Delivering Happiness Delivers!

June 7, 2010 by  
Filed under Books, Reviews

I was honored and excited when the good folks at Zappos sent me free advanced copies of CEO Tony Hsieh’s new book Delivering Happiness – A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose to review.  I have been a completely satisfied customer of Zappos (major online shoe and clothing commerce company) for quite a few years.  I previously read of the uniquely people-pleasant, family culture that Hsieh creates for his employees and was curious about his philosophies.  Hsieh’s new book sets out to reveal how this young executive created such a phenomenal success – not only is the online retailer achieving over $1 billion in merchandise sales each year but it is one of Fortune magazine’s top companies to work for.  From my experience, the company’s success certainly shines through every single time I talk to a customer service representative . . . Zappos has the only service department in which patrons can actually hear representatives’ smiles over the phone.

Tony Hsieh - CEO of Zappos.com

Delivering Happiness is NOT another quick how-to-improve-your-business book.  This book reveals secrets and ideas about (as the sub-title hints) increasing profits, igniting passion, and identifying purpose in personal life as well as work.  Anyone looking to create or build upon current business or personal goals would benefit from this book.  Through Hsieh’s anecdotes and quirky thought-processes, the reader gets into the head of someone who’s been there, someone who’s taken a dream and turned it into reality.

Hsieh begins by illustrating his work experiences – from grade school worm selling to creating and selling study guides in college to his first major success with co-founding LinkExchange – an internet advertising cooperative.  He provides snippets from old letters, journal-like recollections and lists that illustrate the thinking behind the success.   

 You know you are in the right field when you go to work and it doesn’t feel like work; that’s the impression I get of the Zappos employees’ attitudes toward their jobs.  Hsieh intriguingly reveals how he brought the company from start-up to last year’s acquisition by Amazon valued at over $1.2 billion.  Some interesting strategies along the way include creating a company “culture” book, a very interactive weekly employee newsletter, and the WOW factor (a new verb part of the company’s everyday vocabulary!).    Read this book and some of that WOW factor just may rub off into your own way of thinking.  Indeed, the 10 core values of the Zappos culture apply to conducting life along with conducting a business . . . you may be surprised what some of those 10 values are! 

Delivering Happiness can be purchased on Amazon today as today is the official launch of the book!!! 

**These are my honest opinions after reading this book!!  Grading Girl gives Tony Hsieh an A+ for unabashedly honest thoughts, unique ways of looking at the world of work, and a frankly fun read!**

GG at The Movies – Robin Hood

May 23, 2010 by  
Filed under Movies, Reviews

Where are the Tights?!

After an evening of working out followed by a refueling at Big Bowl, I ended a fine Friday evening with a viewing of the latest Robin Hood movie starring Russel Crowe.  This movie was directed by Ridley Scott, the same director of GladiatorCrowe’s first big movie blockbuster.  Naturally, I walked in with great expectations but was left in disappointment valley.

You won’t watch a scene unfold in which he steals from the rich and gives to the poor, nor will you view Robin donning a disguise to win an archery contest or Robin getting Friar Tuck to carry him across the alter.   Scenes such as these from the original Robin Hood myth are missing because, for some reason, the powers that be decided to illustrate this movie as a prequel – to the time before Robin Hood became the legend we remember.

I found myself wanting more scene upon scene . . . more Hood heroism, more romance, and more suspense.  What I got was many scenes depicting the history behind the legend.  It’s the 12th century, and Richard the Lionheart is “plundering his way back to England” from the Crusades – while bitter brother John waits to inherit the crown along with his sassy French girlfriend. The French are the real villains of the piece, planning to foment civil war in England so they can invade.  Where does Robin Hood fit in?  Robin starts off as an archer in the army of King Richard the Lionheart, and ends up in Nottingham, where he joins the clan of a fallen comrade. Yet the movie never finds a dramatic tone or climatic point, for that matter.  Crowe plays Hood in an almost stoic manner; he doesn’t do much more above the occasional squint.

Cate Blanchett displayed more emotion, but not necessarily in a good way – Lady Marion acts with such proud, strong-as-any-man severity that there’s no softness to her. When she helps Robin off with his chainmail, it’s supposed to be erotic, but the two might as well be building a bookcase.  Certainly the books they put on the shelf will be more interesting than the story unfolding on the screen.

So the movie is really all about backstory: a rousing roar of royal-court strategizing and double-crossing oppression. Crowe, slashing his way through the movie, is just a glorified extra in the background of the royal rouse.  Where is his Gladiator valor?! He’s stoic enough to be a bore, and so is the movie.  Grading Girl gives Robin Hood a C-.  The only reason this gets a passing grade is because of the well executed war scenes action fans will fancy.

Bon Chic Bon Genre

May 22, 2010 by  
Filed under Fashion, Favorites, Reviews

My Favorite Designer!!

