My dream is to write songs that chart on Billboard’s HOT 100 list.

So in between takes as a marketing customer database administrator at National Headquarters, I’ve begun laying down tracks in my home studio, complete with guitar, keyboard and microphone for vocals, connected to recording and mixing software on my laptop.

“Keep dreaming, Tim!” you might say. And who could argue given the excellence and competition in music publishing today across pop, country, alt and R&B genres?

But, then again, why not me? George Strait, Luke Bryan and that other Tim (the one married to Faith Hill) have to corral songs for their next album from somewhere. With practice and drive, I believe I can deliver.

I have written songs since The Eagles were in their prime and have dozens of song fragments with lyrics and chords scribbled in notebooks filed in a basement office.

The problem is mine: Unless you’ve heard me at an open mic, campfire, deck or kitchen concert, you probably are not familiar with my “Colorado Rain,” “Summer Dreams,” “Going Home,” or “A Matter of Time.”

“I can’t believe you WROTE that!” said one kind listener after a patio concert. “You missed your calling,” said another, perhaps a little woozy from the tiki torches by the stage.

But I’m trusting there is some substance to those compliments. And I’ll never know for sure until I try. So I’ve resolved to get those songs out of the basement and into the hands of the publishers and record companies who can assemble the singers, musicians and engineers to do their magic on my words and tunes.

Online DreamBank provides boost

It was a recent visit to www.dreamfearlessly.com that inspired me to dust off those folders, change to fresh guitar strings, and amp up the microphone to make some demos.

Watching the videos at DreamBank of fellow dreamers, I realized I’m a lot like them:  What I do gives me joy, but sharing it with others is a hundred times more rewarding.

To get going, I read the 2014 Songwriter’s Market from cover-to-cover and learned tips to prepare a professional submission to music publishers interested in my style of songs. I’ve learned how to write and structure a song in familiar Verse - Chorus – Verse - Break - Chorus format. I get how to prepare a demo CD, lyric sheet and cover letter.

I’ve also learned that most music publishers and record companies do not accept unsolicited songs, preferring to get material from their own network of writers, producers and agents. So breaking in can be tough and I have no illusions about an easy path.

But some publishers listed in the Market do take songs, promising a 50-50 split of royalties if a song is published, recorded and played. I’m game to take that approach and I love their friendly advice to budding songwriters:

“Does not want weak songs.” Check.

“Be original in your approach, don’t send us a cover tune.” Check.

“Keep writing and sending in songs. Never give up—the next hit may be just around the bend.” Yeah!

Putting the plan into action

To keep on track, I set a goal to identify five music publishers and to send them a demo package for “Colorado Rain” by March.

Having cut the demo CDs, it was surreal to select and address packages to publishers in these great music cities: Nashville, New Orleans, Houston and Hollywood, along with a Wisconsin publisher for good luck.

I’m pleased to report, I completed the demo packages, dropped them in the mail and met my March deadline. What a thrill! Now I can say, officially, for the first time, I AM a songwriter.

Allow eight to 12 weeks for a reply, say the music publishers. Meanwhile, I’ll continue the beat, submitting songs to more publishers, recognizing that action is the bridge between dreaming, believing and achieving:

If you dream it, you can believe it! If you believe it, you can achieve it!

Hey, that’s good. I gotta run. I hear a song in the making.


When I sit down for lunch, I take a sandwich from my brown paper bag and before I know it, it’s gone. When it’s time to go back to my desk, I crinkle up the bag and toss it in the garbage. It’s been thrown away so it’s gone, right?


The truth is, things never just “go away.” When we toss paper bags or other trash into a garbage can, it’s later taken to a landfill where it can take years to degrade.

At American Family, we’ve recognized that this waste-management practice is inefficient and we’re constantly looking for new systems of making garbage “go away,” as part of our dream for zero waste.

American Family currently sends all organic waste from our National Headquarters to a dry anaerobic digester. This machine takes all of our organic material, puts it in an oxygen-free environment, adds some microorganisms, and gets to work. 

Over the next four weeks, paper bags, apple cores and other food scraps get broken down in this chamber. At the end of the cycle, what was once garbage has been turned into thick, nutrient-rich black dirt. This product can be composted, used for dairy farm bedding, applied directly to cropland or converted into other products.

This isn’t even the best part!

As those organics are being broken down, they produce a ton a methane gas. This gas is collected, turned into electricity, and sent out to the grid where it is used to power surrounding buildings and even the composter itself!

