ben vandgrift · on living the dream

2011 Year In Review

It's that time again. Here's 2011, a short retrospective, for a year I will subtitle 'everything was going pretty well, and then summer happened'.


Began the year by hosting a New Year's party with a few friends, some of whom I've grown closer to, and some I've drifted apart from. There was Clue. And a mimosa-like drink made with champagne and TJ's fizzy clementine juice. This was delicious.

Visited Durham a number of times, discovering the Green Room, a sweet little pool hall.

Was hired full time by Relevance in January, and it's been a pretty swell time. I like them, and they've gotten pretty used to tolerating me. Win-win.

Went skiing in Snowshoe, WV. Terrifying but otherwise fun. Discovered what a 'yard sale' was.

During the annual Vegas trip, won a fair amount of cash at the craps table, at least enough to pay for my trip and expenses. Caught up with Alan there, an old (and new) friend, as well as the rest of the guys. Had pear brandy. Came home.

My friend James opened up The Not Just Coffee Shop across the street from my house. This became the hub of my social life, and the guys there added to the core of my group of friends. NJC moved in November to 7th street.

On that note, built a surprising and surprisingly close friendship with the ex's ex. He would later dunk me in a river, on accident he assures me.

I cut my hair, and experimented with various length before abandoning short hair and returning to the shag I have now and hoping to regain some sense of my physical attractiveness.

There was, briefly, a science fiction book club in Charlotte.

Bowling league. I think we came in second, and the team had fun.

A house 300' away from my place burned down. Apparently it was abandoned and sheltering homeless people, and a murderer that one time. No one was hurt.

Had a delicious meal at Good Food on Montfort, good enough to warrant inclusion in the Year In Review. It was called the 'Ossabaw Pork Dinner'. Five courses, all pork. One of the cooks there doesn't believe it happened, but I have photographic proof.

Saw 'The Glass Menagerie' for the first time.

Got back into the gym with a new workout partner. That's been stellar when we can get the scheduling down. Call it a work in progress.

On Mothers' Day weekend, met the family for a few days in a cabin in Gatlinburg. Rode the skylift, saw some fish, had some food, stayed connected with the family. Learned about 'bottle pool', and giggled a lot with my little brother, whom I love dearly. Was reminded that I am not terrible with children, except when I am.

Headed to Baltimore for Railsconf; not to attend, just to hang out. Punctured my thumb with a crab shell, but other than that it was a great time. Rode up and back with Jim, who took me through downtown Washington DC on the way back.

Hacker Bed and Breakfast had inflatable bouncy castles. There was Go, and late night viewing of 'A Game of Thrones'. And a taco truck. Stu really knows how to throw down.

Visited the Roses in June. Nearly killed Carl. Nathan is a huge boy, who has great parents, and will grow up to take over the world in one fashion or another.

Briefly had a second cat, then didn't, then Monster was lonely, so now I have Mina, an adorable tiny calico. Monster grew into his name. He is a very large cat.

JJ (@babyfleet) came into all of our lives.

Saw 'Pearl and the Beard' with Care Bear and her beau in Durham.

I really, really learned to appreciate coffee. Drinking it, cupping it, and pulling espresso shots. Took an espresso basics class from Brent.

Built a ton of bookshelves to house my various literature and fluff.

Picked up a new television for my birthday, and consolidated a lot of viewing methods. Due to the limited mobility of my then-ladyfriend, spend a lot more time in front of it than I generally do.

Completed the collection of Imbibe. Still need to put it into an easily referenced format.

The Ruby Hoedown, in Nashville, was a fantastic weekend. Magical, even? While I didn't get to see everyone I wanted to see, I did see Amelia and Oscar for a couple of days, and that was lovely. We spent maybe half an hour playing with a squirrel at this coffee shop and kicking around the lid of a soda bottle like a football.

I learned to pick locks.

There was a grill with a football helmet for a lid.

If you've never been to the Hopscotch festival in Raleigh, NC, it's worth a look, especially if you're reasonably local. I had a mostly great time, ate a lot of good food, drank a lot of good beer, and saw a ton of good music, among it Oxbow, which wrecked me.

As a immediate follow-up, headed to St.Louis (first time) for the Strangeloop conference. Was reminded of all the continuing education I haven't been doing, and had a bushel-full of knowledge poured into my head. Discovered North Coast Brewing's 'Le Merle' saison. Saw the Cardinals play.

Andrew drove down from Charleston, Il. We played games. We are still playing those games.

Saw 'Mates of State' at the Visulite. Lovely.

Visited Asheville. Wandered through used bookstores. Ate well.

Won 'Charlotte Startup Weekend' with 'CribSheet', an app inspired by Elaine's careful baby-tracking spreadsheet.

Discovered a new bar in Raleigh, the "London Bridge Pub" with the Care Bear. Still smelled like Varnish.

Visited the ancient homelands over Thanksgiving, spent a little time with the fam. I continue to be grateful for my brother's friendship.

Saw my first NFL game. Watched a couple of NBA games.

The end of November kind-of sucked. I consoled myself with a little hermit time and Skyrim. I was consoled by a number of friends, some of whom came from surprising places. I'm a little misty just thinking about it.

The last two days of the year may have been the best: kayaking, then hiking Crowder's Mountain. 'Beautiful Day' indeed. They made the rest of the year tolerable.


First, be grateful. Feel it and show it. Be grateful to your family, your friends, to whatever deity or deities you venerate. Be grateful to nature and the world at large. Be grateful to yourself. Ingratitude is a terrible thing, and should be reserved for the people who are dedicated to their own unhappiness.

Second, your friends are always looking out for you. They may not be looking out for the same things you are, in which case at least one of you are looking out for the wrong thing. Maybe it's them, but just maybe it's you. Listen to their advice, and take it if you can, especially when it becomes an overwhelming chorus.

Next, take time to let yourself be happy. Find something you want to do and put it on the calendar, buy the tickets, make the reservation. Regularly. And if you have to go it alone, go it alone.

Also, it's good to understand how you love. I didn't have a good handle on this until this year. It's also a good idea to know how other people love, especially if it's someone you're involved with. Understanding both things will give you an idea of when you're being loved (and when you're not), and help you recognize what you're looking for and not getting, to either adjust your expectations or communicate your needs clearly to your partner. (They are, as I discovered, free to completely ignore your needs, in which case listen to your friends, who probably have some things to tell you about your significant other.)

Finally, many quiet, distant voices can be overwhelmed by one loud voice nearby. It doesn't make the screaming person correct, it just makes them louder and more constant. Take the time to seek out the other voices in your life.

At the end of the year, I decided that 2012 would be legendary, especially since it's the last year of the Fifth Age, and also a Dragon year. It's up to me to make it that way, and to ensure that 'legendary' is more 'King Arthur and Merlin' and less 'The Great Chicago Fire'.

Best of luck to you all in the new year.

written: Dec 29 2011