New Christmas China Sets The Table For Better Times Ahead

New Christmas China Sets The Table For Better Times Ahead

Sometimes you just can’t fake happy.

You’ve suffered a loss that’s just too big.

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A friend reminded me of that this week.

Got me thinking back to a time a few years back when my best lady friends were gathered around a dining room table celebrating my birthday.

As often happens, we each went around sharing updates on our lives.

“Taking a trip to France this summer,” Tricia beamed.

“New job is going great,” Kim shared.

Yeah, we’re a pretty upbeat bunch.

Admittedly, all the “up” can be a bit much.

Which leads me to Gracie and her turn.

“I’m bitter!” she announced bringing our positivity to an abrupt halt.

In truth, I think she scowled, “I’m #%(#$ bitter!” But I’ll clean the story up for purposes of sharing in this family newspaper.

“Henry got the Christmas China.”

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“Henry,” we knew was Gracie’s soon-to-be ex-husband. The cheating spouse who managed to break her heart and finances.

Talk about talent.

“The house, the 401K, the boat,” I was willing to let all of it go,” she shared. “But the Christmas China? The #(#*%* Christmas China? I loved those dishes!”

I had to go look up, “Spode Christmas China” to appreciate the beauty of the white plates with Christmas trees on the front. Apparently, this is a big thing to a lot of folks come holiday time. Certainly, was to Gracie.

Fast forward a few months, my friend, Dana, who was also at that party, but knows Gracie only casually through me, got a call from her mother who was working her way around an antique store in a small Tennessee town.

“Dana,” she said in her Southern drawl, “They have the most beautiful set of Spode Christmas China for a really great price. I thought you might like a set.”

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Dana’s heart lit up like a Christmas tree.

“Whatever you do, buy that China right away!” Dana told her mother.

It was April by the time that China made its way from Tennessee to Dana to Gracie.

First thing she did was set out the plates on the wobbly table in her small apartment.

“These are the most beautiful dishes I’ve ever seen,” Gracie squealed. “The pattern is even prettier than the dishes I lost and this set has more pieces!”

Don’t you know those dishes sat out on Gracie’s table for that entire year.

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“Because I can,” she exhaled.

I believe they were the first ray of sunshine in one of the darkest chapters of Gracie’s life. When she had to rebuild her life, her heart, her finances, her home.

I shared the story of the Christmas China the other day with a friend who is suffering a new loss.

She can’t fake happy right now.

But she loved Gracie’s story.

Gracie, who is now married to an awesome guy.

We raised a toast to friends who give us a moment to be bitter.

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Who call in small miracles to help us fill in our empty spaces.

To hope.

And of course, to Christmas China.

Find more uplifting stories on my website, DarynKagan.com

Please catch my newspaper column each week in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Dayton Daily News and other newspapers across Ohio.

Your Friend Picker–Three Lessons That Fine Tuned Mine

Your Friend Picker–Three Lessons That Fine Tuned Mine

“How do you pick your friends?”

What an awesome question I was thrilled to get recently from a certain young person in my life.

Let’s talk “The Picker.”

The one that selects the friends you choose to have in your life.

My own Picker has been shaped and modified for the better by three wonderful friends over the years.

Thank you, Gina, for explaining it all boils down to fruit.

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“Picking good friends is like walking through the produce aisles at the grocery store,” she told me. “There’s plenty that looks good at first glance, but you have to pick up each piece. Does it feel right? Smell good? Seem like it is a good thing to put in your body? Will they nourish you? Or bring you pain? There will be some friends that seem like a good choice at first, but upon closer inspection, you find they should be put back on the shelf and left behind.”

Thank you, Tricia, for teaching me that those good friends are the baseline for picking a good man.

The oh-so-wise, Tricia, on the far left, along with the equally wonderful friend and teacher, Lori, in the middle.
The oh-so-wise, Tricia, on the far left, along with the equally wonderful friend and teacher, Lori, in the middle.

“What kind of girlfriends do you have?” she once asked me.

“The best!” I declared, thinking the sweetest cherries and berries. Not a mushy apple in the bunch.

“Perfect. Now you should expect the same standards in a romantic relationship that you get from your girlfriends,” she spelled out.

This might sound like Obvious 101 to you, Dear Reader.

Me?

It was a big clonk over the head.

