-seek, cart wheels, soccer, and pizza "almost" on demand ("almost" hinging upon on your parent's consent, but because they are both worried about the fire and happy to be with friends, they usually acquiesce.) Evenings bring movies, more pizza and an endless supply of marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers to make s'mores over a roaring fire contained within the walls of a fire pit, the proper venue for a blaze to reside. Outings include visits to town for ice cream and cookies, a trip to one of the the world's largest aquariums, a day at the amusement park and a hike along an oceanside state reserve.

 
 

Welcome to Carmel Valley Ranch

There was much to embrace in that small piece of paradise we called home. Cognizant of the gift we had in one another, we fell into daily routines sharing everything from wine and stories to childcare and shoes. As we welcomed new members of our Santa Barbara kin to the dinner table and into our lives we were overcome by a sense of gratitude and joy.

Releasing the guilt

 
 

Photo credits: ig @ck_sb, unknown, David McFadden

Images like these began to circle around the net while my family and fellow evacuees embraced life at its fullest. The inequity of it all gnawed at my conscience, darkness again menacing to avenge. I couldn't stop thinking of all the people directly affected by the tragedy, the brave men and women on the front lines tirelessly fighting that monster and the hundreds who now found themselves in city shelters. One night while nearly a thousand firefighters surrounded the city to protect our homes, the same question lingered like a noontide shadow: Is it right to feel joy when your neighbor is in distress? But by then our own neighborhood was under mandatory evacuation. I didn't know if we or our fellow evacuees would have a home upon our return. What we did have was each other, and at that moment I realized that much like happiness, the vicissitudes of life are in a constant state of ebb and flow. And so it was that I sent my guilt packing on an adventure of its own while our traveling pack basked in the ephemeral joy of life's gift.

Leaving the flock.

There were only four days left before Santa was due to visit, we needed to make a dent in our Christmas shopping. The flock had been together for the better part of two weeks and while we didn't want to part ways, the stars had aligned themselves perfectly for a return to San Francisco, the city we once called home. Our son was already there, my husband was in the area working and the girls had hatched a plan to visit old classmates. To make things easier, our friends, who were visiting the Galapagos, offered us their Pacific Heights home. Many glassy eyes and embraces later, we bid farewell to our evacuee family in route to the Golden City. What ensued was a comedy of errors involving faulty keys, locksmiths, a malfunctioning thermostat, unexpected guests, and a very cold night.

The following morning it arrived. An early Christmas gift: 

 
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Pinch me, I'm dreaming.

Would we be home for Christmas? With three days left and toxic ashes waiting in ambush for our return, we needed to spawn a plan. 

Plan B (or C or D...it's all a blur)

With the help of my husband and friends up north, I scheduled some fun for our trio in the city which included shopping (our eldest becoming my city elf) and ice skating at Union Square. The tapestry, albums, poodles and gecko found their way back into the car as we headed back home nonstop to tackle the mess, hoping to have things somewhat under control before Bernardo and the children arrived the following night. 

Home at long last

Over the course of two days, our gardeners, housekeeper, handymen and I took on the aftermath with a vengeance. N95 masks became our new friends as we attacked the sea of ashes that had engulfed our home and garden. Our injured tapestry was repaired and mounted while kind neighbors brought packages they retrieved in our absence, and local businesses on the verge of collapse began to see the light.

 
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Emotions were raw. Instinct took over one morning when I spotted a fire engine on the road ahead and floored the gas to reach it. I made eye contact with the driver and mouthed the words "thank you" prompting him to smile and mouth back "you're welcome". My eyes welled up with tears. 

Like an astronaut coming home from the ISS, feelings of elation and gratitude ensued as I woke with my husband and children on Christmas morning in the house I wanted to hug. And as we gathered round the table that evening with friends who had braved the Santa Barbara smoke and a few of our beloved fellow evacuees, we took a moment to raise a glass to the fearless souls who had placed themselves in harms way to save the lives and homes of strangers.

 
 

Funny how in the midst of all the chaos we lamented the loss of the yuletide spirit.

And yet it never left.

May 2018 fill your lives with gratitude and silver linings.

