Life Time Fitness vs. XSport Fitness

November 30, 2014 by  
Filed under Exercise, Fitness, School's Out

from my Instagram @GradingGirl

I‘ve called Life Time Fitness my gym home since 2000 but last year I was swayed by a newer XSport Fitness in my area.  Now, I can thankfully say that I’ve been a pleased member from opening day at each location. 

Since I’m continually asked to offer my opinion by friends and since, in this past week, referred two people these gyms, I thought I’d take some time to compare the two.   Both individuals I referred told me my reviews of each were dead on so I’m offering them here.  

**Please note, these are my own observations based on my own experiences only .  Furthermore, I’ve kept my comparisons fairly general here to be as fair and objective as possible.   Come visit for yourself – you won’t be disappointed at either one.**

My Conclusion:   Both facilities offer their own special amenities and I will be keeping both memberships.  Here’s why:

LIFE TIME FITNESS:

– More family-oriented. (more organized kid activities, organized birthday parties, swim classes, etc)

– More pool. There is both an outdoor and indoor pool; both indoor and outdoor pools at Life Time offer water slides, a lounge area, and small cafes.  There is one indoor lap pool available at XSport.  A perk to the lap pool at XSport – it is more out-of-way from the rest of the club, allowing for more privacy and serious swim.

– More organized groups and team activities (running clubs, rock climbing classes, yoga events, yoga instructor courses, etc)

– More varied free-weights.  7lb, 12.5 and 17.5 are currently absent at my XSPort.  

– More cafe.  Life Time offers a full menu of shakes, breakfast, lunch and dinner items.  Very nice place to sit down and/or sneak in some work in-between workouts.

OVERALL:  Life Time Fitness seems to be geared toward both the serious, the want-to-be serious, and the weekend warriors alike.  I see more souls of all ages, shapes and sizes at Life Time.  It is a great place to meet like-minded fitness folks!!!  I’m lucky to say I’ve met a select few of my life-long friends there.

XSPORT FITNESS:

– More advanced equipment.  At the entry level gym facilities such as mine, for instance, the Power Plate is available.

– More one-on-one training sessions.  I see the personal trainers at my XSport working hard with individuals any hour – very late or very early.

More store.  XSport offers clothing, protein powders, accessories such as locks, headphones, etc. 

– More salon amenities.  Tanning beds and spray tans are offered at XSport.  

– Side Note:  The XSport that I frequent plays the BEST music – my all-time favorites included.  This may seem minor but music plays a significant motivator.  😉

OVERALL,  XSport seems to be geared toward the more serious fitness buff.  I notice more male and female clientele who compete regularly although there are folks of all fitness goals at the club.  Additionally, XSport is a great ‘get-in/get-out/get the workout done’ gym.  There literally is not as much room to roam – it’s not a social hour, it’s an exercise hour.  Gym class for adults!!!

BOTH FITNESS CLUBS:

– open 24 hours

– friendly, helpful staff

– ultra- clean facilities

– comprehensive, state-of-the-art cardio equipment

– great places to be!!

It doesn’t hurt to try both out and see what you think.  I believe that both offer  – at the very minimum – a one-day pass to check out the facilities.  🙂

 

Meeting John Green!

May 5, 2014 by  
Filed under Authors

“April showers bring May flowers.”  While the tulips in my front yard are finally peeking out and blooming their yellow petals, more than a few inspiring words have already been planted in my head during these opening days of May and will continue to impact me.

Case in point . . . On Friday, May 2nd, I had the honor of attending the 2014 Zena Sutherland Lecture at the Harold Washington Library Center, Chicago Public Library along with the wonderful Media Center Chair of the high school where I teach!  This year’s lecture was presented by John Green, New York Times bestselling author of The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns, and more.  Most recently, Mr. Green is named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2014.

During his lecture, “Does YA Mean Anything Anymore?  Genre in a Digitized World,”  John spoke about the power of reading,  about the inspirations behind The Fault in Our Stars (soon-to-be released as a major motion picture), about benefits of both books and digitized text, and about inspiring reluctant-reading children.

Early birds get the good seats!

Early birds get the good seats!

The following are my interpretations of some resonating points from John Green’s speech.  (Italic words are from notes I scribbled during the lecture, followed by my own elaborations.)

1.  Reading allows us to get out of ourselves.  The world outside of ourselves is more vast than the world within ourselves.  Reading thoughts and experiences of others – even those fictional others – allows us to see that.  At times, we may feel as if we are the only ones in the world experiencing a certain problem; books, in fact, prove otherwise – every problem every person ever experienced has been written down somewhere.  Reading validates our thoughts.

