Melody Kramer

You Made Everything And Its Awesome

13 Dec 2015

Hello everyone,

Initially I asked people to share their best writing from the year on Twitter. There were lots of responses. Then I decided to expand the prompt to include…well, anything…for this newsletter… and I’m glad I did. Over 150 people participated on both Twitter and in the newsletter. Here are some of the things you’ve made:

  • a standing dinner date
  • a musical instrument
  • a toast at a wedding
  • the decision to quit a job
  • a handmade knit dress
  • a funeral service

I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed reading all of the responses, both to the tweet and then to the newsletter.

The best thing I made this year was probably this newsletter (and the decision to move to a very, very small town in NC.) I really enjoyed reading your responses and hope you do too. Have a wonderful end of 2015!


PS: If you like this, please feel free to pass the newsletter along to a friend. Or you can send them the link to the web version.
PPS: Why don’t news organizations do something like this with their audiences? (Feel free to borrow this idea. That’s the entire point of this newsletter.)
PPPS: Any typos/errant links are my fault and I apologize for them. I handcoded this. (If you know of a better way to do this, please let me know. Gmail is encoded in a weird format, so it’s not possible to cut and paste.)

“What is the best thing you made this year?”

5-year plan

Amy is proud of this sketched outline of her five-year plan.

David writes, “I contribute webmastering and write some content for a non-profit environmental conservation organization. The web site has been running for a couple of years, but it seemed to me that we were missing a one-page explanation of what the group was all about, with an elevator pitch for a lede. So I wrote Stamp Basics.


Cassandra is really proud of this American Experience project which uses the Public Media Platform to connect American Experience film clips and relevant current events news.

Julia made a journo salary sharer. She writes, “I’d never made something so useful to other people before, and it gave me all the warm fuzzies.”

Maria nominates this story about a gun with an attached red laser, which was produced by her colleagues. “We thought this story map was the right way to tell this story,” she says. She also sends along this Storify. “This was a powerful moment for our 2015 public-service project team.”

Rob writes, “I helped put together the Web presentation of this story and I’m pretty proud of my coworkers’ reporting and the final product. The story deconstructs the confusing police response to a veteran struggling with PTSD. We tried to build a narrative around the text while using 911 audio, police statements and the dash cam footage of an armored vehicle, as well as interviews with others, to assist the reader in understanding what actually happened.”

Peter made an audio search engine with his coworkers.

Asking for help

Anonymous writes “The choice to ask for help and keep going.”

Bedroom in an apartment shared with a roommate

Kylee says the best thing she made this year is “the bedroom in the apartment I share with a roommate in Los Angeles.”

“It is the best thing I made this year because it’s the end result of a series of difficult, scary, and important decisions. The idea of this bedroom was a meditative, escapist coping mechanism I developed during this time.

In the Fall of 2014, I made the decision to leave an emotionally abusive spouse.

This was not a bolt in the night decision because I’m overly loyal and self-doubting. It took a few months before I built up the courage and resources to walk. Many of those weeks were spent coming to terms with the idea of being a divorced person, which made me feel bad about myself. I needed time to sort out my feelings and grieve my failures before I could focus on taking action, and I also needed time to figure out logistics.

During that time, I retreated to the idea of my formerly non-existent bedroom: in a beautiful apartment, in a city I always wanted to live in, 1300 miles from where I currently lived. I searched #cozybedrooms on tumblr. I looked at IKEA and bookmarked beds. I’m not particularly interested in interior design. I prefer to live simply, purging many of my belongings in my move. But the bedroom, my bedroom, was a sand garden. It symbolized a place that would be my own – something I never had in my twenties – but most of all, it represented a safe space.

I really needed a safe space.

In the spring, I did what needed to be done and moved out. I spent a couple months “homeless” in a city where I knew practically no one, living in motels and carting around everything I owned in my car. I was productive and did good work. I slept in my car the night before flying to a conference where I spoke on gender diversity. Nobody knew what was happening because I kept it all closed up tight.

