Archive for April, 2010

What is Feminism?

Feminism is:

  • The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.
  • Organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.

It is ironic that at the beginning of the 21st century we are still debating this topic.

World history is full of mentions of brave and courageous women such as: Rani Lakshmi of Jhansi, Queen Zenobia, Joan of Arc, Arachidamia, Sacagawea, Queen Boudicca, Queen Mbande Zinga, but to name a few among many, who most probably had never heard about anything called feminism.

Did that stop them from doing what they did for their peoples and their country? No.

Did they reflect upon how a woman was supposed to behave? Did they ever stop and think whether history would remember them and their heroic exploits? Most likely not!

So, what is making us pay so much attention to the concept, the definition, if you will, of the word feminism in today’s world?

Is it because we are more into analysis and politics than getting our hands and feet dirty and just doing what is right?

Having said all that, here I am, expressing my own opinions about this subject – a subject which has been alive and kicking, whether acknowledged or not, for as long as humans have been in existence.

Please read on as to why I have taken a stroll down this path today…

A few weeks ago, one of my blogger friends A Cuban in London made a very interesting post on his blog. It was titled: Feminism: Has it gone wrong? 

Now, this is a subject that is very close to my heart, and has always been. So, of course, I read that article – which was based on a piece that was printed in the Guardian, a British daily newspaper, by the British journalist Charlotte Raven – with avid interest.

And then Cuban threw a challenge at me. Okay, not at me personally, but his article said that he was going to have a debate on his blog about feminism. He suggested bloggers interested in it should email him their willingness to do this, and he’d select five participants.

To make a long story short (yeah, I know… Too late for that, right? Anyway…), I’m one femme, among the five selected, who got to vent my feelings about this age-old topic.

Cuban gave each of us the same five questions (I have included them below) and asked us to respond to them in some detail.

Below are my responses to Cuban’s thought-provoking questions. Some of them gave me pause, and I had to occasionally dig deep within myself to even acknowledge some of the beliefs I held with regard to this subject, but I had a great time putting my responses together!

I’m posting only three of the five questions today. I will post the rest next week.

  • Cuban: Feminism has often been accused of being a movement led by and directly benefiting middle-class, educated, western women, thus, overlooking the role played by many female activists on the frontline of social and political struggles, such as: domestic violence, pay inequity, restrictions on reproductive rights. What do you think about it?

Hema: I would agree with this assessment, only when it comes to feminism as an organized movement.

As a teenager in India, in the 80s, I knew a woman (as just one example) who used to buy school supplies every year for her neighbor’s daughter, so that that girl wouldn’t have to drop out of school for lack of money. So, that lady helped empower a girl-child by supporting her education.

Did she do it keeping in mind the concept of ‘feminism’? Probably not. Just because she has not been part of the bigger movement, does that make her any less of a feminist? No.

I think the basic philosophy behind feminism – struggle for gender equality is practiced every day, either at grassroots level inside many homes, or on a bigger scale by female social activists and such all across the globe.

However, feminism as an organized movement has been more or less a western concept, or restricted to cities, for the most part, elsewhere in the world.

Overall, my take on feminism resonates very much with that of Sarojini Naidu – a poet and a prominent voice in the nationalist and women’s movements during India’s freedom struggle. She once said (I paraphrase) that she wouldn’t call herself a feminist because to do so would be to acknowledge that women are weak, and hence need an organized movement to uplift themselves.


  • Cuban: It seems that sometimes feminism is not compatible with women’s freedom to choose, especially if that choice sometimes hinders their own progress. What are your thoughts on this issue?

Hema: At the height of the feminist movement (and by that I mean the 1960s and 70s), this may have been partly true. (I concede this point with some reluctance because my impressions are from having read books and watched television shows about that time period, for lack of a more objective data for myself – I was too young in the 70s to have had first-hand understanding of the movement’s ideology and workings.)

During those days, if a woman chose of her own accord to give up a high-paying corporate job (for instance) to stay home and nurture her kids, then she’d have been labeled anti-feminist.

I would like to believe (though I don’t have concrete data either way) that the feminist movement ideally did not begin this way, and that this kind of hindrance to a woman’s personal choice was a radical off-shoot of the original campaign, as it usually happens with organized movements over time.

