The Billboard Top 10



Summer time means summer driving trips, and driving the interstates exposes me to lots of billboards. Although at times these giant signs can be unsightly, I find many of them quite clever. Here is a list of the ten best billboards I have seen this summer. To borrow from David Letterman’s technique, I am listing them in descending order.

10.  BITE ME! – ad for mosquito control. I admit it got my attention!

9.  If you die tonight: Heaven or Hell? – This is not something I want to think about while driving.

8.  Wine me, Dine me, Exit 39 me – Who can resist getting off the interstate to check out that restaurant?

7. Eat More Chikn’ (sign being painted by cows) – Although I do not eat at Chick-fil-A, I have to admire this clever ad.

6. You can count our Nobel Prize winners on five hands – This boasting by my alma mater, the University of Illinois, made me cheer.

5. Stillinoyed? – On the other hand, this solicitation to Illinois residents from the State of Indiana, while clever, irked me.

4. Keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road – Oops! Just took my eyes off the road to look at the billboard!

3. This is your sign: Get your heart checked – a local billboard that still manages to startle me every time I see it.

2. Any McDonald’s McCafe billboard that features a coffee drink with whipped cream on the top.

And the number one, best billboard, two years’ running is

1. Your wife is hot . . . time to get your a/c fixed!


Such Devoted Sisters



I just returned from a fun-filled weekend with three of my eight sisters. There was plenty of talking and hilarity as we enjoyed shopping, eating out, playing games, and drinking margaritas by the pool in my sister’s backyard. Even with husbands, children and grandchildren in the mix, our sisterly bond stands out as my fondest memory of the trip.

Growing up in a household filled with girls was great fun. I never lacked playmates or clothing I could borrow. My older sisters taught me how to dress and act, and my younger sister let me boss her around. We spent hours playing cards, board games, hide and seek, and pretend. Our house was noisy and sometimes filled with drama as we girls jockeyed for time in the single upstairs bathroom. I spent many years wearing hand-me-downs and fighting to be heard at the dinner table. I wouldn’t trade these times for any amount of money.

When we were kids, one of our favorite old movies was White Christmas with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. We girls especially loved a particular musical number called “Sisters” performed by Vera Ellen and Rosemary Clooney. It’s a somewhat tongue-in-cheek take on sisterly togetherness, and we memorized all the words, even performing it in our own living room on occasion.

After my daughter was born, and through the subsequent births of my two sons, I longed for my daughter to have a sister. I wanted her to have the special bond that sisters often share. In 2002, after much soul searching and two years of paperwork, my husband and I went to China and adopted our youngest child, a girl. Although my girls are 11 years apart, I know they will always be “such devoted sisters.”

Local DUIs Make Me M.A.D.D.



Every week I check out the police beat in my local newspaper. (I am always hopeful that none of my family members will be mentioned in it.) But every week I am somewhat shocked to see at least one or two reports of DUI arrests. Sometimes these individuals are teens or young adults. But more often they are middle-aged drivers who should know better. And I get angry. These people are driving on the streets of my town, endangering the lives of myself, my family and my friends.

Everyone knows drunk driving can lead to disaster. But it wasn’t until 1980 that we began to take the issue seriously, when a grieving mother founded Mothers Against Drunk Drivers after her daughter was killed by a drunk driver. Now known simply as MADD, the organization raised the profile of this terrible scourge, lobbied for higher drinking ages and lower blood alcohol limits, and made people finally take seriously the issue of driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs. (Source: MADD website)

I am not going to be a hypocrite and claim that I have never driven after having had a few too many drinks. Until MADD brought the devastating consequences of drinking and driving to national attention, I don’t think I realized that my actions could have fatal consequences. But I personally know too many people whose lives have been upended by a DUI conviction, not to mention one whose life was lost at the hands of a drunk driver.

It is not always easy to know when we have had too much. The euphoria of mind-altering substances can even make us feel a bit invincible. So the safest course is not to drink (or use drugs) at all if we are planning on getting behind the wheel of a car. I am also a little angry at these older adults because we are our children’s role models. If they see us taking risks with our driving, they will think it’s no big deal to have a few beers and drive. My kids make fun of me because I will refuse to drive them anywhere even after half a glass of wine. But let them make fun. I just hope they remember my behavior when they find themselves facing the decision of whether to drink and drive.

