Roamin’ Holiday

As I’ve posted in the past (more than once, such was my disappointment), I was supposed to go to Italy on my most recent vacation. But no. Of course not. COVID-19 has made victims of us all, in one way or another. I’m just grateful that me and mine are all alive to date.

But I couldn’t stand the idea of rotting away on my couch, watching the socially distant parade pass me by, as it were. And the truth is, I have only lived in the state of Washington for less than 6 years, so there’s a lot of this area that I’ve yet to see. So we planned 3 day trips and one overnight jaunt.

Traveling during a pandemic is an entirely different animal. We didn’t go inside any shops. Souvenirs were all but nonexistent. We didn’t make any new friends. We survived on homemade sandwiches and drinks, and occasional takeout food, mostly pizza. We masked up for any public bathrooms or anytime anyone looked like they’d be getting within rock throwing distance of us. Our hands were washed within an inch of their lives. We stayed in the car the majority of the time, and took pictures out the windows. But frankly, most of the places we went looked like ghost towns. I half expected to see tumbleweeds rolling down main street. We did see deer every single day of our travels. (I suspect that deer are loving this pandemic.)

I’m really enjoying living in a state that is so varied. We saw canals and sounds and islands and valleys and mountains and deserts and forests primeval. We saw a volcano and the unbelievable destruction it left in its wake. We saw farms and orchards and industry galore, all quiet, all empty. We saw one charming, deserted town after another. We put about 1500 miles on the car.

So I guess you might say that instead of a Roman Holiday, we had a Roamin’ Holiday. It wasn’t what we’d planned, but it was good. These days, it’s just good to be healthy and see new things. That’s more than enough. That’s everything.

Watch this space for more detailed descriptions of our wanderings in coming days!

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During the trip, we saw this rainbow. It was so vivid that it looked like hard candy. I’ve never seen anything like it. We snapped a picture, but the picture didn’t do it justice. I had to tweak it in editing to make the colors as intense as they actually were. So yes, sorry, the photo is altered, but this is an excellent representation of what we really saw.

Staycation

I’ve already moaned about the fact that I’m supposed to be in Italy right now. There’s no sense in dwelling on something over which I have absolutely no control. So now it’s time to salvage this train wreck of a vacation.

Originally, I had planned to take 11 days off of work. So combining that with weekends, I was expecting 17 days of Italian bliss. In light of current circumstances, and due to the fact that we’re down several bridgetenders due to their medical vulnerability, I plan to work 6 of the 11 days I was going to take off. That leaves me with 5 days off, with a weekend on either end, so a total of 9 days to fill up with… what?

Back before the pandemic was even called that, we thought of maybe going to Iceland instead of Italy. More isolated, we thought. Surely Iceland would be safe. And then they started reporting cases. So then we thought, okay, we’ll stay in the US. How about Hawaii? Uh, not so much. It will be a long time before I’m comfortable flying again.

Then we thought, well, maybe we can rent a motor home and go camping. But none of the state or national parks are open yet, for anything other than day use. So that’s out.

So now we’ve decided on a few mini trips. One to the Olympic Peninsula, to wave at a friend from across her yard. Another to Whidbey Island to drive around. We are, however, very aware that we should not be exposing vulnerable communities to our cooties. So we’ll gas up here at home. We’ll pack our own food. We won’t be shopping or dining in these communities. Mostly we’ll stay in our car and maybe hop out for views and the like if no one else is around. And if human encounters can’t be avoided, we’ll wear masks. That should limit our impact.

We’re also considering two overnight trips. One to enjoy the scenic North Cascades Highway (and wave at yet another friend from across the yard), and another to stay in an uninhabited cabin that a relative of ours has generously offered to let us use. Again, we’ll be bringing our own food and not going into shops of any kind.

In between all these comings and goings, there will be quite a few at-home days and evenings, so I’ve come up with a list of things I might do to pass the time. I have to be careful, though, to not turn these into “must do” lists. A vacation is supposed to relieve stress, not add to it. This is more of an “if the spirit moves me” list.

This list has two basic categoires:

Fun stuff:

  • Read.

  • Visit a friend across her yard.

  • Do a puzzle.

  • Paint some terracotta pots and put plants in them.