These days, I believe women definitely have more freedom (in view of feminism, at least) to make their own choices, based upon their own perception of progress, and not be tagged for it one way or the other.


  • Cuban: The author appears to believe that writers and journalists are the only ‘thinking women’. What’s your opinion about it?

Hema: I would like to give the author the benefit of the doubt, since she’s not in front of me to defend her stance, that she used writers and journalists in that context as examples of ‘thinking women’, not as all-encompassing categories of the same. Even then she would have done better to include others from disparate walks of life.

If I am being too generous and the author did mean it when she said that writers and journalists are the only thinking women, then she couldn’t be more off the mark.

Let’s take a woman who does menial labor for daily wages as but one instance of women who couldn’t be any farther in the spectrum from the thinking women that the author has come up with. The woman in our example – who would often be considered uneducated in the traditional sense of the word – is usually wise and astute; and at most times she shoulders the burden of her whole – usually large – family.

She may not be making momentous political and judicial decisions everyday that would make or break the country’s future, but she definitely is thinking about things that are far more important to her family’s survival. Just because her thoughts are more practical and immediate, do we have the right to trivialize them?


To read the other four panelists’ opinions, go to Cuban’s blog. Hey, but not before you give me a piece of your mind first  :0)!

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That title caught your attention, didn’t it?

Did it make you think that there was an editor and an agent dueling for my manuscript? Ah, a woman can dream aspire, can’t she?

But that is not at all what’s happening. I happened to go to a conference last weekend, held by our local chapter of SCBWI. It was an Agent/Editor Day.

Rachel Orr, a literary agent from Prospect Agency, and Margaret Miller, an editor from Bloomsbury Children’s Books USA, came to our chapter, and spent valuable time:

  • providing critiques to some local writers of children’s literature and
  • providing information and encouragement to a roomful of writers

It was a very interesting day for me. I hadn’t been in a room choking with so many like-minded people in a while. Whichever way I turned, I could, without much effort, decipher the looks in the eyes, and the words spilling out of the mouths.

Nobody had to explain the jargon to anyone, and nobody had to stop and ask “You know what I mean?”

It was as if there were a hundred of me (looking and sounding as different I as I could get) aspiring for the same thing. It was most inspirational and uplifting and humbling all at the same time.

My Impressions of the guest speakers:

I haven’t had a chance to meet with either of them in person and hold a conversation, but from having heard them address us all, I’d say they are funny, witty and quite down to earth.

Prospect Agency’s web site says this of Rachel Orr:

Rachel Orr joined Prospect Agency in 2007 after eight rewarding years editing children’s books for Harper Collins. She enjoys the challenge of tackling a wide variety of projects and is particularly looking for middle-grade and YA novels right now, as well as the next big picture-book illustrator.

Rachel values her close relationships with authors and believes that nothing feels as good as a fresh, clean line edit.

Rachel chose a wonderful topic, and a very timely one for me, since I’m in the midst of a revision for my novel. Here are my impressions from what she had to share with us:

Topic: Character and Voice

The character in a book should be:

– Likeable: Make them likeable, but not entirely good and picture-perfect. Make the antagonists agreeable, too.

The characters should be likeable enough to make the reader want to go on reading the book.

– Changeable: Books should show how the characters grow. The change in them could be driven by one of an internal, external or a global change.

Original: Make the characters well-rounded and not flat.

–  Believable:  Characters should be true to their age, gender and the time period in which they live.

In a nutshell: The more the author understands a character, the more the reader will.

Voice: The voice of a character is what sets it apart from the others in the book.

– Catch phrases, rhythm and dialogue, when used in the right manner can help set the voice of not only the characters but the book.

Margaret Miller also chose a very interesting topic to share with us:

Working with an Editor: Your Bill of Rights.

I’m going to share with you all my impressions of her topic, next week.

I’m going to end today’s post on a small anecdote (if it can even be called that), that you all may appreciate.

Four of us were returning to the conference venue after lunch, when suddenly, one friend exclaimed, “This is why writers get killed all the time!” I was startled out of the discussion I was having with the other two ladies, and quickly looked around.

She was right! The four of us were so immersed in our own world that we had stopped dead, as one body, in the middle of the road and were swapping stories with each other oblivious to how we were offering ourselves up for possible annihilation.

