Family, Real Talk

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!

Family, Real Talk

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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Real Talk

Toto, We’re Not in Florida Anymore

2015-02-16 07.13.28-2It didn’t begin with the sirens, but with a beep from Lydia’s phone. Then, all our phones started ding-ing and I ended up crammed into the bathroom (our “safe zone”) with two of my roommates, our friend Rachel, and two of the girls who live above us. Scrunched into our shower, I remembered being back home when I was little, snuggling up in my closet with a flashlight and books while a hurricane raged outside. Funny. This is the closest to my hometown (Tampa Bay) I’ve felt in a while.

For the past few weeks, I’ve battled icy conditions with youthful vigor and the charming naivety of a baby playing with a rattlesnake. The first time I saw my windshield coated with an armor of thick ice, I had no strategy for counterattack. I wrenched my car door open and turned on the heat and the windshield wipers, which didn’t help. After a hasty retreat to my dorm, I returned brandishing glass cleaner and paper towels. (Spoiler alert: they didn’t work.)

As a tow-headed third grader, I got an entire week off because of the imminent threat of hurricanes. I’ve run three miles along the beach in rain, thunder, lightning, and hail. But this was my first tornado. I’d imagined it would start with a dark stillness in the sky, then cyclonic winds would tear shutters (that magically appeared for this fantasy) off the dorm windows…something like The Wizard of Oz.

Instead, it looks and sounds like a thunderstorm, except that I can hear the warning sirens and feel the cold, smooth bottom of our shower while we wait for our RA to give us the all-clear.

Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.

I think there’s a reason that’s one of the most famous lines in cinematic history. It expresses a pensive sense of displacement. It was obvious that she was far from home, but there’s still a sense of hesitancy, uncertainty, and innocent bewilderment as Dorothy wonders where she is. And this simple statement implies a poignant question: can we return home?

They say “home is where the heart is,” but what the heck is that supposed to mean? I divide most of my time between college and where I grew up, about a 900-mile difference. When I’m at school, I miss my family, usually calling them a couple times a week and texting constantly. Then again, homecoming isn’t like a parade across the football field wearing a sparkly crown and holding a bouquet of red roses; it’s more like precariously walking a tightrope, attempting to balance the freedom I have at school with that fact that I’m back in the room I’ve had since I was eight. And no matter where I am, I spend a lot of time planning where to go next. For instance, right now, I’m planning on moving to Birmingham this summer for an internship.

Each one of these places has my heart somehow; I love my family, I love my friends, I love school, and I love my work. It would be so simple if I could just click my heels and magically be transported to one place where everyone and everything I care about exists in perfect harmony. Instead, I’m sprinting down yellow brick roads, hoping they’ll carry me to my dreams.

Saying that I don’t know where home is sounds heartbreakingly mournful. But I don’t think it is. It’s only sad if there’s nowhere to go or no one to be with. There’s something wonderful – scary and beautiful and bewildering – about facing a world full of open doors, hearts willing to welcome you in, and suitcases ready to travel to every corner of the globe.

Maybe that’s the idea. Maybe home doesn’t have to be one, single place. Maybe a central facet of maturity is the conscious decision to find joy in any situation, love for new neighbors, and beauty in foreign surroundings, so that wherever we are, we can sincerely and confidently say, “There’s no place like home.”


Real Talk

Why I Celebrated my 20th with Darth Vader and Hello Kitty

2016-01-04 06.47.16.jpgThis morning when I walked out of my room, I almost ran into Darth Vader.

Well, not the actual Darth Vader (although I would be pretty psyched and a twinge creeped out to find James Earl Jones wandering around my dorm room). It was a piñata head dangling from my doorway, framed in white streamers.

Maybe I should mention that it’s my birthday.

Which prompts the question: what have I learned from the 20 years I’ve spent on earth?

Well, the first few years, I mostly spent mastering the fine arts of talking, walking, feeding myself, etc. I am proud to say that my efforts in these areas were successful. For the most part. 

In the third book in the “Anne of Green Gables” series, Anne turns 20 and remarks, “Miss Stacy told me that when I was 20, my character would be formed for worse or for better.”

As I’m sitting here, wearing Star Wars pajama pants, surrounded by superhero posters, Hello Kitty streamers dangling from the ceiling, a Wonder Woman cape hanging from my door, facing our dartboard, which has a place of honor across from our Xbox and GameCube, attached to our TV, which is currently playing “Lilo and Stitch,” I have to wonder…really, how much have I grown?

