the murky truth…

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clouds reflected in the receding Todd River

I took this photo earlier this week. It is the clouds, reflected in the Todd River, after the last lot of rain had stopped. Well, nearly–we had a little shower again yesterday morning despite my phone app insisting all was ‘clear’ and there was ‘0%’ chance of rain. Meh.

As I was studying the photo, I realised that its reflection was mirroring my own, ongoing lack of clarity. Often when we are about to burst forth into a new skin, things can be cloudy…lack focus. Sometimes, I have noticed, I need to leave one thing behind before the new one makes itself known. Step off the precipice and see what rises to meet me.

This is not a sudden decision, it has been rolling around in my mind for months, but the time seems right to take action. I have loved blogging for the last five and a half years, and am so appreciative to those of you who have read, liked or commented. Having never taken an extended break, now, with things seeming a bit murky, the time seems right. In approaching this decision I tried to think which would make more sense to you, to just drift away, or to tell you that I’m taking an extended break. So now you know what I have decided to do.

Be well.

xx Ardys

 

the howls and the quiet…

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the arid lands have a distinct tropical look now

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the changes in Alice due to wetter than normal weather. The Todd River has flowed three times in 2017 already. Of course what is ‘wet’ weather for us would be normal for others–everything being relevant. By now, we have nearly reached half of our average annual rainfall, and we are only a month into the year!

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Headline in last week’s Advocate

Previously, I speculated on the fact that there might have been a rise in the population of Dingoes. I would rather not have been right. Below is a very compromised photo of the Dingo that stalked me. That I had presence of mind enough to even take the photo is fairly surprising. I am not well known for my acts of bravery. Last week an article in our local newspaper told of an ‘explosion’ of Dingoes in Central Australia this season. My speculations were vindicated. Locals are being warned to keep their pets on leashes, which they are supposed to do anyway, but some don’t. The Rangers are trying to trap the Dingoes and release them out bush. I woke one Saturday morning about 5.30am to the sound of Dingo howls very near our house! It was at least two, and likely three, of them, judging from the pitch of the various howls. It was somewhat melodic but quite unsettling, at the same time. I tried to go outside to hear where they might be, because it was still too dark to easily see. But they stopped as soon as I opened the door and I couldn’t get a fix on them. But close. I’m certain.

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Dingo watching

It reminds me of the coyotes that have become very comfortable living near humans in the USA. A few times when we have visited in recent years I have heard them howling at night. In southern Ohio we never saw or heard them when I was growing up, but we do now.

Things change.

Something that never changes is the quiet upon returning home from our travels. How soothing is our environment here–unless the neighbour is using his leaf blower or building a fence with an angle grinder… I also enjoy many of nature’s sounds when at home–although some, not so much. It is a cool rainy morning, and just now the window beside me is open. After weeks of piercing cicada song, I relax (perhaps rejoice is a better word) at the absence. The overnight rain has temporarily stilled them. Their sound is called ‘song’ but is more like white noise, and when it is gone you suddenly realise what quiet is again. There is very light patter of rain on the metal roof, and the somewhat strident call of a Magpie-Lark in the distance. No motors or human noises, save the gentle swish of the ceiling fan above me.

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clouds low on the MacDonnell Ranges this morning

Just after hearing the chorus of howls a week or so ago, I walked and listened to a podcast which has given me new appreciation of the quiet. The interview was with Gordon Hempton, an ‘acoustic ecologist’. (yes, it is a thing!) Woven throughout this quiet interview are many of the recordings he has made over the years. He tries to find places of ‘silence’, which in his world means ‘quiet’—without human sounds, only nature. I think he must not have visited Australia yet, because here you can experience a quiet that speaks. I was listening to the interview and sound recordings through earphones in the early morning, before most of us are making our human noises. At times I wasn’t sure if I was hearing local birds calling and waves crashing (not likely, but still, it has been a wet summer…) or his recordings. It was quite remarkable.

Both sounds and silence speak volumes. Listen.

