Aging in Place–with Help

On January 7, thick wet snow fell for the first time this winter. I wasn’t worried. I knew my friend and helper Matt had his eye on the weather.

When my husband Vic had lymphoma in 2006, he was too sick to split firewood, so Vic looked for help to take care of our property. He found Matt on Craig’s List. Matt had just moved to Ithaca from Pennsylvania with his wife and young family. He and his wife shared childcare, so a part-time job was just what he needed. At the time, one of my sons was in California and the other was in North Carolina, so I needed a helper.

Matt with his daughter Julia, his dogs, & mine (2022)

Vic quickly realized he could trust Matt. As Vic grew sicker, he leaned on Matt’s calm competence to manage the chores required to live in our country home. Matt read the tractor manuals, figured out how to care for the equipment. He even learned to clear snow with a front loader without gouging big holes everywhere. No easy trick.

Matt is the kind of man who can grow a vegetable garden in the summer, ski with his wife and daughters in winter, and train his dogs with a gentle voice. He’s calm and joyful.  Vic left me in good hands.


Late yesterday afternoon, I looked out through the heavy snow and saw the orange tractor with Matt at the helm. Disco knows Matt so well she didn’t bark. In a few hours, Matt  cleared the driveway from the road to behind the barn and stacked firewood on the front porch.

I thanked the heavens (and Vic) for my good fortune.


My younger son Anthony lives a few miles away now, but Matt still takes care of the forest and firewood. He and Anthony both help with the gardens. For now I’m set to live here in my half-wild Artemis world of dogs, oak trees, and kind male helpers. You might also enjoy Lessons from Artemis, Goddess of the Wild. Or an early post about my concerns about living here on my own called My Mysterious Home–with photos of the days when I drove the tractor. With my son living nearby and Matt a phone call away, I feel no push to change where I live for now.

For the first time in years, I’ve had a holiday flu (not covid) and this is the first piece I’ve written in a month. I still feel blurry headed, but hope to feel clearer soon and get back to my Monarch friends who are wintering in Mexico. I hope they’re doing well but haven’t found reports since late November.

  1. Dear Elaine, let me start at the end and work my way upwards. Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that you didn’t feel well over the holidays. Those nasty bugs, colds and viruses seem to be most virulent here in the UK, worldwide I’m sure, this winter. With regard to the beautiful oranges ones, on Boxing Day I finished the wonderful novel ‘Flight Behaviour’ (you mentioned it to me several weeks ago) and ab-soul-utely loved it. What an education for mind, body and soul!

    Matt sounds amazing! What providence is must be to have him and his family live close by. It was fun to go back and read your other posts of how you mastered the ‘orange beast’ and how you ‘watch your 200 year old house with the eye of an anxious mother’! Keep shooting with your camera and sharing Artemis’s lessons. Happy New Year my dear friend! Sending you much love and light across the oceans and oaks between us, your poet friend, Deborah.

    • I was OK being sick for holidays and it meant my son didn’t have to drive here (10 hour drive) in holiday traffic. We did a family solstice ritual on Zoom but we’ll get together in late winter and celebrate the first awakening of spring. Meanwhile, we’ve had the most long lasting power outages for at least a few decades. We are not protected from climate change, but it came in the form of wind instead of our usual winter snow. My power was back on last night, but a local friend and my son who lives near here won’t have power until at least tonight. I stay calm and remind myself I’m not in danger and it’s not super cold so pipes aren’t freezing. I have a wood stove, so can stay warm. Friends have big trees falling across their roads so things can get serious.

      I’m glad you enjoyed “Flight Behavior.” I need a book like that once in a while, and I’m now reading and enjoying ‘The Comfort of Crows’ by Margaret Renkl who has a wise view of nature and a keen eye. She’s giving me ideas of how I might structure a book.

      Matt is amazing but he can’t help when the power goes out. This had to be handled by crews with big equipment in high winds. It’s another reminder that Nature is in charge and no one is safe from climate change. We didn’t have huge snows or flooding waters, but we had wild winds toppling big trees. I don’t think I lost any trees, but I will do a walk-about this afternoon and see what the forest endured. Then I’ll call Matt. May we all be well and safe. Love and New Year’s Blessings to you and Lin.

  2. Elaine, I hope you feel stronger each day. Many of my friends are sick from a non-Covid “flu,” so hard to deal with any time, especially in winter.

    Aging in place resonates with me. My Matt is named Cliff, who lifts up/reaches for/ takes care of things beyond me. We say we have an “assisted living” arrangement. I honestly believe I couldn’t manage to live in this house without help. Our kids live close but are busy, busy with their own lives and children.