Frankly, this isn’t exactly how I imagined life would be at 20.

But is it a bad thing? I don’t think so.

When you’re 20, no one really expects you to have your future figured out (although they keep asking you about it) or even be able to keep your clothes off the floor (except your parents…they never lose hope). As I’m madly scribbling papers and desperately skimming test materials, I check my email for responses to my numerous summer internship applications and play episodes of old Disney channel shows.

Even though I still enjoy the same things, now I see different things in them. For example, in “Lilo and Stitch,” I realized how protective Nonnie was of her sister, despite their fighting. I almost cried when Stitch as looked for his ohana.

On some level, maybe these are things I always understood. Maybe what we call “maturity” is just being able to put into words what we instinctively felt as children.

Going back to Anne, immediately after making this comment, she decides to go for a walk in the park, where a tall, dark, and handsome classmate rescues her from the rain, sends her flowers the next day, and they date for the rest of their time in college.

I doubt that will happen to me today. Or ever.

But did Anne’s friends hang a Darth Vader piñata from her doorway? Or fill her living room with Hello Kitty streamers?

I think not.

In fact, I never thought about it until today, but Anne’s friends didn’t even spend her birthday with her. They went to a football game, leaving Anne curled by the fire with the cats and her friend’s great-aunt.

So, who really had the better birthday?

I’ll probably have a boyfriend eventually. But right now, I have the best friends and family ever. And that’s a pretty great way to start the next decade of my life.

Although meeting James Earl Jones would also be fantastic.



Real Talk, School

Littles and Childbirth and STD (it’s clean, I promise)

fam2I was awakened by loud music reverberating from my phone.

It was midnight and I, being an early riser and, therefore, a terrible college kid, was already dead asleep.

Groggy and confused, I rolled over and nearly fell out of bed, wondering why an alarm was going off while it was still dark outside and why it was on my phone when I only set alarms on my desk clock.

I had a vague sense that I was forgetting something.

I picked my phone up and swiped to make the annoying noise stop. Then I realized that it was a call and I had just answered it.

“Hello?” I murmured in a soft, sleepy voice.

“Hi!” an incredibly awake voice chirped. “Want to find out who your Littles are?”

Suddenly, I remembered. I had set my phone ring to the highest volume possible because tonight we found out who our Littleslillarissa were.

Littles? I got more than one?

The rest is hysteria.

I mean, history.

Nah. I mean hysteria.

The rest of the week was a crafting frenzy. When I wasn’t working on something for the Littles, I was studying or working on our school newspaper. Meals were irregular. Sleep was a sweet dream.

Day Three of Big/Little week, I was initiated into the English honors society, Sigma Tau Delta (STD, for short. Apparently English nerds are terrible at stringing together Greek letters). I was given a certificate and a pin. (I get a kick out of telling people I’m wearing my STD pin.) After obligingly mingling for a few minutes, I power-walked to my dorm (in heels) and began frantically painting for one of my Little’s basket. She likes “Despicable Me,” so I decided to paint a minion with the words “one in a minion.” I grabbed a scrap piece of paper to see if I could even paint a 2015-10-01 22.09.52decent minion. Thankfully, I could, and I managed to successfully deliver her present. As I cleaned up, I picked up the piece of paper to throw it away.

Then I realized that I had actually painted the back of my STD certificate. (Wow, that really is a horrible acronym.)

That about sums up my week. In a figurative and also very literal way.

I was sleep deprived, stressed, and my “To-Do List” kept growing longer while my time to accomplish items on said list kept shrinking. It was the craziest week of my life.

But when I look back on it, I don’t remember any of that.

12088354_900358566722147_837717110339071424_nI think of the notes my Littles wrote me, telling me how much they loved their gifts and how excited they were to meet me. I think of jumping out from behind one Little and hearing her shriek, “You tricked me!” Immediately followed by, “I wanted it to be you!” I think of dragging my Big and one Little backstage to surprise my other Little after her performance and being unceremoniously kicked out. And I think of standing in the lobby, holding her family shirt, when she walked out in the reception line. I think of how surprised she was when she realized what was going on and how another cast member had to tear her away from our first family gathering to thank the audience.

I never understood childbirth before – how a woman can undergo such intense pain and forget about it when she finally gets to hold her little one.

I get it now. At least a little bit.

I love my babies. And, given the choice, I would go through the entire, chaotic week for them all over again.

