2015 Year in Review: Memorable Events

I started a tradition back in 1996 of making a list of the most memorable events of the year.  My definition of memorable can include both the positive and the negative, but generally it’s the good things that make the list.  That first list in 1996 had exactly twenty items, so I’ve made the list a top twenty every year since.

Here is my 20th annual list.

  • 1) January-February – Boston Blizzards – It’s hard to believe that sometime in late January 2015 I was wondering if the kids were going to get any snow days because winter had been so mild.  Then we were hit by blizzard after blizzard accumulating ludicrous amounts of snow on the way to a record 110.6 inches, including 94.4 inches in just 30 days from January 24- February 22, 2015.  It was crazy, it was annoying, but it was also fun, and we all survived with a little gallows humor.

  • 2) February – Snowshoeing – I went snowshoeing for the first (and second) time at the Boston Nature Center and found it a really enjoyable way to enjoy nature in the snow. I’m going to have to get my own snowshoes and plan some longer outings in the future.


  • 3) March onwards – Daddy Brew Club – My friend Mike got a homebrew kit and has had me and other beer-loving fathers over on several occasions to brew, bottle, and sample beer.  The social aspect is the key part of the activity although occasionally the beer also tastes good.

  • 4) March 19-21 – MARAC/NEA meeting – The New England Archivists meeting is always fun and this one was extra special as our Mid Atlantic regional colleagues joined us for a joint meeting in snowy Boston.  There was a pub quiz and guided walking tours of Boston led by yours truly in my Boston By Foot hat (followed by beers with my fellow archivists).
  • 5) April-October (but especially the last three months) – The New York Mets pennant-winning season – Since my children were born my time to follow sports evaporated and in recent years as my son has become a baseball fan I spent more time following the Red Sox, but this season I made a concerted effort to return to following the day-in/day-out exploits of my first favorite team, the Mets.  And boy did I chose a good season to do so, as the Mets started off hot with an 11-game win streak, regressed to the mean for a while, and then after gaining new players at the trade deadline and star players returning from injury they caught fire in August and September to win the division.  The exciting season continued in the playoffs against the Dodgers and Cubs, but sadly the good run came to an end against the Royals in the World Series.  But, oh, what a run!

  • 6) April-December – Museum of Fine Arts membership – Got a membership for the first time in years and spent several days visiting and closely studying the art in this terrific museum (1, 2, 3, 4, & 5).
  • 7) April 23-26 – Trip to New York City – Peter, my mother, and I went to New York, visiting the American Museum of Natural History, Coney Island, Brooklyn Bridge, and the Bronx Zoo.
  • 8) April onwards – bicycle speaker – I got a speaker that sits on the handlebars of my bike and thus I can listen to music, podcasts, and audiobooks as I commute to work.  Such a small thing makes such a fun improvement to the daily grind.
  • 9) May 17 – Greenway Art & carousel – A gorgeous Sunday afternoon admiring “As If It Were Already Here” suspended over the Rose Kennedy Greenway, followed by a few spins on the carousel.
  • 10) May-October – Casey Overpass Demolition – Each day another piece of the elevated highway in Forest Hills was removed opening up new spaces and vistas.  A fascinating process.
  • 11) June 6-July 5 – Women’s World Cup – Another exciting tournament with many great games.  Our United States team started off shaky but got better as the tournament went along, with dramatic wins against Germany in the semifinal and Japan in the final.  Whether watching with our friends on Cape Cod or with crowds at Boston City Hall, we believed that we would win!

  • 12) June 7 – Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon – Pedaled this terrific charity ride with both of my children for the first time.
  • 13) June 13 – PawSox Game – The whole family took in this game with our church group meaning that there were lots of friends in the stands.  As an added bonus, it was Star Wars night *AND* fireworks night.

