Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Why Are Teachers Stagnated, And Why Do We Allow It?

My husband is a teacher, and we have some interesting conversations.  We moved to our school district because it was a high achieving district, and we want the best for our children.  Ironically, when Mister Man went to kindergarten, we sent him to a private school.  Though our district achieves high scores, when we talked to them about what they could do to accommodate Mister Man's needs, they simply looked at me.

It wasn't until we found a school that truly differentiated the education that we found a home for him.  We're in the process of moving Mister Man back to the public school - though not at our home school.  There is a different school that has an amazing principal who focuses on what the students need and can accomplish.  When she saw that many of the students were not just achieving the grade level state goals but exceeding them, she started a program where half the sections of a grade were taught at grade level (those were scored below the 95th percentile on the standardized tests) and half were taught a grade level above (those who scored at or above the 95th percentile).  She's a rarity though.

My husband is getting frustrated, however.  He isn't the only teacher in the district or that we know who doesn't see how the system is going to work.  He fears that he'll simply be laid off for a lower cost teacher due to a teacher rating system that simply measures test scores - something he cannot fully control - now that the old form of tenure is gone in Illinois.

It's very much an us against them mentality that teachers and the public have, and I wonder how much of that plays into the stagnation that many teachers feel - and the low morale that even more teachers have.  The public feels so entitled to getting more for less cost, as they have in so many arenas, but a child's education in the 21st century with so many expectations and requirements that no child fail isn't exactly a 60 inch plasma television that can be made faster and cheaper and better.  Or at the very least, none of us have figured out how to do so, much as we still expect it.  And teachers feel constantly persecuted and responsible for results though so many factors are outside their control.  A once stable job that promised constant raises, job security, and a great pension is no longer that.  The teachers in our district still disagree with the public that their step increases (a pay increase for each year you teach) is a raise.  In the eyes of the public, an increase in salary is a raise, while teachers view it as their due.

I see little trust amongst the parties involved, and no one is willing to blink and take that first step that they fear might be a very long and slippery slope.  The public refuses to pay additional money in the form of taxes for a "free" service without ensuring that there are results for that money.  Yet, how do you truly measure the impact of the education?  Is it reasonable that every student receive an identical education and be expected to attend college to be a "success?"  Is there a way to cost effectively monitor the impact of teachers?  That's the sticking point we're reaching.  And the teachers who went into their careers with one set of expectations now face another.  Tenure is no longer a guarantee of a job.  Standards are increasing, but the public isn't in the classroom, seeing students move in and out of a district and watching as all the efforts they put into teaching are for naught when the parents place little to no value on the education of their children - or expect that they should be given carte blanche because they pay so much in taxes.

In the end, no one wins.  Even in the school both the wee ones now attend, I asked Little Miss's teacher if it was possible that she'd be teaching second grade next year.  "No," she looked back at me, immediately shaking her head.  "I'd never teach in this school again.  The principal makes us do too much training.  She takes us out of the classroom too much, and she requires too much of our time outside the school day.  No other school in the district does that."

Demanding excellence gets us so far.  Instead, we're stagnated.  At the moment, whether my husband takes a class of children who have never achieved state standards and brings them all to a level where they exceed them or whether he simply shows up each day to collect his paycheck, he will get the same salary increase next year.  Is it any wonder that there's an impasse in teacher contract talks?  There's no discussion of a strike - yet - but there is no agreement on a new contract, not just the salary, but all the expectations and non -monetary portions of the contract that matter just as much to everyone involved.

We all have a vested interest, yet no one has the knowledge necessary to truly judge it, and so we remain constantly at odds, no one trusting the other to do what's right for everyone.  And that's where Mission Possible: How the Secrets of the Success Academies Can Work in Any School by Eva Moskowitz and Arin Lavinia comes in.  Eva Moskowitz (who is very active on Twitter - I can't wait to continue the conversation there, and I encourage you to share your thoughts with her on this topic) tried to reform the public schools of New York City from the inside but couldn't gain any traction, so she went the route of establishing charter schools.