No, GG has not gone French!  While I’ve studied 7 1/2 years of French, my site would not be complete without me raving about my very favorite fashion line.  I can’t say enough about this line!!  BCBG’s Max Azria has been my favorite designer for six years . . . and counting.  It all started with a little red velvet halter dress I purchased for a wedding in 2003.  This dress fit like a glove without hugging too tightly; moreover, it was comfortable and spawned many a compliment.  Since that first fateful find, I’ve purchased (and received gifts of ) many BCBG dresses, shirts, sweaters, pants, shoes, and handbags.  I wear BCBG pieces, on average, three times a week.  BCBG is my go-to apparel when I’m pressed for time and don’t have a chance to answer the infamous “What Shall I Wear” question  – I know that if I grab a BCBG piece, I’ll look polished and refined.   I even attribute BCBG to one of the bonds between my sister-in-law and me.  I became very excited when I discovered we shared BCBG as a fave; today, scavenging a local BCBG boutique is a staple activity we share whenever I’m in town to visit.

BCBG is an acronym for the french phrase bon chic, bon genre—or good style, good attitude. This illustrates the vibe of the line.  Designed by Max Azria under the close supervision of wife Lubova, the label hosts legions of celebrity clients, 475 retail boutiques worldwide, inclusions in major department stores such as Nordstrom and Macy’s, and a slew of offshoots – including the more casual BCBGeneration (which my daughter enjoys!), the more upscale Max Azria Collection, and BCBGirls footwear.   Dresses and mix-and-match separates are the brand’s bread and butter: youthful but not cutesy, easy-to-wear, and with a bit of an edge.   Clients include Paris Hilton, Angelina Jolie, and Sarah Martineau.  I personally have had the surprise pleasure of spotting two specific pieces that I own on television celebrities:  Misha Barton sported the same matte-jersey pink mini dress on “The O.C.;” Eva Longoria sported my blue wrap top on “Desperate Housewives.”  It’s fun to spot your own clothes on celebs!  With all this famous following, you’d think the clothing would cost an arm and a leg to purchase.  Not so – this is the one upscale clothing line with the midscale price tags.  In fact, I can almost always scoop up a stellar piece (or two or three!) in the surprisingly stocked sales racks.  Purchasing BCBG is a win-win!

On GG’s Wish List for this Season!!

Every season, I “doggy-ear” my catalog’s favorites before I head for the boutique.  Here are the dresses I just bought this weekend.  I’m very happy and proud to say I purchased each at Macy’s or Lord & Taylor’s @ 30 – 50% each!!!

Admittedly, this is cuter on than in the picture - I won't wear the clunky dark shoes with it. My shrunken jean jacket goes perfectly!!

Matte jersey is my favorite dress material. This lays perfectly in all the right places. It's more coral than red - a good color for me!

The dress I have on order!!!!! So fabulous - I just might have to post a picture of me in it . . . maybe.

Grading Girl gives BCBG an A+ for timeless class and elegant, easy-to-wear style.  In fact, I wore a black cotton BCBG dress when I shopped for these . . . the third time this week that I donned BCBG.  I see myself continuing to be faithful to this line for a long time to come.  Thank you, Mr. Azria!

Delivering Happiness Challenge & Giveaway!

May 4, 2010 by  
Filed under Books, Giveaway Contests!, Reviews

Watch for GG’s review of Delivering Happiness on its release date, June 7th 2010!!

I am honored to be selected to review the new, yet-to-be released book by Tony Hsieh, the successful, young CEO of Zappos.com!  The Zappos team generously sent me two advanced copies of Delivering Happiness – A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose.  I’m busy reading my first copy and can’t wait to post the review.  In the meantime, I’d like to give away the second copy to one lucky GG follower.

This book will not be released until June 7th.  I would like YOU to receive an advanced copy!

Tony Hsieh - CEO of Zappos.com

I’m almost halfway through the book and can tell you that Hsieh shares insightful, interesting and humorous anecdotes about his plight through entrepreneurship.  He doesn’t use a ghostwriter and writes authentically.  This read is useful for all in its illustration of how Hsieh uses happiness as a framework (imagine!!) to produce results in business and personal life.

So . . . here is my challenge to you.  Too many times people see the glass half empty instead of half full; too many times people don’t see the fun in life; too many times people don’t feel the joy in their journeys.  I challenge you to deliver happiness to someone and share just how you did it:

1.  Follow me on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/GradingGirl

2.  Perform an act of kindness to someone you know or to a complete stranger.  Your act of kindness can be as simple or elaborate as you like.

3.  Come back to this post and, in the comments, describe that act of kindness.  What did you do?  What was the reaction and result of your delivered happiness?

4.  Respond by Friday, May 14th 11:59pm.  You can post as many delivered happiness descriptions as you like.

5.  One winner will be chosen based on the genuineness of the delivered happiness.

6.  I will mail the book anywhere in the United States.  SPAM comments will be deleted if deemed appropriate.  Make sure you have a valid email address when commenting so I can contact you for a shipping address. (your email address will be kept private)

Enjoy delivering happiness!!!