I would even paint a cartoon figure on the back of a certificate of high academic accomplishment. Or, if it came down to it, not be a part of STD at all.

You know what I mean.

Ohana means family. And I have the best family ever.
Ohana means family. And I have the best family ever.
Real Talk, School

A Girl’s Mancave

SuperheroesHave you ever had a moment when you realize that you completely missed a crucial phase of life that all of your friends have already gone through?

Not only did that happen to me, but it happened to all of my roommates. All four of us missed the same critical part of life.

You can tell the second you step into our room.

Somehow, we all missed the magical moment where girls just inherently know how to make their living space home-y, chic, and/or cute.

Maybe it’s because we spend too much of our time on Pinterest looking at Myers-Briggs charts and not enough time looking at dorm rooms. Maybe it’s because we aren’t crafty.

Our interior decorating go-to: superhero posters.2015-09-12 22.36.20

We now have seven superhero posters: one Marvel, six DC. (We have very strong opinions on the Marvel vs. DC debate.) Above our snack shelf is a dartboard. Next to Melvin the Drunk Christmas Tree, we have a light-up Christmas reindeer that was stolen from one of the frat houses. Recently, we bought a large TV, which, immediately after setting up, we used to watch Youtube videos about llamas wearing hats.

We call our dorm The Mancave.

There is no “woman’s touch” to our room. It’s more like a slap on the back.

The only relatively feminine aspect of the room is a collage of canvases featuring our sorority. (They look particularly out-of-place next to our poster of the Joker.)

It may not be the cutest dorm on campus. (In fact, it definitely isn’t.) But it’s a place we can put our feet up at the end of the day, crack open a soda, and watch all of the “Superman” movies, including the bad ones.

And in a weird sort of way, it fits us. It’s quirky, eclectic, nerdy, and one-of-a-kind.

And, most importantly, we love our Mancave. To us, it’s home. It’s perfect.

Or, it will be, as soon as we get some well-stuffed recliners. And our Xbox.

Melvin the Drunk Christmas Tree and Giorgio the Pilfered Christmas Reindeer
Melvin the Drunk Christmas Tree and Giorgio the Pilfered Christmas Reindeer
Real Talk, School

What to Wear

According to commercials, the success of your education relies on one thing: the right supplies. Namely, the right first-day-of-school outfit.

The logic of the marketing industry is that stylish clothes fill students with confidence, giving them the buoyancy and courage they need to swagger through the school year.

Last year, for the first day of college (ever!) I wore a cute pink pocket tee with dark skinny jeans.

This year, my sorority issued an “outfit schedule” for the first two weeks of classes.

They have legitimate reasons for doing this: increased presence on campus, boost pre-rush spirit, etc.

Rebellion was my natural reaction.

I have several pictures of school events where everyone is obediently wearing the maroon “uniform” shirt for United Methodist Preschool and I’m rocking a yellow shirt and overalls or a bright blue sundress or something equally anarchistic.

I like to look cute. And I hate being told what to do.

But I’m not the same girl who walked into her first class with feigned bravado. I only had a few acquaintances and no true friends (yet). I was adrift, with no identity outside of my own inherent charms, which (honestly) mostly consisted of a non-intimidating resting face and the willingness to go along with any activity that I didn’t have moral objections to.

Now, I am a part of something. Many things, actually: I am life editor and A&E co-editor for our school newspaper; treasurer of the broadcasting society; secretary of the Rutledge Honorary History Society; a mentor for handicapped students; and Sisterhood Enrichment Team leader and student government representative for my sorority.

I am quite possibly involved in too many things.

We, as a society, place a lot of responsibility on clothes to communicate both who we are and who we want to become. I am proud of everything that I am a part of and glad to represent them, even if it’s only by wearing a t-shirt.

And if that means following an outfit schedule, then I guess I’m ok with that.

Isn’t family – sisterhood – sometimes about forcing a smile and agreeing to go along with whatever they have planned?

One value that my sorority emphasizes is confidence. A childhood full of watching “What Not to Wear” taught me that it can be expressed through clothes, but confidence ultimately comes from the individual – not the outfit.

Take that, marketing majors.

Real Talk, School

How I Found my Sorority Home

KDbiddayI didn’t realize that I was home. Until two fistfuls of shaving cream were dumped on my head.

I’ll get to that in a moment.

Moving to Union University, almost 900 miles away from my home in Florida, gave me what I wanted – a fresh start. An entirely new chapter of life, full of blank pages and endless possibilities.

I figured that one thing I should add to my new life was friends.

