14 Wishes For My Daughter On Her 16th Birthday

14 Wishes For My Daughter On Her 16th Birthday

Dearest Daughter,

We met when you were 11.

mini kendall

I married Daddy when you were 13.

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The judge made you and me legal with our adoption when you were 14.


This parenting gig really does fly by in flash, so before you zoom out the door, on the occasion of your Sweet 16, here are 14 wishes from me to you:

1. I wish that you know how much joy you’ve given your two mothers. Both Mommy in heaven, and now my turn here on Earth. I know neither of us could ask for a bigger honor than to get to be your mom.

With First Mom, Kerri.
With First Mom, Kerri. You look more and more like her every day!

2. I wish that you know it’s actually not your job to bring joy to anyone. It’s okay to use that voice of yours. Speak up. People pleasers often aren’t very pleased themselves.

3. I wish that you know your girlfriends are some of the biggest treasures you will ever have. They are your sisters by choice. You’ve picked some awesome ones. Hang on tight with one arm, while welcoming new friends as you travel on.

g & catherine

4. I wish that you demand any boy you choose to date treat you with the same love and respect your girlfriends do. This is a high bar. You’ll be surprised by how many women settle for less.

5. I wish that you remember that you can’t screw up the right one; you can’t make the wrong one work. This will hold true with relationships, colleges, jobs, and houses.

6. I wish that you remember that you’re the only one you need to make a party complete. Know that everyone will be exactly where they are supposed to be and you’ll never be disappointed with an rsvp list.

It's her party and she'll smile if she wants to.
It’s her party and she’ll smile if she wants to.

7. I wish that you know how you dress matters. Like it or not, you’re sending the world a message about you.

8. I wish that you know that money matters. No, not to have the most, but to understand it, manage it, and save it will give you enormous freedom.

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9. I wish that you know that women’s intuition is real. Those hairs standing up on the back of your neck, that funny feeling in your stomach—trust them.

10. I wish that you know that accomplishments are great, but happiness is a choice.

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11. I wish you take as much time as you need before you get your driver’s license. Daddy and I will sleep better for awhile and you get to do life at your own pace.

Longer you put this off the better, as far as we are concerned. No hurry!
Longer you put this off the better, as far as we are concerned. No hurry!

12. I wish you side-blinders so you have no need to look at anyone else’s plate. Comparison is a losing game. You’d be surprised how many who appear to have more aren’t happy with what they have.

13. I wish you appreciation for good health. It’s easier to keep than to get back.

14. I wish you many mistakes and no regrets. It’s called a journey. It’s leading you exactly where you need to be. I know because so many of my so-called mistakes, led me to you and Daddy.

Why only 14?

Because 15-16 and all the others are for you to create and go after.

Daddy and I will be here giving you guidance, love and support, but, Hija, this is your ride.

Oh, what a kick to get to watch you launch.

All my love,

Your Madre.

hug pic

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.

Seasonal Confession: What No One Dares To Say This Time of Year, But I Will

Seasonal Confession: What No One Dares To Say This Time of Year, But I Will

Might as well out myself now.

What I’m about to confess is totally politically incorrect, against popular thinking, and gasp, even prejudiced.

I don’t like Fall.

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Or Autumn.

Or whatever you want to call it.

I don’t like it.

You, who are giddy about chillier temperatures, start of football, changing leaves.

You, who get goosies just thinking about putting on that first turtleneck.

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You, who feel like slipping into boots instead of flip flops, is like reuniting with an old friend.

Uh, yeah.

I’m not one of you.

I will admit there is something to look forward to in the Fall.

Making my mother’s sweet potato casserole at Thanksgiving.

My mother's sweet potato casserole. Extra melted marshmallow's on top, of course!
My mother’s sweet potato casserole. Extra melted marshmallows on top, of course!

Okay. I’m done.

Here’s the deal–

You simply lose me at chillier temperatures.

I am in full-fledged love with warm summer days.

Often in July, I’ll hear the lead story on news, “The city swelters through another blistering heat wave!”

This is always news to me, because while the rest of the town is apparently melting a communal hot flash, I just think what a wonderful day it was.

Warm summer nights are even better.

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I grew up in California, where even the hottest day leads to a marine coolness coming on shore at night and the necessary sweatshirt.

Where I live now, it can easily stay in the 80’s well into the evening.

Tank tops under the full moon.

That’s my kind of high fashion.

