Pursue Your Dreams
This affirming and joyful statement resonates with me.
This period in my life has been a time of great change and even greater reflection. As a result, I have been thinking a lot about this statement.
As many know, I lost my sister three months ago after her four-year journey with brain cancer. This experience has left me feeling raw and vulnerable. But as many of you who've faced similar, dramatic life changes know, vulnerability creates openings for learning and growth.
What can we learn from a life well-lived? What do we carry with us?
My sister was an educator in Sun Prairie for her entire career. She taught children to learn. Perhaps more amazing than helping children grow, she built community. She understood that helping children learn and prepare for future successes does not happen in isolation.
The saying “it takes a village” affirms the notion that we are all interconnected, never truly independent, and we all benefit when the relations where we exist are engaging, healthy and in balance. That interdependency, that interconnectedness was primary to Carol's life, and —maybe it's genetic — it drives my engagement at work and in my community.
Having worked my entire career in one way or another in the areas of sustainable strategy, sustainable development, landscape architecture and resource conservation management, I have had the incredible opportunity to live out my passions through my career.
Not all of us are so lucky.
According to a 2013 Gallup poll, less than 30 percent of Americans are engaged in their jobs. I am humbled that my entire career path has been from one of engagement.
At an early age I knew I wanted to grow up to serve in “a purpose-driven life”. It all started with the Iron Eyes Cody commercial, the 1970 Keep America Beautiful public service announcement with the crying chief shedding a tear after seeing trash thrown from a car window. Every time I experienced his tear, I shed one, as well.
I was 9 years old. I felt our interconnection with nature so viscerally, and it's one of the reasons I am passionate about my role as sustainability specialist for American Family and my role as a sustainability strategist out in the community. Passion, purpose and a lot of self-determination have served me well during my 30-year career.
All of us have had the opportunity to witness the growth of information and evidence surrounding the environment. But it's not simply the information about the environmental challenges facing our planet that is most obvious to me. Rather, it is the interdependency of all aspects of our biosphere, from animals to plants to humans to local ecosystems to the global climate.
Change the balance of some plant life and that has impacts on animals, trickling to humans, the ecosystem and beyond. Change the balance of a social structure and it has the same impact. The loss of clean water directly impacts regional, national, and global health. Changes in ocean temperature influence weather patterns globally. While none of this information is new, what is becoming more obvious is the interconnectedness of all these pieces.
For me, my focus is to work hard on the changes I can make as an engaged person, family member, professional, community member and world citizen. I have always invested a good portion of my time volunteering in the community. I am also working on developing more mentoring opportunities. Ways to learn from others. Ways to collaborate. Ways to help others. I meet with a new person in the American Family community every month. I meet with a person in the regional community every month as well. I treasure every opportunity.
Keeping our connections engaged, healthy and in balance is often easier said than done, whether professionally, interpersonally or environmentally. It is, however, a challenge we all face and one that we all face together.
None of us are free-floating and independent islands. We are fundamentally interdependent on each other, our community, and our planet. The lesson is the same: we are in this together. Each and every one of us represents an aspect of the change we want to see in the world.
We are the ones we have been waiting for – there is no other way.
My family and I came to the United States as refugees following the Vietnam War. I am Hmong and I was born in a refugee camp in Thailand. Four generations of my family lived in Laos, and before that my ancestors lived in China.
Growing up in Wisconsin, my mom and dad prepared countless home-cooked meals that we shared around the table. Having experienced hunger during the war, they always reminded us it was a privilege to dine together. Many Hmong relied on the generosity of others to survive, and my parents never forgot this – emphasizing the importance of family and sharing meals with others.
As a Hmong American woman, I embrace my culture and celebrate with my family every chance I get. When we have family gatherings or special events, women come together to learn cooking techniques from the elders. Most of our family recipes are handed down by word of mouth, so the only way to learn how to make a dish is to watch someone else prepare it!
Two years ago, I realized I wanted to share my passion for Hmong cuisine with other families – not just my own. I started my own food blog, and began shooting cooking video tutorials that I posted on my Hmong Food YouTube channel.
To my amazement, I was welcomed with open arms by the online food community. To date, my videos have been viewed more than 2.3 million times, and I have more than 12,500 YouTube subscribers. My Facebook page has over 13,600 likes and is growing. I also authored and developed an iPhone app, called Yumaholic, featuring my personal collection of Southeast Asian recipes.
What I have learned on this journey has tremendously impacted my life in a positive way. I was a girl who came from poverty, overcame obstacles, and beat the odds.
Every day I am amazed by the powerful love and support from both friends and strangers who have written to tell me my recipes have rekindled family memories and reawakened their passion for home cooking. I am so happy I am able to help others prepare meals for their family to enjoy at the dinner table.
I am living my dream -- inspiring others -- one delicious video at a time.
Editor’s note: We want all of you to celebrate the family dinner table. American Family is partnering with FamilyFoodie.com to create an e-cookbook to inspire families to come back to the table, and we need your help! Share your recipes for your chance to be featured in the cookbook by submitting a family favorite recipe here. You will be entered to win one of six $100 Williams-Sonoma gift cards. One lucky entry will win one valued at $500! When the e-cookbook comes out later this fall, you’ll be among the first to receive a copy.
It’s the subject of movies and TV shows. Songs and books are written about it, and families look forward to it.
“It” is the great American road trip! We’re happy to report that road tripping is alive and well and still making memories to last a lifetime.
