Sunday, December 28, 2014

I hang around people better than me, and you should, too.

     Yes, you heard correctly.  I deliberately surround myself with people who are smarter, more experienced, or just plain better than me.  For almost every part of my life, "I have a guy for that."  Sometimes, I have an organization "for that," instead.  You'll see what I mean...
  • Accountant
  • Counselor
  • Attorney
  • Doctors (I have a whole bunch of doctors on my shortlist.  I have a primary care physician, OBGYN, optometrist, dentist, my kids' pediatrician, etc.)
  • Hair dresser
  • Church family
  • Insurance guru
  • General contractor/handyman
  • Auto mechanic/collision repair
  • Babysitter
  • Pest control guy
  • Plumber
  • Carpet cleaner
  • Photographer
  • Academic adviser
  • Spiritual mentor
  • 2-3 moms older than myself, who have more experience in child rearing, and whose children are a little older than mine.  I follow them on Facebook, and I pay close attention to their behaviors.  They are - in a few words - better than me.  They are women that I emulate.  
  • Study group with students smarter than me
  • Realtor
  • Veterinarian
This is a photo of a couple who has been spiritual mentors for my husband and me.

I'm not an expert in everything.

    For every area of my life, I need someone I can trust to help me make the best decisions possible.  Imagine if I were good at everything!  I would make only the best decisions on all kinds of matters.  It would be like graduating school with an M.D., a J.D., a Ph.D, a license in real estate, insurance, and automatically gaining years of experience in construction, conflict resolution, and an infinite list of other credentials.  That would be awesome, but it's impossible.  Relying on the counsel of highly qualified people and experienced mentors gives me the closest match to my pipe dream of being an expert in everything.  

"Become wise by walking with the wise; hang out with fools and watch your life fall to pieces."

Proverbs 13:20

It applies for both personal life and business.

    This list gets more exhaustive when you consider all the people on speed dial for business purposes.  I have a go-to list for every conceivable supplier, trade, or other business need.  That's because I am a firm believer in valuing the advice of people who are an expert in their field and cultivating lifelong relationships.  I will never be an expert in every field, but I can make the same smart decisions as if I were.

Don't be a moocher.  

    Finally, here are some keys to successful, longstanding relationships with your mentors and professionals:
  • Approach non-professionals (mentors) with a humble attitude and grateful spirit, so that they feel honored by your gesture of recognizing their valuable life experiences.  
  • Give back to the ones who have helped you, and pay it forward to those who haven't.
  • When approaching a business professional, understand that their time is money and reimburse them according to their set rates.  Don't ask for freebies.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Playing by Heart - Anne Mateer

I was excited to read this new book from Anne Mateer.  This story had just the right mix of seriousness and romance to make it a perfect women's Christian fiction.  The main character, Lula, was smart and selfless, making excellent decisions all the way through the book.  As a practical person myself, I felt that I could really relate to Lula's determination and resourcefulness.
The character that plays opposite Lula, Chet, has issues of his own that he must work through.  Mateer delivers a well-developed character again with Chet.  Many readers will relate well to Chet's relationship struggle with his mother.  His fight between family responsibility, respect and honor for parents, and how to balance these with his own goals for his life are palpable and real.
Throughout the book, there is a theme of relationship bonds between family and loyalty to that family.  How family responsibility affects the lives of the players is touching and sincere.
The book was well-written, and I am very much looking forward to more from Anne Mateer.
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

The Daughter of Highland Hall - Carrie Turansky

Let me first say that it is my personal policy to not read books in a series out of order.  When I was given the chance to read Carrie Turansky's Daughter of Highland Hall I made an exception to this rule.  I'm so glad I did!  The plot grabbed me right from the very beginning.  I was able to dive right in and feel completely oriented to the people, place, and story line.  After finishing the book, I visited our local Books-a-Million, and my only regret was that they did not have book 1 in stock!  Otherwise, I would have happily backtracked to get another story from Turansky.
The plot is about a young lady raised in Highland Hall, who is expected to make an excellent match in her first season.  Since her male cousin is inheriting Highland Hall, her time there is limited.  There are two men interested in her, and her journey of self-discovery and maturity helps illuminate which would be the right decision.
My only critique to this book is the relationship between Julia and William, an engaged couple that are supporting characters to the protagonists.  By every appearance, Julia and William act like a married couple.  The decisions they jointly make, Julia's position in the household, and every other nuance of their relationship implies a married couple of at least 3-4 years.  I never did fully understand why Julia was still living in the household when she was engaged to the lord of the household and not still fully working in her former capacity as governess.  It did not make sense, and came off more as a couple living together prior to marriage.   It would have been easy for the author to write a few lines describing the recent wedding of this couple, and she would not have had to change a thing in the rest of the book.  That would have taken care of it.
Other than that small detail, I adored this book and will certainly keep my eyes peeled for more novels from Turansky.  I recommend the book for fans of the Victorian era and romance enthusiasts.
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Truth Be Told - Carol Cox

Truth Be Told by Carol Cox is a historical women's Christian fiction novel about a young lady returning home to take over the newspaper business her father, recently deceased, has left her.  She finds herself embroiled in an attack by a large firm, concerned that her father's articles have hurt their reputation.  Instead of selling out, she decides to actively investigate her father's hunch, which is that the company's business ethics are lacking.
In order to get to the bottom of the story, the main character enlists the help of the man assigned to win her over.  He agrees to look into things at the office with full confidence that he will be able to report back to her that everything is completely above-board.  However, the plot escalates, and we learn that shady business practices are the least of their problems.
The character's commitment to chasing down a story is commendable, and the plot is interesting.  I think this book would appeal especially to journalists and writers.  I wasn't particularly taken in by it, though.  Carol Cox is an experienced writer, and she did a fantastic job with this story.  Some of the history of newspaper publishing was worked into the book, which made it all the more believable.  I plan to read more of her novels, such as Trouble in Store.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

