Console & Hollawell Blog

Countdown to Thanksgiving Thursdays: 4 Turkey Day Food Facts You Won’t Believe

By Richard Console on November 27, 2014 - Comments off

Think you know all there is to know about your traditional Thanksgiving dinner? Think again. From which Turkey Day staple is produced locally to how your turkey came to be, here’s our list of the top four Thanksgiving food facts you’ve never heard.Four Thanksgiving Food Facts

1. The Cranberry Sauce on Your Table Might Be Local – Even If It Came From a Can.

Cranberry SauceAmericans consume 20 percent of the nation’s cranberries during the week of Thanksgiving. Photo Credit: Corbis Images.

New Jersey ranks third in the nation for cranberry production, and most of the state’s cranberry farms are located in South Jersey’s Burlington, Atlantic, and Ocean Counties. Our state now accounts for 10 percent of the nation’s cranberries, Rutgers University reported. New Jersey once produced far more cranberries before issues like a crop virus, land development, and unfavorable market conditions wiped out approximately 95 percent of the state’s cranberry farms, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Still, each year, the Garden State produces 525,000 barrels of cranberries to be sold as fruit or to become juices, baked goods and, yes, cranberry sauce. The Pine Barrens region is home to 3,900 acres of cranberries, which means those of us who live in the area have probably driven right by cranberry bogs (when they weren’t flooded) and not even noticed.

2. Where Do Baby Turkeys Come From? Artificial Insemination.

 PoultBaby turkeys are called poults. They grow up to be toms if they are males or hens if they are females. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Maybe you already know that the pilgrims and the Native Americans didn’t eat turkey at the First Thanksgiving, but you probably didn’t know this about your modern bird. Believe it or not, the turkey on your table was probably conceived in vitro. Due to Americans’ preference for hefty turkeys to feed big family gatherings on Thanksgiving – and for white meat, which comes primarily from turkey breasts – most of today’s commercially sold turkeys are so large that their size interferes with the natural mating process. Through artificial insemination, the industry has doubled the average size of a turkey from what it was in the 1930s, The Atlantic reported.

3. For Half of Us, Stuffing Is Actually “Dressing.”

Stuffing

Whatever you call it, this side dish is among the most controversial – does your family cook it in the turkey or on its own? Photo Credit: Corbis Images.

Only about 50 percent of Americans cook their stuffing inside the turkey. In fact, there are several arguments for skipping the whole turkey-stuffing part of stuffing. Most importantly, stuffing the turkey can increase the risk of food poisoning, according to the U. S. government’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. Stuffing in the cavity of the turkey can pick up harmful bacteria, and cooking that part of the bird to the 165 degrees required for food safety can take a long time – significantly longer than cooking the rest of the bird. This means that to get the stuffing inside the bird to cook all the way through, you’re likely to dry out the turkey meat – so likely, in fact, that even some famous chefs advocate against the practice of stuffing the turkey. Stuffing in the bird can also become too moist, to the point of being soggy.

So what do you call stuffing that doesn’t get stuffed into the bird? The technical term is dressing, but because so many people associate the word with the liquid you add to salads – and because of regional differences between the North and the South – hardly anyone around our area uses it.

4. Sleepy? Don’t Blame The Turkey.

 Thanksgiving dinnerEven chicken has more tryptophan than turkey, so we’d better point our fingers at a different sleep-inducing item on the table. Photo Credit: Corbis Images.

Tryptophan, a once unfamiliar term, has entered mainstream vocabulary as the popular explanation for post-turkey tiredness. Despite the prevalence of the belief, tryptophan isn’t exactly a potent nutritional sleeping potion. It’s just an amino acid – one of 22 that we humans consume – and while it can cause you to feel drowsy, the whole turkey-tryptophan link is overstated, WebMD reported. Egg whites, codfish, soybeans, parmesan cheese, sesame seeds, cheddar cheese, and pork chops all have more tryptophan than turkey does, but rarely do people complain that their egg-white omelet made them sleepy or that they can’t keep their eyes open because of the soybeans. Instead of accusing tryptophan, let’s blame the real culprits – overindulgence in alcohol, carbohydrate-loaded side dishes (stuffing, potatoes, and rolls), and the self-fulfilling prophecy that we’re going to relax on the couch watching the game all afternoon.

Then again, maybe one day of drowsy relaxation isn’t such a bad thing, after all.

 CornucopiaPhoto Credit: Corbis Images.

From all of us here at Console & Hollawell, have a happy Thanksgiving!

 

Countdown to Thanksgiving Thursdays: The 4 Best and Worst Black Friday Retailers

By Richard Console on November 20, 2014 - Comments off

In honor of what’s left of Black Friday and the retail employees forced to work this Thanksgiving, we’re rounding up the best and worst retailers. Consider it your list of the most ethical places to shop for the holiday season – and the stores that might not really deserve your business.

4 Best and Worst Thanksgiving Retailers

Black Friday is creeping ever earlier, and to many would-be shoppers, it’s a sign that retailers’ behavior is getting out of hand. Gone are the days of waking up at midnight after your turkey dinner and lining up outside major retail stores in the dark in anticipation of a 3 a.m. “doorbuster.” Now we do our shopping before the turkey. Or instead of the turkey. You’ll have to at least skip dessert if you want to make that 5 or 6 p.m. sale. If you happen to work in retail – not a small possibility, since more than 4,668,000 people do – chances are that this year, you’ll spend your Thanksgiving on the clock. Once upon a time, employees who were about to be swamped for the duration of the holiday season could at least count on this one day to spend with their families.

Not anymore.

 Kohl's Black Friday sign 2011Starting Black Friday when it’s actually Friday? That’s so 2011. There’s even a term for the new phenomenon of Thanksgiving sales – Gray Thursday. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

 The 4 Worst Thanksgiving Retailers

4th Worst: Macy’s

 Macy's Black FridayPhoto Credit: Flickr.

