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Weird, wild and wonderful stories of joy from 2023

Sheep graze on the grounds of Ortaffa's agri-solar photovoltaic park during its inauguration in southern France.
Raymond Roig
AFP via Getty Images
Sheep graze on the grounds of Ortaffa's agri-solar photovoltaic park during its inauguration in southern France.

When the news isn't great, it's natural to seek out things that can give you a lift.

And in 2023 the news was often a grind, confronting us daily with war, tragedy and controversies.

But there was also joy to be had, signs of people thinking about and caring for each other and the world around them — or simply having a good time. There were exciting firsts, wild discoveries and what can only be called a weird year for the Dallas Zoo.

As we look back on 2023, here are a few stories that warmed our hearts, made us laugh and left us feeling hopeful.

This Texas man makes traffic a (good) jam for his communityEarlier this year, after a short break, Jaylan Ford returned to Cooper Street in Arlington, Texas, where the long, cement median had become his impromptu stage. KERA spoke with Ford in February about why he's dancing.

Save a kitten, win the lottery: A Tacoma man credits this good deed with $717,500 winJoseph Waldherr, a Washington postal worker, found a trapped kitten along his route. According to KUOW, after successfully rescuing the little one and tucking them safely in his sweatshirt pocket, he on a whim went into a local convenience store.

And if you should find yourself a lucky ticketholder, here's what one past winner told LAist you should do right away.

The 10 Boston makers you should know in 2023Boston bursts with creative talent. Artists of all kinds call the city home — painters, musicians, poets, dancers and more. As WBUR's Tania Ralli explains, "Art holds infinite possibilities when diverse voices are embraced and celebrated." Here are this year's 10 artists of color whose careers are on the rise.

Minnesota's getting a new state flag!
As MPR News explains, the State Emblems Redesign Commission unfurled what could be Minnesota's biggest art critique in history by publishing more than 2,100 proposed flag designssent in by the public. The MPR Newsroom has awarded unofficial superlatives to some of their favorites.

This woman has taught hundreds of Milwaukeeans the joy of Korean cooking
At age 44, Seon Joo Oh moved from Seoul to Milwaukee to study early childhood education and started teaching Korean cooking back in 2017. The demand for her classes has only grown.

This artist turned 100,000 salvaged flowers into a stunning exhibit in the local library
Inside the Downtown Cleveland Public Library colorful curtains of dried flowers appear to float before your eyes. As Ideastream explained earlier this year, "The Archive" by Rebecca Louise Law is made up of about 400,000 dried flowers from Law's previous exhibits with the addition of about another 100,000 from Northeast Ohio.

The mystery of the Maine Valentine's Day BanditFor decades, a mysterious person put huge red hearts on storefronts and landmarks in the Portland area, every Feb. 14. As Maine Public reports, the bandit was finally lovingly unmasked and honored for the joy they brought to the community.

Finding space for queer joyFrom a skatepark toa truck-turned-traveling-art-gallery, WUSF in Tampa Bay has been sharing stories throughout the year "to showcase queer joy and stories of hope and resilience."

This Boise-based Afghan football club won the 2023 Refugee Championship Soccer Cup
As Captain Mohammad Shafi told Boise State Public Radio, "(m)ost of the soccer sports in America is kind of hard for us," he said. "Budget wise, time wise and coaching wise." Their league of refugee teams is hoping to expand across the Mountain West soon.

This program helps kids write love letters, to themselvesFAN (Fihankra Akoma Ntoaso), an after-school program in Washington, D.C., helps kids age 9-17 "practice storytelling, learn to write their own stories and nurture their creativity." WAMU/DCist caught up with the kids earlier this year andshared some of what they wrote to themselves.

How a wayward duck changed a Kansas City homeless man's life
Dave Hughes was living under a bridge when he found an unlikely ally in an ostracized bird. "She didn't want to be alone," he told KCUR. "I'm convinced that she came to me looking for safety and companionship, which was the two things that I really needed."

Sophia Smith made it to the World Cup this summer. Her parents knew from age 6 she could do it
Colorado Public Radio spoke to the Colorado native's parents this summer, who said Sophia had been motivated to be the best player on the field since a very young age.

