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

Cliche, but True

Most people don’t know that I have a small business.
But a lot of them are unknowingly seeking it out.
I have officially reached the age where everybody is getting married, engaged, or simply “in a relationship.” Seriously, every time I log on Facebook (which is frequent) girls are flashing diamond-encircled fingers and pictures show couple with sugary smiles lovingly pressed against each other beneath the headline “Jane Doe and Man X are now in a relationship.”
Which means that, inevitably, there are a lot of break-ups.
As irritating as it can be to listen to someone compose an oral expose on why their relationship is so fairytale-perfect, it is even worse listening to them weep over a failed relationship.
What do you say? How do you console the unfathomable heartache of someone who has lost their love of the past two months?
I apologize for my general snarkiness. But I am so glad you asked.
Times are tough. I’m in college and, therefore, broke. So I have decided to expand and monetize my advice-giving services. I believe that my personal relationship experiences make me uniquely qualified to give advice on handling a variety of situations.
When I was 5 years old, I married Wesley Price, the neighbor boy, in my sandbox. As soon as we swore to love each other, in health or in cooties, drama erupted. My little sister was upset that I made my friend Lauren the flower-girl instead of her. Little Julianne Christmas (“J,” as I called her) was furious that she wasn’t invited at all. I was crushing on Sean, the boy who lived next door.
You learn a lot from a failed marriage.
The summer before 4th grade, my family was preparing to move when Sean asked me to be his girlfriend and offered me a little silver band with tiny blue stars. I had moved on, but agreed, because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Then our family moved and I learned the importance of communication in a relationship.
Gleaning from the wisdom I have gained through every failed relationship, I now give cliché relationship advice on the weekends. (And Fridays from 5 to 9 p.m.) My business motto is “It’s Cliché Because It’s True.” (Which, ironically, is also a cliché. Because it’s true.)
So keep your head up! Sometimes things fall apart so better things can fall together. It’s always darkest before the dawn, but tomorrow is a new day. You  only fail if you stop trying – someday, you’ll meet someone who loves you just the way you are.
You’re welcome.
I charge by the cliché, not the hour. Cash preferred.
Ali Renckens
Amateur Advisor
“It’s Cliché Because It’s True”

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

Real Talk

Shouldering the World

Sculpture of Atlas, taken at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli by yours truly.
Sculpture of Atlas, blurry photo taken by yours truly at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli.

I would never get my mom Life Alert.

For one thing, she probably wouldn’t wear it. For another thing, if she ever fell down and broke her hip, I am confident that she would hoist herself up and hobble over to the kitchen to complete the crossword puzzle.

What’s a three-letter word for “stubborn”?

You just can’t keep a good woman down. Trust me. I’ve tried.

Ye gods, how I’ve tried.

The last day of our beach vacation, Mom, while boogieboarding, fell in the sand and was twisted around by a vicious wave, knocking her knee out of place. This means that ever since we’ve been back, the numbers on my vivofit (the Garmin version of a fitbit) have been spinning wildly as I chase Mom down with an ice pack, begging her to sit down for a few minutes.

Let me tell you, convincing my mother to relax is exhausting.

The closest thing to a crutch we’ve been able to get her to use is the vacuum cleaner.

Even Hercules, who reportedly possessed an impressive amount of both brawn and brain, which he used to trick, tame, or kill the most intelligent and fearsome creatures ancient storytellers could invent, wouldn’t be able to pin down my mom, despite her twisted knee and dislocated rotator cuff.

Not that I meant to compare Mom to a legendary monster. Although I do think that she resembles a mythological being who was tricked by Hercules: Atlas.

I suppose there’s something inside a mother that calls for her to stand on twisted knees and hoist our world on an aching back. They uphold the cosmos with their inexhaustible strength. They keep our celestial spheres spinning with their tremendous energy – mostly in the form of boundless worry and love.

Of course, even Atlas – the “Titan of Strength” – got a short break while Hercules shouldered the universe for him.

And if this metaphor makes me a demigoddess, then I accept that.