Mall anchor stores have a lot of influence – and Macy’s stores seem to have decided to use theirs to make employee exploitation mainstream. It’s not just that the company decided, like freestanding and strip-mall stores Walmart and Target, to open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. The retail chain’s announcement prompted a mall manager near Buffalo, New York, to mandate 6 p.m. Thanksgiving openings mall-wide, The Huffington Post reported. Stores that refuse to open could see fines of $200 or more an hour – a steep price for even businesses that want to give their employees the holiday off. For smaller retailers, especially, the $1,200 it would cost them just to open at midnight rather than six could stand in the way of sticking by their convictions – if only to make sure they’re able to make payroll. This may be just one mall in one state, but it sounds like a safe bet that the Thanksgiving schedule decisions of Macy’s and similar anchor stores are affecting other retailers’ plans, too.

Dishonorable mentions: J.C. Penney plans to open at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving, even earlier than similar mall anchor stores Macy’s and Sears and three hours earlier than it opened last year. Yes, the store plans giveaways and activities – including meals – for employees working Thursday into Friday, but whatever happened to the retailer’s conviction just two years ago that “spending Thanksgiving with family is one of America’s greatest traditions”? Then there’s Kohl’s, opening at 6 along with Macy’s, Target, and Walmart in its quest to become “the most compelling shopping destination for the entire family.”

3rd Worst: Radio Shack

RadioShackPhoto Credit: Flickr.

I did a double-take when I saw this retailer listed in two recent articles – one listing stores that would be open Thanksgiving Day and one about stores that would close for Thanksgiving. It turns out that even though RadioShack claims to offer a paid holiday to both their retail and non-retail team members on Thanksgiving, the chain is planning to open – not after dinner, but at 8 a.m. In fact, RadioShack had intended to open from 8 a.m. to midnight on Thursday, but relented after facing enormous backlash from employees, Bloomberg reported. Now the store will open Thursday morning from 8 to noon and reopen from 5 to midnight, leaving employees at least a few hours to hopefully spend enjoying the holiday. I’m glad RadioShack had a change of heart about its day-long holiday schedule plans, but its policies are still hurting employees, and its original plans are bad enough to land it on the “worst” list.

Dishonorable mention: Fellow electronics store Best Buy plans to open at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving – not quite as early as Radio Shack, but still early enough to cut short the turkey dinner. Toys ‘R’ Us, too, will open at 5.

2nd Worst: Walmart

Walmart Black FridayPhoto Credit: Flickr.

Of all major retailers, Walmart has possibly the worst Black Friday reputation. The Valley Stream, New York, store was the site of a deadly 2008 trampling. Since then, Walmart shoppers have physically fought over $1.28 towels, pepper-sprayed each other to seize sought-after video games, and shot each other in parking lots. Besides being notorious year-round for the company’s low wages for workers, many Walmart locations will be open all day on Thanksgiving, according to The Huffington Post, and will start the first wave of staggered sales at 6 p.m. and a second wave at 8 p.m. Despite criticism – and the fact that the company’s Sam’s Club stores chose to close because of “member feedback” – Walmart calls the move “absolutely appropriate.” Even worse, the store no longer pays time-and-a-half. Instead it uses its own special “holiday pay” rate, which could easily be manipulated, Daily Tech reported. With Walmart stretching its Black Friday sale over five days, it’s a safe bet that employees won’t get a break anytime soon.

Dishonorable mention: Target, too, is opening at 6 p.m. this year, two hours earlier than last year. These stores are depriving their employees of the opportunity to salvage much of Thanksgiving – remember, these workers are in for long, hectic shifts, many of them overnight. Just because they’re working Thanksgiving doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t be back in the store when it officially becomes Black Friday. They’re missing out on family trips, cutting visits short, or spending what precious little time they have off sleeping. We’ve come to expect this from Walmart, but Target, too? Somehow we expect better.

Worst: Kmart

 KmartPhoto Credit: Flickr.

There’s no way around it – Kmart is the worst offender this Black Friday. The retailer is, once again, opening at 6 a.m. Last year, its plans to remain open for 41 hours drew harsh criticism. This year, the company pushed the envelope even more, vowing to remain open for 42 hours. Kmart workers everywhere will have to wait until the doors finally close at midnight on Friday to enjoy their turkey dinner – and I’m sure they’ll be thankful for the well-deserved break. Then again, Kmart has a long history of opening on Thanksgiving Day (though not for a 42-hour shopping marathon), so at least it’s not a complete shock. The company is following a 23-year tradition of its own – that of ruining workers’ holidays.

Dishonorable mentions: This year, Kmart’s sister store, Sears, will follow in its footsteps. Until the past couple of years, Sears has traditionally been closed on Thanksgiving Day. This year, the store isn’t only opening on the holiday, but opening two hours earlier than last year – at 6 p.m. Several other retailers are claiming this opening time, too, but Sears was one of the first to announce that it would open its doors before many families had even finished putting the leftover pie away. Big Lots! is another store that has a tradition of opening on Thanksgiving and taking workers away from their families.

The good news? Not every retail chain is depriving their employees of a happy holiday. Read on for the biggest companies taking a stand for workers’ and families’ rights by staying closed this Thanksgiving.

The 4 Best Thanksgiving Retailers

4th Best: DSW

DSW Black Friday

Early on in the season, when retailers began the race to be the earliest to open, DSW was one of the first to take a stand against Thanksgiving shopping. The Designer Shoe Warehouse announced its plans on Facebook in October, and so far has stood its ground even as more and more retail chains announce that they’re opening early.

Honorable mentions: Most of the big-box and department stores seem to be opening on Thanksgiving, but a lot of specialty stores are choosing to close for the holiday, such as video game store GameStop, bookstore Barnes & Noble, craft stores Hobby Lobby and Joann Fabrics, home improvement stores Lowe’s and Home Depot, recreational equipment store REI, home décor stores Pier 1 Imports and Crate & Barrel, and outdoor clothing store Patagonia.

3rd Best: Nordstrom

NordstromPhoto Credit: Flickr.

In case you thought every mall anchor store had to open on Thanksgiving, Nordstrom set itself apart from the likes of Macy’s, Sears, and J.C. Penney by waiting until Friday for its Black Friday sale. The company’s rationale is two-fold, and you’ve got to admire both reasons: not only does closing for Thanksgiving allow employees to spend time with their families on the holiday, but also, “we just like the idea of celebrating one holiday at a time,” Nordstrom said. No argument there.

Honorable mentions: Another major department store, Dillard’s, is also closing for Thanksgiving. So is women’s clothing store Talbot’s, proving that retailers don’t have to ruin the holiday just to make a profit.