  • 14) June 28-July 1 – Cape Cod – With our friends the Rosenblatt Rossos we stayed at a rental house in Eastham, swimming in the Bay and the Ocean, roasting marshmallows and creating arts & crafts, and watching the Womens World Cup.
  • 15) July 11 – Green River Festival – A fun festival with music and balloons, but even better, a time to play with extended family.
  • 16) July 31-August 2 – Camping in Maine – Took that kids for their first camping trip at Recompence Shore at Wolfe’s Neck Farm.  Hiking, biking, a farm visit, fresh veggies, and Portland Sea Dogs baseball were all involved.
  • 17) August 31-September 4 – Daddy Day Camp – A week with no school and no camp, so I took the kids on a whale watch, on a Duck Tour and Skywalk, on the Freedom Trail, and to the Barnyard at Retreat Farm.
  • 18) October 10 – Connors Farm – pumpkin picking, a corn maze, and all manner of autumnal pleasantries.
  • 19) October 18 – Boston By Foot Dark Side tour – I lead a special tour for a church group and invited along some dear friends not in the church and had my son take a tour with me for the first time.  A special afternoon of for this tour guide.

  • 20) December 27-30 – Myrtle Beach – a holiday visit with grandparents, uncle, aunt, and cousin at a South Carolina resort town. We saw a pirate show and lots of gators, played minigolf and much, much more.


2015 Year In Review: Favorite Books

Here’s my annual list of my ten favorite books read in the year.  As always, this is merely the best books I read this year not books published in 2015.  For previous years see 20142013201220112010200920082007 and 2006. You may also want to check out My Favorite Books of All Time or see Every Book I’ve Ever Read cataloged in Library Thing.

In alphabetical order (although the first book listed is also the very best book I read all year and the one I think everyone should read):

And the complete list of books read in 2015 (books published in 2015 are in bold).













Book Review: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

Title:  The Westing Game

Author:  Ellen Raskin

Publishing information: New York : Puffin Books, 2004, c1978.


Another book I read out loud with my son. This mystery for children involved 16 people who are influenced into living in the same apartment building and then are made heirs to the wealthy paper magnate Sam Westing. They are paired up, given clues, and forced to work together to win the game and a prize of $2 million.

The characters in this story don’t behave realistically but I I like the characterization if that makes any sense. At first I thought the characters were rather mean and the subject matter heavy. I wobdered if it was really appropriate for an 8-year-old, but my son was hooked. While I’m not sure I understand why the Westing game was played, the mystery was intriguing. And the ending was much more positive and happy than I’d believed possible. Oh, and my favorite character won the game.
Recommend books:

Rating: ***

2015 Year in Review: Favorite Songs

Once again, it’s time to look back on the music of 2015 with my favorite songs of the year.

I’ve featured many of this songs in my Song of the Week posts this year.  If you see a link from a song title it will take you back to the Song of the Week post for that song.

For previous year-end lists of previous years check out my lists for 201420132012,  2011,  2010  and  2009.

In alphabetical order, here are my ten favorite songs of the year:



America Says Hello” by The Chills – It has the jangle and political passion of mid-80s R.E.M. but this is actually the return of a New Zealand post-punk band of the same period.



Chinatown” by Girlpool – Simple emotion with folk roots and punk expression.



“Lifted Up (1985)” by Passion Pit – Michael Angelakos song of how love saved him from depression.  This was my song I played whenever I needed cheering.



Loud Places” by Jamie xx(featuring Romy) – A quiet song full of hidden sounds and textures.



“Lonely Daze” by Kate Tempest – Street poetry of real people with real stories.



Malukayi” by Mbongwana Star (featuring Konono No. 1) – A new sound is born, African tradition with electronic innovation.



Pedestrian at Best” by Courtney Barnett – Punk rock rage with words that mean something.



“Right Hand Man” by Christopher Jackson, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom, Jr. & Original Broadway Cast of Hamilton -This is kind of cheating, because if I was doing an album list this year I’d recommend listening to the entire Hamilton Original Broadway Cast Recording.  But this is a good introduction to the musical that has brought my people out, making it cool to geek out over American Revolutionary and Federal period history.



The Scene Between” by The Go! Team – A cosmic gospel tune.



Violet Clementine” by Lady Lamb – Kind of sounds like 6 or 7 songs covering multiple genres, and yet it’s just one part of a brilliant album.



Honorable mentions:

“Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson (featuring Bruno Mars) – Technically a 2014 release, but it was inescapable for much of 2015.  Despite its ubiquity and that it sounds almost exactly like it could be a song by The Time from 30 years, I love it.  Because if something is going to receive this much airplay, sounding like a 30-year-old song by The Time is not a bad thing.



