Ben’s 2012 in Review

I thought I would add a quick post regarding 2012. Most of my posts have been about Sebastian or events going on in our lives, but I don’t really write a lot about my day-to-day stuff too much. So, more for posterity than anything, I thought I would chronicle some personal stats from the past year related just to me.  My overarching philosophy on living the “good life” incorporates many aspects from the liberal arts tradition, with a few modern indulgences thrown in.  I think it’s safe to say that the way I spend my free time is somewhat more structured and goal oriented than the average 33-year-old male. This naturally has its downsides and is somewhat off-putting to some, but if you think I’m bad, you should see the way Amber plans out her year. Geesh!  On the upside, it is deeply rewarding to me to have balance in the planned exploration of all that life has to offer.

First up, Books of course. As many of my pen pals have experienced in years past, I like to compile a reading list as the year goes along and then sometimes I send out the list to my popular correspondents. Below is 2012’s final count:

1. The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

2. Of Lamb by Harvey Mathea

3. The Song of Roland transl. by Charles Scott Moncrieff

4. The Call of the Wild by Jack London

5. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre

6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

7. Sitka by Louis L’Amour

8. The Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll

9. The Magicians by Lev Grossman

10. The River of Doubt by Candice Millard

11. Through the Brazilian Wilderness by Theodore Roosevelt

12. Greek Elegiac Poetry edited by Jefferey Henderson

13. Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett

14. The World of Rynaga: Prelude by Eric Torres

15. The Magician King by Lev Grossman

16. Mouse Gaurd: Fall 1152 by David Petersen

17. The Mayo Clinic Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth

18. Habibi by Craig Thompson

19. Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina

20. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

21. Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman

22. The Happiest Baby on the Block by Dr. Harvey Karp

23. Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

24. The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

25. At Home by Bill Bryson

26. Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon

27. Wild by Cheryl Strayed

28. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

29. The Absolute Sandman: Volume 2 by Neil Gaiman

30. The New Hate by Arthur Goldwag

31. The Day I Traded My Dad for Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman

32. In Me Own Words: The Autobiography of Bigfoot by Roumieu Graham

33. Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi

34. Spook by Mary Roach

35. Star Wars: Edge of the Empire RPG Beta by Ryan Barger

36. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

37. Year Round things to Do by Shirley Hughes

38. The Twelve by Justin Cronin

39. Design*Sponge at Home edited by Bonnie Grace

40. The Intellectual Devotional: American History by David S. Kidder

Ideally, I’m always shooting for 50 but I have never hit that mark unless I start counting the baby books. Even some of the titles above were fairly easy reads. But hey, whatever, there were some long ones in there too.  I like to read a wide variety of books: fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, reference books, gaming books, young adult, biographies, history, genre fiction, ect. The only thing I didn’t really count this year was all the baby books I read to Sebastian over and over again.

Periodicals – Some days I feel like I’m one of the few people left on the planet that will sit down and read a periodical cover to cover. Sure, it eats into book reading time and other leisure activities but some magazines are best consumed whole. Here is the 2012 list:

National Geographic  – the bathroom periodical of choice

New York Review of Books – probably takes the longest to get through since it’s physically the size of two magazines and the font is like 8 Garamond or some such.

Wired – total geek indulgence (thanks Carmen and Wayne for getting me hooked on this)

The New Yorker – Ok, maybe I don’t read this cover to cover, but who wants to read “talk of the town” when you live 4000 miles away from said town

Harpers – best part, the monthly stats/percentages page near the front. Always put it up outside my office door

Runner-up for browsing: The Chronicle of Higher Education – The standard for my profession but it is sometimes terribly boring

Journal Entries – 96 separate entries

One of the more rewarding habits I learned in college was to keep a written journal. I didn’t make myself write everyday, but I tried to. Now I have a whole shelf of journals from the past 13 years or so. If I ever need to feel humbled all I do is take one of these down and read a page at random and I realize how ridiculous I sounded back then, which naturally leads me to wondering how ridiculous I sound now. (This blog?)

Anyway, this year I really wanted to focus on writing down my experiences with Amber as new expecting parents and with Sebastian after he was born so maybe eventually when he is way older he may want to crack open one of these dusty tomes and read something about himself that is on real paper. He will also discover how terrible a doodler his father is.

Correspondence – 147 pieces of separately mailed correspondence

Mail, Mail, Mail! I love getting letters and cards in the mail. The best way to get mail is to send mail, so I send out a lot.  It’s easy to get in a rut and not write anything for a while but something will inspire me or kick my butt in gear and I get back on the wagon. The trick is to shoot for a realistic goal (mine is three a week) and just keep it up. I also keep a chart that I like to call my “Correspondicon” which has all my usual correspondents on the Y axis and “months, received, and written” columns on the X axis. This helps me, at a glance, see who was neglected these past few months. Not all the letters have to be super long letter. Sometimes cards or even post cards are nice to send and get.   I do believe, however  that recipients appreciate it more when the letter has some heft to it. I also like sending clippings of art or page a day calendar excerpts in each letter. If you want to startup a correspondence exchange just hit me up on the comment section below. European Paper Company has a nice blog series on writing letters for those who may be interested.

