Happy Birthday, Estonia!

I missed a very important anniversary recently. On February 2, 2020, Estonia turned 100 years old. But their independence was declared (but didn’t actually “take”) on February 24th, 1918, so by that count, I guess you could say that today they are 102 years old in spirit.

Yeah, I know. You probably go months or years without thinking about Estonia. But to its 1,328,360 people, I’m sure this anniversary was a big deal. It’s no mean feat, being the 153rd largest country in the world, especially when you border Russia.

Estonia is not even 3/4ths of the size of the State of West Virginia, but hey, at least they’ve got universal health care and free education for all, so they’re a heck of a lot more civilized than we Americans are. Something I didn’t know is that its territory includes 2,222 islands as well. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

Don’t get me wrong. It hasn’t been easy being an Estonian throughout history. Since the place thawed out and human settlement reached the area 13,000 years ago, it has been occupied, fought over, or at least invaded by Scandanavian and Germanic tribes, the Danes, the Germans, the Russians, the Swedes, and the Polish-Lithuanians, with all the devastation and famine such wars and occupations can cause. Then Russia stood on their neck, basically, until around 1850, when people started looking around and saying, “Hey, we have a national culture and identity, here.”

After decades of struggles, crackdowns and revolutions, World War I, and invasions back and forth between Russia and Germany and Russia again, And that unsuccessful independence declaration in 1918, Estonia and Soviet Russia signed the Tartu Peace Treaty on February 2, 1920, and Soviet Russia “permanently gave up all sovereign claims to Estonia.” Happy birthday!

But you knew it wouldn’t be that clean cut, didn’t you? Of course not. Constitution after constitution, the Great Depression, and then, blam, World War II, which placed Estonia back into the Soviet sphere of influence, causing it to be officially occupied by them. Again. Whew. I’m tired, just reading this, aren’t you?

Then came a period of oppression, deportations to Siberia, and war, where part of Estonia was captured by Germany. Then the Soviets invaded. Again. And the Estonians didn’t want to be on either side of this conflict, and therefore got caught in the middle. The Estonians resisted the Soviets after the war, so the soviets responded with a campaign of Russification, which encouraged Russians to settle the area. By 1989, Estonians only comprised 62 percent of the population.

So why do we consider 1920 to be the establishment of this poor battered country? Because many Western countries considered the annexation of Estonia by the Soviets to be illegal, and so a government-in-exile was established. Their independence was restored on August 20, 1991, and that’s a national holiday to this day. But they also celebrate February 24th as their independence day since that was the date they first declared independence in 1918. The last of the Russian army left Estonia in 1994. If I were them, though, I wouldn’t rest very easy, because, well, Putin, and clearly they can’t count on help from Trump.

Through it all, though, Estonia has trundled on, and has even managed to develop a very strong IT sector. Estonia is where Skype was born. And it was the first post-Soviet republic to legalize civil unions, too. Good for them!

So I’m thinking, if any country needs birthday wishes and a slice of cake, even if it is belated (or not, depending on how you look at it), it’s Estonia. Happy birthday! You sure have earned it, a thousand times over.

Estonia

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“I Can Do It Myself!!!”

According to family lore, that was one of the first full sentences I ever uttered. That does not surprise me in the least. I’ve always been very independent.

I started working when I was 10 years old, growing house plants and selling them at the local flea market. My first major purchase was tickets to Disney World for me, my mother and my sister. At the time we could all go for a total of twenty dollars. That tells you how long ago that was.

When I got my first car (which I paid for myself), the first thing I did was learn how to change the oil, and I took pride in doing it. Nowadays I’d rather pay someone else than get all dirty and stuff, but it still makes me smile that I know how.

I also did a great deal of the remodeling of my first house. I learned how to plaster and paint and grout and construct and shingle. I attribute my confidence in these areas to my summer job with the Youth Conservation Corps.

Many people seem surprised that I bought a house on my own, but the fact is, I’m on my second one. If I had waited for some Prince Charming to come along and foot the bill, I’d have been a renter for life. What a waste of money.

I also moved all the way across the country on my own, even though I didn’t know a soul on the West Coast. I don’t think I really thought that one through. If I had, I’d probably still be in Florida. But it’s the best thing I’ve ever done, so three cheers for flying by the seat of my pants!

I’ve done a great deal of traveling on my own. It wasn’t as fun as it could have been, but it sure beat staying at home. The world is an amazing place, indeed, and those travel experiences have shaped who I am.