To that end, two of my roommates, who I met during freshman registration, convinced me to rush.

“We’ll do it together,” they bubbled. “It’ll be fun!”

Despite my suspicions about Greek life, I filled out the form for sorority recruitment, mentally replaying every moment (there were a lot of them) in the past year that I said I would never join a sorority.

My two roommates transferred to the University of Memphis before school started.

And I still wasn’t sure about the whole “sorority thing.” But I had absolutely nothing to lose. I figured this would give me a chance to meet people. If nothing else, it’d be an experience. That’s what college is for, right? To be stupid? To make mistakes? Someday, I’d reminisce about my dorky freshman days and laugh with highbrowed maturity about how I almost got sucked into the hard-partying, unendurably vapid world of sororities.

Instead, as I shuffled up and down Greek row in 4-inch heels, I found houses full of kind, welcoming girls. Girls who were held together with strong bonds of friendship. Girls with intelligence and ambition. Girls with welcoming smiles and contagious laughs. Some adorably goofy co-eds and some gently poised young ladies.

I can’t really remember why I was so skeptical of Greek life anymore. I guess that during rush, I had a revelation: stereotypes aren’t always true. What we expect isn’t always accurate. (Shocking, I know.)

But even after discovering that, I still wasn’t sure which sorority I wanted to invest the time and money into, if any of them. Among the muddle of Greek alphabet soup, no letters seemed to spell “home.”

Not until bid day.

After running to the house, taking (a rough estimate) 20 gazillion pictures, and casually getting to know each other, we played games with balloons filled with shaving cream, which (naturally) morphed into a shaving cream battle.

I was somewhat on the outskirts, amusedly watching my new sisters get covered with white foam, when someone came up behind me with hands full of shaving cream lathered my hair with it.

Shrieking, I whirled around to see a tall, blonde girl standing behind me, laughing.

Unless you’re a terrible, obnoxious person, you don’t play a prank on someone you don’t know. You do something like that to someone you have a relationship with. Someone you know will give you a hug and try to get you back.

As strange as it sounds (and is), when that shaving cream hit my head, I knew that I was a part of something bigger than myself, but something that would swallow who I am. I found friends I could be my nerdy, awkward self with. I found girls who would accept, encourage, and love me.

Some girls are smart. They figure out where they belong a lot sooner than I did. And stay much cleaner in the process.

But one thing you realize at college is that most of us don’t know where we’ll end up or even where we’re going. We take grasp at whatever chances are dangled in front of us, we offer people our hearts and cross our fingers, hoping that – maybe – they’ll like us, despite our quirks and insecurities.

I’m starting to think that may be how life goes.

Maybe we’re all looking for people who dump shaving cream on our heads.

I’m just thankful to have my sisters.

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Real Talk

You Can (and Can’t) go Home Again

gradI’m about to leave home.

Which implies that I first came home.

(Let me know if I’m moving too fast for ya.)

Thomas Wolfe wrote a classic novel entitled, “You Can’t go Home Again.” Bon Jovi challenged this idea with a wonderful song, “Who Says You Can’t go Home?” The early American novelist and rock-n-roll legend both speak the truth.

(Okay, take a breath if you need to, because this gets interesting soon. I promise.)

With the exception of an enviable few who spent time in Europe or Asia or one girl who visited most of the western US, Scotland, and is now in India, I did actually come home, as did most of my friends. So, in this respect, I bow to the logic of Jon Bon Jovi.

But home-coming isn’t a parade across the football field in a fancy dress, holding a bouquet of roses and balancing a sparkly crown on your head while every girl in the stands sighs and wishes she was you. (Except for Taylor Swift, who’s focused on the guy next to you.)

Life back home feels like a circus. You walk a tightrope, desperately trying to balance the freedom you had before with the fact that you’re back to the house, the room, and the bed you’ve had since you were eight. Meanwhile, the circus freaks keep nipping at your heels, waiting for you to fall. You don’t know if your parents don’t think that you’ve grown up at all or if they just don’t care.

(To be perfectly clear: I do not at all mean to imply that my parents are freaks.)

The friends you spend the majority of the year with aren’t there. Your old friends are scattered across the globe or working or taking summer classes. And you’re not quite the same, either.

But, gradually, you adjust. Home becomes home again.

And then, once again, you tear yourself away.

“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”

(Thomas Wolfe, “You Can’t go Home Again”)

“Who Says You Can’t go Home,” Jon Bon Jovi