Archive | Isabel

Raindrops on Roses

This is a little list of Isabel’s favorite things. I asked her to provide it for me the other day at lunch—we were eating crackers with Bellwether Farms’ divine Basket Ricotta cheese, which is produced locally—and she rattled these off in such a rapid-fire way I was barely able to keep up.

•   Bellwether’s Basket Ricotta—either sheep or cow milk, you choose

•   Watching movies with my husband (currently Willie) and my dogs (Olivia and Dulce)
•   Being with the few people I love
•   Intimate conversations
•   Reading and writing
•   Researching
•   Beading
•   Wine, cheese, bread
•   Textures, colors and clothes—selective!
•   Flirting
•   Being noticed by certain men
•   Dark chocolate

•   Something that only happens in Español: witty conversations that make use of my colloquialisms
•   Makeup
•   Women friends: my prayer group, Pia, the women I work with
•   Babies—little ones!


Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things
— From “My Favorite Things,” The Sound of Music


Busy Day in San Francisco

Isabel, Lori and I spent a wonderful day in San Francisco’s Mission District recently, where we went to visit a few nonprofits.

Isabel with Carmen Ortiz, PhD, Founder/Executive Director of Circle de Vida on the right

Isabel with Carmen Ortiz, PhD, Founder/Executive Director of Círculo de Vida on the right

Our first stop was Círculo de Vida, which helps Latinas diagnosed with cancer navigate their health care. The organization offers aid managing immigration concerns, bridging the language barrier, setting up care and counseling during treatment and after surgery, organizing child care support, and much more.

The nonprofit was recently threatened with potential eviction to make way for an expanding tech company, an all-too-familiar story in San Francisco these days. But this story has a happy ending: the incoming company, a startup called DoubleDutch, agreed to a compromise that would allow Círculo to remain in the building. Read about it here.

Our next stop was…okay, so it was Gracias Madre, an organic and vegan Mexican restaurant on Mission and 18th. What can I say? We got a little hungry. When we sat down the waiter proudly announced that the restaurant was “local, organic AND vegan”—a detail I’d neglected to mention to Isabel. I thought she was going to strike me. Vegan is really, really not her thing. Not to worry, though: the food was AMAZING—even Isabel had to admit it. If you’re lucky enough to go, try the Mexican hot chocolate, which is made with horchata (a non-dairy beverage made of rice or nuts) instead of milk.

Isabel outside The Women's Building SF, CA. © Lori Barra 2015

Isabel outside The Women’s Building SF, CA. © Lori Barra 2015

Our real next stop was The Women’s Building on 18th Street, a women-led nonprofit arts and education community center decorated with stunning murals inside and out. Check out its website here. There we visited Mujeres Unidas y Activas, which fights for justice and immigrant rights, and caught a glimpse of the myriad other organizations within the building that devote themselves to helping women and children throughout the Bay Area.

It was pretty much a perfect day—we met great people doing great work AND enjoyed delicious food. What more could we ask for?

Dare to Dream

Meet Judith Curr and Johanna Castillo!


Visiting us this week from New York are Isabel’s new publisher, Judith, and her new editor, Johanna, of Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster. We had a little love fest in the office today as we made friends with these two and discussed Isabel’s new book, The Japanese Lover—YES, it is coming soon, and will be available in Spanish this summer and in English in the fall. Johanna and Judith have a slew of fresh ideas for supporting the book, so it is all very exciting for us.

Here is a quick story about perseverance: For ten long years Johanna wrote to Carmen Balcells, Isabel’s beloved agent in Spain, asking if Isabel was happy with her publisher, if, just perhaps, she might be able to speak with her. Every year Carmen wrote back saying thanks but no thanks, and that, all was well, everything was fine. Still, Johanna kept Isabel’s name pinned to her idea board above her computer at work, and every year she reiterated her goal to get Isabel to work with her. Finally, this year, Carmen said, “Let’s talk,” and that was it. They talked for several hours that first day and, as they say, the rest IS herstory!

The photo is of the three of them. To the left of Isabel is Judith, who hails from the sunny Snowy River area in Australia; Johanna, who is from Ecuador, is on Isabel’s right. The photograph above the bookshelf is of Sofia Loren elegantly carrying the Olympic flag in Turin, Italy, in 2006, with Isabel running along behind her.

Top Reads from Recent Travels


Isabel has been reading. A lot! Here is a list of recent gems that made their way past Isabel and through our office and then, because we loved them so much, were passed along to friends. Several people contributed to the following write-ups: they come from Isabel, Lori, Chandra and me. Consider this a book club of sorts.

