Avoiding ice dams (and showers indoors)

Preventing ice damsWhen you’ve got kids, there are certain comments you just don’t want to hear.

“Daddy, the cat peed on your workbench.”

“We all traded hats in school today! How come my head itches?”

And then I'll never forget this one: “Daddy, Daddy, it’s raining in the family room!”

When I heard that, I rushed downstairs to discover my children frolicking about as a steady shower sprinkled downward from the ceiling beams. What fun!

It was on that unseasonably warm March morning when the term “ice dam” entered my vocabulary.

Looking out our family room window, I could see portions of the ice dam – a solid layer of ice and icicles encrusting the rain gutter along the edge of the roof.

The rapidly melting snow running down the roof was blocked by this dam, and the water began creeping its way back up the roof, seeping under the shingles and dripping through cracks and holes in the roof covering.

Meanwhile, inside our house, the ceiling had become so sodden that it began to shower indoors.

Three factors contributed to this predicament:

Insulation and structural issues: We had warm air in the attic, largely due to improper insulation, and the lack of ridge and soffit vents. This warm air heated the underside of the roof, increasing the rate of melting snow on top. So, uh, it was the house’s fault!

Clogged gutters: Okay, this one’s on me. I was lazy and didn’t clean my gutters the preceding fall.

Snow buildup: If I had removed about 3 to 5 feet snow feet from edge of the roof, that would have reduced or even eliminated the ice dam(age). Hindsight is 20-20.

Maybe there were other causes, but those seemed to be the big ones.

By the time I figured all of this out, the “rain inside” was starting to get out of hand. When your kids have to wear raincoats and boots just to watch TV, you know you’ve got a problem.

I had to act quickly. Using a hastily purchased roof rake, I pulled enough snow off the roof to bring the indoor showers to a virtual halt.

Then came the arduous work of cleaning everything up, and addressing the lack of insulation and venting.

Ever since then, I’ve religiously cleaned my gutters in the fall, and have used my roof rake to remove snow from the roof throughout the winter.

No more ice dams.

I guess that’s water under the, um, bridge.

Editor’s Note: Want to learn more about preventing ice dams, and dealing with them when they happen?  Check out this @dvisor article, or watch the video on this Learning Center page.  

Teaching – and learning – through Big Brothers Big Sisters

Britt and Je'KyahI was matched with my “little sister” Je’Kyah in June 2007 through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County in Madison, Wis.

The first time I met her in person was at her house. We ate monster peanut butter cookies and talked about what we liked to do. When I told Je’Kyah I liked to go shopping, bake cookies and watch movies, her eyes lit up. She smiled and I knew we’d be a great match.

That was more than six years ago. My little sister is now 16 and has her learners’ permit. For her 16th birthday, we got facial treatments together and went for coffee afterward. It was her first facial (and to be honest, only my second).

As she was driving us back from our appointment, she mentioned that she’s experienced a lot of “firsts” with me. That got me to thinking I’ve had many firsts with her, too. From feeding the geese at the Henry Vilas Zoo on our first outing to sailing and jet-skiing to watching an opera to Take Your Child to Work Day at American Family.

JeKyah and I have a long list of firsts we’ve experienced together.

She introduced me to Tyler Perry movies and taught me how to use a hot glue gun and tried to teach me dance routines. I introduced her to my childhood favorite movies, like Pretty In Pink, picked up books to read together, and took her shopping at the farmers’ market.

Do we have all the same interests? No. But that’s one of the best parts of our relationship. Our differences have helped each of us learn and grow over the years. I’m confident that will continue as we grow up together.

If you’re interested in finding out how you can make a difference in a child’s life for just a few hours a week, contact your local Big Brothers Big Sisters organization. School mentoring programs may also be available. 

Editor's note: American Family Insurance is a long-time community partner of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County. And for 32 years, the Bowl for Kids' Sake event has supported dreams of children. Visit the Big Brothers Big Sisters website to learn more about this important event, which raised more than $160,000 in 2013. 

Be part of someone else's dream

Women in focus"No person has the right to rain on your dreams."

This is one of my favorite quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It because it reminds me although the rain will come, by doing for others, you help to protect their dreams and fulfill yours.

I am so lucky, because as a claims care center manager, I work in the dream department. Really, you say? Yep. I get to help protect my customer’s dream every day, along with the other claim care center folks. We are fortunate to be in the position to help others at a time when they are most worried about the deferment of their dreams.

As a "dream protector," if you will, I truly find satisfaction walking through the doors at American Family Insurance knowing today, just like every day, my job is to help my customers protect their dreams. We all know life surely will bring the rain, but if I am doing my job right, I will be a little sunshine, keeping life’s rain from pouring down on you.


Just as I get satisfaction in my professional life from being part of the dream-protecting fabric at AmFam, I try to apply the same principles in serving my community through Women in Focus, Inc. (WIF), a Madison, Wis., organization serving others with gratitude.