2nd Best: TJX Stores

TJX StoresPhoto Credit: Flickr.

Discount chains TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, and HomeGoods are a triple threat on the workers’ side of the War on Thanksgiving. TJX owns all of these stores as well as newly-acquired Sierra Trading Post (which will also close on Thanksgiving). Even when the stores’ after Thanksgiving sales start – on Friday – most stores won’t open until 7 a.m., pretty reasonable for Black Friday. Some stores will open at 5 on Friday, but that’s still better than opening 12 hours earlier.

Honorable mentions: Burlington Coat Factory, based here in New Jersey, has announced that it will close Thanksgiving for the good of its workers and open at 7 a.m. on Black Friday. Bed, Bath & Beyond will open at 6 Friday morning. 

Best: Costco

CostcoPhoto Credit: Flickr.

Costco has a reputation for being one of the best retailers to work for, sort of the anti-Walmart. The retail chain pays employees unusually high wages for the industry and even offers health insurance benefits to some of its part-time workers. While Costco is among the best employers in the retail industry year-round, the retailer has also led this year’s fight against Thanksgiving shopping.

Honorable mentions: Other membership stores, like BJ’s Wholesale Club, will also close for Thanksgiving. So will Sam’s Club, but don’t give that one too much credit – it’s owned by Walmart, which won’t be closing the rest of its stores for the holiday.

Retailers are trying awfully hard to lure shoppers into their stores on Thanksgiving, so much so that many Black Friday sales are barely recognizable compared to the major shopping events they once were. But critics say that the Gray Thursday phenomenon isn’t even profitable. Last year, Sears and Kmart saw decreases in sales compared to previous holiday seasons, meaning that the extended Thanksgiving hours “barely paid off,” The Huffington Post reported. If Thanksgiving Day sales are merely robbing Friday’s profits, why bother ruining workers’ holidays at all? Maybe these retail chains see it as just one more way to exploit employees, along with tactics like promoting workers to exempt positions to avoid paying them overtime.

My hope is that this Thanksgiving, would-be shoppers stay home and enjoy the holiday with their families and wait until Friday to shop. The only way to drive home the point that our nation isn’t okay with taking Thanksgiving away from workers is to hit these companies where it hurts: their profits. Ethical shopping means shopping at a time that’s fair to workers and supporting companies that treat workers right.

 

Troubling Trends in Labor-and-Wage Law

By Richard Console on November 18, 2014 - Comments off

When is a promotion at work not actually a promotion? When does getting a raise cut your earnings? For countless employees across the nation, more often than you might think – and recent lawsuit trends suggest that the problem has only gotten worse.

 Labor and wage lawEmployees work too hard for their money for our legal system – or our society – to turn a blind eye when employers exploit them. Photo Credit: Corbis Images.

How Employers Exploit Employees

Companies are in business to make a profit – but so are their hardworking employees, who put in their time and effort to earn a living, support themselves or their family, and reach their dreams. Too often, employers today take advantage of their workers. One of the most unscrupulous ways employers exploit their employees is by giving them a promotion only to take money from them.

A diligent worker might work hours of paid overtime to complete his or her job duties. When the boss offers the employee a promotion and a raise, the worker thinks that his or her efforts are being rewarded. Little do employees know that companies often promote workers to reclassify them as “exempt” employees – which means that they will no longer get paid for the overtime that, in most cases, they are still expected to work. Even if a raise accompanied the promotion, it’s often not enough to make up for the lost overtime pay, and not nearly enough to compensate the worker for the total number of hours they now have to work.

Employee Exploitation Becomes a Growing Trend

In recent years, these deceitful actions on the part of employers have been on the rise. In 2012, USA Today reported that employees had filed 32 percent more lawsuits against employers for forcing them to put in unpaid time – and during the same year, AOL News aptly referred to such practices as “tricks employers use to cheat workers out of overtime.” As a lawyer, I’ve noticed a growing number of labor-and-wage lawsuits, and the attorneys I know who practice labor law have confirmed my suspicions. The evidence extends far beyond anecdotes. Major U.S. corporations like Walmart and McDonald’s have been the subject of recent wage theft lawsuits, The New York Times reported this summer.

This disturbing trend doesn’t end with low-paying retail and fast food jobs. Exploiting workers in this way happens across all industries and levels of career advancement, from minimum-wage earners forced to complete work off-the-clock to professionals who must handle business emails and phone calls outside of regular working hours. Our legal system can’t tolerate wage theft of any kind, no matter how large or successful the employer may be. No matter how much the employee makes or how much the employer saves, it’s simply wrong to essentially steal workers’ wages.

 

New Jersey Assembly Advances Assisted Suicide Bill

By Richard Console on November 14, 2014 - Comments off

Just weeks after the death of 29-year-old “death with dignity” advocate Brittany Maynard, legislators in the New Jersey Assembly passed a bill that could allow for physician-assisted suicide right here in our state. The topic remains controversial and the future of the bill is still unclear, but many people – myself included – see this vote as a step in the right direction. All terminally ill patients should have the right to make personal health decisions for themselves, based on what they and their families want. That includes the choice to seek aid in dying, which is currently illegal here in New Jersey and in most of the country.

 Terminally ill patientThe slow death that accompanies many terminal illnesses is painful for the patient and the whole family. As long as the patient is the one making the decision and self-administering the lethal medicine, why should the state limit patients’ rights? Photo Credit: Corbis Images.

The Assembly Vote

The vote took place yesterday, narrowly passing the bill with 31 votes against it and 41 votes for it – the minimum number of votes required to pass in the state assembly, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. If the bill eventually becomes a law, terminally ill patients will be allowed to choose to die with the help of a doctor. That’s a big ‘if.’ The state senate has not passed a similar bill that has been under consideration. Governor Chris Christie doesn’t support the bill, either. For now – and, if the bill doesn’t become a law, indefinitely – terminally ill New Jersey residents have two unappealing options: wait for the potentially slow and agonizing death from their disease or move to one of just five states that does allow dying patients to take their own lives.

That’s what advocate Brittany Maynard had to do to fulfill her wish to die with dignity earlier this month. After learning she had an aggressive form of brain cancer and  just months to live, she moved from her home in California to Oregon, where state laws allow assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. Her tragic story really affected me on a personal level. It’s her life, so shouldn’t she, not the government, be the one to decide how she lives and when she dies?

