Daffodils and forsythia are in bloom here. Egrets and ducks have returned to the pond. We all made it through another winter, a difficult season with plenty of cold, snow, and ice. 

When I was in my forties, I wrote a short story about a woman whose first serious high school boyfriend was drafted to serve in Vietnam. He would die in battle and be remembered as perpetually nineteen. She went on to college, married, had children. As her son prepares for junior prom, she is reminded of Bernie. On the anniversary of his death, she writes him a letter about what it has been like to age decades beyond her teens.

Late in 2022, I prepared for serious surgery. The surgeon called me a ‘low risk’ patient and young for my physical age. Tests showed no other options. All was successful, except emotionally I landed in part of the world described in Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal.  He writes that we tend to consider aging a failure, or weakness, rather than a normal process. As we live longer and longer, medical processes becomes part of our experience. Doctors know how to preserve life, but not how to help patients cope with how life continually changes.

Like most surgery nothing looks different to others, but I know where the scars are and what each means. I know the medications that support carrying me through a normal life expectancy. I am also learning their downsides. I haven’t returned to tap dancing because the studio floor is slippery, and I am still fighting to return to my prior rock-solid balance. Down dog is back on my aspirational list, but for different reasons than undeveloped muscles.

In the weeks between the first time a doctor said, “maybe six months, certainly not more than a couple of years,” and the night before surgery, I thought about not seeing my granddaughters grow up, about the writing projects that might not be published, about my unwillingness to let life go. When I stopped pushing to be the person folks expect, my fatigue was immense. With surgery on the schedule, I slept a lot, read a lot, thought even more. Because I am used to being productive, I labeled that week practicing recuperation. 

I have had friends die of cancer without the medical miracle surgery offered me. I am humbled and so respectful of how they faced the eventuality of their passing. 

This spring I wonder how to make these next many years meaningful. A wise friend told me the body needs at least six months to recover from major surgery then encouraged me to give my emotions the same time. A good plan. I’ll enjoy the daffodils and forsythia, then the tulips and lilacs. The demands of regular life are close enough.

With love to my brother, Darrell J. Frisque, who passed too young on April 14, 2007.

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, 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.