Bye Baby Bunting wins BRAG Medallion

A BRAG medallion?

Yes, that’s it under the title, and a BRAG award really is something to brag about. BRAG stands for Book Readers Appreciation Group ( and they critique books submitted to them for quality. Somewhere between only 10% and 20% of books put forward to them actually qualify for the award which means I am utterly delighted that Bye Baby Bunting made the grade.

Essentially, the BRAG people want to let other readers know if a book is professionally written and produced, a huge help when a book is indie published. They are not only concerned that the book is well-plotted, but whether, amongst other areas of concern, it has compelling characters, realistic dialogue, good writing style and a story arc with a satisfactory ending. The book also must be clean of typos and spelling mistakes, uses good grammar (copy editing) and boasts an appropriate title and cover. In other words, BRAG gives an independent quality control tick.

Like me, I bet you read reviews before ordering an ebook (or a print book online). The problem is that none of us can tell whether a review is independently produced or not. More than a few indie writers lean on friends, rellies and (sadly) paid professionals to give them that favoured 5 star rating. That means reviews are suspect at least.

What do we do, we readers who don’t want to waste our money or our time with a book that fails in some of these vital areas? One answer is to consult the BRAG website – a BRAG awarded book means a book meets professional standards.

In BRAG parlance, I am a “BRAG Medallion Honoree” (American spelling, of course).   I couldn’t be more pleased!

Weird list of Poisons Used to Kill People

Poison is definitely among fiction’s greatest weapons. Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes seem to have developed the audience’s taste for untraceable, fast-acting poisons. However, murder mystery is one thing, but when the story becomes reality, you have got yourself a real killer! Here is a list of the most famous poisons used to kill people throughout history.

Hemlock or Conium is a highly toxic flowering plant indigenous to Europe and South Africa. It was a popular one with the ancient Greeks, who used it to kill off their prisoners. For an adult, the ingestion of 100mg of conium or about 8 leaves of the plant is fatal – death comes in the form of paralysis, your mind is wide awake, but your body doesn’t respond and eventually the respiratory system shuts down. Probably the most famous hemlock poisoning is that of Greek philosopher, Socrates. Condemned to death for impiety in 399 BC, he was given a very concentrated infusion of hemlock.
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Aconite comes from the plant monkshood. Also known as wolfsbane, aconite leaves only one post-mortem sign, that of asphyxia, as it causes arrhythmic heart function which leads to suffocation. Poisoning can occur even after touching the leaves of the plant without wearing gloves as it is very rapidly and easily absorbed. Because of its untraceable nature it has been a popular one with the “get away with murder” crowd. Reportedly, it has a particularly famous casualty. The emperor Claudius is said to have been poisoned by his wife, Agrippina, using aconite in a plate of mushrooms.


This was a favorite of the ladies! The name of this plant is derived from Italian and means beautiful woman. That’s because it was used in the middle-ages for cosmetic purposes – diluted eye-drops dilated the pupils, making the women more seductive (or so they thought). Also, if gently rubbed on their checks, it would create a reddish color, what today would be known as blush! This plant seems innocent enough, right? Well, actually, if ingested, a single leaf is lethal and that’s why it was used to make poison-tipped arrows. The berries of this plant are the most dangerous – consumption of ten of the attractive-looking berries is fatal.

This one is a slow killer – a man-made slow killer! But this is exactly what makes it all the more dangerous. Absorption of doses as low as 0.1ml have proven fatal; however, symptoms of poisoning start showing after months of initial exposure, which is definitely too late for any kind of treatment. In 1996, a chemistry professor at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, spilled a drop or two of the poison on her gloved hand – dimethylmercury went through the latex glove, symptoms appeared four months later and ten months later, she died.

This substance is found in two marine creatures – the blue-ringed octopus and the puffer fish. However, the octopus is the most dangerous, because it purposely injects its venom, killing it in minutes. It carries enough venom to kill 26 human adults within minutes and the bites are often painless, so many victims realize they have been bitten only when paralysis sets in. On the other hand, the puffer fish is only lethal if you want to eat it, but if it is well prepared, meaning the venom is taken out, the only thing that’s left is the adrenaline of eating something which could kill you.


