In the spirit of reflection and hopefulness, I thought I'd share what I consider my best work of 2017 - the stuff that helped get me through an often dispiriting year and makes me excited to keep creating in 2018.
As you might know, I've been writing more words than music lately (though the horrific shooting in Las Vegas all but demanded a rewrite of They Make Angels, five years and no gun laws later). Here are the 10 stories I enjoyed writing the most this year.
Thank you if you've read any of these already -- and for supporting journalism in any form these days, whether it's a newspaper subscription or NPR membership. And thank you if you've listened to my music, or supported other independent artists this year. (If you're curious, my favorite new discovery of the year, courtesy of the Newport Folk Festival, were the Wild Reeds. My God, I would let their harmonies lull me into eternity.)
Ok, away we go:
1. New England's Brewery Coast (Boston Globe Magazine)
My best friend Adam and I took a road trip up the coast to visit some of New England's best breweries, from Salem, Mass., to Freeport, Maine. (And I got paid - in real dollars, not like favors or gift cards - to write about it! So maybe 2017 wasn't such a bad year after all.)
2. When Sears Sold the American Dream (Boston Globe)
Long before you could buy a flat-pack bedroom set from IKEA and spend an afternoon sweating and swearing as you put it together at home, Americans were ordering entire houses by mail that were shipped by rail and ready for hopeful homeowners to assemble piece by piece. From immigration and racial redlining to streetcar suburbs and the World Wars to Amazon.com, many of the dominant themes of modern American history are wrapped up in the fascinating story of Sears kit houses.
3. Is This the Best Disney Soundtrack Ever? (Apartment Therapy)
I was incredulous when he first suggested it, but Adam helped me realize that "Moana" may be the best Disney soundtrack of all time, as determined by a totally scientific, in no way subjective song ranking.
4. It’s About Time You Went to Nova Scotia (Boston Globe)
We finally made good on a vacation to Nova Scotia -- one of those trips you keep promising yourself but never seem to take; it’s so close on a map, you just assume you’ll get there eventually.
5. The Fix Is Out: America's Throwaway Mentality (Boston Globe)
There's a new math behind a decision we all grapple with at one point or another: When a household item breaks, do we repair it or just replace it? Increasingly, Americans are choosing the latter — even for big-ticket items like furniture and major appliances.
6. The Enviable Walkability of 'Home Alone' (Apartment Therapy)
There's a big reason eight-year-old Kevin McCallister gets along just fine on his own - and it's something that's increasingly hard to find in American neighborhoods.
7. The ABCs and 123s of DIY (Boston Globe)
Back in high school, I scoffed when my math teachers insisted that the geometry formulas and algebraic equations we were learning would be useful in real life. Then we remodeled our kitchen.
8. The Stark Racial Inequality of Homeownership (Apartment Therapy)
The "land of opportunity" is looking more like the "land of staggering inequity."
9. Four Lessons From Pre-Cana That Any Couple Can Use (Boston Globe Magazine)
Any Catholic planning a wedding knows about the church’s premarital counseling — and among the more lapsed members of the flock, it’s sure to elicit a groan. And yet, a decade of happy marriage later, Pre-Cana stands out as one of our most important wedding preparations.
10. Can Gentrifiers Help Fight Gentrification? (Apartment Therapy)
Maybe not, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. I spoke to some remarkably thoughtful and self-aware sociologists for this one.
* * * * *I hope good things like peace, hope, beauty, justice, good health, and happiness await you in 2018. And as for New Year's resolutions, I hope this year-end greeting contains some new songs for you a year from now. Until then, happy New Year!