On the Day after International Women’s Day—Recent Immigrants’ Thoughts about Gender Inequality

Yesterday, the adult immigrants I tutor were discussing an article about pay inequality and education disparities in some countries. The article stated, “In the US, women can expect to earn about 80% of their male counterparts’ salaries.” After a quick online search, I found the specifics in a Government Accountability Office report. In 2021, women working full-time had an estimated median pay that ranged from $0.69 to $0.85 for every dollar earned by men. The pay range depended on what sector women worked in.

Other countries have different cultural dynamics and economic opportunities, so the students offered a variety of views. I silently noted the range of perspectives could also be found among people born in the U.S. Here’s a cross-section of what the students said:

“In my home country, women get paid less than men, but I didn’t think that happened in the U.S. Are you sure?”

“Men need to make more money since they’re supporting a family, and the women take care of the children and the house.”

“School isn’t free in my home country. My parents had a big family and couldn’t pay school fees for all of them. So they paid for the boys’ schooling, since they’ll have to support a family.”

“I know pay differences between men and women happened in the past. You’re telling me it’s still going on?”

“In my culture, mothers and daughters are supposed to cook, clean, and take care of children. Fathers and sons don’t. They earn the money.”

“My mother wasn’t educated because her family didn’t have the money. My grandfather thought she didn’t need an education since she’d marry and have a husband taking care of her. But my father became disabled, and it was hard for my mother to support eight kids.”

“International Women’s Day? What—we only get one day?”

Long Time Coming

A pretty, first snow fell in the Twin Cities on October 14, then disappeared providing weeks to prepare for the next season. Winter this year has been an unreliable roommate making Monday commutes miserable then offering a day or two of mild temps. A stingy relative refusing to share sunshine unless temps freeze cheeks. A mean neighbor dumping snow, ice, rain, sleet, snow and more snow making skating rink maintenance or sidewalk cleaning just miserable. 

Minnesota has not received the enormous snow dumps of Buffalo or the California mountains, but if you bought new boots this year you made a good decision. If you remembered dressing following extreme cold guidelines and prepared for the bus stop or parking lot hike looking like a Squishmallow with legs, bravo. Some of us gave up on attractive sleepwear to pull on flannels, hoodies and socks after dinner then stayed in the same as long as possible in the morning. Hard-core Minnesotans supposedly wear long undies twenty-four seven from November through March except when they escape for their winter getaway.

Beyond puzzle construction time, optimal sleep conditions may be winter’s attraction. No sun peeking around the window coverings when you go to bed, nothing sticking to your warm body, no birds at five in the morning.

Whatever the statistics are for this year, it has been a long time coming since we could wander outside consistently without a hat or gloves or boots. Oh, the joy of leaving the puffer coat unzipped and wearing old shoes when running errands. The amazing experience to eat dinner while natural light brightens the kids’ faces. There will be more snow, but it will be short lived. We’re heading into t-shirt, jeans and a light cover season. We are going to eat outside before the mosquitos multiply. 

Meantime, stay upright and don’t drop into a road crater. We have about as much control over shortening winter’s existence as our governments appear to have over rebuilding critical infrastructure. That will be a really long, long time coming.

My First Attempt at AI-Powered Writing

Artificial intelligence is all the rage, so I decided to use it to generate my February Word Sisters post.

My request: write a rhyming poem for women 50+ about the joys of aging (though I also briefly considered “the realities of aging”).

First I tried anyword.com, but didn’t love what it generated, so I turned to chatGPT. In less than 30 seconds, here’s what I received.

As we age, we gain wisdom and grace

Our wrinkles are lines that tell our life’s pace

We’ve lived through hardships and moments so sweet

And we’ve learned that life is a journey, not a defeat

We no longer chase fleeting trends

Instead, we embrace our truest friends

Our bodies may change, but our spirits stay strong

And we continue to sing life’s sweetest song

We relish in the simple things

Like watching the sun set, and what the day brings

We find joy in a book or a warm cup of tea

And appreciate the beauty in things we see

We know that time is fleeting and precious

So we take moments to pause and reflect, never reckless

We find beauty in the moments we share

And embrace every opportunity to show we care

So let’s embrace this new chapter with pride

And enjoy the joys of aging with every stride

For we know that with each passing day

We become wiser, kinder, and better in every way

As a career writer, I’m still pondering how I might use AI-powered writing, but there is one thing I do know: I couldn’t have written a poem so quickly. And while I don’t think it’s a great or even a good poem, I do believe there’s value in not having to start with a blank page.

Have you experimented with AI-powered writing? If so, what tools have you used and what’s been your experience?