2.  John Green wrote The Fault in our Stars as a book about sick people, not a book about the lessons healthy people learn from them.  In other words, he didn’t want the book to convey any clichéd messages about death reminding us how short life is.  Rather, he illustrates the true essence of struggles and emotions people living with a terminal illness face.   He describes the story as hopeful without being dishonest.

Telling Mr. Green about our students back home!

Telling Mr. Green about our students back home!

3.  John Green declared just how important it is for us as educators to frequent our libraries and bookstores to keep hard copies of books alive in many hands.    There is something concrete and personal about reading from a book that can’t be found within digital text.  What books can’t do, however, is provide an instant channel for two-way conversation.  Through electronic highlights and notes,  instant search engine access,  and easy chat with fellow readers, digital text provides constant accessibility that a book can’t.  There is value in both but one cannot completely replace the other nor should it.

4.  To our reluctant readers, John tells us to tell them that reading takes time. One can’t expect to instantly fall in love with reading after, say, one book.  Yes, it’s an investment – in time and in thought.   Wait, be patient.    The best part:  reading makes one a better person, a better friend, a better boyfriend (a particular motivator for Mr. Green growing up!), a better spouse, a better parent, a better teacher . . .  The more we read, the more we know.  The more we read, the more we understand and are understood.   Some of us inherently know this; some of us don’t.  That’s okay – books are available to all to use for personal interpretation and use!!

John Green and me

John Green and me!!

As I look over my post before I press “publish,” I notice it doesn’t nearly convey all the inspiration and excitement and hope I hold just as strongly now as from the moment my friend and I walked off of Floor 9 in the library.  It doesn’t show the brightness in my students eyes as I tell them I met you over the weekend.  It doesn’t give any of your books or vlogs or blogs any rage review that they each deserve.

Mr. Green, thank you for providing thought-provoking stories that speak to a wide-array of readers of many ages and backgrounds.   One of my students, also at this event, was literally shaking with nervous excitement as she spoke to you.  She’s read each one of your books and listened to some of your CrashCourse videos (while cleaning at home!) to prepare for an upcoming AP test.  Thank you for providing a voice teenagers can trust, a voice (from your words) that is “hopeful but not dishonest,” direct yet not harsh, and sympathetic but not lamenting.  We can’t wait to see what you share next!

 Here’s a link to a video John Green recorded and placed on Instagram the very next day after his time in Chicago.  It showcases a large crowd of fans, lined up and waiting for the first screening of The Fault in Our Stars movie,  screaming as John passes by. What truly makes me happy is the rockstar status he is gaining from his writing.  Writers Rock!!!

Let it Go

March 3, 2014 by  
Filed under Music

Congratulations to songwriting duo Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez for winning an Oscar for their original song with “Let it Go” during the 2014 Academy Awards.

I recently Skyped with my 3 1/2 year old niece who fervently sings every word to this song (see our video below!).  What empowering lyrics for girls!!  The chorus alone repeating “let it go” gives message to relinquish control over that which is out of our grasps, lose fear that holds us back, and express ourselves without apologies.   Wow!!    It is truly music to my ears to hear a sweet, young voice such as my niece’s echo strong, declarative statements.  See the video at the bottom of this post that I recorded over spring break  . . . don’t play it too loudly, though, or you’ll hurt your ear drums because I can’t help but belt out a chord or two myself.

“Let it Go” by Kristen Anderson-Lopez & Robert Lopez

performed by Idina Menzel

(A+ for empowering lyrics coupled with a memorable tune) 

The snow glows white on the mountain tonight,
not a footprint to be seen.
A kingdom of isolation and it looks like I’m the queen.
The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside.
Couldn’t keep it in, Heaven knows I tried.
Don’t let them in, don’t let them see.
Be the good girl you always have to be.
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know.
Well, now they know!

Let it go, let it go!
Can’t hold it back any more.
Let it go, let it go!
Turn away and slam the door.
I don’t care what they’re going to say.
Let the storm rage on.
The cold never bothered me anyway.

It’s funny how some distance,
makes everything seem small.
And the fears that once controlled me, can’t get to me at all
It’s time to see what I can do,
to test the limits and break through.
No right, no wrong, no rules for me.
I’m free!

Let it go, let it go.
I am one with the wind and sky.
Let it go, let it go.
You’ll never see me cry.
Here I’ll stand, and here I’ll stay.
Let the storm rage on.

My power flurries through the air into the ground.
My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around
And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast
I’m never going back; the past is in the past!

Let it go, let it go.
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn.
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone
Here I stand, in the light of day.

Let the storm rage on!
The cold never bothered me anyway…

IMG_1696

GG and SkyMC!

