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Thanksgiving is an all-American holiday that tends to bring out the nonconformists in the crowd, especially in California — those who demand their turkey with a side of quirky, hold the stuffiness.

In this spirit, traditions are where we find them. Some of us skip Thanksgiving altogether and head to a tropical island while everyone else is huddled at home watching football.

Others toss the cranberry sauce off the back deck, in a "free the berry" ceremony reminiscent of the White House pardoning of Tom the Turkey.

Why not? It's a free country.

<b>Taking a hike:</b> As a busy Wine Country chef, Chris Greenwald of Bay Laurel Culinary in Petaluma works nonstop from spring through fall, catering weddings, music festivals and harvest parties.

By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, he is always exhausted. A few years ago, he decided to break with tradition and hike the entire Kalalau Trail on the island of Kauai, all by himself.

"That was such an amazing experience," he said. "And it was easy to get the permits at that time of year."

A year later, he decided to go on a sea kayak trip to Espiritu Santo island off La Pazand loved it so much he returned the next year with his girlfriend.

"We kayaked on Thanksgiving Day," he said. "You can get incredible deals on plane travel, and things are less crowded."

This year, the couple is flying back to La Paz to hang out with a friend on his boat.

"We look forward to Thanksgiving all summer long," he said. "Then we have a big family Christmas."

<b>Ironing things out:</b> It all started with a simple conversation between two baby boomers about what it was like growing up in the 1950s, when kids roamed the neighborhood all day and didn't come home until dinner.

But what did all the moms do? Cynthia Calmenson's friend, Ellen Robin, said her mom and her friends would bring their wrinkled clothes, literally circle their ironing boards in the living room, pour cocktails and visit.

"I just love that idea," Calmenson said. "I'm not a quilter, but I actually love to iron. I find ironing very relaxing. It's one of those lovely, brainless activities. I think it's very zen."

Around Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, Calmenson and a few of her gal pals will gather this year in her Santa Rosa living room for an official meeting of the Circle Your Ironing Boards Society.

It's bring-your-own iron, ironing board, wrinkled linens and an hors d'oeuvre to share. Calmenson will provide the spray bottles, extension cords and a pitcher of some kind of adult beverage.

And the best part? You can come even if you don't have any tablecloths to iron.

"We have one person who hates ironing, but she is coming anyway," she said. "So we have people who attend for moral support."

<b>Hockey road trip:</b> Sharon Zimmerman of Santa Rosa will have Thanksgiving on the run again this year, which is becoming a tradition for this athlete's mother.

Zimmerman will travel to San Jose to watch her 12-year-old son Logan's hockey tournament.

Logan is a forward on the Santa Rosa Flyers PeeWee Hockey Team, which is made up of 11- and 12-year-olds and always plays tournament games on Thanksgiving Day. In past years, the team has celebrated together at a restaurant and hopes to do the same this year, depending on the game schedule.

"Since the San Jose Sharks always practice at the Logitech Ice, where the teams play, the kids will watch the team practice and get autographs," Zimmerman said. And she will do her best to pull off a belated Thanksgiving feast at home.

"Depending on the game schedule, we will race back home," she said, "where I will fix a Thanksgiving dinner, even if it's on Sunday night at 8 p.m. and even if it's a turkey breast in a Crockpot."

<b>Pardoning the berries:</b> One of the more fanciful Thanksgiving traditions readers offered is the annual "Freeing of the Cranberries."

It started on a Thanksgiving Day 20 years ago, launched by retired carpenter Bret Lacquement of Guerneville while he was still living in San Francisco.

"It was 1994, with my partner and my roommate and 12 other people in a very small kitchen," he recalled.

The previous Christmas, during his post-holiday cleanup, Lacquement spontaneously had tossed a bunch of poinsettias out the window, which delighted a visiting friend.

"So the following Thanksgiving, my friend thought it would a good idea if we freed the cranberries, the way I had freed the poinsettias. So we opened the window and threw a can of cranberry sauce out the window," Laquement said.

Since Lacquement moved up to the Russian River area, the ritual has evolved. Now canned cranberries are presented on a platter at the annual Thanksgiving dinner party to a "virgin," a first-timer at the party, who flings the cranberries (but not the platter) off Lacquement's back deck.

Holly Stockon of Guerneville was the 2008 honoree. She and her partner, Julie Schick, are featured in one of several "Freeing of the Cranberries" videos posted on YouTube over the years (see www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpbS-v8TIXMm for the 2008 video, www.youtube.com/watch?v=TvlvKXMY5FU for 2010).

Asked about the underlying philosophy of the ritual, Lacquement contended there isn't much.

"It's more or less the emancipation of cranberry sauce, because it's not free," he said. "It's cramped up in a can. It's only marched out on Thanksgiving. It's this poor, beleaguered, forlorn food."

<b>Dining at work:</b> Neither Bryan Cooper nor Meekk Shelef have family nearby. So the couple decided to make a family meal where it makes the most sense: at their business.

Every Thanksgiving they open the doors to their Sonoma Wine Shop & La Bodega in Sebastopol for a drop-in Thanksgiving feast, no reservations required.

You can leave your wallet at home, too. All they ask is you bring a dish to share, although there's always so much food that no hungry comer will be turned away.

"I have some family, but way out of town. And my parents passed away. Meekk's family is in Israel. So this is our little family get together," said Cooper.

The couple for 15 years has run the business, a wine club in two locations that also serves fine food. It is open for dinners five nights a week in Sebastopol and for lunches in Sonoma. And it's open to all, although members receive a 15 percent discount on meals as well as access to interesting wines that the club sources from small, local, under-the-radar winemakers.

Don't call the club's dining room a restaurant. In fact, anyone who calls it by the "R" word — a "running joke" at the club — is fined $5, with the proceeds going toward the purchase of Thanksgiving turkeys.

The Thanksgiving dinners usually start around 11:30 a.m. and run until 6 p.m. at the club, 2295 Gravenstein Hwy. S., across from the Sebastopol Flea Market. Cooper said primarily wine club members turn out for the non-family feast. About 1,000 live within 10 minutes of the Sebastopol club. But other people in the neighborhood come as well.

"We're happy to have them eat with us," said Cooper. "It's really a sharing gathering. A lot of people that don't have family come for the same reason. It gives everybody a place to hang out and a very warm feeling."

<i>Meg McConahey, Peg Melnik, Diane Peterson and Dan Taylor contributed to this report.</i>

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