It’s Just a House

Paul and I began 2012 like most other years – excited about the prospect of a fresh start and a new year to experience together. That spring, I was promoted at work, and we began to seriously talk about starting a family. I loved the little townhouse my family had purchased a few years before, but it was time (so I felt) to move up and along to a real house.

Paul and I got on a kick looking for restored bungalows, somehow ending up doing the majority of our searching in Durham. Paul wanted to be somewhere walkable to restaurants and other fun things to do, and I wanted a home for the future family I envisioned. We stumbled upon the listing for our house – I was instantly smitten. Built in 1916, it had been beautifully restored. Yet, we actually bypassed it after the first showing. We were still “new” to downtown Durham, having been UNC students.

The house was in an area of Durham still in transition, and we were temporarily blinded by the dilapidated church across the street (now an art gallery) and the uncertainty of what we were getting into. We looked at other places in the next month or two after our initial showing and just didn’t see anything that seemed suited for us. Something about the house stuck with us, so we went back and gave it another chance. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was perfect for us. We decided to put in an offer and make our home there.

We closed on the house the morning of September 28th, 2012. Less than two hours later, my mom called me. My dad had suffered a major stroke – a stroke that would take his life just over two weeks later.

Instead of unpacking and making our new house a home, I spent time planning my dad’s funeral. The next few months were a blur, and to be honest, I don’t remember much about that time apart from barely functioning. Yet, somehow the fog lifted a bit the next spring. I remember specifically that Memorial Day weekend – Paul and I took our two dogs to Umstead Park for a long hike. I crouched on a rock in the middle of the creek and watch my dog enjoy the rushing water. I looked at the sunlight filter through the trees and thought for the first time that life could be okay again.


The next week, the accident occurred and I sustained my TBI, aphasia and apraxia. Once again, our “normal” life took a backseat. Instead of cherishing our first summer in the new house, we spent time driving back and forth to doctor and therapy appointments. I spent much of my time sleeping on the couch, trying to recover from the shock and haze of my injury.

All I wanted during that time was for things to be stable – to have something solid that I could hold on to. Life was not at all what I had envisioned the morning we closed on our house. But as it goes, life went on.

I attended an aphasia caregiver panel recently at UNC, and the more I hear other people’s stories, the luckier I feel about my own recovery. I wasn’t lucky to go through the process, but things could have turned out much worse. Here I am on the other side, and I’m able to utilize my experience in order to live a richer life.

I actually started writing this post a couple of months ago, when we confirmed the move date from our bungalow to a modern condo in Chapel Hill. It was a huge decision for us and not one that we made lightly. But with Paul in school and my acceptance to the Speech and Hearing doctoral program at UNC, moving back to Chapel Hill just made sense. And, with Baby Shafer set to make her debut this May, we wanted to down size and find a place walkable to school, daycare and all the places we love in Chapel Hill.

I’m glad that I sat on this post for a while, because if I’d finished it back in February, it would have been a pretty maudlin read. I was convinced that I would be devastated to leave the house that I had placed so many hopes and expectations on – I had placed the dreams I had for that house on an unreachable pedestal, just by virtue of how life turned out to be while we were there. That’s okay, but it wasn’t realistic to expect life to cooperate just because I wanted it to.

There is a pivotal scene toward the end of the movie Up where Carl lets go of the house he shared with Ellie. He understands at that point of the movie that it’s just a house and that letting go of the actual house doesn’t mean he has to let go of the memories he made there.


I have learned to let go of a lot of things the past few years, and then more I have to let go, the more I understand that I keep what matters most close to me – what matters is not necessarily where I am but who I am with and what I choose to do with my time.

To spend time with Paul and our animals, to embark on this new journey together with a family and school, it’s more important than any expectation I could place on what, in the end, is just a house.



Since my last update, life has been flowing along like a swiftly moving river. It may not always be the smoothest journey, but it’s always moving forward.

A few weeks ago, Paul and I witnessed a very cool thing.

Our house is nearly 100 years old and boasts a creaky front porch and lots of eaves and overhangs under the roof for a variety of wildlife, most of which is welcome (let’s not talk about our first year in the house and the squirrels who managed to find their way into our attic). Each spring, we watch the birds build new nests and monitor us carefully as we come and go.

This year, an American Robin made her nest under the overhang of our roof and settled in to commence brooding her eggs. As is typical for us, we had to come up with a nickname, and so we promptly named this bird Kevin, after the chocolate-loving bird in Up.

Kevin peered out at us skeptically each time we pulled into the driveway, but she hovered around the yard and enjoyed the free bird seed buffet we provided. Not long after, I noticed a few tiny beaks pop up – three tiny Kevin babies had hatched. I knew it wouldn’t be long until they climbed awkwardly from the nest and started testing out their wings, but I had never actually witnessed a bird learning to fly.

One Saturday, Paul and I were sitting on the couch watching a movie when Buster, our tuxedo cat (really, the Barney Stinson of cats), suddenly became quite interested in trying to poke his head through the window blinds. I opened the blinds and was surprised to see a mini Kevin perched atop one of our porch chairs. He was preening himself, tufts of tiny gray feathers sitting atop his head, as if he were a little old man. At times, he would raise one of his wings, as if he was unsure of how he got there and had no clue how to extricate himself from the situation.