One that I wasn’t ready to hear until my 40’s.

I looked at the magnificent group of women friends who surrounded me and enriched my life. Then I looked at the stupidly long list of junk I’d accepted from various men over the years.   Things I wouldn’t have stuck around for with a female friend.

Not

A

Chance.

That rotten fruit would’ve been back on the shelf faster than you could say, “Squished banana.”

That one nugget changed my focus on the kind of man I was looking for.

Don’t give me too much credit.

It took Sandra to put on the final polish.

Been amazingly lucky to be friends with the wonderful SanDra since we were freshman roommates at Stanford.
Been amazingly lucky to be friends with the wonderful SanDra since we were freshman roommates at Stanford.

“You want to pick a ‘Hand Over Heart,’ kind of guy,” she counseled me after a big break up she was not-so-secretly happy to see come to pass.

“Hand over heart?”

“Yes,” she said. “The kind man who would lay down his life for you, who is such a good solid person that you find yourself actually putting your hand over your heart when you describe him.”

You can bet that Gina, Tricia, and Sandra were all there a couple of years ago when I married my Mr. SummerFest.

I caught a glimpse of Sandra as I walked down the aisle.

Yep, she had her hand over her heart.

“Good pickin’, my friend,” she said.

Talk about the ultimate fruit salad kind of day.

SanDra toasting us at our wedding. The "Dra" Seal of Approval--sought by brides the world over for their selection of groom. Granted to only a special few.
SanDra toasting us at our wedding. The “Dra” Seal of Approval–sought by brides the world over for their selection of groom. Granted to only a special few.

So there you have it, Young Friend.

That’s how I pick.

How about you, Reader Friend?

Find more uplifting stories on my website, DarynKagan.com

Please catch my newspaper column each week in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Dayton Daily News and other newspapers across Ohio.

My Husband Wants Me To Start Dating

My Husband Wants Me To Start Dating

My husband wants me to start dating.

Wait, it gets better.

He wants me to start dating women.

If this isn’t among his sweetest, most endearing qualities, I don’t know what is.

See, we’re not that wild, exciting swinging couple you might be imagining.

About as far from that as possible.

Look “Boring” up in the dictionary and there are our contented, smiling faces.

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The deal is Husband is worried about one of the greatest treasures of my life: my girlfriends.

Let me tell you, I have some amazing friends.

What I lacked for in a husband and kids all those years of being single, I certainly made up for in friends.

The local gang is unofficially known as, “The Pretty Ladies,” simply because we enjoy the pretty.

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Truth is, when we first started dating, Husband didn’t get all the Pretty Lady gatherings-birthdays, holidays, just because, and more.

“You meet your friends every Sunday morning to go for a run?”

“Yeah, it’s the greatest,” I smiled. “We run, we talk, and have coffee. It’s like our weekly golf game,” I said trying to talk in guy terms.

Thing is, as a single dad raising his daughter alone, my husband didn’t have time for things like golf. And I think he was kind of jealous of my time with my friends.

But a couple years into marriage. He gets it. Boy does he get it.

How my girlfriends energize and motivate me. How they make me happy. How they fill up an entirely different part of my heart than the huge chamber that’s reserved for him.

Husband is freaking out because two of my best friends, my running Pretty Ladies, are moving on.

One moved to Montana.

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One is getting ready to move to the beach full time.

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What do you do, Dear Reader, when your girlfriends move away?

If you’re me, you’re sad and trust that another great Pretty Lady is on her way to fill the void.

If you’re Husband, you freak out.

“We need to get you some new Pretty Ladies!” he declares on a daily basis.

And he’s looking everywhere.

I come back from an exercise class.

“Wow, that was a good workout,” I share.

“More importantly, did you see any potential new Pretty Ladies?” he asks desperate.

No matter where I go, the grocery store, walking the dog, carpool line, “Meet any PL candidates?” he wants to know.

I’m not worried because of all things I’m not good at, making friends is not one of them.

I keep my friends, too.

Still have that same bestie from the first day of kindergarten.

Weekly Sunday runs might not be the same, but we’ll run together when they come to visit.

I might try out coffee with some new friends or fit in an extra girls’ trip this year, just to stretch my Pretty Lady wings.

Whatever it takes to make Husband happy.