 
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Milieu

Alina de Albergaria

A mere glance at the exquisite pages of Milieu Magazine and one can see why, in 2013, Founder and Editor in Chief, Pamela Pierce, chose to venture into the world of paper when other home and garden publications were facing their imminent demise. It was so clear to me in fact, that at the end of my very first date with Milieu I was left wondering how I might immortalize those luscious pages in a hardcover coffee table book.

A style magazine like no other, Milieu showcases magnificent homes and gardens that have yet to be published, peppering in unique objects which round out many of its stories. Leaving no stone unturned, in the world of Milieu even the advertisements transition seamlessly between pages, rendering them an asset to the magazine's breathtaking editorials.

When the magazine inquired about featuring our Perfect Duo Tahitian and Champagne rings in their Holiday Gift Guide I was naturally thrilled, but when the Winter 2018 issue arrived, I was completely entranced by the alluring cover.

If you appreciate timeless elegance you will fall in love with Milieu. For more information visit milieu-mag.com.

Images courtesy of Milieu Magazine. Special thanks to Pamela Pierce for featuring our jewels and to Jean Brooks for presenting me with my first issue.

You've Come a Long Way, Baby!

Alina de Albergaria

In a world dominated by negative press, it doesn't hurt to step aside for a moment and celebrate how far we have come.

A few years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963, Virginia Slims cigarettes were marketed to young professional women using the slogan "You've come a long way, baby." 

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Little did the creators of that ad know just how far women in the US would evolve: from those traveling into space, to those on the Supreme Court, women CEO's and, of course, women running for President. The irony in that ad, of course, is that eventually both men and women would continue to evolve into non-smoking entities educated on the harm of nicotine.

While the progress we have made in medicine, women's rights, and science is not tantamount to how fashion, art, and design have evolved, these creative endeavors are visual testaments to change. Today we celebrate color blends like pink with orange or blue with black which may have been frowned upon in years past. There is no need to adhere to arbitrary fashion rules like not wearing white after Labor Day or mixing gold and silver jewelry.

Similarly, interior designers are have become increasingly emboldened by weaving in the old with the new. A sucker for nostalgia with an eye on the road ahead, I wholeheartedly embrace this design approach because the juxtaposition of furnishings is precisely what describes the life within. With our home almost done (is it really ever?) our dining room was begging for a chandelier. I knew I wanted a brass fixture with a modern sculptural twist. That is where the knowledge ended and the search began. It took several months before stumbling upon the perfect one while searching for an artifact to enhance our bedroom console. 

 
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I love the bold statement it makes without blocking the view. But what is truly priceless is that it looks like jewelry, successfully weaving Designs by Alina into our family narrative. I hope that someday, along with the many pieces that were passed down to us, it will continue to write the story our ancestors penned.

Save The Date

Alina de Albergaria

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Life unfolds as a series of events, all of which shape us into who we are. Today I find myself in a state of daily gratitude, indebted to my community for so much of life's bounty. Contributing to that feeling of requital is the sense of awareness I gained from living abroad and weathering the storms of life, both of which inspire me to give back. In addition to participating in nonprofit fundraisers across the country, Designs by Alina is happy to announce that in Santa Barbara, where we are based, the collection is available exclusively through nonprofit collaborations and by appointment.

Next up? SBCC Promise

I agree wholeheartedly with Thomas Jefferson who stated that "no other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness than education". In an effort to uphold that value, we helped raise thousands of dollars for SBCC Promise last year and are honored to participate again this year. SBCC Promise is committed to providing two years of free education to local students. 

TWO years of FREE education at the TOP Community College in the nation!

Please join us and several local designers at The Mill, one of Santa Barbara's hippest locales in the Funk Zone for some pre-holiday shopping. We're keeping it local for a wonderful cause...now that's a promise!

Four Seasons Punta Mita

Alina de Albergaria

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When everyone gets a say...

We have raised our children to be independent thinkers, a creed they have gingerly embraced since early childhood. Not to say that giving everyone a voice doesn’t come with challenges, still we are hoping to have sown all the right seeds for them to flourish someday on their own —that day threatening to present itself sooner than later.

In the early days, our children were eager to uncover a new adventure anywhere we took them, from Morocco to London, New York to Rome, Harbor Island to Miami, Paris to Barcelona, Mallorca to Buenos Aires.