A few months after I made the cross-country drive, I had steady enough work to stop sleeping on the floor or mercifully in a spare bed. Taking my bedroom from a coping mechanism to a tangible thing was the release I needed. I assembled the first thing that was truly my own since I was a teenager and I allowed myself every emotion I wanted to feel while I did it.

Now I’ve been here six months and I’m doing really well. The lived-in feeling of my bedroom – the crumpled clothes and unmade bed – make it seem like this was never just a thought that helped me get through the day. It makes the bad stuff seem so much farther away.

That’s why my bedroom is the best thing I made all year.”


Mickey wrote a children’s book called Baby Sherlock: The Crumbs of Baskerville.

Miri published a photo book titled Berlin Mirimalism.

Bennett made a book about listening meditation and a whole new radio station, too.


Chrissy made a Nicki Minaj Twitter bot. “You @-mention it with the title of a song Nicki Minaj is featured on and it will reply with a YouTube link timestamped to when her verse starts (you can also @-mention with the word “shuffle” and get a random Nicki verse!),” she writes. “Very soon it will be a free-standing website, but the bot was a fun first step. [It was] built with Python and Tweepy.”

Sara made a sewage bot for Vermont Public Radio. (code) “​It’s lovingly referred to around here as the poop bot. It sends automated tweets when there’s an update to the State of Vermont’s database of reported sewage outages. The original idea was to show the severity of spill through a range of 1 to 5 poop emojis, but the newsroom nixed that very quickly. Now it just tweets date/time, location, and number of gallons estimated.”

Career Changes

Maria writes, “I’ve been working for 20 years. This past July I left my job with the notion of working for myself. That’s what I’ve been doing since. It’s all things one can imagine and more. Challenging, scary, and thrilling. But so right in so many ways. I gather inspiration from lots of places and folks. And I have to say you are not a small measure of that inspiration. Here’s to a great new year for everyone.”

Caitie writes, “I left my job as a Senior Foreign Policy Advisor in Congress to make The Lightning Notes, a short daily post to help us move the world forward. It features great ideas and striking stories to remind us that we matter and improving the world is our matter.”

Will writes, “I left Wisconsin, collected some furniture, and moved to DC to start at a dream job working alongside Mel and many other wonderful people. The best part about this move was that I was able to help create my own workload and area of ownership by noticing what needed to be done and doing it. It’s been everything I hoped, and so much more.”


Laura made this chart showing which episode of a show gets viewers hooked:

Chart showing which episode of Netflix gets people hooked

Veronica says “I think the best thing I made this year was a kickstarted comic book version of my PhD thesis. That is, it’s a comic book that contains all of the same information as a doctoral dissertation on theoretical solid state chemistry, but it is written so that anyone can understand it.”


Matthew writes, “We made a foster child a son!”

John writes:
“Big websites at work
But wife did 5 pounds more.
Family = 3.”

Code Club

Jonathan started a coding club at my high school. (Curriculum on GitHub.) He was able to get ~10 kids interested in web development with Ruby and Ruby on Rails. “It’s neat because my school’s computer science classes only cover Java :(,” he says. “It’s also neat because a lot of the kids said they preferred Ruby’s dynamic typing to Java’s static typing.”

Collection of front pages after the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage

Kristen gathered a collection of front pages from every state following the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage. “I got up that morning and thought I’d take a look for any that stood out,” she says. “But they all stood out. I think it was our most read piece from this year.”

Collaborative Blogging Experiment

Stephen participated in a “one-year experiment in joint blogging on community engagement.

Andy made a blog with Melanie Cooper, who he met through one of this newsletter’s previous experiments. (The one where everyone got a random penpal and was asked to share their passion with a stranger.) “After we started chatting back and forth, we decided to collaborate on a blog called Randomly Matched, which really opened my eyes to the justice and prison system, especially how it works (or more accurately doesn’t) work for women,” he writes. “Not only that, but Melanie is a delightful person to know, and I’m a better person all around for it.”