Why New Jersey Needs a “Death with Dignity” Law

Unfortunately, many terminally ill patients aren’t able to simply relocate to an area where the government doesn’t restrict their freedom. Some are already too ill to make a cross-country journey. Others have families that can’t pick up and move to be with them in their last weeks or days. For some patients, the cost of moving is a factor, especially if their families are already burdened with crushing medical bills.

That’s why it’s important for our state to adopt assisted suicide laws, so patients have the option to die with dignity – without having to suffer needlessly and put loved ones through the pain of watching their family member’s health deteriorate. I don’t think it’s the government’s place to tell people who are already dying when and how their lives are allowed to end. I’m not alone, with more than half of the New Jersey residents surveyed supporting laws to permit assisted suicide and just 38 percent opposing those laws, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Soon, I hope, state lawmakers will come to the same realization and give the right to make this very personal medical decision back to New Jersey citizens.

 

Staten Island Accident Proves Falling Trash Can Injuries Are Deathly Serious

By Richard Console on November 13, 2014 - Comments off

When you look at a garbage or recycling can, you probably don’t see it as something dangerous. Yet a New York sanitation worker was killed yesterday in an encounter with a falling trash bin – in an incident that sounds disturbingly similar to personal injury case we resolved just last month.

Sanitation workerSanitation workers have an exceptionally high rate of fatal injuries on the job, but a death from a falling trash can is so unexpected that it made national headlines. Photo Credit: Corbis Images.

The Breaking News

The facts currently being reported are few but tragic. The Flag Container Service Company had been unloading a trash bin from the truck near Staten Island’s Richmond County Country Club when the bin apparently fell on him, NBC News reported. The victim, a 40-year-old man whose name hasn’t been published as of this writing, suffered trauma to his head and torso. Though he was rushed to the hospital, his injuries proved fatal.

What the current reports don’t communicate is the tragedy of this accident or the danger falling trash and recycling bins pose. This yet unnamed gentleman never returned home from work last night. Those who love him – family, friends, neighbors, coworkers – will never again get to talk with him or laugh with him. This is nothing short of a tragedy, and my heart goes out to the victim and his loved ones.

More Dangerous than You’d Think

While the report of this death is unexpected, the fact that a falling trash container could cause such serious injuries isn’t all that surprising – at least, not if you’ve seen the damage these containers can cause. Last month, my law firm resolved a case involving a falling recycling can that left a woman with a herniated disc in her neck as well as other serious injuries. This accident took place right here in South Jersey – Deptford, to be exact.  The victim wasn’t a sanitation employee but instead an innocent passerby on her way home from walking her young daughter to the school bus stop. A nearby recycling truck lifted a can in its mechanical arms, with another can snagged onto the first. This second can was propelled over the truck and fell onto our client, knocking her down. Her injuries were so severe that she had to undergo spinal surgery, and still she continues to experience pain even now.

If a falling trash bin could kill a sanitation worker who handles this equipment on a daily basis, if a flying recycling can could leave a mother with a permanent neck injury, then the frightening truth is that anyone could become a victim of a falling trash or recycling bin or other seemingly harmless object. I don’t want to incite panic or imply that refuse can injuries are an epidemic of some kind, but it’s a danger worth watching for. I’d hate for even one more bystander or sanitation employee to have to suffer an avoidable injury because of falling trash or recycling can.

 

Countdown to Thanksgiving Thursday: Four Biggest Turkey Day Health Risks

By Richard Console on November 13, 2014 - Comments off

Let’s face it, the reality of Thanksgiving – the holiday that marks the start of the “holiday season” – doesn’t always live up to the hype. In the real world, deep-fryers set homes ablaze and roasted turkeys come out of the oven charred. Travel plans fall through or, worse, lead to accidents. Maybe spending time with your family doesn’t always give you the warm fuzzy feelings of television fame. Instead, you end up stressed, trying to finish your cooking or packing last minute, rushing out the door to catch your plane or make good time during one of the most heavily traveled days of the year.

Thanksgiving comes with many potential health risks, but the best way you can protect your family is by knowing the dangers and planning around them. Read below for the four most unexpected Thanksgiving health risks – and don’t say we didn’t warn you!

4 Biggest Thanksgiving Health & Safety Risks

1. Cooking Mishaps

 Turkey thermometerAlways use a thermometer to make sure your turkey is cooked through, and cook the stuffing separately – experts say the turkey’s internal temperature doesn’t always get hot enough to cook it through. Photo Credit: Corbis Images.

For a holiday that revolves largely around food, the most logical place for something to go wrong is, naturally, in the kitchen. Sometimes the problem is more serious than forgetting to buy an ingredient or getting the bird in the oven half an hour behind schedule. Dangerous Thanksgiving cooking mishaps include:

  • Cuts and burns – Even if you’re tempted to rush through prep work because there’s so much to do, be careful handling knives, peelers, flavor injectors, and hot pots and pans. You want to peel potatoes, chop onions, and roast the turkey, not end up taking a trip to the emergency room for stitches or burn treatment. It might sound silly, but cuts and burns from cooking lead to some of the most common reasons for Thanksgiving emergency room visits. Thanksgiving morning can be hectic, but don’t cut corners with safety or rush through potentially hazardous tasks.
  • Food poisoning – Maybe Thanksgiving dinner goes off without a hitch, but a few hours later, you and your guests begin to feel sick. Food poisoning doesn’t equate to quality family time, and there are many ways it could happen when you’re working hard preparing such an extensive meal. Letting the turkey thaw on the countertop, allowing cross-contamination from turkey juices in the fridge or on cutting boards or utensils, and not cooking the bird thoroughly could allow your main course to be home to harmful bacteria.
  • Deep Fryer Accidents – If you’re deep frying your turkey, hopefully you already know not to do it in your kitchen or, for that matter, near your home at all. You also need to be careful to use the right size turkey and the right amount of oil. Fryer fires can be disastrous, so it’s essential that you know how not to deep fry a turkey and always have safety measures in place, just in case something goes wrong.

2. Auto Accidents

Thanksgiving is a dangerous time for pedestrians, too, as a client of ours learned firsthand when she was hit by a car the night before Thanksgiving.

