Crossing the finish line

finish lineHow many times have you crossed the finish line? It may have been in a foot race, learning to successfully bake a pie or graduating from college. Throughout our lives, we continually cross one finish line and then look for the next.

Sometimes, we have to cross an unexpected finish line.

An unexpected finish line I crossed in 2001 was beating breast cancer. When given my diagnosis, I knew little about breast cancer or where I'd go from there. My oncologist told me we’d break my journey down into manageable pieces and when I crossed one finish line, we’d head toward the next.

Feeling scared and alone, my family and I began the treatment journey.

I had major surgery in February 2001 and needed time off from work to heal and to have all the required follow-up appointments. I soon learned out of something negative, comes many positives. I learned how many people cared about me and my family. My co-workers arranged to bring food to my house each week – including some great cheesecake – and many of them visited or called.

I had other breast cancer survivors reach out to me and provide valuable information, direction and support. Many of these people worked at American Family. I gained several new friends and a new understanding that no matter what, one is never alone.

After about six weeks off work and a lot of cheesecake, I went back to work. I had crossed another finish line and was looking toward the next.

The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure was coming up, so along with friends and family members, I signed up. Three months after having major surgery, I crossed the finish line of the 5K walk as a cancer survivor. A pink ribbon with a medal attached was hung around my neck, and I was given a pink flower. I had never received a medal, trophy or ribbon as an award. Now, I have several medals and certificates as I continue to participate in these walks and other events. One event of particular pride I participated in was the Pink Packer Hat campaign in 2005 sponsored by American Family and the Green Bay Packers.

I did what I could to help others by sharing what I had learned on my journey.

In October 2007, I was diagnosed with breast cancer a second time. It was in my reconstructed breast and was an aggressive form of cancer, already at stage three. I had surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. I was fortunate that I handled the chemo fairly well and was able to work while going through my treatments.

I successfully crossed that finish line, too.

I have a pink ribbon on my car and had SURV1VOR put on my license plate to not only celebrate beating cancer twice, but also to attract attention to the fight against breast cancer. This has led to several people asking me questions. One memorable experience was in the parking lot of a retail store. A young man and woman approached me asking about my plates and if I was willing to answer some questions. The lady was 32 and had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a beautiful day, so we sat outside and talked for more than an hour. We exchanged contact information and are now friends. She is doing great, too!

I believe that everything happens for a reason.  My experiences have given me the insight to help others in their battles with breast cancer. I’m happy to help others cross their finish lines of fighting this disease.

I am on a committee for the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides against Breast Cancer, currently planned for October in Madison. I also walked in this year’s Madison Komen Race for the Cure. Please consider walking at an event in your community.

We’ll cross the finish line together.

Editor’s note: American Family Insurance has a long, proud history of protecting dreams, and helping the communities we serve. Our corporate philanthropy program focuses on basic human needsyouth and educationhealth and arts and culture. Visit our website to learn more about the charitable fund-raising events and non-profit organizations we support across our 19-state operating territory, including championing programs like the United WayAmerican Family Children’s Hospital and the Steve Stricker American Family Foundation.

Prepare for life before the unexpected happens

Prepare for the unexpectedIt’s been almost two years to the day since my father died. It was very sudden and unexpected. He was only 50 years old, and unmarried. Though he passed away from congestive heart failure, he was still an extremely healthy, strong, fit, happy man.

I was only 26 years old. I’m a young mom, and my daughter was only two years old at the time. My husband and I both worked, but we didn’t have a lot in savings. Being an only child, I was suddenly hit with the realities of funeral costs, and all the other stress that comes with a loved one dying. My dad had no life insurance, living will, savings or anything at all prepared. Thankfully, he had mentioned to me in past conversations that he wished to be cremated. However, other than that, I was on my own as far as decision-making.

I was suddenly in charge of doing all of these things that I had no idea how to do.

I was trying to cancel his health and car insurance, close out his bank accounts, sell his vehicle, clean out his apartment, notify all his loved ones about what was happening, meet with the funeral home regarding arrangements, etc. I was not prepared for this. Especially because I was doing it while working 40 hours per week, and toting a toddler around with me everywhere.

Luckily for me, my grandmother stepped in and offered to pay for funeral expenses. We did everything as inexpensively as possible. Dad was cremated, which eliminated other expenses such as embalming. We had services in our church instead of a funeral home. We only put notice of death in two local newspapers instead of any state or national ones offered. We opted to bring some of my dad’s own beautiful plants from his garden instead of paying for flower arrangements.

We tried to make everything as simple as possible. Even then, after all was said and done, the funeral cost us a little more than $11,000. This sort of bill would have crushed my new, small family. I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t have my grandmother, or if she had not been able to help me with these expenses.

