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The 26th Harbin International Snow Sculpture Art Expo is in full swing in China. Known as the largest festival of its kind the world, it's always pretty spectacular.

We thought we'd round up some pictures to give you a sense of the wonder:

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Cuban President Raúl Castro says the U.S. and Cuba could have a "civilized relationship."

BBC Mundo reports that in a rare speech, Castro said that over the past year U.S. and Cuban officials have met to talk about immigration and restarting mail service between the two countries.

That proves, Castro said, that relations between the two counties could be civilized.

In the two-year, $2 trillion budget deal that cleared the Senate last week, one item, worth just one-sixth of 1 percent of that total, was the reason many senators said they voted against it.

That item would produce some $6 billion in savings by shaving a percentage point off annual cost-of-living adjustments, and it would apply only to military pensions. Not all military pensions — just the retirement paid to veterans younger than 62.

Edgar M. Bronfman, the former CEO of Seagrams and the philanthropist who led the charge as the leader of the World Jewish Congress to bring justice for victims of the Holocaust, died on Saturday.

The vicious sectarian violence in the Central African Republic continued last week as Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, visited on Thursday to make an appeal for peace.

It was a particularly significant trip for the ambassador: She began her career as a journalist and an activist, and was a vocal critic of the U.S. response to past atrocities and genocides.

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One of the most remarkable breakfasts in Washington, D.C. is cooked and served every day inside an tall brick row house. It's not a restaurant. But it does have a sign outside which reads: Joseph's House.

Are NFL Kickers Getting Better?

Dec 22, 2013

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It's time now for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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Egypt's Turbulent Year

Dec 22, 2013

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

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We're going to hear now from the woman charged with streamlining the Pentagon's roughly $700 billion annual budget.

A huge storm currently moving through the country's midsection means holiday travelers will face snow, ice and thunderstorms.

As Accuweather explains, this is a spring-like storm moving into a winter pattern, so the prospect is for "nasty" severe weather, "especially across the lower Mississippi Valley."

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former oil tycoon who was pardoned by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday after serving a decade in prison, says he will dedicate the rest of his life working for the release of other political prisoners.

"I would like to devote this time to pay off my debt to people who are worst off," Khodorkovsky said through an interpreter provided by Russia Today, a state-funded, English language news outlet.

December is supposed to be the time of year filled with family gatherings and holiday good cheer. For medical residents, quite the opposite is true.

There are no school breaks during residency. Being a medical resident is a real job, and a stressful one at that. Residents work long shifts, even with caps that max out at 16 hours for the newbies and up to 28 hours for those beyond the first year.

When you think about a scrumptious meal, airline food does not come to mind.

There are plenty of challenges to tasty airline meals, like the fact that many airlines now charge you for anything more than a tiny bag of chips and a plastic cup of non-alcoholic drink, at least on domestic flights. Plus, you can't cook on an airplane, so anything you're served has probably been chilled, then reheated. And flight delays certainly don't help with the freshness factor.

As the year winds down, we here at NPR are looking at a few key numbers that explain the big trends of 2013.

Today's number: 1.6 million.

That's 1.6 million acres — about the area of the state of Delaware.

That's how much land was removed this year from the federal Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP, which pays farmers to keep land covered with native grasses or sometimes trees. Most of that land now will produce crops like corn or wheat.

Laurel Morales covers Indian Country as a reporter for NPR member station KJZZ from a base in Flagstaff, which is on the edge of the country's largest reservation.

The Paris auction of 27 sacred American-Indian items earlier this month marks just the latest in a series of conflicts between what tribes consider sacred and what western cultures think is fair game in the marketplace.

At 10 on a crisp West Texas morning, five camel-trekkers stand under the open sky of the Davis Mountains. A few feet away, guide Doug Baum and Jason Mayfield load up five camels.

Baum, a former zookeeper, runs the Texas Camel Corps. The group guides camel treks around the world. In the Big Bend region, camels were for a brief time widespread, and the guides have brought them back.

'As Good As They Come'

You have to like a man who brings his own camel to a camel trek. On Mayfield's arm is a tall, beautiful blond named Butter.

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This morning, astronauts Michael Hopkins and Richard Mastracchio stepped outside the International Space Station. Their mission: to conduct one of three urgent spacewalks to repair a coolant system. Mission Control seemed happy with today's effort.

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Throughout this debate over the NSA, the government has maintained that this collection of phone records for millions of Americans is legal and constitutional. And the government has sided a key Supreme Court case decided in 1979.

NSA Under More Scrutiny As Year Ends

Dec 21, 2013

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From NPR West, this is ALL THING CONSIDERED. I'm Arun Rath.

Monday is the last day Americans in most states will be able to enroll in Affordable Care Act health exchanges if they want coverage to start in January. But technical problems have foiled sign-ups from the start, which led an otherwise obscure number to become a big deal in 2013.

JPMorgan Chase says it is placing some limits on debit cards used at Target stores recently.

NBC News and Reuters report that some customers would be limited to $100 in cash withdrawals and $300 in total purchases per day.

The Director of National Intelligence declassified a set of 10 court documents on Saturday, in which both the Bush and Obama administrations argue that sensitive NSA programs should be kept secret.

The administration declassified the documents under a court order related to two lawsuits filed the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The sun had not yet risen when the United Airlines jetliner made its way into Los Angeles International Airport on Friday.

Clara Gantt, 94, had been waiting for this moment for six decades. Of course, for six decades, she expected that this would be a happy reunion. She expected that the love of her life would come bounding off an airplane after two wars and come back home, resuming the life they had planned for each other.

Updated 6 p.m. ET

NASA reports that things went well in Saturday's 5-1/2-hour spacewalk, with two American astronauts removing a pump from the International Space Station Saturday in an effort to repair a faulty piece of cooling equipment.

Astronauts Michael Hopkins and Rick Mastracchio completed more of the fixes in less time than had been anticipated.

This post was last updated at 11:50 a.m. ET.

Three U.S. military aircraft running evacuation flights out of South Sudan were fired upon on Saturday, leaving four service members injured, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command said.

United States Africa Command says all four service members have been treated and are in stable condition.

The three CV-22 Ospreys were fired on while flying out of Bor, which NPR's Gregory Warner reports is not under government control.

As we near the end of 2013, NPR is taking a look at the numbers that tell the story of this year. They're numbers that, if you really understand them, give insight into the world we live in.

On a breezy December morning, a work crew is scouring the surf line on Grand Isle, La., scooping up tiny tar balls and collecting them in a basket.

Foreman LeRoy Irving keeps track of what the 14-person team has collected in a half-day. "If I had to guess, maybe 10 pounds," he says.

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