  • Make moss paste. (Take moss, put it in a blender with a bit of water, then smear the thick paste on a rock that you actually WANT to be mossy. Keep it wet until it establishes itself.)

  • Do some adult coloring.

  • Do some other crafts.

  • Figure out how to edit a video I made about blowing my bridge horn to thank frontline workers.

  • Take naps.

  • Learn more Pokemon Go skills so that I can compete with the 8 year olds.

  • Be my usual social media, Netflix watching, couch potato self.

Stuff that will give me a sense of accomplishment:

  • Work on my second book.

  • Remove the ugly wallpaper in the bathroom.

  • Organize my Little Free Library books so they’re ready to go when I’m able to reopen.

  • Organize my digital photos and documents, deleting some and consolidating others.

  • Get rid of stuff that has been sitting in the attic for years.

So yeah. That’s my staycation. It sure isn’t Italy, but I’m trying to make the best of it, and I really am looking forward to getting more artsy. So we’ll see how it goes. I suspect this will generate several blog posts, so watch this space!

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I Should Have Been in Italy Today

I have reached the nadir (I hope) of my quarantine depression today. Because today, after thirty long years of trying, my plane should have been touching down at the Venice Marco Polo Airport. We had made the airline reservations. We had booked all our hotels and Airbnb’s and train tickets for a two week, Italian extravaganza.

We had planned to spend three glorious days in Venice, then cross the top of the country by train to visit the Cinque Terra, then go on down to Assisi, the hometown of St. Francis. From there, we’d have settled in to Sorrento, to use it as a hub to visit Naples, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Capri, and the Amalfi Coast, and then spend a few days in Rome before returning home.

And then, COVID-19. So close. So freakin’ close.

It’s not the first time that my Italy plans have been scuttled. Economic downturns, relationship breakups, and a relocation to the west coast that took all the Italy savings I had been putting away faithfully every month, for 10 ½ years, are some of the many disappointments I’ve experienced. But this time I had actually held the freakin’ tickets in my hands. I had written out the itinerary. I had read the guidebooks and watched everything Rick Steves had to say on the subject. We had even paid for a consultation with one of his staff. What could possibly go wrong?

Now I’m wondering if international travel of any kind will actually be viable ever again. I suspect this isn’t going to be the last pandemic. It certainly wasn’t the first.

I realize that I look like a privileged, bourgeois brat to be whining about this when people are dying and losing their jobs. I know that I have it so much better than so many people. I’m extremely lucky.

But it’s really hard not to be sad when I was supposed to be in Italy today. It feels like I’m in a state of mourning that no one will understand. It feels like I really have no legitimate right to be upset, and that makes it so much worse.

This trip would have generated a lot of blog posts, too. Maybe I’ll make some spaghetti for dinner and try not to cry into it. I suppose I could blog about that. Or maybe not.

Venice

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Happy Boxing Day

Every year in December, sooner or later, I happen to glance at a calendar and notice that it designates December 26th as Boxing Day, usually with “U.K., Canada” in parenthesis after it. But what the heck is Boxing Day, anyway? I’ve always wondered, but have been too lazy to find out up to now.

I’m ashamed to admit that until extremely recently, I assumed it had something to do with the sport of boxing, and I always found that a bit jarring for the day after you’re supposed to be celebrate Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward Men. But I’d just sniff and say, “Well, those crazy Brits, you know…”

It turns out that I got it all wrong.

According to Wikipedia, there are several theories about how this holiday came about, but the most popular one seems to be that it was a time for the upper classes to bestow a box of money or gifts on their servants. The poor servants, of course, had to stick around and serve their masters on Christmas Day, so they were allowed to go home and see their families the day after. The rich people, probably to assuage their mild guilt for having treated these servants abominably all year long, would give them a gift to share with their families, pat them on the head and send them on their merry way, with the expectation that they’d be back to scrubbing by the day after.

I can see why this holiday never caught on in the U.S. While we have pretty much identical and outrageous income inequality, we would never admit this publicly. We certainly wouldn’t celebrate it. All Men here are supposed to be created equal, after all. The fact that we cling to this myth is why we don’t get a handout every December 26th. Yay us.