The Dirty on Detoxing – “It’s All Good”

August 3, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Not swayed by fad dieting, I questioned the validity of the seemingly popular detox diets.  It seems the word “detoxify” gets plenty of air-time these days.  This last (saddness) summer home with my daughter, however, afforded opportunity for experimenting in the kitchen.

A celebrity cookbook is not an item I normally open my wallet for.  A famous name does not necessarily equivocate best quality.  As I researched, however, I was surprisingly swayed by more than a few glowing reviews of Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Good – Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great.  Neither my daughter nor I were interested in “detox in a box,” using unnatural supplements to “cleanse.”  We wanted to use real, fresh food and weren’t looking for something extreme that would leave us feeling worst than when we started.

Let me get right to the point of this entire post . . . BUY this cookbook!!  I’m purchasing one for my daughter to use in her first apartment and two best friends already own it.   Through the recipes and advice offered in this book, my daughter and I experienced a very positive period of educational, healthful eating habits that we both truly feel will stay with us.

Two things are universally appealing about Paltrow’s book:

  1. The format:  The last section of the book is devoted to sample plans to practically utilize the recipes so the book does not become another one to bite the dust on your shelf – a body builder week (protein packed), a detox week (cleansing), a family-friendly week (the “normal” comfort food), a vegan week (a great intro to this diet), and a ‘just great, healthy, everyday eating’ week (so logically good!) is all provided.  Monday – Sunday, Chris Martin’s wife lays out recipes (and correspnding page #s) for each meal and snack of the day.  How convenient and inspiring!
  2. The tone:   Gwyneth, along with her friend and cooking partner Julia Turshen, offer down-to-earth advice within the recipes that make them appealingly approachable.  Nothing too extreme, all ingredients are readily available in local grocery stores while all dishes are conveniently labeled as “protein-packed” or “vegan” or “elimination diet.”  Honestly, my daughter and I must have tried over twenty-five recipes in the book – there was not one to which we stuck up our noses.  All are “repeaters.”
A green smoothie my daughter exclaimed was "surprisingly delicious!"

A “surprisingly delicous” smoothie, according to my daughter.

Broccoli soup - restaurant quality!

Broccoli soup – restaurant quality!

Ms. Paltrow explains that she struggled with a period of eating unhealthy and needed to clean her diet in an accessible manner, avoiding drastic extremes that might cause shock to her body.    Through the guidance of her doctor, she herself went on a detox diet.  This book (her 2nd cookbook) offers recipes from that very diet along with recipes that are “simply good for you.”  She shares her doctor’s notes and shares her trials and tribulations.  No gimmicks, no extremes, no supplements . . . . this book is accessible for anyone just venturing into the eat-clean eating habits as well as the nutrition nut like myself who is seeking further ideas for eating clean.

Sweet potato soup - sooo good.  The creamy texture fools the palette into thinking it is more unhealthy than it tastes.

Sweet potato soup – sooo good. The creamy texture fools the palette into thinking it is more unhealthy than it tastes.

Grading Girl gives Gwyneth Paltrow an for providing eat-clean recipes that don’t necessarily taste clean.  Extra credit for all those little pieces of advice along the way . . . such as soaking raw almonds in the refrigerator overnight before serving them to activate more nutrients. Who knew?!

I have a love/hate relationship with juicing.  I LOVE the nutrients but HATE the waste.  The outside creatures around my home are spoiiled.

I have a love/hate relationship with juicing.  Check out the fiber left over on the lefthand side.  I LOVE the nutrients but HATE the waste. Outside creatures around my home are spoiled! 🙂

IMG_1177

Teriyaki chicken and steamed spinach = tasty!

Arugula and beet salad - I discovered many new lettuce leaves, thanks to this book.

Arugula and beet salad – I discovered many new lettuce leaves, thanks to this book.

 

 

 

 

Take it to TJ O’Brien’s!

January 22, 2012 by  
Filed under Restaurants, Reviews

There is a popular restaurant and sports bar open in the northwest suburbs of Chicago that I didn’t even know existed until a couple of weeks ago.  I was missing out, indeed!  In fact, I was so impressed by the hospitality of this father and son establishment that I told them I’d write a rave review . . .

TJ O’Brien’s Bar and Grill is a cozy restaurant and sports bar that serves contemporary Irish American fare, including a to-write-home-about comforting Shepherd’s pie (I tried this!), satisfying pizza (I indulged on this as well), huge hamburgers, and the juiciest beef sandwiches this side of ChiTown. Prices are extremely reasonable on top of their good taste; they are open for lunch and dinner and even offer catering.

