Anna and I just returned from a few days in Chicago (yes, we drove by Oprah’s studio … still waiting for her to call!) attending the national communication association conference. Besides taking in a few new theories, networking with a bunch of other people who talk and teach about talking, and presenting a few papers ourselves (about rituals and marriage, of course … as well as about teaching courses in family and interpersonal communication), the best part of the trip was meeting, eating with, and sipping a few chocolate martinis with my new friend Najla (one of Anna’s best graduate school friends!) Okay, so can you get any more charming than Najla? No. Can you get any smarter? No chance. Can you be any funnier or more down-to-earth? No way. The mother of 4 boys (sainthood, anyone?), Najla is a funny and witty conversationalist, super smart (did I already say that?), and — our favorite quality about her — real. Yep, she’s a real, soulful person.

Here are the other highlights (and lowlights) of the conference. You decide which are which:

* A guy on the elevator at the Hilton is so interested in What Happy Couples Do (Anna happened to be holding a copy) that he refuses to get off on his floor and continues to ride the elevator up to ours (“I’ll just take another ride back down…”) to hear more about it!
* Anna gets caramel corn — Carol’s most favorite food in the world — from the most famous caramel corn maker in the world (Garrett’s) but eats it all before she returns! What?!
* Chicago style pizza.
* Carol (why am I disclosing this?) has a really bad dream and wakes up Najla and Anna at 4:45 a.m. Saturday morning with — as they report — a 3-tiered scream that sounded much like a bad voice lesson.
* $8 bowls of oatmeal
* Seeing old graduate school friends (… is that a highlight or lowlight?)
* Hotels with 2 bathrooms per room.
* Mark Orbe (you continue to energize me with your vision!)
* Chocolate Martinis (yes, they are worth mentioning twice).
* Oxford University Press (gotta love Peter).
* Rich West and Lynn Turner (please stop writing such brilliant and engaging textbooks … so Orbe and Bruess will sell more copies!)
* Big & ugly blue name badges (with zippers that hold lip gloss and cell phones, at the same time).
* A conference program that you would easily mistake for a chemistry textbook. Who makes 6 lb programs? Better question: Who reads them?

If I disclose any more, I might get in trouble. Happy Day of Giving Thanks, everyone!