 
 

Today, each member of our wanderlust trio is keen on spelling out exactly what they perceive to be an ideal travel destination while we carve out a list of our own. Several weeks in the planning we narrowed down our choices to a tropical beach vacation in a foreign country that might accommodate most items on our family’s wish list like lots of R&R, fishing, snorkeling, exploratory adventures, daily exercise, and fine dining with a dose of well overdue pampering.

Our search ended with the Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita.

Located on the northernmost crest of Bahía de Banderas and a forty-five minute drive from Puerto Vallarta, the Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita, sits on one of the world’s largest natural bays. While its understated elegance says "Four Seasons," the seamless juxtaposition of tropical landscape and Mexican art remind you that you are on the beautiful Nayarit Riviera coastline.

Setting the tone of our entire stay, we were greeted upon arrival with tequila infused homemade lemonade and a personalized tote of Mexican sweets for our youngest daughter. As with most Four Seasons resorts, the hotel staff continued to greet us at every turn but in Punta Mita they did so mostly by name adding a personal touch to our visit.

We love to immerse ourselves in local culture which can prove a bit challenging in a hotel where everyone's default language is English. But once we let the team know that we wished to brush up on our Spanish, they made a genuine effort to remember to speak to us in their native tongue.

A welcome note, fresh fruit, lemonade and a gift for the children adorned our beautifully appointed rooms, one with a king bed and three large beds for the children in the adjoining room. More like a beautifully curated mini-jungle, the garden view offered front row seats to nature’s play where iguanas swung from branch to branch (yes, you read that right, iguanas, not monkeys) to the orchestral melodies of cuckoos and woodpeckers. 

Coexisting in perfect harmony with a stunning backdrop of the Pacific Ocean, the hotel’s infinity-edge family pool made for a dramatic splash and glorious cotton-candy sunsets.

 
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For those seeking a more secluded, romantic experience, The Tamai pool complex boasts four pools and 10 private cabanas in a quiet tropical setting.

Our family enjoyed many of Punta Mita's offerings like zip-lining (125m above sea level), fishing, spear fishing, paddle boarding, snorkeling, tennis, and last but definitely not least, flyboarding, a new adventure that our ten-year-old embraced with gusto and teenage son mastered on his very first attempt (I had a blast but barely made it a foot above water.)

 
 

Specializing in Asian cuisine with a Mexican twist, Aramara for dinner and Ketsi (Mexican) for lunch were family favorites among the resort's five restaurants. A minor drawback is that the casual Ketsi, under a thatched palapa rooftop with a magnificent view, is treated a bit too formally, especially on very hot August days. Swimsuits are frowned upon even for children, so ladies, bring plenty of cover ups or opt to lunch at the pool or beachside. Dress code aside, the cooks made certain that our lunch included our son's catch from an off-site spearfishing adventure earlier in the day (fishing at the resort is catch and release only).

Off site, my husband and I enjoyed the most magnificent dining experience at Restaurant Sufi, a few minutes from the hotel at the Playa Fortuna Ocean Club (where my daughter and I signed up for tennis lessons). The craft cocktails, lobster and Sufi salad were as exquisite as was the breathtaking setting overlooking the bay. 

Sí Sushi and Sí Señor in the village center, as well as Sea Breeze at the St. Regis, all within five minutes from the hotel are wonderful dining choices for the whole family.

 
Sunset dining at SÍ Sushi

Sunset dining at SÍ Sushi

 

What sets the the Four Seasons Punta Mita apart from other tropical resorts is the exceptional level of service and attention to detail. The grounds and all public areas are impeccably maintained. The housekeeping and turndown service were exceptional (the better part of two hours daily were spent on those tasks). The pool crew will clean your sunglasses, pamper you with ice cold towels, homemade frappuccinos, smoothies, house lemonade, and ice cream. A state-of-the-art fitness facility with an endless supply of cold towels and water render it difficult to find a reason not to incorporate exercise into your vacation. Still, for those who can't pass up a good massage, the Apuane Spa promises "an oasis of serenity in scenic Mexico". 

 
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Heaven on Earth with something for everyone.

Want more? Visit our blog post on the breathtaking Hacienda San Angel in nearby Puerto Vallarta. Here's a glimpse to whet your appetite....

San Miguel Suite at the Hacienda San Angel - photo courtesy of Hacienda San Angel

San Miguel Suite at the Hacienda San Angel - photo courtesy of Hacienda San Angel