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30 Days of Thanks: Community

30 Days of Thanks CommunityThis spring, my husband and I decided to build an orchard at our newly-purchased home.

We could have put it in the back, but I proposed installing the orchard in the front. One of my goals was to make the orchard a focal point for the block, and a learning opportunity about growing perennial food, alternatives to grass lawns and to build community. One way to accomplish my goal was to include our neighbors in building it and harvesting from it.

The last week in April, I walked door to door introducing myself to everyone on my block. I apologized for the giant piles of dirt, wood chips and hay bales spilling into the sidewalk. I explained that we were about to install an orchard for everyone on the block to enjoy. And finally, I invited people to stop by to watch, and pitch in, if they wanted.

On installation day, 25 people from many circles of my life showed up, including five neighbors. In four hours, we moved seven tons of compost, spread 25 bales of hay and planted eight fruit trees.

It was, by all accounts, wildly successful.

More than a month later, another remarkable event happened. My neighbor, we’ll call her Gloria, walked by while I was in the front yard. She’s on a fixed income and has a hard time getting around and immediately apologized for not being able to help plant trees. I told her she was participating by enjoying it. Then she lifted a small pack of flowers out of her walker’s basket, saying she found them on clearance at a local nursery. I accepted them them as precious gems, and thanked her for the beautiful gift.

The flowers were, however, just the start of what she had to offer. She told me that she’d lived on the block for years, and had never quite felt like she belonged. “But since you did this,” pointing at the orchard, “and invited people to participate, I feel like everyone is so much nicer and like I belong here.”

Her words stunned me.

I asked myself, “Did the block really change that much?” Or had Gloria’s perspective changed? Then I realized it didn’t matter what changed. Somehow, eight fruit trees in my front yard helped Gloria feel like she belonged. 

Turns out, I didn’t build an orchard, I started to build a community.

Watch the four-hour orchard installation in six chaotic minutes.

Josh also writes The Urbane Farmer blog.

30 Days of ThanksEditor'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 -- or even just take a few moments each day to reflect on everything good in your life. Visit us on Facebook during November for inspiration and ideas as we celebrate 30 Days of Thanks. 

30 Days of Thanks: Appreciating the gifts in your life

30 Days of ThanksI’m a big fan of autumn.

The crisp air, college football, apple picking. A large part of what I like about fall is the harvest. From pulling in the produce in my own garden to watching the farmers combine their corn fields, it’s a time I appreciate the hard work that’s gone into this harvest, and I’m thankful for the results.

For me, the harvest and November are a major time of gratitude. Every time I look at a combine in the field when it’s dark and cold out, I’m grateful that farmer is out there supplying the world with food. When I make my annual donation to our local food bank for their Thanksgiving baskets, I appreciate the organizations focused on helping people get enough to eat.

November is a time I slow down a bit before the commercial craziness of the holiday season begins. I take stock of the year that’s been, and all the people who supported me during it, and I start thinking about the year ahead and the dreams I want to pursue.  I’m thankful for the people I know who’ve helped me get where I am and will continue helping me achieve new dreams.

That’s the rationale behind American Family’s 30 Days of Thanks. During November, we’ll show our gratitude for different groups of people and say thanks for the things that brighten our lives every day – like laughter. Each of these days, we’ll ask you to share your gratitude by recognizing your favorite teacher, or giving a shout-out to your sister.

We’re kicking it off today by thanking veterans. Their sacrifices have defined us as a nation. They protect our dreams in ways most of us will never comprehend. So visit us on Facebook, leave a comment or share our post with your friends and family – and share your thanks for the veterans in your life.  

This is the second year we’ve done 30 Days of Thanks. Last year, I was blown away by the response we had from people who participated and took time to thank the people who’ve made a difference in their lives. This attitude of gratitude isn’t just about the other person; it makes us feel good, too.

Should we be grateful every day? Definitely.  In November, let’s make it a point not just to be grateful, but to let the people we love – the people who’ve inspired us – know we appreciate them.

30 days of Thanks Active MilitaryEditor'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. 

Home for Halloween? An adoption story

This is why Halloween is Pat Miller's favorite holiday.I love my children.

That’s not an unusual thing to say. Most parents love their children in a way they find hard to describe and might not even have imagined was possible before those children arrived.

But while I always love my children, I love them most this time of year. Right around Halloween.

Why? It all goes back 17 years or so. At that time, my husband and I had filed paperwork to adopt a child from China and were waiting to be matched with a baby. All things considered, we were being very calm and very patient.

Until our social worker left a message saying there might be a problem. We called back and found out that China was re-evaluating its rules for international adoption, and our application might be denied because we were younger than their stated age preference for parents. We would have to wait for a government committee miles and miles and miles away to make a decision.

Until that happened, our adoption was on hold.

As we waited, less patiently and less calmly, Halloween came. As each costumed toddler came to my door and looked up at me with wondering eyes or whispered, “Trick or treat!” I felt sadder. Eventually, I let myself indulge in some self-pity.

These people all had children. I did not. Maybe I never would. It wasn’t fair.