Cover of Mission Possible: How the Secrets of the Success Academies Can Work in Any School

As much as she was told no, she never listened.  The book shares many of her strategies to improve both teaching and learning.  I loved seeing how the literacy lessons were presented - a short explanation of why they are relevant and a small lecture before the students put them into practice.  Why was I so excited to see that this was the suggested method?  That's the literacy approach my district implemented beginning this year.  While it's too early to see results in our district, it's encouraging to me to see that it has worked elsewhere.

I'm intrigued that the book comes with a DVD that shows examples of what the learning looks like.  It helps to illustrate exactly how things can be done.  Any idea is great when it's still pie in the sky.  Seeing it in action is how you can replicate it.  It isn't just aimed at teachers, although obviously they are more likely to be able to effect change than parents.  The call for the principal of the school to have the "time, freedom, and skills to be the school's instructional leader."  While Eva Moskowitz and Arin Lavinia agree that there has to be accountability and standards, I appreciate that the focus is on the efficacy of the education and not strictly the test scores.  And that they show how to improve that efficacy.

Every chapter from the second chapter that talks through the "how" of making a school a magical place to the seventh that focuses on writing (just before the conclusion) includes takeaways not just for teachers and principals but for the parents and school reformers, too.  For parents, the authors encourage in one chapter that we get involved with what our students are learning - figure out what they're reading and how fast the teachers wants them to learn what.  And if it isn't fast enough or difficult enough, challenge the schools and teachers and demand better.

Intrigued?  I know I am.  Mission Possible is a book that I plan to share with the principal at the wee ones' school.  She is one who already gets it, and she's helping our district move more in the direction of the success academies.  We aren't there yet, but we're getting there.  In addition to the book I was sent, I have one copy to give away to a reader.  So what do you have to do to win? First of all, let me stress that you must follow all the rules. If you do not follow the rules, your entry will not count!

This contest is open until Tuesday August 14 at 7pm CST. I must have a valid way to reach you, so leave me your email address in your comment or be sure your profile has your email address visible. No duplicate comments will count. This giveaway is open to US residents age 18 and older. Winners will be selected via random.org and must respond within 48 hours of being notified by me or I will select a new winner.

Mandatory Entry: Tell me - What would you change about the US school system?

Bonus Entries (leave a comment for each entry - if you put it all in one comment, I'll count it as one entry):
1) Earn one additional entry for following me on Twitter, then tweeting this contest with the following tweet: "Frustrated with schools? Win "Mission Possible" by @MoskowitzEva w/ ideas on how to improve yours from @honestandtruly http://bit.ly/PkH3iw" (leave a link to your tweet as your comment and make sure you do all the steps!)
2) Earn one additional entry by following this review blog publicly via Google Friend Connect.
3) Earn one additional entry by following my “regular” blog Honest & Truly! publicly via Google Friend Connect.
4) Earn one additional entry by liking Honest & Truly! on Facebook. (Yay, it's legal again, so long as you know you have to leave a comment here to enter and that simply liking me isn't the entry, along with acknowledging the fact that Facebook has nothing to do with this giveaway whatsoever.
5) Earn an additional entry by putting me in your Google Plus circle. Am I already in your G+ circle? No problem - just leave a comment letting me know that you've added me or already have me there.
6) Like Eva Moskowitz's Facebook fan page, and let me know you did.
7) Follow Eva Moskowitz on Twitter, and let me know you did.

Good luck!

In the interest of full disclosure, I was compensated for this campaign, in addition to receiving a copy of "Mission Possible" for review. That said, as always, all opinions expressed remain my own.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

School Supply Donation: #BagItForward with Elmer's and #CBias

I love doing nice things for people, especially when it's easy (hey, don't we all like things that are easy?) and when they don't cost too much money.  The #BagItForward campaign sponsored by Elmer's combines not only that but the opportunity to get the wee ones involved.

I realized only now that I haven't (yet) blogged about the end of the school year for Mister Man.  After many of the challenges he faced at his school, we chose to pull him from the Catholic school and enroll him at the public school Little Miss attends.  There were many reasons for that - and trust me, I'll post about them at some point - but we were a little nervous about what his experience would be like.

Before the end of the first day, we were fully relieved.  Mrs. J, his new teacher, was so welcoming of Mister Man, and she sent me two unsolicited emails during the day to reassure me on well he was adjusting and how happy she was to have him as a part of her class.  The rest of the year was better than we ever could have imagined, and my husband and I are kicking ourselves for not having moved Mister Man earlier.