Doing all those things myself has made me the person that I am today, and I’m rather proud of that. But here’s the thing: The older I get, the more I want to do things with someone. I don’t want to do it myself. I want company. I want someone to share the experience with, someone to laugh with. I want someone to help me find my way if I get lost. I want feedback. I want a hand to hold.

The fact that I have that now is the best gift the universe could have ever given me. It only took me 53 years to figure that out.

stubborn-kid2

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My Newfound Independence

Every year on this date, my thoughts naturally turn toward independence. But this year, ah, this year! I truly am feeling independent for the first time in ages.

First of all, I am a homeowner again. That means that I am no longer at the mercy of landlords. I don’t have to worry about them hiking my rent up every year.

And I don’t have to deal with arbitrary insanity. I had one landlord who insisted on inspecting the place every few months. She would waltz in wearing (I swear to God) a leather dress (in Florida!) and spiked heels, and would root around in my closets, being careful not to mess up her bleached blonde chignon in the process, and say, in a thick Russian accent, “You need to dust.”

And then there was the landlady whose son was a felon who was growing marijuana in the back yard, and who was unabashed about committing a number of fraudulent acts herself, and yet treated me like I was a criminal even as she blatantly overcharged me for utilities.

No more of that foolishness! I’m in control! I am the queen of my castle! I will never again be put in a position where I fear that I won’t be allowed to keep my own dogs. That’s a weight off my shoulders, indeed.

And another thing that has happened recently is a certain shift in attitude deep within myself. You see, this time last year, I was trying really, really hard to find a man. To complete me? I don’t know. But it seemed important at the time. It was a solid year of being overlooked, discounted, insulted, rejected, passed over, or any combination of those things, that sent me on this house hunting expedition in the first place.

I decided, basically, to hell with men. Who needs them? If they can’t see my value, they are not worth my time and energy. It was high time I started focusing on things that I can control, such as giving myself the best living situation possible. Hence the house hunt. And it is the best choice I’ve made in a long, long time, let me tell you.

And oddly enough, when I think of trying to fit a man into my life now, I feel kind of claustrophobic. I probably won’t feel this way forever, but at the moment men seem kind of icky. So there’s one less thing on the ol’ to-do list! Yay!

As I write this, I’m lying in MY bed, with MY dog, in MY house. And I can genuinely say that I have everything I need. And I’m perfectly content letting the wants take care of themselves for now. And that’s an amazingly independent feeling.

Happy 4th of July!

Independent Woman

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Why Did You Become a Bridgetender?

One of my faithful readers/new friends asked me that question recently, and I realized that I’ve touched on the subject in this blog in the past, but never really addressed it in full. So here goes.

I’ve been working and/or studying since I was 10 years old, and I’ve had 23 different jobs. Some of them I’ve liked quite a bit, and others I’ve loathed. But bridgetending is the first job I’ve loved.

Before this job, I worked as an employee of the State of Florida in various positions for 14 years. The last position was Management Systems Engineer for the Florida Department of Transportation. It paid well, and the benefits were great, but the morale in that place was beyond toxic. Frankly, I hated every minute of it, except for the times when I could get out of the office and work in the field either alone or with just one of my staff. I greatly prefer to work independently, and very few jobs give you those kinds of opportunities.

Often during those field days we’d work on or around drawbridges, and I’d always look up and think how cool that must be. No office politics, no dress code, no insane supervisor breathing down your neck all day, no stupidity. That was my definition of heaven.

One day during my commute I thought, “I could be hit by a bus today, and the first thought I will have had that day is, ‘I don’t want to go to work.’” That would be tragic. I mean, seriously, too much time is spent on the job to be miserable there. What a waste of life. So I went in and I quit. Just like that.

In retrospect that was kind of insane and impulsive, because I still had a mortgage, I still had to eat. But the economy was much better back then. And I knew that if I didn’t just do it, I’d be stuck there, unhappy, for the rest of my life.

Next, I found out who did the hiring on the bridges, and I contacted him, but it was three scary months before a bridgetending position opened up. During that time I did a lot of freelance editing work. That kept the wolves from the door, but it wasn’t a viable long-term solution.

In Florida, the bridges are operated by subcontractors, so it’s not a government job. This meant that I took a 1/3 cut in pay and had no benefits to speak of. But you know what? I was happy. And you can’t put a price on happiness.

I truly believe that most people go about determining their career path in exactly the opposite way that they should. Most people think about the pay and the subsequent lifestyle that pay will afford them, then take a job and try to sort of force happiness out of it.