Once, I was telling this story to a friend – trying to explain why Halloween was my favorite holiday. She interrupted me at this point to say, “This is a horrible story! How can Halloween be your favorite holiday when that happened?”

Halloween is, indeed, my favorite holiday, but it isn’t because of the Halloween I didn’t have my daughter. It’s because of the Halloween that happened one year later.

By then, China had determined its guidelines. We had qualified to adopt, and we’d even traveled to China and returned with our oldest daughter.

By that Halloween, she was 18 months old. We dressed her in the cutest pumpkin costume ever and she toddled around the neighborhood holding my hand and looking up at everyone who answered the door with wondering eyes.

I would have enjoyed those moments under any circumstances. But comparing my happiness that Halloween to my sadness the previous one made the first Halloween with my daughter that much sweeter.

So every Halloween, I remember how thankful I am for that little pumpkin, who has grown up into a talented, intelligent and only occasionally exasperating teen.

She and I won’t be trick-or-treating this Halloween, but I will definitely be remembering how thankful I am that she is in my life. 

30 Days of ThanksEditor'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 -- or even just take a few moments each day to reflect on everything good in your life. Visit us on Facebook during November for inspiration and ideas as we celebrate 30 Days of Thanks. 

Teen Safe Driver program reveals driving habits of family and friends

Teen Driver Safety WeekWe’re a family with four kids, and our oldest is enrolled in the Teen Safe Driver program from American Family Insurance. We initially signed up in order to get lower insurance rates and, more importantly, to monitor our teen's driving habits.

We both agreed that we really needed to know how she was driving when we weren’t with her.

Initially, our daughter was resistant to the idea. After we talked about it and told her we’d be saving money on insurance, she decided to support it. Now, meeting the weekly score goal is something she takes pride in.

At first our daughter's scores were usually above the goal set by Teen Safe Driver. Over time, the number of “incidents” dropped and she is meeting the goals fairly consistently.

Now, an event is often triggered because of a particularly rough patch of road instead of anything she’s doing wrong. The events that normally set off the camera are nearly gone.

One of the best things from our daughter's point of view is that we've “caught” members of our family riding without seatbelts. Our daughter was grateful that we took this up with them directly, so she didn’t have to confront them.

A big lesson learned however, came when one of her friends was driving the car (with our permission).

One weekend, we took a number of our kids’ friends to a youth conference a couple hours away from home. We were taking three cars and one of our daughter's older friends was driving our car with the camera.

The shock of our life came when both of us saw how she was run onto the shoulder. She was very frightened by the experience and had to be relieved by another driver. Later we watched the video and saw that at the critical moment of moving into the other vehicle's blind spot, the friend had bent down to pick up something she had dropped on the floor. As a result she never saw the other driver pull into her lane. This was a significant learning moment for her and our daughter as well.

Our experience with Teen Safe Driver has been a really good one. We're definitely big fans.

 

Teen Safe Driver logoEditor's note: In observance of National Teen Driver Safety Week (Oct. 20-26), American Family encourages all motorists to commit themselves to safe driving practices. A great starting point is our online Safe Driving Pledge, where you agree to follow six commonsense practices that will help protect you, your passengers and those with whom you share the road.
 
 
(Even if you took the pledge before, renew your commitment to safe driving today. It's the first stop on the road to making a real and lasting difference.) And just for participating, we'll enter you in a drawing for one of 10 $250 gift cards.

Becoming better drivers – together

Teen Driver Safety WeekWhen my daughter turned 16 in October, I decided it would be the perfect time to try out the Teen Safe Driver program. I would have some firsthand knowledge of her driving and help her be a better driver. An added benefit was that I could describe how the program works for our clients. [Kim is a customer service representative in an American Family Insurance office in Omaha, Nebraska.]

While my daughter wasn’t opposed to the camera, she wasn’t thrilled about it either. Since she didn’t have a car of her own, I had the camera installed in my car which we share. After it was installed, she set it off many times in the early days.

At first, she claimed the camera was way too sensitive, and it was impossible not to set it off. It didn’t help that I was setting it off as much as she was. She clearly learned her bad habits from me!

I decided to turn it into a game to see which one of us could set it off the least and accumulate the fewest points. She quickly started beating me and after six months with the camera, she can now drive without setting it off at all.

Teen Safe Driver has clearly done its job and has taught her to be a better driver. It’s also given me the added bonus of helping our agency give more detailed information about the program to our clients. Many times, we’ve pulled up my daughter’s recordings to show how the camera works. The result is that more people are interested in the program to teach their own children to be better drivers.

Teen Safe Driver works.

Our office will continue to be an advocate for this program.

Teen Safe Driver logoEditor's note: In observance of National Teen Driver Safety Week (Oct. 20-26), American Family encourages all motorists to commit themselves to safe driving practices. A great starting point is our online Safe Driving Pledge, where you agree to follow six commonsense practices that will help protect you, your passengers and those with whom you share the road.

Take our safe driving pledge.

(Even if you took the pledge before, renew your commitment to safe driving today. It's the first stop on the road to making a real and lasting difference.) And just for participating, we'll enter you in a drawing for one of 10 $250 gift cards.

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