Films – 154 Viewed

I know, I know. That seems like a lot, but I love movies. I currently have two different film viewing goals: 1. Actually watch every film in the Barron’s 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, more or less in order, and 2. Watch every film nominated for an Academy Award…ever. I’ve been at the 1001 goal for the past 5 years or so. It’s slow going because a lot of the old silent films from the 1920’s are hard to get a hold of, especially on Netflix. Doing it chronologically is also a challenge once I hit 1927 because that’s when I ran up into my Oscar goal, since 1927 is the first Academy Awards. So now I’m on 1930 Oscar the year 1930 in “1001” which fortunately has a lot of cross over. At the same time, I’m also attempting to stay current on the most recent Oscar nominations so I don’t completely lose touch on current cinema. Now those are just the official film goals. Amber and I also have our favorite TV series which we normally watch on DVD or streaming and then there are those films that you just have to go see in theater for the sheer spectacle of it all. They all add up to the ridiculous number you see above. It obviously gets tricky when you add a baby to the mix. Both Amber and I have made it a priority to minimize Sebastian’s exposure to television, movies, and video games at least until he’s two. More incentive for us to read.

Cocktails – 102 New Mixed Drinks

Another quest I started about 5 years ago. Mix and try every drink in The New York Bartender’s Guide. I can’t really explain why I started this but it just seemed like a facet of the human experience that needed exploration in a thorough and scientific manner. A goal like this does require a few rules: 1) Only make three a week max, 2) Only make one a night on the nights you make them, 3) try as hard as possible to stick to the original recipe including method, ingredients, and equipment, 4) keep notes on each drink in regards to appearance, general qualities, and overall appeal. Admittedly, sometimes I fudge on these rules. Especially in the ingredients category. For example, when making an Octopus’s Garden,  it’s really hard to find non-seasoned smoked baby octopus in Anchorage, so I may have to make do with a smoked baby octopus marinated in chili sauce. First world problems, right? Overall, the guide is organized by base liquors. I have already made it through Brandy and Bourbon. I have been stuck on the Gin chapter for about 3 years. Needless to say, there are a great many gin based drinks. Over 300 to be more specific. The chapter is almost done with however, and then its on to the far more interesting “Wine, Liquors, and Misc.” chapter.

Video Games – 6

Sometimes, I just need to completely immerse myself in another world where solving problems and accomplishing goals is easy and rewarding. Video games tend to fit this bill. I will sometimes go for three months or so without even touching the xbox. Then I’ll get a hankering, and just like that, I will spend hours and hours, weeks and weeks in some cases, trying to beat a game. Microsoft’s achievement feature is almost torturous and just keeps me coming back for more.  Here are the games tackled this year:

1. Skyrim – started in 2011 but finished in 2012. I had waited for this game for over 4 years. So very, very satisfying.

2. Mass Effect 3 – The final chapter. I played this on the hardest difficulty and it lived up to its name. I wasn’t too upset with the ending. I might play through all three in a row someday. Who knows

3. On the Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 (by Penny Arcade) – an 8 bit throw back. Took about a week. Very funny game.

4. Borderlands – Didn’t finish this one. Too repetitive. It’s like a sad and boring version of the “Fallout” franchise.

5. Dishonored – Perfect blend of art, stealth, and easter egg hunting. Somewhat challenging and very satisfying.

6. Dark Souls – The dark horse of 2012. Minimalistic and incredibly difficult. It’s like playing a game based on a Gene Wolfe fantasy. Still working on this one.

7. Minecraft – not really beatable per say, but very engrossing for its simplicity and over all ability to captivate anyone who tries it.

Right now, I’m in a bit of reading and writing zone, so no video games currently under pursuit. Dark Souls definitely got me burnt out for a while. But Bioshock: Infinity is releasing soon and it looks quite fun. Can’t wait.

Table Top Gaming

Every Sunday, I host a table top game session at our house during the evening. It usually goes from 6 to 9. We usually play an Role Playing Game of some sort. We started out this year with Dungeons and Dragons 4.0 working the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting. The players have been in that setting for about 3 years and had finally worked their way up to level 10, after lots and lots of dying. Over the summer, with Sebastian’s birth, I took a little break from DMing and our friend Sam ran a Beta DnD Next campaign which was refreshing. For the past couple months, we all decided to switch gears and try out the new Star Wars: Edge of Empire Beta RPG. This is more of a “theater of the mind” type of game with no miniatures or tactical aspects to it. It was a huge change for some of us but it has proven to be quite fun. Especially because its so easy to imagine a Star Wars setting.

