I’m a regular

[This originally appeared in The Journal, a print publication in Seneca, S.C.]

As much as I’d like to write about Christmas and all the goodies and cute reactions from my nieces and nephew, I wanted to take a moment to tell y’all that one of my largest life goals has been achieved: I’m a regular.
In case you misread that, it has nothing to do with fiber intake and everything to do with how often I grace Monterrey’s of Clemson with my presence.
Nearly every Thursday for the last three or so years, I’ve delivered for Meals on Wheels of Clemson with my preacher, Danny. Here and there, I’ll miss a week due to impending deadlines or holiday travels, but it’s been a consistent part of my life for a while.
Also quite consistent are the times Danny and I head on over to Monterrey’s to grab lunch for ourselves.
A month ago, we walked in the door and the lady standing at the podium didn’t ask how many in our party — she asked if we wanted menus today.
“You come in here so much I didn’t know if you’d need them,” she told us.
I didn’t, to be honest. My Thursday lunches rotate between the burrito deluxe with chicken, taco salad with beef and the occasional quesadilla with rice and beans. Nine times out of 10, I know what I want before I walk in the door.
As soon as we are seated, they bring us water with lemon — extra lemons when the algae on Hartwell is blooming — and remind us of which salsa is mild and which is spicy. By now I should be able to remember that the blue bowl is mild, but sometimes I forget. Or maybe it’s the black bowl. See why they have to remind me? They know I’m a wimp when it comes to spicy food.
They also apparently know my deep love of Americanized Mexican food.
You could take just about anything, wrap it in a flour tortilla, throw some cheese on top and I would be good to go. The contents may change up a little, but the essential three components are always there: meat, tortilla, cheese.
My taco salad? Deep-fried tortilla filled with meat, lettuce, tomatoes, guacamole and topped with cheese.
That deluxe burrito? Chicken wrapped in a tortilla and covered with cheese.
My splurge on the quesadilla? Chicken and cheese squished between — I’m sure you can guess by now — a tortilla.
There’s not a lot of variety in my Thursday lunch menu, and that’s just the way I like it. Calling a deep-fried tortilla a salad makes me feel good about myself, and I think you’d be lying to yourself if you said you didn’t occasionally do the same. Potato salad? Jell-O salad? Not at all a salad.
But back to the point: It’s been a long-time adult dream of mine to be recognized when I walk into a restaurant, and I would like to thank Monterrey’s of Clemson in Central for finally making that dream come true. I will go into 2018 with my head held a little higher.

Caitlin Herrington is an aspiring adult who will talk non-stop about her nephew and three nieces given the opportunity. You can reach her at cherrington@upstatetoday.com.

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The generous genie

Y’all, I love giving presents. Birthdays, Christmas, sursies — if I see something I think a friend, family member or even their dog may like, I buy it.

We stopped doing adult Christmas gifts a few years ago when my older brother and sister started having children and opted to do a “Dirty Santa” exchange with the grown-ups.

I buy things for everybody all year long and stash them away, inevitably forgetting during my Christmas shopping I already bought two puzzles and a dress and a wooden car over the summer. It just means I can donate those to children in need and give even more gifts. It’s a complete win-win for me.

My nieces will be thoroughly spoiled with a new backpack, lunch box, dresses to pass back and forth over the years and a few good books. None of them can read, so I’m safe to reveal my personal favorite gift of all: a unicorn-themed teether for baby K, who just turned 9 months old. My 4-year-old nephew knows his letters, so I ought to be careful revealing the contents of his craft kit.

Some of these were purchased in December. Some, like the plastic foods inside J’s ladybug backpack, were snagged over the summer on clearance. I see things they would love and accidentally buy them.

What can I say? I’m a giver.

So, in the spirit of giving gifts, I wanted to give a few things out here in my column. If I had unlimited funds and a genie hiding in a lamp, I would gladly give the following:

To Norm Cannada, a leash for his phone, glasses and keys so he’d quit forgetting them so often.