Computer Science Video

Jared writes “the best thing I made this year is a series of surreal, yet educational, videos covering the basics of computer science. It’s a collaborative project with my younger brother, JR. Here’s a link to the first video, What is Computer Science?” But my absolute favorite in the series is “Powers of 2”, in which we constructed Daft Punk-inspired Arduino-powered robot puppets and used “Around the World” to illustrate exponentiation.”

Cool Websites

Cassie writes, “The best thing I (tried) to make was Dollar a Day, a platform for micro-gifting to charity on a daily basis. We hand-picked the charities, everybody signed up to automatically give $1/day. It was a part-time experiment, built on mostly volunteer hours, definitely a labor of love, and we ran it on the side for a full year before we decided to wrap up. We open-sourced the code and posted some thoughts on lessons learned, though, in the hopes that another team of folks will take up the mantle and continue to innovate on the idea.

Objectively, I am sure some people would say Dollar a Day was a “failure.” (It never got higher than 1,200 donors.) However, I reflect on it as a scrappy experiment where I learned tons, connected meaningfully with my small team and community, and (at the very least) seeded the idea of something into the world that could go onto be impactful.”

Data Visualization

Michelle made a a data visualization of academic research that highlights how physical elements of K-12 classrooms impact student learning.

Dave created this data visualization to show which counties in West Virginia are hurting most from the heroin epidemic.

Decision to use a daily planner

Sarah writes that the best thing she made this year was her daily planner. “I reviewed a bunch of bullet journal formats and came up with one for a dotted Moleskine that makes the most sense for me, while being flexible enough to adapt to whatever I need it for next. It keeps me organized and has become my book of record!”

Designs and Drawings

Lisa drew a set of 13 friendly monsters to be used on Memory Game cards.

Molly says the best thing she made was a design that she made that reminds her to “make many things.” She writes,”It’s been a helpful reminder to constantly be churning stuff out and sharing it with the world, even if it’s in rough/early stages — and every once in while something unexpectedly amazing comes out of it!”

Mike is really proud of this logo he made for PHL Design Co.

Email Aggregator for city of Minneapolis

Anton made a system that aggregates emails from the city of Minneapolis. He writes “My city government (I’m in Minneapolis) has over 100 email separate listservs for updates from various departments, but has no central place where all these updates are kept, so you can’t see them all in one place. This was kinda frustrating, especially for a government transparency advocate like myself. I didn’t want to have my inbox flooded with updates but I did want to have a chance to look at all the updates at a glance once a week or so just to see what’s going on.

So my hacker solution was to create a new email account which subscribes to all the listservs, then post the emails to a wordpress site, then tweet out a link to the post. The site isn’t very polished, but it’s useful enough for me (and about 40 Twitter followers!) It’s MplsAnnounce on Twitter if you want to check it out.”


Michael is most proud of an essay he wrote about excuses.

Matt wrote an essay about, Facebook’s dominance, and net neutrality.

Rebecca wrote an essayabout cleaning out her mother’s home after her mother died.

Eric wrote an essay on deprecating HTTPS and notes “It’s going to be okay.”

Conor wrote an essay about podcasting and the selling of public radio.

Mike wrote this essay for Slate about the Boy Scouts and gay scout leaders.

Gregwrote an essay about Texas, abortion, and Justice Powell that he calls both timely and SCOTUS-nerdy.

Brad figured out how a 15-foot obelisk standing along an Amtrak line in West Philadelphia came to be.

Erica wrote this piece about a school district outside of Pittsburgh which has incorporated design thinking and coding at every K-12 grade level.

Event Series

Tayla writes “At work, it was a fun new event series that I expect to grow and expand next year.”

Fantasy Football SlackBot

Matt made a fantasy football news bot for Slack.


Haley loved talking to Jason Fried about leadership, not doing it all, and making Basecamp great. Very frank conversation with a seasoned CEO.

David made this radio story about Luis Gutierrez Sanchez, who has been living in a single-car garage in South L.A. for six years.

