I consider myself

Somewhat lenticular clouds over the Smoky Mountains. Every cloud on every day is different, like snowflakes.

... one of the luckiest people -- indeed, one of the luckiest beings of any kind -- that ever lived or ever will live. Why? Lots of reasons, but above all, because I know I'm lucky. Not in the sense of happy-go-lucky or striking lucky, but because I have had the immense good fortune to live in a time and place where I am at once free and in charge of myself -- my body, my mind, and in aggregate, my fate (as much as any mortal can be). Every day it is a wondrous thing to be alive, and to be living so well. For all of that, I have nothing but thankfulness and the uplift that such gratitude brings.

My new hobby:

counting bats. 20, if I didn't miss any when more than one flew out of the eaves-box (a strange jutting-out of wood with some sort of corrugated cover, just over one foot by about two feet, eyeballing it). I suppose they are the Little Brown Bat of the Smoky Mountains. They start jostling and making swishing tweets at about a quarter to nine, after the colours of sunset but before twilight really sinks in. Then they start to fly out, in rapid succession, mostly one by one but sometimes two at a time -- the last laggard leaving before a quarter past nine. At the same o'clock, the whip-poor-will has started up in the distance.

As American as ... apple pie?

As a native Briton, I've always been puzzled by this statement. I grew up eating home-baked apple pies, and enjoyed it as part of our traditional English cooking. Not only is Britain an assemblage of countries much given to pie-making, but England in particular is famous for its apple varieties, and the county of Kent for its apple orchards. So, nice though it is that Americans appreciate a good apple pie (and grow plenty of apples themselves), it still seemed odd that they would claim such a basic dish as distinctly their own. And Google today, in its recipe-per-state Independence Day feature, acknowledges the apple pie's true homeland, in the Maine tab. 


The fashion in pointy shoes for women

 Melania Trump's feet, left. Queen Letizia of Spain's feet, on the right. Both pairs of feet look ugly, over-raised by stiletto heels, and over-pinched by unattractive points. This is a cropped screenshot of a photo by Getty Images.

Melania Trump's feet, left. Queen Letizia of Spain's feet, on the right. Both pairs of feet look ugly, over-raised by stiletto heels, and over-pinched by unattractive points. This is a cropped screenshot of a photo by Getty Images.

I don't like it. When will it end?

 Eucch, I hate these shoes. What is Melania's trying to prove -- that she can almost walk on air? Getty Images, again.

Eucch, I hate these shoes. What is Melania's trying to prove -- that she can almost walk on air? Getty Images, again.

The SECRET to weight LOSS

I feel that this needs a special banner, as it's probably the secret the most people in the West want to know (lucky us: in Venezuela and North Korea, among other disastrous regimes, most people want to know how they can be well-fed again). 

I'm interested in nutrition fads and diet trends, and everything to do with how we live well, mind and body. It's sort of an occasional hobby. With a certain usually amused detachment I have watched our health gurus condemn salt, butter, bacon, eggs (or more precisely, yolks), alcohol, white bread, refined wheat in general, chicken skins and saturated fats, and of course, sugar. With the partial exception of the latter, these are all foods that I have enjoyed in abundance -- in fact, they belong in the core of my diet. (In my case the preferred alcohol is wine, apart from the beer or gin & tonic I indulge in during the summer). Anyway, the demons of diet come and go, according to current notions of what ails us, and depending on how flawed the scientific research that supposedly supports these notions. And the weirdest, most amusing current notion of the moment is that you can't lose weight by severely restricting calories, also known as going hungry. If you go hungry for a significant part of each day, you are 'starving' yourself, and your body goes into 'starvation mode'. This mode doesn't help you because your body puts up defences against starvation and so this is no way to lose fat. To which my response is 'HUH'?

 If you're desperate to lose weight, try mountain-climbing. The lack of oxygen -- or 'thin air' --  causes thinness in people, as well .

If you're desperate to lose weight, try mountain-climbing. The lack of oxygen -- or 'thin air' -- causes thinness in people, as well.

I understand that the body is amazingly complex, and that it finds ways to compensate for many deficiencies. I also understand that there are cascades of physiological mechanisms that make certain goals more difficult for some people than for others. We all have different hormone ratios and responses, and different gut flora, and we are each of us walking individual micro-biomes. Understood. That said, the idea that there is a 'starvation mode' just waiting to foil you is bonkers. (Apparently this idea derives from an early 20th-century experiment involving a tiny group of unrepresentative and disadvantaged men. On such thin reeds do we lean so many of our theories.) I'll say that again: BONKERS. There is a reason why Paul McCartney wrote 'Too many hungry people losing weight' and not, for instance, 'All the hungry people -- where DOES the fat come from?'!

Apart from the emaciated condition that previously healthy people are found in when they die of hunger (like the lost woman in her bivouac off the Appalachian trail), the whole world knew until yesterday that if you don't eat much, you shrink. Mountaineers regularly lose weight while on expedition, and it's not just because they're burning tons of calories in 16-hour climbs. The fact is, once they get past base camp, they don't eat. As Ed Viesturs says more than once in his book, No Shortcuts To The Top, at high altitudes the climbers lose their appetite. They melt snow for drinking, as they simply must try to keep hydrated, but they might eat only a couple of Snickers bars (quality for a handful of days doesn't seem to matter). I suppose it's just as well, and much more convenient, that precisely where the climbers can't carry food and can't cook it even if they wanted to, they also have no desire to eat it. So they don't. And guess what: they lose weight. I'm sure that many mountain climbers bulk up by eating bigger portions of everything shortly before an expedition, just so that they can be a reasonably similar weight when they return. One thing is for sure: a fat-loss diet is not on their minds. But by not eating, they embark on one anyway.