So while, members of my own family get giddy with the changing seasons and oncoming cooler temps, I start to feel a slight panic attack.

Why don’t you, Fall Lover, realize that a dip into the 60’s is simply a gateway drug to what’s coming?

Snow, ice, and short dark days.

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It’s enough to make me want to burrow in my flannel jammies, sheepskin slippers, down comforter and electric blanket.

Quite the image, I know.

(As my mother used to say, “And you wonder why you’re single?”)

Back to my already shivering, presently married self.

I am prejudiced against certain seasons.

I rank them:

Summer is my best friend because heat is like a big hug.

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Spring is a distant second. Beautiful, hopeful as to what’s coming, but can be oh-so-fickle and tricky.

Fall, see above.

Winter. Cruel, unforgiving winter. I am of the belief that snow is something you should visit, not live in. And by visit, I mean like for a delightful ski weekend with a gorgeous Swiss ski instructor named, “Sven.” Even that should happen only once every eight years, or so.

Judge me if you will, Dear Reader.

Disinvite my cold, cranky Fall self from your Thanksgiving Dinner.

But, know what I know.

That you, yourself, have your own season biases, as well.

And because, you are so wonderful about staying in touch with me, I can see my inbox and comments below flooding right now with your seasonal rankings.

I’ll read them as soon as my heated keyboard and super sonic space heater thaw my frozen fingers.

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.

The Tattoo I Never Planned On Getting

The Tattoo I Never Planned On Getting

I bet you have a tattoo.

It’s possible you have not been hanging out in a tattoo parlor wincing as some dude named, “Clyde” etches a skull and bones onto your right bicep.

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And yet, I bet you have a tattoo.

I say this as part of a triple confession.

Let’s start with—I don’t like tattoos.

Never have seen their charm.

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Never have looked at someone who had one and thought, “Yep, they look better with that.”

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It’s possible tattoos are like modern art. I don’t get it, but there sure are a lot of folks who dole out a bunch of money who do.

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And then there’s this–

Confession #2.

This summer I got a tattoo.

Not a soaring butterfly or the name of my kids.


Well, like a Rorschach Test, you’d have to see for yourself.

See, I didn’t get this tattoo on purpose.

It happened one early summer night as I was making dinner for my family.

There I was–cooking up some salmon filets, as I often do (too often, if you ask my kids.)

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Flipped that fish over, just like I’ve done countless times.

That’s when the salmon took out its revenge, sending sizzling olive oil flying from the pan and onto my left wrist.

I knew right away I’d done a number.

I did what you’re supposed to do—ran it under cold water, put ice on it.

That was that.

Until the blistering started.

Google told me I had second degree burns.

I never did go to the emergency room. I figured I could bandage it and put ointment on at home.

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And through the miracle of human biology, I healed.

Now, there’s just one, nasty, not attractive-at-all scar which sits on my left wrist like, ironically enough, a modern art painting splat in the shape of a half bracelet

Photo on 9-14-14 at 4.31 PM #2.

You can even still see the marks where the searing oil dripped down my skin.

“What are you going to do about that?” I’ve had more than one person ask me.

For now, the answer is pretty clear—


I look at that scar, and though ugly as it is, I smile.

It’s my tattoo.

It reminds me that this formerly single gal who couldn’t even boil water now has a family.

A family I cook for every night.

A family who actually thinks I’m a good cook.

(The salmon was delicious, by the way.)

If ever there was proof of miracles, there you have it.

That’s how I know, you, too, have a tattoo.

Some mark on your body that you would’ve never ordered, but reminds you each day of some miracle in your life.

The stretch marks from when you birthed your babies.

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The zipper scar from the surgery you survived.

The bald spot in your eyebrow from a collision with your brother when you were kids.

The tattoos of life.

So ugly and beautiful all at the same time.

These I get.

I’ve shown you mine.

Now, I’d love to hear about yours.

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 Tears Have A Clock Of Their Own; Yours, Too?

My Tears Have A Clock Of Their Own; Yours, Too?

    “Did you cry?”

     There you have the number one thing my daughter wanted to know, as she quizzed me like I was a guilty suspect and she was a top detective on CSI.

     Truth is, I can’t really blame her.

     As I’ve shared with you Dear Reader, since becoming a parent, I’ve become a crier.


     If you ask my kids, they will tell you that I cry at the most ridiculous times.

     I cried when one filled out form for a passport.


     To think—the adventures the world will show her!

     Cried when another jumped off the high dive for first time.

diving board

     Oh, the courage!

     The family stories go on and on.

     So there we were last weekend at Daughter’s first ever cross country meet.


     Daughter who, how shall we say this, is not the fastest cougar in the jungle.

     Daughter who, how shall we say this, we weren’t very confident she could finish the entire 3.1 mile race without stopping.

     I could easily make the case there would be grounds for crying as I saw her—

     Facing something daunting and scary, wearing her school colors for the first time, running cross country like I did when I was in high school.    

     I thought about my daughter’s question.

     And confessed.

     “Well, I pre-cried,” I said.

     “You pre-cried?” she rolled her eyes in the horror of my never-ending mother weirdness.

     Dear Reader, do your tears, too, have a clock of their own?

     “As I walked and scouted the course before you ran, I had a moment,” I explained to my daughter.

     “A moment?”

     “Well, a few moments, actually, where I pictured you putting one foot in front of the other, of pumping your arms, of not giving up, just like we talked about. And yeah, I got choked up thinking about it. I cried then.”

     “And during the actual race?”

     “Honestly, I got so busy cheering you on, taking pictures, and running from one point to the next to see you as many times as possible that I think I forgot to cry during the actual race.”

That's my girl! Smiling through the pain of the big hill in Mile 1.
That’s my girl! Smiling through the pain of the big hill in Mile 1.

     “So you pre-cried,” my husband asked me later that day.

     “Oh, you heard about that?”

     “Oh, it’s already part of family legend,” he smiled. “The Pre-Cry.”

     In another life, i.e., when I was single, I suppose I would’ve been embarrassed.

     But being married and a mom means no emotion is your own.  It’s all out there for the family to see, naked as a plucked turkey on Thanksgiving Day.

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     And now it is with you, Dear Reader.

     You, who I bet understands the concept of a pre-cry, how the very thought of something emotional can turn on the water works before an actual event takes place.

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     And you, who I bet understands the post-cry, as well: Tears that come long after.

     Long after saying goodbye to someone you love.

     Long after making it through an obstacle you once couldn’t see your way around.

     Did I mention my daughter finished the race without stopping?

In the homestretch! No clocks were broken in the timing of this race, but she met her goal--ran the whole thing without stopping!
In the homestretch! No clocks were broken in the timing of this race, but she met her goal–ran the whole thing without stopping!

     I’m afraid I have to wrap it up here.

     I feel a post-cry coming on.

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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.

The Big Break Up That Changed My Life

The Big Break Up That Changed My Life

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It was one of the biggest break ups of my life.

If I’m honest with you, Dear Reader, I must tell you there are times when I’m still not over this great love.

There are days, well, no, okay, at least moments, where I look over my shoulder and wonder, “Maybe we could try one more time to make this work?”

This time, I have Robin Williams to thank for setting me straight.

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For love, the pull, the temptation are all tied to, not a person.

No something much greater than just one person.

For years I was in love with Checklist.

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We were together for years, Checklist and I.

Checklist offered up guidance and hope.

Once, and only once, I’d checked off certain life events and accomplishments would I be happy.

And so I chased.

Chased love.

Chased success.

Chased money.

Chased having a family.

Chased having the perfect house.

Maybe you’ve had a similar relationship, Dear Reader? Your own list you’ve chased with singular focus?

“Keep going!” My List encouraged me over the years. “You can do it! Only then will you reach happy!”

Turns out, Checklist is a cruel life partner.

The more I chased, the more he added on, like teaching a kid to swim, telling them they just have a few strokes to your safe and loving arms, but you keep stepping back, back, back.

And of course, while I chased, I looked and compared myself to others.

Others, who had checked and accomplished so much more.

“Gotta do all this to be happy!”

“Gotta catch up with the others!” I told myself.

Somewhere, in this chase, the cracks started to move through this great love affair.

“Maybe instead of chasing happy,” it occurred to me, “I could simply choose to be happy now with what I have.”

And so, we broke up Checklist and I.

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Funny thing happened with that radical move—some of those long elusive longings—love, family, children?

They got checked.

I’m not perfect. I have those days, ok, moments when I think, “Maybe I’ll be happier when I accomplish this or that.”

Who doesn’t do that?

Who doesn’t look at the next guy who has checked so much more?

Which brings me to Robin Williams.

His recent death brought powerful lessons.