A few minutes later, Kevin flew down and alighted on the chair. She had a worm in her beak and seemed to be encouraging her offspring to make a move. Baby Kevin hobbled around awkwardly and eventually Kevin came over and gave him the worm, then took off for what I assumed to be more worm hunting.

In the meantime, Baby Kevin stayed put, looking quite confused. Kevin returned and looked at her baby, then proceeded to flap her wings. Baby Kevin began to imitate her. This went on for a while, with the baby attempting to copy Kevin, and with her returning every few minutes to encourage him with more flapping.

At this point, Paul and I weren’t certain how long this was going to continue, but we were way too invested in watching this baby fly to care. After a few more minutes, Baby Kevin suddenly took off.

Okay, so he flew a bit like a drunk toddler, but we didn’t care. Baby Kevin made it from the porch chair to my dad’s Japanese Maple tree in the front yard, and it was one of the coolest things I have ever witnessed. I kid you not.

I spend a lot of time at the computer for work, and I’m frequently on the phone both during and after work, either leading meetings or just zoning out on Facebook or looking at various random websites. Sometimes, I think about unplugging and trying to do a better job of just being present and enjoying life as it’s happening, not as I’m reading it happening.

For the few minutes that I watched this baby bird test out his wings, I was truly present and tuned into life as it happened. It may sound silly, but for me, it was a really eye opening experience and one that I will treasure thinking about. I am guilty of spending a lot of time thinking about the future and planning, which can be a good thing but can also cause me to feel like I’m not totally appreciating the moment as I’m in it.

As I approach the two year anniversary of my accident, I want to do a better job of appreciating the moment. The one benefit right after my accident was that I didn’t have anything else to focus on at the hospital other than putting one foot in front of the other. As I recovered and life returned to (mostly) normal, the daily distractions of our fast paced, plugged-in lives slowly crept back in. In a sense, it’s good to be back to my life as I knew it, but I also never meant to start taking it for granted again.

I am grateful for these little moments to bring me back again and remind me to stay present.


Bad Bunny!

Meet Carl.

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Carl is, clearly, a rabbit.

And he lives in quite a roomy hutch inside our house.

If you’re counting, that makes two cats, two dogs, a rabbit, and 1.5 horses.

Now, we never intended to get a rabbit, much less one that lived inside. He just sort of showed up one day. Literally.

One day last spring, I walked outside and a flash of white caught my eye. Well, two flashes. Two rabbits were hanging out in a couple of hutches under my neighbor’s (still under construction at the time) house. Bunny 1 and 2 (not to be confused with Bunny Number 8) had been scheduled to become dinner for one of Neighbor’s friends. Instead, Neighbor offered to take the rabbits and provide them a home instead of a plate and a stomach.

Over the next few weeks, Bunny 2 was stolen–crate, food and all. Only in Durham. And somehow, Paul and I agreed to take Bunny 1 and try out giving him a home. His outside hutch was quickly replaced with a cushy new indoor hutch. A bale of hay was procured. Bunny grain was purchased, along with various other bunny-themed implements: chew sticks, lettuce, carrots, etc.

How did he end up with the name Carl? Good question. As with just about all of our other animals, his name just sort of happened. Plus, Paul and I are sort of fond of the crotchety old man in Up.

Carl, however, is far from crotchety. Equivalent in size to my big cat man Buster (who could stand to lose a few pounds), Carl has no fear and quickly made our house his home. We enjoyed just over a month with our new furry friend before I was injured last summer.


The first time Paul left me in the hospital to go home, I made him a list of things to get and/or do. Ostensibly, only one of those things (glasses) was for me. My primary concern was that Paul take care of our animals (Carl must have multiplied) and report back to me (apparently I was already planning when I could go back to work, despite the fact that I couldn’t talk at the time).

Anyway, there were several factors that sustained me and encouraged me to get back home as soon as possible, and obviously one of those was Carl and the rest of our brood.

Interestingly, all of our animals had different reactions when I returned home from the hospital. Since I had a couple of weeks where I couldn’t speak or make many sounds, they all knew intrinsically that something was wrong with me. Sadie, our younger dog (maybe not the brightest bulb in the box but incredibly sweet) immediately set about trying to fix me – she was quite quiet and concerned (for Sadie) and wanted to lick me constantly.

Sallie, my old girl and my friend for over 11 years, was extremely confused. Since I couldn’t talk to her, she thought I was angry with her. It’s hard for a dog when your owner of over a decade suddenly stops speaking to you.

The cats – well, even my ornery old man was happy to cuddle close to me on the couch. He just knew.

And then there was Carl. Just looking at him lifted my spirits. And here’s the ironic thing.

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He makes no noise. Nothing. He’s always been voiceless.

And it’s a funny thing, because our house is constantly loud. There is always someone barking/meowing/snoring/sneezing/slurping/whining/etc.

Carl is always silent, but his presence is huge. As any of my Facebook friends can attest (sorry not sorry for the onslaught of Carl pictures)…

The other funny thing is, in a way Carl the voiceless rabbit helped me regain my own voice. One of my first halting phrases was, “Bad bunny!”

Just being surrounded by Carl and the rest of our animal family was so key in my recovery, because it’s always been a part of who I am. And all you want to do when you’re going through the recovery process is get back to some sense of normalcy, as I’ve written many times.

Of course, this was only one component of my recovery. But never underestimate the power of what animals can do for your spirit.

I’m so grateful to have found my voice again, but you don’t need a voice to have a presence. Carl says so.