(The above link is from the website so that you can listen to the interview on your computer, but if you are a podcast listener, ‘The Last Quiet Places‘ can be found by searching through your podcast app for ‘On Being’ with Krista Tippett, and then either the title, or Gordon Hempton)

when you know better, do better…

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Our country is like an old house, and old houses need fixing, and more fixing –Isabel Wilkerson (from podcast ‘On Being’ with Krista Tippett*)

As you will recall, I usually post a list of my favourite books at the end of each year. This one just couldn’t wait. Because we can’t wait. Our world needs every day possible to do better. The Warmth of Other Suns by Pulitzer Prize winning writer, Isabel Wilkerson is the best work of non-fiction I have ever read. The story she tells is one of a country within a country and how its people struggled, and still struggle, to be recognised as equal. But in this day of mass migrations it is also a universal story. Isabel researched this book for 10 years and then spent 5 years writing it. The quality and care of her efforts are evident. The historic fabric of one of America’s most underreported stories is woven from carefully transcribed anecdotal telling, research and statistics so deftly threaded throughout, it reads like a novel. All 622 pages of it.

The Warmth of Other Suns is one of those books I did not want to end, but not because it paints a pretty picture of life in the US between 1915 and 1975. I didn’t want it to end because it was a fascinating revelation—a third of which happened during the first 20 years of my life. If you think you know this story, you probably don’t. I am very sorry to say, I was completely oblivious to what is now called The Great Migration. Since it was so underreported, my ignorance is partially understandable. The Great Migration is the epic story of how over six million black people living in the south of the United States, moved north and west during a period of about 60 years, trying to escape the extreme segregation of the south. ‘Jim Crow‘, as the segregationist regime was called, disallowed colored people to walk on the sidewalk alongside white people, to sit in the same seats on public transport, to buy the same real estate, indeed any real estate at all…and worse.

Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC,--cloudy skies but light on the horizon

Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC,–cloudy skies but light on the horizon

Growing up in rural southern Ohio is also partly why the movement was not in my consciousness. Ohio was geographically part of the North. It boasted a very effective ‘underground railroad’ which spirited runaway slaves to safety, but later on would deny migrating southern blacks the same opportunities migrants from Europe enjoyed. I may have missed the movement, but I was not oblivious to the undercurrent of prejudice that still existed when I was growing up. You may pose the question in your mind, as I did, but weren’t the blacks treated equally after their emancipation at the end of the Civil War in 1865? Not only was this not the case, but the situation worsened for most so-called emancipated ‘colored people’ as they were called in those days. Even after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, many states took another ten years to invoke a version of equality.  The truth of this will vary, depending upon who you speak to, much as the extermination of Jews has at times been a point of contention for holocaust deniers. This book has such depth, there can be no doubt of the terrible injustice  done to people who had purposely, and gainfully, been introduced to the US, in some cases by tearing them away from their families in Africa, and bringing them to enslavement.

But it is even more than that.

 Migrating is never just about migration—it is about freedom    —Isabel Wilkerson

Isabel Wilkerson tells the story of speaking at a book signing and looking up to see a little old Greek lady with an armload of copies of her book for her to sign. The Greek lady said “You have told MY story too.” She wanted to share the book with her family. This was the associative experience Wilkerson wanted to convey with her book. As a migrant to Australia, and the grandchild of a migrant, I read the book with great interest. The Great Migration was also about moving from the ‘Old Country’ in the south, to the ‘New World’ in the north for the migrants. It overlapped the huge influx of migrants from Europe, some of which were my family, and so it was the plight many people faced. But the colored people were at the bottom of the pile, even though they had been in the country for twelve generations previously.

If all history books were written as well as this one I would have been a better history student. This work has been a real awakening with respect to government policy regarding migrants, as well as the recalcitrant behaviour of the general population whose unconscious collusion continues today. When we know better we can do better, but it is still a choice.

A month ago when I began reading, I had no idea I would finish it on Martin Luther King Day (USA), in the same week as the first African American President of the USA would finish his second term in office. With Australia Day coming in a week, I can’t help but think of all the challenges both of my countries have before them. We have so much experience from which to draw it is a wonder we still falter when encountering someone who is different from us. And yet we do. I hope many will read this book and find knowledge and compassion, and perhaps even part of their own story within its pages.

