The sound of high winds and our back porch door banging was my wake-up call Monday as the first winter blizzard hobbled most of the Carolinas, Mid-Atlantic states and the Northeast. I was barely prepared for the first snow, let alone 24 inches of it. And our three dogs made it quite clear that they weren't prepared either by deciding to hibernate under warm covers. Bring out those doggy diapers!

Travelers, who had big plans to return home after a fun-filled holiday weekend, found themselves going nowhere by car, plane, bus or train. Workplaces, like the Fairfield Museum and History Center where I work, opted for a snow day. And the only noticeable traffic on Brooklawn Avenue has been plows and sanders.

But why shouldn't we experience a fluke snowstorm right after Christmas? We can just chalk it up to another of the unexpected happenings that have defined 2010 - last year in the opening decade of the 21st century. And Friday at midnight, we'll ring in the New Year, wipe the slate clean again and see what fate will bring our way.

2010 was a good year in many ways and it had a lot of downsides as well. As always, I can't remember everything that happened, but I've tried to recall some of the highlights -- pleasant or unpleasant and how I felt about them.

We lived through a third miserable year of recession, and despite the economy turning around somewhat, we have watched friends experience home foreclosures and job losses. And all too often, I have opened my wallet and checkbook only to find them empty. My wife experienced the same thing as she prayed that her unemployment benefits would continue as she searched for full-time work. Our house didn't sell -- surprise, surprise -- so we took it off the market until spring 2011.

The year started off badly as we learned of the earthquake and devastation in Haiti in January, killing some 230,000 people. Despite the economic upheavals here in the United States, none of us had any idea what pain and suffering the Haitians would have to endure over and over in 2010. With barely any rebuilding under way, these poor people suffered again in the fall with a hurricane and now with an ongoing cholera epidemic that already has killed thousands and could last indefinitely.

In March, when the health care reform legislation passed, I was relieved, but exhausted from the rhetoric, bantering, presidential outreach and assurances. But at least Congress had passed some kind of legislation that would give those in most need a chance at health insurance.

But in the aftermath of the bill, many Republican legislators filed suits that the bill was unconstitutional and later in the year, a judge declared that the personal mandate portion of the health care bill actually was unconstitutional. So, who knows how this health care challenge will play out in 2011?

Two significant sports events were memorable for me. Drew Brees' spearheading of the New Orleans Saints' victory in the Super Bowl was inspirational, especially after the entire Katrina comeback. And I was also inspired by Spain's victory in the World Cup. Perhaps I was more excited because we had seen "Invictus" in 2010, the movie that centered around a major World Cup event won by South Africa. The games were exciting and the spirit among the fans was equally electrifying.

Moving from sports to tragedy, there just isn't enough space to talk about the horrors of the Gulf oil spill and its long-lasting damage. But when the disaster happened on April 20, no one could have imagined its impact on wildlife, Gulf Coast business, tourism and other commercial industries throughout the United States. The event became yet another cross to bear for President Obama, and even though the well was eventually capped, the emotional and economic drain will linger for a very long time.

All I could think about when I heard the term Tea Party was "Alice in Wonderland," the Lewis Carroll fantasy. But this group was no fantasy and as its members gained power and momentum, the Tea Party succeeded in getting a significant number of its candidates elected in the midterm elections and establishing itself as a force to be reckoned with in the future.

I've concluded that the older I get, the more emotional I get, but my tears flowed freely this fall when the last of the Chilean miners stepped out of the rescue capsule, successfully ending one of the most dramatic rescues in history. I was probably more excited because an American had assisted in fashioning the rescue device that gave these miners back to loving families.

And it was even more exciting to watch one of the miners running his heart out in the New York Marathon, barely a month after the rescue, and heading from the Big Apple to Memphis for a visit to Graceland and his idol, Elvis' home. That was pure inspiration.

Who could ever top Elena Kagan's comeback remark about where she was on Christmas during her Supreme Court confirmation hearings? She brought down the house with her comment that like most Jews she was probably at a Chinese restaurant. Reports on the newest Supreme Court Justice indicate that she is loving her new position and happier than she's ever been. I'm not surprised and I think she'll do a great job.

After getting past my personal disdain for John Edwards' affair and treatment of his wife, I was very sad to learn of her passing just a few weeks ago. She was a brave fighter who never lost her will to live, and her life will surely be an inspiration to her children.

So much more happened in 2010 -- some of it memorable for me but perhaps not so for others and that's the way things always are. But I didn't want to close without mentioning President Obama's shellacking in the polls, followed by his comeback-kid victory with the passage of landmark legislation; Susan Boyle's triumph on the music front; and Chelsea Clinton's very tasteful wedding that put Rhinebeck, N.Y., on the map. I'm sure I've forgotten so much more, but you can fill in the blanks.

A happy and healthy New Year to all and let's hope that 2011 begins to show a real upturn in the economy, good health, success and happiness.

Steve Gaynes can be reached at steven.gaynes@yahoo.com.