Celebrating Family

30 Days of Thanks: Dad

30 Days of Thanks: DadWhen I decided to write a blog post about being thankful for dads, I asked my mom to help find a photo of me with my dad when I was young.  A few days after the request, she told me she was having a hard time finding one.

What? How can that be? I have so many great memories of me with my dad. How could it be hard to find one photo of the two of us from the days when my dad was the only man that mattered?

She told me there were photos of me with my other siblings along with my dad, or photos of me with both my parents, but surprisingly no decent photos of just me and my dad. Although I was initially disappointed to learn that, it made me realize what I knew all along.

Maybe there are fewer pictures because my dad was busy doing everything he could just BEING a great dad. He was juggling the responsibilities of me alongside my five siblings and numerous pets, not to mention my mom and a full-time day job. Throw in there some additional schooling while we were kids, and I wonder how he ever had energy to keep up.

But he did keep up, and then some.

No matter how long or busy his day was, or how early in the day or late in the night I asked, he was there. Sometimes being there meant helping me understand my often-procrastinated math homework (accompanied by a stern sentence or two about such procrastination, of course). Sometimes it was playing a little basketball or tennis. Sometimes it was giving me a ride to a friend’s house when I was too cool to hang out at home. And sometimes it was just hanging out, listening to his old records. (This also explains why “Wooly Bully” always reminds me of him.)

When he wasn’t doing all of that, I can only assume he was the one behind the camera, capturing all of the precious moments with the family he loves.

Maria Morris and her dadMy dad is the most patient, loving, intelligent and level-headed person you will ever know. He’s equally comfortable having a beer with you in the backyard or sipping a glass of wine at a black-tie event. He’s the kind of guy you can’t imagine would have ever had an enemy his entire life. He’s the person you know, even during your snotty teen years, is a man you will love, respect and admire for the rest of your life.

As an adult, my dad’s impact on my life has not diminished. Instead, it’s evolved into exactly what I’d imagine he wanted for me during those formative years. He is a constant influence, a little "Dad voice" in my head. Sometimes it manifests itself as my own voice when I tell my own kids to turn off the lights or direct them to something other than the “good printer paper.”

But more often, it’s the voice that guides my decisions, big and small, day in and day out. When I think I’m too busy to throw a football around with the kids, I think of that time my dad spent with me. When I think about a significant career decision, I try to imagine how my father would approach it. When I decided to marry my husband, you bet I made sure he was good enough to pass the Dad test.

And when I think I don’t have time to drive one and a half hours to hang out with my dad, I remember all of the time he spent making me who I am today.

I honestly don’t know the kind of person I’d be if I had a different father. As his daughter, I naturally possess some of his traits. But I also have the privilege of having grown up with him, which means learning from the best teacher on the planet.

And I couldn’t be more grateful for that.

Posted by Maria Morris on Wed, Nov 20 2013 10:20 amMaria Morris is an advertising program specialist at American Family Insurance.

A Dinner Together in the Life of a Large Family

Silverware for a large familyIt’s a typical night, and our oldest has football practice. Sooner or later my husband will get the SOS text, at the most inopportune time, mind you. Our next in line has cross country until 5:30, and our youngest daughter is anxiously waiting her turn to go to volleyball practice at 6:30. 

The other three are busy working on their homework ... kind of.  Jack’s barks springs my heart out of my chest as the doorbell rings. It’s the cross country girl. She’s home, but wants to know if she can go to the home volleyball game to watch her friends.

Yet another hurdle to jump, and still have dinner together. 

Luckily, I planned a meal with ingredients easily prepared and set aside for later. Tacos, whether they’re turkey, chicken or beef, are a regular in our house. Miraculously, all six children like them and they’re generally a healthy choice. 

The clock strikes 6:00, and I call the three boys up to help their sister set the table for eight. If they can get the table set, my husband can pick up the football player, and we might get to sit down. We’ll take 15 minutes to devour our tacos and share the day’s stories. Hopefully we have enough milk to go around…

Having a large family has its challenges when it comes to eating dinner together, but when made a priority, it’s one of the best parts of my day. Stories, jokes and laughs are sure to be shared. Never mind the spilled milk or a fight over the last roll.

If I didn’t have this time of day with my family, I might not even hear a word about school from any of the boys, the socialites that they are. With three teenagers in the same high school now, you can imagine the light-hearted and fun comradare at our dinner table. 

