The Dates of Christmas

A lot of my friends got coal for Christmas.

And by that, I mean coal that was squeezed and whittled until the dark ash morphed into a sparkling oval, which was then welded onto a rose gold band and nestled onto a velvet cushion.

I don’t know why spring is considered the most romantic season, but I’m here to tell you it isn’t.

It’s the holiday season.

No joke, Christmas cookies are as aphrodisiac-ful as oysters. (Also, they look, smell, and taste a lot better, so I vote we make those a Valentine’s Day tradition.)

And don’t get me started on the made-for-TV Christmas movies.

So predictable. So cheesy.

The plot line is always some cute blonde girl locked in a struggle between her work and heart. In the last 15 minutes of the 90-minute movie, she realizes that she loves the small-town baker who spends his weekends making treats for the local animal shelter and that her fiancée, the big shot corporate lawyer who has spent more time kissing up to his bosses and clients than romancing her, is a jerk. And despite only knowing each other three days, the last five minutes feature an engagement so that the sweet guy can flash a black velvet box emblazoned with the Kay logo for the viewers at home.

Christmas was invented by jewelers. It’s all a mistletoe-driven crock.

Scoff, scoff, scoff. Bah humbug.

I’m not trying to be the Grinch. I only sound like that because I’m grouchy and bitter and my heart is five sizes too small.

(I’m kidding. It’s only three sizes too small.)

Ok. Confession: I love those movies. My mom and I spend December 1st-26th curled underneath fleece blankets watching Hallmark.

But the holidays did feel a little weird this year.

This Christmas, my little sister left us for a few hours to spend time with her boy and meet his family. All my cousins brought their significant others over (except one, because his girlfriend was in North Carolina). At Thanksgiving, even my 16-year-old cousin had her boyfriend over.

It does make sense that there’s such a hoopla about love this time of year…after all, the holidays are a time to spend with the people you love. Which makes it a little jarring when those people find other people to love, like a new cover of a song you’ve loved for years. Like Bruce Springsteen singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Not unpleasant exactly, but it takes a minute to get used to.

It really hit me this year that we’re getting to the point where I’ll have to share my family. They already have other families to spend holidays and play card games and take pictures of themselves in matching pajamas with.

It’s like nothing is sacred.

Especially since Christmas leans so heavily on traditions: frosting cut-out cookies, decorating the tree, screaming at each other over a game of Spicy Uno. We do the same things with the same people and it feels cozy and warm and familiar. We’re already in a time of our lives when so much is changing; it’s sad to see these traditions slip away too.

Maybe that’s the real charm of those stupid Hallmark movies. Maybe we like them because there aren’t any crazy plot twists, surprise endings, or gripping dialogue. No matter how many “new movies” come out, you can count on them to stick to the same cheesy, heartwarming plot, year after year.

And you get to enjoy them with the people you love, even if new people are added or people leave for a while.

Hope you and your family had a very merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year, surrounded by people you love. And if you want to give yourself a little gift, enter your email in the “Stick Around” widget on the right side of the screen to subscribe!

A Rapunzel Story

My sister just locked me in my room.

Ok, she didn’t LOCK me in my room. She shut my bedroom door on me as I was industriously making my bed (which I hadn’t done in about a week).

The locking was implicitly implied.

It was explicitly stated when I promptly opened the door and walked into the hall.

“ALI,” Mackenzie said with her trademark calm and tender manner, “THAT WAS A SIGN TO STAY IN YOUR ROOM.”

With my trademark pluck and valor, I immediately turned tail and closed myself in my room.

You may be wondering what grievous crime I had committed to deserve banishment to my room.

Well, my little sister had a boy coming over. And she didn’t want me to meet him.

“Why don’t you want me to meet your boy?” I asked as we discussed this yesterday.

“You’re too weird and awkward,” she threw back at me, beating a retreat into her room so I couldn’t ask follow-up questions. And I had a lot of questions

I’m not sure what she meant by “too weird and awkward.” Granted, I have spent the majority of Christmas break slouching around in my XXXL “I support the right to arm bears” t-shirt (I’m a size small, if anyone was wondering). And the only person outside of my immediate family I’ve interacted with is the man who delivers the books I order.