To Michelle Cannada, a day-long spa experience to relieve the stress from all the driving she does back and forth to the office when Norm forgets said items.

To the city of Walhalla, an extra Shop-Vac or two so you don’t have to splurge on that fancy water vacuum truck.

To the residents of Westminster and Seneca, rain barrels for collecting extra water like real pioneers when we can’t afford to shower for more than three minutes.

To the parents with Elves on Shelves, I’d give a mystery plague that requires elf quarantine for three days by mandate of Santa himself.

To the city of Westminster, roughly $538,000 along with a police officer or four and a lightning rod — just in case.

To county council, an emerald city of industry to go at the end of that yellow brick road you’re paving at the Golden Corner Commerce Park.

To online commenters, the gift of paper, pen and stamps so y’all can chat privately amongst yourselves instead of bickering over politics on our website.

To Hobby Lobby, plentiful and willing workers to open the store in Seneca as early as possible.

To Dabo Swinney and the Clemson Tigers, another victory over Alabama — though I doubt we need a genie for that.

To all The Journal’s readers, a wonderful, safe, warm and maybe slightly snowy Christmas.

Caitlin Herrington is sucker for Hallmark Christmas movies and will never not cry during said films. She can be reached at cherrington@upstatetoday.com.

Kitchen sink Christmas trees

As much as I hate anything associated with washing dishes, I think the best way to describe my Christmas tree is “kitchen sink chic.”

Decorating the tree is my favorite part of adorning the house for Christmas — isn’t it everyone’s? Growing up, we would make ornaments with cross-stitched cardinals, cinnamon shapes made with cookie cutters or craft something with dog treats or beads.

Eventually, Momma bought another tree and segregation happened. All the “kid ornaments” that we made at home or brought back from school were separated from the “nice ornaments” that all matched and didn’t have scratched paint or large chunks missing. It was a little hurtful that our decades of hard work were banished to a secondary location while Mom’s new tree had shiny ribbons and color-coordinated themes.

And then it happened.

She gifted me the ornaments I had so lovingly made for her myself — even those I was too young to make and had assistance from my preschool teacher.

The thumbprint mouse in his little hand-painted wreath from ’95, the construction paper star-shaped Santa with cotton beard from ’96, the beaded candy canes and the Rudolph made from pipe cleaners and a Milkbone dog biscuit were all delicately placed into my ornament box to be cherished like the treasures we all know they are.

Except Santa. He got eaten by a foster puppy last year and is now being cherished in the trash somewhere.

The old ornaments are a perfect blend with my new ones, and I will carry on my kitchen sink tree décor until the tree falls over. I have a habit of buying ornaments out of season because I love the sentimentality that comes along with them upon display.

There’s the old-timey camera ornament I bought on a trip to Biltmore with Christina Cleveland back when we both worked at The Journal (the first time). We went in spring, but I’ve always wanted to go see the Vanderbilt-era Christmas décor — this felt like a happy medium. Every time I see that shiny little camera, I’m taken back to our little road trip and the awe that struck me from the moment I stepped in front of the Biltmore House.

Another favorite is a tiny cast-iron skillet with sausage and fried eggs that came from Gatlinburg. Not only is it a combination of my favorite things — camping, Christmas and breakfast — I purchased it the week my brother called to tell me he was getting married. I vividly remember mining for gems when I felt my back pocket buzzing with his call.

My hands were wet and a little sandy, so my then-boyfriend pulled it out of my pocket and held it up to my ear. It was for the best, because I may have dropped the phone if I’d been responsible for holding it.

I hope it’s not weird I associate that ornament with my brother getting married more so than my ex’s family, with whom I was vacationing at the time.

I also have two giant white glass ornaments — rare for someone who has a curious cat — with the student publications logo from my college years. My last semester of college, I was the managing editor of The Herald. That semester brought me one of my best friends and fellow newspaper nerd, then-editor Tessa. I didn’t much like her prior to being handpicked as her managing editor, but nearly five years later we still text every day.

