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!!

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.

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!

“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.

Watch Out, Jonas Bros!

July 16, 2009 by  
Filed under Music, Reviews

Is he the next rising teen star?

Is he the next rising teen star?

A friend of mine recently sang at the infamous open mic night at BlueBird Cafe in Nashville, TN.  While there, he met many musicians, wanna-bes, producers and agents.  One person that struck a chord was 16-year old Casey Lee Smith who came down from Arizona to sing at the BlueBird.  While my friend claimed Casey was amazing, I was skeptical being that he is 16.

Always looking for the opportunity to review, I paid a visit to Casey’s web site, www.caseyleesmith.com.  The second I clicked on his music, I was touched.  In fact, it’s playing in the background as I blog and four of his songs are already on my ITunes (and I’m a discerning downloader).  Heartfelt lyrics, friendly vocals, and harmonious instruments leave your toes tapping and heart smiling.  Casey’s style is part country, rock, blues all fused into one unique sound.   But don’t let his age fool you – he appeals to teens, adults and everyone in between!  The younger crowd will appreciate his blue-eyed, curly -haired charm and the more mature audience will connect with his spot-on lyrics.

My favorite song is “Losing You,” a song about a broken relationship.  As Casey writes:  “When you’ve screwed up your relationship, there’s nothing to do but point to where the blame belongs. Me.”  “Losing You” is a ballad for anyone who’s felt that regret after a hard-to-get-over break up.  Grading Girl predicts this will be number one on the charts someday soon!!  “Chasin’ Tin Cans” is a fun, raucous, rock song written about, of all things, running barrels.  Any woman, however, will feel empowered singing along to the lyrics “She’s moving like a rocket ship, blood surging through her vains.”  A country “Barracuda” song!  “Never Stood Taller” is a celebratory song about his grandfather being baptized as an adult and proclaims “He never stood taller than when he’s on his knees. He never was stronger than when his head is bowed.”  Very spiritually powerful . . . and what a beautiful subject to write about.  That’s what is amazing about Casey’s songs – the maturity in his lyrics shine through so that we learn something after listening.  His songs help us reflect on our own experiences, misgivings, and triumphs.

According to his site, Casey has been singing and playing instruments at a very early age . . . piano, banjo, guitar are among those he brings to life.  He attends the Arizona Conservatory for Arts and Academics.  It takes dedication, persistence, and discipline to harbor your talent from very young on.   Grading Girl gives Casey Lee Smith an A for remarkable early talent and an undoubtedly bright future.  Sounding this polished at age 16, I dare imagine what he will sound like in a few years.  Casey Lee Smith –  memorize that name.  You’ll be hearing it again.

October 26th update:  Grading Girl just received word that Casey Lee Smith won the Colgate County Showdown.  Now it’s on to Regionals and then Grand Ole Opry, here he comes!   Like I said, “Watch out, Jonas Bros!”

ZEVIA – The Natural Soda

June 11, 2009 by  
Filed under Food, Reviews

ZEVIA - The Natural Soda

ZEVIA - The Natural Soda

Can the words natural and soda co-exist or is “natural soda” an oxymoron? After reviewing the newer natural sweetener, Truvia, the good folks at ZEVIA sent Grading Girl samples of this surprisingly delightful, unindulgent indulgence.  Admittedly, I all but eliminated soda from my adopted clean-eating diet a few years ago.  But when I unzipped the compact cooler containing the soda (thank you, ZEVIA!) and opened my first can, I was surprised at how light, fresh and tasty the bevarage actually was.  ZEVIA comes in six varieties – ZEVIA Natural Cola, ZEVIA Natural Orange, ZEVIA Natural Twist, ZEVIA Natural Root Beer, ZEVIA Natural Black Cherry, and ZEVIA Natural Ginger Ale.  The first flavor I opened was the Natural Cola as I wanted to see just how similar to the leading diet sodas this tasted.  This flavor tasted so close to Diet Coke that I had to run to my closest grocer to grab a can and compare the two side-by-side.  The result:  ZEVIA had a lighter, more refreshing taste whereas Diet Coke left me feeling full.  Zevia was, in fact, just fractionally sweeter – not too sweet, but enough to satisfy my taste buds more than the average soda.