But Boxing Day has evolved over time. As fewer families had servants, Boxing Day turned into a day where you would relax and spend time with family. I’m told by a Canadian friend that it was also known as a day when you passed on gifts you don’t need to people whom you think could use them. You might slip a discreet envelope of cash to the postman. It also became a time to watch and participate in sports, and a time to raise money for charities.

For a while, it was also a big day for fox hunting in Britain. For the uninitiated, this was dressing up in finery, tearing up the countryside on horseback with your buddies, as a pack of your dogs chased down and wore out a poor unsuspecting fox for its ultimate demise, for no good reason other than that it was tradition. I mean, it’s not like people crave fox meat after all. But fortunately, that sport has been banned. Now people still do the riding bit, but without the killing bit, which must look just as appalling even without the blood.

For an equally gory take on Boxing Day, check out this article, which describes what they used to do in Ireland. There, it was known as St. Stephen’s Day. Good old Steve was apparently stoned to death for believing in Jesus. So what did the Irish decide to do to commemorate this man? A group of boys would go out, stone wrens to death, and then carry their little bodies from house to house asking for money. I’m glad that tradition has fallen out of favor. But much like with fox hunting, these Wren Boys still do the parading about town bit without the crushing in the birdie’s little skulls bit. Go figure.

I wish Boxing Day had ended there. But no. In recent years it has turned into a time to take advantage of sales, with the same kind of horrifying frenzy of consumerism that we Americans indulge in on Black Friday.

This transformation mirrors that of society at large. First, your betters throw you a bone. Then you passively celebrate, perhaps with a macabre twist. Then you trample your neighbors to buy things that you can’t afford and don’t really need. Because Capitalism is just wonderful. ‘Tis the season.

Happy Boxing Day.

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Zero Shopping Days for Christmas

I have no intention of buying a single gift this holiday season. No, I’m not Scrooge. No, I’m not a bitter, lonely person. I’ve just outgrown the love of stuff, and am no longer a member of the cult of crass consumerism.

My husband and I are more into experiences than objects. My dogs don’t distinguish one day from the next. I have no children, and my parents have passed away. My niece and nephew are independent adults. My sister and I are long past the whole present buying thing. Thank heavens I wasn’t born into a family that takes the gift exchange to an extreme, buying for aunts, uncles, and cousins. And my fellow bridgetenders can’t be bothered with secret Santa. (Yay!) I don’t even mail out Christmas cards.

Yes, we’ll get a tree and decorate the house with lights. We will have a nice meal. We’ll listen to carolers and go to festivals and check out Christmas decorations in town. We’ll probably watch It’s a Wonderful Life while sitting in front of a nice fire. We might make a batch of cookies.

We keep Christmas in our own way. It doesn’t come wrapped in pretty paper. It’s not covered in ribbons and bows. But it will be merry in spite of, and perhaps even because of, that.

Christmas

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Foreign Travel 101

I absolutely live to travel. It’s my reason for being. I’ve been to 22 countries, and I suspect that I have many more miles to go before I take that final sleep.

It has never been very far from my mind that I’m really a lot luckier than most people in terms of travel. According to this article, 40% of Americans never leave the country, 10% have never left their home state, and 76% wish they could travel more than they do currently. That’s a crying shame.

Based on those statistics, it’s safe to assume that for many people who are traveling abroad, it’s a trip of a lifetime for which they feel ill-prepared. But never fear. All of the advice I’m about to give you has come from years of trial and error.

First, read my blog post entitled Foreign Travel Advice for Americans. Even if you aren’t American, you’ll find it helpful. This is a very detailed post that discusses all the homework one must do prior to any trip. The more you do ahead of time, the less stressful and more fruitful your travel experience will be. I can’t emphasize this enough. For every hour of legwork you do in advance, you’ll save yourself days of hassle on the voyage.

Next, take a peek at my blog post entitled Packing for Your Trip. This is a master packing list I’ve made over time. Take that list, eliminate those things that don’t apply to you, your trip, or the season in which you are traveling, and what you have left should be a very thorough packing list for any holiday. But do yourself a favor and pack light. You have no idea how much time you’ll spend schlepping your luggage from pillar to post. So if you don’t absolutely need something, leave it home.

