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.

Conclusion

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.