We are so grateful for all she did to help Mister Man - and we jumped on the chance for supporting our teachers.  When we started, Mrs. J refused to let us provide any school supplies; she would give him what was needed.  This school provides all the supplies the students need after parents pay a flat fee at the beginning of the year, but by the end, many of the supplies are low or running out.  How fun for us to be able to give "extras" of quality school supplies (because why give something that won't be useful?) that she can dip into over the next school year?

Even better, school supplies are on sale right now during back to school season, making this the perfect time to collect our donation for Mrs. J.  I put Mister Man in charge of what was needed, and we headed to WalMart to purchase items to Bag It Forward for Mrs. J.

Ready to shop for donations at Walmart

When I told Mister Man he was in charge of the shopping list and what we were planning to do for Mrs. J, he was over the moon.  It was amazing to me to watch him get so excited about the ability to help someone else.  We've done charitable work in the past, but it never fails to surprise me how much the wee ones love doing it.  Mister Man carefully wrote out a list of the items that Mrs. J most frequently used and that were running low by the end of the year.  It was too cute how he told me that Mrs. J only uses glue sticks because they are less messy but also that they have to be Elmer's to ensure that they work the best.

Only the best quality school supplies for #BagItForward

In the store was no different.  Mister Man carefully selected the best items that he thought Mrs. J would appreciate.  Wherever he could, he calculated how many items he would need to ensure that every student would be able to have one.  I thought it was neat that we could use this as a math lesson for Mister Man to figure out which options were the cheapest (do we buy a 6 pack of Elmer's glue for $1.97 or the 2 pack for $0.50?) and how many we could afford to purchase.  He carefully noted the prices of each item and how much we were spending ($1.94 on two packs of markers) on his shopping list and then crossed off each item as it went into the cart.

Gathering quality school supplies donation turns into a math lesson

Once home, Mister Man wrote Mrs. J a note to share what we was doing and how grateful he that he had her as a teacher at the end of the year.

A #BagItForward donation needs a note of explanation - and thanks!

It wasn't expensive to purchase a ton of quality school supplies for her classroom.  For 3 packs of pencils, 13 2-packs of glue, 1 package of erasers, 2 packs of dry erase markers, 3 packs of crayons, 2 packs of markers, and 4 pairs of scissors, we spent just over $20.  How easy is that?  I can only imagine the smile on Mrs. J's face when we present her with all the supplies.

Because this is a gift, we decided to make it look nice.  I found a pretty basket with my supplies in the basement, and Mister Man set to work to make everything fit nicely in there.  I let him run the show and arrange it how he wanted.  It makes me giggle sometimes to see how much my son he is.  He had to take each item from the bag and lay it in order on the floor before putting them neatly into the basket.

My child is as organized as I am - all the items have to be laid in order on the floor first

I was a little concerned that Mister Man would simply toss the school supplies willy nilly into the basket to be done with it.  I should have known better.  Instead, he worked the basket like a puzzle to ensure that every back to school item we had purchased would fit nicely into the basket.

Somehow, all our school supplies managed to fit into one basket!

Once he finished, Mister Man just had the biggest grin on his face.  He loved that he was able to make a difference so easily.  And that's the point.  It really is easy.  How many teachers and students do you know who would appreciate a donation of quality school supplies?  Something always runs out or is forgotten.  And with back to school sales on right now, it's the perfect time to add a little something extra when you go shopping for your school supplies.

And what better was to get ready for the first day of school?  Oh, wait.  There's another way to get ready for that momentous occasion.  Elmer's has created the 1st Day app (and website) that is designed for parents and teachers to capture and share the milestones and other "firsts" for their children.  Unlike programs such as Instagram, it's focused just on parents and the photos are shared much more narrowly. You can create custom keepsakes with quotes or captions to help you remember why those moments were so special, too.

My favorite part, however?  For every photo uploaded via the 1st Day app, Elmer's will donate a product to the Kids In Need Foundation, up to 200,000 products.  What a neat way to capture those memories and for teachers to be able to share with parents what they're doing in the classroom to journal the year!