**GG does NOT endorse or giveaway products I do not stand behind.  As an English teacher, a self-proclaimed reviewer of “all things worth grading,” and a life-long reader of many books, I can give this away with confidence that the recipient will not be disappointed.**

An Amazing Young Author!!

April 20, 2010 by  
Filed under Books, Reviews

Once in a while, we meet someone who truly leaves an impression.  I met such a person this past Sunday after being invited to a book signing.  This was no ordinary book signing, however, because the author is an incredible 12-year old girl!!!

Amanda R. Dell’Aringa wrote, illustrated, and published Gertie, A Guinea Pig’s Tail at the tender age of 11 after being inspired by her friend’s two guinea pigs.  What started as a “small little story that popped” into her head turned into a beautifully illustrated and professionally published book.  Amanda’s mother was impressed with the moral Amanda attached to the story so she encouraged her daughter to bring it to life.

An Inspiring 'Tail!'

Just picking up this book at the bookstore, one cannot guess such a mature message came from such a young mind.  Gertie, A Guinea Pig’s Tail is the story of a young guinea pig who is not too happy with her short, seemingly useless tail.  She soon dreams that she’s turned into other tail-equipped animals and discovers what their tails are for.  In the end, she learns just how special her own tail is and she contently accepts it for all its squiggly charm.   What a wonderful message that all children need to hear!

Besides her creativity and discipline in creating this book, what impresses me so much about Amanda is her articulation and poise.  She spoke to a crowd of about 35 adults and children, quite eloquently explaining her inspiration for the book, proudly retelling the disciplined process she took on to see her dream through, and impressingly illiustrating how she brought Gertie to life through a drawing demonstration on  a whiteboard.  Not only did Amanda draw each illustration in the book, she learned how to color each drawing in Adobe Photoshop herself. Amanda said she worked 1 – 2 hours almost every day for a few months.  She claims she has trouble finishing projects (which I find hard to believe!), but with the support of her father (an artist himself) she did it.  What an accomplishment for a young, ambitious girl!

Amanda is truly an inspiration for young and old alike.  I am giving a signed copy of this book to my soon-to-be-born niece; this will certainly provide a role model and inspiration for her.  And of course . . . I’m keeping a copy myself.  🙂  Grading Girl gives Gertie, A Guinea Pig’s Tail by Amanda R. Dell’Aringa an A+ for a valuable moral, adorable illustrations (what a cute little stuffed doll Gertie would make!), and off-the-charts effort. This was an easy one to grade!!

→ → → Amanda’s book is currently available on Amazon.  Click here to order your own copy!  While you are at it, please feel free to review Amanda’s book on Amazon – this aspiring author will appreciate your words of support.  Amanda’s book is also on sale at Books at Sunset.

For a peek at some of Amanda’s other drawings, visit her website at AmandaDraws.blogspot.com. Prepare to be dazzled when you glance through the mythical characters Amanda has created . . . and she’s only just begun!  Accomplishing so much by age 12, imagine where she will be later on.  This girl is well on her way!!

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Grading Girl would like to give a shout out to the adorable bookstore holding Amanda’s book signing.  I’ve never been to Books at Sunset in Elgin before, but I think I’ll be back.  Nestled among a quaint residential neighborhood, Books at Sunset carries an impressive variety of new and gently used books.  For much more personal service (think Meg Ryan’s store Shop around the Corner in You’ve Got Mail), check out this wonderful store that is always hosting a variety of local events as well as children’s activities.  Amanda’s book is also on sale at this bookstore!!

Progression in Pam’s Pilates

November 17, 2009 by  
Filed under Exercise, Fitness, Reviews, School's Out

I am now enrolled in my second set of  Pilates classes at the LifeStudio of Life Time Fitness; I’m feeling stronger and learning something new with each class.  Please note:  the following is of my own experiences.  Pilates may or not be right for you.  Check with your own personal trainer and/or doctor before trying any new fitness adventure.

See a review of my first experiences with this Pilates class here:  Improve Posture and Poise with Pam’s Pilates

To perform this, begin stretched in the side plank.  With all movement coming from the lower abdominals, crunch them in as your hips rise and feet come in toward you.  At the same time, swing the arm down and under as you “thread” across your core.  Hard to perfect . . . but feels great once you do!

Contrology” – that’s what Pam Barich is teaching us in class!!  Proper Pilates technique means the body must remain in control.   Movement should not cause the body to misalign, shake, or protude.  That is easier said than done; but, Pam is showing us how to build that strong core – the Pilates powerhouse – that keeps those movements in check. The core is what connects the band of strength across our upper bodies to the band of strength across our lower bodies.  A strong core provides for the safe conduct of strain along our spines between our arms and legs. When we are connected in this basic Pilates manner, the muscles that support the spine are actually strengthened by the movement.