Rosie says, “I’ve written a lot this year, but this exhibition review is one of my favourites … I got the chance to observe a lot of interesting objects very close up, and happened to overhear an expert explaining why the leucistic pigmentation of starlings’ feathers is unusual.”

Zack wrote a “memoir-ish piece about [his] experience being at the center of a national scandal”

Audrey convinced a newspaper to make something that moves and speaks.

Anastasia writes that she’s really proud of the video that she made with Mito Habe-Evans in Brownsville, Brooklyn over the summer. “We really got to stretch ourselves in many ways,” she says.

Beth asked St. Louis Post-Dispatch readers what they learned in the year since Michael Brown’s shooting in Ferguson. She collected several of the better responses and put them together.

David wrote this piece for Rolling Stone about the world’s biggest Magic the Gathering tournament.

Aaron writes “I led Digiday’s Year in Preview series. This required a lot of coordination between departments working on their own schedules, but showed the value of working together to produce something awesome for your audience - and hopefully it’ll pay off with lots of downloads and subscriptions!”

Bradley shares his first-ever piece for Marketplace, about pecans getting their day in the spotlight.

Gabe wrote this Sunday front page piece about lead exposure in Allegheny County. “This was probably the best journalism project I’ve ever done. And the hardest,” he says. “I came into my internship and asked for something interesting to do. They gave me an investigation. So I spent my entire 10 weeks working on a project that went on a Sunday front page. Which was intimidating and gave me more than one moment of imposter syndrome. But I proved I could do it, to myself most of all.”

Rachel shares this piece on what it takes for U.S. immigrants to get legal status. “I conceived, recruited for, edited/fact-checked, promoted, and wrote one of the essays for [the series.]”she says. “It’s also my j-school thesis. It was a lot of work, but I’m proud of the result.”

Cary is proud of this piece on an organization that trains freelance journalists who go into combat zones on lifesaving techniques.

Taylorwrote this piece asking whether Hawaii is an occupied nation. She writes “a) It took me a year from idea to publish b.) I finally got the wheels turning on this one on an otherwise sucky day, which reminded me even sucky days can have beginnings.”

Joseph profiled the creative team behind Cards Against Humanity.


Joni did not send along a recipe but made homemade gnocci-turned-latkes, which sound amazing. She writes that one person’s Italian food failure equals another’s Jewish cuisine success.

Dan made a website that collects information about Community Supported Agriculture programs - aka farm shares - throughout the US.

Tayla made these Pecan Pie Truffles.

Randle made this delicious late summer sweet corn risotto. “I was so proud of the photos I took for the blog, but the recipe was the real success. :),” she writes.


Casey writes “Friends. Comfort in a new city. A realization that things sometimes work out for the best.”

Funeral Services

Rhonda writes that she wrote a lovely funeral service for her aunt.


Mary says she loved working on a gamecalled Deathless: The City’s Thirst.

Sandor made a massive Hannukah-themed game that’s being played by thousands of people on Reddit and on Slack.

Wayan made a version of Cards Against Humanity for people who work in international development.

Geneology List

Tod started an awesome list for working with GEDCOM geneaology data. “Hopefully it will be useful for anyone wanting to work programmatically with family history pedigrees and the like.”

Giant Squid Video

Erin made a video about moving a giant squid.

Grabbing Coffee

George writes “Realizing that feelings will trump logic at an alarming rate and because of that having a coffee with someone is the often the first ingredient toward progress.”

Inktober Time Lapse

David made a time lapse video of him drawing a drawing. It was really fun to watch. He also shares his other drawings.

Knit Wear

Angela writes “I knit a sweet little dress for a baby in Estonia. (I also dyed the yarn.) Her dad and I have been friends since we dated during our senior year of high school, when he was a foreign exchange student from Sweden. Thirty-one years is a long time, over thousands of miles, through many life events, so I suppose that the friendship he and I forged in 1984 might be one of the best things I (and he) made that year.”

