Observations Relationships Travel

Nebraska – Corn Huskers, Farmers, Country Folk

When I’d been invited to visit Preferred Popcorn by my buddy Sam, I had this immediate vision of golden fields laden with ears of corn bursting forth with an abundance of soon-to-be buttered bounty. I pictured giant tractors backdropped by cerulean blue skies and big red barns. This was the breadbasket of America right? So why was it so hot and dry? Did I somehow take a wrong turn and land in the oven?

As I made my way through Oklahoma, then Kansas and finally Nebraska, I was underwhelmed. Here the land was stripped of all pretense. There were no large plantation style homes or happy cows sipping from babbling brooks. I didn’t see a single red barn or a cheerful farmer on a rustic tractor wearing overalls and chewing happily on a corn-cob pipe. Instead I found myself bored by the lack of personality, or rather, the lack of life altogether in the bountiful but somehow desolate land. Fields stretched out forever in blankets of green wrapped tightly around the Earth. Cornstalks six to eight feet high and soy beans so green they were almost blue, were watched over by giant sprinkler systems that silently yet mercilessly demanded only one thing – Produce, Produce, Produce.

I finally met up with my buddy Sam and after our initial greeting he immediately took me for a tour of the “estate”. Their home, which I had imagined to be a mansion befitting the third largest popcorn plant in the nation, was nothing more than a 100 year old farm house that had been jazzed up with a new roof, new siding and some river rock. It was modest, humble even, and the inside of it smelled to me not like humans who had been working in the field all day – which is what I expected, but instead it actually smelled of freshly popped popcorn. I don’t know why this surprised me, but it did.

Here in this world I was completely out of my element. There was no internet, my phone registered almost no satellite signal. There were no homes as far as my eye could see and for some reason, I felt that we were alone here, as if God himself had decided that he was much needed someplace else and that he could leave just a handful of rookie angels to watch over things while he was away.

When we went into town I kept expecting to see something more, like any minute now we would round a corner and there would be a Walmart or a shopping mall. I started to get almost desperate for a Walgreens or even a McDonalds but the Golden Arches were not to be found. Here, in Central City, Nebraska, they didn’t have much of a need for large convenience stores, shopping malls, or hamburgers churned out by the hundreds and served alongside piles of deep fried and piping hot sticks of salty bliss. No, here there was no time for that. People got up early and irrigated their fields and when they weren’t irrigating, or planting or harvesting, I’m sure they were praying. Farming is a difficult task that has been honed down to a science, however, science can do nothing without God who ultimately controls the outcome of everything. He provides the sun, the rain, and the grasshoppers and at times he provides bounty and at other times he provides famine. In both we have a lesson to learn.

As Sam and I went about on bumpy dirt trails to open and close pipes and to adjust pivots, I couldn’t help but admire these farmers who actually are the ones that feed America. They literally put food on our table. They labor and toil so I can go to the movies and have a $6 bag of golden goodness popped freshly in coconut oil and then drizzled with delicious artificial butter. I’m thankful for that.

The best part of the trip was getting to spend time with my friend, my brother, Sam, who we lovingly refer to as Popcorn here in Texas. In the last year he has become very dear to me and while we knew a great deal about each other, there is nothing like spending time with someone and their family to really get to know them. Here in his hometown with his parents and sister I saw the hardworking young man that was covered in dirt more than he was clean. His hair was in need of a visit from a pair of scissors, his face and neck an appointment with a razor, but despite this exterior grime I saw Sam more clearly than ever. He was not wearing seminary approved clothing or sporting about in his bright yellow mustang, instead he was working at a task as old as civilization and my estimation of him increased. It was like seeing inside of Mary Poppins’ bag and being surprised at the depth there.

As I drove away from Nebraska and Kansas I had a better appreciation for agriculture, a better understanding of my friend and a gratitude for the fact that I get to work inside in ice cold air conditioning in a town that is close to a Walmart.

Observations Relationships

Sex, Marriage & Fairtytales

Marriage today is struggling. Divorces, adultery, misconceptions, etc are plaguing not only the marriage itself but products of those marriages (my generation and the next). My hope in this poem is to highlight the most frequent and problematic issues marriages face today while also pointing to Jesus as the ultimate healer, redeemer, and restorer of every marriage. Whether single or married, my intention would be that this poem would allow you to look more deeply to Jesus to either better your current marriage, or prepare for your future marriage.

