Archive for the ‘Happiness’ Category

Vegan Twinkie alternative exists!

Monday, March 10th, 2014
Vanilla Canoe Boats

Vanilla Canoe Boats

In junior high school, I was so known for loving Twinkies, that my friends used to buy them for me by the box for my birthday. There have been vegan versions of just about every childhood treat, except for Twinkies. Until now, that is.

X’s To O’s Vegan Bakery has “Vanilla Canoe Boats” available for sale. They aren’t allowed to call them Twinkies, but that’s sure what they look like to me. They’ve got a whole category of canoe products.

Loaded with gluten and sugar, I am completely opposed to eating these for health reasons. Oh, but I AM going to eat these.

Thank goodness they aren’t easy to get (unless you live in NYC) because my health would go out the window.

Special thanks to Noelle of Republic of V in Berkeley, CA for alerting me to the existence of these.

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Losing my dog, losing my guilt

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013
My dog, Emmet

Emmet, age 13

One week ago, my 14-year-old dog, Emmet, who’d spent nearly his whole life with me, was euthanized. Since then, I’ve been plagued with regret and guilt over all the many ways in which I deprived him of a happier life. I didn’t take him for enough walks, I got frustrated with him too often, I didn’t recognize soon enough that he was getting tired with age (rather than just being stubborn), and I spent a good chunk of his life resenting the fact that I had a dog at all, especially a terrified, fear-biting dog like Emmet. Every thought, every memory, was of my betrayal of this sweet dog who loved and trusted me completely.

This morning at 2am, I woke up with a sudden thought, “I’m making a choice to think this way. This isn’t the only narrative.” Much like any historical account, you can string events together in vastly differing narratives, putting emphasis on different events, and assigning cause and effect to help support your claims. After I had this thought, I told myself another version of Emmet’s life, and it sounded just as true, if not more true.

Emmet was a dog in need with behavioral challenges that made him unadoptable through common methods. I took him in and gave him the best home I could. I made mistakes, I was sometimes selfish and lazy, but I always, always kept him safe and healthy, no matter what. I loved him more with every passing year, and gave him a better and better life with every passing year. In the end he was a much better and happier dog, I was a better and happier person, and at least in part we owed that to each other.

Now I can think fondly of little Emmet and I can miss him. And it’s no longer unthinkable for me to some day open up my heart and home to another dog in need.

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Vegan meatballs

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012
Nate's meatless meatballs

Long long ago, before I ever had to worry about whether there was gluten in my food; back when I ate whatever I wanted, so long as it was vegan and it tasted good, I used to eat a whole lot of pasta.

At some point along the way, I discovered Nate’s meatless meatballs and my life was complete. They’ve got 3 different flavors and they’re all delicious. Seriously – the flavor, the texture, everything.

I often brought pasta and Nate’s meatballs to potlucks, especially when I didn’t have the time or energy to make anything complicated. It was always a huge hit. Who doesn’t love meatballs? They’re tasty, they’re fun, they remind us of childhood.

Why on earth am I writing about this, you ask? Someone just offered to send me a free sample of Nate’s meatless meatballs, which I sadly had to decline due to my gluten intolerance. It got me thinking about them again. I sometimes see them in the grocery freezer and am tempted to get a bag “just this once.” I haven’t caved though.

If you can still eat whatever you want, have some vegan meatballs, and savor every bite like it’s your last.

Sigh. Now I want meatballs. Anyone know of a good vegan, gluten-free meatball recipe?

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Happy Birthday To Me…

Friday, April 27th, 2012
Red Tofu Curry at Plant

Red Tofu Curry at Plant

My birthday was this week. My “birthday season” is still going on. Here are a few things that have made this a fantastic birthday (and season), in no particular order:

  • A surprisingly good meal at Plant. Surprising only because I didn’t think “red tofu curry” would be a terribly interesting dish, but it was as unique and artfully designed as all of their food.
  • Chocolate truffles from The Chocolate Lounge, courtesy of a friend from work. I cannot believe I had never been there before. So good.
  • A full day of my phone buzzing from constant birthday messages on facebook.
  • I finally closed my crappy awful Wells Fargo bank account. Worst bank I have ever had, by far.
  • A very perfect bright pink cardigan sweater – a gift from my boyfriend. I have no idea when I turned into a girl who likes pink, but I seem to have a lot of it around all of a sudden. And it seems to fill me with joy – maybe because it seems so unlike me.
  • My favorite local swing band, Cry Baby, played at the Tuesday night Swing Asheville dance this week.
  • A very happy ending for many who have suffered for far too long. Laboratory chimps get a new lease on life

Happy days!

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So easy to find vegan stuff when you can make it yourself

Friday, July 15th, 2011
Pillow that I made

Pillow that I made

I prefer quality stuff made in America rather than cheap crap made in China. Unfortunately, the good stuff is less likely to be vegan: a throw pillow filled with down, or a nice jacket or blanket made from wool, or some accessory with leather pieces on it. It’s also getting harder to find clothes that fit thin, petite women. It seems like “small” just isn’t small anymore. Needless to say, shopping is usually a very frustrating experience for me.