Polonium is a radioactive poison, a slow killer with no cure. One gram of vaporised polonium can kill about 1.5 million people in just a couple of months. The most famous case of polonium poisoning is that of ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko. Polonium was found in his tea cup – a dose 200 times higher than the median lethal dose in case of ingestion. He died in three weeks.

There are three forms of mercury which are extremely dangerous. Elemental mercury is the one you can find in glass thermometers, it’s not harmful if touched, but lethal if inhaled. Inorganic mercury is used to make batteries, and is deadly only when ingested. And finally, organic mercury is found in fish, such as tuna and swordfish (consumption should be limited to 170g per week), but can be potentially deadly over long periods of time. A famous death caused by mercury is that of Amadeus Mozart, who was given mercury pills to treat his syphilis.

Now here’s one right out of an Agatha Christie novel. Cyanide seems to be extremely popular (spies use cyanide pills to kill themselves when caught) and there are plenty of reasons for this. Firstly, it is found in a great variety of substances like almonds, apple seeds, apricot kernel, tobacco smoke, insecticides, pesticides and the list goes on. Murder in this case can be blamed on a household accident, such as ingestion of pesticide – a fatal dose of cyanide for humans is 1.5 mg per kilogram of body weight. Secondly, it’s a rapid killer: depending on the dose, death occurs within 1 to 15 minutes. Also, in its gaseous form – hydrogen cyanide – it was the agent used by Nazi Germany for mass murders in gas chambers during the Holocaust.
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Botulinum Toxin

If you’re watching Sherlock Holmes, then you’ll know about this one. The Botulinum toxin causes Botulism, a fatal condition if not treated immediately. It involves muscle paralysis, eventually leading to the paralysis of the respiratory system and, consequently, death. The bacteria enter the body through open wounds or by ingesting contaminated food. By the way, botulinum toxin is the same stuff used for Botox injections!

Arsenic has been called “The King of Poisons”, for its discreetness and potency – it was virtually undetectable, so it was very often used either as a murder weapon or as a mystery story element. But that’s until the Marsh test came and signalled the presence of this poison in water, food and the like. However, this king of poisons has taken many famous lives: Napoleon Bonaparte, George the 3rd of England and Simon Bolivar to name a few. On another note, arsenic, like belladonna, was used by the Victorians for cosmetic reasons. A couple of drops of the stuff made a woman’s complexion white and pale. Just perfect!

Acknowledgements to Listverse. Thank you for this ghoulish list.

Our ‘Grand Design’

After an  endless six months, I’m able to tell you that our local council has finally approved our building design and okayed us to start on our new little house. Whew. So the waiting and anxiety is over and we can get started…not.

In the meantime, our builder, Rico, as could be expected, has become busy on somebody else’s build because nobody knew when (or if) the council would award building consent. However, this necessary delay has afforded us the opportunity to see the type of construction we’ll be using before we are involved in our own build.

We met up on site with Rico and Neil, the expert who will do the earth reshaping to produce a flat area for the house and terrace, the garage and some sort of ramp to allow trucks to bring building materials needed up to the building site. He’ll build retaining walls to hold the hillside off the house; he also will be in charge of the concrete floors and the block work for part of the garage and back wall of the house. Best of all, his work can be done in the summertime when the ground is dry and well before Rico is free from his current responsibilities on his current build.

We walked over the hillside pointing out which trees must be saved (like our 500 year old pohutakawa tree, duh…) and which must go for access to the site. Neil promises to keep the trunks for our wood-burning stove.  Not that we think we’ll need much extra heat – our architect has designed the house for so-called ‘passive solar’ heating, aiming that sunshine will provide natural heating, absorbed by walls and floors during the day, then given out in the evenings and nights.

The earth bricks are naturally insulating. Another of Rico’s builds is beautifully warm in the winter, with one stove heating a large two storey house, a house that is also cool in the summer. It’s a lot to do with the overhangs, I’m told. Winter sun reaches in; summer sun is high enough in the sky to be kept out of the house when at its hottest. Sounds good to us.