Find more uplifting stories on my website, DarynKagan.com

Please catch my newspaper column each week in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Dayton Daily News and other newspapers across Ohio.

You Can’t Eat The Best Thing In My Kitchen

You Can’t Eat The Best Thing In My Kitchen

It’s the most important thing in my kitchen.

It’s not food.

Nor a pot or pan.

Not even a fancy appliance.

Folks who have known me a long time find it funny that I treasure anything in my kitchen.

See, much to the disbelief of my husband and kids, the ones I now cook for on a nightly basis, the ones who enjoy my usually pretty darn edible, if not delicious meals, for most of my life, I couldn’t cook.

There really is no way to over-estimate just how bad I was in the kitchen.

My parents and siblings would allow me only to wash dishes on Thanksgiving.

There was that time I put an old boyfriend in the hospital with my cooking.

Yeah, I’m talking that kind of bad.

Funny thing is, somewhere in that pathetically, awful non-cook’s body, there apparently was a cook wanting to get out.

Albeit, very, very slowly.

Even as a single gal dependent on frozen dinners and canned soup for dinner, I would sometimes get a tiny bit of courage to try.

Like those times I would get hankering for a baked potato.

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Each time the craving arose, I’d go to market, buy a potato, come home and call Cyndi, my best friend since kindergarten.

Cyndi, my best friend since the first day of kindergarten. True story! We've shared every major milestone of our lives. I've known her longer than my own little sister, who wasn't born until first grade!
Cyndi, my best friend since the first day of kindergarten. True story! We’ve shared every major milestone of our lives. I’ve known her longer than my own little sister, who wasn’t born until first grade!

“How do you bake a potato again?” I’d ask.

She’d patiently tell me once again how to preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Meanwhile, scrub the potato, pierce it with a fork and stick it in the oven for an hour.

Sounds simple enough, but no matter how many times I tried, the how of potato never stuck in my brain.

And no matter how many times I would call Cyndi, she’d go over the instructions.

Again.

And again.

Oven.

Scrub.

Pierce.

Bake.

One year, Cyndi announced, “I’ve got the perfect birthday present for you.”

Days later, a small box arrived in the mail from California.

I opened the box to find tiny green wood frame.  Behind the glass were her hand-written instructions on how to bake a potato.

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“Baked Potatoes,” it reads up top with her perfect calligraphy-like handwriting.

She always did have the best penmanship.

“Scrub baking potatoes with a brush,” it begins. “Prick potatoes with a fork. Bake in a 425-degree oven for 60 minutes.”

There’s enough room for her to add, “Add butter, sour cream, chives.”

The frame has hung in my kitchen ever since.

It is my kitchen’s biggest treasure.

My daily reminder that a crucial ingredient for a happy life is friends.

The friend who is patient when you’re clueless.

The friend who was there before you were successful.

The friend who is always there. Even when she’s 2,400 miles away.

There’s been a lot of potatoes, cooking lessons, and a husband and kids that have happened since that frame arrived.

Each time I make bake potatoes, I check the frame and smile at the most important ingredient of all.

There in the bottom right-hand corner, it says “With love, Cyndi.”

I’d love to know who is your baked potato friend. Please share with me below.

Find more uplifting stories on my website, DarynKagan.com

Please catch my newspaper column each week in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Dayton Daily News and other newspapers across Ohio.

How Great Friendship Comes Down To A Stack Of Pancakes

How Great Friendship Comes Down To A Stack Of Pancakes

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My friend called this week to explain something I’d never considered.

Great friendship comes down to a stack of pancakes.

Her sweet call was apparently prompted by a visit with another friend of hers.

A friend who has just filed for divorce.

“Being there for her reminded me how you were there for me,” my friend said in a voicemail that I know I will keep for a long time. “How years ago you were there for me during my divorce, how every Saturday for at least nine months, you faithfully came out to breakfast with me. By my count, that’s 36 pancakes. 36 pancakes that got me through a dark time. I just want to thank you again for everyone of those pancakes.”

This is where our versions of the same story diverge.

Sure, I remember those Saturday morning breakfasts.

Fluffy buttermilk pancakes, melting butter oozing down the sides, a pool of maple syrup for dipping, as I’m a pancake dipper, not drencher.

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I remember looking forward with great anticipation to that Saturday morning date, as well.

It’s just that I remember the story as my friend getting me through a tough time, not the other way around.