Tanya made knit eggplants.


Rachel writes “The best thing to come out of me this year was laughter. And that wonderful feeling of joy :) I know, not a “thing” that was made as one would make a quilt or something of that nature, but I think things can be overrated sometimes.”

Life Coach Service

Alex writes “The best thing I made this year was Coach Connect, along with my incredible team here at The Muse. It was a very new type of product for us, and one that we built incredibly quickly. I’m proud of how we listened to user demand, tested and validated the product and pricing (very quickly but without sacrificing the rigor of our testing), and then designed and shipped the MVP while juggling other company needs.”


Emma made “so many maps.


Diego moved from Mexico City to Santa Cruz, Calif., after quitting his best job ever (honest) because my wife got a job here. “I couldn’t be happier,” he writes.

Musical Instrument

Michael made an electronic musical instrument.

Jacquelyn made a daily newsletter serving up six pieces of interesting, quirky, government and military content each day.

Sarah launched a weekly email collecting business news and badass jobs to help Chicagoans take control of their careers.

Carrie created Paragraph Club, a “group newsletter that’s simultaneously lightweight and structured enough to get people to actually write.”

Rachel made a brief but not serious newsletter about prime numbers and this one is her favorite.

Shauntelle made the Ultimate Unofficial TinyLetter directory as well as a newsletter called the Allegory Project.

Sean helps write a daily newsletter about what’s happening in sports.

Maayan makes a newsletter about her friends who make things. “It gives me something to ask people about every week, it gives me a reason to be on the look out for cool things online as I spend time in the webspace, and it’s filled with awesome no-nonsense positivity and encouragement to think about what we’re creating each week,” she says.

Tarek launched a newsletter for one of his clients, The Aspen Institute. It features five ideas every day.


Bridgett writes, “I work for a marketing agency for nonprofits. This year, we developed audience personas for Make-A-Wish, and I lead a project that turned those audience personas into print materials - like flip books, cards, and posters - that are now in Make-A-Wish chapter offices across the country helping them tell more audience-focused stories. It was a very cool, rewarding project.


Dan writes “I made a lot of things this year, but oddly, I’m hesitant to say that I “made” this as I happened to be in a place at a certain time. I saw the picture before it happened, to be sure, but it was pure happenstance that it played out as it did. Nevertheless, the craft of creating a journalistic/street type photo is anticipating a moment which tells a story and capturing that moment.

In April, when the Supreme Court agreed to hear oral arguments in Obergefell v Hodges, this little drama played out. An older conservative white man lecturing a gay black man on how he should live his life seemed to define so much of where we are as a country right at that moment.

My friend Arthur, a gay black man, immediately bought a print to give to his mother for her birthday. That a friend found so much meaning in it means more than anything else.”

Marissa began a photo series to document roadside attractions and their creators.

Josh writes “I took this photo of a musician who was on the show backstage after a sound check. His name is Malcolm Holcombe, and he kind of presents as a wild man. But his music is intricate and tender. So unexpected. I didn’t pose him. I pointed my camera at him and he just sort of gave me a piece of himself. (That’s my favorite thing about portraiture) And when he was done, he was done. Thankfully I was prepared well enough so that everything was technically correct in the camera on the first click.”

portrait of Malcolm


Jonah made a podcast about books called Cabbages and Kings. He’s really proud of a recent conversation about Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant.

Kevin reveals ‘the secret Masonic origins’ of his podcast, Actually Happening.

Joni says the best thing she worked on this year was Mountain Stage’s new and experimental podcast called Mountain Stage 2 Go, particularly episode one featuring Dawes, Field Report, and Chris Stapleton.

Nick shares this episode of KCRW’s UnFictional from earlier in the year.

Janine made an LGBT podcast called Naked and Inside Out.

Daoud shares this All Songs Considered mini-podcast from the summer, which features “an interview between two gender-variant punk musicians, felt like a great step. It was a topic, a format and a corner of the music world that the show had rarely ever represented.”