Do the best you can, then when you know better, do better. –Maya Angelou

 *If  you have 51 minutes, listen to the podcast linked in the opening quotation, via your computer.

the Red Centre is dripping with change

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Normally dry Todd River in morning sunlight

Whenever I am asked what the climate is like in Alice, I answer that the temperatures range from -4 or -5C overnight in the winter to 40C+(104F) daytime highs in the summer. They usually respond with “Wow, that is hot” and it is the customary inside joke to reply “But it’s a dry heat”. At the moment, I really can’t say that without a huge caveat that we had 50% more rain than normal last year and it appears the pattern is continuing. The humidity and heat seep to my inner workings like rust into a motor, and nearly stop me. What doesn’t happen in the mornings before about 11am, seldom gets done until after a protracted siesta. (It is 6am and I am listening to rain as I write this)

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can you see the green tinge on the ranges?

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Don at work at the dining table with visitor and her joey looking in

Of course the local environment and our garden have responded to the wetter conditions, but not always in the ways we might have expected. The Ranges and outcrops are decidedly tinged with green, looking more like Ireland or Scotland than Central Australia. Wildlife is behaving somewhat differently, too. Usually when we have enough rain to boost the food sources in the scrub near town, the wallabies and kangaroos retreat from town to the bush and we don’t see them until things dry out again. This summer we’ve seen fairly regular appearances of them, one even stopping to have a look before breakfast earlier this week. My husband was working at the dining table and quietly called me to come have a look. I can usually tell by the quality of his voice if I need to grab my phone for a photo, and sure enough that was the case. A short while after this wallaby visited, a larger one, with joey under its own power, bounded up the steps and through the breezeway. They often use it as a ‘cut through’ to the scrub that is only one row of houses behind us. It was an entertaining way to start the day.

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After the rain, droplets glisten like jewels

Curiously, a small family of dingoes has established itself nearby as well. It has happened previously, and is of some consternation to locals as the dingoes become fairly immune to urban life. Local domestic dogs have been taken and I have personally been stalked on my morning walks. The Rangers try to capture and relocate them when possible, but it can take a while. On a recent morning walk there were two dead and disemboweled wallabies near the path, and the following day another one. Very unsettling–and just possibly, the reason for the mums and their joeys to be moved in from out bush, if there has been a dingo population explosion–but I’m just speculating.

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Bearded Dragon lizard (about 35cm/14″) long

Bearded dragon lizards have also made their presence known in larger than usual numbers this year. Found this poor fellow recently deceased along the walking path this morning. We have one in particular at our place that suns itself on the grassy knoll in front of the dining windows. (behind where the wallaby appeared) We watch with great interest how brave he is. One morning he seemed doomed, fending off five butcher birds that had him trapped. He prevailed, snapping back and outwitting them.

The native flora in the area has blossomed profusely, providing stunning photography subjects, as well as exceptionally stunning hay fever. Fortunately mine is mostly controlled with lubricating eyedrops and my husband has a nasal spray that he uses so that we can both sleep at night.

Because the cloud and rain kept the earlier summer months cooler than normal, many flowering plants came on later than usual. Our citrus trees have suffered the most, the lime having only about a dozen fruits and the lemon tree which is normally prolific, not a single fruit. Puzzling. Both trees are about 15 years old and, except for the first year, have never missed a year without more than enough fruit for us and the neighbours.

In the darkest hours, the Outer Kingdom is filled with a din of crickets punctuated by the clicking of burrowing frogs that have come to the surface for their short life cycle. Spiders have nearly taken over outside, spanning incredible distances that I can’t help but admire…from afar. Every morning on my walk I have to carry a stick to clear the webs in front of me. Walking into spider webs is very unpleasant. I’ve seen grown men react worse than me. Ants frantically try to find dryer ground in between bouts of rain. Last summer we had the giant grasshoppers, but this is the summer of the teeny tiny ones. Their hundreds are no less damaging, devouring the tasty green parts of fig leaves with incredible precision. I live in hope of one year having figs on this, my third attempt of growing fig trees in 25 years. There has also been an explosion of that most charming of insects, the lady bug. I have had a dozen or more inside the house, which I have gently transported to the Outer Kingdom again. In fact, just now, when taking a break from writing I walked to the kitchen, and there was another one ensconced on a piece of plastic wrap! 