1. The Awakening of Miss Prim

By Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera

This author’s first novel was my go-to book gift over the holidays. Nothing bad happens; it is so idyllic that it will leave you searching for the real San Ireneo de Arnois and you’ll be so disappointed when you realize that, perhaps, it does not exist. Make sure when you are reading this book that you have ready access to a good cup of tea and at least one freshly baked treat.

2. The Rosie Project

By Graeme C. Simsion

Can science help you find love? Part love story, part comedy, The Rosie Project is about a professor with awkward social skills and the love he finds. The book is such a laugh-out-loud read that I couldn’t help but cast it as a movie as I read.

3. Just Mercy

By Bryan Stevenson

If you can, listen to this one. It is read by the author and is at once astonishing and heartbreaking. If you listen in your car you will find yourself talking back in outrage. Though Just Mercy is in no way fiction, it has been compared to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and rightly so. It shines a light on the criminal justice system, showing just how much injustice prevails. It is searing and upsetting, but Stevenson will show you a little light.

4. The Paying Guests

By Sarah Waters

Now here’s a gem of a book that made its way quickly around the office. It is unputdownable (if that’s a word) and yet simple and ordinary. The twists and shifts happen amid a most delicately observed place and time, leaving you relaxed and comfortable one moment and jarred by sudden action the next. Both the love story and the setting (the book takes place just after World War I), feel so perfectly observed that the crime, when it comes, sneaks up on you just like it should.

5. The Luminaries

By Eleanor Catton

Stating that this book was the 2013 winner of the Man Booker Prize may say it all, but I will say a little more. I read this because I am a fan of the Gold Rush genre, and the fact that this book takes place in New Zealand makes it all the more intriguing.

6. The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence

By Gary A. Haugen

A wake-up call to the violence in our midst and an attempt to show a path out of poverty. It is a hard book to read, hard because it is so terrifying and sheds light on the unchecked violence that blocks the ways out of poverty. This book is an eye-opener, brilliant and insightful. 

7. The Light Between Oceans

By M.L. Stedman

Yeah, they are making a movie about this, so you know it is good, right? Well, trust me, it is strange and beautiful, and in fact it reads like a movie. The plot is well crafted, but that’s all I’ll say; many reviews give it away, but I won’t. Worth the read!

8. The Case for God

By Karen Armstrong

The Case for God is kind of like a theological CliffsNotes. It’s a 400-plus-page history of religion—actually of many of the world’s religions and how they are connected. It makes you consider all sides and points to the compassion that spirituality can bring.

9. The Ocean at the End of the Lane

By Neil Gaiman

We all loved this quick read, which is strange and compelling and reads like a fairy tale. If you want a little magic and some escapist distraction, this book will charm you—and scare you a little, too. It is both an adventure and a gem of a novel.

10. Residue Years

By Mitchell S. Jackson

This story begins with the protagonist, Grace, who has just been released from a court-ordered rehab, and her son, Champ, a former star on his basketball team turned drug dealer. I was unable to put down the book as mother and son try beyond measure to remake a life together but continually fall into a cycle of poverty. The writing is flawless and captivating.

11. Animal’s People

By Indra Sinha

You will fall in love with this twisted little animal, one of the strangest books I have ever read. You may remember parts of the real-life story that Animal’s People is based on: the horrible gas leak in Bhopal, India, in 1984, following an explosion at a Union Carbide pesticide plant. This is the story of what came after, as well as of justice, love, frustration and the human spirit.

Adventures with Isabel

I have a treat for you today! Chandra Ramirez, Isabel’s fabulous assistant, shares her story of bead shopping with Isabel. To say that she learned a few things that day (about both beads and Isabel) doesn’t even begin to cover it.


Besides being a writer, Isabel is an accomplished jewelry maker. Her beading table is set up in her casita near her computer. When she gets stuck writing, she often switches over to beading and works with her hands creating beautiful necklaces and earrings for dear friends and family until her mind relaxes and she finds the path into the story again. It’s a beautiful thing.

With all that beading comes a need for an endless supply of beads. The gem fair came to town last week, and as a neophyte to the whole beading scene I asked if I could tag along. Isabel said of course, and that she would bring cash and we would divide and conquer. She also told me to wear comfortable shoes. Which to Isabel means a 2- to 3-inch heel with a strap instead of a strapless 4-inch stiletto. I showed up at the appointed time and place with my sneakers and was given a very brief tutorial on which beads were preferable and which ones weren’t. She also handed me a muffin and a latte for sustenance. We were on a mission.