Die With Zero

Our family skipped Christmas this year. I first realized that when I returned from Hawaii on January 6. White twinkle and icicle lights strung from guttering sparkled in the chilly evening air. Multi-colored mini bulbs wrapped around shrubs and trees glowed in snow covered yards.

Except at our home. Our flight had departed from Minneapolis on December 16th. Jody and I had decided to not put up any holiday lights. Not even an artificial Christmas tree. Decorations stayed stored in the garage rafters.

In Whalers Village on Maui, we had our picture taken in front of the Christmas tree and noticed the island-style holiday decorations adorning hotel fronts.

On Christmas day there weren’t any presents. Instead, each person was to buy a $20 gift in Hawaii for the steal, switch, gift exchange dice game.

Our Hawaii experience was the gift: surf lessons, visiting a cat sanctuary on the island of Lanai, glass blowing, ATV tour, whale watching, hang gliding, a luau, and most important, being together.

Absent was any questioning if there were going to be Christmas presents. Absent was the stress of gift buying. Absent for me was any depression or negative feelings from past memories of the holidays.

It was after our trip that I started reading Die With Zero, written by Bill Perkins.

The premise of the book is to maximize your life enjoyment rather than on maximizing your wealth. Focus on generating memorable life experiences. Live life to the fullest. Don’t wait until you’re too old to be able to enjoy doing things.

Jody and I have taken many vacation trips with Juan and Crystel. I’ve included activities that we haven’t done before. We invite their friends. We generate memories.

I was so taken by this book that I purchased one for Jody, Juan, and Crystel. This summer we are planning on returning to Guatemala. Crystel and I will do a month-long homestay and attend Spanish school. Jody, Juan and his girlfriend will join us for the 5th week. We will visit with both birth families. Juan will introduce his girlfriend to his birth mom. All of us will revisit the best of Guatemala. (We’ve vacationed in Guatemala five times).

Juan’s 21st birthday is in July. Crystel’s 21st birthday in September. Their gift will be our Guatemala experience.

Jody and I are planning to hike across Spain in the spring of 2024 (before I forget any Spanish). We’ll check in with the kids from time to time. We wouldn’t want them to worry. I view my age from 65-75 as being the healthiest for hiking, traveling, and seeing the country. If we don’t have the kid’s inheritance spent (the book says that optimal age for receiving inheritance is between ages 26-35) – Juan and Crystel will be at the prime age for receiving our inheritance when we finally start to slow down.

There are a lot of holidays to skip between now and then. Many adventures, experiences, and memories to generate.

Days of Belgian Pie

John, my last living uncle, passed away January 25, on his 90th birthday. One aunt remains and I hope she will be able to be there to say good-by to the last of her siblings. 

It is cold in Wisconsin and my uncle’s beloved parish church may be chilly as his family gathers for his funeral this week. The cold would not have bothered him during his working years on the railroad or hunting with friends and family. When he was a kid hunting was not so much a sport, but a way to keep meat, canned or frozen, on hand to feed seven or eight people. Railroad workers, both my grandfather and uncle, never made a lot of money. My aunt cooked and sewed and gardened while working part-time to help support their family. Raised on a farm, she knew how to work as well as have fun. They both had big hearts.

When my ninety-four-year-old grandfather passed away, he was buried out of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Luxemburg, Wisconsin. It was the first time I spoke at a funeral and shared with my eleven-year-old daughter the traditions of grieving in a small town where families are often intertwined, and most people have a public reputation. 

Women from the parish made the food for my grandfather’s funeral luncheon. One of his cousins, who was also in her nineties, started baking when she heard he had passed. She made dozens of Belgian pies, enough so an entire six-foot table could be filled multiple times with slices of the sweet dough pie with soft cheese topping covering prune, apple, cherry, apricot, raisin, rice or poppyseed filling. It is an acquired taste.

Noise filled St. Mary’s School cafeteria from lunch until we were asked to leave. There were a few photos, but the tradition of picture boards or videos at funerals had not come to Luxemburg. Instead conversations about my grandfather’s life were shared which often triggered laughter. Lots of laughter. For a relatively small man, Uncle John had a large and distinctive voice. His laughter may have been one of loudest in the crowded space. With our parents still alive and doing the job of representing the family, the cousins gathered our children to do introductions and talk about growing up with our grandfather. 

My Uncle John looked a lot like his father. He was fiercely protective of his family, and they reciprocated. Hopefully my cousins, their children, and grandchildren will fill another room with stories of his life and laughter. Traditions like baking Belgian pies for a funeral may have faded away, but the love of family at a time of loss holds.