But truth be told, these meals don’t just happen. With a large family and crazy schedules, we have to have a plan, and make sure we have all of the ingredients to pull it off. My husband and I both work all day, so running to the grocery store isn’t an option, especially when dinner needs to be on the table before the next drop-off. 

About a year ago, I had each child jot down five of their favorite meals we commonly have. Between all six kids I expected at least 15 different meals, but of course it wasn’t that easy. It turns out they all have similar tastes, so we narrowed it down to eight favorite meals. 

I use those as go-to meals, but try to add in new recipes I find on Pinterest throughout the week as well. On Sundays, we head to the grocery store and stand in line with every other person, it seems, and unload our overflowing cart with that weeks’ nightly meals.  After juggling everyone’s busy schedules, we agree on each night’s menu.

And the process repeats itself. How do you meal plan? Leave a comment below!

Back to the Family Dinner TableEditor's note: American Family Insurance is partnering with Familyfoodie.com in support of bringing families back together at the dinner table. Join the movement with us, and capture your next family dinner by submitting your meal recipe for a chance to win one of six $100 William Sonoma gift cards, or the $500 grand prize.

Posted by Lisa Ott on Fri, Oct 18 2013 1:32 pmLisa Ott is a social media specialist and Pinterest community manager for American Family Insurance.

My favorite meals

What's your favorite meal-time memory?We all have favorite songs, books, movies, sports teams – you name it.But have you ever thought about your favorite meals of all time?

If I had to boil them down (pun intended), there are a few eating experiences that stand out.

One of them involved the first Thanksgiving my wife and I celebrated together, after we moved from Milwaukee, Wis. to Washington, D.C. to achieve our career dreams. In the beginning, we were cash-strapped. Dinner often consisted of rice mixed with peanut butter, and among the few furnishings in our simple apartment was a “couch” we fashioned out of an army blanket and bundled newspapers.

Clearly, traveling back to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving was not in the budget.

Instead, we gathered for a holiday feast in D.C. with friends, acquaintances and co-workers. Like the original pilgrims, we all were far from “home,” and each of us contributed what little we had to the Thanksgiving table. The food was delicious, but the sharing of stories, laughter and togetherness was far more satisfying, proving that home truly is where the heart is.

Another favorite food experience involved a week of dinners prepared by our son and daughter when they were in middle school. Some meals were ambitious, while others – scrambled eggs, for example – were somewhat unconventional. But our kids took responsibility, created a plan of action and executed it. Since then, they’ve made some great dishes and treats. My son’s panko-crusted tilapia and my daughter’s smoothies are to die for.

And finally, there was the amazing backyard crab feast in Maryland that changed me forever. I’d never eaten soft-shell crabs before, and it was love at first bite. After two bushels, I forced myself to stop. I also experienced other “firsts,” like learning how to dance the “Electric Slide” to Marcia Griffiths’ irresistible “Electric Boogie” in the 95-degree heat. Whenever I hear that song, my mind is flooded with memories of friends, food and fun on that sweltering summer day.

The more I think about my favorite food experiences, the more I’m convinced that food itself isn’t the only thing that sustains us.

It’s the act of sharing and enjoying food with others that truly feeds our souls, and makes us feel connected, loved and alive.

Back to the Family Dinner TableEditor’s note: Celebrate your favorite meals by submitting your favorite recipe for our e-cookbook. American Family is partnering with FamilyFoodie.com to bring these meals -- and memories -- together. Enter here by Oct. 19, 2013, for a chance to be featured in the cookbook. You will also be entered to win one of six $100 Williams-Sonoma gift cards, including one valued at $500! When the e-cookbook comes out later this fall, you’ll be among the first to receive a copy.

Posted by Bill Shepard on Wed, Oct 16 2013 7:29 am

Play with your food! Bringing Fun Back to the Family Table

Play with your food!Elbows off the table, please. 

Must you chew so loudly?

For the last time - stop kicking your sister under the table!

Sound familiar? I may not have kids of my own yet, but judging by the outrageous amount of milk spilled at my dinner table growing up, I think you’ll agree that family mealtime is rarely a glamorous scene. In fact – it can be downright comedic. Do you have any funny memories from around the dinner table? (Mine is when an entire canister of parmesan cheese exploded on my Dad’s face – right after he had given me a stern lecture no less!)

