Helping the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Spread Cheer in the Holidays

Suzette and her familyThis is the time of year we hear a lot about traditions – spending time with family, participating in holiday activities and helping others who may not be as fortunate or who have fallen on hard times.

One tradition my family eagerly participates in is giving to the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, Toys for Tots program. We started several years ago when my two children were little. 

Each year, they’d pick out toys or books that they’d want, and then donate them to Toys for Tots. Because my kids were making the decisions what to donate, I knew the toys were something that would be well received.

At first, they didn’t always understand why I asked them to pick out something they would like just to turn around and give it away, and, to someone they didn’t even know. However, as my children grew, this became an opportunity to talk about the importance of appreciating what we have and helping those less fortunate. 

It’s now something they eagerly look forward to.

This year, in addition to our annual donation, my children joined me as volunteers at American Family’s Toys for Tots collection at the Employee Holiday Breakfast. We greeted families as they entered the breakfast and thanked them for their donations. It was a heartwarming experience to see the generosity of so many people.

Toys for TotsThe toys donated at American Family will join others in the area for distribution throughout Dane County. 

Tracing its roots back to 1947 when the wife of a Marine Corps Reservist wanted to donate a doll to a needy child, the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve has been providing toys to children who might otherwise go without. 

Since its beginning, the Toys for Tots Program has distributed more than 469 million toys to over 216 million less fortunate children.

Bring the holidays home with Favorite Family Recipes: American Family’s new e-cookbook

Favorite family recipes cookbookJust in time for the holidays, we’re excited to introduce Favorite Family Recipes: The American Family Insurance Back to the Family Dinner Table Cookbook!

From savory suppers to decadent desserts, Favorite Family Recipes combines recipes from customers, employees and bloggers from across the U.S.* to encourage families to rediscover the joy of family mealtime.

Discover new recipe ideas, time-saving tips and delicious reminders that dreams are made around the family table. Download the free e-cookbook here!

Download the epub version. Download the mobi version here. Download the PDF version here.

If you’re unsure what file to download, use this handy reference:

  • Laptop or desktop computer — Get either the ePub or PDF.
  • iPhone, iPod touch or iPad — Grab the ePub or PDF and read it in iBooks or the reader of your choice.
  • Kindle — Get the Mobi file and load it onto your Kindle.
  • Android — Read the ePub on your favorite reader
  • Nook — The ePub and PDF formats work well on this reader.
  • Sony Reader — ePubs work well on your Sony Reader.
  • Windows Phone — Read the ePub, Mobi, or PDF on the ebook reader of your choice.

* With hundreds of fantastic submissions, we simply could not include them all in the cookbook – but were truly inspired by your heartwarming recipes, stories and shared passion for bringing families back to the table.

Make the holidays safe for pets and children

Keep Kids and Pets Safe During the HolidaysOne of my most vivid childhood memories of the holidays was the year I knocked over the tree. I didn’t mean to, it just happened. I was maybe four or five years old and went after a toy that had rolled behind the tree. Not knowing any better, I went after it and in the course of my diligent toy retrieval efforts, managed to knock the tree down.

Unfortunately, I broke several ornaments that had a lot of sentimental meaning to my parents, spilled the water in the tree stand and broke a few light bulbs as well. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but it scared the heck out of me.

Fast forward several years to when I had children of my own. Not wanting history to repeat itself, I always made sure our tree was secure. In addition to being solidly in the stand, I also used clear fishing line to secure the tree to the handles on the windows behind it. I also kept a close watch on my kids whenever they got to close.

In the years since, I’ve picked up a few other tips to help my family safely enjoy the holidays and not be afraid that someone will get sick or hurt. Some of these also apply to families with dogs or cats.

I’m sure there are things you do around your home to keep children and pets safe. Here are a few of the tips I’ve picked up that may help this holiday season.

  • Avoid decorations that look like food and could tempt little ones (or pets) to try to eahc.
  • Limit rich, fatty holiday foods which can easily lead to an upset stomach.
  • Holiday plants like holly, mistletoe, lilies and poinsettias are poisonous.
  • Keep lit candles away from little hands and wagging tails.
  • Keep hot pots and pans on back burners to prevent them from being accidentally knocked over and causing a burn.
  • Make sure toys are age and ability appropriate and don’t contain small parts that could be a choking hazard.