Okay, so annihilation was just a little dramatic, but hope it helps make my point.

Not just writers – isn’t this the case when any two meet, who are of the same mind?

I find it most exhilarating when I look into a pair of eyes, not my own, and surprise the dream – the same one that I have been cherishing – smoldering in them, patiently biding its time.



  • I have a topic quite as interesting, but of a very different sensibility, lined up for you this Thursday. Please be sure to tune back in!!


  • I’m going to blog only two days a week from this week onwards – every Monday and Thursday. I enjoy blogging, almost a little too much, if I have to be honest :0). Lately, I have realized, however much you may deny the fact, that there are only 24 hours in a day.

And there are only so many words within that time period that your brain can willingly put to paper. The time has come for me to divert a little of that time and some of those words into finishing my novel.

Hope you’ll all forgive me this indiscretion and still keep popping by my blog, as you so kindly have so far, and continue to root for me? Thank you!

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April 22nd is celebrated every year as Earth Day. Do we, the human race, really have the right to celebrate this day?      

Nobody worth his salt has managed to not hear about the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupting and spewing thousands of tons of ash – it began on April 14th – thus effectively arresting air traffic all over Europe (and disrupting it all over the rest of the world, too).       


Eyjafjallajokul on April 17, 2010. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)


After more than a week, by Thursday the 22nd of April, it is said that the eruption has grown weaker, and the cloud of ash is growing smaller. Does that mean the biggest danger from the volcano is past?      

The study of volcanic phenomenon, Volcanology, is an imprecise science. Scientists, busy collecting data from this eruption and studying it in an effort to predict how the volcano will behave further, are not ready to say anything definitively.      

Their answer? We will just have to wait and see what it will do.      

Did you see pictures and videos of the volcano erupting (accompanied by monstrous grumbling) and throwing up all that ash? At the height of its intensity, it threw up chunks of magma and ice as big as helicopters.       

Here are some amazing pictures taken at various stages of the eruption, over days. They depict nature at its ferocious and awe-inspiring best. http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2010/04/more_from_eyjafjallajokull.html      

The big question plaguing scientists now is:      

  • Will this cooling of Eyjafjallajökull set off a more powerful eruption (which has a potential to be 10 times stronger) of Mt. Katla, which is a volcano at a distance of 8 miles from Eyjafjallajökull?


Past events point at the possibility that it very well may. Eyjafjallajökull has erupted three times so far in time; Mt. Katla has done so as well, each of those times.      

Now, I get to the crux of today’s post.      

  • Did the change in climatic conditions on Earth cause this volcanic eruption? The unanimous answer to that seems a resounding NO. Good!

However, a percentage of the scientific community strongly believes that melting of glaciers and ice caps, set off by global warming, could cause more volcanic action in the future in Iceland and an increase in earthquakes in Alaska.      

Their theory:      

  • The melting ice caps in the coming decades, a reaction to the climatic change on Earth, take a vast weight off the top of the volcanoes in the region of Iceland. This in turn frees magma from below ground causing more eruptions**.


  • Similarly, when glaciers melt, they lighten up the load on the tectonic plates on Earth’s crust. The result? The plates, now free of load, may move against each other, causing friction, which in turn manifests itself as earthquakes.**

Is this all true? I, for one, believe in these theories, though some people are laughing them away as skewed and unreasonable. Whichever side you tend to take, let me say this:      

If it takes the fear of natural calamities, of this proportion, to bring to everyone’s attention the dire need to pitch in to protect our own backyard, then so be it!        



My rendition of mankind crushing a grayed Earth


There are hundreds of big and small things each person can do that will make a difference in the long run to keep Earth as it should be: clean and green.      

I have seen some people who refuse to put their share into keeping their own environment clean, let alone others’. Their excuse? “Just my doing a little here and a little there isn’t going to help.” Really?      

If each of the six billion people on Earth exhibits this kind of negative and escapist tendencies, then who does Earth turn to?      

Some of the pictures taken during the Icelandic volcanic eruption show the resilient side of humanity. It’s a heartening sight, amid the chaos created by an angry nature.  

If only everyone can show the same kind of persistence and  ingenuity in protecting Earth, too!    