“Downtown” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (feat. Eric Nally, Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee & Grandmaster Caz) – Almost a response to “Uptown Funk,” celebrating a different part of the city and a pastiche of old genres ranging from Old School hip-hop (with old school rappers) to Queen.



More Music Lists:

2015 Beer in Review

This will be sweet and simple (and sometimes hoppy and complex).  A list of the ten best beers I tried for the first time in 2015.  See my full list of beer reviews for more.

8.2 – Ballast Point Wahoo White 

8.1 – Jacks Abby Sunny Ridge

8.1 – Von Trapp Golden Helles

8.1 – Lagunitas Brown Shugga’ Ale

8.0 – Allagash Saison Ale

7.6 – Ithaca Dark Vine

7.6 – Cambridge Breweing Bo-Steam-Ian Lager

7.6 – B. Nektar Black Fang

7.5 – Samuel Adams Boston 375 Colonial Ale

7.5 – Harpoon EHOP Collaboration

7.5 – Post Road Pumpkin Ale

Some other beer highlights of 2015

  • I toured the Samuel Adams brewery for the first time!
  • I took up homebrewing, but not in my home.  My friend Mike got a Mr. Beer kit and we and other fathers have been experimenting with different varieties at what is now called the Daddy Brew Club.
  • I visited the most excellent Whetstone Station brew pub in Brattleboro, Vermont.


Songs of the Week: Christmas Special

A very Merry Christmas to you if you celebrate, and if you don’t I hope it’s a peaceful day off and the Christians and consumerists don’t get you down.

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings have been featured twice before on Song of the Week for holiday-themed songs and now you can hear an entire holiday-themed concert courtesy of NPR’s All Songs Considered.

More holiday music to accompany present unwrapping, eggnog sipping, and walking in winter wonderlands:

Book Reviews: A People’s History of the New Boston by Jim Vrabel

Author: Jim Vrabel
TitleA People’s History of the New Boston
Publication Info: Amherst : University of Massachusetts Press, [2014]

This book is a short social history of activism in Boston in the 60s, 70s, & 80s as people coalesced around causes to make the city better, although sometimes the populist ideals could lead to conflict among different groups.  After 50 years of economic decline and deterioration, politicians and business leaders announced a “New Boston” in the 1950s where money was invested in downtown real estate development and corporations.  Yet, for many who lived in Boston’s neighborhoods, there was very little benefit and often damaging consequences to the New Boston.  The city known for it’s revolutionary history had become docile and respectful of authority, but in the time covered by this book a new activism would arise as people organized around various causes.  These included opposition to urban renewal, tenants’ rights movements, anti-war protests, “people before highways,” opposition to expansion of Logan Airport, the civil rights movement, and public schools.  On this last topic, Vrabel provides a nuanced view of the busing crisis, not forgiving the racism and violence of the opponents but also revealing the nonsense of busing as a solution to public school quality and equity.

The book concludes with the 1983 mayoral election in which the candidates Ray Flynn and Mel King both represented the activism A lot of the issues discussed in this book seem so relevant to today’s Boston.  As Vrabel notes, activism and popular participation in politics today is once again minimal.  It seems to me that most activist groups today are comfortable people who come together in NIMBY movements that border on the nihilistic so that it seems impossible to make any changes to the city even if it would be beneficial.  Yet, this history shows how the political and corporate establishment of the past really tried to railroad changes through the city with no input at all and explains the deep and lingering mistrust.

It’s a good, brisk book, more of an overview than a comprehensive history, and Vrabel includes the titles of more detailed books on each topic in every chapter for those who wish to conduct further research.
Favorite Passages:

“Journalists who report on activism aren’t advocating anything, they’re just telling the other side.  It’s the other journalists, the ones who just report the ‘establishment’ side of things, who are the real ‘advocacy journalists.’ When the governor calls a press conference, it’s all set up with lights, electric outlets, press releases, the whole bit.  The press knows what’s expected of them, they show up report what they’re told. When a neighborhood group calls a press conference, there is nothing set up.  The press doesn’t always show up, and when they do they don’t know what it’s all about.  That’s unequal access, and that’s something some us tried to do something about in the 60s and 70s.” – Alan Lupo, p. 78