The day we were invited over to see Rico’s current earth-build was a normal working day so we could see bricks being manufactured in situ. To get there, we drove for about an hour south towards Whangarei on a series of windy roads through interesting countryside, and to the east out towards the Heads. The building site was superb, overlooking the outer reaches of Whangarei harbour and out to sea, an extraordinary section high in the hills, surrounded by farmland and bush with stupendous views. Eat your hearts out, rest of the world – yes, there are building sites here available for ordinary folk – not just the rich and famous – like this one in this beautiful land.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The owners, Carolyn and Rob (emigrants from the US), were pitching in just like we propose to do during our build – Carolyn fussing with some impressively large macrocarpa wooden beams and Rob heaping a mixture into a cement mixture consisting of earth, a couple of types of rock, paper, clay, water and a little cement. After adjusting the water content until it was acceptable, he wheeled the mix up huge scaffolding to the top of the walls. One of the builder’s assistants was doing the same, each producing a mix for a separate section. Once they got to their own bit of construction, a metal former was balanced on top of the previous row of mud bricks and filled with the gloopy mixture from the wheelbarrow. Rico took over at that point, lifting the former, smoothing the outside of the brick, emphasising the division between each brick with a few artistic swipes of his trowel and scraping off the inner side of the new brick so plaster can ‘key’ into the earth-bricks when it is eventually applied to the inside of the room. Meanwhile the other two men were back at the work area making more earth mix in their cement mixers. This is hard physical work which is keeping everybody very fit. I bet they sleep well at night.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bob and Rico’s team are almost finished the outer walls. Soon the roofers will arrive and the construction of the inside walls and all that entails will start. Naturally we’re hoping their build goes perfectly smoothly and quickly – both for their sake…and for ours.

Later we met with Dave, the man who provides wooden framed windows. So far, we’re pricing up wooden frames for inside the deeply inset windows on the ground floor earth-brick walls and aluminium windows on the second storey which has a more conventional wooden construction. Dave is trying to persuade us to have cedar frames – they go beautifully with the earth-bricks, he says. I’m sure they do. But how much more will they cost? Watch this space – I’ll let you know.

But, it really feels like we are moving forward. I must have watched hundreds of  “Grand Designs” programmes over the years (Kevin McLeod, you’re the best!). And, yes, this does feel like a Grand Design of our own. I can just see those deep set windows with their wide sills…in cedar….

My Mother died of Alzheimer’s

Named plaques&tangles

‘Your mother died of Alzheimer’s?’ my friend the biochemist asked. ‘How is it affecting you?’

Well, the impact of my mother’s Alzheimer’s affects all her children. We find out something new about Alzheimer’s and we email each other all over the world. Even my adopted sister whose biological father also had Alzheimer’s is, of course, in the loop.

‘Reading. Yes. But are you doing anything about it?’ my friend asked.


First, the basics where no controversy exists (the controversial stuff is coming…) – all authorities agree that three mighty things can help:

  1. Participation in vigorous activities (some of us call it exercise)
  2. Keeping up mental stimulation (like learning French or doing those huge Su Doku puzzles)
  3. Eating wholesome food (and that includes green veggies).

My friend was almost yawning. ‘Those three are recommendations for good health anyway,’ she said. ‘Is there anything you do specifically designed to be anti-Alzheimer’s?’

Well, yeah. All that reading has influenced what I put into my mouth.

First, as many of you know, I have cut way down on how many carbohydrates I consume. Mostly my carbs come from fresh vegetables and a little fruit, some home-made yogurt and a tiny bit of dark chocolate. Anything good for the heart is also good for the brain. So I eat natural saturated and monosaturated fats and very few carbs. Okay, this is one of the controversial aspects of my anti-Alzheimer’s programme. But there is scientific evidence out there. A diet high in carbs promotes bad cholesterol; a diet low in carbs but full of good fats is heart friendly. Thus, brain friendly. (By the way, a relevant question: Do you know what the brain is made up of? Answer: a high proportion of cholesterol. True.)

I also make sure I eat a couple of teaspoons of the mild spice turmeric every day. Turmeric contains curcumin which is a powerful anti-inflammatory. Many scientific studies into Alzheimer’s disease postulate that inflammation is very likely involved in the devastating presence of plaques and tangles in the brain, the signature of Alzheimer’s disease (see my little painting of what they sort-of look like under the microscope) and the cause of loss of memory and deterioration of the very essence of the personality.

I also make sure I eat a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil and extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) daily too. I mix them into my breakfast ‘cereal’. EVOO has some recent good evidence that it facilitates brain health and coconut oil has a mass of anecdotal evidence with a score of studies on-going right now. It’s a food that maybe can do some good, so I eat it. But I’m watching the science carefully, like lots of people.

I also take some supplements, all of which come from scientific studies. I take some co-enzyme Q10 (did you know the discoverer of Q10 got the Nobel Prize?); a multi-B vitamin supplement; folate (folic acid is given to every pregnant mother to protect her unborn baby from brain disorders; it’s also found in green leafy vegetables, so I supplement it) and Omega-3 fish oil (again, what’s good for the heart is good for the brain).

Taking supplements is easy. Eating coconut oil and EVOO is easy too. Even cutting the carbs and increasing the veggies is not too difficult (and I love both being slimmer than I was and never being overly hungry between meals). What’s the difficult part of my regime? Combating a natural tendency to be lazy and making sure I get enough exercise – both physically and mentally. And as I get older, it will become more and more important.

What I figure is, the time to get used to this aspect of healthy living is right now.

More, of course, on the whole diet theory in Full Stop: Eat until you’re Full and Stop gaining weight. Now available on Amazon (US): and UK:

My free e-book of short shorts…

‘To blog or not to blog’ writes my friend, author Robyn Murray, in her blog ( – then click on ‘Portnagolan Tales’ on her home page; Robyn writes wonderful illustrated children’s books). But back to her question…do I blog when I have something important to say? That seems a no-brainer until a gap of weeks then perhaps months go by. What are you, my readers, wanting from me? (Hey, that’s a real question and one I’d love you to answer below; Robyn would like the answer too, as she posed the original question.)

Or do I blog frequently about day-to-day things: writing, our house build in Northland, New Zealand, eating the low-carb way, our trips? There is no question that blogging distracts me away from serious writing and somehow fulfils my writing ‘itch’ for the day. Or days. And that’s not good.

Currently, I am working on several projects. I am about half way (about 40,000 words so far) into a sequel to Marcia’s Dead, a murder mystery that is engendering some interest from publishers (watch this space). I also do the Iron Writer’s Challenge each week and file the stories away for my second book of flash fiction stories. The first book of short shorts (My Take on the Iron Writers’ Challenges 1 – 26) is at my critique group now (they will report within the week) and it will be released very shortly.

Cover for 'My Take'

Cover for ‘My Take’

That reminds me: I am happy to send you an e-copy of My Take if you tell me where to send it. For free. Just because you’re reading this blog. Drop me an email with ‘My Take’ in the subject line to:


…and I’ll send you a copy prior to its official release – as soon as I make the changes recommended by my wonderful but tough critique group. There will be some. They always, always, always point the finger at something that needs tightening up. As I do to their work, of course. The growth in writing skills in our group is phenomenal. And it’s because we’ve learned to value that pointing finger.

So send your request for the e-book and you, as a reader of this blog, will be the first to receive it. For free, as I said. Do tell me which format you want it in – pdf or epub or a format kindle can handle.

Hey, I’m back!

I’m just recently home from a wonderful trip around the world. Of course, living in New Zealand means that if your itinerary takes you to Europe, it is easy to head there one way and back the other thus completing the round-the-world trip. We are exactly half way. In other words, we are the furthest one can be from Europe. However, round-the-world trips with a few stops here and there are not out of the reach of ordinary folk, as we prove, if you budget it in. And don’t drive expensive cars.

What did I do when there? I will dribble out some of the highlights over the next little while on this blog. But on this one, I thought I’d tell you about what I was writing, and how, while away.

We have two major destinations when we take these long trips (avoiding the New Zealand attempt at a winter…) – we go to our remote cottage in the wilds of Canada after travelling to Surrey in England to visit my father-in-law. He turned 93 when we were there, still lives independently and still does the Times crossword, the su doku and any other mind-games published in that venerable newspaper. He still gardens and sings in the church choir. He’s our model of how we all want to be when we’re over 90.

