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Out of the Ordinary Thanksgivings

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For many Americans, Thanksgiving is a very consistent holiday. Every year is the same: the same feast with the same dishes, the same family members sitting at the same places around the table, and everyone knows what's going to happen. It's tradition! And most of the time, we love it that way -or else we would change it. But what if it was different? While you're enjoying the traditional family holiday, read about some Thanksgivings that fall outside the norm in one way or another.

Dinner Disaster

I've hosted Thanksgiving for years, and can't say I've had any real disasters. Several times I remembered the rolls in the oven after everyone has eaten, but that's no disaster. A disaster is when a dog carries your turkey off, or when everything else is done and you find the turkey needs another two hours to cook. Every year there are posts that share stories of Thanksgiving dinner gone wrong, with more stories always posted in the comments. The Butterball Hotline collected the most classic stories of clueless cooks and their turkeys.

The Deep-fried Turkey Disaster

Image by Flickr user starlen.

Starlen, however, had a turkey disaster in 2005 that was so complete he had to write about it. He and his friend Tomas lived through the list of things that can go wrong with the manly deep-fried turkey plan, starting with buying the fryer the day before Thanksgiving. The store was sold out, but the staff was glad to piece together two returned fryers for them, crossing fingers that it would work.

Sad, worthless thermometer.

Image by Flickr user starlen.

That one fact gives us three clues about what eventually led to a charred, black turkey. For one, it was the first time either of these men tried to deep-fry a turkey. Second, they waited until the last minute to make sure they had all the tools and supplies they needed. And three, the fryer itself had been returned to the store because it was defective, or rather, two fryers were returned because they were defective. Can you guess which part was still defective? You can read the entire story to find out.

Immediately before spitting turkey out.

Image by Flickr user starlen.

Of course, it could have been much worse. Starlen and Tomas were outside, away from any flammable structures, as all turkey-fryers should be. The deep-fried turkey has elevated Thanksgiving to the level of dangerous holidays like the Fourth of July and News Year's Eve. Here's a set of videos that show how a Thanksgiving turkey can turn into a ball of flame bent on destruction.

The Stranger at the Table

Everyone is welcome at my table, so I am used to various cousins and in-laws showing up for Thanksgiving, expected or not. There's always enough food. But I usually know who they are. One year, a carload came with a fellow I'd never met. Someone may have introduced him by name, but no one ever explained who he was. It was only weeks later that I found out he was my late husband's cousin's boyfriend. I would have never guessed, as the man was at least 30 years older than the cousin (they later married). But that story pales in comparison with the Tran family, who welcomed a stranger from the other side of the globe.

Thanksgiving with the Tran Family

Australian journalist James West has the same common name as a man of the Tran family of Florida, and his email address was inadvertently entered into someone's list. Years ago, he began to receive groups emails about their Thanksgiving plans. He mostly ignored them. After all, he didn't know these people, and Thanksgiving is an American holiday he didn't celebrate. But last year West started reading them and got to know them a bit. He retrieved old messages from previous years that had more information. The more he learned, the more intrigued he became. After a while, he could even piece together who was related to who. He wanted to go and have Thanksgiving with the Trans, but was unsure about how to go about doing it (not wanting to appear creepy, you know). So he took the dilemma to YouTube (which is still somewhat creepy). The videos he made about the quest were popular in Australia, but the Tran family did not know about them. Yet.

West finally responded to a message, asking what he could bring. They suggested he bring corn. That weighed heavy on his mind, because they still thought he was the intended relative. So he came clean and explained who he really was -a stranger in Sydney. Martha Tran DeForest replied, "You are so invited!" At the last possible minute, West boarded a plane in Sydney and flew 20 hours to Florida for the holiday.

The Tran family welcomed West at the Miami airport and took him to Jupiter to meet the "Tran Clan," and then to Port St. Lucie for the feast. The two James Wests finally got to meet.

The event made both local and global news. West and the Americans became friends and the Trans held an additional party in West's honor before he had to return to Sydney. You can see the entire series of videos at West's YouTube channel.

This year, West is in America once again, this time covering the Occupy Wall Street protests. You can follow his updates at Twitter.

