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It’s no secret that the holiday season (of which I consider to start on my birthday, November 20, and end on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6) is my favorite time of the year. Each day, I do that half-walk half-run thing to the mailbox to see who has sent the latest Christmas card. Not because of the card itself, but because of those fascinating holiday letters that some friends and family write. You know, the letters that have the photo on one side and a recap of the entire year on the other. I used to find these self-absorbing on the part of the sender, but in the last few years, mainly because of my flirtation with the grim reaper on the eve of 2011, I have taken an eager interest in what happens in people’s lives over the course of 365 days. And my 2013 was certainly one for the books as well.

It was one of those years during which I imagine God sat back with a bucket of popcorn watching the Restivos on one of his millions of spy cams, pointing every few days at the screen and shaking his head, laughing, crying, or shouting “What on earth are you doing?!”

The year started off with death. Our 9-year-old rat terrier, Finny, became sick and died in a short two-week period in January. And two weeks after that, Laura’s granny died. On more than one occasion, Laura and I muttered “This year sucks” to each other during those first several weeks of 2013. It was a somewhat maudlin month, simultaneously mourning the loss of a dog and a matriarch.

Finny

Finny

Granny

Granny

As is typical with many deaths, nostalgia settles in about the lost loved one. In our case (or I should say in Laura’s case) it was how perfect Finny was. And so throughout the month of February, Laura excavated the internet for the perfect rat terrier. And while I was away in Arizona in March, she drove an absurd distance, to some wonder of America called Texarkana, to pick up this little turd.

Basil, 2 months old

Basil, 2 months old

Basil has since marked our lives. And several of our underwear, patches of carpet, stuffed animals, blankets, and toilet paper rolls.

And the spring proved just as wacky when we sold our townhome earlier than expected (March), forcing our realtor Mike to lead these grand odysseys around the city, showing us this house and that. The pool of houses is kind of limited when you tell a realtor that you want to live in Johnson County, that you’re not rich, that you need four bedrooms, that you dislike split levels, that you hate open concept, and that under no circumstances should there be a homeowners association, which I firmly believe to be organized hate groups. Eventually, the seemingly endless checklist of wants resulted in the perfect home for us.

Unfortunately, the owners were not ready to move out, which forced us into temporary housing for the better part of five weeks. We moved everything into a storage unit, save a few bedsheets, a barely house-trained puppy, a reclusive cocker spaniel, and a couple of weeks worth of clothes, and played the part of drifters quite well. Our friends, Barb and Mike, gave up a bedroom in their home for us. No big deal, right? Except for the fact that they had just moved into this beautiful home and were still unpacking. And except for the fact that they have a one-year-old. And except for the fact that Barb was six months pregnant. Amazingly, we’re still friends. I’m still flummoxed at their generosity.

That was all in the first half of the year.

The second half saw me returning to my fraternity as an alumni board member for the second time, volunteering to teach weekly Confirmation classes to middle schoolers at the Catholic Church down the street, and embracing my family (and heavily Italian) roots as the New Jersey clan joined us for a weekend in early fall.

Costanzas

the cousins

the cousins

But nothing at all could compare to what dominated the final four months of the year. I still vividly remember walking in the front door one hot late summer day only to hear Laura say “Peej, come upstairs now.” I peeked up to the landing above the foyer to see her holding the pregnancy stick. And as they say, life changed course right then and there.

A year that began focused so much on death ended focused so much on new life. If I thought 2013 was a cornucopia of cheers and jeers, something tells me it has nothing on 2014.