With Every Breath - Elizabeth Camden

With Every Breath by Elizabeth Camden was so captivating that once I picked it up, I couldn't put it down until I finished it... less than 24 hours later.
As a nursing student, I found Elizabeth Camden's presentation of tuberculosis - and the fight to control it - fascinating.  She clearly did a generous amount of research before writing, and you'll feel the authenticity as you read.  The limitations of the medical staff due to the lack of technology are evident, but so are the brilliance of the doctors that work with the patients.  The stresses of hospital politics and political strain are also included, making the book even more accurate.  The main characters have a unique past relationship, and the author wrote in just the right amount of electricity between them.  The romantic attraction was nearly tangible.  The personality and character flaws -- "You only love when it's easy" -- of the main character are ones I could relate to, and I saw myself in the leading lady more than once.  I believe most readers will find these characters utterly likeable and fun to read about.
My favorite thing about this book is that the author dedicated her writing space to primarily the two main characters, and not a lot of supporting characters and "extras."  Almost every chapter is dedicated to their interaction with each other.  I really liked how this stretched and elongated the reading experience.  Usually when I sit down with a book my favorite parts are when the main characters interact together.  Fortunately, this author captures that thought and turns it into an entire book.  I finally got exactly what I wanted!  Nearly every scene was these two relating to each other in some way.
Bottom line: With Every Breath is an absolute must read.  I've read every book of Elizabeth Camden's that has been published by Bethany House, so I knew I was in for the night when I began it.  Grab a hot tea, your favorite afghan, and dim the lights.  You won't want to get up for anything.  In fact, I loved it so much I believe I will actually read it again.
Normally, right here is where I include a disclaimer saying that I received the book for free in exchange for a review.  Not here!  I am such a fan of Elizabeth Camden, I pre-ordered this one and had it delivered to my door by Amazon Prime on the day of release.  So you see?  I do put my money where my mouth is.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Osage Restaurant at Top of the Rock in Branson, MO

I had been looking forward to visiting Top of the Rock since it reopened.  After seeing a Facebook stream of photos of people eating there, I just knew it would be a great place.  One of my good friends and I tried it out on one of our girls nights.
We arrived at the parking lot, but were confused as to where to go from there.  Turns out, you actually park at a different location than where the restaurant is.  After waiting a little while, you get on a shuttle and are dropped off at a location where you are, again, confused as to where to go.  You are informed that there are three restaurants at this location.  Since Top of the Rock Restaurant has been renamed the Osage Restaurant this made it further confusing.
Nevertheless, after all the hassle of arrival we were given a pager and assigned a 20-minute wait time for our table.  Our wait time was perfect.  We had enough time to walk around the facilities and explore, but not too much.  The life-size mammoth replication is extremely impressive; I stood there admiring it for several minutes.  The setting is beautiful, and the golf course the restaurant overlooks is meticulously kept up.  There is no wonder why people are getting their pictures taken here.  At a glance I recognized that this would be a popular wedding location for years to come.
We were seated around 35 minutes later, and the service was average.  It didn't take long to order, since the menu only has 10 entrees to choose from for dinner ranging in price from $21.00 to $44.00.  I did not find the prices problematic, since I think guests understand that the prices will be higher here and have appropriate expectations.  However, when they ask which salad you would like, you should be advised that salad is not included in your entree.  My suggestion to the restaurant is to go ahead and include the salad in the entree order, as well as to add more options to the entree menu.  Including the salad would be consistent with the price structure and expectations of guests in our part of the country.
After ordering, we received bread and a saucer with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.  Locals of Branson will remember the fresh bread and small decanters of oil and vinegar that was available to diners at the former Top of the Rock Restaurant.  Today's Osage Restaurant isn't quite the same.  We received a couple small, hard wheat rolls roughly 3" x 3" each and some seeded cracker bread.  Neither of the products had much flavor, and if the bread was baked fresh earlier you cannot tell it.  Gone are the warm, fresh breadsticks and unlimited oil and vinegar.  Even the oil and vinegar they gave us was carefully rationed out into one small saucer for us to split.  Don't double-dip!
While we were waiting for the entrees, the pleasant ambiance of the restaurant was interrupted when we were blasted overhead by American Indian music. As it turns out, they play this music at sunset every day and it is followed by a cannon blast.  I agree that the sentiment is nice, but the sound of the music itself is obnoxious.  Since our table was located directly under the speaker, this could not end fast enough.  When it was finally over, we sighed with relief and had a good chuckle.
I ordered "Our Signature Rotisserie Roasted All-Natural Chicken."  The description reminded me of an entree I ordered several years ago at the former Top of the Rock, and I was excited to have it again.  For the entree price of $27.00 I received exactly half of a chicken, mashed potatoes, and a vegetable medley.  The mashed potatoes were absolutely excellent, and the vegetable medley was good.  The chicken, however, was a disaster.  I was able to eat the leg and thigh, but the chicken was so tough and overcooked that I couldn't remove any of the chicken breast.  The skin was brittle and hard, which made which made it uncomfortable to swallow.  The plate the entree was served on was quite a bit smaller than plates used at other restaurants, and the portions of mashed potatoes and vegetable medley were too small while the chicken portion was entirely too big.
My friend ordered the pasta, and her portion was comparable to a child-size portion at Olive Garden.  The presentation for the pasta was lacking, and overall the meal itself was a disappointment.
In conclusion, the view from the restaurant is stunning.  The atmosphere at the restaurant (with exception to the sunset ritual) is perfectly right.  However, not being able to drive right up to the restaurant is a distinct drawback.  The limited menu options and inferior food make this a restaurant I cannot recommend right now.  I believe management will take notice of customer feedback and strive to improve the customer experience at Osage Restaurant.  I look forward to seeing the improvements, and would certainly consider visiting again if changes are made.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Skinny on Metabolic Research Center

Metabolic Research Center (MRC) is a weight loss business with locations in 19 different states. The employees are paid on commission from sign-ups and the sales of supplements.  MRC has several diet plans, each slightly different.  There are diet plans emphasizing portion control, caloric intake, balance, low-carb/high-fat and many others.  Most diets are designed for weight loss, but others are for health, such as the pregnancy diet.