Poem inspiration:

Book that inspired the poem:

Jeff’s INFO:

I'm Just Sayin Observations Technology

Search Engine Optimization

Recently I’ve been contacted by two clients who want to improve their ranking on Google. “How do we get on the first page of Google results?!” they asked. After taking a quick peek at their sites source code it was clear to see that they didn’t even have the foundational information for a high ranking on Google. As a matter of fact, they hadn’t even registered their URL’s, created a site map, or made sure that their site descriptions and meta data conveyed the right key word search information.

Did you know that:

1. Google has a lit of Webmaster Tools that will help you get your site indexed correctly?
2. You can register your site manually with most major search engines.
3. Social Networking does work wonders – Facebook, Linkedin, Google+, Twitter, Youtube, Vimeo, etc.
4. Using other sites to embed links for your site and keywords is very powerful.
5. Register your site with online services and directories like Linkedin and Yelp.
6. Once your site is setup correctly it still takes time for your site to move up in Google.
7. Updating your site with a blog is a good way to keep your rankings current and to increase your embedded key words.
8. Google actually has an adwords certification program to help you understand how to setup your adwords correctly.
9. Don’t just focus on 1 or 2 search engines. You may overlook valuable customers who don’t use Google and Yahoo.
10. You can use keyword phrasing in your pictures to increase keywords on your site.
11. Google Analytics are awesome, but so is Woopra: Something I learned in accounting – you can only manage what you can measure.

These are just a few tips that will help get your site linked higher. When, an attorney who specializes in family and divorce law in Denton, Texas asked me to look at his site I was so surprised at how little his site was setup correctly. Then another client, asked me to setup his website and then later asked me to improve the SEO ranking. I told him that it takes about 10 hours to do the basic setup for a site SEO and then it is best to keep maintaining your site’s SEO by posting blogs, adding specials on Facebook and Twitter and embedding links.

Hopefully you find this information helpful and feel free to share your own tips and let me know if you are interested in link sharing: info at eddie renz dot com


Memoirs Observations Relationships

From the Mouth of Babes…

Every week I get to teach students on Sunday morning. I think of it as a privilege even though I often feel like nothing more than a glorified babysitter. Parents sometimes drop their children off 45 minutes before the start of service and I don’t know if it is because the students are so excited to be there, or if the parents are dropping of their children and then making a mad dash for a quiet caramel macchiato that can be sipped in silence.

I don’t mind the children being there early or late for that matter. I only have to get to see them for a couple of hours a week and it’s those last or first few minutes that can be quite enlightening. For instance, one of my only black students once said to me, “My parents are at the black church this morning, Morse St. Baptist, so they may be running late, you know how black churches are.” He said, holding up his hand and then saying, “No offense.” I wasn’t sure why I would be offended except that maybe my brown skin color is often deemed “questionable”. When I had hair that was mostly straight and black, I was rarely confused as an African American, but over the years my hair has deserted me, like so many of my friends, and the ones I have left I hold onto dearly, never realizing how much I cared until they were gone. Now that I’m larger and bald, I’m often mistaken as African American, but I can assure, offense for the misinterpretation of my race, is never taken.

This morning one of my particularly challenging students was standing next to me. This is a rarity as normally he is kicking balls as hard as he can at the ceiling or walls. I think his sole purpose there is to see if he can maim himself or another student but make it look like an accident. He loves to find a rolling chair and then push it as fast as he can toward the stairs and then jump in it. I think God has sent an angel to stop the chair right before it hurtles down the stairs with the student in it – but sometimes I secretly wish it would happen just so I could say, “I told you so.” But he never falls and I don’t get my wish.

And speaking of “I told you so’s”… I love them. It makes us feel superior and there is nothing like being right that makes me feel more superior than someone else. Then there’s that feeling that they received the punishment that they deserved because they hadn’t listened to you. So maybe you lost a hand, big deal, how you feel at that moment doesn’t matter, your pain is inconsequential what matters is, “I told you so.”

We smile at ourselves because we had foreseen the danger like a prophet or a psychic with a crystal ball. We pat ourselves on the back with pride and we gloat as we share the story with our friends, “Did you see Sally? Yeah, I kept telling her to stay away from the poison ivy, but she just wouldn’t listen. Now she’s practically disfigured by it, but I told her so.” We say, tisking our tongue and shaking our head with false sympathy.

