It was supposed to be a big year - but, a relatively calm one.

That was how I had it planned. If I had so much as a major goal, of which I thought I would be in control, it dealt with perhaps my major hobby now - birdwatching. The goal was for my wife and I to do a miniaturized version of a "Big Year." The "pros" (a misnomer because people generally aren't getting paid for this) would take this to extremes, jetting around the country, following migration patters, and seeing species counts into the 700s in good years.

I had modest dreams of 200 or 220 or so, buoyed by planned trips to at least Chicago (in May) and North Carolina (in August). Plus, whatever might come up. Like, word of Black Bellied Whistling Ducks at Mermet Lake, sending us on a post-work jaunt to Massac County on a May Tuesday, for these rarities that shouldn't have been much further north than the Gulf Coast...but, nothing crazy.

The year got off to a good start, actually. On Sunday, January 1, we spotted a Northern Shrike at Crab Orchard refuge - a personal first for me, and a bit of an out-of-range wanderer.

Then, life hit. My mom shattered her ankle, was told she would never walk again, and then, given a second opinion, proved that to be wrong.

I went to bed on the evening of February 28 feeling pretty good. My mom had been discharged a couple of weeks prior after a successful foot surgery, spring was around the corner, we were planning an expansion of our backyard garden, and all seemed right with the world.

Some five hours later, I awoke to a horrifying combination of roars, shakes, shrieks and crashes, as the Leap Day tornado tore through our neighborhood, shattering glass on and around our heads and then - though the ordeal seemed to last forever in some ways - exiting, leaving what I can only describe as the most deafening silence I'd ever heard.

"Greg, come here quick!" or something to that effect, said our friend Lindsey, who had come down the Saturday after the storm to help us clean up. I feared she had found something similar to the bird's wing, minus the bird, that I had found on that Wedneday morning.

That's when I first saw the spoon pictured above, wrapped in on itself, taking its place along with the license plate shoved up under a roof shingle, sticks impaled into our house, and yet, unsecured trellis still leaning in the same place against our birch tree - all those oddities or tornado lore that you never quite believe until you see them firsthand.

Ultimately, we were unhurt, as were our pets - and let me say now that as Thanksgiving approaches, I do without a doubt understand how fortunate I am to even be able to type these words today. Too many of our fellow citizens either cannot claim the same, or completely lost someone or something very near and dear to them.

However, it was a start of a year that just wouldn't let up. Amidst personally unchartered territories for me, we replaced about $30,000 worth of home, as well as my vehicle. My family endured more hardships - my mom, in fact, nearly perished a month ago thanks to a rare (we're talking maximum of 5 people per million) blood disorder.

Somewhere in the midst of all this I was asked to contribute to this blog section. I asked Daily Register Editor Brian DeNeal what my topic would be, and he said it would be essentially up to me. This got me both excited and nervous, as I can get to rambling sometimes. And, I figure I will be quite diverse in my topics.

However, I had little doubt as to what the answer would be. I wanted to do it, because Harrisburg was now my home, and the Daily Register was my gateway to making it so.

Six years ago, when I started as a sports writer for the Register, I knew absolutely no one in the area with the exception of my wife. Two months in, I could scarcely cart through Kroger without bumping in to two or three parents, grandparents, or superfans, all of whom made me feel welcome.

I never intended to make my home here, but I'm glad time and chance and fate made it so, even if that meant, eventually, putting me in the path of what happened on 2/29/12. I believe home is more than just a place where you sleep: it's a place where you laugh, love, learn, and even hurt. I've been doing a lot of all of those in the past year, but after seeing the way this community rallied after such tragedy, I became proud to consider this my home.

So, where will this blog go in the future? Perhaps in as many directions as this initial post. But I'm thankful for the opportunity - that's for sure.