While there, my husband and his father do lots of father-son things (like sharing the crossword and tackling yearly jobs like pruning the wisteria) leaving me free to slip upstairs to the loft where I have a little office at the top of the house. I set up my laptop in front of a large west-facing window with a view from three stories high. I can see my father-in-law’s deep back garden with its little orchard, its wilderness area full of blackberries and his lawn edged with flowers (see a pic I took from the terrace). But up where I write, I can see into the neighbour’s gardens and across the south-western part of outer London. In the late evenings (we’re there in June so the evenings are very long), I have a perfect view of the sunsets. I watch clouds of parakeets swinging past my window heading for Hampton Court Palace and its extensive park plus myriads of other birds. And I write.The back garden

This year I concentrated on writing more than twenty 500 word stories. Some of you may have read one or two of mine which are on this blog. My goal when away this year was to take each of the Iron Writer Challenges so far and, using the four unique ‘elements’ which must be included, write up a story which can stand alone. This means the story has to have a beginning, a middle and an end; it has to convey some sort of emotion and the ‘elements’ have to be seamlessly woven into the fabric of the story so it all makes sense.

Winning the very first of the Iron Writer Challenges with ‘Hey Diddle Daddley’ (which can be located deep in the archive of this blog) inspired me to write up every one of the challenges for the first half year – a task my fellow author Dani J Caile and I decided to do. Dani launched his humorous book ‘Dani’s Shorts’ recently ( ) and the one I wrote is almost ready. Mine will be called My Take on the Iron Writer Challenges, 1 – 26. We are doing this for a purpose, or maybe two purposes. The main purpose is to allow readers to have access to our writing. We intend to offer these books at a very small cost or free, enrolling them in the Amazon Library system that includes five free days. And we’ll let everybody know when those free days take place. Dani’s book is doing well so far. The other purpose? To publicise The Iron Writer ( ) where you can go read the current four contestants’ work and vote for the one you like best.

Why didn’t I get mine out when Dani did? Two reasons – packing up at the lake in Canada (no small feat), visiting friends on the way and flying back to New Zealand with quite a few jet-lag hours to make up. That’s my first excuse – Dani launched in the midst of all that. And my other and probably more valid excuse is that I wanted to put My Take through the capable hands of my critique group. It’s there now – feedback in a week. Then I’ll have to work on any problems they point out before, finally, launching it. So, a few weeks yet, folks, but I will let you know.

It’s lovely to be back in New Zealand as spring slowly takes charge.

My Classical Education

wooden water tower

Taking The Iron Writer elements and incorporating them into a story is a great way to flex one’s writing muscles. Those of you familiar with the Iron Writer Challenge remember there are four elements to be incorporated into a 500 word story and there are only four days in which to do so. Four writers are officially part of the challenge each week, but there’s nothing to stop you (or me) using the site as a writing prompt.

I entered the first Challenge (my winning entry is in the post before this one) but I’ve also written several as an exercise using the same restrictions. If you are curious how I handled the elements, read on. I’ll be posting other exercises now and again. To read the official entries, go to and enjoy!

The following story is faithful to the instuctions for Challenge 15, incorporating a Theramin (which is an electronic musical instrument ‘played’ by waving one’s hands in the electric field), a single super power, an elegy and a wooden water tower. My Classical Education is 517 words which is within the absolute limit of 525 words.

 My Classical Education

I’ve just performed at St Patrick’s where I go to school. To great acclaim, I must say. They asked me how I came to write the song. I mumbled something but it wasn’t the whole story. I’ll write it here and hide it away. Maybe I’ll give it to my son, if I ever have a son, when he’s fourteen. He’ll understand.

When I first saw the YouTube of Leon Theremin playing his instrument I was captivated. The sound was weird, ethereal, yet deliciously whining, simultaneously. Hey, if the electronics underlying a Theremin were simple enough, I figured I could build one. The results, as it turned out, were extraordinary.

The electronics kit had arrived on a Friday and by the Saturday, I was already practicing. By Sunday, Mum had banished me to the old wooden water tower. Actually, if I had thought of it myself, I would have set up in the water tower in the first place. From there, you can see forever and the wind blows the sound around like it was produced by the dancing leaves of the tree-tops themselves, an instrument tuned by the gods, maybe by a single super power. Yes, I was making God’s own music.