I was so upset I almost didn’t invite her to help me and our cousin Brittney build our Christmas-themed blanket fort.

I made the best of being “locked” in my room, which, thankfully, overlooks the front yard.


“What are you yelling about?”


“He texted me to ask if he should park in the street…What are you doing?”

And that’s when she opened my door to find me peeking through the slitted window blinds.

“You’re the creepiest person ever,” she said, shutting my door for the second time.

I didn’t reply because I was sending the Snapchat video of him walking up the driveway to our family group message. (You couldn’t really see him though, because of the palmettos.)

I can say with certainty that if she had been born in the right time period, my sister is the type of person who would’ve stuck me in a stone tower and used my hair as an elevator.

Does that make me the sweet, innocent princess?

You can draw the comparisons.

Except the closest thing I have to prince is the Amazon delivery man.

Life isn’t like the fairytales, kids.

If it was a fairytale, we would fall in love at first sight and expeditiously ride into the sunset in our gilded carriage. Sure, we may have to elude a murderous stepmother or disgruntled witch, but we could blithely skip over the harrowing experience of bringing our significant other to family game night.

That’s the true test of love. Any guy in his right mind would rather battle a fire-breathing dragon than duke it out at Renckens Family Game Night.

But we can’t lock our relatives away forever just because they’re weird or awkward or wear shirts five sizes too big with baffling political messages or give us a sharp kick in the shin during an intense game of Uno…right?

Oh well. If I actually was in a tower, I could probably get a better video.

And with drone delivery, life wouldn’t be half bad.

An artist rendering. Not actual footage.

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Driving Me Crazy


Siblings are the personification of every exasperating paradox. Best friends, bitter foes. As children, we played make-believe, creating genuine bonds that connect us for the rest of our lives. As the older sibling, I didn’t want my little sister tagging along after me all the time. Now, I wish that we could spend more time together. When my sister was a little diva, whose head reached my shoulder, she used to boss me around. Now, she’s three inches taller than me and…well, not everything changes.

About two weeks ago, she took her driver’s test. She failed. To be fair, her proctor was unusually bad-tempered and harsh, faulting her for waiting too long at a four-way stop.

Heart-wrenching, blah, blah, blah.

I originally wrote that last sentence to mark where I was going to build an exaggerated story of our house being covered by dark rain clouds and such, but I think I’ll just keep it as it is. Mackenzie was devastated. Life went on. Heart-wrenching, blah, blah, blah.

A couple weeks later, she took it again. It was also my first day of college classes. As I was getting ready, Mom sent me second-to-second play-by-plays via agonized text messages.

Her ominous opening: “We r at the DMV now.”

Call me Ishmael. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. We r at the DMV now.

Building up the suspense: “Since I won’t remember to tell u later, Miss Bonnie said Phillip had the same proctor as Mackenzie. He failed too! He said the same thing she did. Very mean and rude!”

The challenges that plague any hero of noble heart: “This is the longest we’ve ever had to sit.”

The moment when all of our hopes and dreams of the past 16 years seemed to speed away faster than my sister in a 40-zone: “Oh no! The mean lady is here now and Kenzie is next!!!!!!”

Five suspense-filled minutes later: “Oh no! She got another mean one!”

(Are you feeling the desperation? My first day of college certainly paled in comparison.)

And, finally, the moment of glory. Jubilant with the victory over all of the mean, clipboard-wielding ladies that the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles could find to challenge my stalwart sister, Mom proclaimed (surprisingly, with only one exclamation mark): “SHE PASSED!”

When someone gets their license, people usually joke about staying clear of the roads. But I won’t do that. Because I trust my little sister.

And I don’t have a car.

And I live about 15 hours away.

So, really, I’m not joking.

I love you, Little Sister!

Thanks, Mom :)

049There are many “superficial” things that hold deep meaning. It could be a song that revives a memory of a loved one, or an article of clothing worn on a happy day. For me, almost all of my jewelry has special significance.