But it occurs to me that neither of those two posts actually gets into the nuts and bolts of building your trip. Package deals complete with tour guides are very easy and convenient, but frankly, I find those experiences to be soul-sucking. I’d much rather have a do it yourself trip, so that’s what I’ll describe below. Some of this is pretty basic, but it will come in handy if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

  1. Determine how much vacation time you have.

  2. Get a good, up to date guidebook of the country you’d like to visit, and read it cover to cover, highlighting the things you feel you absolutely must see, and, in a different color, the things you’d simply like to see.

  3. Also, talk to friends who have already taken this trip. They will be your best sources to determine what can or should be skipped, and what absolutely should not be missed.

  4. A good guidebook should be able to tell you how many days you need for each location. List your must see destinations, and how many days they should take. As hard as it may be to do, you might have to eliminate some of your must sees based on the time you have available. On the other hand, if you find you have a surplus of days (you lucky devil), you can start adding in your “like to see” destinations as well.

  5. Print out a line drawing of the country in question, and then pencil in the must-see destinations to determine which places are close together, so you can decide what route you should take through the country.

  6. Don’t forget that you’ll likely lose a half a day each time you move from one city to the next, so try to cluster your locations into hubs, and stay in central locations. Believe me when I say that it’s an absolute horror to stay in a different place every single night.

  7. Now that you have a sense of where you’d like to go, and in what order, it’s time to determine when to travel. Most guidebooks will tell you the high, shoulder, and low travel seasons for the country in question. Choose carefully.

    1. In low season, things will be cheaper and there will be fewer crowds, but certain destinations will be closed. Check before you go. It would be very unfortunate to arrive and discover that the one thing you wanted to see the most is shuttered for the next few months.

    2. On the other hand, high season is usually high season for a reason. The weather is optimal and there are a lot of exciting things going on. But the massive wall of humanity, along with their screaming children, can be a misery.

    3. I try to do shoulder season. It’s slightly less expensive and slightly less crowded than high season, and slightly more is open than in low season. If you can’t do that, at least do the very beginning or the very end of high season, especially if it means school is in session and the kiddies are less likely to be chewing on your ankles.

  8. Okay, great. Now you have a basic idea of where you want to go and when, and what you want to see. Let’s find out if it’s even possible. First of all, check into flights to and from home, and see if they’re available on the days in question. I highly recommend that you try to do your international flights on Monday through Thursday, rather than going on the weekends, as those weekday flights are usually much less expensive. But shop around. Visit Kayak.com, for example, and then check the website of the airline in question to see if an even better deal is available. Don’t forget to take advantage of any mileage points you’ve accumulated through credit cards. Don’t put this off until the last minute. The more lead time you have, the more options and price ranges will be available. You’ll find that once you’ve reserved those flights, the trip will seem even more exciting and real.

  9. Once that is done, it’s time to figure out how you’ll get from place to place within the country. Should you travel by train, bus, rental car, or domestic flights? Again, your guidebook will give you great advice along those lines.

  10. Once you have a sense of how you want to get around, and a basic skeleton of your itinerary, now check to be sure that your transportation mode is available on the desired day. No sense in planning to take a ferry to the Isle of Capri on a Sunday if the ferries don’t run on that day. Adjust your itinerary accordingly. (If you’re a museum buff, it’s also important to make sure the museum in question will be open on the day you plan to visit.)

  11. Once you’ve got your itinerary and your transportation nailed down, it’s time to reserve your hotels. Think about your budget. Decide whether you want to stay at 5 star hotels or Airbnbs or hostels or, if you’re really brave and don’t require luxury or privacy, check out couchsurfing.com. Read up on all the possibilities. Visit their websites. Check availability. Then make your reservations.

  12. Now the trip is really shaping up! It’s time to figure out what you’d like to do from day to day. What sites will you visit? How much time will it take? Take your guidebook seriously if it recommends advance reservations for various venues, and plan accordingly.

Don’t overpack your itinerary. Allow for things to go awry. Contrary to popular belief, the trains don’t always run on time. You may wish to linger longer than you anticipated. Who knows? A local might befriend you and invite you to attend a wedding. Experiences like that are priceless. Give yourself a little padding and be flexible.

Above all, remember, this is supposed to be fun! Do the work in advance and then relax and enjoy the trip! Bon voyage!