Except words were needed to go with such a celestial sound. Finally, a use for my dog-eared copy of Ovid’s elegies.

Have you read Ovid? If you’re a fourteen year old boy playing heavenly music in the treetops, Ovid is the last source of words you’d think of. But a few months ago, I’d had a school assignment to do a piece on somebody from Rome – eveybody was onto Julius Caesar or Pompey or Nero but I chanced upon this poet who wrote about stuff I was very interested in. Well, any fourteen year old boy is interested in, to be truthful. Listen to this (okay, this is an English translation; he wrote in Latin), but a snippet is:

“What shoulders, what arms it was my privilege to behold and to touch. What bliss to press a bosom shaped so perfectly…”

Okay, I’d better stop. Actually, it’s on the internet for anybody, but who would think that some Roman guy…hmmm.

It took me a while, but an elegy has certain syllables, short and long, in a specific sequence. That means it’s easy to set to music, which also has specific sequences, of course. Translations are a bit clunky, so I reverted to the Latin. Besides, then nobody would know what I was singing about.

By the time I was ready for an audience, my voice had finished breaking, my Theremin was mastered and I’d memorised the Latin. And nobody but nobody knew what I was singing about…it was all God’s music, as I said.

Afterwards, I was congratulated by everybody. I was a pious little musical saint for the day. The trouble came when my teacher asked about the words. I muttered something about Ovid. He patted my shoulder and turned to speak to my mother. Over her shoulder, he met my eyes and winked.


He must have known the Latin for ‘bosom’.

 The End

If you enjoyed this one, skip over to Challenge 15 and read the official entries in the archive section:

If you really enjoyed this one and want to read more of my writing, check out my books: Bye Baby Bunting (a novel with some nice reviews on Amazon) and Full Stop: eat until you’re full and stop gaining weight (an accessible popular science book about what scientists really say about what’s good for us to eat).

(Thanks to for the use of a great photo of a water tower.)




The Iron Writer Challenges – 500 words that are fun to write

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have picked up my affinity and support for The Iron Writer Challenge:

The Iron Writer Challenge

Essentially, it’s four writers who are given four ‘elements’ they must incorporate into an original piece of up to 500 words within a four day period. I entered the first ever challenge. Here’s my entry:

 Hey Diddle Daddley


Tannis Laidlaw

(toilet bowl cleaner, a meteor, an empty ATM and a talking tree; 337 words, well under the 500 word limit)

Hey diddle diddle
Life’s just a big riddle
For Drew who ran for his life,
A meteor streaking
Across the yard seeking
To hide, disappear from the strife.

Hey diddle droy
‘Daddy’s mad,’ said the boy,
‘He’s ranting and raving at Mum.
‘He gave her a beaner
‘With toilet bowl cleaner.’
The thought of it made him go numb.

‘Hey diddle dree,’
Said the tree he called Leigh,
‘Hide here right under my care,
‘When someone is mad
‘And the other is sad
‘Then you’d better be out of their hair.’

Hey diddle diddle
The cat and the fiddle
The dad was hitting the mum,
The boy stopped his ears
(But never his fears)
And his mouth became filled with his thumb.

Hey diddle delling
The mother was yelling,
‘Please stop – you’ll frighten the boy!’
The little dog laughed
To see such craft
For the dad knew her plea was a ploy.

Hey diddle dill
The air it went still
The dad came out searching for Drew,
He wanted his son
Before he was done,
Then Leigh, to the boy, whispered, ‘Shoo!’

Off the boy shot
Before he was caught
He knew what his father could do,
For a very long time
They’d planned this quick climb
Leigh’s branches would hide him from view.

Hey diddle daddley
The dad drove off madly
The cow jumped over the moon…
‘Coast’s clear, my dear,’
Mum cried with false cheer,
‘But hurry; he could return soon.’

Hey diddle dack
They needed to pack
As quickly as poss – just in case –
Still on the attack
The father came back…
Must flee, not leaving a trace.

