What size of brush are you painting with?

I was watching George paint the other day. It was entertaining, to say the least. He would take his paint brush, and dip it into all the colors, then get mad when the picture didn’t turn out like he had imagined.

And he expected me to fix it.

This little artist gets frustrated when his "masterpieces" don't turn out as he had planned. Sometimes instead of being a beautiful piece of work, it's just a mess.

This little artist gets frustrated when his “masterpieces” don’t turn out as he had planned. Sometimes instead of being a beautiful piece of work, it’s just a mess.

He couldn’t understand that the problem had nothing to do with the paper, or the colors, or me, but with the brush he was using and how he was using it. And it reminded me of a conversation that occurred online just a few days ago.

Someone had asked for anyone that calves this time of year to explain why they were doing it, or what benefit they perceived that they received from calving during winter months. I simply replied that with our operation and our location, calving now was what made sense for us. It’s easier for us to deal with snow and ice, rather than mud and muck.

It's not always fun making sure the cattle stay protected in the winter, but the snow and ice are easier to deal with than...

It’s not always fun making sure the cattle stay protected in the winter, but the snow and ice are easier to deal with than…

...the mud and muck of spring.

…the mud and muck of spring.

The responses that were received from people who also raise cattle was surprising, to say the least. One claimed that “winter calvers” are not profitable. Another claimed that some people were too willing to work too hard to make less money.

At first I was somewhat offended. And then I found a little humor in the situation. But it wasn’t until watching my son getting frustrated with his paintbrush, that I realized the lesson that could be learned from it all.

The humor? Well, if winter calving operations aren’t profitable…then there’s a check or two that I’d like to cancel. Mainly to the Internal Revenue Service. In fact, Boss Man will be relieved to hear that our days of paying taxes are over, now that we’re a non-profit livestock operation. Whew! What a relief that is! (Yes, my dear reader, that is sarcasm. At its finest.)

The lesson? When you’re working to make a better picture, using a broad brush will get you nowhere. Neither will dipping your brush in all the colors, expecting for everything to work out.

The same is true in agriculture…or any industry, actually. What makes our way of life great is the reds, the blues, the greens and yellows. All the different colors, all the different sizes, shapes and methods of operating. Together, agriculture makes a wonderful picture. But if you try to shoehorn us all into what you perceive to be the “only way” to farm or ranch? Well, you end up with a big old ugly mess.

We all have the same end result in mind. A great, abundant, affordable food supply for anyone looking for it. And the beauty is, in the great country we live in, the choices are there for you to make. You can decide the types of food you want, the way you want it raised and the price you want to pay for it…there’s always a decision, even if it’s take it or leave it.

Making sure that our calves are healthy and happy...that's our main objective, same as most anyone raising livestock.

Making sure that our calves are healthy and happy…that’s our main objective, same as most anyone raising livestock.

And we have choices, too. We decide our methods and what works for our operation – whether it’s calving now or in the fall, using no-till or conventional methods, growing organic crops or using biotechnology. It’s one of the main principles our country is built on.

I was upset by the insinuation that our operation was sub-par because of the decisions we made, but after the lesson my son taught me, I’ve taken something valuable away from what could have been a disappointing situation.

And that was my choice, too.

Eating meat – a personal choice

Today a little blurb came across my Facebook feed that struck a nerve and made me respond. It was a notification from a major company that there was an active recall for certain ground beef. What had me replying was the insinuation of some that such recalls could be avoided if we don’t eat meat, or if we only eat locally raised meat, or if we eliminate “factory farmed” meat.

None of these are true.

Let me first explain that not everyone in my family eats meat. In fact, our youngest son is limited to 19 grams of protein per day…total, including proteins received from breads, pasta, cheese, milk, etc. Essentially, he is unable to eat meat, drink milk, etc. (You can read more about it on the OTC tab above.)

George, summer 2010, before we started his low-protein diet. With his skinny little chicken arms, tiny legs and minus any fat. This picture makes me cringe sometimes, but it also makes me thank God for miracles.

George, summer 2010, before we started his low-protein diet. With his skinny little chicken arms, tiny legs and minus any fat. This picture makes me cringe sometimes, but it also makes me thank God for miracles.