This spring, we plan to spend a few weeks in Italy! I’m so excited! I’ve wanted to explore Italy in depth for decades. But except for a brief, 12 hour taste of Venice (which was at best a cruel, frustrating tease), life just kept getting in the way. Rest assured I’ll be blogging about the experience in future posts.

Travel

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Signs Along the Way

I just got home from an amazing trip to coastal and central Oregon, and brace yourself, it has inspired no fewer than 15 ideas for blog posts. But don’t worry, if you’re not a travel enthusiast, I’ll be spreading them out over the next month or so, so as not to drive you off. (I’d miss you guys!)

One of my favorite things about traveling is seeing the strange signs and t-shirts I encounter along the way. They can really give you the feel for a place better than anything else. (If you use your imagination, that is.)

The best sign I saw was across the road on a busy highway. There was no convenient place to pull over or turn around for a picture without risking life and limb, so, this blog never being far from my mind, I had to content myself with a note. The sign stretched the length of a long, rustic wood building, and it said, simply, “A large variety of wood!”

I couldn’t tell if the place was open or closed. There were no cars in the parking lot. The windows were small and dusty. Was the owner selling firewood? Driftwood art? Elaborate sculptures carved from logs? Furniture? Or something rated x? I have no idea. I’ve got to say that for some reason it makes me really happy that this place exists. But I’d suggest that the proprietor might want to expand upon his signage or his displays just a tiny bit so that passersby would know if they are a part of his target market, because I’d be afraid to stop without knowing. Just sayin’.

In no particular order, here are some of the signs that I found pic-worthy along the way.

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This place will merit a blog post all its own. We saw a lot of evidence of how hard it was to travel around here back before there were paved roads and Starbucks every 500 yards, but this one pretty much says it all.

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This one was taken at Crooked River Bridge. I will attest to the fact that 300 feet is a really long way down. I know, because I got a wicked sense of vertigo while checking for dog carcasses. I’m happy to report that I didn’t see any. A few thoughts on this sign: It seems like there’s more concern for the dogs than the children. And there was a high wall blocking you from the precipice. It would take some effort to get your dog to launch itself into that abyss. Hysterical sign maker? Or is there a dark side to Oregon that they aren’t telling us? Hmmm…

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This one made me laugh. It was at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon. That amazing place also merits its own post. But after the last sign, I thought I should show you that Oregonians have a sense of humor, too.

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This one made us do a u-turn. So, you go to the state park, and then you recycle yourself, big time. Glad to hear that Oregon takes the environment so seriously!

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Now this, at the Tillamook Creamery, (which will also get its own post) is my kind of sign.

And I’m leaving you with two t-shirts that I would have bought, because I have a twisted sense of humor. But I already have way too many t-shirts. Carrion, dear reader. Carrion.

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The Holiday Spirit

I hate it when I’m required to act jolly. I mean, it’s not like you can just flip a switch and be all “deck the halls” and “fa la la” just because it’s expected of you. That added pressure during the holiday season is exactly why suicide rates spike. I mean, if you’re already feeling like a freak or a lonely outcast, then being constantly reminded you’re also not in the right mood must be too much to bear.

There have been entire years where “Bah, humbug” was my default position. I didn’t want to be bothered. I avoided malls and parties and gift exchanges. I couldn’t work up the strength to decorate. I just wanted to make it through to January, so I’d have time to brace myself for the assault on single people everywhere that is more commonly known as Valentine’s Day.

What is this thing called the Christmas spirit? It sometimes eludes me. Other times it waits until the last possible moment, and then it smacks me upside the head with joy to the world. In those years, that smack comes as a huge relief, because I have to admit that the stress of not being part of the mainstream does get to me. It’s so much easier to go with the flow when you feel like you’re part of that flow.

Last year, I was kind of in “fake it ‘til you make it” mode. I did a lot of holiday things. And I did have fun. But I still felt kind of detached. (Check out that blog post here.)

But this year, I’m thrilled to say, I am already rejoicing! I’ve happily participated in a lot of holiday events with my husband, and we’ve decorated the whole house with lights, a tree, candles, etc. Our decorations won’t draw crowds, but it’s certainly more than I’ve ever done in my entire life. I get a warm fuzzy feeling whenever I’m there. I’m just happy to be happy, and happy to have someone special to share that with. I never thought I’d ever have it this good.