So back to the student, we’ll call him Billy, was just standing next to me when another student said, “Hey, you guys are twins!” It was an obvious joke since Billy has the physical make up of slightly cooked spaghetti. He’s all arms and legs and when he moves he appears to be about to fall over at any moment – like Gumby, but thinner.

Billy looked up at me, his face contorting with terror as he stared at my head. “I am not that… FAT!” The word jutted out of his mouth less like an insult and more a statement of fact – however, it still stung like an insult as I was expecting the word: tall, bald, brown, big – I was not expecting FAT in all caps with an exclamation attached.

I’ve become accustomed to being called names. I don’t even mind the occasional insult to keep me humble, but the three students nearby made audible gasps of shock and dismay. “WHAT! Oh my word.” It was clear that even at 11 years old they knew it was impolite if not down-right rude to call someone fat. I would say that in America, despite that fact that the majority of us are over-weight, fat is quite possibly one of the most cruel insults, more hurtful than say being called retarded or ugly, neither of which is not a consequence of gluttony and ugly is really a matter personal opinion.

Billy’s parents pulled up and waved, I stuck my hand up and waved back as if I were on a parade float. Their was no real emotion in my hand because for a moment I was still on “pause”. That’s what happens sometimes when you are insulted. Your brain doesn’t know how to react, especially when you are at church, surrounded by others and in reality, the statement was true – I am indeed fat. Not rotund or obese. There will not be a need for a crane to lift me into my casket when I die, but yes, I am indeed FAT. I guess the only insulting part of his statement was the exclamation mark on the end of FAT! and since he is only 11 and being home-schooled, I’ll assume that his parents haven’t yet taught him manners or grammar yet and let it slide.

Culture Observations

I should have been a writer…

Recently a friend of mine posted a scanned copy of our 6th grade class newsletter. I was tagged in the image and when I looked at it I saw that there was a short story that I had written about a Russian named Vladimir and a really large donut the size of a sheet cake.

Wow, 23 years ago at the age of 10 I was already writing about food! As I read through the story it was obvious that I didn’t have any real creative writing style, but, the story had a beginning, a body, and a conclusion and the grammar was awesome for a 10 year old.

I remember growing up I was always writing poetry, some of it inflammatory, but mostly it was simple rhymes and short stories.

Why didn’t anyone ever tell me back then that I should be a writer when I grow up?

There are a few things in life that come easily to me, the most natural thing I do is dance. It is something I do well without any thought or practice. For me “dancing by ear” is similar to the way people play music by ear. You don’t understand how you do it, you just do.

Later in life I realized I was pretty decent at spatial concepts and understanding balance in design. I’m no artist, but I can sense when something is right.

I think that in our culture we often direct our children down a path that seems to fit something that is accepted by society as great: Doctors, Lawyers, Fireman. We ask “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Instead of asking, “What do you LIKE to do the most?”

Perhaps if we asked the latter question we would better be able to direct our children down a path that they will not only excel in, but they will also find satisfying.

I think our society and culture is wasteful. We spend hours of time and thousands of dollars forcing students to take years of math and science. Instead we should probably have our students get a general grasp of the math and science they need to relate to all parts of society as a whole, however, I have never needed to use Algebra and I’m not sure the 4 years of my life spent in Algebra classes was time well spent. What if instead I was thrust into a creative writing class, dance, art? What if once we got to high school we spent those 4 years finding out what we excelled in and then by the time we got to college we could really intensify those areas of study and then we would be awesome at our careers.Instead we force high school students to endure 2 more years of information that we should have already learned in the previous 12 years of our education and then, once we’ve spent thousands of dollars learning these “basics” we finally get to the meaty subject of what we are going to be doing for the rest of our lives and we spend just 2 years on that. It doesn’t make sense.

Now here I am at 33 years of age and I just now fully understand the areas that I am good at and I’ve spent years and thousands of dollars acquiring skills in an area that I only sort of enjoy and I will never seriously excel in without a lot of work and effort.

So my choice is to either throw away the investment that I have made in my education, or to live a life doing something that I only partly enjoy doing.

I, personally, should have been a writer, or a dancer, or possibly an interior designer. What should you have been?