Unlike the first Thanksgiving, today’s celebrations are important family holidays. With people rushing to get to relatives’ homes – some of them hundreds of miles away – in time for dinner, the week of Thanksgiving is traditionally among the most hazardous weeks of the year for motorists. Forbes once called the holiday the “deadliest” day of the year, even outpacing New Year’s Day in terms of increased road fatalities. While commuters could take trains, planes, automobiles and any number of other transportation modes to reach their destinations, an estimated 90 percent of all Thanksgiving travelers plan to drive.

Every year, heartbreaking stories of families who never made it to their celebrations (or never made it home) follow the Thanksgiving weekend. Thanksgiving Eve is especially dangerous, with accidents increasing by 17 percent and rear-end collisions up 24 percent compared with non-holiday Wednesdays, USA Today reported. There are several causes of Thanksgiving car accidents:

  • Traffic: Last year, more than 40,000,000 families took to the roads around Thanksgiving. The massive increase in traffic means more congestion, longer travel times – and an increase in accident risk, especially when drivers are impatient or in a rush.
  • Distraction: Distracted driving is already a major safety problem all year long, but on Thanksgiving, it can be even worse. You’re trying to remember if you forgot to pack anything. You might be hauling your own food contributions to the meal along with your luggage and your family. When you realize you’re running late, you might be speeding to make up for lost time and calling or texting family members to let them know about the delay. The demands of traveling for Thanksgiving can be distracting, and any distraction behind the wheel is dangerous.
  • Driving Under the Influence: Thanksgiving Eve has become a big drinking night, and plenty of people enjoy a drink (or several) during the big meal. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying alcohol responsibly, but unfortunately, not everyone does. The moment a drunk driver gets behind the wheel, he or she puts everyone on the road in danger.

3. Stress and Your Mental Health

 Burnt Thanksgiving turkeyDid you burn the turkey? It could be worse. Most guests enjoy Thanksgiving side dishes so much that they’ll happily fill up on potatoes, stuffing, and other favorites. Photo Credit: Corbis Images.

Between the comfort food and the joyful family gathering, Thanksgiving should be one of the best days of the year for your wellbeing, but sometimes real life gets in the way. In movies and TV sitcoms, sure, a happy Thanksgiving is practically guaranteed. In real life, though, the turkey might burn without there being a comical twist ready to conveniently save the day. The family gathering can be frustrating, especially when personalities clash or when some family members have unpleasant histories. Thanksgiving can be stressful, and that stress takes an emotional toll even on people who are normally at optimal mental health.

Remember to give yourself a break and reduce stress by planning ahead as much as possible:

  • If you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner, request that your guests contribute by bringing a side dish or dessert. You don’t have to do it all yourself.
  • If you’re normally anxious or feel stressed easily, remember that even if your fears come true – if the turkey comes out a little too crispy, if long-feuding family members start to argue – it’s not the worst thing that could happen. In fact, Thanksgiving mishaps that are frustrating but don’t actually hurt anyone can make for entertaining stories someday.
  • Practice strategies to manage stress, like meditating, taking deep breaths, and reminding yourself of all that you are thankful for.

Stress can negatively affect not only your mental health, but also your physical health… which leads to our final health risk.

4. Heart Health

Thanksgiving dinnerWe won’t tell you to make “healthy” versions your Thanksgiving favorites or skip the pumpkin pie, but you should know how the feast affects your body and how to protect your health. Photo Credit: Corbis Images.

Here’s a scary statistic: heart-related deaths rise five percent during the holiday season, TIME reported. It’s not just the fat from the gravy and the buttery potatoes, either. There’s also the stress (see above) that sometimes goes along with the holidays and other overindulgences, like alcohol. Keep your heart healthy this Thanksgiving by:

  • Limiting your portion sizes. Just because the food is delicious doesn’t mean you have to overeat. Take your time eating and savor the taste instead of just chowing down. Besides, not overeating means there are more leftovers for another meal.
  • Limiting your alcohol intake. Even if you’re not driving, binge drinking can still harm your health. Limit yourself to one or two drinks, and make sure you’re drinking water, too, and not just alcohol.
  • Get active. Sure, a turkey dinner – or overeating – leaves you feeling sluggish and sleepy, but start a new Thanksgiving tradition: a post-meal walk. It’s a great time to socialize without the distractions of TV and cell phones.

We all deserve a truly happy Thanksgiving – one where we don’t have to worry about cooking injuries, car accidents, stress, or health problems, one that really is about all the things we’re most thankful for. Whether you’re in the kitchen or on the road this Turkey Day, remember to follow the health and safety tips necessary to protect your family.

 

It’s Not Too Late to Sue for a Takata Airbag Injury

By Richard Console on November 12, 2014 - Comments off

One of the most disturbing aspects of the Takata airbag recall affecting upwards of 14 million cars – apart from the gruesome nature of the defect, which has left victims with lethal stab-like wounds – is the timeline. Eleven of the biggest automotive manufacturers have recalled cars with model years dating back as far as 2000. These potentially dangerous cars have been on the road more than a decade, giving them plenty of opportunity to cause or worsen a collision – but when the crashes occurred so many years ago, victims and their families haven’t been able to pursue claims against Takata and the cars’ manufacturers.

Until now.

Airbag deployedNow that the defect in Takata airbags is public knowledge, surviving victims and families can finally understand crashes that never made sense before – but they need more than understanding. They need justice and compensation. Photo Credit: Corbis Images.

Breaking News of a Cover-Up

Late last week, news emerged that airbag manufacturer Takata – the company behind the defective airbags, also responsible for making 20 percent of all airbags globally – covered up negative findings from a 2004 safety test that revealed the very problem that led to the current recalls. The company secretly tested 50 airbags from scrapped vehicles after hearing about a ruptured airbag in Alabama, The New York Times reported. When the testing confirmed that parts in the airbag could crack and cause a rupture, the company reportedly ceased its tests and destroyed the data and the physical parts tested.

Ten years later, the same defect found during these secret tests has injured more than 100 victims. At least four people died from these airbags’ malfunction. It’s bad enough that those who lost their health or their loved ones can never get back what they’re missing. By waiting to publicize the danger, Takata not only put additional victims at risk but also made it harder for survivors and the families of deceased victims to pursue claims.