Dr. King said, "Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'" Others have helped me through my journeys and "rain" of life. This inspired me to join Women in Focus, an organization whose charge since 1983 is to help young men and women of color to fulfill their dreams. It helps them pursue education opportunities beyond high school. This is a dream of many, I’d say.

Each year, through fundraising efforts of this extraordinary bunch, of which I am proud to say American Family faithfully supports, these educators, business owners, doctors, lawyers and moms get together and volunteer at the YWCA as part of a literacy program. We also plan the group's largest fundraising effort, which is the annual "I have a Dream Scholarship Ball" honoring Dr. King.

Over the years, Women in Focus has awarded 240 scholarships to Madison-area youth -- to help fund their dreams of education. I like to think we are truly women, in focus.

"If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way." This quote, also by Dr. King, reminds me the efforts flowing from organizations like Women in Focus, and the contributions from companies like American Family Insurance, or simply doing my job with the goal of being a dream protector, do become a small but meaningful part of people's life fabric -- woven into a dream realized and protected.

The gracious part is when you realize in doing things for others, in small but significant ways, whether in your professional or personal life, you are blessed with the opportunity to become, momentarily, part of someone else’s dream.These dream-building moments become the protective fabrics that are then continuously rewoven into another’s, and then yet another.

So as we celebrate Dr. King, who had so many dreams -- for all of us -- I am going to celebrate in the spirit of continuing to do what I can to be a small but great part of someone else’s dream.

Dream with me?

A dream comes true, another is born

Jaden GaultIt is hard to put into words everything I saw and how I felt watching my son, Jaden Gault from Monona Grove High School (in Monona, Wis.), play and compete at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Texas, Jan. 4.

When we arrived at the airport in San Antonio the Sunday before the game, there were people there to greet Jaden with a “Gault” sign and a new letterman’s jacket.

His celebrity status was just beginning.

They quickly took Jaden from us and we were on our own, because he had things to do. He spent the entire day signing autographs and getting his equipment and gear for the game. My wife, Kari, and I also got some new gear. We received Dream Protector T-shirts from American Family, which was a major sponsor of the game. It was at this point when that slogan really started to hit home for us.

Jaden was understandably nervous coming into this week. He had never competed against kids with the combination of size and speed he would go against in this game. His nerves were quickly replaced by confidence after the first day of practice Monday. He did very well during the week, earning the starting left tackle position for the West team.

Throughout the week, when we had the chance to see and talk with Jaden, he continued to impress us with what he told us about his week. He talked about what the coaches were having him do, from a football perspective, and he would tell Kari about all the celebrities he had met that day.

There were hundreds of memories from the week that I could point to as my favorite. It could have been Jaden earning the starting spot or the daily positive mentions on Twitter about Jaden from national recruiting experts, or the two touchdowns that were scored running directly behind Jaden on the goal line, or Jaden being named a finalist for the Anthony Muñoz lineman of the year award (given to the top offensive or defensive lineman in the country).

It could have been any of these things, but the moment I will always remember was watching Jaden on the sidelines during the game, talking to uniformed Army soldiers, shaking their hands and thanking them for their service.

It was at this point I realized, not only have Jaden’s dreams come true, but mine have as well. Jaden had grown into the man I always wanted him to be. He is a great success, but remains humble and thankful to others who give him the opportunity to do what he does.

The week after returning from San Antonio, we signed the lease to Jaden’s first apartment on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, where he will be an early enrollee after graduating from Monona Grove in December. He will start classes and join the Badgers for their spring conditioning and football practice and will play in the spring game in April.

Jaden has set a new dream to one day play in the National Football League. Kari and I will continue to do what we can to nurture and protect that dream. 

Charles Ambrosavage: American Family Insurance pioneer

Charlie Ambrosavage in 1976.Often, when I meet new people and tell them where I work, their response is to sing the iconic American Family Insurance jingle to me. 

This happens all over the country. 

If you’re one of those people who hums our jingle when you hear our name, you can thank Charles Ambrosavage.

Charles led marketing and sales promotion efforts at American Family Insurance for 35 years, retiring in 1983. In 1963, he led us through a name change, from Farmer’s Mutual Insurance to American Family Insurance.  

As part of that change, he oversaw the creation of our iconic logo, jingle and tagline, “All your family’s protection under one roof,” which is the foundation for the tagline we still use today.

American Family Insurance National Headquarters in the early 1960s.We lost a member of our American Family when Charlie passed away Jan. 5 at the age of 96. But he leaves behind a legacy intertwined with the history of American Family Insurance in a deep and abiding way.  

A lot has changed since Charlie retired in the early 80s. We’re operating in more states. Websites and social media have changed how we interact with customers, and they with us. We’ve acquired new companies.

But the values embodied in that tagline and jingle, and what the logo represents – helping families protect their dreams – remains.

Thanks, Charlie.

Editor's note: Funeral services for Charles Ambrosavage were Monday, Jan. 13, 2014, in Madison, Wis. Read his full obituary here

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