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Pursue Your Dreams

The Art of the Staycation: Stay at home vacation ideas

Hammock in summertimeCan I tell you a secret? I’d take a staycation over a vacation any day.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one to pooh-pooh a luxurious, tropical getaway or a dazzling, big-city adventure. I’m just saying by choosing to stay home and savor more local delights, you might find the escape you’ve been dreaming of all summer.

Not only are staycations typically more affordable than traditional vacations, they also offer the gift of time and a fresh perspective on things. A cheesy thought? Perhaps. But there’s something truly powerful about slowing down to appreciate your life just as it is – no bells and whistles.

A few weeks ago I took my first staycation.

Instead of waiting in long lines at the airport as I normally would, I took time for me – a day at the beach, a morning run through the park, indulgent, sun-lit naps in the hammock.

Instead of splurging on a pricey hotel, I took time for family and friends – catching up with loved ones, sending a handwritten note to an old pal, joking with my neighbors across the fence.

And instead of having my nose in a map, navigating a new place, I kept my head up to explore MY city, trying local restaurant specialties, visiting nearby nature sights, and getting to know the friendly faces at the farmer’s market.

If you’re considering a staycation, remember, there is no one right way to go about it. Keep it casual. Skip the rigorous itinerary, and instead, get everyone in the family involved in brainstorming a list of fun things to do. Here are a few ideas to get started:

  • Pop a tent in the backyard and have a family campout. Don’t forget a deck of cards!
  • Plan a themed movie night. Dine on snacks inspired by the film.
  • Embark on an ice cream hop and lick your way through the neighborhood’s sweet shops.
  • Dust off your photo albums and giggle at old snapshots.
  • Pack a picnic. Stay for the whole day.
  • Teach your dog a new trick – or just give him extra belly rubs.
  • Call up someone far away.
  • Sit on the front porch and eat a popsicle while reading the funnies.
  • Take a family bike ride to the neighborhood diner.

What do you dream of doing on YOUR staycation?

30 Days of SummerEditor's note: Throughout summer, American Family is sharing family-friendly ideas. We’ll also offer opportunities for you to share your own summer experiences with us. Visit the American Family Insurance Facebook page today and throughout the summer to join the 30 Days of Summer celebration with your own comments, stories and pictures. Or check out the #30DaysOfSummer hashtag on Twitter and Facebook

Posted by Grace VanDeWeghe on Tue, Jul 30 2013 10:58 am

Got produce? Gardening tips to make summer's bounty last

Share your garden's bounty this summer.During summer, whether you have an abundant vegetable garden, receive a weekly community-supported agriculture box of veggies, or just couldn’t stop buying produce at the farmers market, you may be asking yourself, “What do I do with all these vegetables?”

Here are some ideas of what to do with excess produce before it wilts away.

Use a seasonal cookbook
Summer is a great time to eat fresh, local food. There are many seasonal cookbooks, From Asparagus to Zucchini, A Guide to Cooking Farm-Fresh Seasonal Produce is one of my favorites. I like that it’s published by Wisconsin’s FAIRSHARE CSA Coalition – they know their seasonal veggies!

I haven’t tried it yet, but FAIRSHARE recently published a companion to Asparagus, titled Farm-Fresh and Fast: Easy Recipes and Tips for Making the Most of Fresh, Seasonal Foods. It’s on my short list!

Basil drying

Preserve what you can’t eat
Garlic, many varieties of onions, and down the road, root vegetables and winter squash, will keep a long time. Just eat as you need them. Drying and freezing are a couple of great options for small-scale food preservation. I dry herbs by tying them in bunches and hanging in a warm dry place out of the sun (house or garage attic are great for this). A food dehydrator can dry just about anything. No need to buy one, I got one from a friend who had an extra, or keep an eye on your local second hand stores.

Freezing is a little more involved, but nothing that you can’t do with a little research and hot water (really). And if you want to learn more about canning, search online for a water-bath or pressure canning class. They are usually 2-3 hours each.

Share your bounty
If you’ve simply got too much food to eat and no time or desire to preserve it, share it!

  • Pack up extra produce and go introduce yourself to a neighbor you’ve been meaning to get to know better.
  • Encourage healthy snacking at work. Slice up some produce and bring in a vegetable platter. Boast about where it came from.
  • Donate it! Many food pantries now accept any quantity of fresh produce to share with their communities. My community garden organizes a collection bin and last year, we donated more than 300 pounds of fresh produce to several Madison, Wis.-area food pantries. Your donation won’t be on that scale, but will be just as appreciated.