When disaster strikes at the table or the kids’ manners leave you distraught, it’s easy to turn family mealtime into a battlefield. Because it’s one of the few times the whole family is together, the table can quickly become a hot spot for conflicts over manners, grades, chores, and the like.

While these discussions are important, experts agree that happier families strive to make mealtime as friendly as possible - and save the more serious matters for later.

Here are a few ideas to keep things fun at your family table.

  • Play restaurant: Transform your dining room into a five-star eatery. Light candles, turn up some jazz tunes, and have the kids design menus. Get the whole family giggling by throwing a dish towel over your arm and playing waiter – extra points for faking a French accent!
  • Combine dinner with game night: A little healthy competition over your family’s favorite board game makes for a memorable meal. Kids enjoy the departure from a traditional dinner, and by choosing non-fussy foods like paninis or quesadillas, you can focus on your winning strategy.
  • Have a celebration plate: Find a colorful plate and use it only on special occasions. Whether it’s a birthday, or a glowing report at parent/teacher conferences, the gesture is a simple way to make someone you love feel extra special during the meal.
  • Encourage storytelling: Just as important as it is to ask kids about their lives, hopes, and dreams, it’s equally essential for you to share your own. Talk about your family history, how you met your spouse, your dream job, or where you would love to travel someday. Stories like these spark entertaining conversations and help family members become comfortable sharing with one another.

How do you keep mealtime fun in your home? Share your comments below!

Back to the Family Dinner TableEditor’s note: We want all of you to celebrate the family dinner table.  American Family is partnering with FamilyFoodie.com to create an e-cookbook to inspire families to come back to the table, and we need your help! Share your recipes for your chance to be featured in the cookbook by submitting a family favorite recipe here.  You will be entered to win one of six $100 Williams-Sonoma gift cards. One lucky entry will win one valued at $500! When the e-cookbook comes out later this fall, you’ll be among the first to receive a copy.

Posted by Grace VanDeWeghe on Mon, Oct 14 2013 10:00 am

A Food Blogger’s Journey: Celebrating the Family Dinner Table with Hmong Cuisine

Annie Vang and her family.My family and I came to the United States as refugees following the Vietnam War. I am Hmong and I was born in a refugee camp in Thailand. Four generations of my family lived in Laos, and before that my ancestors lived in China.

Growing up in Wisconsin, my mom and dad prepared countless home-cooked meals that we shared around the table. Having experienced hunger during the war, they always reminded us it was a privilege to dine together. Many Hmong relied on the generosity of others to survive, and my parents never forgot this – emphasizing the importance of family and sharing meals with others.

As a Hmong American woman, I embrace my culture and celebrate with my family every chance I get. When we have family gatherings or special events, women come together to learn cooking techniques from the elders. Most of our family recipes are handed down by word of mouth, so the only way to learn how to make a dish is to watch someone else prepare it!

Two years ago, I realized I wanted to share my passion for Hmong cuisine with other families – not just my own. I started my own food blog, and began shooting cooking video tutorials that I posted on my Hmong Food YouTube channel.

To my amazement, I was welcomed with open arms by the online food community. To date, my videos have been viewed more than 2.3 million times, and I have more than 12,500 YouTube subscribers. My Facebook page has over 13,600 likes and is growing. I also authored and developed an iPhone app, called Yumaholic, featuring my personal collection of Southeast Asian recipes.

What I have learned on this journey has tremendously impacted my life in a positive way. I was a girl who came from poverty, overcame obstacles, and beat the odds.

Every day I am amazed by the powerful love and support from both friends and strangers who have written to tell me my recipes have rekindled family memories and reawakened their passion for home cooking. I am so happy I am able to help others prepare meals for their family to enjoy at the dinner table.

I am living my dream -- inspiring others -- one delicious video at a time.

Back to the Family Dinner TableEditor’s note: We want all of you to celebrate the family dinner table.  American Family is partnering with FamilyFoodie.com to create an e-cookbook to inspire families to come back to the table, and we need your help! Share your recipes for your chance to be featured in the cookbook by submitting a family favorite recipe here.  You will be entered to win one of six $100 Williams-Sonoma gift cards. One lucky entry will win one valued at $500! When the e-cookbook comes out later this fall, you’ll be among the first to receive a copy.

Posted by on Fri, Oct 11 2013 6:53 am
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