Robe and PJs

Robe and PJs

I haven’t solved all of my problems yet but now that I’m learning to sew, I can see so many possibilities. It all started with a pillow that I fell in love with. Not only could I not really afford it, but it also used down, which I won’t buy. But I HAD to have it.  Once I started sewing that pillow, I just could not stop myself making all kinds of other things. (Pillow made from a kit from

I’ve made a robe, pajamas, a pin cushion, and am working on a quilt with bamboo batting. As my skills improve, I will work on more complex clothing items like blouses and jackets.


Aside from the practicality of it, I’ve found making real things myself is extremely satisfying. I almost cannot stand to be at home not making something now.

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Story Time and Book Signing

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011
Book Signing poster

Book Signing poster

Nathalie VanBalen, author of kids’ book Garlic-Onion-Beet-Spinach-Mango-Carrot-Grapefruit Juice, will be at Firestorm on Saturday, June 18, 10am for story time and book signing.

Firestorm Cafe & Books is located at 48 Commerce St. Just off of Coxe Ave in downtown Asheville. Also accessible from Patton Ave.

For more info about Garlic-Onion-Beet-Spinach-Mango-Carrot-Grapefruit Juice, please visit and read what others are saying about the book here: Your Vegan MomBonzai AphroditeEat, Drink & Be VeganVegBooksOur Hen House

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Coming to terms with God

Saturday, May 7th, 2011
George Burns as God

George Burns as God

I am an atheist. I don’t believe in God. By that I mean I don’t believe there is any intelligent force guiding events. Sure, I recognize that I could be wrong about that, but I find the idea of God (or whatever you want to call it) pretty far-fetched.

In the last several years, though, I’ve taken great interest in various spriritual books. Here are my favorites:
The Mastery of Love, by Don Miguel Ruiz
The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle
Loving What Is, by Byron Katie

These books truly changed my life and allowed me to be happy; to let go of so much disdain I constantly felt toward my fellow humans. I got so much out of them, but they all centered around some concept of God. In order to fully take them in, I had to come to terms with “God”. I had to understand why the ideas in the book still resonated with me even though I have a fundamentally different view of reality than their authors.

All that which is beyond my control

For me, at least for the types of books and philosophies that resonate with me, I found that “God” could pretty seemlessly be replaced with this one phrase, “all that which is beyond my control,” and the concepts made total sense to me.

Here’s just one example: Byron Katie writes that there are three kinds of business: my business, your business, and God’s business. You need to stay in your own business. So much of my energy was being spent in “God’s business” or in what I now realize is all that which is completely out of my hands. What a waste of time and energy.

There are a lot of worthy ideas out there. There are great spiritual books, great philosophers, and even great preachers. It is a shame to dismiss everything they say simply because they have God at the center of their lives and speak in those terms. As an atheist, I would do myself a disservice to close myself off to what so many others have to share.

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Natural Death for Cats: Letting Go

Sunday, July 11th, 2010
Rocky in his younger years

Rocky in his younger years

About 4 years ago, my cat Rocky was euthanized after about 2 years and $20K worth of veterinary visits, hospital stays, expensive tests, injections, pills, liquids, special food, vitamins, and subcutaneous fluids. I didn’t realize at the time that it would add up to so much effort and money just to have the same end result. Every new treatment came with the promise of “fixing” him. It always seemed as though if we could just get past this one thing, he’d be back to normal. Whatever “normal” had become.

In retrospect, I realize that every new treatment brought with it a new set of side effects and problems and none got to the heart of the problem. And every new test seemed to come back with a similar inconclusive result: “It could be [some innocuous problem] or it could be cancer. We’ll try some Clavamox.” It was so predictable that it became a running joke in my household.

After Rocky died, I changed my whole approach to veterinary care for my remaining 2 cats and dog, all of whom by this time were fairly elderly for their species. I have followed 3 new rules fairly religiously:

  1. If he isn’t bleeding or in pain, he doesn’t go to the vet.
  2. If the treatment offered will not fix the problem, but will only mask some symptoms for a while, I won’t do it.
  3. If the expensive test offered only has the potential to find a problem that can’t reasonably be cured, I won’t bother getting the test.
Gregory 2008

Gregory at 14+ years old

About 2 years ago, my beloved cat Gregory started losing weight. He had always been 11-12 pounds (and not overweight) and now he was down to 9. Then closer to 8. After a couple of vet visits I was already starting to see the familiar pattern at the vet’s office emerge. “It might be diabetes, cancer, or maybe just an infection. We could run some tests…..” I had the basic blood tests done, to make sure there was no immediate danger. There wasn’t. The vets, as usual, could not tell me why he was losing weight. They offered various tests that each cost between $300 and $500. All the same tests I’d had done on Rocky that always produced inconclusive results.

By this time, Gregory was at least 14 years old (true age unknown but I took him in as an adult cat in 1995). I accepted that he was a very old cat and would die one day soon, as we all do. I reminded myself of my 3 rules, and resolved to buy him the best food, and give him absolutely the best life I could give him for the time he had left. As it turns out, that time lasted until July 8, 2010 at 4:12pm. Last Thursday.