So, here I am, on the other side. I don’t want to make others feel bad for not being in the holiday spirit, but I also don’t want to feel bad for being in it myself. How about we make a deal: let’s just not put any expectations of any kind on ourselves or others this holiday season. Sound good? It sure does to me.

(And no, this photo is not of my house!)

Christmas Spirit

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Leavenworth Revisited

It seems as though every state has an historic and/or heavily themed, touristy albeit delightful little town. St. Augustine, Florida. Helen, Georgia. Solvang, California. Williamsburg, Virginia. Leavenworth, Washington. I love visiting these places, but only infrequently. Too often, and it starts to feel like overindulging at a buffet. It seems like a great idea, until you do it.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Leavenworth, Washington for the second time. I wrote about my first visit, and reading back I can tell how lonely I was that time around. This time I got to go with my husband. It’s amazing how the tenor of a trip changes with its participants. I had fun in 2015, without a doubt. But I really loved it this time.

The whole Bavarian-themed town was decked out for Christmas, and I must say, they do a phenomenal job of it. I truly felt as though I was walking in a winter wonderland. And of course, there are dozens of shops that are ready and willing to prey upon one’s holiday spirit.

We spent a lot of time searching for the ideal ornament to commemorate our first Christmas together. (I’ve written about this tradition of mine before.) After about 8 stores, we finally found the perfect one: A blown glass heart made from the ash of Mount St. Helens. We both have certainly risen from figurative ashes, and we’re all about the love these days. Just right.

We also bought a copper leaf, as we enjoy the colored leaves of autumn. That will have pride of place against our dark purple wall in the living room. Autumn all year round. (The shop that makes these had entire wreaths of them, too, and they were tempting, but we really are trying not to accumulate too much stuff.)

It was fun exploring all the tiny little shops. It was like Diagon Alley without the wizardry. (I have to say, though, I could never work in one of these places. They probably listen to Christmas music for three months at a stretch. That would drive me insane.)

The absolute highlight of the visit was our dinner at the Watershed Café. That deserved a post all its own, so I wrote about it a few days ago. So good. So very, very good.

After that, we wandered around the town square, taking in the holiday lights. What color! And mind you, this was before their official Christmas Tree Lighting. I can’t imagine how they could possibly top what they already have done.

That night we stayed in the Blackbird Lodge. Like the rest of downtown, it is faithful to the Bavarian theme, but it’s not over the top. It’s very tasteful and cozy. We even had a lovely little fireplace in our room. And the views were spectacular. I absolutely loved the place. (My only complaint would be their complimentary breakfast. It was make it yourself waffles and coffee. That’s it. That’s all. No OJ. No milk. No cereal. No bagels. Nothing. And there was only one waffle iron, and since each waffle takes 2 ½ minutes, quite the line was formed. Come on, guys, you can do better than that.)

The next morning we walked in the park along the river. The mountain views are spectacular. It reminded me of my first trip there. Then, I was walking my dogs and feeling a bit sorry for myself. This time, I was holding the hand of the best human being I know, and realizing just how lucky I am. Quite the upgrade, indeed.

Without further ado, here are some photos from our trip.

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I Count, Too.

On my commute to work today I saw one of those “Baby on board” placards that people put up in their SUVs so that first responders will understand the urgency of their rescue. Granted, infants need extra care, and are just starting out in life, and heaven knows they should not be punished for their parents’ stupid driving habits. But still…

I know this isn’t exactly politically correct, but…

I am sick and tired of being undervalued because I didn’t procreate.

I want that ambulance driver to feel every bit as much urgency when rescuing me. I want a tax cut by virtue of the fact that I haven’t added to the crowding of an already overcrowded planet. I don’t want to be made to feel guilty for asking for a holiday off simply because I’m the only employee without kids. I want to be able to take family sick leave when my dog needs to be rushed to the vet. I want a gift for putting up with you when you’re pregnant, instead of having to give you one for being pregnant. I want you to keep your screaming child away from my public space. I don’t want to have to constantly justify my choice not to have children.

Most of all, I want my very own placard.

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