This experience taught me that life insurance isn’t just for older adults. You never know when something will happen, and when your family is already grieving and completely lost without you, you don’t want to burden them with more stress and a whopping bill on top of such an emotional situation.

In the time since my father’s death, my husband and I have decided to divorce. I have asked to ensure a life insurance requirement is written into the parenting plan we are creating for our daughter. We’ve agreed to both carry a policy (of an amount we decided together) with our daughter as the ultimate beneficiary. This can be handled a number of ways, including for example, a Uniform Transfer to Minors Act (UTMA) custodian designation or testamentary trust as beneficiary. She will never be put in the position that I was when my father died. We want to make sure our daughter is provided for, no matter what. It’s easy to think if something were to happen to my ex-husband today, that I could raise my daughter on my own with only my income to provide for her. However, the truth is, it would be difficult for me to help her buy her first car or pay for college.

We want to make sure just in case anything were to happen to either of us,  she would still have all the  opportunities and dreams we hope for her in life.

I felt it was important to share my personal life insurance story.

Editor's note: What kind of life insurance policy is most appropriate and affordable for you? Find out by contacting an American Family agent today or visit our website

A “Big” Experience Worth Sharing

Big Brothers Big Sisters logoI have always been interested in volunteering where I can make a difference.

I’ve volunteered with many different organizations such as the American Red Cross, United Way and local food pantries. But the organization that has given me the most satisfaction as a volunteer is Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS).

Through the years I have been matched with three different “Littles.” My first two matches with BBBS ended after about a year because their families moved. The third time was the charm when my wife Nancy and I were matched with Dylan.

Dylan was a typical 10-year-old looking for someone to connect with and spend some quality time. Thirteen years later, that 10-year-old is now 23. He has graduated from high school and started a career at UW Hospital in Madison, Wis. Dylan is about to begin studies to become a radiology or lab technician.

Kids become Little Brothers and Little Sisters for their own personal reasons and I’m sure Dylan could share with you many reasons why he wanted a “big” brother in his life.

I thought I’d share with you some reasons why I became a Big Brother. Being a Big Brother gave me the chance to:

  • Influence a child’s life in a positive way.
  • Share my life experiences with someone who may learn from them.
  • Give back to my community.
  • Start a lifelong friendship.

From the very beginning, one hobby I wanted to share with Dylan was my love for bowling. Nancy and I took Dylan to watch me bowl in a league. Not long after that, we joined an adult-child summer league. At first, Dylan didn’t seem to like bowling very much, but I encouraged him to give this sport a chance. He started to make strides in his skills and I encouraged him to join his high school bowling team. Dylan’s successes to date include a 300 game and multiple competition and league awards. He even placed third for his age group in a pro-am tournament. Bowling with Dylan allowed me to fulfill my dream of being someone special in the life of a child.

Dylan has flourished as a young adult. And, I think the life decisions he makes today were definitely shaped by the experiences we shared through our Big Brothers Big Sisters match.

Want to learn more about being a Brother or Big Sister? You can visit the Big Brothers Big Sisters website to learn about becoming a “big” where you live. 

Create a Home Inventory Today

The MacDonaldsIn October, I met a family who lost their home in the Black Forest fire on June 11, 2013. I traveled to Colorado Springs, Colo., and helped interview them for the 2013 annual report. The experience inspired me to finally create a home inventory – a task I’d been putting off for years.

Tim and Lainie MacDonald and their three sons lost virtually all their possessions in the June wildfire. Their laptop, a box of important documents and the clothes on their back were all they had after the fire.

The part of their story that really stuck with me was what happened after the fire. As part of their property claim, they had to inventory all of their personal possessions so they could be adequately reimbursed by American Family.

The MacDonalds didn’t have a home inventory, and when I met them more than four months after the fire, Lainie was still trying to construct one. She showed me a spiral notebook full of lists of possessions from each room in their house. She also explained how difficult it had been to try and remember everything her family of five had in their home and neighboring barn, which also burned to the ground.  

While I sat at the Colorado Springs airport following the interview, I thought about how hard it would be for me to do what she’s doing, if my house ever burned down. That’s what made me realize how important it was to create a home inventory. Since I had time on my hands while I waited for my flight, why not start working on it now?

So I did. I took out my notebook and started making lists of stuff in my house, beginning with the living room and slowly (very slowly) working my way through the rest of the house. By the time I got to Salt Lake City (our next destination on the annual report trip), I had a good start.  

When I got home, I sat down with my lists and looked around and added to them. I also tried to note where I bought the item and when, so it would be easier to get an estimate on price, in the event of a loss.