Instead, what you should do is determine what qualities you need for job satisfaction, then choose a career that will provide you with those qualities. If your primary motivator is money, then by all means, become that lawyer. But I suspect that with deeper thought, many people will realize that they need other things even more. For example, some people get their satisfaction from being in a helping profession. Others take pride in producing something with their hands.

What I need in a job, more than anything, is what a friend of mine calls “a whole lot of leave me alone.” That’s why I’m a bridgetender. And after 15 years, I can’t imagine doing anything else.

ups-and-downs
The same goes for drawbridges.

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Independence?

I’m feeling particularly patriotic today, because marriage equality was recently made the law of the land here in the United States. Every once in a while, for all its flaws, this country gets it right. That makes me feel good.

So, one of my traditions on Independence Day is that I take some time to contemplate what independence means to me, as a woman, as an American, as a human being on this planet. And I’m not just talking independence from England, which is what this holiday was originally about.

Every day, all over the world, people experience varying levels of freedom. I happen to think that on that particular bell curve, I’m one of the luckier ones. But even on this day of flag waving and euphoria, I’m not going to say we get everything right. Some of my freedoms have been rolled back over time, and others are constantly being chipped away at. Independence isn’t some final destination. It’s not like you can sit back and rest once you’ve arrived. It takes work to maintain.

Here are a few things that I value highly, whether I have them or not:

  • Coming and going as I please.
  • Marrying whomever I want, divorcing if I choose, or never marrying at all.
  • Education.
  • The right to decide what I can and cannot do with my own body.
  • Access to health care.
  • Having no one else dictate what clothes I wear.
  • Being able to drive a car.
  • Freely stating my opinions in this blog.
  • Pursuing my own spiritual path.
  • Owning my own property.
  • Voting.
  • Protesting and debating.
  • Living alone, or with whomever I choose.
  • Celebrating differences.
  • Traveling freely.
  • Choosing my own career path, or in fact working at all.
  • Feeling safe.

All of these things, and so many more, are what independence means to me. If you have these things, you are very fortunate indeed. Don’t take them for granted. Today, and every other day of the year, we should appreciate what we have and maintain it, and strive for these basic human rights for all.

Happy Independence Day.

[Image credit: vvng.com]
[Image credit: vvng.com]

Champagne Relationships

One of my all-time favorite quotes is by Katharine Hepburn. “Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.” That, to me, makes perfect sense.

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love men, and miss having one in my life. But the older I get, the less willing I am to put up with things like sweaty socks in the coffee mug and extended debates over which direction the toilet paper should hang. I like having my own space and making my own decisions and having my own life.

Still, it would be nice to have a steady date on national holidays. And someone to go out to dinner with. And someone to call to talk me down off the ceiling when something has given me the creeps. And let’s not forget the occasional, shall we say, biological gratification?

I was talking to a friend the other day, and she introduced me to the concept of Champagne Relationships. All the bubble and the feeling of special occasions without any of the grit and sediment you get with home brew. All the sparkle without any of the polishing. An extended sense of newness and butterflies without any of the, “Oh god, you are doing my head in.” The ability to ask, “What’s new?” without already knowing the answer.

Oh yeah, sign me up.

kate

Independence

It’s Independence Day here in the United States, and everyone seems to amp up their patriotism on this holiday. I tend to look at the day a little differently. Yes, it’s the day that we declared our independence from England, and rightfully so. Otherwise we’d be a lot more uptight and talk funny. (Joke, British readers!) But I think that we can all agree that independence is a beautiful thing.

In fact, independence is one of the things I value most in this world. I love being able to make my own choices and do my own thing. I actually enjoy living alone. No one dictates my wardrobe or my diet or my sleeping patterns. I have command of any and all remote controls. I get to burp and fart with impunity. I don’t have to ask anyone for permission to do anything, as long as I’m not breaking any laws. I come and go as I please.

A lot of people in this world, especially women, do not have that luxury. In many cultures women are treated little better than prize heifers to be passed from their father’s house to their husband’s house, there to be turned into housekeepers and baby making machines. I would chafe under these restrictions. It’s one thing to be a wife and/or mother when you’ve freely chosen to do so. It’s quite another when you are forced into it simply by dint of tradition or economics, and it’s even more unpalatable when it’s thrust upon you at a very young age.

So on this day, I tend to celebrate not only our nation’s independence, but my own. And I can think of no better reason to set off some fireworks and eat some gloriously unhealthy food! Happy Independence Day to you!

drawbridge fireworks

Happy 4th of July from the Main Street Bridge in Jacksonville, Florida!

[image credit: coj.net]