  • Nature at times behaves like a loving, but irascible, mother who snaps at her child who is refusing to take hints not to bother her too much.


  •  Is this why we are seeing more and more natural disasters every year?


  •  Could this be nature’s way of warning us not to push it?

So, what are you doing to keep your patch of Earth clean, green and happy?      


** – See the following sites for more information:      


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I have never been more in awe of whoever it was that had coined the phrase “Ignorance Is Bliss”. Truer words have not been spoken. That person must have been knee-deep in documents related to the world of writing when s/he had an epiphany and yelled those words out.

No, seriously, the more I research the publishing industry and the business side of writing, the more I become aware that it is an infinite ocean.

The art of writing – though on some days, writing feels more like a science experiment gone wrong – is a slippery slope. The faster you try to scale the slope, the faster you lose your foothold and scramble downwards.

I believe writing is something that you discover, experience and learn over time and with patience and perseverance.

As I gather information about literary agents, editors, submission guidelines et al, I keep hearing two words – loud and clear – again and again. Critique Group. That seems to be the mantra today in the writing business, and rightly so!

As the publishing industry stands today, most of the houses are refusing to accept unsolicited manuscripts. In plain speak, they are not accepting manuscripts that come directly, if they are not exclusively requested by them, from the author. They will only look at manuscripts that reached their tables through a literary agent. This guarantees, for them, that the manuscript has gone through at least one round of checking for marketability and viability, along with some editing.

Literary agents, I hear, in turn want to make sure that the manuscript that they consider has at least been objectively reviewed. And this is where our two magic words come in.

A critique group consists of, as its name suggests, a group of people (writers in this case) who come together to critique each other’s work, objectively. Now, that last word is key.

So, who constitutes a good critique group for you? A group of writers who are serious about writing, and are willing to be interested in your work enough to be critical about it.

Choose a group that fits with your personality and your expectations of the level of critique. This is very important, or you’d be left being part of a group that does nothing for your learning process.

It also helps to have the various members of the group writing for different age groups and in various genres. This provides for a better scope of learning.

I have been part of a face-to-face critique group for almost a year — I’ve been lucky enough to find my peers (now my dear friends) on my first try.

I’m told this is not always so. In which case, try different groups until you can find one that suits your needs.

Online critique groups are in now. And why not? They have some advantages (along with disadvantages, of course) over the traditional group. They eliminate the need for meeting in person at a fixed time – you can work at your own pace and time. The same point may also sometimes work as a drawback. Due to lack of a restriction in meeting time, others things may bump critiquing down the list when your plate is full.

It is also advised that you belong to more than one group, in order to get as varied and in-depth an input on your work as possible.

This is what my critique group has been for me when it came to my writing:

–          My support group

–          My coaches

–          My cheering squad

–          My fellow-students

–          The harshest critics of my work

And I wouldn’t want them any other way. I have been fortunate enough to find a group where everyone is serious about writing and is committed to the mutual growth of every member as a writer.

In short, your critique group is a big part of your writing family.

Here are some basics that my group follows implicitly:

When you are offering a critique:

  • Begin the critique you’re offering with positive feedback.


  • Any comments (even the negatives you bring up) can and should be made constructively. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to wear kid gloves every time you offer a negative comment, but it doesn’t hurt to modulate it.


  • Offer your opinions as such and not as hard facts, because they are just that – your opinions.


  • Critique the work and not the writer. Refrain from using words like: “You said here…”. Instead, say, “This character sounds older than his age.” etc.


  • Remember that if a character expresses debatable opinions, that does not necessarily mean that the author subscribes to those opinions.


When you are receiving critique:

  • Be open-minded. You are asking for feedback, so be prepared to hear both positive and negative comments. In fact, be hopeful that you will receive more of the second kind, which will help you better your work.


  • Remember you are not your work – learn to effectively divorce yourself from your writing. This will allow you to receive comments/critiques much more openly.


  • Be respectful of others’ opinions. You have asked for them.


  • Finally, week after week, if all you hear is “Wonderful work”, “Nothing amiss” etc., then it is time to look for another group.

Did you notice something?

The principles above do not necessarily apply to only writing. They hold equally well to any other situation in life.