Who is best served by MRC?

MRC can help people that are overweight by giving them tools to use to reach a healthy weight, such as a BMI of around 24.  This program is not effective for people who are already at a healthy weight and want to be "skinny."  For example, a woman who is 5'8" is not likely to get below 150 pounds without the added benefits of consistent cardio exercise and additional limitations to the menus.  The CDC has a BMI calculator that is free and easy to use.

What can you expect from your initial consultation, agreement, and cost?

Initially, guests will walk in to an office with before and after pictures of past clients on the wall showing significant weight and inches loss.  There is a one-on-one sales pitch using examples of past clients, the personal testimony of the salesman, and a promise that the plan is designed so that you can eat your own food and eat at restaurants.  The salesman may tell you how low they can successfully get your weight, but be aware that this may be unrealistic.
The packages are offered in 16- or 24-week increments, and which one they put you on depends on a variety of factors.  Your commitment entails a hefty sign up fee, a minimum of one office visit per week, drinking 1-4 protein drinks per day (depending on your plan), taking the Total Woman/Total Man oil supplement and the Trace Minerals supplement 3x per day, taking the MRC multi-vitamin or your own multi-vitamin, and staying "on plan."  If you do all these things, they guarantee weight loss of 2-3 pounds per week.  Note that this is not a money-back guarantee.  Instead, they will extend the weeks of your plan until you reach your goal if you have stayed "on plan."
If you decide to use MRC to help manage your weight loss, you should be financially prepared.  It's a bargain compared to bariatric surgery, which is often a solution people consider when they desperately wish to lose significant weight.  The protein drinks you are required to use cost $13-14/box, and they have 7 packets per box.  At 3 protein drinks per day, this cost adds up quickly. Over the course of 24-weeks I spent nearly $2,000 overall.  Add to this the changes to your grocery bill.

My personal story

I was originally referred to MRC by a friend, and since I hated my weight of 176.5 pounds, and the salesman said that MRC could safely get me to 127 pounds, I signed up at the Springfield, MO location and chose a goal weight of 130 pounds.  The sign up fee was exorbitant, but I was desperate.  I paid $595 + around $100 for protein drinks and supplements on the first day.  After some time in the program and talking with my doctor, I realized this goal was unrealistic, but it was too late -- the salesmen had already sold me a large weight loss package, which was much more expensive than if I had paid for the results I would actually get.
I started out on the MetaBalance plan, and the first several weeks at MRC I lost weight.  I worked to stay on my diet plan, which was very challenging.  I could not eat the same food as the rest of my family, and they could not eat the same food as me.  Eating at a restaurant was impossible.  Keep in mind that the consultants are far more familiar with what is "on plan" than you may ever be, so while they may have success eating out, you should expect to not eat out at all.
After losing 14 pounds, I hit a plateau.  I went one week without losing anything, and their recommendation was to increase my trace minerals (a supplement they sell).  Over the course of my time there, I needed additional supplements.  Among these were B12, B6, CalMag (calcium-magnesium), a vegetable-probiotics powder drink mix, a thermogenic, MRC-6 (fat loss accelerator), a generic hormone cream, and colon cleanse.  One consultant suggested I do their MetaQuick plan (protein drinks and supplements with one diet meal for dinner), but two days later a different consultant switched me to the MetaProtein menu, the low-carb/high-fat/high-protein plan.  I liked this plan the best, and I finally got my weight down to 151 pounds.  Eventually, I began gaining weight on the plan, and they decided to change my plan again to a newer version of the MetaBalance plan.  It felt like they were playing a guessing game at my expense.  One consultant said at one weigh-in "I don't understand why your body is doing this to you."  
After being stuck at around 150 pounds for several weeks, the manager of the Springfield, MO location all but came right out and accused me of going off-plan.  She tried very hard to get me to admit to some small infraction, but there was none.  They had no explanation for why the plan wasn't working, except that I was hiding something from them.  At one point, one consultant nearly talked me into raising my goal weight from 130 to 140.  If only the salesman at the initial consultation had suggested that up front, I would not have bought as expensive of a plan and my expectations would have been entirely different, resulting in a more positive outlook.
At this point in the program I was emotionally spent.  During this time, I found out that there were people able to sign up for the plan for only $99, which anyone can do on any major holiday.  Of course, this infuriated me, because I had paid nearly $600.  I asked the manager about this, and she said that their sign up fee did not include as many features as mine.  Which features, you may ask?  MRC has the options of the sign up, hormone test, and 1-year maintenance plan wrapped up in the $595 plan, but for $99 you don't receive the hormone test (which can be purchased separately for $200) or the 1-year maintenance (also can be purchased separately at the end of your time there if you wish).  The amount of information you are given when you sign up really depends on which consultant you talk to.  My sales rep was very commission-driven.   Aside from selling me a big package without telling me it could be broken down cafeteria-style, she also told me that no exercise was required.  In addition, I specifically asked her about the hormone testing.  I wanted to know for certain that once the hormone test results were back I would be able to get a custom-compounded hormone cream like the one I had been prescribed a few years earlier.  She told me that the cream was custom.  As it turns out, everyone gets the same hormone cream ($30 for a couple ounces) regardless of test results.  The only way to "customize" it is to use more or less.  Since this is an over-the-counter supplement, this is not something a medically-minded client would be interested in.  It is not FDA approved.  Since MRC was unable to successfully get me to 130 pounds, I saw no need for the 1-year maintenance program that I had already paid for at sign-up.  I asked the manager, Angie, several times for a refund on the 1-year maintenance, but she dodged my question and did not return my phone calls.
In the end, I lost 25.5 pounds of the 49.5 pounds I set out to lose on my 24-week plan.  I continued to practice healthy eating habits after leaving MRC and lost an additional 9 pounds, getting me down to 142.  My goal is now 140, and with the healthy eating habits and tips I gained from my time at MRC, I believe I can achieve my goal.

