Everyone should have a Lynn in their life.
I’ve known Lynn for 20 years, from the time I was a green college graduate, moving to a small town in northern Wisconsin to work as a reporter. Lynn was a few years older than me, established as a career woman, confident, and a ton of fun.
Recognizing I didn’t know anybody in my new town, she swept me up in her circle of friends. She encouraged me to join a bowling team. She invited to join the group for the annual apple festival in Bayfield, Wis., where we dressed as apple slices and paraded around town. (NO ONE ELSE was wearing costumes, by the way.)
This is one of the things that inspires me most about Lynn: She sees people who need a friend, and she becomes one. She puts others first, always. People are drawn to her because of her positive, sunny nature.
In 20 years, I’ve never heard her say a bad word about anyone. It’s just not in her DNA.
Lynn taught me to be playful and not take myself too seriously. She showed me how to cross-country ski. We had winter picnics in the middle of the frozen Wisconsin River, waving to snowmobilers. She hosted garden parties where crazy hats were mandatory.
Quickly, our friendship deepened. We became a support system for each other, rooted in a shared faith and similar values. She’s always cheered me on as I’ve worked to grow my career, encouraging me to go bigger and singing my praises to anyone who’ll listen.
She inspires confidence.
During a particularly rough patch for me, she took note, telling me, "you’ve lost your drive." I explained why. Her response? "That makes sense. You'll get through this and be back on track in six months."
Lynn was right – I found my drive again and started graduate school.
When I see her, which isn’t nearly enough, I'm energized. I'm inspired to think bigger, act bigger and set bigger goals. She's inspired me to be that mentor and friend to younger women, to help them forge their paths. I hope I've been one-tenth as impactful for them as Lynn has been for me.
So when someone asks me, "who inspires you?", sure, I’m inspired by Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg and other successful women. But it’s my friend, Lynn, whom I turn to for energy and motivation.
So who's the Lynn in your life, and what inspires you most?
I’m grateful for me time – time to relax, reflect and do things I enjoy on my own. Time to reconnect with my inner spirit and remind myself to breathe again, which I sometimes find I don’t do enough at my desk during the day.
It can be as simple as a nap on a Sunday afternoon snuggling with a kitty or two. Sometimes it’s more artistic: Listening to music, playing my violin, making handmade Valentines or designing photo books. Other times it’s more athletic: Going for a run, doing yoga or dancing in my living room.
Me time helps me recharge those batteries so I can be attentive, focused and strong – at work and at home.
No matter what I’m doing during me time, it often elevates me to a place where I can reflect on and appreciate my life. I think about how grateful I am for my family, my friends, my job and my co-workers. Me time also allows me to slow down and notice things that pass me by in daily life. Like how beautiful the colors of the changing leaves are this fall.
It’s really easy to allow others to influence how we spend our time and what we do. And that’s OK sometimes. It’s fun to spend time with others. And we all have responsibilities to our jobs and our families to get things done. But time to ourselves is good for our health and helps us be better people – it allows us to nourish our souls, explore interests and reflect on what we’re most thankful for.
Editor's note: Give yourself permission to practice gratitude! Each day during November, American Family Insurance will share ideas for showing appreciation for the people, things and events in our lives. We hope you use these 30 Days of Thanks as an opportunity to share your gratitude. Visit us on Facebook this month for inspiration and ideas as we celebrate 30 Days of Thanks.
I’m one of those people who transforms into what I call a “crazy dog lady” when I pick up my dog Madeline’s leash and we head out for a walk.
You know the type. You’ll probably hear me talking to my dog. I’m more likely to know your dog’s name than yours. I’ve been known to kiss stranger’s dogs, too.
The other day, my son said to me, “Mom, you can never get enough of dogs.”
And he’s right. I really can’t. I point them out constantly to my kids and my husband. I’m grateful they know this part of who I am. I’m also grateful I’ve given them a love for animals, too.
As a child, I longed for a dog of my own, but my parents didn’t really want the responsibility of a pet. So, I had to wait until I was an adult. I think it’s interesting how expectations build up over time. I had this idea of what an ideal pet would be, and let’s just say it didn’t really turn out that way.
Our dog, Madeline, is probably not what you would call Kennel Club-approved black Labrador Retriever. When we first adopted her, she made a very loud, high-pitched noise that caused people to cross the street. She pulled the leash so hard, I cried because my arm was so sore.
I fell down a man hole once because of Madeline.
She also ate a dead squirrel, caught a live rabbit, a duck, many birds and more rodents than I care to remember. Several trainers told me she was the hardest dog they had ever worked with.
On the flip side, she’s also the reason I know many of my neighbors. She’s helped me train for several running races and is the reason I am so disciplined about walking every morning.
I never thought I would be someone who would laugh while getting drenched in the rain or falling in the snow, but I do with Madeline. I also find myself stopping to revel in my surroundings during our walks, looking at the shockingly red and orange leaves on the trees and marveling at snow we typically need to climb over on our sidewalks in the winter.
I laugh out loud as Madeline buries her snout – and sometimes entire head – in the snowbanks, looking for an animal or a piece of sandwich a child left behind.