In addition to our work with organics, American Family has extensive recycling practices that divert plastic, glass, paper, metal, wood, Styrofoam and used equipment from ending up in landfills.

Keeping waste out of our landfills isn’t easy, but at American Family we believe it’s part of our service to our customers. Landfills are large, stinky, and often highly toxic. We feel it is our duty to act as good community stewards and keep as much garbage out of landfills as possible. It is our goal to eventually expand zero-waste efforts to all our owned facilities.

A zero-waste future is our vision at American Family. You can help too, by remembering to first reduce, then reuse, and finally recycle.

Thanks for letting me talk trash with you!


 In Indiana, hoosier hysteria is a way of life.

Though you won’t find it in the dictionary, this phrase is well known and describes the excitement surrounding Indiana basketball – specifically, Indiana high school basketball. My staff and I witnessed the hysteria earlier this month at the Fifth Annual High School Slam Dunk and Three-Point Championship at Carmel High School, sponsored by American Family Insurance.

This event featured 16 outstanding high school seniors – eight young men and eight young women – from all over the country, competing in a one-minute three-point shooting contest. The senior boys also had just two opportunities to demonstrate their creative, challenging slam dunk skills for a panel of Indiana celebrity judges in the Slam Dunk Championship.

When we walked into the gymnasium, the energy was electric. Spectators from all over Indiana came out to witness and support the athletes demonstrating their amazing talent. This night had the potential to be history-making for some of these young players as they competed, hoping to become one step closer to pursuing their dreams. The cheers were deafening as Carmel senior Ryan Cline made it to the finals and won the three-point competition with 22 points in the final round (one and two points are awarded per shot).

Everyone from my office was thrilled to attend this event, as each has a love for Indiana basketball. Basketball brings together the old and young, boys and girls, urbanites and those from tiny rural communities. We gather at homes or at a restaurant to watch the games. And whether you live in the city, suburbs or on a country road, chances are, there’s a basketball goal within a rock’s throw.

More than half the homes in our neighborhood have basketball goals in their driveways. We see kids gathering nightly to play. I grew up playing in the neighborhood, on my high school team, and later with a group at our church. Our son has played basketball the last two seasons and this year I coached his third grade team. A basketball goal was a must-have feature on our “wish list” when we purchased our home late last year.

One of our office’s licensed producers is Noblesville, Indiana native Tom Coverdale, Mr. Basketball 1998. He was asked to judge the Slam Dunk Competition with four others including Boom Herron, running back with the Indianapolis Colts. Tom says in Indiana you are basically born with a basketball in your hands. Every kid dreams of playing for their high school team and in college. The state has a following unlike any other state when it comes to basketball. The atmosphere at Carmel High School was no different.

Bobby Plump, John Wooden, Larry Bird and Steve Alford all began pursuing their dreams in a high school gymnasium in Indiana. Hoosiers take great pride in remembering these young men before they were legendary players, and we feel a connection to their success.

It was an honor and a thrill for us to be involved in the High School Slam Dunk and Three-Point Championship representing American Family Insurance. This event allowed these young athletes to demonstrate their athleticism and to “dream big.” 

Whatever becomes of them as they pursue their basketball dreams, we will be able to say, “we were there” when it began.


Arthritis is a disease that affects my family. Over time, it destroys joints, bones, muscles, cartilage and other connective tissues. It affects all aspects of a person’s life as it hampers or halts physical movement.

Currently, there’s no cure.    

Arthritis isn’t an “old person’s” disease. In fact, of the 50 million Americans stricken with arthritis, 300,000 are children. Here are some quick facts that might surprise you.

  • Arthritis is the nation’s leading cause of disability.
  • Juvenile arthritis affects one in 250 children and is one of the most common chronic childhood diseases – more common than juvenile diabetes, cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy combined.

When she was only 13 years old, my wife, Deb, was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Thanks to many doctors and treatment options during the years, she’s getting along pretty well. We’re very fortunate she received the care she has when you consider there are fewer than 250 board-certified, practicing pediatric rheumatologists in the United States.

Maintaining a good quality of life doesn’t come easy for Deb. She’s endured multiple surgeries and is on a steady regimen of daily and monthly medications. Through all this, she runs our household and enjoys volunteering – especially at our son Jacob’s school. She also serves as the Board Chair of the Arthritis Foundation for the Madison, Wisconsin area. 