Then there’s the beautiful light blue and green beaded garland that reminds me of springtime and icicles that I purchased on Small Business Saturday on Ram Cat Alley my first Thanksgiving in Seneca — my first holiday away from home. There’s also the tiny stocking garland I bought at a family Christmas dinner in 2015. Technically I was only buying it for my sister, but I couldn’t resist the little curly-toed felt cuteness and wound up with two strands of my own.

So you can keep your green and red aesthetics and glittery sticks of gold beside perfectly placed ornaments, because my weird little mismatched ornaments all have a perfect place in my heart. Even trash Santa — may he rest in pieces.

Sweet, Southern Christmas memories

[This originally appeared in “Home for the Holidays,” a special section of The Journal, a print publication in Seneca, S.C.]

 

Looking back at the Christmases of my youth, I’m starting to realize my family may be a little bit redneck.

I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to come to this conclusion, but in writing this column I’ve all of a sudden become vastly aware that bleeding out a deer and sledding downhill in the top of a wheelbarrow may not be normal Christmastime practices for everyone. Did anyone else have to dodge barbed-wire fencing while sliding in the snow?

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I’m much better at remembering Christmastime in the last decade or so, but memories from 1990-2003 are probably my favorite, as foggy as they may be.

My mom’s family rotated who hosted Christmas so every third year we went to Mississippi. Those were the years we’d cram 40 people — all of whom I’m allegedly related to — into a tiny cabin and eat and try not to be intimidated by the number of dead animals hanging on the wall. To be fair, the Santa hats and bows made them much less threatening to a young girl who didn’t grow up hunting. What was still fairly disconcerting was the deer that was being gutted outside.

In a typical Hallmark movie, everyone would stay inside because there was snow falling and it was chilly outside so we’d huddle around a fire. Y’all this was Mississippi and it was hot with 40 people in a tiny cabin so we were known to walk around outside in our short-sleeve shirts. You never forget your first deer gutting. At least the colors were appropriate for the holiday as the red splashed down onto the still-green grass.

That has to earn us at least 10 redneck points.

My mom’s sister lived on a farm in Western Kentucky. We shucked corn in the summer and went sledding behind four-wheelers in the winter. I feel certain child welfare would be called if we did the same thing today — yet I secretly hope my second cousins enjoy the same privileges this winter.

Do you need a license to drive a four-wheeler? How fast do those things go? 10-year-old me was positive it was 60 miles per hour and had the frostbite on my nose to prove it. Current me knows that’s not possible, especially when it was hardly freezing outside, but I refuse to let it taint the memories with my cousins. We were flying on those inner tubes and you can never convince me differently.

As fun and mentally scarring as those memories are, I don’t think anything will ever top wintertime sledding at the Hayes’ farm.

Their humble abode sits atop the steepest, longest, most daunting hill in all of middle Tennessee. I know you think I’m exaggerating but I would never in a million years use hyperbole to describe my childhood.

I think it was an unwritten rule: If it snowed, the entire congregation was invited to Mr. Mark and Mrs. Cindy’s house on the hill to enjoy some good, clean family fun of sledding to our potential deaths.

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To this day I’m not sure if any of the families who attended owned real sleds. It doesn’t snow much in southern Tennessee, so why would we? But what we did have were pool floats, trashcan lids and wheelbarrows. And buddy, we would fly down those hills dodging hidden cow patties, each other, small boulders, the creekbed at the bottom and bits of barbed wire as we went. I have a very vivid memory of my sister and the preacher’s daughter throwing themselves off a “sled” to avoid such fencing. I wasn’t sure if they’d make it, but I reckon the parents standing at the top were saying some special prayers because they are alive and well today.

These memories seem even sweeter now that I have nieces and a nephew whom I’ll get to watch experience the same things. The youngest will be 8-months-old at Christmas, which is probably the perfect time for a redneck family like mine to take her sledding.

Anybody have any ideas on how to fit a wheelbarrow in a sedan?

Caitlin Herrington was born in Tennessee and raised in Kentucky. She would, in fact, use hyperbole to describe her childhood. You can reach her at cherrington@upstatetoday.com.