How to succeed through MRC

If you want to use the service of MRC, my recommendation is this: sign up for a small, no-frills plan and set your MRC weight loss goal to a realistic number.
If you don't know how to figure your goal, here is the formula most doctors use for women: 100 pounds + 5 pounds for every inch of height over 5'0".  For example, I am 5'8", so I take 100 + (8 x 5) = 140 pounds.
Then, if you are able to meet your goal completely, you can extend your plan and set a more aggressive goal.  This way, you don't end up paying for a large plan and losing only part of the weight you paid for.  In my case, I lost only 25 pounds of my 49.5 on my 24-week plan.  Over the course of 24-weeks I spent nearly $2,000 overall.
Lastly, because the pay for the consultants is commission-based, they are less inclines to tell you if your goal is unreasonable until after you are well into the program and have stopped losing weight.  Around the mid-point of the program my doctor told me that getting any lower than 140 pounds was not only unreasonable, it wouldn't look right.  Talk to your doctor about your realistic weight goal -- not a commission-driven salesman.


MRC sees a lot of clients with more than a hundred pounds to lose.  These clients tend to get more of their money's worth, because they can easily lose more than 2-3 pounds per week.  I have personally witnessed more than one client weigh-in and hear the cheers when 14 pounds was shaved off in only one week.  This is easily done when the patient weighs over 500 pounds.  However, clients wanting to lower an already healthy weight to achieve a nicer figure are not likely to see as much success.  The closer you get to your goal, the harder you have to work.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Withings WS-50 Smart Body Analyzer

I was able to power on the scale and get a weight reading, but I was unable to sync it with my cell phone or the account. It took me several hours of fiddling with it to get the data uploaded once to my iPhone app, but it did not sync after that. Also, this is a European-made scale. You will need to take it from kilograms to pounds, which is a hassle. After figuring out which button was intended for this, I kept pressing it over and over for about 15 minutes before I could finally get the scale to "land on" the U.S. pounds option. It kept wanting to be on kilograms or StLb (British pounds). After getting the scale to read in U.S. pounds, you have to separately set your app to read in U.S. pounds. It does not sync these settings automatically. After following all the directions on the quick start manual, I got online to pursue more detailed instructions. I found that you need to set up the Wi-Fi, and then in a separate step, associate the scale with your app. I downloaded the program online, but the graphic of the back of the scale is different from the WS-50. I could not find a USB plug anywhere on the entire scale, even after removing the batteries. The online program said that the scale came with a USB cable, but mine did not. This makes me question whether the online program was updated when a newer Withings model was released.
I never was able to get a body fat percentage reading. The reason I spent this sum on a scale is strictly because of the Wi-Fi ability to sync it to my cell phone. After having the scale for four days and still being unable to sync it with my iPhone apps (Withings app and the MyFitnessPal app), I am returning it. The reason for the 1-star is because the scale is so difficult to set up.
I will be ordering the FitBit Aria today and am looking forward to trying it.
It took several days before I got an email back from Withings customer support. They do not have a phone number published for customer support, so email is the only method. I did receive a brief email back the next day with a link to online set-up (which is commonly found on their website and in the set-up directions), which did nothing for me since I already had that link. I emailed back, but getting a second response took way too long. I was able to not only return the Withings scale, but order and receive the new scale (a FitBit Aria). My Aria was long since ordered, received, set up, and functioning perfectly before I finally got a response back from Withings. My suggestion to Withings is that use phone support to handle customer service.

If you are looking for a "smart scale," that is, one that reads your weight and body fat percentage, then syncs it to your cellular device so you can track it, you may be considering the Withings WS-50 or the FitBit Aria.  I researched both of these before making my purchase. I chose the Withings, because it was heavier, bigger, and had a sharper display. Overall, after reading the reviews I believed the Withings was a higher quality piece that would last longer. The price point also led me to believe it had higher accuracy, although I cannot provide a comparison to confirm that. I saw the reviews beforehand indicating it may be a hassle to set up, but since I am relatively technology-savvy that did not phase me. I figured that once I got past the set-up the Withings would be a longer-lasting product.

It took several days before I got an email back from Withings customer support. They do not have a phone number published for customer support, so email is the only method. I did receive a brief email back the next day with a link to online set-up (which is commonly found on their website and in the set-up directions), which did nothing for me since I already had that link. I emailed back, but getting a second response took way too long. I was able to not only return the Withings scale, but order and receive the new scale (a FitBit Aria). My Aria was long since ordered, received, set up, and functioning perfectly before I finally got a response back from Withings. My suggestion to Withings is that use phone support to handle customer service.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Do private school students score higher on the ACT?

Below is a chart reflecting the average ACT for local public and private schools.  For the purpose of this article I used mainly local schools.  To reflect a broader area, I included a couple schools from larger cities in the state of Missouri and one that is nearly-local in Arkansas.  For fun, I included a couple schools with a reputation for sending their students to Harvard and Yale.