The Good News

Here in New Jersey, victims have only two years to file claims involving either auto accidents or defective products. For people injured years before the affected cars were recalled, that deadline would have passed long before they even knew that any problem existed with Takata airbags.

Now that this reported cover-up has come to light, these victims may have a second chance to get the compensation they deserved all along. Last Friday, United States Senators Richard Blumenthal and Ed Markey requested that the U.S. Justice Department to begin a criminal investigation in relation to the defect, NBC News reported. Due to these unusual circumstances, old cases might once again become viable personal injury claims.

There are still challenges, of course. In many situations, victims or their families have disposed of the old car that caused the collision or contributed to the injuries. There’s no telling how many yet unreported deaths or injuries resulted from defective airbags, especially in single-car accidents where the victim either died or lost all memory of the crash. The important thing is that victims and surviving family members now have the opportunity to take the case to a lawyer, to hold the car manufacturers accountable, and to finally recover compensation.

 

5 Organizations Helping Veterans in NJ and Across the Nation

By Richard Console on November 11, 2014 - Comments off

Every single day, the men and women who serve in the United States military make sacrifices for the good of their country. They have missed time with their families and friends that they can never get back. They have put themselves in harm’s way, directly in the path of violence, just to keep us safe. It’s essential that we as a nation honor our military members, not only on Veterans Day but every day. Unfortunately, too often our veterans are left struggling to cope with the sacrifices they made for us even as they try to readjust to civilian life. It’s not enough for us to say a simple “thank you,” for schools and government offices to close for the holiday, or for retailers and restaurants to use the observance to bring in more business. We need to do more.

Across New Jersey and the entire United States, more than 47,000 organizations are doing more to help veterans. It’s not just American Legion branches and government-established veterans’ associations, either. From organizations that combat homelessness to those that train service dogs, here are some of our favorite unconventional veterans’ organizations, just in time for Veterans Day!

5 organizations helping vets in NJ and beyond

1.  Hope for Veterans by Community Hope

The statistics about homelessness among veterans are startling and shameful. On any given night, nearly 50,000 military veterans have nowhere to sleep, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. These people put their lives at risk for our nation, and now they lack even the most basic human necessity – shelter.

 Homeless veteran
No man or woman who sacrifices so much for our country should be forced to live on the streets upon returning home. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Community Hope’s Hope for Veterans program is just one of several organizations for homeless veterans, but it’s also one based right here in New Jersey. Since 2004, the organization has housed more than 1,000 veterans. The process starts with transitional housing for up to two years in the organization’s 95-bed home in Lyons, New Jersey, on the site of the Veterans Affairs New Jersey Healthcare Campus. During their stay, veterans can get help recovering from substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and various other mental illnesses. They have access to physical health and rehabilitation services, as well. These veterans join support groups to discuss their shared experiences and have access to job training, computer training, and financial counseling. It’s all part of a combined effort to give veterans the tools to survive and thrive in their civilian lives.

 2. Homes for Our Troops

For some veterans, the problem isn’t simply not having any home, but not having a home they can live in after an injury sustained in combat has changed their lives. These are the most severely hurt veterans – some have had multiple limbs amputated. Others have sustained life-changing traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) or have suffered spinal injuries that left them paraplegic or quadriplegic. Veterans in these situations can no longer live independently in a regular home. For example, their houses might not be wheelchair accessible. They might not be able to reach cabinets mounted at traditional heights.

 Injured soldier
For veterans with life-changing injuries, going home can mean new challenges to independence. Photo Credit: Corbis Images.

Homes for Our Troops is a national organization that builds specially adapted houses for injured veterans with these problems and more. Building these houses can cost upwards of $430,000, a steep price for a wounded soldier – one who has already sacrificed his or her health for our country – to pay. Homes for Our Troops constructs these homes mortgage-free for injured veterans, helping them to regain at least some of their independence and “rebuild their lives” without breaking the bank. Since 2004, the organization has built 168 new homes for wounded veterans.

3. Honor Flight Network

They may have volunteered to fly halfway across the world into an active fighting zone, but once they return home, many veterans aren’t able to travel to our nation’s capital to visit memorials to veterans. Some can’t afford the airfare cost, while others are simply not in good enough health to drive themselves even a comparably short distance. Who are we building these memorials for, if not the very people who fought in the wars that inspired them? If veterans being recognized by these memorials can’t go to see them, we as a nation are failing to honor the men and women of our military.

 Honor Flight Network
World War II veterans and terminally ill veterans are currently the organization’s priority, but it also accepts applications from Korean War veterans and looks forward to transporting veterans from more recent military actions. Photo Credit: Flickr.

After all these brave men and women have done for our nation, all they have sacrificed, they certainly deserve the experience of visiting their military memorials. That’s why Honor Flight Network transports thousands of veterans, free of charge, to Washington, D.C., to visit historic monuments like the World War II memorial.

Here in South Jersey, we may not be far enough away to justify flying into Washington, D.C., but the three-hour drive could be a hardship for many veterans, especially those who don’t own a car themselves or whose poor health would make it difficult to drive long distances. Don’t worry – the Honor Flight Network has a regional hub right here in South Jersey where veterans can embark on charter bus trips to see the memorials.

4. Paws for Purple Hearts

This organization strives to help both veterans with psychological pain and those with physical injuries, and the end result is the perfect example of a win-win situation. Paws for Purple Hearts gives veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) the opportunity to train service dogs. The dogs – golden and Labrador retriever puppies – learn more than 90 essential commands for a career as dedicated service dogs. The recipients of the trained service dogs are veterans with injuries that limit their mobility. And the trainers spend 18 to 24 months with the puppies, teaching them important commands and experiencing relief themselves for many of the symptoms they experience as they try to adjust to the new normal of civilian life. Trainers in the Paws for Purple Hearts program report experiencing:

  • A decrease in their anxiety and depression
  • Fewer startle responses
  • Less emotional numbness
  • Decreased reliance on pain medications
  • Better sleep
  • More patience
  • Better emotional regulation and impulse control
  • A more positive outlook
  • Better family dynamics

 Service dog puppy
It’s not just the joy of having a puppy around – many veterans feel they have a purpose in civilian life while they train these service dogs. Photo Credit: Corbis Images.