His quality of life was very high up until maybe a month before. He became quite thin and his back legs were getting wobbly and weak. He suddenly began drooling when he drank water and rather gross-looking saliva was pouring into his water bowl. At that point, I brought him to the vet, thinking he might have an infection in his mouth that could be “fixed” so that he could continue on a little longer. The vets found nothing conclusive, but gave him Clavamox anyway thinking he might have a gum or tooth infection. His teeth really needed to be cleaned but he was too weak to be anesthetized for the cleaning. Gregory continued on with his happy life even with the drooling and the muscle weakness.

Gregory toward the end

Gregory in his last few months

Last Thursday, at the age of (at least) 16, he quite suddenly took a dramatic turn for the worse. He was so weak he couldn’t walk without falling over. He drank and ate a little bit, but mostly could only lay on his bed. I assumed (hoped) that this was the day he would let go, since his quality of life was seemingly gone. I spent the day with him, scratching his chin and listening to him purr. I helped him get to the litterbox or readjust his position when he struggled to get up. I fought the urge to take him to the vet, determined not to make him spend his last day on Earth in an uncomfortable and unfamiliar place with strangers. After a long day of waiting, Gregory began to get a bit fitful, pushing his paws against some force that I couldn’t see – this lasted for several minutes. Then he calmed down, took several very deep breaths, and then died.

Just like with Rocky, Gregory lived about 2 years after his health began to decline. But unlike Rocky, he wasn’t burdened with hospital stays, poking and prodding, and side effects. Vet care for his final 2 years was under $1000. I would have happily paid $20K if it would have fixed him, but I don’t believe it would have. You can’t fix mortality.

Do I have any regrets? Yes, I do have one. I wish I had gotten Gregory’s teeth cleaned again while he was still well enough to handle it. I worry that his tooth and gum issues hastened his decline and made his life a little less enjoyable. That is the only one though. Gregory was just about the luckiest cat in the world. Spoiled, happy, and truly loved by many many people.

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Rethinking my escape from America

Sunday, August 30th, 2009
Our land in Panama

Our land in Panama

Several years ago, in response to insane real estate prices and ever-decreasing civil liberties, my partner and I decided to do something drastic: leave the United States. I found an online resource called Escape from America magazine, which offered information on other countries across the globe to which Americans were relocating. We chose Boquete, a beautiful town in the mountains of Panama. Perhaps a bit impulsively, we bought some land there. 4 years later, we’re still here in the U.S., albeit in the mountain city of Asheville which suits us much better than Seattle.

I often hear friends talk about leaving the country “if the shit hits the fan”. And I admit, it is nice to know that I could escape to Panama and pitch a tent on my land if I really needed to. But when I really think it through, I have to conclude that if things did go crazy (and maybe they already have?) that the U.S. is exactly where I want to be.

If you read survivalist or self-sufficiency books and websites, most of them will tell you that the most important thing to get you through a long-term crisis is a community of trusted neighbors and friends. Who is the first to be targeted when times get tough? Foreigners, outsiders. That is not a unique feature of Americans. That is a common human trait throughout the world. Move to another country and when the chaos spreads there, you will then be the outsider.

And you can’t just show up in a new country, bags in hand, and expect to be allowed to stay. Panama, for instance, only allows you to stay for 90 days at a time. Most expats get around this by taking their passport to Costa Rica every 90 days, getting it stamped, and coming back into Panama. But unless you have a job skill that is rare, you had better have an income stream. Panama will not allow you to work without a work visa, in order to protect jobs for their own citizens.

There are plenty of great reasons to move abroad and plenty of places that welcome Americans, including Panama. It would be a wonderful place to live and we may still end up there one day. And I am sure that at this point, there are other countries which have far better economic opportunities than we now have here in the U.S. I am only suggesting that moving abroad because it is safer from an unknown future difficulty is not necessarily the smart move.

Instead, we changed our focus to where/how could we best enjoy a good quality of life here in the United States. Asheville has a mild climate in summer and winter, which means you can grow food just about all year long. It is protected by the mountains from most natural disasters. And the people here are absolutely wonderful. In 4 years of living in Seattle (13 years for John), we were not able to build the strong community of friends that we gained here in just our first year.

We’re building our little homestead in Asheville and building up an invaluable community of people. We have no intention of going anywhere any time soon.

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This is what a plum tree looks like

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009
plum tree

Plum Tree

When I moved into my house 2 years ago, I was told that the pretty little tree in the front yard was a “decorative cherry tree”. What a waste to grow inedible fruit, I thought to myself.

I never noticed any fruit at all on it last year. But this year, sure enough, little hard “cherries” started appearing. But then they kept on growing, and getting lighter in color. And then the squirrels started eating them.

Well if the squirrels are eating them, what are the chances that I can’t also eat them?

plum in the tree


By coincidence, I had to have a tree guy come by due to some other overgrown trees in the yard. And he said “oh cool, a plum tree!”

Wow. I have an actual fruit tree in my yard! And the few plums I was able to eat before the squirrels stole every last one of them, were absolutely delicious.

bowl of plums

Bowl of Plums

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