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of the Collective Bias(tm) Social Fabric(r) Community.  This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias(tm) and Elmer's, and all opinions remain my own.  #CBias #SocialFabric #BagItForward

Friday, July 13, 2012

Celebrate National Ice Cream Day With #TCBYGrocery #CBias

It is hot in Chicago.  And humid.  So what do we do to keep cool (and sane) during the summer?  My friends and I spend as much time in the pool as possible, both the community pool where we belong and at the pools friends own.  I just found out about National Ice Cream Day (yep, seriously) on the third Sunday in July each year.  That's this Sunday, July 15, so  you still have time to get your ice cream to celebrate.

My friends and I held a little pool party with #TCBYGrocery frozen yogurt a little early to ensure we managed to take part in this holiday thanks to #CBias.  Since my family is out of town on an RV trip and left me by myself, we decided to make this a party just for a the adults.  Or we tried, anyway.

My first step was to pick up some of the TCBY frozen novelties.  I've had them before, and I absolutely adore the orange and vanilla bars.  It took me a little doing, but I managed to find some.  You can read all about my shopping trip at Walmart via Google+, but I'll admit here and now that those three boxes of the orange and vanilla bars weren't all for my friends.  I only shared one box with them.  The other two are purely for me!

1 box for friends; 2 boxes for me - I love these!

And yes, I actually went to two different WalMarts to get to my frozen yogurt.  Not every Walmart carries the TCBY frozen yogurt, and I learned the hard way that not every Walmart carries the same varieties of frozen novelties.  Fortunately, I found which location near me sells my favorite kind, although I'm going to have a little chat with the other Walmart manager to see if they can start carrying the orange and vanilla bars, too!

Only a few flavors are sold at each location - so far!

Once I was all set, I headed over to my friend's house.  She loved the idea of an adults only pool party.  When we head over there, it's usually for a playdate with kids.  She and I (and other friends) may sit near the pool, but our conversations are short and scattered.  We're focused on our children and what they're doing in the pool, trying to keep them safe and from annoying the other children.  It's not restful or relaxing.

And spending the day at the pool should be relaxing.  Doesn't just looking at this view lower your blood pressure?

Clear day with a gorgeous pool

My friend Maria invited our friend Johna to join us.  The three of us all have special needs children, so it seems like we're always on.  If anyone needs a break, it's us, right?  So we took a break from the work, and before the pool party got started, we enlisted a pool boy to do the work of prepping the pool.  Tell me this isn't the cutest pool boy you've ever seen!

We had the cutest pool boy ever - my friend's son

This party to celebrate National Ice Cream Day was designed to be all about us.  We used a tablecloth, something we never do when there are children involved.  And we brought out the wine.

Strawberry wine on a hot day with friends - perfection

We spent the afternoon chatting and giggling, like we used to before kids.

Pretending we're still young and single

Sitting by the pool, dangling our feet in the water just isn't enough when it's truly hot in Chicago.  Our heat index is up near 100 again, and it's miserable.  We need to stay cool inside and out.  As lovely as the water was, it just wasn't quite enough.

We have gorgeous feet, but sitting by the pool isn't enough

We drank some wine, and when we got hot... we brought out the TCBY frozen yogurt.

We had a great selection of frozen novelties for our pool party

We had plenty to choose from, and interestingly, each of us chose something different.  Johna had the chocolate fudge bar.  She's the chocolate lover in the group.  Maria tried out the orange and vanilla bar on my recommendation.  And I had an ice cream sandwich.  It's amazing how frozen yogurt novelties brings out the child in us.  We haven't laughed this much or felt this relaxed in I can't tell you how long.

We took a break from talking to take a bite of our frozen yogurt novelties

Maria agreed with me that the orange and vanilla bar was amazing.  It tastes just like a dreamsicle, but it has far fewer calories.  110 calories is the kind of treat we like.  It's creamy and orange-y and In fact, when I left Maria's house, she begged me to leave some treats behind.  I graciously agreed because well I had my own stash back at home, remember?

Ice cream brings out the kid in all of us

And yes, there was plenty of teasing involved.  I was told that apparently I was trying to "class up the joint" because I am unable to eat my ice cream without my pinky raised - just as if I were having tea with the Queen of England.  I had no idea until they took this picture and gave me the photographic proof.  It looks like I'm just that kind of gal.  Errr lady.