Now they had my curiousity.  Next, I tested the Natural Orange . . . this one tasted better than the Orange Crush I used to drink as a kid.  Maybe it was because I hadn’t sipped flavored soda in years, but I finished the whole can rather quickly (unusual for me).  Here’s a rundown of my taste test on each of the ZEVIA flavors:

ZEVIA Natural Orange Ingredients

ZEVIA Natural Orange Ingredients

Natural Cola =  Lighter, more refreshing than the leading Cola

Natural Orange = Tasted as if a bit of juice from an orange was squeezed into it (made with natural orange oil)

Natural Twist = Almost as light as my lemon water

Natural Root Beer = Very authentic, old fashioned root beer taste (this coupled with fat free ice cream would make a guiltless root beer float!!!)

Natural Ginger Ale = As with the Natural Cola, more refreshing and light than the originals.  I’m buying a case of this to keep on hand when my daughter’s home sick and won’t drink anything else.

Natural Black Cherry = My favorite (as are all things cherry!)  Just sweet enough.

So are these tasty treats too good to be true?  Grading Girl did her research on the few ingredients found in the sodas.  The main ingredient, Stevia, is found in all six flavors.  It’s a natural herb native to South and Central America.   For centuries, native Americans of Paraguay and Brazil called it “sweet leaf” and used it to sweeten native foods. The extract from the stevia leaf has no calories, no effect on blood sugar levels, and is much sweeter than sugar.  This would explain how it can be so pleasing to the palette without the unwanted side effects.  The next ingredient found in all six flavors is Erythritol, a natural sugar alcohol found in fruits and vegetables, also with no calories or effect on blood sugar levels.   Here is a bonus for those of us who remember those 2nd grade experiments where the teacher leaves a tooth in a glass of soda to quickly decay – Erythritol does not promote tooth decay!  In fact, the caramel coloring found in the Natural Cola is only from real caramel.  The other ingredients found in a few of the flavors are just as natural: tartaric acid occurs naturally in many plants, particularly grapes, bananas, and tamarinds, and is also found in wine (Most colas use cheap, harmful phosphoric acid for flavor.   Phosphoric acid is used in fertilizers and detergents! Yikes!); kola nut extract naturally occurs in caffeine (which is only found in the Natural Cola flavor, by the way); annato is the only existing natural orange coloring (the ZEVIA team searched far and wide to find this as they refused to use any unnatural coloring); and, ginger root is found in the Natural Root Beer and Natural Ginger Ale flavors.

The correct answer is no, this is not too good to be true; and, with ZEVIA, the term “natural soda” is not an oxymoron.  The 0 calories, 0mg sodium, 0g sugar, 0g fat equals one thirst-quenching, crave-curbing soft drink.

Grading Girl gives ZEVIA an A for pleasingly refreshing taste without the bloated filling afterward that sodas usually leave me with.  This is one type of soda – no, let me correct that, the ONLY soda – I will be happy to stock my fridge with and not feel guilty about sipping myself!!  Thank you, ZEVIA, for creating a seemingly too-good-to-be-true product into something that just about everyone can consume within their clean-eating lifestyles.  My daughter especially thanks you since I’ve been refusing to buy other sodas.

Addendum to original post:  Thank you to Zevia for sending the 6-pack of soda.  My family enjoyed every last drop!!

It’s True – Truvia is the Healthy Sweetener

May 31, 2009 by  
Filed under Food, Reviews

Truvia - The Natural Sweetener

Truvia - The Natural Sweetener

Two representatives of a new natural sweetener were at my gym the other day. When they found out about my website, they gave me many samples to try. I just used one sample in a Sunday late afternoon fruit salad ~ what a pleasant addition.

As I’ve already revealed in my Shake the Sugar post, sugar is my vice. Before I discovered the benefits of clean eating, Suzy Qs and Twinkies used to be normal staples in my breakfast menus. Naturally, my interest peaked when I was tempted last week to try the Truvia lemonade at the gym. Not only did it taste sweetfully sugarful, but it didn’t waste the couple of hours I just spent upstairs working up a sweat because it contains 0 calories. What’s more, one little packet is equal to two teaspoonfuls of sugar. That means if used as a replacement in recipes, half the amount of Truvia will be needed in comparison to the original amount of sugar.

So what is in Truvia that makes it so tasty yet healthful? Grading Girl did her research and found out Truvia contains three ingredients: Erythritol, Rebiana, and natural sweeteners. Erythritol sounds like a chemical but it is actually a naturally fermented sugar alcohol found in pears and grapes. It’s made by a culture much like making yogurt from milk. It is then filtered, dried, and crystallized into a dry ingredient that is 99% pure. Rebiana is what gives Truvia its sweet taste. It comes from the best part of stevia leaves. What makes Truvia different from other sweeteners is that the other sweeteners are a mixture of components from the Stevia leaves; Truvia is made from the strongest component only, Rebiana. Finally, the natural sweeteners are used “much like salt and pepper is used to taste,” as the Truvia website tells us. This is the only part that has Grading Girl wondering – what exactly are the “natural sweeteners?” This is the smallest portioned ingredient and I’m impressed with the natural way this sweetener is produced, but it would still be satisfying to know exactly every morsel that makes up the final product.