Serving Others

Shelter

Image by Flickr user Jan Tik.

Sure, It's a family holiday, but everyone should spent at least one Thanksgiving out of their lifetime with those who don't have family or someplace to enjoy a home-cooked feast.

David and Marie Linton are not only helping to serve Thanksgiving dinner, but are manning the front desk at the homeless shelter in shifts with other volunteers. They serve meals at a soup kitchen on other days, but say that Thanksgiving is special.

“It was a way to be of service. It’s a real time to be grateful for all the blessings we do have, and this was a good way to be thankful. It made the day more special, because we could not only give thanks in our prayers and our thoughts, but we could also in our actions.”

Shelley Gillespie makes volunteering a way of life, and introduced her son to the joys of serving those less fortunate when he was quite young.
Becky Genese first volunteered at a soup kitchen during college, since she couldn't afford to go home for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Volunteering wasn't her idea, but she went along with a friend.

“I don’t recall being very enthusiastic about it,” Genese said. “But when in Rome…”

To her surprise, she said she had a great time and felt a “real sense of joy” volunteering that day. This ultimately led to ongoing volunteer work with homeless and sheltered populations throughout New York. Later, she began volunteering at the soup kitchen offered through her lower Manhattan church and continues to give of her time year-round, even though she has since moved to New Jersey.

Genese is now married with children, and after she cooks for her own family ahead of time, she takes more food to a Manhattan soup kitchen and serves Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless.

One thing that the stories of volunteerism have in common is that helping out becomes a habit, because it is more rewarding than you'd expect. And it doesn't have to be Thanksgiving to be a joyful event. Many soup kitchens, food banks, and shelters need volunteers for the Christmas season and all year round. It sure helps to put one's problems into perspective.

Away From Home

Maybe you have to work on Thanksgiving, or maybe you're away at school, or you live away from your extended family. Memories of Thanksgivings past can make you a lot more homesick than other days. But no one is farther away from home than soldiers in a war zone.

Thanksgiving on Combat Outpost Cherkatah, Khowst province, Afghanistan

Thanksgiving on Combat Outpost Cherkatah, Khowst province, Afghanistan. Image by Flickr user The U.S. Army.

Military meals in Afghanistan can mean MREs in the field, mass quantities at established bases, and everything in between, depending on the day and the situation. At Thanksgiving, those in charge try their best to bring in traditional holiday foods for everyone. About a quarter of the 160,000 Americans serving in Afghanistan will have Thanksgiving dinners airlifted to their remote locations -the only way to get supplies in if you're in the mountains.

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Thanksgiving at the International Security Assistance Force Headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan. Image by Flickr user isafmedia.

For troops in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the Defense Logistics Agency is providing Thanksgiving dinner.

More than 270 dining facilities have received their deliveries and are postured to serve the special holiday fare later this month due largely to DLA's early planning, which began in May. Deliveries included: 168,000 lbs. of turkey; 37,800 lbs. of stuffing; 93,876 lbs. of beef; 43,560 lbs. of sweet potatoes; 24,000 lbs. of shrimp; 34,560 pies and 25,800 lbs. of cranberry sauce along with many other holiday treats.

1st Lt. Lorena Vega was the logistics officer at Kapisa PRT (Province Reconstruction Team) in Afghanistan in 2010. She spent weeks coordinating a Thanksgiving feast in which all 100 troops and support personnel could sit down at the same time -which doesn't happen for everyday meals. Finding a place that big, and enough tables and chairs, was a real job. Vega also managed to get tablecloths and candles to make the meal special, but having a place for everyone to be together at once was what the soldiers appreciated most.

The Important Part

All these different Thanksgiving scenarios have one thing in common. They highlight the fact that even though we describe our Thanksgiving holiday in terms of the food, that doesn't matter nearly as much as the people you spend the day with. Whether your Thanksgiving is exactly the same as you expect every year, or if this is the year you plan something different, or even if things take an unexpected turn from what you planned, remember that family, friends, colleagues, or even total strangers make it what it is.

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10 Famous Birthdays in May
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Some of our favorite historical figures were born in May. We couldn't possibly name them all, so here are just a few of the notable people we'll be celebrating.