Pam poses perfectly

Pam poses perfectly

Pam uses fun, easy-to-remember techniques to help us progress through the movements.  For instance, when prompting us to lie in the preparatory Pilates position (shoulders pressed back on the reformer, lower back lifted and lower abdominals tucked in), she reminds us “not to kill the ladybug”. . . meaning hold the core tight that it doesn’t rest on the mat.  Or she might say “balance that glass of wine” so it doesn’t spill . . . meaning tighten those abs so that they are hard and flat as possible.  Fun!! My lower, inner abs never worked so hard!  You just can’t get this kind of workout with strength training alone.

To perform this, first position yourself into a bridge.  Next, raise one leg and hold, being sure not to let your glutes drop.

Along with progressing through these movements, Pam challenges us with new exercises during each and every class.  It amazes me how much varied stretching, pushing, pulling and strength movements that can be achieved on the Reformer.  Whether it’s leg circles, the hundred, extended arabesques . . .it’s impossible to get bored or tired. Pam’s repertoire includes classic Pilates positions along with her own productive inventions.  What’s great about Pam Barich’s classes from others is one never know what challenges and unique, fun sets Pam is going to surprise us with.  Students get the best of both worlds with Pam’s instructions:  continued progressions of the same movement for growth coupled with unique twists for challenges. Into the 7th week of classes, Grading Girl gives Pam Barich at Life Time Fitness an A+ for innovative exercise that provides more results in half the time.

Men Benefit from Pilates Too!

Men Benefit from Pilates Too!

Men, women, people of all ages and levels can benefit from a Pilates class.  In fact, a 50 year old gentleman just joined my class this past Tuesday.  He has some pains in his back and wishes to strenthen his legs.  After just one session, he exclaimed how much his muscles were shaking yet instantly felt less painful from when he walked into class.  Pilates is rehabilitation, it’s strength training, and it’s mental release all in one.  I walk out of class feeling like I’m floating – I’m that relaxed and limber after the stretches, pulls and balances we concentrate on.

Try a free 35 minute session with Pam to see for yourself!  Email her at pbarich@lifetimefitness.com

In the meantime, here is another video of Alejandra Randazzo, veteran Pilates instructor at Life Time Fitness so that you can catch a glimpse of some exercises on the Reformer:

Level 2 Exercise - This is my progression from the side plank

Level 2 Exercise – This is my progression from the side plank

GG Reads – Wesley The Owl

November 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Books, Reviews

Did you know that barn owls mate for life?  Are you aware that they are extremely emotional creatures and have many ways to express their feelings?  Could you guess that they practice birth control and will breed only when they perceive an excess of available mice for food?  These are some of the many intriguing facts about owls that readers learn in this little gem of a book.

This book was recommended to me by my sister-in-law.  I enjoyed its message so much that I am recommending this for my school’s next summer reading list.

I found myself laughing aloud reading this book!

I found myself laughing aloud reading this book!

Wesley the Owl by Stacey O’Brien is a book about love and devotion.  It is a true love story about a woman and her owl.  Stacey O’Brien is a Southern California biologist who adopts a baby barn owl with an injured wing.  He could not survive in the wild so she selflessly takes him in, oblivious to the joy that stands before her in raising this creature.  Through the trials and triumphs Stacey experiences with this bird, the reader realizes just what a significant role a pet plays in our lives.  As Stacy states in her book, “When humans and animals understand, love, and trust each other, the animals flourish and we humans are enlightened and enriched by the relationship.”  (O’Brien 202)  Animals are more intelligent than we may give them credit for; this book reminds us of that intriguing reality.

The story chronologically follows O’Brien’s 19 years with Wesley from owl infancy when she weaned him into his “nest box” in her bedroom through the end of his long life with his battle with cancer.   She gives both her scientific, factual views and tender-hearted observations about Wesley.  O’Brien even shares the insides of Caltech and some of her interestingly eccentric colleagues.  I laughed when Stacey brought Wesley to the grocery store wrapped in a blanket as a baby, I gagged when she described how she killed endless amounts of mice for Wesley’s diets (yes, as much as I have much more respect for owls, I won’t be raising one any time soon), I melted when Wesley “held” Stacey with his wings, and I cried when Wesley tried to console Stacey through a horrible dehabilitating disease she contracted during Wesley’s later years.  I could sit here and let my fingers ecstatically fly off the keyboard with all of my favorite tidbits from the book . . . but that would take out the fun of reading this book.  You can definitely read this within a day or two; O’Brien writes her observations and feelings with fervor.  As a bonus, she includes “Some Things You May Not Know About Barn Owls” at the conclusion of the book.