O’Brien’s atmosphere is friendly while roomy enough to mingle with friends.  A sports bar with flat screen televisions greets patrons when they first walk in while, along the side, a homier room that includes a mantled fireplace and pool table is open for quieter dining and mingling.  I personally appreciated the welcome ambiance of this room.

Every single person who works at TJ’s makes you feel right at home, as if they’ve known you forever as soon as you walk in.  James O’Brien, one of the owners, is in almost every day; he’s constantly moving from patron to table to patron, ensuring everyone’s satisfaction with food and service.  TJ’s hosts fun neighborhood parties such as their now annual Halloween costume parties, Christmas Eve Eve celebrations, snow days commemorations and, of course, get togethers centered around popular sports events.

TJ’s recently added regular live entertainment to their establishment.  For instance, every other Thursday evening at 9pm, live music is offered.  Local, soon-to-be famous, rockstar Darryl Markette (Darryl Markette Music) is a regular performer.  Stop by for a great chance to unwind and catch up with dear friends.

TJ O’Brien’s is located at 53 W. Slade Street in Palatine, Illinois, conveniently just off the Metra tracks, at 847.468.7468.  Go for the deliciously authentic Irish fare and stay for the friendly atmosphere and entertainment.  It won’t be your last stop . . . .

A+ to TJ OBrien’s for sweetly satisfying food, high quality local entertainment and welcoming, neighborhood ambiance!!

 

Polka Dots and Moonbeams

September 19, 2011 by  
Filed under Fashion, Reviews

The name itself evokes a dreamy, blissful state.  While shopping for fashionable clothing and eye-catching jewelry may not make all our dreams come true, it can help!!   Finding that perfect dress or blouse or accessory actually can be a step to reaching goals, to building a confidence-enhancing wardrobe, and to creating special occasions! Create the occasion for the dress!” declares my savvy sis-in-law.  This could be the motto for this popular Los Angeles boutique.  I’ve been to Polka Dots and Moonbeams, located on 3rd Street in West Hollywood, a few times this year since my sis-in-law re-introduced me. Each time, I came out completely satisfied with my unique finds, and I can’t wait to pay another visit very soon!!! See just how satisfied I was last time.  Two bags full!!  ➔➔➔

Thank you to fashion savvy Polka Dot girl Lorin for her expertise in finding these items for me!!

The Polka Dots and Moonbeams concept is to bring the latest, newest designer collections together under one (adorably adorned) roof.  It’s a one-stop-shop!  Polka Dots & Moonbeams buyers stay on top of the trends, carrying such brands as Hudson Jeans, Milly, Hale Bob, Tarte, and Bailey 44 to name a few.  The boutique carries a perfect mix of well-known designers as well as less mainstream brands.  I am confident when I walk into Polka Dots and Moonbeams that when I walk out, I will leave with pieces I won’t dismayingly spot on others.  Not only does the boutique carry just one item in each size, but the clothing itself is not what one can find at the local mall by any means. As cited on their website, “Our customers come in whether they are looking for the special piece or the whole outfit.”  That’s true for me – I paid a visit at the beginning of summer looking for any ‘new and exciting summer pieces’ as well as later in the summer for a first date outfit. 🙂  On both of these visits, my finds were fulfilled thanks to Polka Dot’s expert shopper, Lorin.  Lorin is one of the fashion savvy people who just look at you and know what will look good on your body-type.  Lorin now knows me by name, knows my likes and dislikes, and knows me!!!  It’s to the point where I simply walk in the door, excitedly chat with Lorin and mosey around while Lorin briskly picks up piece-upon-piece for me.  It makes me feel so . . . . Hollywood!!!  I completely trust her judgment as I find pieces waiting for me in the dressing room that I would never pick up myself but look surprisingly flattering on. Check out me modeling a sampling of my purchases below ➔➔➔

One of my purchases I wear again & again – Viereck dress

A Bailey 44 dress discovery!

Grading Girl gives Polka Dots and Moonbeams an A+ for fabulously unique, fashion-forward finds, expert, friendly fun fashion advice, and reachable prices. Whether you need one eye-popping necklace or a dress for that wedding next Friday, you will find what you’re looking for at this trendy boutique in the heart of West Hollywood.  Ask for Lorin and tell her Grading Girl sent you.  🙂 Bonus . . . Julia Roberts, Demi Moore, Drew Barrymore, Eva Mendes, Reese Witherspoon . . . to name a few . . . have all been spotted shopping here!!    