Isabel pointed out colors and the prices of different beads, handed me a wad of cash, told me not to buy anything depressing or ugly and sent me on my way. I quickly spent just about everything she gave me, as those little beads can be expensive—especially the pretty-not-depressing ones! The huge assortment of colors and styles was overwhelming, from cheap, plastic-looking, fluorescent happy-face beads to gorgeous pieces of whole white coral plucked from the sea. There were tables upon tables of turquoise, amethyst, glass, jade and onyx in every shape and hue.

When I found Isabel a couple of hours later (she is hard to find in a crowd), I eagerly shared my purchases with her, humbly seeking her approval.

“These are all wrong,” she said. “The shapes won’t lie flat.”

In Isabel’s defense, she was right. I seem to have a preference for teardrop-shaped and oval beads.

Although my picks, thank goodness, weren’t depressing or ugly, they were mostly too large or too oval to make good necklaces. Now I need to learn how to bead key chains or bookmarks so we can put these gorgeous beads to good use.

To end the day we stopped off at the vendor who supplies Isabel with jewelry boxes for her creations. She wanted a large box of them and I offered to carry the box to her car. Isabel quickly interjected that the vendor could carry it to the car for me since, she announced loudly, “She is very pregnant.”

I am not pregnant, let alone very pregnant. I protested, declaring my un-pregnant state. She shot me a look and said, again, for all to hear: “Don’t listen to her, she is super pregnant and makes no sense.” To which the vendor inquired as to how one becomes “super pregnant.” Without missing a beat, Isabel proclaimed super pregnancy to be the result of sleeping with more than one man. With my cheeks now aflame (and still not pregnant, not to mention very happily married to just one man), I grabbed the box while Isabel was distracted by another shiny gem and carried it to the car, feeling now completely and appropriately initiated into the world of bead shopping with Isabel.

—Chandra Ramirez

Grantee Highlights

This week Lori and I visited Huckleberry Youth in San Rafael and talked to Medical Students for Choice, which is located in Philadelphia. Read on for more on two of our favorite Isabel Allende Foundation grantees:

Huckleberry Youth has a simple catch phrase that sums its work up nicely: Where There’s Huckleberry, There’s Hope.

Here is a short Public Service Announcement the organization recently produced. It will draw you into the Huckleberry website, where you can learn about all of the amazing work they do, which includes its San Francisco Crisis Shelter, counseling for emotional, behavioral and substance abuse problems, and stellar heath care and health education. Also worth mentioning is Huckleberry’s collaborative approach with the Novato Youth Center, Planned Parenthood and many of the local public and private middle and high schools. Huckleberry is worth checking out; in fact, I almost dropped off my 9-year-old daughter after my visit for “The Talk,” which they seem so capable of delivering through their youth programs in schools and workshops, and which cover critical topics including STI prevention, teen pregnancy and more.

Speaking of collaboration, one thing I love about Medical Students for Choice is its seamless collaboration with the Center for Reproductive Rights and the National Abortion Federation, among many others. Please visit the site for more information about the work they do. In the meantime, here is their mission statement: “Creating tomorrow’s abortion providers and pro-choice physicians.” Several years ago when I was talking to an Emergency Room OB-GYN, I hadn’t realized there aren’t many physicians around who are qualified to perform abortions. Medical Students for Choice helps facilitate that education in medical schools across the country, as well as in far-reaching areas. Here is a link to see where Medical Students for Choice operates worldwide, from Ireland to Rwanda. And here is the fact sheet that impressed me:


On Being Content


This year at the office our resolution is to be content. Isabel told us that her New Year’s resolution was to choose contentment over frustration, letting go over getting upset, and doing what she can and hoping that it’s good enough.  I like it – it’s clean, simple and doesn’t require a lot of visits to the gym.  ALSO, it’s easy because after all, on the whole, we are very lucky. So we are all following her lead in this contentment  issue.

Crazy December

Isabel sent me these photos form what she calls the "Geriatric Ward" aka her parents home in Chile. Panchita is back safe and sound.

Isabel sent me these photos from what she calls the “Geriatric Ward” aka her parents home in Chile. Panchita is back safe and sound.

What a crazy month it has been, everything that could change did and every plan that was made shifted. Best to bend like the reed as they say. Isabel’s 95 year old mother, Panchita had a fall that resulted in a broken hip and suddenly Isabel was whisked off to Chile to be with her and help her through the recovery. We cancelled our annual cookie party–that seems trivial–but it accounts for a large part of our yearly sugar intake and many of us were gloomy about that. I’m a tad relieved since it was my year to make Isabel’s dough, she hates making it herself. What else? Well, while everyone is off to New York for the holiday the blog will take a little break. I’m hoping to get photos of Isabel from New York to post or maybe we will get some from family there for FaceBook. Otherwise happy holidays, I hope you have some cookies and we will be back in January for that auspicious date of January 8th when Isabel will hopefully start her next book adventure!