I can’t help but think if I lived in a big city and the weather was significantly different, I may have missed all the changes taking place. But here, it is in our faces, and mostly we like it that way…as long as it isn’t attached to a web.

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Spencer’s Burrowing Frog posing for a portrait

gone, with a whinge…

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The days of thin eyebrows are gone. Back in the day, no one mentioned that eventually the tweezed ones would not grow back. Being young, I doubt I would have listened, regardless. Having slavishly plucked to appease fashion demands of the latter part of last century, mine are decidedly thin, from lack of regrowth. But on the negative side, they have creatively developed some extremely long and wire-y disciples that vie for attention.fullsizeoutput_3902

I now ‘trim’ the brows—my tweezing efforts have had to move to the lower portion of the face. Can’t science develop a directional flow beam-a-ma-bob that will show the hairs where they are needed? Herein lies your millions, all you millennials. Of course it may not be needed, those of us who over-tweezed may be long gone, having gradually faded to nothing, one hair at a time.

And while the upper eye area has an overgrowth of select hairs, the lower lid has the reverse. Gradually the lower lashes are disappearing. A small dab of liner pencil where I never used to need it, helps it look less sparse. Meanwhile, the upper lashes which were always rather short and light on the tips have been given a surprising boost in recent years. The diagnosis of glaucoma, which requires eye drops, is the reason. On my first visit the young female doctor (I may have shoes as old as she was) tried to reassure me as the tears gathered in my eyes, “Don’t worry, it may never get any worse than now, and just wait until you see what long dark lashes you will develop as a side-effect from the drops.” Yes, exactly, at 60+ what I really, really want is long dark lashes. It was little comfort at the time, but eventually I grew to embrace this little gift, as I saw the results. More importantly, after two years the glaucoma has not worsened.

The young doctor forgot to mention a quirky little fact, if she even knew— that every now and then, all the longest lashes will fall out…within close timing of each other… gone. There are odd gaps through the lash line, that probably no one but me notices. It is slightly alarming at the time as I ponder–what happens if they never come back at all? I’m unable to answer myself when I pose these deep questions.

Leonid Brezhnev in the Federal Republic of Germany 1978These were the thoughts going through my mind this morning as I groomed and cosmetically enhanced my face. Smoke and mirrors, friends, smoke and mirrors…There are other things that have disappeared, like my waistline, hair colour and the once smooth texture of my fingernails. Gone, gone, gone. Perhaps you think I place too much emphasis on my appearance, but I kind of liked the face I was finally getting used to. I know, I know, it is part of the deterioration of ageing and has nothing to do with one’s inner beauty. Really, I’m okay with that…I’m just not ready to have the eyebrows of comrade Brezhnev.

Inspired by WordPress Daily Post: Gone

resilient…

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fallen ginkgo leaves and raindrops

I have been scrolling. In passed decades we might have said ‘thumbing’ through photos taken during the passed year, trying to select the images that most represent my mindset and aesthetic. In doing so I was reminded of a Japanese term that when I first saw it went immediately to the ‘knowing’ centre of me.

Wabi-sabi.

Previously, I hadn’t put a name to my habit of looking for the perfection of the imperfect. Another piece to an infinite puzzle revealed. And then today, as I contemplated WordPress’s word of the day I felt another irregular little piece click into place.

Resilient.

The nature of all things to blossom, deteriorate and still reveal their beauty is pure resilience. It fills me with hope and steadies my wobbles. We creatures of nature are incredibly resilient. We will continue to be so, imperfectly perfect and into a new year and beyond.

a path diverging…

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fullsizeoutput_38d3Here, in the heart of Australia I stopped. Three days before Christmas I sat on a bench with a path converging in front of me and a sunrise that was the harbinger of rain for Christmas. Lots of rain. We welcome rain, in the arid lands, whenever it chooses to anoint us. I sat on this bench feeling grateful that my family was home and for all the goodness Life has brought us.

My path has never been very predictable, and I have liked it that way. Life has presented many more amazing twists and turns than I could imagine. I have regretted nothing that has appeared at my feet…on the path. Now, living half a world from where I began life, it seems like there was nothing else I could have done.

Three days ago I saw this path converging. Today I see it was a divergence with a brief intersection only. Our family is gone, necessarily leaving space between the two paths once again. As we parted, it was the reopening of an old wound, a raw and painful aching in the solar plexus, for something you can no longer have. Time, and writing about it temporarily cover over the longing, anticipating a future time when our paths will briefly converge again.

Inspired by the WordPress theme: Path

a list of lists…

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img_3709A couple of posts back I gave my book report for 2016 and invited those who were so inclined to give us their recommendations as well. It was probably a busy time of year to try to encourage participation, so I’ve compiled the short list of recommended reading and also found a couple of other lists you might want to click through once the demands of the holidays settle down.

First, the selections recommended by my lovely readers:

The Good People by Hannah Kent, a novel set in Ireland in the 1820s, it is disturbing and unsettling at times. Nance is the healer, witch doctor herbalist and the one with the ‘gift’ or knowledge, who lives very much on the edge of society. Her life and her healing intertwines with the villagers and with the bigoted local priest.

Hannah Kent is an award winning Australian author. Her research, finding the historical ‘voice’ and detail into County Kerry is remarkable, as is the prose.

(As an aside, I noticed that Amazon’s Audible program has added ‘The Good People’ to its list of books you can listen to, if you are so inclined. I wasn’t sure I would like listening to books but I’m very much enjoying it. Audible had a free, for the first month, selection which I tried, after which I subscribed for $14.95 (AUD) per month, for which I receive one selection or one credit. It is cheaper than buying the audible version outright. Also, if you buy the Kindle book as well as the audio version of the same book, you can switch back and forth between reading and listening and it cleverly picks up wherever you have left off of the other one.)

fullsizeoutput_38e6The Second selection recommended by one of our community:

The Invention of Nature: Alexander Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf. It is a biography of Alexander Humboldt, an amazing scientist who lived in the late 1700s. He was fascinated by everything, which enabled him to understand connections in the environment. He was the first to articulate the concept of ecology, and realised that changes in one part of the environment would have profound effects elsewhere. He influenced many scientists and thinkers, including Darwin. Humboldt’s name is not very familiar now, but he has influenced our modern understanding of our world, including the impacts of climate change.

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Here is a post by James Clear, with a lot of lists for all kinds of reading, featuring over 100 books. I think this will hold us for a while, don’t you?

However, if we are still not hitting your reading ‘sweet spot’, my friend Celi from thekitchensgarden  has compiled her yearly book list based on recommendations from her readers as well.

And finally, I’m very partial to a good photo, as well as some good reading, so here is a link to view Time’s selection of the most influential photos . No doubt you will have one or two you would like to add to this list, but these will get you started…

…my very best wishes to you for the coming new year.xximg_3710

what Christmas looks like at my house

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I have been particularly grumpy about Christmas this year. There is much hype and expectation, particularly heaped on women at this time of year, and it is hard to avoid. It has been said Christmas (as we currently celebrate it) would not happen were it not for women. Does that also mean we have the power to change it, if we want to? I think maybe it does.

One of the most annoying parts for me is, most of the tradition centres around Northern Hemisphere, and cold climate practices. In case you aren’t aware of it, it is 100F/38C here in my part of Australia at the moment. Aussies have done their best to move away from the hot cooked foods of our ancestors, but with other things we are not so evolved.

I understand why the tradition of Santa (Kris Kringle) has been perpetuated, but really, that hot, fur trimmed suit and the whole snow thing could take a rest, don’t you think?

Our family livelihood was growing Christmas trees. It was hard work for all of us. Sometimes we actually worked in the fields, trimming and harvesting them. Sometimes we were the support crew for those who did. I can tell you, the spindly, half dead tree I saw in the grocery store this week, presumably the last of a very small selection, bore no resemblance to a tree grown in Southern Ohio, where my brother still grows and sells trees.

In an effort to try and decipher the basis of my grumbles this year, I decided to see if doing things a bit differently might help. Traditions carried over from another life and another land, may just not be the most useful in current times.