Josh Feyen - the Urbane Farmer shares his “raised-on-a-farm” wisdom and writes about urban farming and organic gardening topics on his personal blog, too.

30 Days of SummerEditor's note: However you spend it, summer has a wonderful, effortless way of bringing us closer to the ones we love. In this spirit, American Family invites you and your family to join us for our 30 Days of Summer celebration.

Throughout the season, we’re featuring ideas - like gardening - for family fun and safety with our communities on FacebookTwitterPinterest and Google Plus. We’ll also offer opportunities for you to share your own summer experiences with us. Visit the American Family Insurance Facebook page today and throughout the summer to join the 30 Days of Summer celebration with your own comments, stories and pictures!

Posted by Josh Feyen on Mon, Jul 22 2013 10:40 am

5 reasons we all scream for ice cream

Christina and Mia enjoy sharing their ice cream.Some of the best moments in life are the simplest ones – like eating ice cream. For a moment in time, nothing else matters except savoring this sweet treat. It’s one of my favorite things to do with friends or family in nice weather, for a bunch of reasons.

Ice cream tastes so good. My favorite sundae is the Caramel Pecan Drizzle sundae Michael’s Frozen Custard. It’s heaven in a bowl with warm caramel topping and toasted pecans – not many ice cream shops toast the nuts to give it that buttery and salty goodness.

Sometimes the anticipation is just as good. Last night I mentioned to my two-and-a-half-year old daughter, Mia, not exactly eager to leave school, if she came home and had supper, I would take her out for ice cream afterwards. Of course, that’s all she talked about from that moment, through dinner until we got into the car to head for Culver’s frozen custard. She had vanilla sundae with sprinkles, I had chocolate and mint Oreo – super yummy and super fun. That’s us in the photo.

It’s hilarious to watch a little kid eat it. When I mention ice cream to my daughter, the first thing she always seems to say is, “I want to get messy.” And that’s usually part of the deal. Ice cream is all over her face, hands and clothes and she loves it.

It’s nostalgic and comforting. Eating ice cream has always been a symbol of good times. Whether it’s my dad making homemade malteds or getting a bag of dilly bars from Dairy Queen. Even hearing the sound of the ice cream truck in the distance brings back great memories of being a kid.

It makes people smile and brings them together. No matter what we’re doing on a family vacation, it’s always extra special if there’s a visit to a Kilwin’s ice cream shop. Just mentioning it gets us grinning and sometimes doing a little happy dance. I’m not sure if it’s that smell of warm waffle cones, or that they have a toasted coconut flavor. That place is legendary for our family. 

30 Days of SummerEditor's note: July 21 is National Ice Cream Day. How are you celebrating? Leave a comment and share your favorite ice cream memory. Or join the conversation on Facebook as American Family Insurance shares ideas for the season during the 30 Days of Summer

Posted by Christina Harkins on Sun, Jul 21 2013 7:09 amChristina Harkins is a strategic communications editor for American Family Insurance.

Closing the hunger gap for kids

Jack Salwedel and Steve and Nicki Stricker tour the River Food Pantry in Madison, Wis. As a husband, a father, and someone active in the Madison, Wis. community, it’s shocking: Nearly 19,000 kids in our area are at risk for insufficient nutrition.

19,000!  

The first time I heard that statistic, I didn't believe it. Not in Madison. After all, we are home to a world-class university, a progressive state government, and our economy does better than most at weathering national economic downturns.

It’s shocking, especially to those of us who don’t think twice about a trip to the grocery store or a visit to one of the many farmers’ markets in the area. There are colorful mountains of fresh, wholesome food - right?

And yet 19,000 kids may not get the healthy food they need to build strong bodies and healthy minds. Studies suggest that kids who go hungry early in life are 2 ½ times more likely to have poor overall health 10 to 15 years later. Those are simply terrible statistics.

As a community, we have the financial resources and compassion, the knowledge and the spirit to fix this problem. I know we can do a better job to get kids the nutrition they need. United Way’s Healthy Food for All Children initiative is leading the charge and together we can do this. We may not be able to solve world hunger, but we sure can feed the hungry child next door.

