The 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.
Editor’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.
My experience as a child growing up in the Chicago suburbs on Lake Michigan provided casual family bike rides on paved trails, go-at-your-own-pace and feel the wind in your hair – before helmets were necessary.
However, my husband likes riding across the state of Iowa in RAGBRAI or the length of Wisconsin in the GRABAAWR (each about 500 miles in 5-6 days). So, you might guess our family bike rides are more than around the block.
Our daughter has been zipping along more than 15 miles on average per trip, at speeds of 12+ mph over the rolling hills of Wisconsin before she even graduated from training wheels. We’ve ridden the Sugar River Trail in New Glarus, Wis., the Ice Age Trail loop at Devils Lake State Park, and Glacial Drumlin from Cottage Grove, Wis., to Deerfield, Wis. (for the ice cream…) and back.
She enjoyed it more when she could be dad’s riding buddy traveling in a trailer bike attached to his road bike.
Through the years, one landmark trip was the 24-mile round-trip adventure to Crystal Lake in northern Wisconsin. We were dripping with sweat and tired when we arrived – so the crisp, cold water of this crystal-clear lake near Minocqua brought a welcome refresh.
Weaving through country roads from our cabin in Boulder Junction, we biked with anticipation with our snorkeling gear in tow. We explored the lake and swam across. While not the same as our Caribbean adventures, this trip “up North” provided our only clearly visible lake bottom view.
We set a new milestone in family biking adventures with our now 18-year-old daughter on a recent vacation to California. The 12+ miles up and down hills in San Francisco to cross the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, Calif., blew us up against the rails of the bridge with blustering winds around the towers, and provided grand views worthy of post-card status.
The spiral downhill ride into Sausalito led to a final ferry ride back to the city. The sore muscles and numb fingers gave way to new bragging rights for literally crossing a new bridge in our family’s bike riding resume.
Where’s your favorite biking destination?
The best experiences are the ones that aren’t planned. They simply happen.
Like dropping everything to follow a hot air balloon. Or having a front-yard conversation evolve into a backyard campfire with friends.
My favorite family memories involve spur-of-the-moment decisions to get away – to simply pick a spot on the map, plug in the GPS coordinates and hit the highway in search of adventure.
No agenda. No timeline. No constraints. Just some salty snacks and a thirst for adventure.
Through this ad-hoc approach to travel, my family has discovered unfamiliar aspects of familiar locations. We’ve found new attractions by accident (especially after a wrong turn or two). And in almost every case, we’ve unearthed hole-in-the-wall restaurants whose cuisine and character far exceeded their outwardly appearance.
Yup, I love the road trip – and I bet you do, too.
That’s why I’m excited about American Family’s first e-book, Dreaming of the Road, to be released this fall. This digital publication will feature lots of practical tips for planning your next highway or back road adventure, and feature lots of personal road trip tales.
Here’s the best part: American Family wants your stories for possible inclusion in the book!
To share a tale, simply complete our online form. Just for contributing, you’ll be on the list of those to receive the e-book first.
I bet you have lots of great ideas. I look forward to reading them.
See you on the road!
My life is a series of different-sized screens. From a 3.5-inch smartphone, to a 55-inch flat screen TV – and all dimensions and devices in-between – I spend much of my day focused on a digital reality.
When I need to flee the screen’s electronic grip, I head outdoors. Often times, the simplest escapes involve a quick trip to the backyard of my suburban home in Wisconsin. It could also be a bike ride or a visit to my state’s plethora of parks.
But I’m most happy anywhere I can find the familiar tan and forest green logo of the National Park Service. Officially created by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, national parks – and their idea – have been around much longer. President Ulysses Grant established Yellowstone National Park in 1872 – the nation’s first national park.
National Parks are part of our country’s fabric – and were established by visionaries who believed in the power of nature and the importance of preserving it – forever.
Indeed, they’re our best idea.
However, growing up my friends had different summer dreams – of baseball stadiums, big cities and beaches – not national parks. My family’s compass almost always pointed to the West, where interstate highways led us to less glamorous places with names like Badlands, Little Bighorn or Bryce Canyon.
I was a child of the National Park Service, and I haven’t forgotten the lessons I learned in some of its 51.9 million acres.
Last summer, I gave my kids (10 and 12) a similar education, going on what they dubbed “The Great American Road Trip.” OK, that’s a bit cliché, but we did have a fantastic, 3,800-mile journey through South Dakota and Wyoming.
Everywhere we went, so was the National Park Service. We saw (and smelled) mud pots, bison and geysers. We tent-camped in national forests and parks, paying a penance to sleep under billions of stars in lieu of cushy queen beds and free WiFi.
We ate and slept among nature – not protected from it in some stuffy, air-conditioned hotel room. Our dinners were on wooden picnic tables that thousands of other campers like us used before. We disconnected from reality for two weeks, and it was hard to come home – back to our screens. Back to reality.
But we returned recharged. And my kids learned the lessons of my youth - the ones only nature can teach: appreciation of life’s simpler gifts.
John Muir – a pioneer of national parks – said it best more than 100 years ago:
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life. Awakening from the stupefying effects of the vice of over-industry and the deadly apathy of luxury, they are trying as best they can to mix and enrich their own little ongoings with those of Nature, and to get rid of rust and disease.”
― John Muir, Our National Parks
Editor's note: We want to hear your favorite summer escape. Leave a comment or visit the American Family Insurance Facebook page throughout the summer. Join the conversation by checking out the #30DaysOfSummer hashtags on Twitter and Facebook.
I don’t hike as much as I’d like to these days, but I carry fond memories of hiking with my daughters when they were children and a special hike with them years later.
One special spot is Devils Lake State Park near Baraboo, Wis. Despite its name, it’s a heavenly place. Devils Lake offers miles of hiking trails with varying levels of difficulty, so there’s something for just about everyone.
I have three specific hiking memories that come to mind.
Hiking memory No. 1: During a weekend camping trip there when the girls were ages 4 and 8, their mother and I took them on a hike all the way around the lake. I can’t recall the exact distance, but it’s about three miles or so. I recall being quite proud because they made it all the way without whining or asking to be carried.
Hiking memory No. 2: A few years later, my older daughter accompanied me and a friend on a hike along the East Bluff trail heading south from the north end of the lake. Somewhere along the south face of the East Bluff we unwittingly got off the trail and ended up climbing down through some big boulders for a while. It turned out to be a little dangerous, to tell the truth, especially for a 10-year-old. But we were unscathed and lived to tell about it.
Hiking memory No. 3: When my younger daughter was about to head off to college in another state, the girls wanted one last day of adventure with their old man. They realized this rite of passage meant the opportunities for this kind of activity would be limited as they moved along in life, living in different states, pursuing their own careers, etc. So off we went to Devils Lake. We hiked there and then headed for nearby Phil’s Woods, a small park named for Phillip La Follette, a three-time governor of Wisconsin. We had never been there before, so we combined a new experience with a familiar experience that day. It’s one of my favorite memories.
So make the most of your summer. Get out there and hike. You’ll get some exercise, see some sights, flirt with danger and create some great memories. And it always helps to stay on the trails and dress appropriately to keep ticks and other bugs at bay.
Editor's note: Where are your favorite places to take a hike? Leave a comment, or visit the American Family Insurance Facebook page today and throughout the summer. Join the conversation by checking out the #30DaysOfSummer hashtag on Twitter and Facebook.