We humans can learn from owls about devotion, trust and love.  I am inspired by Stacey O’Brien’s life philosophies and the devotion she returns to Wesley.  As she proclaims, she made a vow when she was very young to live life not by wading in the shallow water but by diving into the deep end as much as possible, no matter how dangerous.  The way she raised Wesley attests to her commitment to that vow.  As of the book’s print, she was contemplating raising another owl and beginning the whole process again!  If I am ever lucky enough to have a chance encounter with one of these magnificent feathered friends, I will stop and admire this feathered friend and be very grateful for the opportunity.  GG gives Wesley the Owl an A for the heartwarming lessons and touching account of this love story.  Extra credit for the wonderful photographs spattered throughout the book – most of which O’Brien took herself while raising Wesley.  They help illustrate just how funny, complex and beautiful Wesley was.

Improve Posture and Poise with Pam’s Pilates

October 18, 2009 by  
Filed under Exercise, Fitness, Reviews, School's Out

Please note:  The following is of my own experiences only.  Check with your health care provider to see if Pilates is right for you.

I vowed this would be the summer of new experiences.  With only one week left of summer break, I can honestly write that I kept that vow!  One of the most impactful of those experiences is one I will continue long after summer is over ~ Pilates at Life Time Fitness’s LifeStudio with Pamela Barich.  I can’t say enough about Pam’s Pilates class.  My posture is more aligned.  I walk taller.  I look slimmer.  I am more toned.  I am more flexible.  In a word . . . I feel better.

Grading Girl on The Reformer - this is my first try with this move!

Grading Girl on The Reformer – this is my first try with this move!

At LifeStudio (a part of Lifetime Fitness), I am supervised by a specially trained instructor named Pam Barich.  Pam earned her Pilates certification in 2005 after a few years of teaching aerobic classes.  She was taking Pilates classes herself and found that it was the one practice that was enhancing all other aspects of her life.  As Pam explains, Pilates “develops core strength, giving overall strength.  .  . When that is strong, you can have strength all over.”   She advocates Joseph Pilates focus on concentration to achieve mind/body connection that “works the body from the inside out,” as Pam states.  Pilates gives you a work-in that makes other workouts that much more effective.

Pamela Barich on The Reformer at LifeStudio Schaumburg

Pamela Barich on The Reformer at LifeStudio

How and why did Pilates begin? As Medicine.Net defines, Pilates was created in the 1920s by the trainer Joseph Pilates for the purpose of rehabilitation. Pilates’ first clients were soldiers from war and dancers such as Martha Graham and George Balanchine (to strengthen their bodies and heal their aches and pains). His techniques are maintained today as dancers, athletes and anyone looking to improve their overall physical and emotional fitness are utilizing the method.  I remember my dance teacher years ago recommending enrollment in a Pilates class to enhance poise and technique; but, back then Pilates classes were much harder to find in the suburbs. In fact, when I hunted for a class in the early ’90s, there was only one studio in downtown Chicago offering a few classes.  I would have had to travel to New York if I wanted to take any comprehensive Pilates sessions.  Today, Pilates is conveniently offered at my own gym with highly specialized instructors!  Very few health clubs are as comprehensive as Life Time Fitness . . . offering Pilates, yoga, aerobics, spin, marathon trainings, boot camps . . the list goes on.

What exactly is Pilates? Pilates is an exercise system focused on improving flexibility, strength, and body awareness, without building bulk. The method is a series of controlled (and I mean very controlled) movements performed on specially designed spring-resistant exercise apparatus (in our class, that is the Reformer) or on the floor (mat work).  Pilates is resistance exercise, not aerobic; although, the heart rate will certainly rise.  I sometimes wear my heart monitor and my heart does raise to my Zone 2 & 3 levels.  It’s closer to weight lifting than it is to aerobic activities, and so it should be considered resistance exercise.  As an avid strength trainer, I use Pilates to refine my posture and core strength – things that I can’t perfect with weight lifting alone. It actually makes me sit and stand more properly and comfortably!!!

Two of the key elements of Pilates are core muscle strength and spinal alignmentThere are movements in my Pilates class that work muscles I’ve never worked before!  Pilates is unique in that it truly targets the core, including the very hard to train lower abdominal muscles.  Everyone talks about using your “core” but what exactly is it???  The “core” consists of the spine, abdomen, pelvis, and hips. Some of the main core muscles are the erector spinae (located in your back along your spine), the internal and external obliques (the sides of your abdomen), the transverse abdominis (located deep in your gut, this muscle pulls your belly button in toward your spine), the rectus abdominis (the “six-pack”), and hip flexors (in your pelvis and upper leg). Now, who doesn’t want to tone those muscles?!?

During a Pilates session with Pam, whether it’s on the Reformer or on the mat, she continuously prompts us to concentrate deeply on those core muscles, as well as on our breath, the contraction of our muscles, and the quality (not quantity) of our movements. Practicing that coordinated concentration enhances our life outside of the studio as well as we carry the control through to our lives.  It helps us connect our body, mind and spirit to create peace withn.