Power Up with Power Foods

September 4, 2011 by  
Filed under Cookbooks, Reviews

Some unique recipes!!

power foods – 150 delicious recipes with the 38 healthiest ingredients

I purchased this book at the beginning of the summer and experimented in the kitchen throughout the season.  Whether you’re a fresh market foodie, a dining diva, or someone who walks the other way when the phrase “eat clean” is mentioned . . . . there’s something in these recipes for even the pickiest of eaters.

The premise of this book is simply the truth:  the foods we eat have a GINORMOUS impact on our health, our well being and our mood.  Food has incredible power and that’s what makes it so interesting!  The editors of the book (also editors of Whole Living magazine) placed 10 “golden rules” at the very beginning of the book (i.e. choose a wide variety of natural, unprocessed foods) that are logical and easy enough to manage on a daily basis.  Next the book is organized by the categories I have listed below.  Each recipe contains one or more of the “38 healthiest ingredients.”  After making and eating these, I’m here to tell you these are the types of recipes that don’t taste as healthful as they are, you know what I mean?  If you buy just one new cookbook this season, make it this one and, I promise you, it won’t simply sit on your shelf.

Here are the “38 healthiest ingredients” and how they are divided in the cookbook~

Vegetables:  Artihokes, Asparagus, Avocados, Beets, Bell Peppers, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Carrots, Kale, Mushrooms, Spinach, Sweet Potatoes, Swiss Chard, Tomatoes, Winter Squash
Fruits:  Apricots, Berries, Citrus, Kiwifruits, Papayas, Pears
Grains & Legumes:  Brown rice, Oats, Quinoa, Dried Beans, Green Peas, Soybeans (Edamame)

Eggs, Yogurt, & Fish:  Eggs, Yogurt, Sablefish, Rainbow Trout, Wild Alaskan Salmon

Sample Delectable Dishes I Tried and WILL Repeat!:

~ Pecan Pancakes with Mixed Berries (Scrumptious and unique flavor for morning magic!)
~ Sweet Potato Hummus (Addicting hummus!!)
~ Kiwifruit Summer Roll (Surprisingly refreshing!)
~ Quinoa and Corn Salad with Pumpkin Seeds (Satisfying!)
~ Soba Noodle, Tofu and Vegetable Stir-Fry (Alternative pasta!)
~ Edamame Succotash (Unique use of edamame!)

~ Lemon Cream with Blueberries (This gliiiides down your throat!)

Grading Girl gives power foods 150 delicious recipes with the 38 healthiest ingredients an A+ for downright delicious dishes!!!

GG at the Movies – Crazy Stupid Love

July 30, 2011 by  
Filed under Movies, Reviews

Crazy Stupid Love Brings Warm Happy Joy

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone - Perfect Mix of Crazy Stupid Love

BEST movie of the summer!!  Anecdotal relationship advice for three different generations, dramedy offering equal parts laughable peaks to tear-jerking valleys, and unexpected twists equate this BEST status.  Finally, a message that leaves viewers inspired, hopeful and smiling clinches its worthiness.  In this increasingly narcissistic society that accepts divorce as freely as marriage, it doesn’t hurt for all of us to hear the film’s message:  Believe in love. Try harder.  

The fact that the audience I was a part of for this viewing clapped once in the middle of the film and once at the end attests to its must-see appeal.

The film revolves around Cal Weaver (Steve Carell), whose wife (Julianne Moore) has recently announced her infidelity (the “other man” is played by Kevin Bacon) and requests a divorce. Cal takes his sorrows to a singles’ bar, where he is adopted by local ladies’ man Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling). Jacob educates Cal in new ways of wooing the ladies and although Cal picks up some decent skills, his heart is in the wrong place: He’s looking for that elusive true love, his soul mate.  Cal is also dealing with the fact that his adolescent son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) is in love with his teenage babysitter (Analeigh Tipton), who in turn is in love with Cal. Meanwhile, Jacob eventually realizes that he’s still pining for the woman (Emma Stone) who got away.

Steve Carell and Julianne Moore Meet for an Eye-Opening Teacher Conference

Carell carries the comedy while remaining grounded in the pain of the character.  His acting makes me think that maybe leaving The Office is a good thing after all.   Incidentally, it’s always astonishing what good clothes and a haircut can do for a guy. There’s a lesson in itself.  (Let’s also not forget the lesson Jacob proclaims, “Be better than the Gap!” )  Moore, as the estranged wife, does her best to be sympathetic, though it’s hard to forgive her. Marisa Tomei has fabulous fun in a featured role as a one-night stand. Emma Stone has impecable comic timing and confidence.   And Gosling’s growth is evident.  I laughed through much of the Carell and Gosling consistently clever dialogue.  Gosling is clearly relishing a chance to flex his comic muscles . . . . along with those ab muscles.  🙂

GG gives Crazy Stupid Love an A+ for laugh out loud lines that deliver a strong subtext.  Go see this, watch and listen!!

