• Intelligent, witty, creative women appear to be on the rise. I like men. I like men so much that I even had a baby with one of 'em, but the baby is now 5, and it's nice to be able to show her some brilliantly talented females—Rachel Maddow (MSNBC host), Mindy Kaling (playwright, producer, actress, The Office), Janice Lee (her debut novel, The Piano Teacher, hits stores in January, and it's an absolute knockout)—who are very good at what they do. As role models go, Dora the Explorer only takes a mom so far. Besides, check out Dora's expressionless little brow—I'm pretty sure it's coursing with Botox.
  • Ordinarily, I would not include houseguests on my list of bright spots, but Mabel, the dog I am currently babysitting, is causing me to rethink my position. Mabel suffers from a chronic greeting disorder that manifests itself as follows: I leave the room for 10, maybe 12 seconds. Upon reentry, Mabel welcomes me with a level of enthusiasm usually reserved for soldiers returning from three years in a POW camp—a one-dog mariachi band of pure, unmitigated joy. Unless my boyfriend and our daughter sense that I'm carrying a pizza, my return from nine or 10 hours at the office rarely merits more than a mumbled "They never came to fix the dishwasher." There's something to be said for a bit of good old-fashioned, uncomplicated affection, even when it comes from a shedding, slightly incontinent 14-year-old beagle.
  • Tony Soprano is either dead or eating onion rings, but Don Draper is alive and mesmerizing every week on Mad Men.
  • You know those little stain remover pens that everybody keeps in their bags and desk drawers? I couldn't care less about them. Life is inherently messy, and I accept the odd spot of cranberry juice as part of God's great plan for me and the vast majority of my T-shirts. But the other night at our local diner when Julia accidently catapulted her chocolate milk shake across our booth, there was my pal Valerie, dry cleaner's pen, ice water, and paper napkins at the ready. Val is just one of those intuitive, insightful, ironic, wildly generous, deeply adorable women who, despite working two jobs, is quietly, unequivocally there for the people she loves. If you need a complex carbohydrate, she's got the whole grain pasta salad. If you need a sock puppet, she's got the glue gun. If you need a boost, she's got the ceramic vase brimming with sunflowers. The woman once went on vacation, and I was absolutely bereft. Two weeks without Valerie Soll feels like a house without books.
You see, Javier Bardem, bacon ice cream, and all the mad men in the world don't change the hard truth that plans frequently fail and dreams have been known to dim. But come the morning, there are your friends offering sweet salvation and good gossip and the occasional glass of Sauvignon Blanc with lunch. If ever there was a reason for hope, I think maybe that's it. 

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