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:


– 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.


– 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!!!


– 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…


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! 🙂


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


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 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.  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: To hear more from Darryl Markette go to; and iTunes @

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 or visit 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

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

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 –

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

Best Yoga Pants EVER!

January 10, 2011 by  
Filed under Fashion, Fitness, Reviews

I’ve been working out at the gym since college and have yet to come across a better piece of exercise apparel.    These yoga pants are universally body-friendly for women of varied shapes and sizes. Over the past few years, I’ve donned a couple pairs from other brands but I always come back to my go-to gear from Victoria’s Secret.

photo courtesy of Victoria’s Secret catalogue

I’m getting friends and family hooked on these!  Just tonight, two of my friends who asked me where I get them had on pairs of their own!  I love to share the wealth when I find something I can truly stand behind.

Where can one get these?! Order them by phone through the Victoria’s Secret catalog.  These are NOT exactly the same as those carried in the Victoria’s Secret store.  I’ve tried the store styles on and, while nice, not quite as many colors are offered; additionally, the store version fits me higher on the hips.

What is truly unique about these is that they are offered in 4 inseams: 30, 32, 34, and 36.  Additionally, they come in XS – XL.  One of my friends who just purchased her first pair is fairly tall and the other friend is rather short.  The pants flatter both equally well because of the different inseams.  I don’t like my pants too short, and having a few inseams to choose from ensure the length is just right.   To further my point, I convinced my choosy mother, my impeccably-fashioned sis-in-law and my hard-to-convince colleague to try these.  I can vouch that these pants flatter women of varied shapes and ages.  And did I mention how comfy these are?!

Let’s not forget what else makes these difficult to pass up:  they are priced modestly in comparison to the average workout pant, $29.50 or two for $50.00 (at times, on sale for as low as $14/pair).  New colors and styles are offered each season so many of these are placed on clearance fairly regularly.  Plus, Victoria’s Secret always offers money off with a minimum purchase . . . that alone offsets the shipping cost.   Despite this lower price, quality is not compromised.  I own some that I’ve had for years – the stretch still holds and the cotton maintains its durability.  Btw, these are officially called “yoga pants” but I wear them for both strength training and cardio.  Yes, they stretch seamlessly for yoga, but they definitely hold up for more rigorous exercise.

Grading Girl gives these pants an A+ for economical style, versatile color choice and flattering shape.

For the record, because I’ve been asked, 31 of these pants live in my closet.  Mind you, I’ve purchased them over the course of the past few years . . . and a girl needs her colors . . . . umm . . .  am I obsessed?!

Finally . . . Seasons 52!

October 17, 2010 by  
Filed under Restaurants, Reviews

Yes, finally . . . there is a new restaurant in the Midwest that boasts healthful eating on its entire menu!  Seasons 52 maintains that every item they serve is 475 calories or less.  Consequently, you will not eye many people leaving the eatery with environmentally-unfriendly doggy bags nor will you exclaim how large that mound of food is on your plate.  But make no mistake, you will walk away satisfied; the difference is that you will be eating only the freshest, in-season foods cooked naturally via wood-fire grilling and brick oven cooking.

Seasons 52 offers weekly selections (a new selection of appetizer, soup, salad, flatbread, sushi, fresh market fish, entree, and dessert) – hence “Seasons 52” – to ensure freshness along with a guaranteed different experience for the regular patrons.  Additionally, they change their entire menu four times a year, during the winter, spring, summer and fall.

I’ve personally eaten at the restaurant on five occasions (and counting!!) since the middle of the summer and have been completely satisfied with each.  The Spicy Chipotle Shrimp Flatbread is great to share with the table or eat as an entree (I’ve done both!).  The Carmelized Sea Scallops melt in my mouth.  The Maui Tuna Crunch Salad is fresh and delicious.  I’ve tried the bison burger – sinfully good!! They even offer gluten free, vegan, or low sodium menu varieties.  Finally!!!!!  Whether its lunch or dinner, that place is always filled with happy people.

I looked around during my latest visit this weekend and noticed there is a nice mixture of both the younger and older crowd.  A piano player in the middle of the bar – yes, smack dab in the middle, right there with the bartender – plays pleasing background music.  It makes for quite the inviting ambience.