School(s) ACT composite % Reporting # Grads
National average 20.9 54%
Missouri state average 21.6 74%
Greenwood Laboratory School 26.0 100% 36
New Covenant Academy 23.6 100% 29
Springfield Catholic High School 24.5 100% 81
Shiloh Christian School 25 100% 56
MICDS - St. Louis, MO 28.6 100%
Phillips Academy Andover - Andover, MA 30.2 100% 190
Phillips Exeter - Exeter, NH 29 100% 299
Pembroke Hill - Kansas City, MO 28-33 84%
Blue Eye public school 20.5 77.55% 49
Bradleyville public school 20.1 57.14% 28
Branson public school 22.4 64.60% 339
Clever public school
Forsyth public school 21.2 56.63% 83
Gainesville public school
59.09% 44
Galena public school 18.6 54.84% 31
Hollister public school 19.9
Hurley public school
Joplin public school 21.1 56.34% 481
Reeds Spring (public)
Spokane (public)
62.50% 32
Springfield (public) 22.2 65.14% 1655

I had the pleasure of talking with several admissions directors in the private schools reflected above.  Dr. Janice Duncan with Greenwood Laboratory is very proud of her Bright Flight rate -- a whopping 6%.  Delana Reynolds at New Covenant Academy is also proud of her students, with a Bright Flight rate of 3-6%.  Alicia Brown, the admissions director at Shiloh Christian School in Springdale, Arkansas, reported a Bright Flight rate of 20% for their Class of 2013!

What material does the ACT assess?

The ACT measures progress in at least four areas, and offers an optional writing test. 
  • English - standard written English and rhetorical skills
  • Math - math skills up through the beginning of grade 12
  • Reading comprehension
  • Science - interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving
  • Optional writing test

Why are high ACT scores important?

  • The ACT is an important tool used by parents and teacher to evaluate the progress of individual student learning 
  • Tuition discounts at colleges are given to students on a graduated scale, based on ACT score
  • Scholarships
  • Students can gain admission to a competitive college 
  • Students scoring a 31+ are considered "Bright Flight" students and usually receive a full-ride scholarship to a university

Are ACT score averages a perfect way to compare schools?

No.  Most private schools require the ACT to be taken by all graduating seniors.  Their averages therefore include the full range of students.  Currently, only 21 states require public school seniors to take the exam, and Missouri is not one of them.  Therefore, the state average ACT score for Missouri is slightly higher than states which do make the test mandatory.  Public school students taking the ACT are typically college-bound students, and the average score does not reflect the full range of students in Missouri public schools.  Therefore, we can expect that if all students were tested on a mandatory basis that the state average would drop.  You can view every state's average ACT score, along with the percentage of students reporting, on
Furthermore, ACT scores do not reflect mastery of material not assessed by the test.  In other words, subjects such as foreign language, overseas cultural experience, religion, music, and fine arts may be courses provided by a school that are not assessed by the test.  Not all benefits of private school education are appreciated by the ACT.

That's all fine for the ACT, but does the same hold true for the SAT?

Yes.  According to the Total Group Profile Report by the College Board, the organization responsible for developing and issuing the SAT, private school students significantly outscored public school students.  Here is the score averages for year 2011.

Type of High School Critical Reading Math Writing
Public school students 494 506 483
Religiously affiliated private school 531 533 528
Non-religously affiliated private school 541 579 550
National average 497 514 489

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Public School vs. Private School Safety

     There have recently been some incidents of violence in our area with children being the victim of a public school employee.  As an unabashed advocate for private school education, I posted on my own Facebook profile "So sad to hear about what happened at Forsyth school. I am a big advocate of homeschooling and private schools. There are so many benefits, not limited to much higher ACT/SAT score averages from private school students vs. public school."  People were quick to defend the public school system as being no more likely than a private school to experience violent crime.  
    I disagree.  Let's just use private colleges vs. state schools as a comparison.  Would anyone be offended if I suggested that a smaller, private college was safer for students and faculty than a larger, state university?  Probably not.  They'd say I was arguing the status quo.  But when I suggest that private elementary and high schools are safer than public schools the hair on the back of their neck raises.  
    Statistics show that not only do private school students routinely score higher on achievement tests, earn more scholarships, and gain entrance to exclusive colleges and universities, but students at private schools feel safer and the campuses actually have less crime than do public schools.  The three big reasons parents enroll their children in private school are usually come down to academics, safety, or religion.  This article will focus on the second reason, "safety."
    The National Center for Education Statistics is the resource for all statistics related to education, regardless of whether that education is public, private, or independent.  Their publication "Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2012" provides to the public statistics relating to crime in schools.  The document has 211 pages, but here is a quick summary of some of the statistics comparing private vs. public schools.  

National Center for Education Statistics Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2012 Public Private
Students reported being victimized 4% 2%
Students reported gangs present in their school 19% 2%
Students reported theft 3% 1%
Teachers reported being threatened with injury 8% 3%
Teachers reported being physically attacked 4% 2%
Students reported being called a hate-related word 9% 7%
Students reported seeing hate-related graffiti 30% 13%
Students reported bullying 28% 21%
Students reported being afraid of attack or harm 4% 2%

    Our reasons for choosing private school did not fall under the category of safety, but I cannot dispute clear statistics.  Why do private schools have less crime?  Perhaps it is because private schools usually have fewer students than public schools, which makes it easier to supervise the school population.  Lower student-teacher ratios create greater accountability on campus.  In addition, if the mission statement of the school includes ministry - as would be the case with a Catholic or Christian private school - the staff is far more likely to exhibit a strong faith in their private life as well as professionally.
    As always, I urge parents to very carefully examine the goals of their children and give great consideration as to where their children are educated.
    Furthermore, do not allow tuition to be a barrier to your child receiving a private-school education.  There is tuition-free private school education available at School of the Ozarks in Hollister, Missouri.  Tuition assistance is available at several private schools in Springfield.  If you are interested in private school, talk with the admissions officer about what you can afford.  Most genuinely care about students and their families and want to help as much as possible.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Caught in the Middle - Regina Jennings