When we were struggling to find out what was wrong with him, I was trying to cut out different items from my diet, we tried different formulas, nothing seemed to work. He was labeled with Failure to Thrive, and then we kept looking for answers from there.

I never imagined that it would be something we would deal with long-term, but here we are, three years later, looking at a lifetime of diet changes.

George, summer 2012 - all sass and attitude! Full of life, love and a true blessing through and through!

George, summer 2012 – all sass and attitude! Full of life, love and a true blessing through and through!

So why don’t the rest of us go with a vegan-like diet? Wouldn’t it be easier?

You would think so, and at the start, I thought that would be the way to go…but after a long discussion with our dietician, I quickly realized that wouldn’t be the easy answer I was looking for. Did you know that it takes two plant-based proteins to make up the same benefit as an animal protein?

To me, just to ensure that everyone received the needed nutrients and vitamins that they needed, it’s much easier to make George a special, separate meal, as opposed to making a low-protein meal for the whole family.

So I get creative. George has the same meal that we have (usually), it’s just adapted. For example, instead of a regular hamburger, George will have a low-protein bun filled with pickles and ketchup, just minus the meat and cheese. Instead of a dish of ice cream for a treat, George has a dish of sherbet.

I see all the “extra’s” that George has to have in order to make up for those missing proteins: daily “medical food,” extra iron, vitamins, etc. And that’s definitely not a regimen that I want to put our whole family on.

This is George's formula...it stinks to high heaven and I have to hide it in different foods and stuff, but it's what he needs. And that's all that matters.

This is George’s formula…it stinks to high heaven and I have to hide it in different foods and stuff, but it’s what he needs. And that’s all that matters.

That’s the beauty of living in the country that we live in. We have a freedom of choice, and I just so happen to choose to feed my family meat….or at least those that can.

I support anyone making those choices for their own families, whether it’s to enjoy a healthy meal involving a simple animal protein or not. The only time my ire is raised is when I’m attacked for not making the same choice.

And then I become a mama bear…and bears are omnivores.

School lunch: A difference in latitude

Today is inauguration day, and it’s also a day off for our school. It also happens to be the coldest day of the year for our area – well, at least so far.

How cold is it? Judge for yourself:

So, does this qualify as cold where you're from?

So, does this qualify as cold where you’re from?

The extreme temps have me keeping the boys inside today, although we may have to go out for a 4-H meeting later. While thinking about the cold temperatures, I started thinking about ways to warm the boys up, and keep them fueled up for the day.

That’s when another glaring problem with our new school lunch guidelines hit me. The USDA and other supporters of the new restrictions and calorie limits claim that we all shouldn’t eat like high school athletes, but they forget about regional differences as well.

It’s been well-documented and scientifically proven that we use more calories in the winter than in the summer. We usually make up for it by being more sentient and eating more during cold snaps, which leads to winter weight gains.

But what about those that continue their same caloric burn, but don’t receive the extra caloric intake? Like our students.

Imagine if you will, putting on snow pants, jacket, heavy winter boots, scarf, hat and gloves, then going out and lugging around all that extra weight while playing outside. Can you imagine that you wouldn’t burn more calories? That you wouldn’t need more to keep you going throughout the day?

Scooter posing outside a few winters ago, minus his usual snow pants. Must have been a warm day out!

Scooter posing outside a few winters ago, minus his usual snow pants. Must have been a warm day out!

Yet there are no regional differences set into the new guidelines. A child in 70-degree Florida is allowed the same number of calories as a child in the frozen-tundra of North Dakota. Just another glaring hole in the one-size-doesn’t-fit-all mess that makes up our school lunch program.

Snacks? Sure. I send snacks, which are usually consumed prior to the bus even stopping at the school.

Pack a lunch? Sure. I could pack a lunch without problems for my boys. But when it’s cold outside, I prefer they have a warm meal, and so do they. Also, my boys happen to really like our school lunches, it’s just the amount that gets to them. (Or lack of.)

I long for common sense, about as strongly as I long for the warmer days of spring. Fortunately, I’m guaranteed that spring will eventually arrive…I’m not guaranteed that common sense will ever prevail in our lunch program again.

But I won’t stop pushing for it.

What makes a constitutional amendment?

As I’ve made perfectly clear in the past, I am in favor of Measure 3, the North Dakota Constitutional amendment that would protect farming and ranching and modern practices employed by farmers and ranchers.