Ice cream is classy, and I prove it

We had a blast.  We don't do this often because we forget that we have lives outside our children, too.  This was a good reminder, and we have vowed to do it more often.  And the ice cream?  It's a bonus that we're going to include.  All our children have various dietary restrictions, though I'm lucky to have the fewest issues, so we don't eat like this often.  The next time we get together, we're making sure we have more.  In fact, I think those waffle bowls and the English Toffee Crunch with this whipped cream we didn't eat yesterday has been requested for the next party.  Well, if there's any left, that is!

Want to chat about #TCBYGrocery and possibly win some prizes?  There's a Twitter chat on Thursday, July 26 from 1-2pm EST.  Join in!

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of the Collective Bias™ Social Fabric® Community. This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias™ and TCBY, and all opinions remain my own. #CBias #SocialFabric #TCBYGrocery

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Shutterfly Long Live Summer Facebook Contest

I've posted about my family's RV trip - you know, the one they're taking without me?  I sent the wee ones with their digital cameras, and they tell me that they're taking a ton of really great pictures.  And so am I.  I had a blast capturing Mister Man walking in his first Fourth of July Parade.  Little Miss is memorialized climbing super high the tree growing in our front yard.  They're both captured splashing around and having a blast with friends in the pool.

I'm horrible at actually printing out my photos and putting them in albums.  Forget having done it in the past year, I not only haven't done it since before the wee ones were born, I haven't done it since before my husband and I were married.  Fortunately, we can share our photos in other ways now - and I do.

Shutterfly is running a contest now through August 12 where you can win all sorts of prizes from the grand prize of a trip for four to the Bahamas with a professional photo shoot to weekly prizes.  You even get an instant win prize just for submitting your photo.

Each week has a different theme.  Just upload your favorite photo that fits the theme and caption.  The themes?
Week 1: Americana (7/9)
Week 2: Great Outdoors (7/16)
Week 3: Water Fun (7/23)
Week 4: Sports & Activities (7/30)
Week 5: Parties & Celebrations (8/6)

You can enter once per week, and each week five photos will be featured on the Facebook fan page and awarded a $500 gift card on Shutterfly, in addition to the new Lonely Planet travel photography book.

So what do you say?  Long live summer!

Don't forget to take a look at the official rules of Shutterfly's Long Live Summer contest.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a free photobook from Shutterfly in exchange for posting about this contest.  I was not compensated, and all opinions remain my own.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Review: OMango Restaurant in Aurora

I adore Indian food.  I used to work in an industry where the majority of my colleagues were Indian males, and we ate plenty of it with them.  Even more fun was one of the wives who offered cooking classes once a month.  I loved attending them and learning to make chicken briyani and palek paneer and other tasty treats her mother taught her.

There isn't much good Indian by me, as this hasn't become - yet - a trendy ethnic food yet.  OMango in Aurora is working to change that.  It's a fast casual Indian restaurant that offers both north and south Indian dishes, along with a some creative inspirations.  Chef Anne came from Alinea, as well as other great restaurants, and the quality she learned there isn't one you usually see at a fast casual restaurant.

The restaurant is decorated in bright bold colors, something visually stunning, and it includes the Indian symbols of welcome painted on the back wall.  The kitchen is open, something that I love because I enjoy watching food being made, but it also is a sign that the restaurant has nothing to hide and is proud of what they make.  And yes, that includes the naan they make in their tandoor ovens, a skill I watched and am certain that I could never learn.

OMango restaurant in Aurora

We started out with a mango lassi, a flavored yogurt drink that I adore.  I could drink this daily.  It is thick and just a teeny bit tart, with the taste of real mangoes.  I was tempted to order another one to take for my drive home, but I was too stuffed.

OMango in Aurora

We sampled a number of tasty treats from the naan sticks to chicken tikka to wraps.  The naan sticks are not strictly traditional, as they are shaped like breadsticks with a hole through the center where paneer (and Indian cheese) is stuffed and come with makhani dipping sauce, a wonderfully rich tomato based sauce.  Our other appetizer was the samosas, a potato and pea stuffed triangle.  I've always seen them fried in the past, but these are baked instead, making them far more healthy. And they were delicious with the tamarind sauce, adding a sweet flavor to the savory spice bursting from these pockets.