I have loved every book from Regina Jennings, but Caught in the Middle is so far the very best!  I couldn't get enough of the story and was sad to see myself reaching the end.  Regina Jennings is not one to write the expected, so the ending caught me by surprise.
The story is about main character Anne Tillerton, the crazy lady from the previous two books in the series, Ladies of Caldwell County.  Ms. Jennings couldn't have chosen better.  This main character is a star, and her story just begs telling.
The only critique I have is that the cover art didn't grab me.  The colors seemed a little off for her skin tone and the image was overall a little unclear.  
Bottom line - the book was fascinating.  In fact, it was the best book I have read in several months.  I couldn't put it down.  Every time I picked it up I had to make sure everything was right (my favorite hot tea, the kids asleep, etc!) because I didn't want to waste a second reading this distracted.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Dance the Moon Down - Robert Bartram

Dance the Moon Down is a historical novel set during the outbreak of the World War with Germany.  The main character, Victoria, comes from a high class home where the possibility of war is not considered threatening.  At college she changes, becomes friends with someone who influences her greatly, and marries.  Shortly thereafter, her new husband leaves for war.
This story is mainly about the people left behind and the struggles and temptations they faced.  The book is very "real," and if you are a lover of history you will probably very much enjoy this novel.  It is fiction, but there is so much fact included as well that you will walk away having learned much.
It's easy to judge the main character for some of her bad choices, but in order to keep the story legitimate the author has created this realistic, fallible character that could easily have been you or me. I have to commend the author heartily for this decision.  Too many times novels are ridiculously unbelievable, but there is nothing ridiculous about this one!  It is written on a somber note in keeping with the strain of the time period.  Very well done.  Serious readers that appreciate accuracy and objectivity will love this book.  I highly recommend it.
This book was a complimentary copy from the author in exchange for an objective review.

Into the Whirlwind - Elizabeth Camden

Into the Whirlwind was a truly delightful book to read.  It took me right to the time of the Chicago fire and brought to life the difficulty of running a business in danger of being outmoded by new assembly line efficiency.  I could relate to numbers-crunching Molly, but I found it easy to admire both two main characters.  The conflict between the two main characters is believable.  The author must have gotten input from men as to how they would deal with the situation presented in the book, because the perspective of the main character was spot on.
There is definitely potential for more books to come in this "Chicago" series if the author decides to turn it into a series.  The young, spoiled girl who loves hard work -- I wonder if we will see her again in a later novel?
To date, I have read every book ever written by Elizabeth Camden and published by Bethany House.  Never once has one let me down.  I will tell you that my absolute favorite was Against the Tide with main character Alexander Bainbridge.  This may be due to the way he seemed set up to take the stage in The Lady of Bolten Hill.  In Against the Tide as well as The Lady of Bolten Hill the historical data on the opium industry added a great deal of interest to the book and really set it apart from the status quo.  I certainly recommend any of Elizabeth Camden's work.
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Rebellious Heart - Jody Hedlund

This is easily one of the best fiction novels I have read in a long time.  The story is set in early colonial America prior to the war with the British.  The key characters are representative of some of the historical figures we have grown to love over the years.  I won't tell you who, though!  It had me guessing the entire way through.  I did find out later, as you will.
This book really brought to life the injustices the colonials were dealing with as a result of being oppressed by the British.  I had no idea the situation was so dreary, but it is no wonder America moved to war for independence.
Jody Hedlund did an enormous amount of research when writing this novel.  You will be able to see the historical accuracy come out in the details.  Even the names are historically accurate for that time period.
The author did a very good job incorporating a healthy dose of romance into the book.  I found it very enjoyable and the connection between the two main characters was nearly tangible.
I'm on my way now to see if there are any more Jody Hedlund books soon to be released.  If I'm lucky, there will already be one ready for reading!
This book was a complimentary copy in exchange for an objective review.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Italian BBQ Chicken Pizza recipe

I went in search of a pizza recipe that rivaled a restaurant, and I finally found one.  It takes a little more time to prepare, but the results are well worth it.  Everyone loved the dish, including the kids!

olive oil
pizza crust dough
Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce
chicken breasts, finely chopped
Lawry's garlic salt
red onion, finely chopped
marinated artichoke hearts
sundried tomatoes
bacon, cooked and crumbled
Italian seasoning
  1. Heat oven to 450º.  Drizzle olive oil on pizza pan.  Roll out pizza crust and spread BBQ sauce on crust.
  2. Season chicken with garlic salt.  Sautee chopped chicken in olive oil until browned.  Sprinkle over top of BBQ sauce.  Sautee artichoke hearts and chopped red onion in olive oil.  Top pizza with chopped red onion, artichoke hearts, and crumbled bacon.  Chop sundried tomatoes and add to top of pizza.  Sprinkle one bag shredded mozzarella/provolone over pizza.  Sprinkle with Italian seasoning.
  3. Bake at 450º for 25 minutes or until browned.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Invention of Sarah Cummings - Olivia Newport

The Invention of Sarah Cummings is book three in the Avenue of Dreams series by Olivia Newport.  Ms. Newport does a fantastic job crafting the character of Sarah Cummings.  She chose to stay consistent with the Sarah Cummings we met in previous books of this series, and keeps the character fallible throughout the story.  We get to see how Sarah grows and changes, but not altogether so much that it isn't believable.
Sarah's story is that she grew up in a happy household, but traumatically lost both parents in a carriage accident when she was still in her early years.  She was taken immediately to St. Andrew's Orphanage in Chicago, but was unhappy and restless.  She was put into service in the Banning household in her early teens where she continued to be unhappy.  When an opportunity arose for her to act like she belonged to high society, she took it and ran.  The persona she developed in order to stay recognized as one of a higher class got more and more complicated until eventually her two world collided.  How the character adapts to her situation is what makes this story come alive.
I am certainly a fan of Olivia Newport and will continue to stay tuned to novels she releases in the coming months.  Her historical accuracy makes this novel a delight to read.  I learn something new every time I embark on another Newport novel.  The book appears to be a bit thinner than its competitors, but don't let that fool you.  I got many hours of good reading from it and never felt for a moment that it was moving too quickly.  The author did a fantastic job with the length of the book.
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.