I want to address one of the concerns that is being brought up by the only vocal agricultural group in opposition to this measure…the North Dakota Farmer’s Union.

First of all, as a member of Farmer’s Union (I’m a member of Farm Bureau as well), let me tell you that I’m extremely disappointed and concerned regarding the stance they have on this measure. It’s becoming more of a school-ground bullying match than fact-sharing, and it’s not what being in agriculture is all about.

Enough about that, let’s get to the issue. Opponents of the measure keep declaring that the constitutional amendment is too vague. Practices aren’t specified and there are no restrictions for negligence.

Why did I highlight constitutional amendment? Because that’s what this is…a change to our state constitution, that would protect the heritage that makes North Dakota the great state that it is, that provides food, fiber and fuel for the world.

The amendment needs to be broad enough to stand the test of time, allowing society to advance and our state constitution to stay current, even when we can’t imagine what the next century may bring.

Let’s take a look at another constitutional amendment:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.


Wait a minute…how could that amendment have been passed? It doesn’t state that you can’t use weapons negligently. It doesn’t state that you are limited to muskets and cannons only. So, surely, it must have been voted down and didn’t stand the test of time, right?

How about another one:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.


Geez, that one didn’t pass either, did it? I mean, it doesn’t specifically state that I can’t call someone a few choice words in a newspaper ad that runs across the country. Oh, wait…but I can’t, can I? Not without the other person having legal recourse.

No, constitutional amendments are NOT about specifying exactly what it is you can or cannot do, it’s about upholding the wishes of the people of the state, for generations to come. It allows flexibility for growth and changes that are made by society, yet it protects the basic rights that we should be entitled to…and that includes our agricultural heritage.

With these rights come expectations, regulations and limitations, it does not, nor will it ever, trample on the rights and freedoms of others. It allows for the legal protection of our way of life and direction for those that are making the laws that will govern our future societies.

Please, do not tell me that Measure 3 is too vague in its wording, and needs to have specifics put in place.

Although, all I can do is ask, because there’s already an amendment that allows you that right.

Our kids aren’t as fat as you think

Whoa. That’s quite the title for a blog post, isn’t it? Here are some other versions I tossed around, “How to make research fit your agenda,” “Misleading the public: Our way or the highway,” “It’s only a few percentage points…who’s gonna notice?”

So, what’s my point? I’ve been reading and researching the 81 pages of the new school lunch guidelines. I’ve read the comments left, I’ve read the “White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity” report. I’ve started to have dreams regarding statistics…and I hated statistics in college. Hated.

What did I learn? I learned that although the powers that be keep using the number “1 in 3” as the percentage of obese kids in our country, well, that number isn’t right. In fact, we’re off by quite a ways. How far? Try about 14%, give or take.

Everywhere you look, you’ll read the statistic that 1 in 3 children are obese. In my mind, that means roughly 33.33%. Again, I wasn’t a math major, so if I’m wrong, please correct me. (And no, I don’t mean just take it out a few more decimal places. 😉 ) What if I tell you that the number is actually closer to 19%? Would that matter?

Well, that’s the truth.

This is percentage of high school students obese, according to the CDC.

Here, read the CDC’s stats directly from their page: “The percentage of children aged  6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 20% in 2008. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to 18% over the same period.” (The number in the White House report bounces between 17% and 19.6%, depending on which graph you want to look at.)

So how can they get away with it? Simple. It’s a matter of word choice. In the above report, the next line reads, “In 2008, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.” It goes on to explain that “overweight” is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water, or a combination of these factors. Obese is defined as having excess body fat.

So, when someone is making a statement, or a report, or a news conference, it’s just more newsworthy if you drop the “overweight” part off and leave it as “obese.” But the two terms are not interchangeable. There are so many factors that can weigh in on a child’s weight, not just activity level and diet. What about injuries? What about stress? What about extending health issues?

What causes an overweight child? Here are a few examples: Imagine a high school student, very active, with an injury that requires months of rehab. They continue to eat as they’re used to, but realize they need to make some diet adjustments once they start noticing a few pounds being added on. The pounds drop again once activity is resumed.

Or what about a teenage girl, just transitioning into her cycle. Weight fluctuates greatly, revolved around hormones and other things that occur as the body makes great changes. Same is true for boys as they hit puberty.