Pam pushes you to stretch to your most optimal level without overstepping your limits.  As an example of her highly individualized instruction, on the first day of my small group class (there are 4 of us), Pam had us perform basic stretches on the Reformer and mat to identiy our current (or pre-Pilates) flexibilty and strength levels.  As she approached each of us throughout the hour, she demonstrated differentiated movements for each of us to tackle according to our own body’s abilities.  Now that we’re each acclimated to the Pilates fundamentals, every session consists of choreographed movements that push each of us at our own paces and alignments.  Individualized instruction at group pricing!

Pam demonstrating more moves

Pam demonstrating another finely balanced stretch

Grading Girl gives Pamela Barich’s Pilates class an A+ for  a healthful way to improve strength, balance, and flexibility. Men and women of various ages and fitness levels take Pilates.  I walk out of class feeling lithe and light with a super-straight posture.  I guarantee you will gain from it as well.

CHECK OUT MY SECOND POST IN THIS SERIES HERE:  Progression in Pam’s Pilates

** Try a class!!  Pam offers a FREE introductory session to anyone interested.  You don’t even have to be a Lifetime member for the free trial.  Email her at pbarich@lifetimefitness.com.    Don’t forget to tell her Grading Girl sent you! 🙂  **

Want more proof of how much Pilates can do for your strength and flexibility?  Here is a video of Alejandra Randazzo, a veteran Life Time Fitness (Schaumburg) Pilates Instructor, performing on the Reformer:

Come to Life Time Fitness to improve your fitness for a lifetime!

STAY TUNED FOR UPDATES ON GG’S PILATES PROGRESS.  GG WILL POST TO THIS SERIES EVERY FEW WEEKS.

Let’s Cure Readicide!

September 22, 2009 by  
Filed under Educational Resources, Reviews

Over the summer, I was inspired and awakened after reading Kelly Gallagher’s ReadicideHow Schools are Killing Readers and What You Can Do About It.  Kelly Gallagher is a high school English teacher in Anaheim, CA whose theories I’ve been advocating and utilizing for a few years.  Four years ago, I designed our school’s sophomore reading strategies classes based on his philosophies in  Deeper Reading: Comprehending Challenging Texts, and Teaching Adolescent Writers afforded me new creative opportunities with my senior expository writing students.  

an excellent resource

Readicide talks about the “mind-numbing” practices in our schools that turn students off to reading such as the overuse of study guides and paragraph-by-paragraph overanalysis of literature.  He illustrates data-based research to show just how drastically reading is dying before offering specific strategies to curb this epidemic.  It’s a quick read – it took me all of two hours to sweep through.  For those that haven’t read it, GG highly recommends it!

During our department meeting today, we viewed the 20 minute DVD Gallagher produced that depicts his guidance with the Article of the Week (AoW).  AoW is one of the practices he advocates to curb ‘readicide.’  He points out that while his 9th grade English students could analyze characters in Lord of the Flies, they didn’t know how to discern Al Quaeda from Al Gore nor could they identify the current Vice President of the United States.  This brings up a great point – most students don’t read outside of the classroom; most students are current-event-illiterate.  AoW combats that.  It involves sharing a current events article (i.e. Business Week, Wall Street Journal, etc) with the class at the beginning of the week and then asking them to turn in a response along with evidence of active reading at the end of the week. 

Gallagher graciously shares all articles he used last year for his 9th and 10th grade English classes along with his current collection he is beginning this year.  He shares them on his website, kellygallagher.org.  He asserts that AoW is now practiced in every single English classroom at his school; consequently, students leave the building at the end of the year having read approximately 140 pertinent articles they would otherwise have not been exposed to.

I am definitely incorporating AoWs into my reading classes as well are many of my colleagues.  I am using some of Gallagher’s articles along with my own.  Grading Girl gives Readicide an A+ for eye-opening data, researched reasonings, and practical strategies that assist teachers with helping students gain back an interest in reading and, thus, an interest in life.

Color Your World!

August 29, 2009 by  
Filed under Books, Reviews

There’s something to this.  I was shopping in Francesca’s boutique, flipping through Michele Bernhardt’s Colorstrology book, and discovered that my personal color is Jaffa Orange.  There is something to this because the cotton tank I already had in my hand to purchase matched the color exactly.   Hmmm . . . Colorstrology tells us that our birthday carries a numerological value and meaning.  That value corresponds to a color palette from which we can draw insight about our personalities.  Wearing, decorating and surrounding ourselveswith this specific color is supposed to bring out our true selves, our best selves.  We are not to confuse our personal color with our favorite color – Bernhardt says that our favorite color can change as we evolve or change our surroundings.  Our personal color, on the other hand, remains constant.

There is something to this!

There is something to this!

This fun book rests on my coffee table.  There is a page for every day of the year.  There are even color swatches in the back to take with you when shopping for your color.  🙂 In addition, each color has its PANTONE® Color identification to help find the perfect match.  I like the suggestions Bernhardt gives for using your personal color. 