Overall Grading Girl gives Truvia, “Nature’s Perfect Sweetness,” an A- as a quality natural sweetener to use in coffee, lemonade, baked goods, cereal, yogurt, etc. I plan on using the rest of my samples in baked goods and oatmeal, and I can’t wait to get some during my next trip to Whole Foods. Half the amount of Truvia is equal to a full amount of sugar (1/2 cup Truvia = 1 cup sugar).  This means your baked goods will have less sugar and less calories.  Extra credit to Truvia for being non-caloric and having no effect on the glycemic index! This means it’s a safe alternative for diabetics and people trying to lose weight.

Thank you, Truvia, for satisfying this girl’s strong sugar cravings!!  Double thank you for the free samples!!!  I used every last crystal with confidence!

Part Time Cowboy, Full Time Rockstar

May 5, 2009 by  
Filed under Music, Reviews

What makes a person true to himself, truly authentic, is when he takes his passion and acts on it.  It’s when he isn’t trying to be who he thinks others may want him to be but, rather, he expresses himself creatively and freely.   Furthermore, he takes great fulfillment in sharing that expression.  There is an up-and-coming musician who is that person.  With his searing lyrics, soaring vocals, and driving rhythms, the passion is evident.   Strums of an acoustic guitar, harmonica, drums, and piano all stream seamlessly together.  Harmonies lift hairs and bring up gooseflesh. Unexpected chord changes cause you to stop and LISTEN.  Creative accompaniments such as loose change or leg slapping add unique, dimensional elements.  This is what you hear when you listen to the music of Darryl Markette.

Darryl Markette

Darryl’s first release, “Rain on Thee,” on iTunes.  Check out all of his releases!

 

I can’t help but listen to his latest release, “She Wants Love,” over and over. His sound has a part rock, part country, even part bluesy feel that projects what Darryl does best – take a bad situation and pour it out for the world to absorb and commiserate. His songs tell real tales of love and loss, but they’re sung with such passion and commitment that the message becomes more about learning and living than losing.  The songs leave you with something to ponder over rather than something to pine over.

Singers and songwriters are expected to be deep in a cliched caricature of anguish. Somehow, Darryl goes beyond that to a deeper place. Each song is musically individual enough so that he escapes a cookie-cutter oh-woe-is-me sound. “Never Said Goodbye” is a jaunty tribute to his beloved dog, Hunter. “Lost in Time” is an alternative ballad with piano and harmonica tracks that crescendos gradually until it pierces the heart. Completely opposite, “Rockstar” has that sing-along, nothing can stop me now mood everyone can relate to. You hear a crack in his voice in the haunting “Have Faith” as he sings “How do you forget your biggest regret when all you can do is weep.” What makes his music not just good but perfect for soothing the soul is during moments, such as in the “I Keep on Waiting” finale, when the toe-tapping whistling will have you humming for hours afterward.  DMarkette’s music makes your heart sing.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Darryl is tenaciously taking his musical message across the country.  He recently performed at Gold Pan Saloon in Colorado and made his much anticipated Los Angeles debut at Hollywood’s Whisky A Go-Go.  See GG’s post “Part Time Cowboy Full Time Rockstar Rides to L.A. Better yet, visit Darryl Markette’s website,  dmarkette.com, to experience his original music firsthand, sample his covers that include a handful arguably better than the originals, view past concert videos, and find out about upcoming performances.  Example performances include Darryl’s annual event on his birthday, May 5th.  But rather than a birthday celebration, Darryl raises funds to fight breast cancer.  Pinko-de-Mayo, as he cleverly termed it, has proven a ravingly popular success over the past four years.  [See GG’s press releases for details for Pinko de Mayo :   Chicago’s Most Promising Rocker, Darryl Markette, Holds Pinko de Mayo and Chicago’s Hottest Rocker Paints ChiTown Pink for Pinko de Mayo and Darryl Markette Paints ChiTown Pink.] (2012 was his best Pinko yet, with 500+ guests.  His efforts just keep growing!) Darryl’s very last Pinko, Pinko V of 2013, was a very different yet just as successful fest – an outdoor fest – with all proceeds generously going to his countless contributions to the Susan G. Komen foundation.  