We tasted several of the curries, as well.  The saag paneer is a spinach and greens puree with chunks of Indian cheese.  It was not at all spicy and a great tradeoff for my tastebuds.  It wasn't my favorite dish, but I prefer my foods to be spicy and full of flavor.  My personal favorite was the chicken makhani, a yogurt marinated chicken served in that same rich sauce that came with the naan.

The chicken from the tandoor oven was just as awesome.  The chicken tikka is the chicken that is served in the makhani sauce, and it was just as good without the curry.  The sauces to dip were great.  There was a house made sriracha to heat up any dish, a cool cilantro mint, and a yogurt raita, amongst others.  The chicken is delightfully tender and moist, something you don't often find in quick serve restaurants.  The chicken hariyali is marinated in spinach, mint, lemon and yogurt and has such a delightful sweet and flavorful medley.  It is one even those who aren't spinach fans can enjoy, as it isn't overpowering and doesn't have the spinach texture that the wee ones wont eat.

We also sampled two of the wraps, something that again isn't a strictly traditional Indian dish but helps to make the food a little more approachable by putting it in a more familiar form.  The paratha flatbread is made of whole wheat and contains the filling of your choice.  The mango coconut shrimp was delightful.  The shrimp was cooked perfectly after having been marinated in lemon tumeric and garlic.  It was flavorful without being spicy, and the mango coconut sauce with crunchy veggies provided the perfect complement.  We also enjoyed the chicken keema, a marinated chicken with onions, tomatoes, peas, and more.  Again, this wasn't overly spicy but had a robust burst of flavors that was less sweet than the shrimp.  I appreciated that the wraps had flavor and texture but didn't overwhelm the fillings.
Shrimp wraps at an Indian restaurant

As I was talking to owner Karen, I mentioned that I love Indian food and was pretty sure I was going to head home and make some briyani - one of my favorite dishes to cook.  OMango also offers briyani in both a veggie and a chicken option.  She brought out some chicken briyani, and my tummy was happy again.  It was spicier than the one I make, but it was delicious and rich and full bodied.  Unlike mine, it contains no cashews, but that is by design.  More on their dietary focus shortly.

Our dessert was a soft serve mango ice cream.  This was the only dish that I didn't finish.  Yes, I honestly ate that much because it was so good.  The ice cream doesn't use the fresh or pureed mangoes that the rest of the menu does.  It comes from a base that a distributor provides, and my overly sensitive palate could taste a chemical undertone to it, but I was the only one in the group who did.  Everyone else thoroughly enjoyed it.  I'd rather have a second mango lassi as my dessert!

OMango is working to do more than just make Indian approachable to those who may not be as familiar or comfortable eating it - though there is a very strong Indian clientele at the restaurant, attesting to its authenticity.  They are aware of the many dietary concerns and restrictions that many people have.  Many items are vegan, and they offer gluten free items, as well.  That means that my dairy allergy child can eat there, and I feel comfortable with her doing so.  They don't put the cashews in the briyani so that they can make things easier for those with nut allergies, as well.  Currently, the cashier has to find a manager to help share what on the menu those with dietary restrictions can eat (although vegan items are noted on the menu), but they are working to put together an allergen menu that clearly labels what those with common allergens can safely order.  Hats off to them for this effort.

Currently, OMango is only located in Aurora, although I'm working to convince them that they need to open a location near me.  I have my fingers crossed that the concept will be successful and require expansion.  The food was delicious and fresh, and the quality was surprisingly high for a restaurant where I could go for lunch or dinner and not spend even $10.  That's impressive, especially when you consider that they use Amish chicken that is vegetarian fed and free range.  So when are you heading there?

In the interest of full disclosure, I attended an event at OMango in Aurora, but I was not asked to write about it.  I was not compensated, and all opinions remain my own.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Review: Earth Footwear

Back in the middle of March, I got an email asking if I was interested in reviewing Earth Footwear. Since at the time it was 80 degrees and I hadn't bought any new shoes for the suddenly summer-like weather, I jumped all over it.  They have a ton of shoes that are both trendy and designed to be comfortable, perfect for showing off my newly pedicured toes.

