In my family, everyone is an EXPERT; it's like having a roster of unpaid consultants at my fingertips.

The queen of consultants is my mother. Her expertise: shopping and drugs. Being the queen, she spends a lot of time on her throne, which is her bed. Armed with the remote, a speed dial and a credit card with a $10,000 spending limit, she becomes a lean, mean shopping machine -- morning, noon or midnight.

She's confessed to many sleepless nights that included ordering bargains at 4 a.m. There was the George Foreman grill, sparkly rings crafted from semi-precious stones that only a fool would take for real (I did), and beef. One birthday, a frozen half cow (I mean a cooler of steaks) arrived at my door.

One year, a heavy box turned out to be enormous candles on a brass tray. They had enough firepower to blow off my roof. Once lit, the flames were so intense, I realized that in case of a power outage, I could fry an egg if I mounted the brass tray over the candles (instead of under).

As far as being a drug czar with an encyclopedic knowledge of pills: She's a nurse, but more importantly, she's almost a hypochondriac who has lifetime subscriptions to the National Health Review, the New England Journal of Medicine and the Puritan Vitamin Catalog (issued monthly).

She can spot a liver problem on some lady while we're three aisles away in Walmart. Cough just once and she'll diagnose if it's strep, sinus, nodules, smoking or snoring (and what to do or take for each).

She was a Nostradamus ahead of her time and was into zinc and Echinacea decades before everyone else. She can name every kind of penicillin and its origins and use. When she picks up her prescriptions, the pharmacist asks her to rate the newest generic brands he might carry. They talk pills for an hour.

Look into her Volkswagen-size purse and you're likely to find the following: a nasal atomizer, throat lozenges, two kinds of aspirin (buffered or not), Tylenol, cough syrup, Tums, old foil envelopes of Alka-Seltzer, a small tube of cortisone for burns or bites, and travel-size bottles of various vitamins.

Coming home from Florida, the stewardess searched for a doctor when a passenger couldn't stop coughing. No doctor, but there was my mother, opening her purse and listening to the cough and diagnosing the cure.

And she doesn't charge one penny!