A pic I shot of dmarkette @ Pinko 2012

Darryl singing at The BlueBird Cafe in Nashville!! He drove 900 miles and worked his way on stage that night!!

Darryl Markette in Concert

Darryl Markette in Concert

Grading Girl gives Darryl Markette’s music an A+ for touch your heart lyrics, sear your soul vocals, and seduce your ears guitar chords.

And here’s my very favorite cover by Darryl Markette!! I love this . . .

 

Yum Yum Time

April 18, 2009 by  
Filed under Fun, Reviews

Yum Yum Bowls

My first set of Yum Yum Bowls

Feeding my all-things-mini obsession, I purchased my second set of these adorable bowls. Yum Yum Dishes™ measure four ounces, the perfect size for portioning snacks. They come in a set of four, one of each color. In this American “Super Size Me” society, it’s hard to stop munching after one serving, let alone even know how much one serving really is. Many parents purchase these adorable servers for children’s snacks, but they’re perfect for any size person. For instance, fill a bowl with chips and, magic, you have an actual serving instead of the whole bag temptation. Life is too serious for us to take our snacks seriously, so the cheery message at the bottom of the bowl, “Yum Yum Time is over,” is our extra credit for eating healthy portions. Of course, I haven’t only used these for snacks. I serve condiments in them because who wants an ugly ketchup bottle sitting on the table?! One or two of these little guys has been known to sneak on my desk, holding paper clips as well. The price of $22/set is as miniature as the bowls themselves.

Tracy Adler first introduced The Yum Yum Dish™ at her former restaurant, Café on the Square in Asheville, North Carolina. There, she served appetizers and desserts in these adorable bowls to help her customers portion control. Amen! GG wants to know when others will catch on!  I purchased a set of these for my bro and sis-in-law long before my little niece was born.  They loved the bowls for snacking themselves and, as you can see in the picture below, they’re perfect now for feeding the newest member of the family complete meals:

Yum Yum bowls make mealtime fun!!

On a serious side note, Tracy sold her restaurant in preparation to move her family to Atlanta to live closer to a major university hospital.  Her eight year-old son, Elliot, was diagnosed with CMT –  Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.  CMT is one of the most common, incurable neurological disorders that affect 1 in 2,500 people.  Elliot’s nerves are dying beginning with his toes, and there is desperate need for a cure.  To read more about Elliot’s courageous fight against the disease and/or to donate to H.E.L.P., Help Elliot Live Proud, visit his blog at Elliot’s Corner.  Tracy graciously gave Grading Girl one set of Yum Yum dishes for a poetry contest last year.  Check out the winner and deets of that contest here:  GG’s First Giveaway.     Additionally, discover the whole story behind the Yum Yum dishes at www.yumyumdish.com and pick up your own set.  They are worth every penny (and they’re not too many pennies, at that!).

Grading Girl gives these bowls an A for adorableness and practicality, plus bonus points for excellent customer service.  Grading Girl gives Elliot and the Adler family an A+ for their courageousness in fighting CMT!!  My thoughts and prayers go out to the family.

T.L.C. first review!

April 10, 2009 by  
Filed under Fashion, Reviews

First T.L.C. review!

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Body Language Sportswear is my latest workout attire obsession. A self-described gymrat, I arguably wear workout clothes more than street clothes – particularly in the summer; consequently, I’m constantly on the lookout for durable yet stylish sportswear. A couple of weeks ago, I paid a visit to the small but lively Body Language boutique on Cedros and Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks, CA. With the help of the very cheerful co-owner, I spent over an hour trying on nearly half the store and had trouble eliminating. The cuts are feminine enough to wear outside of the gym (sorry guys, they don’t have a men’s line yet) and the patterns are vibrant and rival the usual blacks, blues, and whites usually spotted at the gym. Granted, their prices may be little higher than some lines (full price pants average $80, full price short tops $40) but it is true that one gets what one pays for. They have frequent sales too.  More significantly, Body Language is made with the strong Supplex material that never fades or shrinks. My older pieces still look new a year later when I’ve since literally thrown away my cheaper versions. When all was said and done, I walked out of the boutique armed with eight pieces . . . and I never looked back.

Grading Girl gives Body Language an A+ for unique style and durability!

August 2012 Update:  I am a fan of BL more than ever.  It’s true the items I purchased three years ago are still like new (unlike many of my favorite cotton yoga pants), their pieces are more stand-out noticeable than ever, and the personal customer service is UNBELIEVABLE!!  Stop in and say Hi.  You just might leave with something fashionably fun in your hands.

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