Consider the following scenarios, for instance:

–          You are required to review a technical document written by a peer.

–          You are discussing right and wrong with your child.

–          You are trying to pitch a new idea to your boss.

–          You are bargaining for a car at the dealership.

Aren’t the above rules relevant to these settings, too?

I think that’s the beauty of belonging to any group that thrives on the principle of give-and-take. It provides you with the discipline needed not only to have a better life in a particular field, but a better life. Period.

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Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines pun as:

–          The usually humorous use of a word in such a way as to suggest two or more of its meanings or the meaning of another word similar in sound.

  • Suppose you’re sitting in a dentist’s office, waiting for a root canal. You are flipping through one of those glossy magazines listlessly, trying to not pay attention to the strident whirring of the drill in the cubicle next to yours.

Your eyes light up on a commercial that has a clever play with words. Don’t you laugh for a few seconds, forgetting where you are?

  • You are stuck in a traffic jam. (You know, the kind that makes you want to begin composing your own obituary?) Suddenly, your car radio plays a really funny commercial, or you slowly inch by a billboard with a witty saying on it.

Doesn’t that relieve some of your stress and make your hunched-up shoulders slope down just a little?

Words when strung together right can really make magic.

Whenever I drive by a board carrying a humorous message, I immediately feel a kinship with the person who came up with that line. The line says to me: here’s someone who takes their words seriously!

I have come across some of the best lines so far on the faces of rickety old-style manual black-giant-letters-over-white-board kind of billboards standing next to nondescript local businesses like mom-and-pop stores and animal clinics.

Hmm… may be there is some correlation between running your own business and a quirky sense of humor?

I have come across these lines in the last few weeks.

  • On the side of a garbage collecting company’s truck:

We dig trash.


  • Manwich (which now has one serving of veggies in it, ostensibly) commercial:

Meat your vegetables.


  • On the electronic billboard of a Cleaners’:

Questions? Call us. We talk dirty.


  • On the billboard of a local animal clinic:

Dog refusing his meals? Bring him in. We’ll help you vet his appetite.


  • Commercial for Michelin Tire:

When it pours it reigns.


  • Doormat in front of a house with one too many dogs for pets:

Beware! Dog cannot hold its licker!


  • On the pamphlet for a local nursery:

We are so excited about spring that we wet our plants!


  • On the billboard of an Auto Repair Shop:

Alignment problems? Let us set you straight.

Aren’t they punny? :)

They sure helped add some color and break up the monotony of my days when I came across them.

Have any favorite funny lines of your own? Please, share them with us!

P.S: Wondering why the color post today? It is depressingly wet and overcast outside right now. I have no control over the weather, so I thought why not bring some color to at least one of those areas that I do control? :)

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Has this ever happened to you? You have been thinking about a movie or just a concept for some time. And suddenly you keep seeing references to it everywhere you turn. It’s like déjà vu!   

Why does this happen? I can think of two reasons:   

a)      We tend to pay attention to the topic, which is at the top of our head currently, more than before. So, obviously, references to it that we would have missed or ignored before get highlighted for us now in neon.   

Additionally, humans are good at attribution and association. We attribute and associate even oblique hints to the topic at hand – even those clues that are not really related to it in the first place.   

b)      There definitely is a higher power at hand, watching our every move, sometimes rapping our knuckles for our misdemeanors, and  at other times lauding our efforts with big or small signs of encouragement.     

And there are still other times when the higher power is just itching for some fun and so teases us with hints and references – as a child would a favorite pet kitten with a sprig of catnip – and chuckles away in delight at our confusion.   

At least, that’s how I feel.   

Here’s where the speed-reading in today’s title comes in.   

I love history, and I am currently working on novel(s) for children set in history. Hence a lot of my time is spent not only in writing but also in research.   

Research is half the fun of writing for me. However, it loses some of its charm if you’re working against a deadline, self-imposed or otherwise.   

And there are tons of data readily available for any and every subject under the sun, what with internet and everything. However much you research a subject there is still more to do. And at most times, usually at the last moment, you end up learning that there’s a whole new angle you have managed to overlook. Not a good feeling!   

 Hence, I have been thinking on and off about speed-reading lessons for the past two months: Does it really work? Will it help me in my current situation? Or would I be just wasting time and money?     