 Since the organization was founded in 2008 in California, it has since spread into Virginia and two sites in Maryland, and has been so effective in helping veterans that some are calling for Paws for Purple Hearts to establish additional sites elsewhere.

 5. Warriors in Motion

The Adaptive Sports Foundation is dedicated to helping children and adults with physical and cognitive disabilities and chronic illnesses by providing them with an opportunity for outdoor sports and recreation activities like skiing, kayaking, and yoga. For veterans specifically, the organization sponsors the Warriors in Motion program. Injured veterans not only take part on these physical activities that they likely couldn’t do without the support of the organizations, but they also receive education about wellness and physical, psychological, and emotional health.

 Salute
To our nation’s veterans, it’s time that we civilians salute you. Photo Credit: Corbis Images.

Thank you, veterans everywhere, for your service and the sacrifices you have made to keep all of us safe. Please know that if you need any help reintegrating into civilian life, these and other organizations are here for you. Happy Veterans Day!

 

Countdown to Thanksgiving Thursdays: 3 Things You Didn’t Know About Thanksgiving History

By Richard Console on November 6, 2014 - Comments off

Everyone knows the history of Thanksgiving – or do they?

From what the pilgrims and Native Americans ate at the first Thanksgiving to which family members were left out of that first feast, there’s, well, a cornucopia of holiday myths that almost everyone believes. Let’s kick off the Thanksgiving countdown by busting three of the biggest Turkey Day misconceptions.

 Three Myths Everyone Believes about Thanksgiving History

Myth 1: Americans Have Celebrated Thanksgiving Annually Since the Time of the Pilgrims.

Let’s start with what’s true here. The event known as “the first Thanksgiving” does indeed date back to pilgrim times, occurring in 1621.

However, that’s about the most truth you will find in this myth. First of all, the pilgrims and the Native Americans (the Wampanoag tribe, to be precise) didn’t invent the idea of a thanksgiving celebration. England already had days of thanksgiving, and they weren’t about feasting with the family or celebrating what you have. Instead, they were somber religious observances. In that vein, the first Thanksgiving wasn’t a thanksgiving celebration at all. Some sources claim it was instead more of a “harvest festival,” without a religious angle but full of eating, dancing, and sports. Others, like the Boston Globe, call the event an “uneasy gathering,” more like a political meeting than our modern-day celebrations.

 Pilgrims
Another little-known fact? The pilgrims’ attire wasn’t limited to black-and-white, and the buckles portrayed so commonly in depictions of the first Thanksgiving were so late 1600s – the style didn’t exist yet. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The type of celebration aside, here’s another bombshell: for the pilgrims, the Thanksgiving celebration as we know it was a one-time thing. The first Thanksgiving lasted three days, but the following year didn’t yield a good harvest, and the pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe didn’t make the event a tradition. Over the next centuries, America celebrated Thanksgiving only inconsistently. One notable Thanksgiving happened in 1777, during the Revolutionary War, and another happened in 1789, in the early days of George Washington’s presidency. Thanksgiving didn’t become a national, annual American holiday until 1863 – long after the days of the pilgrims.

Myth 2: Your Thanksgiving Menu Is Traditional.

Most of us wouldn’t recognize the menu of the first Thanksgiving if we saw it. Cranberry sauce? Mashed potatoes? Pumpkin pie? Not on the menu. Even the nickname Turkey Day is somewhat misleading. There were wild turkeys in the area, but historians think ducks, geese, partridges, cranes, and even eagles were more likely choices for the pilgrims’ dinner table.

 Thanksgiving Meal
We tend to think of our favorite traditional foods as what makes Thanksgiving dinner so good – or a part of it, anyway – but most of them weren’t part of the first Thanksgiving, at all. Photo Credit: Corbis Images.

So what was on the menu that first Thanksgiving? Deer meat is one documented food served that day. Seafood is considered a likely choice, too, believe it or not.

Myth 3: Thanksgiving Is for the Family.

Modern Thanksgivings are all about spending time with family – so much so that this is among the most highly traveled times of the year, as people rush home to dine with relatives. You might be surprised to find that the first Thanksgiving left out crucial family members – mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, essentially all female relatives. Basically, the first Turkey Day dinner is thought to have been an all-male affair, National Public Radio reported. The pilgrim women were likely behind the scenes, cooking much of the meal, but they weren’t seated around a big table feasting together. The Wampanoag tribe representatives, too, are thought to have been all men. Remember, the event was as much a political meeting as it was a celebration – which, at that time, wouldn’t have included women.

Family Enjoying Thanksgiving Dinner Getting banished to the kid’s table doesn’t sound so bad after all, does it? Photo Credit: Corbis Images.

In some ways, maybe part of the magic of Thanksgiving is how it has evolved from a tense political meeting between two wary cultures to the modern tradition of gratitude for the people we love – not to mention gratitude for the opportunity to share a meal of the ultimate comfort foods with those people. The first Thanksgiving we think we learned about back in elementary school may not have much in common with the holiday we’re currently counting down to – the date, the menu, the purpose – but that doesn’t make our own Thanksgiving experiences any less valuable.

For more Thanksgiving myths, visit Snopes.com

 

Freaky Fridays: 5 Haunted South Jersey Sites You Can Actually Visit

By Richard Console on October 31, 2014 - Comments off

Halloween isn’t all about artificial spooks and choreographed frights – it’s also about the truly scary things, like ghost stories based on factual history and repeated rumors of otherworldly sightings. With the Pine Barrens – home of the legendary Jersey Devil – filling more than a million acres of South Jersey, it’s only natural (or supernatural) that ghost stories abound in the region. Whether or not you’re a believer in the paranormal, it’s the perfect time of year to enjoy a few chilling tales and maybe take a field trip to one of South Jersey’s haunted locations.

Real Haunted Places in South Jersey

1. Burlington County Prison in Mount Holly

 Burlington County PrisonPhoto Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

History: Featured on Weird NJ and investigated by Ghost Hunters and “dozens” of other paranormal research teams, the Burlington County Prison in Mount Holly is New Jersey’s answer to Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary. This abandoned prison, too, is a historical landmark said to be haunted. From 1811 through 1965, the prison was home to both male and female inmates, including convicted murderers in the maximum-security “dungeon.” During various times of the prison’s operation, escape attempts, some disastrous, occurred. At least two guards died at the hands of escaping prisoners, and historians believe that some successful escapees were never caught.