Hey diddle dage
Of the father’s great rage –
The mum told the boy she found out –
Seems the ATM there
On the edge of the square
Was empty, held zilch, was a drought.

Hey diddle dax
With packs on their backs
They watched for the shade of the moon,
Then Mum and the boy
Stepped forward with joy
And the dish ran away with the spoon.

The End

 This verse won the inaugural Iron Writers’ Challenge. For the seriously curious (but without the requisite formatting), it can be seen at


Part 2: Why does eating carbs pile on the weight but eating the more calorific fats doesn’t?

Delicious low carb homemade marmalade (keep in fridge)

Delicious low carb homemade marmalade (store in freezer; keep in fridge)

We eat to keep our bodies functioning on an even keel. This is part of homeostasis – our cells functioning perfectly so together everything just works like a well-tuned car. Ideally everything ticks over with as few highs and lows as possible.

Unlike cows and other herbivores, we don’t want to spend all day, every day, grazing boring old grass. Instead we eat, on average, three times a day, plus the occasional snack. What we eat, of course, is the argument.

There are three important points to keep in mind when we make decisions about what to eat.

  1. To fulfill the aims of a stable homeostasis so our individual cells never go ‘hungry’, we need to have systems in place to keep things even, and a constant (yes, constant) supply of food circulating to all our cells.
  2. For body cells, fuel is fuel. They can utilize fuel that comes from all three food groups: proteins, fats or carbohydrates. Any or all of them.
  3. Fuel to the cells comes via the blood stream. They neither care nor can tell where that fuel comes from – from an ice cream cone you’ve recently eaten or a succulent steak or from nutrients stored in fat cells within the body, glycogen stored in the liver or – never to be recommended – protein stolen from the body’s own muscles.

If fuel is freely available in the blood stream, we don’t think about eating. (Big corollary here – we can be tempted at any time by sights, smells, even reading about certain foods – temptation is not hunger!) But if fuel is short in the bloodstream, we become genuinely hungry.

Most people don’t realize that fat cells are highly active cells and not passive little balloons of fat that just sit there as many imagine. Every time we fast (that means every time more than a few hours go by without taking in new food – the word ‘breakfast’ is just a description of a real phenomenon), we release fuel into the bloodstream from our fat cells and the liver, to keep a steady supply of nutrients available to the body cells. Homeostasis, remember? Keeping things on an even keel.

Overnight we essentially live on fats from fat cells. When you start thinking of breaking your fast, insulin begins being released from your pancreas, speeding up as you eat. Insulin works for homeostasis too – making sure the fuel in our bloodstream isn’t overwhelming the cells of the body (too much fuel damages cells; long term it shortens the body’s life, so you can say, too much fuel circulating in your bloodstream kills you.) What tells the pancreas to secrete insulin? The brain, the hypothalamus to be precise, receives feedback from the body or other parts of the brain and triggers all sorts of processes.

Insulin puts fat into fat cells. Insulin lets body cells use fats for fuel and that includes muscle cells and all sorts of other cells involved in processes particular to being awake and active.

Eventually, the circulating fuel decreases as the body cells consume it and insulin packs it into fat cells, the release of insulin slows and fats stored in liver or fat cells start being released into the blood stream again. Homeostasis.

Weight gain and hunger are first cousins and both those processes are triggered by anything that elevates insulin. A muffin. A so-called energy bar. A sugary drink. Chips. Things made from flour or sugar are the most potent triggers.

We gain weight due to too much stimulation of insulin or stimulation that lasts longer than nature intended. And we’re driven to eat more often. Eating carbohydrates stimulates hunger through the stimulation of insulin. Eating fats does not because it’s the sugars in the blood that stimulates insulin, not circulating fatty type fuels.

Weight loss comes from lower insulin levels. Besides, we don’t feel hungry.

We can only use our fat reserves when insulin production quiets down. Remember, insulin builds fat, and fats can only be released to be used for fuel when insulin lessens.

The way to lose weight is to make sure you increase the time every day when insulin production is not being stimulated and cut the carbs so insulin is not being stimulated so strongly. But you can eat fats. Lots of them. And you won’t put on weight if your carbs are controlled.

