Holding my cup of coffee on a Sunday morning, I looked out my window at the radiant blue sky. Living on the fifth floor of an ancient apartment building affords me excellent views of Florence. And, as evidenced by the Renaissance masters, the ethereal light in Italy is unlike anywhere else.
I watched the early morning sun sneak its rays through the cotton clouds.
Suddenly, breaking the morning's stillness, was my favorite neighbor. He looks to be about three years old. I don't know his name, I just know that he delights me daily! This morning he was still in his pajamas, chasing after his cat and singing. Right on his heels was his mom, calling him to come inside for breakfast. I watched her lovingly gather him up in her arms.
And I remember.
I remember when my days were filled taking care of the needs of my children. When breakfasts were made, and sticky hands washed, couches became forts, and laundry reproduced at an alarming rate.
I remember being a mother of teenagers. Those days the sound of the garage door finally opening at 2:00 a.m. was the answer to my prayers, and there was no limit to the amount of groceries consumed.
I think about how I got here. Not here as in living in Italy here, but here... living alone.
Like many women of my generation, I grew up with the aspiration of marriage and children. The End.
(I actually wanted to be a wife, mom and a Rockette, so my ambitions were higher than most.)
I certainly never planned on living alone, although there were times, during the child raising years, it was a favorite fantasy! And yet, closing in on 60 years old, it's where I find myself.
And, I live in a foreign country, where I still struggle with the language. That can be a lot of alone. But daily, I find it so interesting.
Would you make your bed in the morning if you knew, for certain, that no one would see it all day but you? How about meals? Placemat and napkin? Would you even cook?
I never gave much thought to where I would be when the job of being a mother was over. I certainly hadn't wished to be a wife, mom, Rockette and move to Italy.
But, here I am. Settling in to a new chapter of life, yet another one that didn't arrive with instructions.
These days I work and study, and I write. I meditate when I want to, and choose my own time for breakfast. I walk. Everybody in Florence walks. By the end of the day I have accumulated hours of walking, and miles on my shoes.
And almost every day, I get a gelato (hey, it's the small size), and sit down in a busy piazza or market to take in the people watching.
Mostly, I watch the mothers.
I marvel at the young moms navigating a child's stroller along the cobblestone walks. And I remember.
I remember dropping into bed so bone tired I thought I would sleep like the dead, only to awake instantly at the sound of a coughing child. I remember tip-toeing in after my babies were in bed just to hear them breathe, just to watch them sleep. (And by "babies" I mean until they left home.)
I watch the women who are around my age. Always in a dress or skirt, with sensible shoes, they rule the market place. I have to admit, I am a little afraid of them. Even the butcher is a little afraid of them!
I watch the very old women. They are treated with great kindness here. It's common to see them at the family's restaurant or market stall. Knowing almost everyone that comes by, now their presence is all that is required.
I check them out. I look at their hands. Hands that most certainly made ragu sauce for a family (with one child on her hip) and soothed a fevered baby. Hands that buttoned up sweaters, combed out hair, aided with school projects, and scooped up children to bring them inside for breakfast.
I imagine that she, like me, looks in the mirror some mornings and thinks, "Good God, when did all this happen?"
I imagine that she, like me, is taken aback with how quickly it all went by.
I live alone now. I am somebody's mother, somebody's sister, somebody's friend. But most of all, I am my own woman. I am completely intrigued by this chapter of my life.
And, much to my own surprise, I make my bed every day!
Ecuador may be one of the most inexpensive places to live for retirees on a budget. Not only is the cost of living extremely cheap, according to Fortune magazine, but the South American country also uses the U.S. dollar. One couple interviewed by International Living lived on $600 a month, spending as little as $1.25 per month on gas and $1.70 per month on water. (Image via Flickr, Carly Lyddiard) Correction: A previous version of this slide said that Ecuador was in Central America.
Easy accessibility and excellent health care are two major draws for retirees settling in Panama. According to U.S. News & World Report, the cost of living is not the cheapest -- especially in Panama City -- but the great retirement benefits, travel and entertainment discounts and country-wide use of U.S. currency make up for the extra expenses. (Image via Flickr, Francesco Veronesi)
Since 1985, 25,000 foreign retirees have settled in the Philippines, Global Post reports. Taxes are minimal, so living is very comfortable on a pension of $3,000 per month. Post 50s may have to share the beach with younger folks since the minimum age for ex-pat retirees is 35.. (Image via Flickr, SToto98)
For a tropical climate where English is the official language, retirees should look no further than Belize. The coastal country offers no tax on foreign retirement income and minimal sales and property taxes, according to U.S. News & World Report. (Image via Flickr, Ian Morton)
Some cities in France may be a bit out of the price range of the average retiree -- looking at you, Paris -- but the monthly expenses of other towns in the southwest are more affordable, notes the AARP. For Francophiles looking to settle in France, the history, culture, wine and food are among the biggest enticements. (Photo credit: AP)
With consistently perfect weather and beautiful beaches, Bali joins dozens of other beachfront locations that make for great retirement living. According to The Wall Street Journal, retirees can settle down on the Indonesian island for about $1,000 a month (not including housing), as long as they don't mind trading in a front door for a open entryway -- as is custom in Bali. However, medical care is not the best. (Photo credit: Getty)
With no taxes on foreign retirement income -- according to U.S. News & World Report -- Costa Rica may be one of the ideal places to retire. Nestled between Nicaragua and Panama, the cost-friendly country boasts stunning beaches and rain forests. HuffPost bloggers Jeff Jones and Gay Haubner wrote about their experience finding a house in Costa Rica. (Image via Flickr, Dottie Day)
No list of places to retire abroad could be complete without Italy, where Diane Lane's character traveled to in the 2003 film "Under the Tuscan Sun." Settling in Rome is not the most feasible option, but like France, there are several Italian cities that offer a comfortable life of leisure, full of delicious Italian food and wineries, on a budget, AARP reports. (Image via Flickr, Russell Yarwood)
Certain cities in Mexico are not the safest, especially along the U.S.-Mexico border, but there are still parts of the southern country that are increasingly popular with retirees. Campeche, located near Belize, boasts beautiful waterfront properties on the Gulf of Mexico and a low cost of living. A week's worth of market fruit and vegetables cost less than $10, according to International Living. (Photo credit: Flickr/Malias)
While taxes are a bit higher in Argentina than other South American locales according to U.S. News & World Report, the large country offers a wide range of places to settle -- from major tourism hubs to smaller, inexpensive villages. However, retirees should plan on spending a little more on monthly expenses, because of the rising cost of living and devaluation of the U.S. dollar, U.S. News & World Report writes. (Image via Flickr, Luis Fernandez)
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