    I trust your Monarch friends are fine wintering in Mexico. When the earth comes alive again, they’ll return. In the meantime, take care of yourself and enjoy Disco and your warm house as you recover! 😀

    • After a week of a fierce virus, we had one of the largest power outages with downed trees that I’ve seen here in decades. I don’t take it personally and don’t forget how privileged and safe I am. I stay warm with a wood stove, but a few days after the initial storm, many still don’t have electrical power since there’s a tangle of downed trees and wires. Yesterday the winds howled, but today is quieter, so I hope the men can finish their work and get power back to everyone. We’re electricity-dependent.

      I’m so glad you have Cliff. In times like the last few days with gales of wind and branches flying through the air, I miss Vic more than ever. He found a big storm exciting. My son Anthony helps me if I need anything, but he’s been away a lot. He ran for and won a seat on the town board so now he’s at meeting in Rochester, NY learning what he needs to know for governance. It’s good to have training, but I’m glad the weather wasn’t colder and didn’t freeze his pipes. I look forward to Monrach weather. (Disco loves snuggling at the foot of my bed on top of the covers in the winter, so she’s a good nurse. Be well and be safe.

  3. Matt is the star of the story, but the lesson is that aging in place is possible even with a winter snow storm howling outside. Great photos of the land.

    • I agree, and it’s important to think ahead and know who our helpers will be. We’ll all need them. It’s been a wild week here and Anthony and a few friends still don’t have power. It’s not super cold, so no frozen pipes. When big trees come down, they bring wires with them. I think all my trees are OK, but I haven’t felt well enough to do a full inspection. I may need to call Matt!

  4. Dear Butterfly
    Simple poignant refined and delicious writing as always

  5. Oh, dear Elaine. First, it is wonderful to have such an attentive, great friend of the heart to help in such situations. We have also suddenly got cold weather with minus 10 degrees, and it can snow next week.❄ I might call Matt to come for help!! Anyway, I am happy to hear from you and your overcoming the flu. Take care and recover soon.

    • Matt has been skiing with his family on the cold days. Not much snow is coming from the sky, but they make snow on the ski course and Matt and his wife are active with the organizion. His daughters are, too. They’re a good energy family. This flu has taken it’s sweet time and we lost power for a few days with wind storms and downed trees and electric lines, so I had to keep loading the wood stove to keep warm. Fortunately Matt had piled the front door high with wood. I’m on the mend, but it’s slow going. It’s commong around here.

  6. Glad you’re feeling better, Elaine! There is a Parque de Mariposa here in Lima and it is filled with monarchs. I’ve been walking through on my morning walks this week and thinking of you.

    • Thank you, Cathy. How wonderful to see all those Monarchs. I didn’t know there was a large population of Monarchs in Lima. I look forward to hearing about them from you since I can’t find much on line. How nice to be in beautiful butterfly parks and miss the wild weather we’re having here.

  7. Passed on to my mom…useful for both of us as we age…thanks as always, for tackling important issues…

    • Our plans may fall through, but it’s still good to have some options. My son Anthony and I discuss the possibilities, so we’ll see what happens next.

  8. Thank you, Elaine! Passed on to my mom…useful for both of us as we age…thanks as always, for tackling important issues…

    • Good idea, Gita. I have Matt and Anthony and a few local women who help if I need them. And then there are the health issues no one can tackle except us.

  9. Hello Elaine, wow Matt is quite a find! Vic was a good judge and it’s wonderful that you can call him a friend as well as a helper – it sounds like he is made for you and means that you can stay in the place you love…and I’m sure it would take wild horses and more to take you away from there!

    You finally have snow but with Matt sorting out your paths and firewood it sounds like you’re well prepared. After all the rain, we’re now waiting on a blizzard that’s meant to be coming in next week – l love the idea so that I can photograph my project tree in the snow but don’t relish being trapped in because the roads become impassable!

    I’m so sorry to hear you’ve had the flu – not nice at any time but over the holiday season too makes it feel even worse! I do hope you’re feeling much better and that you re-enter your wonderful winter woodland slowly and gently as you recover…I’ll look forward to seeing all of your images! Warm wishes to you in this very cold winter!

    • Matt has become a trusted friend about the age of my sons, and he’s close with my local son. I also love his wife and family. Yes, this means I can stay in my home for now. I feel fortunate and now my younger son lives nearby so we’re discussing new possibilities so we have options when I need them. I don’t need them right now, but there are days when I’m glad I can stay home near the wood stove and not navigate the roads.

      I hope you have one of those wet snow storms with snow sticking to and decorating the trees. That’s the most beautiful for a photographer. I go out every day (moving slowly, but out I go with my dog) and there has been little light or sticky snow. The snow has been light and the wind blows it away. I take photos anyway, but they’re a little flat.

