Feeding hopes and dreams around the family dinner table

The Wingate familyThe 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.

Back to the Family Dinner TableEditor’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. 

The Benefits of Not Giving Up

SOPHIE'S SQUASH When I was small, I hung out in my library’s children’s section, reading picture book after picture book. Then, I’d go to the card catalog – remember that? – and flip to where my name would be if I had written a book.

As I grew older, I branched out and read all kinds of books. But, I kept reading picture books, hoping I’d write one someday.

I wrote my first picture book draft in college. My family liked it. But, I didn’t know what to do next. I sent it to one publisher, chosen at random, got a rejection and didn’t try again.

So, I wrote in other ways. As a newspaper reporter. A magazine editor. A public relations employee. And, I was always reading to myself or my daughters.

As my 40th birthday neared, I was happy. I had a family I loved. A job I enjoyed. Good health. But, I finally acknowledged the truth. If I didn’t try – really try – to publish a book, I would regret it.

I also realized something obvious. To publish a book, I had to write one first.

So, I got busy. I stopped watching TV and wrote every night when my kids were asleep. I read more books, focusing on how they were structured and what made them work. I spent weekends reading everything my favorite authors had ever written.

I joined critique groups to get feedback and attended conferences where my work was evaluated. And, finally, I learned to properly submit work to publishers.

When I thought I knew enough and was good enough, I sent stories for consideration. I quickly found I wasn’t ready. Even though I’d been paid to write for much of my adult life, I got form rejection after form rejection.

I didn’t give up.

I kept writing and reading and learning. Almost every moment I wasn’t working or parenting or sleeping, I was trying to be a better children’s writer.

I began seeing hopeful signs. Notes written by real editors scrawled on a form rejection. “Cute, but not for us.” “I’d be happy to see more of your work.”

But, still, always a “no.”

I didn’t give up.

I revised existing stories. I wrote new ones. I listened to published authors speak and took copious notes. I improved my stories and sent them to more publishers.

And, got more rejections – 126 in all.

Then, one day, my phone rang. The caller ID said, “Random House.” The voice on the other end said, “Pat? This is Anne Schwartz from Schwartz & Wade.”

It was the moment I’d imagined. Anne wanted to publish my picture book, SOPHIE’S SQUASH.

From there, things took off. I got a literary agent. She helped me sell three more books in fairly short order. SOPHIE came out to positive reviews and more acclaim than I ever could have imagined.

Now, I have a family I love, a job I enjoy and something I’ve wanted since I was small – a picture book with my name on it.

Card catalogs have gone away, it’s true. But, seeing SOPHIE’S SQUASH listed online is equally satisfying.

And, who knows? Maybe somewhere, someday, a child will read my book and think, “Hey! I could write one of these.”

Dream Big Series at DreamBank - MadisonEditor’s note: Meet Pat and hear her story at an exclusive DreamBank – Madison event Thursday, Oct. 10, from 6:30-7:30 p.m.  RSVP early to receive a free copy of her book, Sophie’s Squash, and secure your seat for this inspiring evening at American Family's DreamBank in downtown Madison, Wis.

Are You Ready? September is National Preparedness Month

September is National Preparedness MonthIf a tornado, blizzard, earthquake or fire threatened your town or home, protecting your family is your No. 1 priority. 

A question to ask yourself is, do you know what to do and will you be prepared? If you’re not sure, September’s National Preparedness Month is for you.

Beginning in 2004, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared September as “National Preparedness Month.” The idea is to encourage people to prepare and plan in advance what to do to protect their family and survive if a large-scale disaster strikes their town.

National Preparedness Month is an educational event and encourages people to have a plan and resources set aside to be self-reliant for at least three days during an emergency where there might not be access to utilities, food, water, fuel or other local services.

This year alone we’ve seen floods, wildfires, blizzards, tornadoes and hurricanes affect entire regions of the country. When an event like this hits your home town, knowing what to do before, during and after may make all the difference as to how well you and your family survive.

Whether you’re at home, work or on-the-go, it’s important to have a plan. Planning ahead will ensure that you and your family know what to do, where to go and have the supplies you need to be safe wherever you are. National Preparedness Month encourages families, businesses and communities to prepare and plan by: 

  • Being informed about emergencies that could impact your community.
  • Identifying sources of information that will be helpful before, during and after an emergency.
  • Planning what to do in an emergency.
  • Building a survival kit.  