“Activism comes from a group getting a sense of its own dignity and worth and of being deserving of better treatment.” – Mel King, p. 81

Recommended booksBoston Riots: Three Centuries of Social Violence by Jack Tager, The Boston Irish: A Political History by Thomas H. O’Connor, Eden on the Charles: The Making of Boston by Michael Rawson,  A City So Grand by Stephen Puleo, All Souls by Michael Patrick McDonald, and Lost Boston by Jane Holtz Kay.
Rating: ****

Podcast of the Week: “The Fix” – Radiolab

I started listening to podcasts regularly a decade or so ago. I have a running list of podcasts I regularly listen on the Panorama of the Mountains home page and I’ve written about them many times before.  At the time I started subscribing, I thought podcasts were the next big thing and I was just a follower.  But apparently I’m more of a trailblazer than I realize.  A recent article by Matt Baume relates “Only about half of Americans have ever heard of podcasts, according to the Pew Research Center, and only 17 percent have ever listened to one.”

Since I already try to recommend a new song every week I figured I’ll add a new feature where I recommend a podcast episode I think deserves wider listenership.

For the debut POTW post, here’s the most recent of of one of Baume’s favorite (and my favorite) podcasts of the WNYC radio program Radiolab.  The Fix explores addiction and the possibility that it could be treated successfully with medication. The most fascinating part of the show for me is the suggestion that throughout human evolution, the people who responded most to the reward receptors in their brain were the fittest, but in the modern world are the most susceptible to addiction.

If you’re listening to a good podcast, let me know in the comments.

The Christmas Revels: A Welsh Celebration of the Winter Solstice

It’s warm and overcast out, and looking to only get warmer as the week goes.  We’re more likely to have a wet Christmas than a white Christmas, but I know the holiday is coming soon.  Today my family and I celebrated the solstice with a matinée of The Christmas Revels.  This is our (mostly) annual tradition going back to 2001.  The Revels this year is set in Wales, a land of beautiful singing traditions, poetry, and mythology.  I’ve never been to Wales but this show gave me a nostalgic longing for the place.

It should be noted that while Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones are famed Welsh singers, their was music was not represented in the show.  There were familiar tunes for the sing-a-longs – “Cwm Rhondda” and “Hydrofol” – which as song leader David Coffin pointed out, “you know these songs just not with these words.”  The familiar Christmas carol “Deck the Hall” was also sung by a choir of children, but in the original Welsh.  The children – who were excellent as always – also performed scenes from Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales.

There’s a beautiful scene near the end of Part 1 where Coffin sings “Daffydd y Garregg Wen (David of the White Rock)” accompanied by Haley Hewitt, while Emma Crane Jaster performing as the legendary bard Taliesen.  Jaster is lit from below and moves her arms like a harpist, casting large shadows on the roll-top desk ceiling of Sanders Theatre.  My daughter imitated the gesture, waving her arms by her own imaginary harp.  (And I was right in my memory that Taliesen is also the name of Frank Lloyd Wright’s estate in Wisconsin). Other highlights include a group of rugby supporter singing a rousing victory song, some fine clogging, and a retelling of “Froggy Went A-Courtin'” with the children.

No matter where in the world the Revels is set, there are the Revel’s traditions.  There was a rowdy morris dance and “The Lord of the Dance” where we all spill out into the lobby singing and dancing (I can never get enough of doing that), there’s the haunting Abbots Bromley Horn Dance and there’s the mummer’s play, this year with the Red Dragon playing the role of the hero vanquishing the White Dragon of England for the Welsh.   We sing rounds, we shout “Welcome Yule!,”  we finish on “The Sussex Mummers’ Carol,” I weep.  Tradition.

I was entranced as – for me – the Revels never fail to please.  My kids were more antsy.  Welsh-language songs make no sense, and my son said even the English was hard to follow.  My daughter wanted to see a dragon and had to wait a looooong time for a four-year-old, but I think the dragon’s eventual arrival satisfied.  They soldiered through and I think they enjoyed themselves, although they wanted cookies too.

Performances continue through December 27, so get your tickets and go if you haven’t already.

Related posts: