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.

The Night Cancer Did Not Get To Win

The Night Cancer Did Not Get To Win

My college roommates, Heidi (L) and Sandra (R) who show me it's never too late to do what's important.
My college roommates, Heidi (L) and Sandra (R) who show me it’s never too late to do what’s important.

Too many days.

Too many days, that awful, despicable, rude, ruthless bully called, “cancer” has knocked on the door of those I love.

That day in high school when it took the life of my best friend, Cyndi’s, mother.

That day just out of college when my roommate, Sandra’s, mother was diagnosed. Doctors gave her less than a year. She got the rare last laugh and lived 10 more.

That day in ’97 when it was my other roommate, Heidi’s mother who was diagnosed.

In 2003, it was my own mother.

And just last year, as I shared with you here, Dear Reader, it was Heidi, herself. Diagnosed with breast cancer.

Cancer won each of those days.

Gave us moments we thought we were defeated.

Then, there was last week.

Last week, hosted the night cancer didn’t get to win.

That night.

That one night something so special happened.

Sandra and Heidi, my dear friends, my college roommates had their bat mitzvah.

Yes, you got that right.

Bat Mitzvah.

Sandra and Heidi reading from The Torah at their bat mitzvah, almost 40 years after most Jewish girls undertake this ritual.
Sandra and Heidi reading from The Torah at their bat mitzvah, almost 40 years after most Jewish girls undertake this ritual.

As in the ritual that Jewish girls have to enter adulthood when they 13 years old.

Only, when Heidi and Sandra were growing up, they didn’t have that opportunity.

So, they decided to do it, well, now.

I flew out to California for a service and the night I knew I would not miss.

My date? Of course, it was Cyndi. Cyndi, who lost her mom to cancer. Cyndi who has shared every milestone with me since that first day of 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!

Sitting side by side that night in the synagogue pews, Cyndi and I smiled looking up at Heidi and Sandra having their sacred moment.

We smiled this night because we knew this was the night that cancer could not win.

We smiled because we knew there is not a single person who chooses cancer, but here were Heidi and Sandra showing us that you still do get to choose.

No matter what your faith.

You get to choose to do what’s important.

You get to show, that sometimes, it’s not too late to do what many might’ve done decades before.

You get to choose the bond of lifelong friendships, of being there for the darkest and happiest of times.

When it came to the part of the service where the rabbi asks, “Is there anyone who has a loved one who is ill who needs our prayers?” Cyndi stood up.

“Who are you praying for?” the rabbi asked in front of the entire synagogue.

“My younger sister, Caitlyn,” she shared as the tears began to flow.

See, just last month, cancer came knocking again. This time it’s Caitlyn, who is fighting breast cancer.

As Cyndi sat back down, we prayed, we cried, we hugged.

Holding onto each other.

Holding onto hope for Caitlyn’s recovery.

Protecting against all the days that cancer tries to take away.

Holding onto the knowledge that cancer can never take away that night, or our friendship, or our commitment to each other.

On that front, cancer will never win.

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 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:

Wishing A Good Friend Well & Faking It

Wishing A Good Friend Well & Faking It

You asked, you got it. Here’s my latest newspaper column. Please catch my column each week in The Atlanta Journal Constitution and The Dayton Daily News.

Here’s hoping the ladies won’t mind some extra salty seasoning in the appetizers this weekend, as we gather to wish one of my favorite people in the world, “Goodbye.”

For years, my friend, Lori and her husband have had this crazy dream—once their youngest child was out of high school they were up and moving to live full time in their cabin in Montana.  No sooner was their daughter’s diploma in hand, when that moving van was pulling up to their front door.

I happen to belong to a magnificent group of ladies who like to gather be it for birthdays, showers, and like now, goodbyes. Seems like every time we get together, I get a request to make a specific appetizer, my “Cowboy Caviar.”

It’s a crazy combination of black eyed peas, corn, tomatoes, cilantro, green onions and avocado.  I can’t tell you exactly why this unexpected combination of flavors works, but it’s a hit every time.

In that way, I guess friendship is like cowboy caviar. Are your friends like this, too?—not a lot of people would put you together, but for reason, together, you make a delicious combination.

Our Lori is so sweet, wise, and carries her love right at the surface. She’s always the first to cry for reasons happy and sometimes sad.  She is part of our tight knit group who have met up each weekend for a long run. Those miles have been like therapy sessions jogging our way through broken hearts, lost jobs, and challenging children. And they have been playtime.  We wear fuzzy bunny ears on Easter weekend. Lori egged me on to wear a rhinestone tiara for the run on the day of my wedding. And she’s been known to carry a pom pom or two to celebrate birthdays and big accomplishments.

I know I should be happy for a such a good friend and wonderful person to have her dream come true. I am, but between you and me– a big part of me is faking it. Letting  go is simply the ingredient I find hardest to toss in with those that I love.

It’s like sending a kid off to college, leaving the boyfriend you love but know you’ll never make each other happy long term. And now sending a beloved friend off on her dream come true. I grasp for a dash of the old Richard Bach saying, “If you love someone, set them free.”

I also know it has often been me that other friends have had to wish well as I’ve gone for my big dreams.

And so I will chop up the tomatoes, onions, corn and cilantro for this weekend’s party. You’ll know the truth—that I’ll be crying as I chop. The ladies might guess when they taste that extra salt.

I will gather myself up and walk into that Goodbye party with a smile on my face. It’s what Lori deserves.

The rest of that quote…

“If you love someone, set them free. If they come back they’re yours; if they don’t they never were.”

She’ll be back. For business trips. For visits, for occasional weekend runs.

If all else fails. Lori’s already invited us to a gathering at her cabin next September.

I’m so there. And yes, I’ll bring the Cowboy Caviar.

June 24, 2013: …And She’ll Be Okay…

June 24, 2013: …And She’ll Be Okay…

I’m sharing one of recent newspaper columns. Please catch me each week in The Atlanta Journal Constitution and The Dayton Daily News.

Feel free to leave your comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

She is my heart’s home.
Together we cry through our hard times.
Then, we hug.
One believes when the other cannot.
It’s been like that since we lived together senior year in college.
Do you have someone so dear, so solid who you do this dance with?
We cried when it looked like she couldn’t have a baby.
I bought her a pair of baby Nike sneakers.
“I believe,” I told her. “Even though you can’t right now. I will hold that space.”
Years later, she called me from the delivery room. “She’s here!” she said. “Our new daughter’s name. We’re naming her, ‘Daryn.’
We cried.
“I don’t think he will ever come,” I said as I cried a few years ago in her living room, knowing that it would never be my time to meet that special guy and have my own family.
We hugged.
“It’s my turn to believe for you,” she told me. “I believe he’s on his way.”
Last year she toasted my new husband and me and our wedding.
We cried.
“It was the trip of a lifetime!” I shared as our plane touched down last week, just back from our belated honeymoon.
“I can’t wait to hear about it,” she said a mix of enthusiasm and distraction.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“That biopsy I had right before you left?”
“Yes?” I said holding my breath.
“It came back positive. I have breast cancer.”
We cried.
And we got to work doing what best friends do. We discussed treatment options, how to tell others, reconstruction. “What kind of boobs do you get when you start all over?” We wondered as we discussed perhaps the one topic we’ve never talked about.
I know what is the most important thing on my “to do” list—believing.
It is my turn again.
I can’t think of a greater honor.
“Three things,” I said the day after the news sunk in.
“Number One—you’re going to be fine. I know that more than even I knew you were going to have a baby.
Number Two—you’re going to have to go through some crappy things.
Which leads me to Number Three—I’m so sorry you have to go through this.
Even in your darkest times, I want you to remember—all roads lead to Number One—you’re going to be fine.
I will believe that even when you can’t.”
I hung up the phone knowing I have to believe that for me as much as I have to believe it for her. I can’t imagine life without her. She is my rock, my heart’s home, the one who believes for me when I can’t.
And then, I cried.