To help you and your family create a plan, the Centers for Disease Control  and Prevention has teamed up with the American Red Cross to create a website – Emergency Preparedness and You – filled with helpful information about emergency planning for you and your family.

Don’t take a chance. The only thing worse than a disaster hitting your home town is not knowing what to do if it does.

Editor's note: American Family Insurance offers a wide range of information to help proactively protect your family, home, auto and business. Check out the Learning Center on our website for valuable tips to help protect your dreams. 

Biking to work gives me the gift of time

By biking to work instead of driving, Dale Gavney gets exercise, saves money, has a greener footprint and gets back some time.Most days, I bike to work. By bike, I mean the motorless kind. In addition to saving money on gas, reducing wear and tear on my car, and having a greener footprint (I now drive about 5,000 miles less per year), I’ve discovered my bike is also my personal time machine.

First, my bike saves me time.

Riding to work blends my commuting and workout time. By blending exercise and commuting, I actually get about an hour back in my day! How’s that for quantifiable impact!

Second, my bike gives me time.

Being on a bike twice a day gives me more time outside, feeling the sun (or rain) on my skin, smelling the grass, the trees, or farmers’ fields. I also hear birds and frogs that I can’t hear when I’m in a car. This outside time is precious to me.

If you practice mindfulness or other kinds of meditation, you know being attuned to your senses is important. Riding a bike like I do is a gold mine for the senses.

I also get more time to connect to others. On a bike, it’s easy to pull over and chat with anyone including neighbors, fellow bikers and even the crossing guard I see every day on my way to work.

Third, my bike itself is from another time.

Heavy, solid and with a smooth ride, my Reagan-era mountain bike is “more Harley-Davidson than Trek,” according to the guy who sold it to me.

Finally, my bike takes me back in time.

Bike riding is making me younger. Maybe not literally, but riding has changed my appetite to be more in line with a person half my age. On really challenging days, when the wind is strong or snow is on the ground, I get an awesome workout and lots of fresh air. On those days I feel like I’m 20 again.

And on those nights, I’m asleep in no time. 

Editor's note: The League of American Bicyclists has named American Family Insurance as one of 400 Bicycle Friendly Businesses nationwide. 

Wise Land Use Yields Unexpected Benefits

Rita Garczynski on the grounds of American Family Insurance National Headquarters.I never tire of the view at our headquarters in Madison, Wis. The surrounding landscape features wildflowers, stone walls, seating areas and a pond. These gradually change over to oak woodlots and large grassland areas.

When our facility was built, the intent of the grasslands was to transition to outlying natural areas and keep expenses down by reducing the costs associated with large well-groomed lawns. It turns out these tall grasses are an ideal habitat for nesting grassland birds. An employee discovered this 20 years ago when he spotted a Dicksissel living in the grasses.

Knowing this, American Family decided to strike a balance between economic development and land resource protection. We realized we have an opportunity to protect and restore diverse plant and animal species on our lands.

As an example, we found that simply by delaying the annual mowing of our meadow until mid-August, the Dicksissel – whose population has been steeply declining – could successfully raise their young.

Our land use plan has three goals:

  • Research existing habitat and wildlife.
  • Implement land-management practices to support habitat-enhancement strategies.
  • Promote employee and community involvement.

Since then, some of our land-use achievements include:

  • Installation of a native prairie butterfly garden.
  • Restoration of oak woodlots to oak savannas.
  • Conversion of several acres of non-native plants to native species.
  • Pond management for habitat diversity.
  • Installation of a 34 bluebird nest boxes.

It’s been a gratifying experience. Some of the most rewarding compliments on our land use come from customers. One guest said that after discovering American Family’s dedication to responsible land management, he would definitely remain our customer. He was an administrator at a local college and was so impressed with our land use plans that he asked if his facilities team could contact me for more details!

I also received a similar compliment from a customer who is an employee with the Wisconsin DNR. She said, “I am so thrilled and impressed to discover I have been doing business with a company that truly cares about the environment.”

At American Family, it’s rewarding to know our good stewardship isn’t just a financial way of life, it extends to our land resources as well.

Editor's note: Learn more about the environmental sustainability efforts at American Family Insurance on our website

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