We’ve been involved with the Arthritis Foundation in Madison for quite some time. This year, we were asked to be corporate chair honorees at the foundation’s Walk to Cure Arthritis on May 2.

After considering the impact the disease has on many family, friends and colleagues –  and all the support we’ve received from our American Family “family” through the years – we agreed that it was the right thing to do. After all, some of the greatest memories Deb and I have are meeting, interacting with and learning from the many people who have joined together to fight this disease. By teaming with American Family, we can do the most good for the Arthritis Foundation and everyone they serve.

The walk in Madison features a one and three-mile course, combined with arthritis information and activities for the entire family. It’s one of many such walks across the country and is the Arthritis Foundation’s signature event to put an end to arthritis.

If you’re in the Madison area May 2, I’d love to see you at the walk. If not, I encourage you to get involved with a Walk to Cure Arthritis event near you. Whether you participate in a walk or make a donation, you’ll help people get access to the critical medications they need to live full, healthy lives and to also fund research that improves treatments today and hope for a future cure.

 Together, we can make a difference.


Do you remember Super Grover? That loveable, furry, blue character from “Sesame Street,” who always was ready to jump in and save the day? I’m going to tell you about a real Super Grover, my stepson, Spencer.Grover Spencer

The story begins on Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012. My husband, Tim, and I were in bed. About 11:45 p.m. we heard the local sirens go off, and fire and rescue trucks go out. About 12:15 a.m., our daughter, Cora, came bursting into our bedroom. She was on the phone with her older brother, Pat (my other stepson). Pat had received a call from friends saying 20-year-old Spencer had been in a car accident.

We got the terrible news he was not going to survive his injuries. He was brain dead, being kept alive only by machines. My husband was approached by the Organ Procurement Association about donating, and he and his ex-wife agreed it was what Spencer would have wanted. We didn’t have his wallet, so we couldn’t look at his driver’s license to see if the organ donor sticker was there, but we felt it was the only way some good could come out of this horrible tragedy.

So we waited in that little hospital room as preparations were made, listening to the machines beep, to his artificial breathing, wishing for a miracle, knowing it wasn’t coming. They had to search for the best match for his organs. The medical team had to be assembled. We waited roughly 43 hours from the time we got the first call, before my husband, his ex-wife and I walked to the operating room and said our final goodbyes.

Four people received his organs. Four people who had only a few days to live if they had not received a transplant. Four families who did not have to go through the pain of losing their loved ones.

Donor families have the option of contacting the organ recipients, letting them know about their organ donor, and whether or not they’d like to get in direct contact. So we did.

We heard from three of the families, and in the two-and-a-half years that have passed, we’ve become an extended family. First, we met Bob, a 59-year-old from northern Wisconsin who had been misdiagnosed with a pinched nerve in his neck, when he actually was having small heart attacks. He received Spencer’s heart. There was Russ, a 38-year-old from New York, who had had Type 1 diabetes since he was 11. He received one of Spencer’s kidneys. And, there was Lauren, a 19-year-old from Illinois with Wilson disease. She received Spencer’s liver.

Nothing will bring Spencer back, and nothing will take away the pain we feel on his birthday, at holidays, or on the anniversary of his accident. But seeing these three people – who are alive only because of him, living life to the fullest and making the most of their second chance ­– does help.

Bob was able to see his son marry. Russ is beginning a new career in finance and just got engaged. We were at Lauren’s wedding in November. We know that part of Spencer is still alive, living in them. We believe he’s in heaven, looking down not only on us, but also on them, knowing that he truly did become “Super Grover.” He saved lives.

Feb. 14 isn’t just Valentine’s Day, it’s Donor Day, a holiday that celebrates all those people who have donated blood, marrow, tissue, and, of course, organs. Ironically, it’s also Spencer’s birthday.

Earlier, I mentioned, we didn’t have Spencer’s wallet when the decision was made to donate his organs. That bothered my husband, because he worried about whether that was what Spencer would have wanted.

Six months later, after the investigation was complete, we got Spencer’s wallet back. There it was, that little orange organ donor sticker, confirming it was what he wanted.

Do you have that orange sticker on your driver’s license? If not, I hope you consider it. I know it’s a very personal decision, but with one little sticker, you can save several lives.

I hope you never have to make that choice for a loved one, as my family had to do. But by having that sticker on your driver’s license, you will let your loved ones know your wishes if that time does come.

I hope my story has given you something to think about. If you weren’t planning to be an organ donor, I hope you will consider it.

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