I remember being new in town and recently dumped by a long-term boyfriend who I had thought was The One.

Yeah, you remember him. You had one of those, too?

I remember it like this: I knew very few people in town. But at least every Saturday morning, there would be my friend’s laugh, her honesty, her friendship. And someone else’s tears.

Yes, some weeks, those could be some salty pancakes.

There’s also the small matter that my math for this story works out differently.

Truly, I think my friend remembers a Jenny Craig version.

36 pancakes?

One pancake per week?

That doesn’t compute with my “He dumped me who cares if I gain 10 lbs?” memory of the story.

Oh no, there was at least a short stack of pancakes served up each of those Saturdays.

At least.

Which makes mine a 108 pancake memory.

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I do believe I still have those fat jeans stuffed in the back of my closet to prove my point.

The important thing is, my friend proved hers.

That even though, all these years later, living 500 miles apart, both happily married to better men than those who broke are hearts, you never forget a true friend.

A real friend.

The kind my friend will now be to her girlfriend who is facing her challenges.

“We’re going to be eating a lot of pancakes,” she said as she wrapped up her voicemail. “And I just wanted you to know you’ll be sitting with us at that counter in spirit for every single bite.”

So, Dear Reader, this column is for you.

You, who has had a friend there for pancakes. Who can’t remember who was really helping whom through a dark time.

Thank God, for you.

For our friends.

For pancakes.

Now, would someone please pass the syrup?

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I would love to know who was there for your proverbial stack of pancakes?

Find more uplifting stories on my website, DarynKagan.com.

Please catch my newspaper column each week in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Dayton Daily News and other newspapers across Ohio.

I’m So Glad I Didn’t Wait For Marriage

I’m So Glad I Didn’t Wait For Marriage

Please catch my newspaper column each week in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Dayton Daily News and other newspapers across Ohio.  Here’s this week’s column:

I didn’t wait for marriage.

Judge me if you want for not holding out. I will simply point the finger at an old boyfriend.  Oh, and my mother.

   The Gift*

First, my mother who on the occasion of my 40th birthday, sat across from me with my grandmother’s beautiful antique silver tea set on a tray between us.

“I had always planned on giving this to you when you got married,” she sighed. “But, well…”

Yes, it was understood that my having not been engaged before my 40th birthday and with no prospects on the horizon, it would be silly to wait for something that clearly, disappointingly, was never going to happen.

  The Jerk    

Then there was the old boyfriend who got great joy out of sharing how joyous his upcoming wedding was going to be.

We interrupt this column for you to pass judgment again on me. “Daryn, what were your doing talking to an old boyfriend who was going to marry someone else?”

     Hey, we worked together he made it hard to avoid him in the hallway.

     “Daryn, what were you thinking dating someone you worked with?  You know those things never end well!”

     Hey, the newspaper didn’t give me this column because I’ve led a perfect life. Rather, because I’m not afraid to be honest about my messy one.

     Back to creepy, narcissistic ex-boyfriend who loved describing his pre-wedding festivities. “The best part was my old friends meeting my current friends,” he shared.

Hello, extra cruel twist of the knife through my heart.

See, I was never the girl who dreamed of the big princess dress or the first dance.  No, for me, my wedding was going to be that awesome moment when my people would meet my people.  Well, and cake, too. I did fantasize a lot about the cake. But really, a wedding is the time you get to share this incredible collection of people you’ve met up until that point of your life.

Jerked Into Action

That conversation tipped into action.

If I didn’t have to be married to get Nana’s tea set, why did I have to wait for my people to meet my people?

And so, I decided to throw my own party.

What would it be?

That’s where the fun part comes in.

It’s My Party

When you’re planning an event that has no name, no tradition, no significant other to consult, you can create whatever the heck you want.

For me, that became Soul Spa. I invited my best girlfriends to gather for a long weekend focusing on being happy and creating our dreams. They might’ve thought I was nuts, but they all came, from my best friend in kindergarten to my CNN producer who went to cover the war with me for CNN.

We bonded, we shared dreams, got massages, and built a big bon fire to burn ideas and relationships that no longer served us.

Oh, and you can bet there was cake. A lot of cake.

Amazingly, or maybe not, some incredible things happened over next few years. Two friends who had been struggling with infertility got pregnant. Another got the job she’d been working towards. A few found love.