The summer has just begun. People take to the roads in much greater numbers during the warm summer months. I urge drivers to put safety ahead of pleasure and just not drink and drive. Virgin margaritas, anyone?


Things My Father Taught Me


That’s me trying to get into the picture with my dad!

My father died on his mother’s birthday in 1999. It does not feel like he has been gone for almost 15 years. On Father’s Day, I focus my attention on my husband and his role as father to my four children. But my beloved dad is not far from my thoughts.

This year I have been reflecting on all of the many things my father taught me. Here are some of them.

My father taught me to love nature. He was a connoisseur of flowers, trees, and birds, and he taught me the names of many of them. He took us on frequent trips to the Garfield Park Conservatory, the Morton Arboretum, and our neighborhood parks. He lavished attention on his beautiful flower garden, and we were given the privilege of helping him seed and water the garden – but only if we helped him weed it first!

My father taught me to love literature. He would read to us or tell us bedtime stories. The most memorable of these to me were the sad “Little Match Girl” and the scary “The Monkey’s Paw.” I also treasure my memory of weekly trips to the public library with my dad. He was never in a hurry, so we had the luxury of hours to sit amidst the dusty volumes and transport ourselves to magical places.

Aside from enjoying scaring the bejesus out of us, my father taught us to laugh. He loved silly jokes, and I believe I inherited my love for corny puns from him. One of his silly antics was pretending to be Henry VIII at the dinner table. This consisted of picking up his food with his hands and cackling maniacally. The act sent us kids into fits of laughter.

But my father also taught me to argue to the death about any topic, no matter how insignificant. He came from a family of Cubs fans, and I remember afternoons at my paternal grandparents’ house, listening to my dad and his brothers argue with the umps and each other about every play or questionable call. To this day, when I state my opinion about something, I raise my voice several decibels out of sheer habit from growing up arguing amongst my family members.

My father taught me to work hard. He and my mother raised 11 children, and he supported us by working for 40 years at the Western Electric. Even after a life-threatening bout of tuberculosis, my dad persisted in his efforts to keep us fed, clothed and cared for. He never complained and did not tolerate any self-pity from himself or us.

Most importantly, my father taught me integrity. He served in the army during World War II, worked for everything he had, avoided debt, and was honest in all his dealings. My father taught me to honor my commitments, treat people with respect, and seek to do good in the world. He was very proud of my decision to become a teacher because he felt teaching was a noble profession.

Father’s Day is hard for many of us who have lost a husband or a father. It is bittersweet for me to remember my father’s hazel-eyed gaze, his hand in mine, and his soft kiss. But today as I gaze outside at the natural world he so loved, I will treasure his memory and rejoice that I was given a father with such a good and gentle soul.

Happy Father’s Day.

Shoe Fetish




Yesterday I went shoe shopping with my younger daughter. For me, shoe shopping is always fraught with anxiety and inevitable disappointment. Whether it’s the problem with my own or my child’s wide feet, the impracticality of the selection, or the price tag, I am seldom thrilled with the results of an outing to buy shoes.

I just don’t understand the fuss. When I shop for shoes, I go in with the following expectations. The shoes will fit, be comfortable, look reasonably attractive, and go with as many wardrobe items as possible. Hence, my shoe collection is almost entirely made up of sensible black, white or neutral-colored shoes. Once or twice I’ve gone insane and purchased a gold or red pair, but I lived to regret my folly. These shoes sit in their boxes, pristine as the day I bought them.

My daughters, on the other hand, are downright covetous when it comes to shoes. Although my oldest has gotten more practical since she became an adult, she still pines for the perfect boot, flat, or high heel for every outfit. My youngest lobbies for yet another pair of Converse All-Stars or a different color Ugg boot. I realize this is normal female behavior, but I have to wonder where it comes from.

Since before Cinderella slid her perfect tiny foot into the glass slipper, women seem to have been obsessed with shoes. In ancient China, little girls’ feet were painfully bound so that their miniature tootsies inside tiny silk slippers would make the women prized as brides. Nowadays, women totter around on 6-inch stilettos that cost more than their monthly rent. I guess sexy feet are a turn-on to men. This would explain why women have been willing to deform theirs for the sake of beauty.

Yet men often seem bemused by women’s obsession with footwear. I once had a female friend who told me you could tell a lot about a person by his or her shoes. So maybe shoes are a form of self-expression, and women just have more choices, and therefore more interest, in what they wear on their feet. 

