NPR Staff

In 2012, Ian Thorson was found dead in a cave in Arizona. He and his wife had been kicked out of a silent Buddhist retreat that was supposed to last three years, but they decided to finish out the time alone in the desert — and that extreme quest for spiritual enlightenment eventually killed him.

Writer Huan Hsu's great-great-grandfather Liu Feng Shu was a scholar in China's Qing dynasty during the late 1800s and early 1900s. As a patron of the arts, he built up an immense porcelain collection.

During the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Japanese landed near his village on the Yangtze River. As the army approached, Liu and one of his workmen dug a giant hole in their garden, to keep the collection safe.

As part of a series called "My Big Break," All Things Considered is collecting stories of triumph, big and small. These are the moments when everything seems to click, and people leap forward into their careers.

David Zayas used to dream of being an actor. And he made it: he played Enrique Morales, the infamous inmate on HBO's Oz, as well as his most notable role, Sergeant Angel Batista on the Showtime drama Dexter.

Afghanistan's leaders were in Washington last week asking for more assistance from the U.S. They got what they wanted: President Obama announced he would postpone the withdrawal of thousands of U.S. troops this year. Those forces are needed to help Afghanistan troops battle the Taliban as the spring
fighting season heats up.

President Ashraf Ghani was accompanied on this trip by Abdullah Abdullah, the chief executive of the Afghan government. They were bitter rivals in Afghanistan's presidential election last year and are now sharing power in a unity government.

Tony award-winning actress Sutton Foster just turned 40, but in the TV Land show Younger she gets to be 26 again. Foster plays Liza, a middle-aged woman who needs to get back into the job market. The last time Liza applied for jobs, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram didn't exist. Now, she's convinced that no one wants to hire someone her age. So she moves to Brooklyn, gets a few highlights, learns how to tweet, and applies for a job as an assistant to a fancy New York publisher.

About 25 years ago, John Bovery started a modest football pool out of his home in New Jersey. It had 57 participants, all friends and co-workers.

But thanks to word of mouth — and the multiplying factor of email — Bovery's pool grew to staggering proportions. At one point, it got too large for Bovery to handle himself, so he contacted a software company to custom-build something suited to his needs.

By 2009, it included more than 8,000 entries from people around the globe, with a total payout of more than $800,000.

When writer Kirstin Valdez Quade talks about her New Mexican roots, it's not just her own childhood, growing up in the region, that she means — it's a connection much deeper than that.

"My family has been in northern New Mexico for hundreds of years," she tells NPR's Arun Rath. "My family's presence can be traced back to 1695 and some of the earliest conquistadors. So there's a long family history in the region."

Maddie Hyde is a Sara Gruen heroine. She's bold, she's warm, and she's been cast out of Philadelphia polite society — in this case the family of her husband Ellis, who is 4F in the middle of World War II. To avoid the glares and scowls, and to earn their own way in the world after being cut off from a family fortune, they cross the Atlantic during a high tide of submarine warfare to try to burnish their family name by hunting down an older kind of monster in a Scottish village.

Some of the seafood that winds up in American grocery stores, in restaurants, even in cat food may have been caught by Burmese slaves. That's the conclusion of a yearlong investigation by The Associated Press.

The AP discovered and interviewed dozens of men being held against their will on Benjina, a remote Indonesian island, which serves as the base for a trawler fleet that fishes in the area.

Ugaaso Abukar Boocow has become an Instagram sensation by sending out stunning visual messages from an unlikely place: poor, suffering Somalia.

She was just a toddler when her grandmother fled with her to Canada to escape Somalia's civil war, leaving her mother behind.

Then last year, she decided to go back, moving to the capital, Mogadishu, and reuniting with her mother, whom she hadn't seen in over two decades.

Founded by two men in Akron, Ohio, in 1935, Alcoholics Anonymous has since spread around the world as a leading community-based method of overcoming alcohol dependence and abuse. Many people swear by the 12-step method, which has become the basis of programs to treat the abuse of drugs, gambling, eating disorders and other compulsive behaviors.

Heinz and Kraft.

When we hear those names we think ketchup and Velveeta, right?

But before they were products and companies that will merge to become a giant with $28 billion in revenue, Heinz and Kraft were men.

It might not sound newsworthy that Charleston, S.C., is getting a new mayor next year. But the last time the city elected a new mayor was 40 years ago, in December 1975.

March Madness is college basketball's annual shining moment, and few schools have shone as bright or as long as the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels have been in 18 Final Fours and won the national championship five times, most recently in 2009.

Last year, a 20-year-old woman left the Indian capital city of New Delhi and returned to the rural village where she grew up so she could take care of her sick mother.

The woman's name isn't public, but Sonia Faleiro — a journalist who's been investigating her case — calls her "Baby." She says Baby was known as a high-profile figure in her modest village.

"She became a somebody," Faleiro tells NPR's Kelly McEvers. "A landowner. An employed young woman. She had money to spend. And she refused to accept that she needed to be like everyone else."

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