During her interview, Lainie mentioned how she tells her friends that if they do nothing else, they should take a digital camera and photograph the contents of their house. Open the closets and take a picture of the contents. Same goes with kitchen cupboards and dresser drawers.

So, three days after I got home, I charged my digital camera and started taking photos. In the process, I found even more things I forgot about, like the china set my grandma gave me and my biking shoes. It only took me about 20 minutes, but made me feel a lot better. Then, I downloaded the images, scanned in my handwritten lists and saved them to a CD and my DropBox account. I gave a copy of the CD to my parents to keep at their house.

My home inventory isn’t perfect. I didn’t record serial or model numbers for my electronics, and I haven’t figured out the value of some antiques I own. But it’s a start. That’s more than the MacDonalds had when they lost their home, and from talking to Lainie I know that start will save me a lot of time, work and headaches if I ever lost my home in a fire, tornado or other disaster.

Learn more about how the MacDonalds are rebuilding their dreams. Check out their story in the 2013 American Family annual report.

Want help creating your home inventory? Check out the American Family Insurance DreamVault app.

Recipes From the Garden: Basmati Rice and Vegetable Stuffed Peppers

Basmati Rice and Vegetable Stuffed PeppersHi Everyone!

I am Jennifer from Peanut Butter and Peppers. I have to tell you that I am really honored to be guest blogging for American Family Insurance on Dream Protectors. Today, I want to share with you a wonderful, simple recipe that can be made with ingredients from the garden.  One thing I love about the spring time is gardening. Nothing beats growing your own fresh produce. It’s tasty, fresh and the best feeling to cook or bake with something that you grew from the ground up.  

Let me introduce to you Basmati Rice and Vegetable Stuffed Peppers.

These little peppers have the best flavor! They are tender and slightly roasted and filled with basmati rice, zucchini, onions, garlic, and tomatoes and to give an extra boost of flavor Parmesan cheese. Yum! Right now, the zucchini, tomatoes and peppers are really growing well in the garden and this dish is a perfect use for them.

Have you started a garden this year? You really should! Not only will you get fresh produce that you grew, but you can also share your crop with friends and family. I think the best way to start a garden is to include the kids! Have your kids go with you to pick out your seeds or plants and have them plant it, care for it and harvest it. Not only will they feel proud to what they have grown, but they will want to eat there harvest and this my friends is a great way to get your kids to each your vegetables.

I have a few little gardening tips for you that I have learned from experience.

  • Plant your basil next to the tomatoes. The basil adds a boost of flavor to the tomatoes and the tomatoes help shade the basil in bright sun. Just be sure when your basil grows, to pluck off the flowers, so the plant keeps growing all season long.
  • Another thing I learned is plant Marigolds around your garden. They are kind of a strong smelling flower that keeps neighborhood cats at bay and the marigolds also prevent aphids and other pests from attacking your fruit and vegetables. I always buy a box of marigolds and plant it in the garden. Plus as a bonus they give a nice pop of color to the garden.
  • If you don’t have room to plant a garden, try a container garden. You can fit smaller vegetables like peppers in them or even better make an herb container. Nothing beats fresh herbs in your cooking. I’m planting, basil, sage, cilantro and oregano. These are the herbs I use the most.

Basmati Rice and Vegetable Stuffed PeppersBasmati Rice and Vegetable Stuffed Mini Bell Peppers

Minutes to Prepare: 20
Minutes to Cook: 15
Number of Servings: 22

2 1/2 cups water
1 cup brown basmati rice
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup onion, diced small
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 cups zucchini, chopped small
11 mini bell peppers
1 cup tomatoes, seeded, diced small
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
1/4 tsp. salt (more taste)
1 tbsp. Parmesan Cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.

Add water (For extra boost of flavor, cook in chicken or vegetable.) and rice to a large pot over medium heat. Bring to a boil and cover and simmer for 10-12 minutes until water is absorbed. Fluff with a fork.

Meanwhile in a large frying pan, add olive oil, garlic and onions and cook until tender. Add zucchini and cook until tender. Stir in rice and tomatoes.

While rice mixture is cooling. Cut peppers, horizontally to look like a boat. Take the membrane and seeds out.

Stuff peppers with vegetable and rice mixture
and place on prepared baking sheet. Top the peppers with Parmesan cheese and place in the oven for 15 minutes.

Note:  I had leftover rice mixture. Save it for lunches, a side dish or stuffing more peppers.

I am really happy to share this recipe hope it inspires you to plant a garden. Grab your kids and go plant shopping! Work together as a team to plant them, to care for them and to eat them. This experience will create memories that last forever.



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