1. SIGMUND FREUD: MAY 6, 1856

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Sigmund Freud is known as the Father of Psychoanalysis. The Vienna psychiatrist developed a theory of the unconscious mind, where the id, ego, and superego struggle to balance each other out in the human psyche. Freud attributed his patients' neuroses to childhood trauma, often cloaked in a sexual conflict. His work was at first deemed perverted, but his ideas started to spread after a series of lectures in the U.S. in 1909. After Freud's death in 1939, Freudian theory was hailed as genius in mainstream culture. But beginning in the 1960s, Freud's theories started to fall out of favor in academia and are largely discredited today. However, his attempts to map the psyche gave us the language we still use to discuss personality and mental health.

2. FRED ASTAIRE: MAY 10, 1899

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Fred Astaire began dancing when he was just four years old. Soon he and his sister Adele were in a performing arts school and started dancing professionally. First came vaudeville, then Broadway, and when Adele married, Fred headed to Hollywood. Producers were at first reluctant to cast Astaire as a leading man because of his looks, but his dancing soon won them over. Astaire appeared in dozens of films between 1933 and 1981, 10 of them with with dance partner Ginger Rogers. Although his later films did not revolve around dance numbers, Astaire was seen dancing in an episode of Battlestar Galactica as late as 1979, when he was 80 years old.

3. MARTHA GRAHAM: MAY 11, 1894

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Martha Graham wanted to dance from an early age, but her parents disapproved, so she didn't study dance until college. Her wildly emotional dancing led her to performances in New York, and in 1926 she established the Martha Graham Dance Company. Through the company, Graham promoted modern dance as a spiritual and emotional outlet. Over time, she came to be seen as a genius of the genre. Graham danced until she was in her '70s, and continued to choreograph dances until her death at age 91.

4. KATHARINE HEPBURN: MAY 12, 1907

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Katharine Hepburn caught the acting bug in college and headed to the stages of New York upon graduation. She was spotted in a Broadway production and was offered the lead in RKO's 1932 film A Bill of Divorcement. That kicked off a movie career of more than 60 years, in which she was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won four. Hepburn was a certified box office draw, but off screen she refused to behave like a Hollywood star. She spoke her mind, wore pants, and even appeared in public without makeup occasionally. Hepburn was also known for her devotion to the love of her life, actor Spencer Tracy, who was separated from his wife but refused to divorce her. The last of nine films they made together was Guess Who's Coming to Dinner in 1967, just before Tracy died. Hepburn continued making movies through 1994, when she was 87 years old.

5. PIERRE CURIE: MAY 15, 1859

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French physicist Pierre Curie is often overlooked in favor of Marie Curie, his brilliant student and later wife. Together they discovered radium and polonium, and did extensive research into radioactivity. Pierre, Marie, and Henri Becquerel jointly won the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics for their research. Curie might have gone onto many further discoveries, but he was killed in 1906 when a horse-drawn cart ran over him in Paris. If he had lived longer, Curie might have also succumbed to illness caused by radiation, as did his wife, daughter, and son-in-law—all Nobel Prize winners.

6. MARY CASSATT: MAY 22, 1844

Mary Cassatt via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Renowned American painter Mary Cassatt wanted to become an artist, but her parents objected and her Philadelphia art school didn't take women students seriously. So she went to Paris and studied privately under teachers from Ecole des Beaux-Arts, as the school did not admit women. Gradually, Cassatt's works sold and her reputation grew. She drew the attention of Impressionist Edgar Degas, and worked with him for years. By 1886, she left the Impressionist movement behind, and afterward refused to be defined by any art genre. Cassatt's body of work often featured women and children in their everyday lives. Her most memorable painting, Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, broke with tradition by portraying a child in a naturalistic, casual pose instead of a formal portrait.

7. SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE: MAY 22, 1859

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Arthur Conan Doyle is best remembered for his many short stories and novels featuring the detective Sherlock Holmes. But Conan Doyle worked full time as a medical doctor until an illness convinced him he had to choose between writing and medicine. Years later, Conan Doyle volunteered with the British army to fight in the Second Boer War, but because of his age (40), he was only allowed to serve as a medical doctor. Upon his return from South Africa, he entered politics in Scotland, but he lost his only race. In 1907, Conan Doyle became involved in a real criminal case in which he helped George Edalji, a solicitor of Indian heritage, beat an animal cruelty conviction by employing the observational technique that Sherlock Holmes used. The fallout from that case led to the establishment of the appeals system in Britain. Conan Doyle also wrote a science fiction novel The Lost World, published in 1912. It was so successful that he wrote four sequels.

8. MARGARET FULLER: MAY 23, 1810

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Born in Massachusetts in 1810, Margaret Fuller was a precocious child who learned several languages but was not welcome at college because of her sex. She became friends with both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, who admired her philosophical thinking. Fuller became a literary critic for the New-York Tribune and a well-known intellectual.

In 1845, Fuller made history with Woman in the Nineteenth Century, often considered the first major feminist work published in the United States. This groundbreaking book began as an essay in Emerson's transcendentalist journal The Dial called "The Great Lawsuit. Man versus Men. Woman versus Women," in which Fuller argued that men and women must see each other as equals before they can transcend to divine love. Fuller reasoned that ignoring our commonality was the base of much of America's sins, from the slaughter of Native Americans to the slavery of African Americans.

Fuller went on to become a foreign correspondent and the first American female war correspondent, covering the Italian revolution. She also fell in love with an Italian man and had a child with him. On their return trip to the U.S. in 1850 aboard a merchant ship, a hurricane struck the ship near Fire Island, killing all three. Only Fuller's 20-month-old son was found.

9. SALLY RIDE: MAY 26, 1951

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In 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman to travel into space, aboard the space shuttle Challenger. Ride was a nationally ranked tennis player when she was a teenager. Billie Jean King urged her to turn pro, but Ride went to Stanford University instead. She earned both a bachelor of arts in English and a bachelor of science in physics in 1973, and a PhD in physics in 1978. Ride then immediately applied for NASA's astronaut program. She flew two shuttle missions, in 1983 and '84, and was scheduled for a third, but that mission was canceled after the Challenger explosion in 1986. After leaving NASA in 1987, Ride devoted her life to encouraging students to study science—especially girls. She founded the organization Sally Ride Science for just that purpose, and wrote five children's books encouraging interest in science. Ride died of cancer at age 61 in 2012.

10. "WILD BILL" HICKOK: MAY 27, 1837

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James Butler Hickok was a farmer, soldier, stagecoach driver, spy, lawman, scout, sharpshooter, gambler, and Wild West showman. Many of those occupations came after "Wild Bill" Hickok gained publicity for killing three men in an 1861 shootout. The newspapers followed his exploits from that time on, often embellishing the details until Hickok was more of a legend than the adventurer he was. His various occupations took him to different parts of Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Wyoming, and South Dakota. Hickok was playing poker in Deadwood, South Dakota, when Jack McCall shot him in the back of the head and killed him in 1876. The hand Hickok was holding at the time—a pair of black aces and a pair of black eights—became known as the "dead man's hand."

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9 Bizarre Food Museums
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Idaho Potato Museum via Facebook

What’s your favorite food? Chances are, there’s a museum dedicated to it somewhere. You might want to include one or more of these museums in your next vacation road trip.  

1. JELL-O GALLERY // LEROY, NEW YORK

Pearle Wait of LeRoy, New York, invented a fruit-flavored gelatin dessert in 1897 that he wife named Jell-O. Appropriately, the town is home to the Jell-O Gallery, a museum dedicated to the gelatin that took America by storm. Visitors will learn the history of Jell-O, see memorabilia and advertising from Jell-O history, and learn about cooking in the past century. The museums operated by the non-profit LeRoy Historical Society, and is not supported by Kraft/General Foods, which owns Jell-O. The museum is open seven days a week through December, and weekdays January through March.    

2. THE SPAM MUSEUM // AUSTIN, MINNESOTA

The Hormel company has its headquarters in Austin, Minnesota, a few miles south of Minneapolis. That’s also the home of the Spam Museum. Hormel opened a small company museum in the local mall in 1991, but quickly found that all their visitors cared about was Spam, so now that classic canned meat has its own building downtown. Exhibits include the history of Spam, cooking demonstrations, Spam memorabilia, and a soundtrack from Monty Python.