Fair Trade

1. Shared Trade 2. Threads Worldwide 3. Artisan Connection 4. Heifer International 5. Global Girlfriend 6. Global Goods 7. Pippa Small 8. Article 22 9. Soul Gems

1. Shared Trade 2. Threads Worldwide 3. Artisan Connection 4. Heifer International
5. Global Girlfriend 6. Global Goods 7. Pippa Small 8. Article 22 9. Soul Gems


Look, I am not going to lie to you: these sites are not all that snazzy; actually, some are not even all that functional. You won’t find a link to similar items in your cart that other shoppers have bought and you won’t find reviews. BUT, if you are patient, you will find unique gifts that aren’t available at Target or Amazon. You will find items that are lovingly sourced and distributed with fair practices that give a fair percentage to the collectives, villages and women (and some men too!) that make them. Here is a list of fair trade sites where we (including Isabel) are doing the bulk of our holiday shopping this year.

First, a huge shout to our recent Espíritu recipient, Thistle Farms, which has this to say about their products:

Buying Thistle Farms products is an act of love. The products are made with the finest ingredients, by artisans who nourish and heal their bodies and souls through their work.

Thistle Farms recently launched a new division called Shared

Thistle is spreading the love with products distributed by Shared Trade and giving a fair share to the women who make them.

Threads Worldwide’s model aims to educate and involve other concerned women who want to host or sell to expand the reach of their partners. This is a win-win, helping women worldwide through the creation and sale of fair trade

Artisan Connect sells beautiful things—really lovely gifts. Here is their motto: We source exclusively from non profits, artisan collectives and other organizations that ensure a fair wage is paid to the artisans.

On a personal note, I would like to highlight Heifer International. My daughter and I have been rolling quarters (gleaned from our chicken-scratch gumball machine on the street in front of our chicken coop) and collecting money for this group for about four years now. Buy your beloved a symbolic pig and sit back and reap the rewards. Now that’s pure love!

Global Girlfriend‘s site states it plain and simple: Women Made, Fair Trade!

With the goal of alleviating poverty and promoting social justice, Global Goods is on the right track. They’ve partnered with 40 groups in 20 different countries and brought back the goods here.

If you have a little more money—okay, gobs of it—shop Pippa Small and support a beautiful mix of anthropology and jewelry, which is merged to better the lives of the artisans. From cooperatively owned gold mines in Bolivia to fairly paid craftspeople in Afghanistan, Pippa Small rocks.

Article 22 sells sleek and simple jewelry that utilizes the metal from bombs dropped in Laos—local craftspeople transforming bullets in to jewelry. Yes, you can buy back the bombs dropped on the rural Vietnamese countryside in the form of pretty.

One hundred percent of Soulgems’ profits go directly to charities working to combat the sex trafficking of women and girls. Their selection is small but their mission is expansive.

Feel free to send us links to your favorite fair trade sites. This list was gleaned from friends and does not even scratch the surface of what’s available. Looking through these sites I learned a lot about various artisans around the world. It kind of felt like traveling!

Inside the White House


by Nicole Frias

Nicole, Isabel’s granddaughter, sent me this glowing insight into Monday’s event at the White House, where the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony took place. Here is a sneak peak from an insider, complete with photos:

Isabel sported a sparkling blazer with a vivid orange blouse and a long black lace skirt—very sexy. She left in the morning accompanied by Lori, who kept her cool, calm and collected until the ceremony began. Once we arrived, we were quickly guided through three different security checkpoints before entering the White House. We met up with Isabel and Lori inside, where the other recipients and their guests mingled. The room buzzed with excitement.

It was time to take a picture with the President. Needless to say, I was shaking with nerves and anticipation. It’s not every day you get to meet the President—especially one as good looking as Obama. We all shook hands, took a picture and rushed out the door for the beginning of the ceremony.

Obama was kind, charming and even better looking in person. We all waited for Obama to come in with Michelle to begin the ceremony. The brief introductions of each of the award winners held sentimental and heartfelt value for each of the guests. The ceremony was emotional in all the best ways. Isabel was floored when she got up to accept the Medal of Freedom, and in every photograph she is beaming with pride and a huge sense of accomplishment.

The speech and issuing of the medals took about an hour. After it was over, Obama excused himself and allowed us to stay and enjoy a nice reception where everyone could sport his or her new Medal of Freedom. Isabel attended multiple press meetings and did so with ease and elegance—she’s a pro at this point. Isabel Allende now holds the highest civilian honor the United States can award.

Congratulations to my Grandma. I’m so proud of you!

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