A year ago or so, I read Gary Taubes’ Carbohydrate Hypothesis (in The Diet Delusion or Good Calories Bad Calories) and checked out the science he was writing about by accessing the original articles he cited written by top scientists in the area.

I wanted to tell everybody!

But instead of shouting from the rooftops, I wrote a popular-science book that explains the science behind eating, a book that could be understood by anyone. FULL STOP – eat until you’re full and stop gaining weight is the book, available as a low-cost e-book or as a paperback, which costs only a little more. You’re a click away from reading it!

By the way, insulin levels rise in the autumn and winter. Maybe because human animals need a bit more stored fat on them with cooler weather? The implication of this is that weight loss is somewhat easier in the spring and summer.

FINDING THE SITE (Building at The Bay) 1


We have our Resource Consent for building the house at The Bay! Yippee!

It finally seems to be coming together. Our own Grand Design is going to happen. At last.

It all started almost twenty years ago. One November while eating lunch at the hospital across the road from the Medical School where I was finishing my PhD, I saw an advertisement for a section of land overlooking a deep inlet up in the northern parts of New Zealand in an area appropriately called ‘The Far North’. I rang the vendors and arranged to visit the next weekend, taking my boy-friend (later to become husband) with me.

The weekend was hardly propitious – rain off and on and cool for November. We travelled three hours to the section that Saturday. The view was outstanding, a complete 180 degrees of water view. But it was a long, long drop down a cliff to the water, and we’re water babies. Discouraged, we drove to a friend’s bach at Oakura, enjoyed a social evening and went to bed. The next morning, we fixed sandwiches, in spite of the weather being not exactly conducive to picnicking, and re-visited the section to have one last look, just in case we had changed our minds overnight. After all, it was a fabulous opportunity to acquire a waterfront section with amazing views. We spent another hour looking and debating the strength of wanting a seaside section, a beautiful view, a beach for swimming – all at an affordable price. Our conclusion? We would have to compromise.

We set off north to make a grand circle of driving back to the city well to the south. Hey, why not? Lunchtime came and we stopped at a lovely bay – yes, lovely even in the rain – with black volcanic rocks jutting into the sea on either side of a sheltered sandy beach. Mike spotted a ‘For sale’ sign on the uphill side of the road. We climbed over the fence with our sandwiches to shelter from the misty rain under a gigantic pohutakawa tree, and munch and look. We couldn’t see the road from our perch on the massive tree roots as it was hidden below us but we could see the entire bay and a large tree-covered peninsula to the north. And we could look out at the arrow straight line of the Pacific Ocean’s horizon to the east (next stop, South America). Totally outstanding.

‘Wonder what they’d want for this section?’ I asked.

‘Half a mil? A million?’ Mike said. ‘Paul McCartney could build something really grand here. Or Kiri Te Kanawa.’

‘She already owns a place up the road,’ I said. But I agreed. This was millionaire territory. Still, I copied down the telephone number. Curiosity, nothing more.

The real estate salesperson told me the price over the telephone, only a small percentage of what we’d figured. I almost dropped the receiver; I just about yelled ‘sold!’ right then and there. It was not only within our budget, it was not even at the top of it! Instead, I coolly – oh-so-coolly – arranged for us to meet the vendor to negotiate.

We walked away from that meeting having brought the price down a few thou. Correction – we didn’t walk away from that meeting – we floated away with the sales document clutched in our hot little paws.


As I said. Twenty years ago. We’ve been spending weekends at our caravan on the site ever since. Really using it – every fortnight in the summer and probably every three weeks in the winter, plus spending every Easter, Christmas and other assorted holidays there for twenty years. We love it.

And now we’re going to build. We’re calming down our working lives and ready to put up a boutique (read ‘small yet uniquely designed’) home that will be tucked into our 2000 m2 (half an acre) hillside, not two minutes from the beach.

We have Resource Consent! That means we’ve fulfilled the arduous requirements of ‘Coastal’ regulations plus those of ‘Outstanding Landscape’. Yes, even the Far North Council thinks our place is pretty darn special. We do too.


To be continued…


You’ll notice I mentioned that I was pursuing a PhD way back when. My new mystery ‘Half Truths and Whole Lies’ takes place in academia. See the blog below about it.