Rebecca shares this podcast about the environment and people that New Hampshire Public Radio made this year.

Carol is proud of a new podcast exploring the exciting world of public policy.

Alex made a podcast about the “bow chicka wow wow” porno groove.

David made a podcast series called The Incomparable Radio Theater. “It began as a one-off episode of the main Incomparable podcast, but listeners demanded more,” he says. “So we did a Christmas special that was twice as long. That was in 2013. Demand kept building—we did a couple of live shows, then began building the podcast network. Once there was a network of shows, listeners started asking for a spinoff Radio Theater series. I wrote the first season through this year, we’ve been recording like crazy, and here’s the first half of the first season of shows. Right now, we’re on a break with a supersized Christmas special on the way, then coming back in January to finish out the first season. And I’m already writing the second season. It is the most fun I’ve had as a writer, bar none—and I usually have fun writing…”


Sam shares this poem:

In Which I Am Unable To Accept That The Statement “Everyone Who Is Friendly To Me Must Know Something I Don’t” Might In This Case Not Be True

i am talking to someone who voluntarily moved to los angeles
and then voluntarily moved away from los angeles
i am talking to someone who thinks they know something
they don’t

instead of not understanding, they say,
they are not standing under their umbrella when it rains
they are holding their umbrella upside down
they are drinking its water
they are understanding

i have to say:
i can’t understand it,

but i never drank water that way before.

David shares a poem called The Age of Dreaming Code”


Anonymous writes “The decision to quit my corporate media job.”

Recognition of Depression

Lindsay writes “The best decision I made was to recognize that I was struggling with anxiety and depression and reach out to my network for help. Connected to that was diving into creative pursuits for the first time in a long time (reading, creative writing, actively listening to music, surrounding myself with creative and create-ing people). Also connected to that, getting my tattoo. :)”

Winston was very proud of the resume he made for himself.

Bridgett started a business editing resumes and cover letters. “After years of editing dozens applications materials for friends for free, I decided to see if I could actually get paid to do some of this work, and (surprise!) I’ve been able to help more people because of it,” she says. “I just helped a friend land her dream job at Buffer! It was very exciting.”

Amanda started a resume writing and editing business called Beehive Resumes


Andy made a series of screencasts on how to use the River4 feed reader by Dave Winer. He also created a news site using Dave’s River4 rivers called Full Blast News.


George wrote a song called “Mistaken for Fireworks” about a couple of gunfire incidents that happened near him in August and September. “On October 1, a day or so after artist Antonio Ramos was fatally shot while working on a West Oakland anti-violence mural, I attached a solo-piano version of my song to some footage of a drive past the mural,” he says.

Speed Tool for Internet Connectivity

Colin made a tool to help Comcast users figure out why their internet connections are slow (and then helps them fix that.)

Spreadsheet of Expenses from trip to the Middle East

Samantha just got back from six months traveling in Europe (plus a little bit in India and the Middle East. The coolest thing she made this year was a spreadsheet of all of her expenses. “I’m going to do something fun with them…visualizations or an article or something,” she says.

Standing Dinner Date

Mica says she made a standing weekly dinner date with her 13 year old daughter. And kept it. Every week. “We meet for an early dinner-no siblings or anyone else,” she says. “She chooses what we talk about. I’m just there for her. Then at 5:45 she heads to orchestra rehearsal and I head home until it’s time to pick her up 2 1/2 hours later. It’s an investment that has paid me back in spades.”


Colleen wrote a thesis on what makes homicides receive local or national news coverage. She also made 17 print issues of the GW Hatchet newspaper and some delicious au gratin potatoes.


Tom  made a toast at a July wedding in DC. (Mel note: It was mine. Thanks Tom.) 


Tom wrote this tweet.

Weekend Plan Generator

Ty made a Weekend Plan Generator. He writes, “I wouldn’t really say it’s the best thing I made this year, but I definitely enjoyed making and using it, and it was the first thing that came to mind.”


Sonya made a zine called User-Friendly Urbanism.

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