Perhaps that is why I hesitate to buy a new piece; I do not want to clutter the wooden jewelry box that Gramma gave me with pretty, meaningless sparkles.

As I rummaged through my jewelry box last Sunday, looking for some accessory, my fingers found themselves clutching a piece I had nearly forgotten – that I feel guilty for rarely wearing.

I can’t remember how old I was…probably around 1st grade (although I wouldn’t swear to it. It was sometime between kindergarten and 3rd grade). One of our neighbors hosted some sort of jewelry sale at her house and Mom took me and my sister. For a kid my age (whatever that was), it was a largely boring affair, with ladies standing around talking considerably more than shopping and tables full of gold and silver jewelry strands (not a single Disney princess or Hello Kitty on any of them!). Although I spent most of the night watching Alvin and the Chipmunks, one piece of jewelry did catch my eye.

It was a watch. To this day, I seldom wear a watch (and, in my opinion, it is only a matter of time – no pun intended – before the watch joins its predecessor, the sundial, as a decoration). However, this watch did secure my attention. It did not have a traditional gold and/or silver band and clasp, instead, the band was made of tiny glass turtles. Those turtles fascinated me; they were so colorful and had such intriguing designs on their backs.

I begged Mom to buy it for me. I remember ladies telling her not to; “It’s too nice for her!” My little blue eyes filled with tears. I knew that Mommy was not going to buy me my turtle timepiece.

But she did!

As aforementioned, I do not wear it often. In fact, I have scarcely looked at it in years. Yet, it still holds that precious memory for me, of Mom loving me enough to buy me something that (I know realize) was probably expensive, unheeding of her friends’ advice and the fact that I would probably throw it in my jewelry box and never wear it again.

However, I did wear it last Sunday. After church, Mom lifted my wrist, stared at the watch, said, “Oh”, and dropped it with a blank expression on her face. I doubt she recognized it.

Mom deserves massive appreciation for all the things that she does. My English teacher would abolish the word “things” with one swipe of her red pen for being vague. But what word do you use to describe a hodgepodge of roles from chauffeur to dress consultant to cook to editor?

And the crazy thing is that she may not even remember some of the stuff (another vague word, but what can you do?) that her children remember most.

That is why it is so important to make Mom feel special on Mother’s Day. We should be showing her every day in little things, but on a regular day, everyone vies for what they want to do. Today is to do whatever Mom wants.

And don’t forget to simply thank her.

Thanks for everything, Mom.

I love you 🙂

The Backseat Driver

As a student driver, I am used to being shot dirty looks. I have become accustomed to blaring, screeching, and having my attention directed upward by people’s middle finger. Sometimes people in other cars are nasty, too.

I kid! My parents have never gotten that frustrated with me. And even when they are exasperated, I have to acknowledge their superiority, both in skill and experience.

However, I do not feel so forbearing about the orders being barked at me from the backseat.

The closest to driving that my 14-year-old sister has ever come was when we were about 6-years-old and our dad sometimes allowed us to hold the wheel as he slowly drove around the block. So, why is it that when I am driving, I always feel like I am the one who doesn’t know what she’s doing?

My sister has a very strong, commanding personality. She firmly believes that whenever she starts to drive, she will sit behind that wheel like young Beethoven sitting down at a piano stool. And, in no uncertain terms, she lets me know it.

For some reason, she feels that I cannot recognize a stop sign, tree, or closed garage when I see one, (apparently) that Mom’s occasional corrections are insufficient, and my chauffeuring is the equivalent of embarking on a slow, steady spiral of doom. She keeps a mental list of every mistake I have ever made, and when Mom tells her to move to the backseat because I am driving, she will loudly cry in anguish (perhaps stamping her feet and throwing up her hands for a more dramatic effect), “MOM! Last time Ali drove us home from class we almost crashed 3 times!”

Personally, I cannot remember an instance where I placed us in deadly peril thrice, but my sister will beg that I not be allowed to drive as if, indeed, her life does depend upon it.

Mom says that when I have my license, she will be much sweeter, so that I will take her places.

She says that she’ll have her license before I do.

I say good riddance.