NPR Staff

In 2014, Charlotte Wheelock and her husband, Nick Hodges, were hoping to find a new start. Struggling to raise their two young children, they left their home in Albuquerque, N.M., and struck out for Seattle to find better jobs.

But before they could get established there, Nick was hospitalized with spinal stenosis — a condition that left him temporarily paralyzed below the waist. Soon, they found themselves without a place to live.

At the outset, biographer Sonia Purnell didn't know much about Clementine Churchill. "I confess, like millions of others, I had absolutely no idea who Winston Churchill's wife was," Purnell tells NPR's Steve Inskeep.

But then Purnell stumbled onto a letter from 1940, when Winston Churchill had just become prime minister. It was the middle of World War II, and England was in a very bad state.

In Memoriam 2015

Dec 30, 2015

Many musical voices fell silent in 2015. We lost soul singers and opera stars, blues and folk guitarists, saxophonists and percussionists, plus composers, conductors, producers, and other visionaries. Explore their musical legacies here.


Diane Charlemagne

Feb. 22, 1964 — Oct. 28, 2015

When you think of music in 2015, you have to think of Kendrick Lamar. To Pimp a Butterfly recently scored 11 Grammy nominations, more than any other artist, and "Alright" became an anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement against police abuse.

NPR continues a series of conversations from The Race Card Project, in which thousands of people have submitted their thoughts on race and cultural identity in six words.

When Tracy Hart says she's from "a tobacco-pickin', Southern, white trash family," she says that she means that in the "most endearing way."

Critics expect big things from the band Charlie Belle. They released two EPs this year, and were tagged by many as a band to watch — all with the band's two members not even out of high school.

Mona Haydar is a Muslim — and she wants to talk about it.

So much so, in fact, that she set up a stand outside a library in Cambridge, Mass., with a big sign reading "Ask a Muslim." Along with a free cup of coffee and a doughnut, Haydar offered passersby an opportunity for conversation.

She says the idea occurred to her husband, Sebastian, and her over dinner one evening. As they were eating, she says, Sebastian remarked: "What if we did something kind of crazy?"

It's been a year since the U.S. and Cuba began normalizing relations. Tourism, business and cultural exchanges are booming. And there is another curious benefactor of those warmer ties — Ernest Hemingway, or at least, his legacy. The writer lived just outside of Havana for 20 years, and that house, called the Finca Vigia, has long been a national museum.

Christmas with children usually means lots of toys under the tree. And sometimes those toys aren't quite ready for the kids straight out of the packaging.

The dreaded words "assembly required" can make any post-Christmas day more stressed than relaxed. We asked some of our listeners and readers to share their most memorable — and panicked — experiences putting together toys, with any advice for minimizing frustration along the way.

Clay Crawford, Pensacola, Fla.

The Girl on the Train is a psychological thriller, set in contemporary London, with a female protagonist and a female author — Paula Hawkins. It was published this year, and received wide acclaim.

Girl on a Train is a psychological thriller, set in contemporary London, with a female protagonist and a female author — Alison Waines. It was published in 2013, and received almost no attention.

You might be able to predict where this is going.

His resume is unimpeachable and he has great approval ratings. Santa Claus sounds like the perfect candidate — so what if he ran for president? That's the central question in this work of audio fiction by the podcast The Truth

The story begins at the North Pole, where two mysterious strangers have just arrived by sled to Santa's office.

Octavius Humphries' and Seth Smiley's story began on Christmas Eve 2010.

They'd met online and, despite a 19-year age difference, agreed to a first date on Christmas Eve.

Octavius describes it as an "amazing" first date.

And then Seth told him his mother was expecting the two of them for Christmas dinner. "I just thought, nobody really should be alone on Christmas," Seth says.

"Me being black and you being white and the age difference," Octavius says, "I thought that this was just going to be a recipe for disaster."

For centuries, Chesapeake Bay oysters were harvested by skipjacks, those tall, sleek, singled-masted sailboats.

The skipjacks are mostly gone now, replaced by more efficient, less majestic ways of fishing. But one skipjack captain refuses to fade away.

Kermit Travers, 78, is one of the first and last African-American skipjack captains. He's been sailing the Chesapeake for most of his life.

Actor Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar last year for playing Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Now he's been nominated for a Golden Globe for his role in another biopic, The Danish Girl. The film tells the story of transgender woman Lili Elbe, one of the first people known to have had gender reassignment surgery.