Monday, January 6, 2014

How to Go to College for CHEAP

Some students will owe more in student loans than what they pay for their first house.  Unfortunately, factors such as where friends are going, location, and advertising play a big role in the decision-making process.  Students may not realize the enormous cost difference between schools.  One of our local private schools charges an average of $26,830 per semester including room and board.  That's about $107,320 for a bachelor's degree over four years.  A state school in the same town charges an average of $15,336 including room and board for the same degree, resulting in $61,344 over four years.  You don't have to leave school with a 30-year commitment to paying off debt.  In fact, you can go to school for cheap or even get paid to go to school.  

Here are some ways to go to school for cheap:

  • CLEP, DSST, AP exams.  I have personally CLEP-ed 21 credit hours.  If I had know about CLEP earlier, I would have tested out of several more college courses, maxing out at 32 credit hours for the school I am attending.  Private schools tend to accept more CLEP hours, state schools tend to accept less.  I encourage all high school students to CLEP like there is no tomorrow.  More than one senior in high school is already a sophomore in college before they even start.  Look at the pass rates and start with courses you know you will need for your degree and that have high pass rates.  Use to study for the CLEP.  They'll tell you when you are ready to take it.  I have passed EVERY CLEP I studied for using InstantCert.  Plan to study for about a week on InstantCert before taking each test.  Cost is $19.95 per month, but if you use promo code 68970 you can save $5 on your first month.
  • Study for the ACT -- don't just wing it.  If you are a good student in school to begin with, your ACT score will reflect that without any additional studying, but by studying you can raise your score by a few points or more.  Most colleges offer scaled discounts (aka scholarships) based on ACT score.  Depending on the school, you may not even have to apply for these scholarships -- they just automatically adjust the tuition based on your ACT score.  I'll use our local state school, Missouri State University, for conservative numbers just to show you the thousands an incoming freshman can save by making a higher than average score on the ACT.  Missouri State requires an application for these, but schools like Evangel University don't for ACT scholarships.
    • $1,500 per year goes to as many students as qualify.  Must be in the top 20% of class (or 3.70 GPA) and a minimum ACT score of 24.
    • $2,500 per year goes to as many students as qualify.  Must be in the top 20% of class (or 3.70 GPA) and a minimum ACT of 26.
    • $5,000 per year goes to as many students as qualify.  Must be in the top 10% of class (or 3.90 GPA) and a minimum ACT of 28. 
    • A full-ride scholarship will be offered to 35 students each year that graduate in the top 10% of their senior class, have a 3.90 GPA, and have an ACT of 30.
  • If I say "scholarships" you say "duh!"  Scholarships.  Duh!  Scholarships.  Duh!  Most schools -- private and state -- have hundreds of scholarships in-house (meaning, donors give money to the school directly to disburse to the students) ripe for the taking if you just apply for them.  Go to the school website and find the link to General and Departmental scholarships.  Bigger schools will integrate all their scholarship applications into one online link, which makes it ridiculously easy.  But if you have to work to find the application, that's even better -- that means you'll be competing with less people, because if it isn't easy for you to find it isn't easy for them to find, either.  And they'll quit looking.  You won't.  Most people don't apply for scholarships because they don't think they qualify academically or because they didn't come to school on an athletic scholarship.  Forget all that.  Many applications don't even require an essay, just data.  For the ones that do require an essay...
  • Go to and pay to have a qualified editor revise your scholarship essays.  I imagine that you think your essay already looks pretty good.  Well, let me just tell you... it's worth the 5 bucks.  Some of these people can take your pretty good essay and make it a spectacular essay.  (This also works for specialized program applications where there is a competitive rate of admission.)
  • Attend a school in your state to get the best possible tuition rate.  You don't want to be charged a surcharge for out-of-state tuition.  It makes a big difference.
  • Live at home or with another relative.  When you see with your own eyes how much schools are charging for room and board, I think you'll agree you can do better.  Let's use the same state school mentioned above for room and board cost examples.  Out of their quoted $15,336 cost per year $7,428 of it is in room and board.  If you could reduce your cost of education for a 4-year college down to $7,908 per year now you're really talking.  That would be $31,632 over a 4-year period.  
  • Go to a community college for the first two years, then transfer to a state college. Cheapest possible route right here.  Tuition is dramatically different.  Said state school above is quoting $7,908 for tuition and books for the year.  Community college in the same town is charging $3,760 for one year (assuming 15-credit hours for each semester and includes $1,000 in books for the year -- more than anyone will ever need to spend on textbooks).
  • Most colleges quote $1,000 in textbooks per year to present their cost of attendance to students.  If you buy all new textbooks you may very well spend that much, but I'm assuming you are smarter than that.  Used books are available at your college bookstore, but you can get a much better deal on eBay, craigslist, and Amazon.  Amazon even offers a "rental" option now.  Plan ahead a couple weeks to allow for shipping then count all the cash you saved.
  • Know the facts about tuition cost at the schools you are looking into.  That is a big factor, if it isn't the biggest factor involved.  Use the College Affordability & Transparency Center.  It is a government website and -- believe it or not -- the facts are presented in an easy to understand way.  Since the government issues most student loans, you can trust that the statistics on average debt students leave that school with is accurate.  Also, it gives you the NET PRICE students pay, taking into consideration grants and scholarships the students received.  This makes the numbers more fair than what is published on the school websites, because some schools have more generous donors than others per student capita.  For example, students at private schools typically receive more scholarships.  Private schools are still more expensive, but the gap may not be as big as you think, depending on which school you are comparing.  Get the facts.

Here are the obvious no-brainers...