My own manifesting was much slower. It wasn’t until six years after Soul Spa that I met the man who would become my husband.

My People Meet My People—Again  

When we did decide to marry two years later, just about every Soul Spa-ster traveled from around the country to be there.  I think they were happy to share in our happiness but also wanted to see the women they bonded with 8 years before. My people had become their people.

I share my story, Dear Reader, to ask, “What are you waiting for? What private joy have you been putting off?”

It’s time to stop waiting.

Don’t wait for the wedding, the baby shower, those extra 20 lbs to come off.

No, it’s time to throw a party.  Now.

A party with no rules.

And for those who suggest you’re nuts, just blame it my long ago ex-boyfriend, my mother, oh, and me.

We’re showing you, pushing you, to see, the time to create your joy is now. I’m hoping that’s an invitation that just might be impossible to turn down.

What’s the thing you’ve been waiting for? Or please share with me your own story of not waiting!

I’m Getting A New Set Of Boobs Tomorrow

I’m Getting A New Set Of Boobs Tomorrow

I’m getting a new set of boobs tomorrow.

Uh oh. Have you just stepped into a classic case of over sharing?

In a word, yes.

This boob journey is one I never wanted to share. Didn’t want to share it with you.  Really didn’t want to share it with the woman I consider my best friend.

See, the boobs in question are not exactly mine.

They’re hers.

The Phone Call

That phone call seven months ago where she said, “The biopsy came back positive this time. I have breast cancer.” I didn’t want to share that with her either.

But share is what you do when you have this kind of friend. That true, real, love you for who you are, not who and what they think you should be, family by choice, kind of friend.

We make so much of wanting the husband, the kid, the job, the riches. We forget one of the greatest journeys we’ll ever take is simply as a friend.

      One True Friend 

If you have at least one, it only takes one, great friend in your life, you’re blessed. If you have more than one, well, you’ve cashed in on one of life’s great lottery prizes.

It also means you know The Phone Call.

So, it might not have been the “I have cancer” Call. Maybe it was, “I found out he was cheating and my heart is shattered in a thousand pieces,” Call.

Or the “I got laid off…again,” Call.

Or the “I’m so embarrassed and mortified to say what my kid did today..How do you do this parenting thing?” Call.

The point is, if you have that one friend, who you would die for, who you feel has saved your life, you’ve taken that call.  Good chance you’ve made the call, too.

True friendship is raw, naked, real, golden and glorious.

  True Friend Confessions

My friend and I have laughed harder than the top button of our jeans could hold in. We’ve cried so hard over sad, challenging times that bodily fluids have come out of places we didn’t know possible.

What happens to her happens, to happens to me.

And so, when I got that phone call, it wasn’t my best friend who had breast cancer. WE got breast cancer. That awful, overly cocky, uninvited plague inserting itself into our lives.

We’ve spent seven months alternating some of those ugly, juicy cries with fighting back. Surgery, pathology, treatment plans, drugs. We’ve batted each one down like super heroes taking down villain after villain.

My friend is the real hero, here, of course. It’s her body and our fight. She’s Batman. I’m just one of her many Robins watching her back, taking the flank, letting her know she’s not alone for all the parts of this journey she never would’ve picked, which by the way, includes new boobs.

“What Kind Of Boobs Would You Pick?

Though never, shall we say, greatly endowed, my friend is the last woman in the world who would’ve signed up to enhance what nature gave her. But, as long as you’re asking, “What kind of boobs would you pick if you could?” sure has made for some interesting conversations. Who knew that you could consider life, relationships, sex, exercise, fashion, body image, parenting, geometry, gravity and new bras simply by talking boobs?

I think we’ve got it down. If not, we’ll abide by the truth of most of life’s big decisions—it’s not a tattoo. We’ll talk about getting a new set.

We’d prefer to move onto other topics, but we’ll do what we have to.

It’s what I do for my friend, what she would do for me and I know you do for yours, too.

So, see, it’s not just a boob job happening tomorrow. It’s a friend job. Getting to fulfill that is one of the greatest honors of my life.

And that’s worth sharing any day.

For more uplifting stories, please visit my website, DarynKagan.com

Please catch my newspaper column each week in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Dayton Daily News and other newspapers across Ohio.  Here’s this week’s column:

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