After all, who better to envy than Robin Willams?

King of The Checklist!



Family-3 wives, 3 kids. That’s a lot of love.

Success-check check check check.

And yet, I read stories his real life, of his heart, of his struggles.

Robin Williams sounded absolutely miserable.

I will think of him every time I look over my shoulder, or at the next person, or at something or someone that I think I need to be happy.

Thank you, Robin Williams, for reminding me that chasing my checklist, envying what someone else has is an empty game.

I don’t know what anyone has.

And Checklist-though you taunt me, try to lure me back, the best thing I ever checked off—breaking up with you.

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.

When A Dozen Eggs Doesn’t Equal 12

When A Dozen Eggs Doesn’t Equal 12

Two of my naughtier chickens, Missy & Pinky.
Two of my naughtier chickens, Missy & Pinky.

Leave it to a bunch of chickens to teach me a lesson.

About gratitude.

About what is enough.

About what makes a party.

Yes, I did say, “chickens.”

As in the 7 crazy chickens I have living in our backyard.

This is Barbie. Shhhh. Don't tell the others, but she's my sweetest, wisest and favorite chicken.
This is Barbie. Shhhh. Don’t tell the others, but she’s my sweetest, wisest and favorite chicken.

Got my first chickens about four years ago, the day before my first date with my now husband. That was one lucky week.

Lets get right to it.

Folks always want to know do we get fresh eggs?

Sure do.

The chicken math adds up to about an egg every other day from each lady. Sometimes more. Sometimes less, depending on their mood, luck, time of the year, the stock market.

And nothing, by that, I mean nothing, makes a better “Thank you,” gift than a dozen fresh eggs.

Invite me to your house for dinner? I’ll show up with a dozen fresh eggs.

You’ll go nuts.

Which leads me to last year, when my father-in-law wanted to come to see our daughter in her school orchestra recital.  He and his wife live a couple hours away. He wasn’t up for doing the driving. His wife wasn’t feeling tip top either.

“No problem,” says Tommy. Tommy, who happens to be a friend from church. Tommy says, “No problem, I’ll drive you up.”

Two hours each way to sit and listen to someone else’s grandkid’s squeaky orchestral recital? Yes, we’re talking true friend.

No better way to say, “Thank you,” I figured, than send Tommy home with a dozen fresh eggs.

One problem.

I looked at my stash in the fridge to find I only had 11.

What could I do? How rude to give only 11 eggs!

“C’mon, Ladies,” I implored as I popped out to the chicken coop. “Surely, you can lay one more egg? One more egg for Mr. Tommy?”


Mrs. Lucy Grubbs enjoying her treat, ignoring me and her waistline.
Mrs. Lucy Grubbs enjoying her treat, ignoring me and her waistline.

The chickens paid me no mind. Ignored me, as they do when there is something delicious that deserves their attention more.

There was a heaping pile of what you and I would call  trash.

Put it down your garbage disposal.

If you’re green, perhaps, in a compost heap.

When you have chickens, you toss it the chickens’ way—stale bread, over-soft tomatoes, apple peels and such.


Nugget the chicken going to town on  a piece of old bread, keeping an eye on a cherry for dessert.
Nugget the chicken going to town on a piece of old bread, keeping an eye on a cherry for dessert.

And therein lies the lesson:

What is trash to me, is treasure to the chicken.

A party! A fiesta! A moment to be excited about what has come their way.

That’s when it clicked.

I went back inside, packed up the 11 eggs in a carton.

“We have a new tradition!” I declared as I met up with Pops and Tommy. “Many have received a dozen eggs,” I explained to our guest. “You are the first, however, to receive a ‘Tommy Dozen!’”

I opened the carton to show only 11 eggs.

A "Tommy Dozen"...11 eggs instead of 12.
A “Tommy Dozen”…11 eggs instead of 12.

Tommy’s reaction?

What do you expect from a man who would drive a buddy to his granddaughter’s recital in another state?

Tommy, being Tommy, howled with laughter.

He was delighted and honored.

Took those 11 eggs and headed back down to their hometown.

I hear The Tommy Dozen story has now been told many times at their church.

It’s become part of our family lingo.

You might not have all that you expected or counted on, but look at it the right way and you’ll see you have enough. A bounty. A party. A fiesta.

For that, I thank the chickens.

And Tommy.

I would love to hear about your version of a Tommy Dozen!

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.