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party lights amongst my natural treasures

Our daughter and her fiancé will be here for a few days and in an effort to keep my head from spinning right off my body, I asked her if she would mind if I didn’t put up a tree and decorations. She readily said it wasn’t necessary. Bless her. The next thing I did was put hubby on notice, that his useful presence would be required to help with various small chores, among them cooking on the grill.

What to do about the baking? Baking is a hot activity, even in an air conditioned house. I got a window of opportunity two weeks ago when we had a cool, rainy spell, so I quickly decided I would have enough time and energy for one thing and what would that be?? Our daughter always asks for the White Fruitcake and Pecan Sandies. Choose one. I can’t make the Sandies gluten free, but I can make the fruitcake gluten free, so that was the one I chose. Selfish of me, perhaps, but who needs the stress of cooking and being around food you can’t eat yourself?

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White Fruit Cake (Gluten free version)

As it happened, another gluten free recipe from my friend Francesca’s blog Almost Italian, came across my inbox in a very timely manner. It looked simple and like it would be the perfect replacement for Sandies. And it is.so.delicious. Baking only takes 15 minutes in a slow oven so even I could accommodate that on a 100F/38C day like yesterday.

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Almond, Cherry and Chocolate Biscotti

The whole sending cards thing was a no brainer, and a no-doer. That ship has sailed.

Gifts are minimal and either consumable, as in edible or use-up-able, or in the case of our daughter and her fiancé things that will help them in their life. Hubby and I have each other’s Presence and that is all we need.

So in a nutshell, here are my five changes toward a lower stress Christmas:

  • No Christmas decorations, only a small nod to festivity via some party lights and found objects from my morning walks
  • Ask for help and keep the cooking simple and on the grill, if possible
  • Bake less, enjoy it more
  • Don’t send Christmas cards unless you love doing it
  • Give gifts that will enhance the other person’s life, not to give you a thrill when they open it

Keeping things simpler has given me a lighter heart. There are no prizes for baking the most, shopping the most, sending the most cards, or having the biggest display of decorations. Presence is the best gift to give everyone, including yourself. Wishing you and yours the best of whatever you want for yourselves.

img_3590PS. Here is the proof I do own an apron, and a sense of humour as well! x

living dangerously…

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If ever you are feeling particularly murderous and audacious, but wanting to bake all at the same time, here is what you do.

  1. Take a perfectly nice recipe that calls for a cup of freshly squeezed orange juice.
  2. Substitute blood oranges (because that is what you have on hand) for the regular kind.
  3. Hand squeeze them with a citrus juicer. (Warning: murderous tendency may either be heightened or diminished by the visceral act of hand-squeezing blood oranges.)

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    the blood and the orange

     

4. When you are nearly finished look down at what you are wearing.

If it is a pure white linen shirt …you are really living on the edge, so go for it. If the shirt looks like something from CSI, take it out and shred it and get some stress release. Better still, burn it. As we know, that leaves fewer clues. If you escaped without a drop on your shirt, as soon as you finish baking, go buy a lottery ticket.

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the syrup over warm biscuits, don’t they look deceptively good? HA!

I was all set, in fact had already written this post to include the recipe, when horror of horrors, the resulting biscuits/cookies were no good! The taste was okay, but nothing to rave about, but the problem was they upset both my husband and my digestion! Now, I’m normally sensitive, so not so surprising for me. But my husband has an iron gut and can eat just about anything. The biscuits were gluten free, dairy free and refined sugar free, a good start, one would think. But it just goes to show, anything can be problematic.

To be honest, I often have problems with refined sugar alternatives. Honey and maple syrup both have free fructose in them in sufficient quantities to upset me if I consume too much. And while I can usually get away with small amounts of citrus fruit, the juice is much more concentrated with fructans as well. I’m just guessing here, but I’ve necessarily become a pretty good detective. In the end, I had all my luck up front with this recipe, as you can see from my pristine white linen shirt. How did that happen???? No need for the lottery tickets, it was obvious my luck had run out when I ate one of the biscuits. They were a bit fussy to make, too, and while I was curious enough to try them, I have simpler recipes that I will share with you some time when I’ve recovered my composure.

Enjoy your day.

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white linen shirt, that escaped bloody oranges