 

 

 

GG Reads – What Alice Forgot

July 12, 2011 by  
Filed under Books, Reviews

What Would Your 2002 Past Self Think of Your 2012 Present Self?!

 

We all need at least one just-for-fun, “beach read” included in our summer reading list; I’m glad I chose this one as one of mine!

This book really had me contemplating! What if I fell off a cardio machine at the gym (I’m there almost every day!), woke up and thought I was back in 2002? There are so many beautiful events and significant changes that occurred in the last 10 years that I would be shocked! In 2002 at this time, I would be anxiously anticipating to begin my dream job teaching within the district I’ve always wanted to teach (this year marked my 10 year anniversary there!).  I’d be ecstatic and literally bursting with pride that my daughter not only is flourishing at her dream university but landed a full-ride as well.  Whoa – talk about a dream come true!  I’m in a different, completely newly furnished home (I’d say my old self would be happy with the new style), I’m at the gym much more than I ever was (my old self would be thrilled with the leaner muscles but want to stock the fridge with more carbs).  Finally, ten years ago, I was newly divorced – I’ve been loved and have loved but apparently haven’t found my last love yet (my old self would be surprised at this yet it would be sad if I didn’t remember the many beautiful experiences, moments and feelings I’ve gained).  Yes, the person I am today is different from the person I was then . . . but it doesn’t hurt to take a step back sometimes . . . Interested?  . . . Here’s the premise of the book:

Alice Love is twenty-nine years old, madly in love with her husband, and pregnant with their first child. So imagine her surprise when, after a fall, she comes to on the floor of a gym (a gym! she hates the gym!) and discovers that she’s actually thirty-nine, has three children, and is in the midst of an acrimonious divorce.

A knock on the head has misplaced ten years of her life, and Alice isn’t sure she likes who she’s become. It turns out, though, that forgetting might be the most memorable thing that has ever happened to Alice.

Moriarty did a fabulous job of bringing everything together from Alice’s past and present. For me it was hard to put this book down because I wanted to see Alice overcome her present and take the joys from her past and bring them with her to her present time. I think that somehow as we go through the trials of life we forget the joys. It was wonderful to be reminded to remember the good times even better than the bad, and use those good times to overcome the pain of loss and mistakes.  The side stories of her sister, mother and grandmother continue to carry the lesson that the pain we are in now does not influence the joy we can truly have in life. The format in which these side stories are presented worked seamlessly as well.  Moriarty has a way of holding suspense – Alice’s small spurts of memory hint at the mysteries she’s forgotten.  Everything about this book was fun and heartwarming – it was interesting to watch Alice watch her own life from an objective point of view.  There are some serious messages here mixed in with at times very comedic delivery.  I’ll eat my new summer hat if you don’t delight in this read!!

GG gives What Alice Forgot an A+ for a delightful protagonist trying to overcome believable obstacles in this crazy, busy, busy world.

 

A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting. ~Henry David Thoreau

 

GG at the Movies – Bad Teacher

June 25, 2011 by  
Filed under Movies, Reviews

I walked into Bad Teacher with mixed feelings.  On one hand, I predicted I’d be appalled and disgusted at the raunchy fun being made of my profession.  On the other hand, I thought I might laugh hysterically at the exaggerated portrayal of academia.  Well, I walked out with neither extreme; instead, Bad Teacher left me somewhere in the middle.  While there was a handful of laugh-out-loud lines and one or two silly moments that probably every teacher who watches the movie will chuckle, “Ha, I can relate!,” I didn’t leave the theater wanting to happily re-cap every moment.

Taken lightly as the writers want us to take it, Bad Teacher can be viewed as a witty satire on conventional suburban, educational values.  Diaz’s character’s transformation from heartless gold-digger to caring teacher is less than believable, but for the endless potshots that the writers take at shallow, status-seeking suburbanites, this shortfall in characterization can be somewhat forgiven.  A fun fact is that the screenplay was written by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, two of the former staff writers from The Office.  That explains the striking similarity between the dialogue of gym teacher Russell (Jason Segel) and Jim from The Office.