Then … suddenly, last Thursday, sitting in my mailbox I find a brochure from a local university. I open it and what do I see? A list of summer classes for speed-reading. Yes.   

It had the following information, among other things:   

Speed-Reading helps you with:   

a)      Quadrupling your reading speed and comprehension   

b)      Finishing your homework at a greater speed and accuracy   

c)       Researching topics much faster and with a higher efficiency   

I almost fell over backwards when I saw the last point. A mere coincidence?   

And get this: I had never taken any classes from that particular university. I hadn’t even driven by its campus before – I don’t know where exactly it is located. Heck, I hadn’t even ventured through their portals on the net!   

How did they get my address? They didn’t even address the pamphlet to “The Resident at so-and-so number”. They addressed it sure as anything to “Mrs. Hema P.” – I’m not making this up!   

Meet ‘Blue Billi’, an amateur detective. Does she remind you of another feline in bubblegum pink? She should! They’re cousins, you see, and sleuthing runs in the family.


I immediately looked around me, a la Blue Billi, and then quickly darted to the nearest window. I was hoping to catch whoever was spying on me in the act.   

Obviously, no such luck — I didn’t espy any glimpses of a trench coat being hastily pulled behind the tree in my backyard. Neither did I catch the sharp glint of a binoculars suddenly muted.   

Unless the snoop was blissfully dozing away somewhere because of the immense boredom induced by the subject under surveillance, there was no one really checking me out.   

Are you thinking that I had looked closely at the pamphlet, instead of chucking it right away, only because the topic had caught my attention?   

Well, it’s a possibility… but I’m a firm believer of ‘Opportunity knocks but once’. So, I’m in the habit of perusing any piece of paper – brochures or advertisements or coupons – closely, before I put them in the trash.   

Now, don’t you agree that it is someone up there playing a trick on me and watching to see how I get all rattled up and begin to run around in circles?   

P.S: Does speed-reading really work? Anyone willing to shed some light on how useful you find/have found it?

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Finally! Spring is here – there are signs of new life everywhere around me. 


Having said that, for the sake of honesty, I also have to mention that where I live spring usually lasts for a whole day. 

Yes, you read it right! It happens when you least expect it, and then it’s gone. Hot, scorching dog days of summer take over. But die-hard spring fans like me hang on to the euphoria left behind by that one glorious day. 

This is what Spring means to me: 

  • Oxygen, oxygen everywhere. The minute I step out of the house, I have this constant urge to expand my lungs and fill them with as much of the fresh air as possible.


  • Longer drives via circuitous routes (the usually impatient, task-oriented me goes into a brief hibernation) to wherever I’m headed, just so I can enjoy more of the unfurling buds and leaves.


  • A compulsion to clean out the whole house – thankfully, it never lasts for too long.


  • Ideas exploding in my head, pulling me in a dozen different directions at once making me truly addle-headed.


  • Watching the bulbs in my garden begin to sprout soft, green shoots that prod out of the earth at an amazing speed.


  • An attack by the melancholy thought of “So much to do, so little time!”. I know that it is very much against the concept of a new beginning, but somehow spring always has this effect on me.


  • Sitting outside at night and counting stars. At least, I try to count them; guess I will have to move to the countryside first to be able to do it effectively. The only stars I see now (being in the middle of a big city) are those that blink constantly and keep moving to the west of my house. See, one of the busiest airports in the world is about twenty miles, as the crow flies, west of my house.


  • The romantic in me getting even more vicious – can’t hear a beautiful song without sniffling and tearing up. Most embarrassing when in public, I tell you!


One enterprising bunny deemed our yard safe and had her litter smack-dab in the middle of our vegetable patch one spring


  • Baby bunnies scampering in my yard, making me groan. They are cute, I’m not saying they aren’t. But my neighborhood is infested (yes, seriously) with them. One evening you lovingly water the plants in your garden, hoping to see them bloom the next day. You wake up the next morning and go out to the garden in a rush of anticipation — what do you see? A patch of pathetic-looking denuded stalks and a pair of long ears disappearing around the bend. Argh!


  • Pollen everywhere, unfortunately. Makes my eyes itch and my nose twitch just at the thought of all those microspores floating in the air.


What does spring mean to you?

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