So that's the secret to fat loss, folks. If you want to lose fat, don't eat as much. If you want to smooth out those bulges, cut your food intake. If you want a flat belly, get hungry. If you want to be lean, go for several daylight hours without eating. In short, dramatically reduce your calories. That doesn't mean you have to be a calorie-counter, please note. I believe that one should learn what sort of calorie counts apply to various foods: almonds, for instance, have a high calorie count per volume -- or to put it another way, they are a calorie-dense high-energy food. Cucumbers, mushrooms, green onions and lettuces, by contrast, are low-calorie foods. The specific calorie count per item is not really important. It's more helpful to think in terms of low-cal, mid-cal, and high-cal, and to plan so that most of your meals are being rounded out by low-and-mid-cal foods. It's also more important to think in terms of veg and protein, with low-and-mid-cal veg being your top priority. Another tip is not to think in terms of meals but rather to think of 'food combinations': that piece of pumpernickel bread, that green onion, that handful of olives. It's not a meal, like a stew, casserole, or a titled dish: it's merely a grouping of foods on a plate. If you approach your food in this way, you're much more likely to eat things that are close to or at their natural state. The closer your food to its original condition, the fewer additional calories you'll consume, and the smaller your portions are likely to remain.

Instead of counting up the calories, all you really need to do is know that each calorie counts. So say to yourself: 'This thing I'm eating has calories. Do I want these particular calories? If I take another bite, will it be surplus to requirements? What if I don't take that extra bite, and instead put those calories down?' Does that mean you'll feel a little hungry? Yes, probably. Hunger is the body telling you that if you don't go for new calories, it will have no option but to take from its reserves. And that's exactly what you want it to do. The first trick, then, is to receive the hunger signal, note it, and ride it out. The second trick is not to binge on the re-feed when you finally do put food in your mouth. Just enough, and no more: if you are honest with yourself, you'll come to know what that means.



The bra and the frog


Strange thing happened this afternoon: I had reached for my sports bra, hanging from a hook in the WC, when I felt an odd slightly firm-jelly texture that shouldn't have been there. As is my involuntary (female) wont, I threw the bra down onto the tiles and shrieked. (I'm a great shrieker, it's entirely instinctive.) And out hopped a rather large brown frog. It was not, I'd say, a Cuban tree frog -- the colouring struck me as different (browner, for a start). It wasn't an American bullfrog, either. So I don't know what the frog was. And more to the point, I have no idea how it came to be in my bra! I often open the WC window, but I checked the window screen and it is fully intact. I don't know how a frog as large as that got in! Anyway, my shriek brought hubby to the scene, he threw a towel over it and together we got it out of doors without incident.

My prediction for the royal baby name

Frederick. The middle names don't really matter. 

p.s. I would like it to be John or James, but neither of those is 'pre-Regency', 'Regency', or modern Anglo-Germanic. 

Update: Hmm, I never even considered Louis (pronounced Lou-ee, we are told -- not the usual English Lou-iss). Not that I gave it much thought, to be honest. A two-syllable name might have been preferred, though it must be said that the third one of 'Frederick' is awfully quick. Louis is a little outside the mould, but I didn't lay any money down so that's all right!

Update, Friday night: Definitely not keen on 'Louis'. I've long thought it a bore when reading about French kings (186 years of the same king name: talk about stuck in a rut!). Also, when not used by French kings, it strikes me as distinctly un-aristocratic, even anti-aristocratic. Think about it: Lou Reed of the Velvet Underground. Lou Grant (fictional character) of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Louis Farrakhan. I know that the royal family's associations are more positive, but I think those associations are overdone, quite frankly. Nope, I would have preferred almost anything else. Oh well. 

The suspect "autism awareness"

One website tells us: "As autism awareness has grown dramatically in recent years, many young adults and adults have learned the signs and felt there may be a connection between their feelings and behaviors and the symptoms of autism."

Or then again there might not be a connection: These people might associate their feelings and behaviours with living in a way that is universal or extremely common rather than deriving from a particular condition. In short, is it OK to say 'I have limitations, and that's because I'm a human being'? I have to wonder whether the so-called 'rise' in autism has to do with our greater 'awareness' of it -- whatever it actually is -- or whether the embrace of a possibly 'glamorous' disability that is meaningful for some people as an explanation or even excuse might be nearer the mark.* The problem also is not just the power of suggestion, persuading people that they are other than they are, but in certain cases there may be 'gaslighting', in which people are persuaded, against the truth and contrary to reality, that they are other than they are.

*Another article only confirms my suspicion: 'Despite much debate about the causes of the so-called autism epidemic, the consensus among experts is that the increase is mostly due not to a rise in incidence but to greater awareness, recognition, and testing, and to the wider parameters of who qualifies for a place on the spectrum (New Jersey, for instance, has some of the most robust autism services in the country). Such elasticity is nowhere so relevant as at the fuzzy, ever-shifting threshold where clinical disorder shades into everyday eccentricity.' BINGO.