Want to send an ecard telling the bday person what his/her color is?!  It’s completely free – here’s the link for the ecards!

 Grading Girl gives Colorstrology an A+ for an interesting alternative to traditional zodiac and astrology readings.

I’d say this is pretty accurate . . .

My Personal Color ~ JAFFA ORANGE

Analytical, Responsible, Sensitive

If you were born on this day:  “You love to use your mind.  Your ability to analyze problems and situations is exceptional.  You never really know just how good or talented you are due to your yearning for perfection.  Many of you cover your sensitivity with facts and a composed exterior.  You actually have a very sensitive spirt that needs to be nurtured and recognized.” (Bernhardt)

Colorstrology says that wearing or surrounding myself “with Jaffa Orange helps you live life more freely by integrating your intellect with your emotions and your passion with self-control.” (Bernhardt)

GG at the Movies – The Time Traveler’s Wife

August 21, 2009 by  
Filed under Movies, Reviews

I would not want the ability to time travel to the future – I believe in taking life’s triumphs and trials as they come.  I might, however, want to take a brief trip back to various occasions of my life.  My daughter’s birth was hands down the best day of my life so naturally I wouldn’t mind revisiting that; it might be fun to take a quick trip to when I was a small child too.  I don’t think I’d want to hang around long enough to change anything . . . who knows how much one small occurence could change signficant results.  It could be enlightening, though, to time travel all the way back to an era in history such as the Romantic period just to experience firsthand a piece of what we read about in literature and history texts.

The Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler’s Wife is a movie that lets us fantasize about this if only for a couple of hours.  A librarian at the Newberry Library in Chicago (one of my favorite places for professional development, by the way) suffers from a rare genetic disorder that sends him hurtling through time whenever he is under extreme duress.  Despite the fact that he vanishes at frequent and lengthy intervals, Henry attempts to build a stable future with the beautiful young heiress, Claire, whom he loves. Eric Bana (my new crush) and Rachel McAdams star in this fantasy, and they both are very close to the characters I pictured in my head when I read the book.

I read the book by Audrey Niffeneger five years ago and enjoyed it so much that I instantly formed a summer reading group for my senior students to discuss it in-depth.  The endearing love affair between the two protagonists stuck with me long after I read the last chapter.  Yes, the movie does not delve as deep into Claire’s anguish as the book.  It does not even follow Claire to as old of an age as she progresses to in the book.  Regardless, the movie is a tear-jerker romance in its own right. I went to see this on its second night release . . . I heard plenty of sniffles throughout the show, a testament to the believable characters and appealing plot.  Grading Girl gives The Time Traveler’s Wife a solid B for its hug-your-heart, endearing message – that is, true love has no boundaries.  GG says this movie is worth your time!

GG Reads – Handle with Care

July 30, 2009 by  
Filed under Books, Reviews

I just finished my fourth Jodi Picoult novel this afternoon.  I was sitting poolside and vowed not to get up until I finished it.  My redder-than-usual arms attest to the follow-through.  It’s an interesting thing about “Jodi books” – they provide conversation starters and bonding opportunities.  As I was sitting engrossed in the last 75 pages of the book, a woman whom I never met came up and asked me what I thought of the story so far.  We ended up having a 10 minute conversation about various references in Picoult novels; another woman joined in when she overheard the conversation.  Yes, Jodi Picoult is known for her in-depth, well researched twisted, surprise endings.  Handle with Care may be her saddest story yet.  I have to admit that I shed a few tears while reading – only accomplished once before while reading My Sister’s Keeper.

Handle with Care

I am personally impressed with the thorough background on osteogenesis imperfecta (serious brittle bone disease) and the realistic trial experience.  Charlotte and Sean O’Keefe’s daughter, Willow, is born with severe OI. As the family struggles to make ends meet to cover Willow’s medical expenses, Charlotte thinks she has found an answer. If she files a wrongful birth lawsuit against her ob/gyn for not telling her in advance that her child would be born severely disabled, the payouts might ensure care for Willow. But it means that Charlotte has to get up in a court of law and say that she would have terminated the pregnancy if she’d known about the disability – words that her husband can’t abide, that Willow will hear, that their daughter Amelia also painfully takes to heart and that Charlotte cannot reconcile. And here’s a really sad twist:  the ob/gyn she’s suing is her best friend.  This twist brings up questions on friendship:  can a very strong, old friendship be broken instantly?  Is family more important than friends?  Can a broken friendship be put back together?

Grading Girl recommends this book to anyone interested in exploring medical ethics and personal morality. When faced with the reality of a fetus who will be disabled, at which point should an OB counsel termination? Should a parent have the right to make that choice? How disabled is TOO disabled? And as a parent, how far would you go to take care of someone you love? Would you alienate the rest of your family? Would you be willing to lie to your friends, to your spouse, to a court? And perhaps most difficult of all – would you admit to yourself that you might not actually be lying?  If you’re looking for a light summer read, this may not be your rag right now.  But if you’re interested in these compelling questions, this gut-wrenching tale will keep you thinking.