On some Sundays, not everyone can make it and its not practical to run the same game if not everyone is there to participate. This is especially true if the group is in the middle of combat. So, instead, we will play a board game. We also will sometimes set aside separate board game nights so that our respective friends and partners who don’t like playing RPG’s can still get in on some board game action. These are the big board games of 2012:

1. Game of Thrones: The Board Game – Terribly complicated for new players. This game is strategy based and very much in the spirit of the books by George R.R. Martin. In order to win you must make alliances and then stab that person in the back at the right moment in order to secure the victory. There is lots of lying and whispering. This game has the potential to ruin freindships. There is also a Dance with Dragons update on this game that changes the starting positions based on how the story has evolved since the first volume. This game can take forever, especially with 6 players. We once played a 5 hour session.

2. Small World – Like Risk but with fantasy elements and more options for different types of armies. The board size changes for how many players there are. Easy to learn and not to complicated. Game only takes an hour or two.

3. Arkham Horror – This cooperative game is solely based off of the work of H.P. Lovecraft. It is probably the most complicated board game I have every played. I kid you not. We use flow charts to navigate the turn process and I literally have a tackle box to keep all the game pieces in order. It is also incredibly hard to win. Like in many H.P. Lovecraft novels, the players usually all die at the end while trying to defeat the awakened ancient one. This game can also take up to 5 hours to play through. It’s best to set aside the whole day if you are going to tackle this one.

4. The World of Rynaga – This is a indie game developed by designer Eric Torres. The game is actually called Iconica but is set in the world of Rynaga. It’s a 2 player or 4 player game that’s based off of character cards. There are dozens of characters to choose from and there are tons of combo strategies and dice rolling. A little complicated but easy once you learn. One game only takes an hour or so.

5. Star Wars X Wing Miniatures Game – Just got into this one. This is a two player game for now. For more on this one see my post on Sunday Adventure #8 with Sebastian. If you like Star Wars stuff and you like tactical table top games than you will like this.

6. Cards Against Humanity -This is the new “it” party game and I actually got two copies for Christmas this year. (Thanks Tim and Mike).   We played it recently with a group of adult friends and that’s a good thing because this is certainly an adult game. Have you played Apples to Apples? Well, imagine that and then give it an X rating with a dash of Mel Brooks. Still, it can be very very funny with the right group of people. The great thing about it is that you can make it as long as you want: 10 minutes or 10 hours.

Honorable mention should go out to Carcassonne and Catan. Both are staple games in our household for when we just want to play something low key but engaging. Oh yeah, one more. During Tom and Matt’s visit to Alaska in September we stayed at a bed and breakfast near Palmer for a night. While searching the nooks and crannies of the cabin, we came across an old board game called Where in the World?. It was made in 1986 and its sole purpose is testing your cold war geography knowledge. There were questions like “What is the major export industry of Peru?” or “What is the GDP of East Germany?” It was surprisingly addictive and we played into the wee hours.


I have to do something to counter all those cocktails and video game hours. Sebastian’s early arrival certainly interfered with my normal workout routine this summer. Amber’s pregnancy robbed me of my usual running partner too, so I did a lot of solo runs this spring before Sebastian’s surprise birthday. Regardless, I still managed to do the 25K Tour of Anchorage Skate Ski, a 5K run, a 12K run, and a half marathon. The 12K and half marathon I did by myself which was more challenging because I usually depend on Amber to slow me down and keep me paced and  more relaxed. Plus, having a partner is just so much more motivating for both runners.  This fall, with both of our schedules being all over the place, I never really got back into my workout groove. 2013 is shaping up to be different though. I already started a 6 day-a-week workout schedule with the Xbox Kinect trainer which is proving to be quite vigorous. Amber’s also playing a motivating force in our new ski/walk schedule in preparation for the 2013 Tour of Anchorage race in March. The trickiest part is regulating Sebastian’s body temperature when we bring him along, but he seems to be doing fine so far.


I’m still going to mandolin lessons every week. Having the one-on-one time with my instructor is very helpful, but getting better actually comes from practicing every day. Even if its just for a little bit, practicing everyday makes such a huge difference in muscle memory and timing. I know this sounds cliché, but I also I feel that playing mandolin engages a different part of my brain, a more creative part, that I don’t use as often in my day-to-day activities. It’s been two and half years since I started learning to play a musical instrument. It is a deeply satisfying experience to sit down and play through twenty or so traditional Irish tunes in a row from memory at a quick tempo. It has helped me appreciate music in an entirely new way. Now when I hear a song I like on the radio I will start trying to figure out the key and time signature and figuring out how many different instruments or sounds it takes to produce the recording.

I guess another musically oriented goal I work at every year is to compile all the popular “best of” lists from NPR, Pitchfork, Spin, KEXP, and few other sources and then try to listen to everything consistently over the period of a couple weeks while I’m at work or at home. Every year I come across something I totally missed and then I just play the heck out of it all spring. Last year it was Childish Gambino and Destroyer. This year it might be Miguel or Frank Ocean. We will see.

There you have it.  That’s the 2012 summary for my personal day-to-day stats. Here’s hoping for an equally successful 2013.

One thought on “Ben’s 2012 in Review

  1. Awesome recap of the year! Very extensive; now I’ve got a few books to add to my reading list. Thanks for including EuropeanPaper on your blog!

Comments are closed.