These sheep work year-round to "lamb-scape" Virginia solar farms
As WHRO reports, this solar grazing is part of a larger movement called agrivoltaics, or using land simultaneously for agriculture and solar energy.

This New Hampshire Girl Scout went rogue to bake her own cookies Concerned about the effects palm oil production has on the environment, Sophia Hammond set out to offer her customers an alternative: In addition to selling the traditional varieties, she offered her customers cookies made using her grandma's recipes — free of palm oil.

It's not all bad news: Wonderful and wild stories about tackling climate change
Earlier this year, as part of the NPR Network's week of coverage focused on climate solutions, we pulled together some of the moments of success, of progress small and large.

Here's the best drummer we've met under I-70
Alec Sturdy plays for drivers stuck at a busy interchange called the "mousetrap." It's there, Denverite says, that he can play as loud as he wants.

In car-dominated Kansas City, these Congolese refugees teach each other how to drive
Getting a license can open up new paths to education and work. But for Congolese refugees, it can be an intimidating prospect. So when one refugee learned, he passed it on — in Swahili — as KCUR reports.

Why do Bay Area homes that predate cars have garages?KQED's Bay Curious podcast investigated, and the answer, as it turns out, is not just about architecture. It's a window into another technology, another social structure ... another time.

A letter to all the Taylor Swift tour parents
In her commentary for WBUR's Cognoscenti, Joanna Weiss pens an ode to: "the mothers walking 10 paces behind as their daughters paraded down Route 1 in sequins and cowboy boots; the dad in the shirt that said, "It's Me, Hi, I'm the Dad It's Me."'

Aboard a small plane, this Maui pilot volunteers her time to helps animals get around Hawaii
As Tessa Coulter explained to Hawai'i Public Radio earlier this fall, "it's really difficult to get animals between the islands because you can't fly anything exotic on an airline ... So even though these guys are totally fine to travel, they would have to do cargo." From guinea pigs to locally grown pumpkins, even 1,500 tampons, their little yellow plane has carried it all.

One of Idaho's most famous pioneers, Polly Bemis, has her own variety of apple, matching no known variety on recordAs Boise State Public Radio explains, after years of genetic testing and DNA analysis, a medium-sized, sweet red and green apple found on Bemis' property now carries her name as a unique variety.

This rehabilitated bald eagle was able to return to the wild after less than two months of care

As WHRO explains, she was one of almost 70 eagles admitted for care at the Wildlife Center of Virginia. When this eagle came in for care she had corneal ulcers in both eyes, a broken talon, lesions on her feet and an old healed fracture on one leg. But with care she made a quick recovery and is now back in the wild.

Rain activated poetry appears underfoot in these Philly parks
As WHYY in Philadelphia explains, the poems were written by elementary schoolchildren as part of Rain Poetry, a public literacy project designed to help kids learn outside the classroom.

Trick or — pierogi? How some offbeat Halloween treats brought neighbors together
A woman sparked a web sensation with her porch sign reading, "ONLY ONE PIEROGI PER CHILD." From Boston, WBUR reports that she doled out hundreds of pierogis.

KNKX in Tacoma, Wash., asked residents to share what their city sounds like, and the results are incredibleFrom music recorded in Tacoma in the 1960s, to the calming sounds of the nearby bay, even the cheers from the nearby University of Puget Sound's Baker Stadium.

A forgotten children's book by Langston Hughes and Elmer W. Brown found new life in Cleveland
Artist Elmer W. Brown and writer Langston Hughes met in the 1930s and eventually their friendship evolved into a partnership as they tried to publish a children's picture book, The Sweet and Sour Animal Book, featuring poems by Hughes and illustrations by Brown. But as Ideastream explains, the book was never published and is now being used to help local students learn about art curation.

Looking for a regular dose of good news? Check out this newsletter devoted to joy, from WBUR in Boston.

This piece includes reporting from member station newsrooms across the United States.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
Emily Alfin Johnson
Emily Alfin Johnson is a producer for NPR One.