Those looking for a sweet, silly Cameron Diaz character we’ve seen in the past are in for a rude awakening.  Elizabeth Halsey’s (Cameron Diaz) inappropriate, crude and downright mean actions erase memories of precious Princess Fiona of Shrek or naive Mary from There’s Something About Mary. Actually, not a single character in Bad Teacher can truly be categorized as a “good” person. You’ve got your idealistically idiotic young teachers, Amy Squirrell (Lucy Punch) and Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake). You’ve got your hardened “bad” teachers, Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) and Russell Gettis (Jason Segal), and your cowardly admins (John Michael Higgins) and your corrupt test admins (Reno 911‘s Thomas Lennon). You’ve got your bully students and superficial parents (a bunch of kids plus Molly Shannon.)  Hmmmmm . . . . . Ultimately, with the exception of Judy Punch, the actors don’t offer much oomph on the screen.  I kept looking for hints of chemistry between former flames Diaz and Timberlake and came up short – even their (clear throat) dry scene was dry. Punch,on the other hand, is so obnoxious and irritating in this film that she literally made me cringe!

 

Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel and Justin Timberlake

 

Grading Girl gives Bad Teacher a C+ for predictable punches mixed with mediocre acting.  The writers, actors and producers didn’t study hard enough for Bad Teacher to meet expectations.  Ultimately, Bad Teacher does not provide the comic relief of summer’s other big name comedies, Bridesmaids and The Hangover Part II, but if you’re looking for a 90 minute escape from reality, it’s worth the price of the ticket – whether or not you’re a teacher.

Part Time Cowboy, Full Time Rockstar Rides to L.A.

February 27, 2011 by  
Filed under Music, Reviews

See a sampling of Grading Girl’s official press releases for this musician:

Darryl Markette Makes his Debut in Los Angeles

Darryl Markette, Chicago Singer Songwriter, to Debut in L.A. at Whisky A Go-Go

Chicago Artist, Darryl Markette, Makes L.A. Debut at Whisky A Go-Go

Darryl Markette Will Be Debuting at Whisky A Go-Go on March 4th

Chicago singer songwriter Darryl Markette will be making his LA debut at Hollywood’s infamous Whisky A Go-Go on Friday, March 4th at 9pm.  Joining Darryl Markette on stage, Los Angeles recording artist Byron Gore and international solo cellist Tina Guo will add their talent to Markette’s show.  Performing at venues spanning from Chicago to The BlueBird Café in Nashville to Gold Pan Saloon in Colorado, Markette sets a new standard for captivating fans and making those fans feel a part of something unique.  This night will feature three of Darryl Markette’s foot stomping, fist pumping originals, two of Gore’s soulful, heart-wrenching songs and a crafted collaboration between Markette and Gore with Guo’s breathtaking cello backsplash.

Purchase tickets at http://dmarkette.com and be placed in a raffle for one free round-trip ticket to Los Angeles for every ticket purchased. Whisky A Go-Go is located on Sunset Blvd, near Clark St.  See these crowd-pleasing musicians up-close and personal while you can.

 

WHAT:  Darryl Markette (acoustic rock) with special appearance by Los Angeles recording artist, Byron Gore (acoustic rock) and international cellist Tina Guo, at Whisky A Go-Go

WHERE:  Whisky A Go-Go at 8901 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA  90069

WHEN:  Friday, March 4th, 9 – 10pm

ENTRANCE:  $20/one ticket; $35/two tickets; $48/three tickets; $60/four tickets – one raffle drawing per ticket to win 1 round trip flight to Los Angeles.

ABOUT DARRYL MARKETTE:  In three short years, Darryl has cataloged over 100 original songs with passionate vocals, biting lyrics, and a catchy sing-along chorus.  Darryl’s passion bleeds through his songs as they take you on a journey from foot stomping pleasure to heartfelt pain.  Don’t confuse confidence for arrogance as this chisel jawed rocker brings more than a straw hat and a six string strapped on his back – Markette generates serious vocal heat as a true first tenor. Commanding stage presence and thought provoking lyrics combined with powerhouse vocals make this modern day, brawny cowboy spring forth memories of a young Johnny Cash mixed with a BonJovi~esque sex appeal; be prepared for a memorable evening as this self-proclaimed part-time cowboy, full-time rockstar croons the crowd.  Darryl Markette’s mission is simply to “…help make the world a better place through his songs humbly under God’s grace.” For the past three years, Darryl has led a crusade against breast cancer, with proceeds for his iTunes single Soldier In Pink going to Susan G Komen for the cure. http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/soldier-in-pink-single/id354879325.  As a three time returning walker, Darryl hosts his 3rd annual Pinko De Mayo© performing with guest artists to raise funds for his Susan G Komen For The Cure 3 Day/60 mile Walk in Chicago:   http://www.dmarkette.com/my3day. To hear more from Darryl Markette go to http://www.dmarkette.com; and iTunes @ http://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/darryl-markette/id289309962

ABOUT BYRON GORE:  Byron Gore was drawn to music from an early age, captivated by its power to draw out emotions.  Originally from the UK, Gore has been recording and performing in Los Angeles for the past two year, mesmerizing audiences with his profound, emotionally deep music and smooth-as-silk sound.  His performances include a major Pre-Grammy’s show and a songwriter’s circle in Santa Monica.  Gore’s goal is to give his listeners a sense of what lies deep inside their own hearts and souls through the messages of his heartfelt songs.  Download Byron Gore’s songs on iTunes , including his debut CD at http://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/byron-gore/id347876059 or visit http://byrongore.com for more information.