During the summer, American Family Insurance began putting together Dreaming of The Road, an e-book planning guide about road tripping. We included games to play, road songs, suggestions for getting your car ready, ideas on keeping young children entertained and tips on safe traveling.
The best part though, came from our customers. We asked people to take their own “road trip” down memory lane and share with us their favorite road trip stories. Our plan was to include as many as we could in the book. Frankly, we were overwhelmed by the responses. It seems everyone, no matter how old they are or where they live, has a great story to tell gleaned from miles of rolling down the highway.
We received tons of entries. There were stories of love lost, re-found and re-kindled; crossing things off of a bucket list; and final memories of a now-departed loved one.
We received stories that restore your faith in people; about building strong family bonds; and how a new sense of inner strength was discovered. Some of the entries we received were touching to the point of tears. Others brought a smile and laughter. A big thank you to everyone who shared their stories!
The e-book is now complete! Download a free copy of Dreaming of The Road here. It’s designed to be read on desktops, tablets and smartphones. Or, you can print a copy and throw it in your glove compartment to help plan your next road trip. Who knows what new memories you’ll make when the open road calls?
My daughter, Kailey, was just six years old and learning to ride a bike without training wheels when her father passed away.
He had a high-risk job as a federal law-enforcement agent involving a lot of overseas travel. While life-threatening danger was always part of his job, he died unexpectedly of heart disease. He was only 46.
His death was a complete surprise. He worked out regularly, ate healthy, and had annual physicals. He had never been diagnosed with any heart conditions and never showed any signs of heart issues.
Unfortunately, he didn’t believe in life insurance.
Every time I brought up the subject, he didn't want to talk about it. Although we divorced the year before his death, part of the agreement was that he purchase life insurance for Kailey’s financial support in case of his death. Knowing his beliefs, I didn’t force the issue.
When he passed away, Kailey received some funds from his life insurance and 401(k) through work. These have been invested and will help pay tuition when she goes to college. Fortunately, we don’t have to use this money for day-to-day expenses.
As an insurance agent, this has shown me personally how important it is to consider rising college costs when families calculate their future financial needs with respect to providing financial security to their family.
I’m even more passionate when I think about the future and not just the present. According to the College Board and a May 13, 2013 New York Times article, tuition and fees at state colleges increased 72 percent – 29 percent for nonprofit colleges – from 2001 to 2011. If something should ever happen to a parent who plans on sending their children to college, a well thought out life insurance plan can help their family realize that dream.
No life insurance policy can replace the loss of a loved one. It can however, replace their earning power to ease future financial challenges.
For the sake of your family’s future plans and dreams, talk about life insurance today. Eight years ago, I learned the hard way that tomorrow may be too late.
The family dinner table is where I learned to dream.
Often, when friends came over they expressed surprise that we sat down as a family for dinner. It didn’t happen at their houses, and they really liked being part of the ritual at our house. Years later, they bring it up at reunions or around town when they see my parents. My mom even got a note on Mother’s Day from a friend of my sister’s, saying how much she’d appreciated being welcome in our family during those times.
The trait I most admire in my parents is that they encouraged each of their four children to identify our own dreams. And it started at our family dinners. My siblings and I talked about school, sports, theater and our friends. Whatever we said we wanted to do, my parents built us up with positive comments, making us feel like we really could do anything we set out to do.
That encouragement has continued all our lives.
At the Easter dinner table, when I was 28, I announced I was quitting a really good job to return to graduate school full-time, and my parents’ support and encouragement gave me confidence that I was on a good path.
The conversations and inspiration that take place around the table have measurable value to children. Children who regularly eat dinner with their families do better in school and are less likely to use tobacco or alcohol.
That hit home for me recently. I unexpectedly worked much later than usual one night, arriving home around 7 p.m. My husband was gone for the evening, and I thought our teenagers would have had dinner already. They hadn’t. They’d waited for me so we could eat dinner together – that’s how much they value our time together at the dinner table.
I was completely in awe of how important this nightly ritual is to them.
At American Family, we’re focused on building a community of dreamers. Building the next generation of dreamers starts at the family dinner table. That’s the reason behind Back to the Family Dinner Table, which kicks off this week.
Through Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter, we’ll be sharing family favorite recipes – and the stories behind them. We’ll also give your family tips for getting organized and suggestions for involving everyone in meal planning and cooking.
We’re partnering with cooking blogger Isabel Laessig, whose mission on her website, familyfoodie.com, is to bring back Sunday supper around the family table in every home. Isabel and her network of bloggers will partner with American Family and share ideas for easy and fun, family-friendly meals – including hosting a Google Plus Hangout and Twitter chats this fall.
American Family wants your recipes, too. Go to our entry form and enter your favorite family recipe – and you’ll be eligible to win prizes to help bring your recipes to life. We’re also gathering everything (recipes, tips and more) into an electronic cookbook, which we’ll share with our customers and everyone who shares a recipe.
Of course, when we talk about “family” dinners, we know a person’s family is really their network of support, no matter what form that takes. We’ll celebrate that with additional blog posts here on Dream Protectors, recognizing “family” goes well beyond the traditional idea of parents and kids.
I hope you’ll join us by trying new recipes, sharing your stories, and focusing on bringing your family back to the dinner table.
Editor’s note: Share your favorite family recipes on our entry form, which you can find on the American Family Insurance Facebook page. We’ll include some select recipes and stories in our upcoming Back to the Table e-book.