100 Things That Are Getting Better
Baby's breath—out! Sculptural, exotic, utterly original design—in! Even better: Recent hybridization techniques mean a riot of new varieties (the Spirit hydrangea, the Citrus Truffle daylily) and colors (coral, cerise, mango), and now you can buy flowers that are certified organic (no pesticides). Buy them fair trade, and you're supporting sustainable growing practices and fair wages for workers.
Spanx, Sculptz, Sassybax, and Lipo in a Box...the new foundation garments streamline you, suck you in, match your skin tone, come at every price and—as an added bonus—won't traumatize your partner when you disrobe.
3. Your chances of visiting the moon
Numerous astronauts and several animal species including a squirrel monkey named Gordo have made it up there, but the average earthling has been stuck on the sidelines until, well, soon: Richard Branson's latest venture, Virgin Galactic, aims to be the first to book civilian trips into space, for $200,000 a head, a price the company hopes will fall dramatically over time. Multiple competitors are tinkering with tourist spaceships, and the FAA has already released its set of space travel regulations.
4. Apps to help you lose weight
Is that a gym in your iPhone? iFitness lets you build a custom workout, iTreadmill turns your phone into a pedometer, Lose It! tracks how many calories you've burned in every workout, and WeightBot charts your daily progress.
Who doesn't love the softness of a microfiber throw, the convenience of wrinkle-free sheets? Both can be attributed to the once-hidden charms of those much-maligned twins, Polly and Esther.
6. TV Dinners
Which would you prefer: Salisbury steak and mushy peas, or braised meatballs with tomato-basil sauce by Top Chef contestant and James Beard Award nominee Kevin Gillespie? We thought so.
Dear reader, you may feel a twinge of trepidation,
But poetry is key to modern conversation.
In classrooms, poet laureate Kay Ryan makes
A case for passing time with Bishop, Frost, and Blake.
Or Keats—Jane Campion's Bright Star garnered rave reviews
For conjuring the young Romantic's passion for his muse.
Great poets—Robert Graves and Ogden Nash, e.g.—
Inspired Leave Your Sleep, Natalie Merchant's CD.
Even Stephen King has found a poet's perch.
He channels Coleridge in the epic "The Bone Church."
Those Levi's ads, meanwhile, attract both praise and venom:
Blasphemy or genius, Walt Whitman pitching denim?
8. Our lungs
This just in from the CDC: The number of American adults who smoke has dropped from 24.7 percent in 1997 to 20.6 percent in 2008; at last count, 38 states, the District of Columbia, and 360 cities have banned cigarettes in workplaces, bars, or restaurants—which means no more unintentionally smoked salmon.
9. Definition of the good life
It used to mean ostentatious designer bags, stock options, and second homes; now we're spending $11 billion annually on goods and services that champion self-improvement. Voluntourism and spending time with the family are up, and socially responsible investing—in communities and eco-friendly companies that don't profit from tobacco, oil, or sweatshop labor—is at an all-time high, totaling about $2.7 trillion. The good life just got better.
10. Going to the ATM
With banks collecting a jaw-dropping $38.5 billion in overdraft fees for ATM and debit card transactions last year, Senator Chris Dodd has proposed a bill that would limit the number of fees a bank can levy, and force them to issue warnings if you are about to overdraw. Here's hoping it passes this year.
11. Home coffeemakers
Talk about a perk: Some now feature built-in bean-grinders (Mr. Coffee Grind & Brew), while the Tassimo single-cup brewer makes lattes and mochas with real milk. As for the user-hostile home espresso machine, Importika's now got a handheld model as easy to wield as an ice cream scoop.
12. Oak Street, New Orleans
Ransacked by looters during Katrina, historic Oak Street is back in action. Businesses like Ace Hardware, the Maple Leaf Bar, and the legendary Jacques-Imo's Café have reopened, and new ones are popping up: Blue Cypress Books, two yoga studios, and a day spa for pets (nothing says "We're back!" like a day spa for pets). A $5.4 million overhaul helped, as has the annual Po-Boy Preservation Festival.
13. Catching bad guys
The Department of Justice's DNA Initiative says that while some forensic tests once required a specimen roughly the size of a quarter, a perpetrator can now be identified by a few cells.
No more confetti-throwing cats and singing cakes. Now you can channel Van Gogh (Moma.org/ecards), create animated videos (Sendables.jibjab.com), or layer video and pictures with your favorite design and fonts (MyPunchbowl.com).
15. Dry Cleaning
According to a survey, only half the dry cleaners in the USA still use the once ubiquitous toxic chemical perchloroethylene on your clothes.
16. Keeping tabs on your children
Honey, I found the kids: For a mere $100, the Zoombak, a GPS easily stowed in a backpack, will pinpoint your child's whereabouts on a map.
The retail giant is making good on its recent promise to recycle, use fuel-efficient delivery trucks, run its stores on renewable energy, and force suppliers to cut wasteful packaging and bad manufacturing practices.
The aloof breadwinners of yesteryear have been replaced by full participants in the diapering, the disciplining, the chauffeuring, and the loving; currently 143,000 dads are stay-at-home, versus 98,000 just seven years ago. Downside: Now, many a dad's homemade snickerdoodles on Snack Day will put yours to shame.
Lost in Space–style clunkers have given way to small, swarming bots designed to monitor pollution spills and explore space; a fur-covered robotic seal pup created to provide comfort and companionship to the elderly; and iRobot's PackBot—an unmanned military vehicle, controlled remotely in war zones to detect explosives. Take that, R2-D2.
20. Hillary Clinton
She could have slunk away to write a withering campaign memoir; instead, the tough and tender Madame Secretary is using her star power to put a welcome new face on American diplomacy. The pantsuit rules!
Because nothing comes between me and my dark-wash, hand-distressed, second-skin, midrise, booty-loving, got-'em-on-sale, favorite pair that I don't have to be 23 and a size 2 to wear.
Blueberry gummy pandas, M&M's in colors like teal and silver, artisanal licorice, eggnog marshmallows: Candy's not just having a moment, it's having a full-on renaissance.
23. Our access to deep space
Can't afford the $200,000 price tag for that trip into orbit? No problem. Take a virtual lunar tour on a NASA probe (Arc.nasa.gov), put on your astronaut suit and play among the stars (Google.com/sky), or go into deep, deep space courtesy of the new and improved Hubble Telescope (HubbleSite.org).
Benjamin Moore's Natura line is eco-friendly and stink-free. Gorgeous, durable, low-maintenance...maybe it's time Benjamin Moore started making a line of men.
The CDC's National Center for Health Statistics reports that the American divorce rate has dropped every year since 2006, bringing it down to its lowest point since 1970 (although hogging of the remote and dirty socks landing near—not in—the laundry basket remain an issue).