Haunted Activity: The third floor is purportedly haunted by the ghost of Joel Clough, convicted of stabbing his girlfriend to death. Days in the “dungeon” preceded Clough’s 1833 hanging. Now his cell – cell five on the third floor of the prison – is said to be haunted.  While the prison was still in use, guards and inmates reported strange phenomena, like the sounds of moaning and rattling chains, floating items, and “apparitions” inside the empty cell. After the prison closed, Clough’s ghost continued to torment the jail’s inhabitants – this time, workers restoring the prison – with voices, temperature changes, and items that would inexplicably vanish, only to reappear in unexpected places.

Need to Know More? The site now operates as a museum, where visitors can tour the supposedly haunted prison Thursdays through Saturdays for just a few dollars admission. In past years, the site has also been home to The Haunted Prison attraction each Halloween, but the attraction has now moved off-site to Bloodshed Farms Fearfest in Columbus.

Also Check Out: Gloucester County Jail in Woodbury and Eastern State Penitentiary across the bridge in Philadelphia

2. Cape May

Haunted Cape May

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

History: Granted, it might sound like a cop-out to highlight a whole city, but HauntedHouse.com and other sources identify the picturesque shore town as the “most haunted city in New Jersey” and, for that matter, one of the most haunted cities in the United States. Weird NJ has written about ghostly happenings at the Angel of the Sea Bed & Breakfast, the Ugly Mug, the Colonial House, and Hotel Macomber. Cape May is also home to the Queen’s Hotel, the Southern Mansion Inn, Higbee Beach, Washington Inn, the Cape May bunker, and of course the Cape May Lighthouse.

Haunted Activity:  The ghosts who haunt Cape May come in every imaginable type. In Hotel Macomber, the spirit of an old woman turns off lights and moves objects – especially when children are around – while the ghost of an employee who choked to death is said to haunt the kitchen. On the third floor of the Victorian bed and breakfast Queen’s Hotel, guests have reported smelling the scent of perfume, feeling drops in temperature, and a female spirit that pushes women. The well-dressed, perfume-scented ghost haunting the Southern Mansion goes by the name Esther and is believed to be the niece of the man who built the home. Three ghosts haunt the shores of Higbee Beach, including one thought to be the beach’s namesake. The Washington Inn is home to a little girl’s ghost that once appeared unexpectedly in a family’s photograph, but an old woman’s disembodied voice has also caught visitors’ attention here. Ghostly soldiers have appeared in and around the World War II bunker. The Cape May Lighthouse is said to be home to multiple ghosts, the most famous of which is a woman in a white gown, holding a lantern and a child.

Need to Know More? Visit these (in)famous haunted spots and more during a ghost tour of Cape May. The city offers 10 different ghost tours, including trolley tours of the lighthouse and surrounding area. You can also book a stay in one of the haunted bed and breakfasts.

Also Check Out: The Absecon Lighthouse, considered haunted and the location of a famous sighting of the Jersey Devil

3. Flanders Hotel in Ocean City

 Haunted Flanders Hotel

Corbis Images: Wikimedia Commons.

History: Built in 1923, Flanders Hotel is named for Flanders Field, the location of a bloody World War I battle fought in Belgium where many young American soldiers died.

Haunted Activity:  Hundreds of people have reported seeing the supernatural at Flanders Hotel, according to South Jersey Ghost Research. The star spirit at this haunt is Emily, also known as the Lady in White. Emily has supposedly been seen wandering barefoot in the hotel’s “Hall of Mirrors” and in the basement, which staff call the “catacombs.” Emily has been known to sing, laugh, and play the piano. She also once appeared in the wedding photos of a couple celebrating their marriage at Flanders. Some believe she is the ghost of a woman who stayed at the hotel and never left, killing herself there after learning that her husband of fiancé had died in World War I. Others believe she is the mother of yet another Flanders ghost, a young girl.

Need to Know More?  Stop inside this 11th Street hotel to check it out for yourself. Better yet, book a stay there – especially in the off-season, when rates are more affordable.

Also Check Out: For more ghostly encounters in Ocean City, take a Ghost Tour (June through October). For other haunted accommodations at the South Jersey shore, visit the Jonathon Pitney House bed and breakfast in Absecon or the Abbott House bed and breakfast in Mays Landing.

  1. The Ritz Theatre in Haddon Township/Oaklyn

Haunted Ritz Theatre Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

History:  The Ritz Theatre first opened as a vaudeville theatre in 1927 and has undergone a series of changes ever since, hosting film and live theatre performances.

Haunted Activity: Disembodied voices, strange lights backstage, glowing orbs, and items that move on their own are all part of the paranormal experience at the Ritz Theatre, recently investigated by South Jersey Ghost Research. Could it be haunted by the ghosts of former actors and actresses?

Need to Know More?  The Ritz Theatre is currently in operation, so the best way to get a close, personal view of this haunted spot is to see a performance there.

Also Check Out: Other local haunted theatres include the Sketch Club Players Theatre in Woodbury and the Tohill Auditorium in Bunce Hall at Glassboro’s Rowan University.

5. The Whitall House in National Park

 Haunted Whitall House

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

History: During the 1770s, James and Ann Whitall’s home became a temporary field hospital for soldiers injured in the Revolutionary War.

Haunted Activity: The ghosts of dead soldiers are said to haunt the attic, causing modern-day visitors to experience cold temperatures, voices, and moans. The Perceptive Paranormal Research group investigated the site a few years ago, with investigators reporting ghosts touching them, a “dizzying” feeling, and evidence of “strong paranormal activity,” the South Jersey Times reported.

Need to Know More? Plan a visit! Admission is free for both the Whitall House Museum and the Red Bank Battlefield Park.

Also Check Out: Ireland Hofer House and Hall Street Little School, similarly haunted historic sites, are worth a visit in Williamstown. Enjoy a meal at the Lake House Restaurant in Franklinville, also in Gloucester County. Formerly the Iona Lake Inn, it’s supposed to be home to several ghosts, including the original owner and a Lady in Black.

You don’t have to go far to find truly haunted places – South Jersey is full of them. (You might just find yourself taking a haunted road to get to these sites, too.) Happy Halloween!

 

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