If you haven’t seen it, there’s also a great article in this month’s @dvisor with additional holiday safety tips for children and pets.  

From my home to yours, I wish you all a happy, healthy, joyous – and safe – holiday season!

Building dreams ... one wall at a time

Habitat for humanityIn 2011, American Family launched the “Dreams Protected” advertising campaign. My work team decided to take it one step further and help others build dreams.

The East Property Survey Team recently spent an afternoon working with Habitat for Humanity of Dane County.  Although the organization was chosen because of the nature of our work, it quickly became clear we would be getting a lesson in much more than construction. It was a lesson on building dreams.

We were able to meet the recipient of one of the homes under construction.  The gentleman was an inspiration to us all.

In 2006, he fled Kosovo in search of a better life for himself and his daughter. His profile on the Habitat website indicated he had “dreamed of owning his own home for many years.” He is determined and has been working very hard to make it happen.

He is currently working two full-time jobs and is a single parent to his 9-year-old daughter. Although he already has a full plate, he must also spend 325 hours working for Habitat for Humanity. This is what is called “sweat equity” and ensures recipients are invested in the home that eventually becomes theirs.

His busy schedule doesn’t seem to bother him at all. He is simply happy that he and his young daughter will have a place to call home; something others often take for granted.

The afternoon was spent working with this wonderful gentleman under the direction of a Habitat for Humanity supervisor. Some of us were able to contribute a bit more skillfully than others, but we all had enthusiasm and willingness to lend a hand.

Our job that day was to help install the second story walls. The pre-assembled walls had to be lifted from the ground to the second level, carefully placed, and nailed together. A few others were busy helping to frame the first floor of another home in the area.  It was great to see how quickly the home’s frame came together! The recipient’s determination and excitement was even better!  We could literally watch his dream coming true before our eyes. 

While our arms were sore by the end of the afternoon, it was a good pain.  We were grateful to have the opportunity to contribute our skills to make a family’s dream of home ownership come true.  

Several of us plan to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity again. If you are interested in helping others achieve the dream of home ownership, you can contribute financially, shop at their wonderful Habitat Restores, or volunteer your time individually or with a group. Check out Habitat for Humanity of Dane County for more information.

Focus on the positive

Jeremy JoWhat is the one thing you want more than anything in life? Chances are, that “one thing” is the same thing for everyone – happiness. We want to be happy at work, at home, in our relationships, and so on.

But ever wonder why so many of us are sad or just not genuinely happy?

During a break from a sales class, I suggested to the trainer the company should really look into having personal development workshops for everyone. They can boost morale and ignite productivity. This is a question of how much the company wants to invest in the well-being of its lifeblood – its workforce.

Instead, we get refresher classes we’ve taken many times over, or contests with cash incentives only to produce very little good results. Worse yet, job security fears get instilled in people’s minds because of subpar performance.

These systems are flawed. The method of dangling the carrot may produce better results than instilling fear, but both can only produce superficial results.

These aren’t things we do just in the business world. The same is true in academics and home life – "get A's in school, find that right person, work hard, become successful, and you will be happy.” We have all learned and been taught this way. It’s time we did the reverse.

Be happy by being thankful. We can choose to be miserable at our jobs or because of our pay, or we can choose to be grateful for the privilege of working. There is so much power in realizing how fortunate we are for having jobs.

Be happy by looking for the good; don’t focus on the bad. How much we want to invest in the company? Are we with the company only when times are good, or are we willing to work through the bad and become part of the solution?

Be happy by getting good hormones flowing by starting your day with meditation and exercise – even if only for five minutes.

These are just some of the simple steps I take daily to reach my goal to be happy. It is only when I’m happy I think clearly and enhance my productivity.

Happiness fosters success in life, and not the other way around.

Life is too short to be unhappy. Happiness is a choice, and so is misery. Which one will you pick?

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