I’m grateful for many of the pet-specific experiences I’ve had because of Madeline. There’s one that stands out called the doggie dip. Imagine about a hundred dogs and their humans frantically running around a swimming pool, trying not to get trampled on or step in anything gross. I loved watching the dogs swim and play.
Madeline, being a Labrador, was in heaven. She loves to swim. And she doesn’t really understand what it means to take it easy. So, she jumped in hundreds of times until we had to drag her out of there. And she couldn't figure out how to get out of the pool by herself. So I had to pull her out by the scruff of her neck. So there I was, bracing myself at the edge of the pool, pulling her out, laughing so hard I’m crying. All of this, mind you, while I’m getting completely drenched. Then, I watch her dive exuberantly into the pool so many times that her nails bleed.
I’d love to have that kind of passion for something.
When my dad died recently, I found myself grieving the most honestly when I was with Madeline. I’m grateful she doesn’t need me to fill the silence with words. And then, there’s her fur – the tears just seem to melt right in there. Those Labradors are meant to be wet.
The other day my son said, “Madeline is magical. Whenever you feel bad, you just have to hug her and you feel better.”
I’ll take magical over ideal any day.
And for that, I feel so much gratitude.
Editor's note: What makes you thankful this time of year? Visit us on Facebook during November for inspiration and ideas as we celebrate 30 Days of Thanks.
Twelve years ago, I stepped out of my comfort zone and traveled alone to a place with the kind of reputation that would keep many people away. It was a risk that turned out to be life-changing.
I went to help build a home for a family in Juarez, Mexico, after reading an article about an organization called Missions Ministries, and decided to participate.
The entire family of seven had been living in a pallet home, barely the size of my youngest son’s bedroom. There were gaping holes in the roof, and the walls and the floor were made of dirt. The family had five children, the youngest only three weeks old. The mother was using a cardboard box as a crib for the baby, and the rest of the family slept on pieces of Styrofoam laid on the floor. There was no running water or electricity.
Children could only go to school if they could afford the required uniform. People in the community who were fortunate enough to find employment often made less than $1 a day.
The experience opened my eyes to a whole new world and gave me a new appreciation to the many blessings I take for granted every day.
The following year I took my somewhat reluctant husband with me. The year after that, we brought our then 4- and 6 year-old sons. We continued to go each year, bringing more and more family and friends. Our third son joined us when he was only 2 years old.
During the last decade or so, we have been privileged to build many, many homes. In addition, we helped build a library, provided many community outreaches and helped distribute donated food, medicine, school supplies and clothing. We have sponsored a student for the last four years and have had a couple of opportunities to visit her when we were in Juarez.
We’re also involved with a continuing Christmas box outreach. Every year we distribute empty Tupperware boxes with packing lists for different ages of children to family, friends, coworkers and members of our church who support the work we’re doing. We ask them to shop for their “assigned” age/gender child and pack the boxes with items such as soap, toothpaste, underwear, gloves, small toys, etc. Before Christmas, we drive down to Juarez with hundreds of these Christmas boxes for the children in the community. These children would otherwise not receive anything for Christmas.
Our travels to Juarez have given us a meaningful perspective on how fortunate we are to have roofs over our heads and meals on our table every night. It has taught my children the importance of volunteering and giving time to others. Finally, it has been a launching pad to other opportunities to volunteer in our own neighborhood and community.
As I watch our sons head off to school this year, I reflect not only on how many blessings I take for granted but also on how blessed our family is to have discovered the joy that comes with helping others when and where we can.
Turns out, I have a lovely oak kitchen table. It’s not just a dumping ground for unopened mail, old newspapers or random homework assignments. My family and I can actually sit down and eat meals at it – together.
Sound familiar? Every family is different, but what brings them together is the dinner table. It might be breakfast before everyone heads off for the day. Maybe it’s a special weekly dinner (with fancy plates and flatware, too). It could be a long-standing recipe that gets the kids excited – like at my house when I make the famous Buchheim family spaghetti sauce.
I know – crazy talk.
As my family prepares for another school year, I’m amazed at how crucial family mealtime is for everyone at the table – especially my two kids (ages 12 and 10). Research from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University shows eating dinner as a family helps kids get better grades, and avoid unhealthy choices (like smoking, alcohol and marijuana).
Family mealtime slows things down, which is crucial given all the activities about to begin that can dominate schedules. But really, it’s important any time of year.
Food is part of the equation, but so is what happens around it. Meals at home are the single strongest factor in higher achievement scores and fewer behavioral problems in children of all ages. More home-cooked meals also mean less obesity for kids.
We can all talk about the importance of family mealtime, but it’s more fun and engaging to be involved and do something about it.
So, in September, American Family will begin collecting family recipes (and the stories about them) from our Facebook community. We’ll publish a Back to the Family Dinner Table cookbook later in the year, along with tips for busy families and ideas to make mealtime a priority.
But I need your help.
We want everyone to be part of this American Family Cookbook. Use this form to send us a favorite family recipe or two – and encourage your co-workers to do the same. From your submissions, we’ll choose a sampling for the Back to the Family Dinner Table cookbook and special Pinterest recipe board. (And everyone is eligible to win prizes, too.)
This is your chance to show off a favorite recipe (including an optional photo). I look forward to clearing off my kitchen table and trying some of your recipes with my family this fall.