Cooking gadgets seem to be a solid go-to when you're not sure what to give someone. Who wouldn't be charmed with a laser-guided pizza cutter? A one-click butter dispenser? An electric bacon-bowl maker?

Actor Will Smith says at first he was conflicted about his latest movie, Concussion.

"I'm a football dad," he tells NPR's David Greene. "[I] grew up in Philly with my Eagles, and there was a part of me that did not want to be the guy who said playing football could cause brain damage."

A lone figure on stage, making people laugh: That solitude is what makes stand-up tougher and riskier than other kinds of comedy.

This holiday season, one popular Christmas carol has been raising some questions here at NPR headquarters. Namely:

"Oh, bring us some figgy pudding, oh, bring us some figgy pudding, oh — "

Wait. What is figgy pudding?

First of all, it's "absolutely delicious," says Debbie Waugh, who recently served the dish at a tea at the Historic Green Spring House in Alexandria, Va.

Figgy pudding — also known as plum pudding or Christmas pudding — is a staple of the British Christmas table, she says.

Christmas is coming, and by now you've probably heard all the standards, whether you want to or not — the chestnuts, the jingle bells, the usual deal. But if you're looking for something different this year and your politics lean left, then Grammy-winning soul singer Macy Gray has something for you.

Their holiday album from last year, That's Christmas To Me, remains one of the most popular albums on the Billboard holiday album chart. They were just nominated for a Grammy for their song "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" — and that's off their Grammy win last year for best cover song.

Scott Hoying, Mitch Grassi, Kirstin Maldonado, Avi Kaplan and Kevin Olusola make up Pentatonix, and they dropped by NPR to discuss their recent success.

The group also sang a song that didn't make it into the story heard on air. You can listen to it below.

During a sensitive time of global scrutiny surrounding Islam and Muslims, one unexpected image relating to the religion drew a more positive light.

Ali Kadri, a Muslim man living in Brisbane, Australia, posted a picture to his Facebook page last weekend that got the attention of tens of thousands of people. The picture showed Kadri with an imam, taking part in evening prayers at a Mormon church after having been invited to the Christmas program by his Mormon friend Michael Bennallack.

When NBC announced The Wiz -- the African-American version of The Wizard of Oz, presented as a hit Broadway musical and a movie — would be produced as a live television production, some TV watchers may have groaned.

Previous live telecasts of other musicals have gotten attention mainly as a target for hate-watching. But The Wiz Live! seems to have broken that spell: When it aired earlier this month, it earned 11.5 million viewers — and more if you count DVR replays.

Interviewing a sitting president is no small deal. There are the physical logistics of it — getting together the interviewer, editors, producer, engineer, and a five-person video crew, plus all that audio and video equipment. And then, importantly, the preparation that goes into asking timely, tough and interesting questions.

In municipal council races in Saudi Arabia a week ago, 21 female candidates were elected to office. In the country's third-ever elections, the monarchy gave women the right to vote, as well as to seek election to office.

Nearly 1,000 women ran throughout the country, but while there were 1.36 million men registered to vote, according to the Wall Street Journal, only 130,000 women could vote.

One of the hottest gifts of the season is a little too hot — hot enough to catch fire.

Hoverboards have been burning up because of problems with their lithium-ion batteries.

When Henry Jimenez got to the airport, shortly before flying from his home in Mexico to the U.S., he says, the goodbyes got difficult.

"My little brother was crying and I tried to act tough on him, but I gave him a hug," Jimenez recalls. "I've never gave him a hug like that before, and I started crying, too."

By the time standup comedian John Mulaney was 30, he'd had a successful comedy special called New In Town, an Emmy nominated turn writing for Saturday Night Live and was on his way to the comedy promised land — his own sitcom.

But in 2013 Mulaney hit a bit of a wall. His self-titled Fox sitcom -- a classic live studio audience show about a young comedy writer living in New York — was panned and canceled.

Pain, grief and emotional loss follow mass shootings in America, and there are also other costs that add up to violence's financial toll. It's Ted Miller's job to crunch numbers on social ills like mass shootings. He's a health economist with the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation.

M.I.A.'s story is one about identity, and about constantly being on the move. She was born in London but spent her childhood in Sri Lanka, where she survived a fierce civil war. Her father fought alongside separatist rebels. That conflict, which would go on to last 25 years, ignited a mass migration of tens of thousands of Sri Lankans, not unlike what's unfolding across much of the Middle East and North Africa today.

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