I’m not sure my husband realizes how lucky he is to have a wife who is unimpressed with the latest Jimmy Choos or Manolo Blahniks. Does he realize how easy I am on our budget with my tendency to buy shoes only when strictly necessary? The same goes for handbags, another female obsession I don’t get. A black one for winter and a white or beige one for summer – what else do you need? 

Next week I get to visit the massive Mall of America in Minneapolis with my sisters. We always have a blast, but we spend way too much time in DSW, Famous Footwear, and the Clarks store. Three of us love to tease our oldest sister about her shoe fetish. Sometimes we don’t allow her even to set foot in a shoe store. We’re saving her from herself! Maybe if I can get the girls out of the shoe stores, I will have more time to explore my shopping obsession – books.

The Other “N” Word


Why do I have such a difficult time saying no? This is not entirely a rhetorical question.

Since I was young, I have found it almost impossible to refuse requests, solicitations, and favors – so much so that I have come to think of the tiny, two-letter word “no” as the other “N” word.

This problem has resulted in much discomfort, anxiety and depletion of cash in my life. I have found myself ordering magazines I don’t want, going on dates with guys I don’t really like, and volunteering at school or church events when I don’t really have the time or inclination.

Maybe the reason I have such a hard time saying no is rooted in my upbringing. I was always taught to be nice and accommodating, so bluntly refusing to do something seems rude. Even when I do manage to weasel out of acquiescing to a request, I usually manage to come up with some excuse so as not to have to utter that dreaded “N” word.

Maybe it’s due to a fear of rejection. I want you to like me, really like me, as Sally Field would say. If I say no, you might not want to be my friend. This fear holds true even when I don’t know or particularly like the person making the request. I have an image of myself as thoughtful and kind, and I don’t want anything to mar that image.

But being a “yes” woman all the time can have negative consequences. For one thing, I become resentful, and sometimes that resentment boils over. I end up exploding in anger or, at the least, complaining behind the person’s back. I also make questionable decisions sometimes as a result of my inability to just say no. Nancy Reagan, it ain’t as easy as it sounds!

This is particularly bad in the area of parenting. Just the other day, my 12-year-old daughter had some friends over. It was the last day of school, and they were in a celebratory mood. All was going well until my daughter asked if I would take her and her friends to the park to meet up with kids from school, some of them boys. My gut reaction was, No way! But between the nagging from my daughter and the hovering presence of her friends, I felt pressured to play the nice mom and said okay. The day ended badly with my daughter having broken her cell phone and my being resentful at having strange boys at my house whom I had to give a ride home.

Personal boundaries are important. Limits for children are also crucial. After 56 years of life and 24 years of parenting, I am still struggling to find the right balance between being flexible and being a pushover. My husband would say I need a spinal implant.

Still, I would rather err on the side of being a little too nice than a little too mean. So I will practice using the “other ‘n’ word” but do so judiciously and sparingly.


The “WEs” Have It



When my husband and I were first married, we had the annoying habit of constantly asserting all of our opinions with the pronoun “we.”

“WE loved The Terminator.
“WE hate people who talk during movies.”
“WE don’t watch baseball.”

WE, WE, WE! It was nauseating to others, I’m sure. It seemed neither of us had a mind of our own. It was just that we were so in love that we felt a strong need to be seen as united in everything. It was like verbally holding hands.

It’s not as if we were in total agreement, however. How could we be? He is interested in tax law and college sports while I prefer literature and night-time soap operas. Politically, I consider him a right wing nut job while he thinks I lean to the left of Karl Marx. Certainly over the years we have found much to fight about.

But that identification as a couple has been really good for our marriage. As Bruce Feiler puts it in his book The Secrets of Happy Families, “We is a particularly good pronoun because the ‘we-ness’ is a mark of high togetherness.” As parents, we have found that it is usually best to present a united front in conflicts with our children. The feeling that we are in this together makes us both feel more secure.

As our marriage has evolved, we have been able to enjoy our own separate interests and to forward our individual opinions without feeling as if we are threatening the relationship. My individual happiness has certainly been positive for our relationship. And my husband’s ability to enjoy his own pursuits builds up good will between us.

Still, it is nice to think of ourselves as “we” most of the time. And I hope WE will continue to find common ground as a couple in the years to come.