An emotional Steve Stricker talks about how his new foundation will support the United Way's new Healthy Food for All Children initiative. American Family learned about this new initiative just as we were starting a charitable foundation with professional golfer Steve Stricker and his wife, Nicki. Although it’s very early in the foundation’s development, we know its focus is helping to build strong families and healthy kids. We’ve identified nutrition and overall wellness as a place to start.

It’s a perfect fit. The Steve Stricker American Family Insurance Foundation is pleased to make its first gift to the community through the United Way of Dane County’s Healthy Food for All Children initiative. We’re proud to help kick start this important work with a $50,000 gift. The initiative gets more fresh, healthy food to kids who need it right now and its 10-year plan includes measuring results so improvement can be maintained over time.

With your help we can achieve even more. Whether you donate, volunteer or educate others, why not help us? You can join in and support United Way of Dane County in this work by calling United Way 2-1-1 or log onto www.unitedwaydanecounty.org to volunteer or donate today.

Every child deserves the chance to achieve their dreams. Are you with us?

Editor’s note: United Way’s Healthy Food for All Children community plan is the result of a partnership between United Way, the Goodman Foundation and Community Action Coalition of Southeastern Wisconsin. It was introduced on June 24, and focuses on several strategies. It will enhance access to healthy foods for children and families and increase the capacity of neighborhoods and communities to support affordable healthy food choices.  It will also maintain culturally appropriate healthy food during and after school, throughout summer programs and in childcare through expanded choices for students and integrated education on healthy living. More than 30 community leaders developed the plan that unifies the community in a common vision to increase options and availability of healthy food for children. 

This first appeared as on op-ed in the Capital Times on July 17, 2013. 

Posted by Jack Salzwedel on Fri, Jul 19 2013 6:59 am

Marathon Man

Tim Gundeck has competed in marathons in all 50 states.

On Sunday, in Missoula, Mont., I completed my goal of running a full marathon in all 50 states. It was the culmination of a goal I have been working on for 18 years.

My journey began in 1995, when I took up running to lose weight. With a young kid and a wife in school, I didn’t have time to exercise in the gym at night. Running seemed like the perfect way to lose weight, because all I needed was a pair of running shoes, and I could run anywhere, at any time.

I started out running a mile a day, and then as I got in better shape and felt more confident, I gradually increased my daily mileage. Eventually I decided to run some races, starting out first with 5K/10K races and working myself up to a marathon. I decided to do the Disneyworld Marathon as my first full event.

I had no issues with the 16-week training program and ran the Disneyworld Marathon in four hours and 10 minutes in January 2000.  It was an awesome experience, running from park to park and seeing and hearing the crowds cheering us all on during the race.

Then in 2002, a friend talked me into running the Twin Cities Marathon with him. Running through the Twin Cities was incredible, and the crowds were even bigger than at Disneyworld.

It was there I really caught the marathon bug — and was hooked.

So I ran the Chicago marathon the next year and Macon, Ga., marathon shortly after. When in Macon, I learned of the 50 States Marathon Club. As you might conclude, this was a club comprising runners whose goal is to run a marathon in every state.

During the next couple of years, I started doing three to four marathons a year and eventually completed state number 10, South Dakota. After completing marathons in 10 states, I was eligible to become a member of the 50 States Marathon Club.

My next goal was to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I increased my mileage to 50 to 60 miles a week and worked at increasing my speed. My happiest day ever happened in Boise, Idaho, in October 2007, where I ran a three-hour, 28-minute marathon  — and qualified for Boston.

By 2008, I was running six to eight marathons a year. I was enjoying traveling around the country, meeting all kinds of great people and running through some great American cities. In 2009, I ran the marathons in both Boston and New York City. Others were in Tucson, Ariz.; Little Rock, Ark.; Fargo, N.D.; Denver, Baltimore and Anchorage, Alaska.

By now I was running so many marathons that I qualified to join the Marathon Maniac club. This is a group of marathon runners who qualify by running multiple marathons in a short time. I was able to qualify joining the “maniacs” by running two marathons a week apart.

In May of this year, I completed state 49 in Maine. That leaves July 14, and I will then complete my goal.

Running has given me such an opportunity to see every state in this great country of ours, at seven miles an hour with a pair of running shoes. I’m happy I got off the couch 18 years ago and took the first step of this journey.

Editor's note: Here’s a list of all the marathons Tim has completed.

Posted by Tim Gundeck on Tue, Jul 16 2013 1:16 pmTim Gundeck is an application development engineering specialist with American Family Insuranc.e
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