      We have little snow on the ground now, but we’re getting another wind storm which is hard on the trees and hell on the electric lines. I feel for the electricity linemen who climb the poles to fix what’s broken. This last storm was one of the most intense and enduring we’ve had here, and maybe that’s what we have to expect with climate change. I’m glad we’ve been taking care of my forest, but I found one tree uprooted on yesterday’s walk.

      I’m not positive I’ve had the flu, because it stayed constant and mild. Meniere’s Disease can have a low grade fever and my fevers are below the number where they suggest getting medical help. I have a doctor’s appointment in two weeks, but I know from experience with Meniere’s Disease that no one knows what the hell is going on. I’ll have to wait for the weather and my body to settle and eventually it will.

      Sending love to you and perfect weather for a photography.

  10. Thanks for this lovely piece. I’m so glad to hear you have Matt to help you with your property and weather issues. Our Matt and go-to helper-angel is a native North Carolinian named Algie. He’s a neighbor from down the road who built the additions to our cabin and has been our friend and caretaker ever since. We’re so grateful to be able to age in place with help in mountain country, especially when we’re not in residence. Asked or not, he’s always there to mow the pasture, clear downed trees and branches, smooth out the gravel road with his tractor when torrential rains create ruts, haul our car up the steep and slippery road when snow and ice prevail, find plumbers or electricians as needed, and check on us after bad weather. It’s a real blessing to have such good neighbors like this, especially as we age. Fred and I are fortunate to still have each other, but we couldn’t do it without Algie.

    Glad you’re feeling better. I had a mild case of Covid (my first and only) shortly before Thanksgiving, and the holiday flu a week after Thanksgiving. Luckily, both were mild and fleeting. Have a blessed New year, Jeanie

    • Thank the Goddess for our helpers. Matt doesn’t have to be asked for anything. In recent years, he helps me figure out the minimal way to mow the fields for Monarchs and other butterflies that overwinter in chrysalis here. It’s a constant experiment, but he’s mowing less now that the brush is relatively under control and creating paths so I can get to milkweed plants and look for Monarch eggs and caterpillars. Matt has also become good friends with my son Anthony who lives a few miles from me. They’re close to the same age and this is a bonus because it’s complicated keeping this place going and Matt teaches Anthony the ins and outs of managing the tractor and a 200 year old house. It’s nicest to do this aging with our partners, so I’m glad you and Fred have at your side.

      I’ve never positive for Covid and have tested many times. Meniere’s Disease is confusing for patients and doctors and a low grade persistent fever is common. It took a long time to get a diagnosis ten years ago and I can’t expect clarity since no one understands the inner ear syndrome. I’ll see my doctor in a few weeks to check in and to get more of the medicine that is the most help with vertigo. As you probably know, we’re having unusually wild storms here and that brings on vertigo–and this is my karma and I try to accept it with grace, but it’s putting up roadblocks for finishing my book. And such is life…. May you and your family remain well.

  11. I’m so sorry you have a disease that is so debilitating and poorly understood by health care professionals. When we visited Dublin some years ago we were told about a sanatorium there that was founded by Jonathan Swift, the brilliant author of Gulliver’s Travels. He had Meniere’s disease but nobody understood the symptoms then. They simply thought that his issues were “all in his head.” He founded the institution because he hoped to create a place where he could spent the remaining years of his life in a setting where he would be well cared for by people who would understand and be kind to him, and people like him, when he was unable to cope on his own any more. Unfortunately, this condition was never understood in his lifetime. I’m so glad it’s better understood now. But you’re still dealing with a very difficult challenge. I hope and suspect that your blog is a healing contribution to our understanding of this condition and might lead to improved ways of dealing with it. Much love, Jeanie

    • Thank you, Jeanie. Poor Swift probably didn’t have any helpful medicines. I have one that helps after trying many, but when the weather does what it did in the last few days (wind and wildlly chanaging barometric pressure) nothing helps except a good night’s sleep. I’m a little better, but not completely sorted out. This has been going on since 2013, so I know how to navigate it most of the time. Seems there could be more help and I go to great ENTs at a world class clinic–and everyone is doing the best they can. Thanks for your concern and, yes, it’s a lifetime condition usually beginning as it did with me around 2005 as mild hearing loss. We’ve had the worst possible weather for Meniere’s, but at least the sun is out today and winds are calmer, although hardly calm. be well and take good care of yourself.

  12. I’m picking up your post only now Elaine for the first time. I hope you’re feeling 100% better and that the weather improves. Thank heavens for Matt – an Angel who’s not in disguise. He’s real. My son Mike is an Angel too. I don’t know how we got so lucky.

    • I’m better, Susan, but not 100% because this seems to be a Meniere’s Disease reaction more than anything else. Sigh… The weather will change here. I’m glad you have Mike and I have Matt. My son Anthony is also a help when I need him, but he’s away more, so I feel very lucky to have Matt’s help. I’ll be glad when the frigid weather backs off.

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