One element I truly admire about this story is that Picoult illustrates it in the second person point of view.  This view is rarely used; in fact, I plan on using this book as a model for defining point of view to my students who have a hard time grasping that the second person point of view is when the narrator is speaking directly to another character using the pronoun “you.”  The chapters rotate between five narrators :  Charlotte (mom), Sean (dad), Amelia (sister), Marin (lawyer), and Piper (best friend being sued).  Each of these characters reveals how they see events unfolding to Willow, the little girl with OI.    They are explaining themselves to Willow, in a sense.  A cool effect is that the reader feels viscerally what it’s like to be at the center of this controversy.

Grading Girl gives Handle with Care an A-. The minus is given because I wasn’t happy with the ending (hey, who said grading is objective?).  Some readers will misinterpret Willow’s motivations in the end.  Her actions seem uncharacteristic of her intelligence.  For fear of writing spoilers, I’ll say no more.  Just go out and borrow or buy this book for another page-turning Picoult.  Your time will not be wasted, GG assures you.

“The Only Guaranteed Moment is This One”

July 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Fitness, Fun, Reviews, Spas

That is what one of the instructors at Tri Balance Yoga Studio regularly expresses at the end of my Hot Yoga class.  This statement mirrors one of the philosophies I try to live by – to live life in the moment.  There is no future, there is no past.  The future and the past only exist in our language, not in reality.  The only real moment is the present moment, yet too many people try to live for the future or re-live the past.  In doing so, they miss out on so much.   I wanted to start taking yoga to relax my body and help my mind live in this present.

Yoga offers countless benefits

Yoga offers countless benefits

I discovered Tri Balance Yoga Studio two weeks ago and I can honestly say I’m a better person for it.  As listed on the Tri Balance site, the many benefits of yoga include improved balance, relieved aches and pains, reduced stress, increased body strength, more flexibility, anti-aging effects, improved blood pressure, and more.  Being an avid strength and circuit trainer, I used to write off yoga as a good stretching activity but not much else.  I only wish I realized how wrong I was earlier.  I now believe yoga can accomplish all of those benefits and more.  I personally feel so lithe and light after each class that I’m glowing.  It could have to do with the fact that I literally drip sweat and melt skin during class.  In any event, you CANNOT walk out of Tri Balance in a bad mood.

The first week I joined, I participated in four hot yoga sessions and one fitness Pilates.  The first day I missed a session, I instantly felt it.  The second week (last week), I was unfortunately busier and was only able to partake in two hot yoga sessions.  I missed it terribly.  This week I vow to take five sessions.  Allow me to explain some of the reasons Tri Balance is such a soothing studio . . .

First, the people at Tri Balance – the instructors along with those behind the desk – create a welcoming, individualized environment.  I have had two hot yoga instructors so far and one fitness pilates instructor; all three of these experts constantly walk around the room, either helping to correct our body positions or challenging us to maneuver in more difficult positions.  I have received individual attention every single session as I noticed so has everyone else.   Classes always attract an impressive amount of people but because the room is fairly large, it never feels too cramped to move fully.  The entire studio is impeccably clean.  The women’s bathroom is inviting with extra towels, mats, soaps, etc. ready for members; plus, it always has that fresh just-been-cleaned smell each day.  The studio offers a variety of classes including Hot Yoga, Hot Core Yoga, Fitness Pilates, Ashtanga Yoga, Total Body Conditioning, and Core.  Classes are offered seven days a week.   Prices are very reasonable; and, you don’t have to sign a contract locking you in for a certain time.  Click here for current rates.

Along with the yoga studio, there is a hair stylist, massage therapist, nutritionist, and holistic doctor within the same walls – another attestment to Tri Balance helping the whole person . . . physically and mentally.  The studio also regularly offers workshops to enhance the yoga experience.  For instance, the next workshop is covering Gong Meditation, using our inter-vibratory system to de-stress.

Convinced yet?  Well, if you live, work or visit the northwest suburbs of Chicago, you should give Tri Balance studio a try.  Tell them Grading Girl sent you!  You will not be wasting your time.  People of every size, shape, gender, and age take classes here.  Everyone leaves his or her inhibitions at the door.  Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the room is set at 106° and the lights are very minimal during the hot yoga sessions.  Admittedly, I’ve fallen asleep momentarily after the Namaste because I’m so relaxed by the end.

An added benefit:  Tri Balance offers discounts to police officers, firemen, teachers, military personnel, and nurses.  Of course, they get extra credit from Grading Girl for that one! 🙂

Grading Girl gives Tri Balance Yoga Studio an A for providing the community with a soothing environment for very healthful classes.  The convenient schedule (hot yoga is offered at least four times a day) adds to the high grade.

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