No, an overweight child is nothing to scoff at, but it’s also not something to legislate for…it’s a natural occurrence in the life cycle.

But obesity, well, obesity is a little different. And although we do need to take steps to make improvements, the majority of the differences need to be made at home. And that’s not a place where legislation reaches…at least, not yet.

By law, we are not required to buy fruit. By law, we are not prohibited from purchasing soda. By law, we are not limited to the number of times pizza can be served as a meal.

As parents, we need to make the right decisions for our children, that includes after the bell rings.

If we truly want to drop the obesity rate in our children, we can’t expect cuts to the school lunch program to be the smoking gun. School lunch was never the root of the problem.

But we also can’t go around making changes, touting stats and bending the information to fit our goals. Some may not take the time to read the fine print, but when you get caught using misleading numbers, I start to question the rest of your agenda as well.

I applaud the new fruits and increased use of vegetables in our school lunches, I love the new recipes and new twists on the old-standby’s. Yet calorie caps and protein limits will not succeed to achieve a goal that’s been misquoted in the first place.

Can we work together to make real change?

A 10-year-old’s Letter About School Lunch

After weeks of discussion and attempting to ask questions, my 10-year-old finally had enough last night. He asked why all of the stuff he liked about lunch seems to be bad for you now. I couldn’t answer his questions any more, so I asked if he wanted to write a letter to one of the people in charge. He agreed.

Big Bro…in a self-portrait last summer.

These are his words, not mine. I admit that I did help him with spelling a few times, and I did help him write down an outline of what he wanted to say before he wrote the letter. I am immensely proud that he wanted to take this step…and I encourage other parents to help their children do the same. We are talking about their lunch and their future – and we need to keep them involved.

I’m including the documents, so you can see what he wrote, but I will also type out his message, so that you can read it plainly.

In the next few weeks, I will also be featuring other students who have questions and concerns. Perhaps we can help get their voices heard, so that we can answer those questions and keep working for positive changes. We have this great opportunity to discuss healthy choices and healthy habits, let’s keep the conversation going!

Lunch letter page 1


Dear Mr. Vilsack,

I am writing about the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 and school lunch.

I think that we shouldn’t pay for the extra food that we can get. Why did you think of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010? Why can’t we get pudding or melted cheese on burritos? I thought cheese was healthy?

I am 10 and sometimes I’m hungry when I get home from school. My Mom sometimes sends snack with me on the bus to school. My younger brother eats more than me. He is hungry all the time.

I would like to have a good school lunch. I think meat, cheese and bread are an important part of my meal.

Although I like fruits and vegetables, I would like to see changes made to the school lunch.

Thank You,

Ian Wagner


If a 10-year-old can take the time to write a letter, so can you. Here are the addresses, but don’t be afraid to include your local and state officials as well:

Undersecretary of Food & Nutrition Services
Kevin Concannon
1400 Independence Ave, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20250

Secretary of Agriculture
Tom Vilsack
1400 Independence Ave, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20250

Banana Sushi

Banana what??? That’s right – banana sushi. And it was super simple and the kids thought it was delicious! All it took was to peruse a little Pinterest, come up with a few ideas, adjust it to what we needed and voila! A new treat for EJ’s kindergarten class.

I paired it up with sliced strawberries, sliced apples and sliced summer sausage, making it a healthy, hefty snack for a room full of little ones. Take that, new school food rules!

Here’s the simple recipe, along with photo instructions…fool proof, I promise you!

Banana Sushi


  • bananas
  • bread (I used honey wheat…a whole grain, you know)
  • honey

To start with, take two slices of bread and cut off the crust.

Remove the crust from the bread and lay them side by side.

Flatten together with a rolling pin, to make one big, flat slice of bread.

One giant squished piece of bread.

Add a healthy dose of honey…or just a little, whatever your taste.

Add honey to your bread.

Peel a banana. If it’s too curved, you can always just use your hands to “straighten” it a bit. In fact, I found the bananas very easy to manipulate into a straight shape…it was just a tad messy.

Next, just roll your bread around the banana, pat the ends together to seal, and cut into slices. It’ll look a little “sushi”-ish. And taste yummy! (If you like bananas and honey.)

Finished product…and yummy!