Wait, there’s more . . . we can’t forget my favorite part – dessert!!  The mini-indulgences are too cute too resist!  It’s indulgence in smaller proportion. Their desserts are designed to feature high-impact flavors and top quality ingredients, such as Belgian Callibut chocolate.  In other words, you get all of the pleasure and none of the guilt.  Chocolate Peanut Butter Mouse, Blueberry Cheesecake, Key Lime Pie, Rocky Road are examples.  I want to buy these little glasses and make my own versions of these at home.  How fun!!

Anyone can afford to indulge in one of these!

Luckily, new Seasons 52 restaurants are popping up all over the nation – Texas, Arizona, Indiana, Virginia are just a sampling of the numerous locations.  I am certain these places will be welcomed with open arms (and mouths!).  Grading Girl gives Seasons 52 an A+ for healthful eating, sumptuous signature foods, and all-around pleasant customer service. They know my name already!!  🙂  Stop in; you will not leave unsatisfied!  This is my new favorite restaurant, can you tell?!

GG Summer Reads

July 18, 2010 by  
Filed under Books, Reviews

What I’m Reading This Summer

At the beginning of every school year, I sit down with my reading students, forming a circle – either with our desks or on the floor – and I share every single book I read over the summer.  I lug every single book in and give a little book talk on each one.  Regardless of whether every book is interesting and/or appropriate for them is irrelevant.  My goal is simply for them to understand right away just how much I enjoy reading – yes, I practice what I preach.  If one of the books I describe happens to catch their fancy, wonderful! – They have a book idea for the coming semester!  If not, I’ve hopefully at least motivated them to choose a book they enjoy as much as I’ve enjoyed mine.

Why is summer the most fun time to read?!

WHAT I’VE READ SO FAR (in this order):

Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult A:  Jodi does it again – the author’s known for her surprising twists and shocking connections.  This story of a man wrongly accused of statutory rape is a page-turner.  It was a good one for me to kick off my summer reading, and it is definitely in my Top 5 Jodi Picoult books (along with My Sister’s Keeper, 19 Minutes, and Change of Heart).

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hussein A+:  I should have read this a loooong time ago.  Let me tell you, it left an impression.  It is the story of a young boy from the a district of Kabul, who befriends the son of his father’s servant. The story is set against a backdrop of tumultuous events, from the fall of Afganistan’s monarchy through the Soviet invasion.  As a side note, the dirt imagery fascinated me all along.  Men, women, young and old will find this story of redemption so endearing!!!!

Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen A:  I already knew that elephants understood emotions but this story helped me appreciate just how smart they truly can be.  This fictional novel focuses on one man’s adventures with a traveling circus he runs away with after his parents’ sudden deaths.  The most poignant piece of this is the narration as flashback:  the protagonist, Jacob Jankowski, is a 93-year old man living in an assisted living facility; the reader catches a glimpse into the agonizing frustration one goes through as faculties fade away.  As he deals with the tribulations around him, Jacob flashbacks to his young self’s adventures.  I’m very much looking forward to the movie starring Robert Pattinson.

Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer  B-:   I finished this over-600 page book in 2 days!!  While I appreciated the passion and romance, I quickly grew weary of Bella’s whining. Parts were predictable as well.  The most fun part was shouting out turning points to my daughter as I approached them in my reading.  She finished the series long ago but still holds a passion as she just saw the movie (twice.)  I’m going next week and looking forward to it in spite of Bella’s inevitable drawn-out laments.  I’ll read Breaking Dawn soon before that movie comes out . . . but I can wait.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer B+:   The book’s narrator is a nine-year-old boy, Oskar Schell, who lost his father on 9/11 two years before the story began.  In the story, Oskar discovers a key in a vase that belonged to his father.  He is determined to find what that key opens; his determination takes him through all of New York’s burroughs.  What is so uniquely interesting about this book that will keep you on your toes as you read is that the author brings a multimedia sense to the book.  He uses type settings, spaces and even blank pages to give the book a visual dimension beyond the narrative.  Additionally, this brought back all my nightmarish thoughts about 9/11.

Complications by Atul Gawande A: This is a fascinating peak into the very human side of medicine.  I never was one to put all my faith into every single thing my doctors say – now I won’t for sure!!!  Dr. Gawande, who teaches at Harvard Medical School and is a general surgeon at the Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, is very VERY candid in his behind-the-scenes portrayals of hospital life.  Very thought provoking.  I may read his other book, Better, as well.