ABOUT TINA GUO:  At the age of 25, Tina Guo has already developed a fascinating international multi-faceted performing career as a solo classical cellist, rock/metal/fusion electric cellist, and acclaimed recording artist known for her distinctive sound and improvisatory style in major motion picture and television scores.  She is also a composer, producer, and published poet and writer.  Her vast performances include appearing as a soloist with the San Diego Symphony, at the American Country Music Awards with Carrie Underwood and on Dancing with the Stars performing with Carlos Santana and India Arie. For more information, visit http://tinaguo.com.

ABOUT WHISKY A GO-GO:  As long as there has been a Los Angeles rock scene, there has been the Whisky A Go-Go. An anchor on the Sunset Strip since its opening in 1964, the Whisky A Go-Go has played host to rock ‘n’ roll’s most important bands, from the Doors, Janis Joplin, and Led Zeppelin to today’s up and coming new artists such as Markette and Gore.  For more information, go to http://whiskyagogo.com.

ABOUT GRADING GIRL:  Think you’re all the rage?  Let Grading Girl give the grade!  A National Board certified English teacher who puts her writing skills to work both in and out of the classroom, she reviews a variety of entertainment, lifestyle, and literary experts to develop awareness, create buzz and build brand through media relations. Her success is a direct result of a personal, vibrant, practical approach that passes your brand with flying colors.  You can put this approach to work for you today – http://gradinggirl.com.

For a detailed GG review of dmarkette’s music, visit Part Time Cowboy, Full Time Rockstar.

Chinaberry – A More Intimate Look at Books

January 16, 2011 by  
Filed under Books, Reviews

Yes, I shop at Barnes & Noble and Borders more than the average person, and I undoubtedly always will.  There is, however, an independent bookseller that  I happily discovered twenty years ago and have been a devoted customer to ever since.  Chinaberry offers “books and other treasures for the whole family” in a personal, intimate, honest manner.

Chinaberry catalog

What makes shopping through Chinaberry’s catalog or Chinaberry.com so distinct from the larger booksellers is that each and every item is scrutinizingly chosen by its employees.  Employees personally read the books, play the games and used the products to sell only the best.  As the catalog states, “You won’t find a single ho-hum or overly hyped, media-driven product in our catalog.”

I started receiving Chinaberry catalogs when I was pregnant with my daughter and remember reveling in their arrivals.  I used to sit and read the catalogs from cover to cover as if it was a book itself!!  Every description about each item included a funny anecdote, memorable quotation or practical suggestion that I took to heart.  As you read these descriptions, you can’t help but feel you’ve got a friend sitting next to you excitedly telling you about the great book she just read!!

I’m absolutely convinced that my daughter’s home library wouldn’t have consisted of as many endearing pieces had it not been for the wonderful people of Chinaberry.  The Christmas story book with the unique painted image of a very pregnant Mary on her way to the Inn, the glossy, boldy photographed My First Word book, the gentle Stopping at Every Lemonade Stand parenting book . . . these and more come to mind.

Books are categorized by age-appropriateness from birth through adults.  Other offerings include educational games, special items for parents to pamper themselves with (you must check out the Seven Year Pen!), and seasonal items to make the home cozier (we have a few of those mugs with hidden animals at the bottom).

While I’ve continued to purchase books for myself and my family through the years from Chinaberry, my devotion is fervently renewed now that I have a baby niece.  Case in point, for Christmas she received four special books for her library from her Auntie!!  One of her favorite presents, in fact, was the In My Den finger puppet book.  She looooves to pull on the bear.  She’ll be able to carry her family close with the People Who Love Me Album, jump up and down when the baby ducky pops out at the end of  I Kissed the Baby, and gaze at animals snuggle up with snow in  When Snowflakes Fall

Grading Girl gives Chinaberry an A+ for offering kind, gentle products with kind, gentle service.  What started as a very small mail-order business in founder Ann Reuthling’s home to a catalog that reaches over 3.5 million people today, Chinaberry has so much more to offer than the bestsellers.

Check out the About Chinaberry story in detail here.  Ann Reuthling’s story is inspirational!

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