  • FAFSA.  Fill out your FAFSA as close to January 1st as possible.  All schools require having one on file, so you might as well do it early get more free money.  On January 1st, you won't have your taxes back yet, but estimate the numbers.  Then go back once you have your tax returns and use the IRS Retrieval Tool to transfer the information.  The sooner you get this done, the better.  That's why I said January 1st.  Although the federal deadline isn't until much later, states also use this information.  Their deadlines are earlier, and the money goes out first come first serve.  After they are out of money for the school year they are OUT.  
  • Athletics and other extracurricular groups can get you scholarships that others may not necessarily qualify for.  
  • Parents.  They may help with your tuition, but then again... if you use the steps above you could already be attending for free or getting paid to go to school.

Now, let's put it all together.

Highest ACT score you can get.  Try for a 24 or higher.
CLEP like crazy. (Shave a year off by testing out of 30 credit hours if you can.)
Apply for FAFSA early.
Apply for general and departmental scholarships. 
Buy used textbooks.
Community school for the first two years.  Live with parents.
State school for the last two years.  Live with parents.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Save thousands & cut your mortgage down by years

I'm not a world-wide syndicated radio host, but I've been lucky to have some good influences in my life.  Combined with the fact that I am fan-crazy for Dave Ramsey, I decided to jot down some of what I consider to be the most essential financial tips I've heard in the last several years and share them with you.  

Paying off your mortgage early and saving tons of money sounds like a scam, but it's not.  

Ready?  I'm going to start with the easiest tip first: Instead of making one fat monthly payment on your mortgage, divide it in half and make payments bi-weekly instead of monthly.  For example, if your mortgage payment is $1,000 per month, send $500 every two weeks.  Done.
How is this different that making one monthly payment?  Well, if you pay every two weeks you will make 26 half-payments per year.  That is equal to 13 monthly payments.  There is only 12 months in a year, so you are basically making one extra payment a year.  You may not even notice the extra payment, because you have conditioned yourself to make a half payment every two weeks.  This actually makes a HUGE difference to you in the long run.  You can cut off years of your mortgage and thousands in interest by using this one small trick.  If you think you can't afford this, think again -- even someone drowning in other monthly debt obligations can still make this small change.  
According to Jeremy Vohwinkle, "To better understand the true savings, on a $100,000 30-year mortgage at 6.5%, you'll pay $127,544 in interest, plus the $100,000 principal, for a total of $227,544. Paying one-half of your regular monthly mortgage payment every two weeks will result in interest of $97,215, a savings of $30,329. Obviously, the larger your mortgage and higher your interest rate, the greater the savings."
If you have room in your budget (you have one of those, right?!) to not just do bi-weekly payments, but actually add to the principle every month, great!  If you don't have the money right now, make a plan to pay off whatever is holding you back from kicking your mortgage to the curb (credit cards, cars, etc.).

Now, for the details to make your switch as easy as possible.

  • The first payment you make needs to be about 2-3 weeks before your due date, and the second payment just before your due date.  That way, your full monthly obligation is met before the due date.
  • Make sure that extra payments are applied directly to principle and that the payments are applied as soon as they are received (not held until the second payment is received).  Most lenders automatically apply payments and apply extra payments to principle, but not all.  Check first (that's important).
  • Beware of scams that charge you money to set this up.  Their facts are usually right on (such as how much exactly your will save and how many years exactly you will cut off), but charging a one-time set-up fee of $200 or more is a rip-off.  You can do this yourself or your online bank may offer this program for free or for a very small fee (like $1 per transaction). 

Making additional principle payments

Everyone knows that by making additional principle payments on your home loan you can shave off time and interest.  But how much, and is it really worth letting go of those extra dollars now for the return later?  For example, if your mortgage has $150,000 and a 30 year term with 6.5% interest, and you add a mere $25 to the house payment every month, you will end up saving $16,790.81 in interest over the course of the loan.  The bonus will be that you pay the whole thing off 2 years and 2 months sooner.  How about adding $100 extra per month?   That would save $51,725.04 in interest and 6 years 11 months of payments.  Adding a whopping $400 per month to this mortgage would result in saving $110,963.93 in interest and paying the whole thing off 15 years and 9 months early!  
If you want to know exactly how much you will save -- and are ready to have your mind completely blown -- use this Early Mortgage Payoff Calculator to plug in your exact numbers.

Now, let's double it.

By doubling your mortgage payment you may think that you are cutting your loan in half, right?  Make twice the payment, pay it off in half the time.  Sounds good, but the reality is that it is actually far better than that!  You will actually pay off your mortgage in a third of the time.  It makes "cents" when you think about how interest is calculated.  You can literally save thousands and thousands of dollars in interest.  
What would you do if someone gave you thousands of dollars?  Now, you can give it to yourself by paying your mortgage off early.  What would you do with all that extra money?  
Let's say that you DID make double payments on your mortgage and as a result you pay your 30-year mortgage off in 7-10 years.  Now you own your home outright and have extra money because you aren't making a mortgage payment anymore.  Let's say your mortgage payment was $900 per month.  What would you do with that $900 now?  

And then, as Emeril says, "Kick it up a notch!"

Since you paid your home off in 10 years, let's say you spend the next 20 years investing that same amount of money every month.  In other words, instead of sending it to the mortgage you are now sending it to a mutual fund.  Now you are really killing it!  At the end of your 20 years (this is when you would have finally paid off that mortgage had you stuck with the minimum payments) now you have $316,110.29 in the bank!  I purposely used a small interest rate, because I want to communicate that you don't have to be an investor guru to make plan work.  If you can get more of a return than that (I think around 10% is the average of a mutual fund left alone for several years), then your success goes up exponentially.
I am including the Dave Ramsey Investing Calculator here for you to see how much you could earn if your mortgage payment became your investment contribution every month.  
Recap.  You made double payments on your 30-year mortgage paying it off in 10 years, max.  You spent the next 20 years using your would-have-been mortgage payment investing monthly in a conservative mutual fund and have over $300 K in the bank.