3. INTERNATIONAL BANANA MUSEUM // NORTH SHORE, CALIFORNIA

In 2005, the International Banana Club Museum was named by the Guinness Book of World Records as the “most items devoted to any one fruit in the world.” The IBC Museum was established by Ken Bannister and the club in 1975, and amassed its collection of 17,000 banana items from club members who gained “banana merits.” The collection was sold in 2010 and is now the International Banana Museum. It is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.   

4. WYANDOT POPCORN MUSEUM // MARION, OHIO

Wyandot Popcorn Museum via Facebook

Marion, Ohio, is the self-proclaimed Popcorn Capital of the World, due to the existence of the Wyandot Popcorn Company, which was based in the area since the 1930s. The company now focuses on chips, but its legacy is enshrined in the Wyandot Popcorn Museum, which boasts an extensive collection of restored antique popcorn poppers. These commercial poppers range from movie theater models to snack wagons to factory poppers, some over 100 years old. The museum shares space with the Wyandot Historical Society in the town’s historic former post office building. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. through October, and weekends only the rest of the year.  

5. NATIONAL DAIRY SHRINE MUSEUM // FORT ATKINSON, WISCONSIN

The National Dairy Shrine is a professional group formed in 1949 promote the milk industry. The National Dairy Shrine Museum is a place to learn about all facets of the dairy industry, from the history of midwest dairy farmers to the production of butter, ice cream, cheese, and other products. The Shrine also has educational programs, a Hall of Fame honoring leaders in the industry, scholarships and internships, and more. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

6. NATIONAL MUSTARD MUSEUM // MIDDLETON, WISCONSIN

Barry Levenson was once Wisconsin’s Assistant Attorney General, but his real passion is mustard. He’s been collecting different mustards since 1986, and eventually left his law career completely to devote his time to the Mount Horeb Mustard Museum he founded in 1992. In 2000, the growing museum moved to its permanent location in Middleton and became the National Mustard Museum. There you can see 5,624 different mustards and a collection of mustard memorabilia. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. Admission is free, as the museum is supported by donations and mustard sales.   

7. INTERNATIONAL VINEGAR MUSEUM // ROSLYN, SOUTH DAKOTA

International Vinegar Museum via Facebook

The world’s only vinegar museum was founded by Lawrence "Vinegarman" Diggs to showcase the many  varieties of vinegar and its many uses. The International Vinegar Museum has 350 different varieties of vinegar, a test kitchen, and vinegar tastings for visitors. The museum is open during the summer only. If you plan to visit Roslyn, the best time would be in June during the International Vinegar Festival.  

8. THE IDAHO POTATO MUSEUM // BLACKFOOT, IDAHO

Idaho Potato Museum via Facebook

Idaho produces more potatoes than any other state, so it only makes sense that they would have a museum dedicated to the state’s crop. The Idaho Potato Museum is housed in the historic Oregon Short Line Railroad Depot in Blackfoot. You’ll learn about potato history, growing potatoes, and the importance of potatoes to Idaho’s economy. The newest addition to the museum is the Potato Station Cafe, which specialized in French fries, of course. The Idaho Potato Museum is open six days a week from April through September, and weekdays from October through March.  

9. HARLAND SANDERS CAFÉ AND MUSEUM // CORBIN, KENTUCKY

Harland Sanders fed travelers at his gas station on Corbin, Kentucky, during the Great Depression, and then opened a restaurant, where he developed his method of pressure-frying chicken, which he breaded with 11 herbs and spices. Kentucky Fried Chicken grew out of that restaurant, which for a time had a motel attached. Sanders set up a sample hotel room inside the restaurant so that travelers could see what the rooms looked like before making the decision to stay. The motel is gone, but that restaurant was restored as the Harland Sanders Cafe and Museum, with many of the original artifacts, including the sample motel room. There is a modern KFC outlet attached. Some of the museum’s artifacts are displayed at the fast food unit, and you can sit down and eat your chicken in the museum.

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