One Day by David Nicholls A-:  Dexter and Emma met on their college graduation day in 1988.  The book depicts a day in their lives (the same calendar day) over the next 20 years.  Dramatic irony takes great form here as the reader watches these two run circles around each other but never quite getting in synce in spite of their apparent strong affection for one another.  I actually exclaimed out loud at one point when reading – and I was outside at the pool.  Books rarely make me do that.  The movie version is already in production.  Run to the bookstore before the movie; you won’t regret it.

Eat, Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert B+:  My favorite line from this book talks about our power of thinking – we can choose our way of thinking just as we choose our wardrobes.  It’s up to us how we perceive situations occuring in our lives.  The author takes the reader on her mental and spiritual journey as she travels to Italy, India and Indonesia .  Her revelations are inspiring and endearing.  Plus, her sensory-detailed depictions of the Italian food she feasts on made me want to grab a deep-dish pizza that very second.

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick B:  This is a darker novel than I normally pick up but it came highly recommended by two colleagues.  This is definitely NOT a recommendation for students.  Set in Wisconsin in 1907, Ralph Truitt places an ad for a wife.  Catherine Land, a woman with a scandalous past, answers the ad.  She secretly invents a plan to benefit from his riches; but, Ralph is more knowing than he seems.  The twists are shocking, the illustrations are sensual, and the characters are colorful.  The ending, however, was disappointing.  After the preceeding tumultuous events, I was left with an emptiness. 

The Power of Intention by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer A+:  This is one of those books that changes your life after you read it!  Some may be familiar with Dr. Dyer as he appears frequently on PBS.  This book emphasizes the belief that we can find spiritual solutions to problems by “living at higher levels and calling upon faster energies.”  This may sound like The Law of Attraction, but Dr. Dyer takes the belief much further with practical, every day steps to take along with fascinating research to back up the claims.

Boundaries – When to Say Yes & How to Say No by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend A: Physical boundaries are usually easy to discern (fences, walls, signs, etc) but emotional and spiritual boundaries are not.  This book illustrates how boundaries such as skin, words, time, geographical distance, emotional distance, etc. defines us.  It is up to us to make those definitions clear, understand what is within our boundaries (or responsibilities) and what is not.  I found myself nodding my head in agreement as I read this.  Well worth the read!!

WHAT I WILL READ BEFORE SUMMER IS OVER (also in this order):  I better get busy . . . . these books are all piled and waiting for me →

House Rules by Jodi Picoult – this is her latest, a story of a teenage boy with Asperger’s syndrome.

 A Thousand Splendid Suns by Kholed Hosseini – another one I should have read long ago – many told me they enjoyed this more than The Kite Runner.  We shall see . . . it has much to live up to.

The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine, MD. – can’t wait!  I heard this offers stunning insights into the “hormonal roller coasters” that seem to rule our lives sometimes.

The Male Brain by Louann Brizendine, MD. – this book promises to show how and why every phase of a man’s life is vastly different from a woman’s.  I’m looking forward to the new understanding. 🙂

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss – the story of lost love and the journey to find it.  Every woman needs to read at least one great love story over the summer.

comeback by Claire Fontaine & Mia Fontaine – a memoir recounting a mother and daughter’s journey through hell and back. I read a great review on this so I am anxious to see if it lives up to its critique.

Fair Isn’t Always Equal – by Rick Wormeli – this year’s summer read for my English department.  I am particularly interested to read the sections on grades and assessments.

**WHAT I READ EVERY DAY:  Until Today!  Daily Devotions for Spiritual Growth and Peace of Mind by Iyanla Vanzant A:  I  bought this at the beginning of the summer and it now sits on my nightstand as the first thing I read each morning.  It is filled with devotionals for each day of the year.  Each month focuses on a different spiritual principle:  June focuses on forgiveness, July on understanding, August on faith, and so on.  It’s a wonderful tool to ponder over aspects of ourselves and what we can do to transform to help us grow and learn.    GG side note:  I started reading this on June 21st and have already discovered four grammar goofs.  While the words inspire, the English teacher in me cringes when I read such lines as written for yesterday’s devotional:  “When you spend time honoring the dreams of one who has changed, when you continuing standing up for the things they believed in and when you. . . ”  Oops!!


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