I excitedly took to Twitter to ask a couple fashion forward friends their opinions of the pair I was trying to choose.  Thanks to Emily, I finally narrowed it down to the Paprika and the Tobasco.  A few weeks later, the Paprika shoes showed up at my house.

Stylish Summer Sandal

I was pleased to see how they were packaged.  There was cardboard holding the shoe's shape so that it would fit nicely once it arrived.  As much as I liked the look of the shoe online, I was even more happy with it once it arrived.  The leather was soft and gorgeous, and though it has a small heel, the shoes are extremely comfortable and well padded, including reinforced arch support.

The goal behind Earth Footwear is to make contemporary looking shoes that are comfortable and supportive for a variety of needs.  They all include a cushioned footbed, whether you're looking for dress shoes at work or something casual for hanging out.  And it looked like they had succeeded.

You won't hurt your heel with these shoes

One other thing I really liked about the shoe is that it didn't require me to buckle and unbuckle the shoes every time I took them on and off.  Instead, there's a nifty zipper that has a lining to protect your foot from the zipper.  I thought that was an inspired piece of design.  On my right shoe, it worked beautifully, but my left shoe stuck somewhat and required quite a bit of effort to get over a hump in the middle - that was to be telling, later.

I put them on to test them out in the house, but unfortunately that gorgeous summer weather had long since disappeared, and these shoes require warm weather to be worn - which is part of the reason this review is so long in coming.  I didn't want to give only a partial review so waited for weather to warm again.

As I walked around the house, the shoes were comfortable, but a little loose.  That buckle on the shoe?  Although I didn't need to use it to put the shoes on and off, it was still functional.  I was able to tighten and loosen it until it was perfectly comfortable on both ankles.  And apparently I don't - yet - have cankles and needed to tighten the sandals.

And then I waited.  And waited.  And waited for the weather to warm up...

It finally did in the middle of May, and I happily put my sandals on and wore them for the day.  The zipper stuck again, though not as much, on my left shoe.  Where that bump was wore on my left heel, though my right foot was fine - leading me to believe it was an issue with my individual shoe and not anything with the design of the shoe.  I was also pretty sure that the shoes just needed to be broken in a little and didn't want to ding Earth Footwear quite yet.  Unfortunately, I ended up wearing the sandals the next day where I walked to and from a mani/pedi, well over a mile.  I had thought the Band-Aid I applied would solve everything, but it feel off and ... I wasn't able to wear the sandals for awhile.  That said, this was my fault.

Once my heel healed, I again attempted the shoes.  And yes, they were well broken in.  After a test run around my 'hood, I wore the sandals to Type A in Charlotte where I received a number of compliments on my fancy sandals.  I wore them for two solid days in Charlotte in the conference and walking to and from dinner.  They were supremely comfortable, and I didn't have so much as a scratch on my heel.

As for the comfort, I was on my feet the majority of the day there, and they didn't ache at all.  The padding and arch support was awesome and definitely needed.  When I danced the night away, I kept my sandals on - unlike the majority of women who had to discard their footwear.

In my mind, it cemented that I had one sandal with a small manufacturing issue that was unlikely to be common.  The sandals were gorgeous, and I continue to get compliments on them.  The fact that they're comfortable and I can wear them all day long is necessary given who I am.  I'm sold.  Though the Earth Footwear shoes aren't cheap - my Paprika sandals cost $89 - they were worth it. I'm currently browsing the catalogue to see what will be next.  What do you think about the Bonsai?

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a pair of Paprika sandals from Earth Footwear for the purposes of this review.  I was not compensated, and all opinions remain my own.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

I Know Someone Who Deserves A Good Call

You know how sometimes you meet someone and go, "Wow.  I can't believe she (or he) does that!"  I did last weekend when I was at Ribfest in Naperville.  I thought I knew most of the bloggers in Chicago, but I'd never met Laura from Mom Mart before that event.

Laura at Ribfest with yummies from the #GrillingIsHappiness chefs

Laura is a local blogger who is (currently) mom to two absolutely adorable boys.  She just moved and is brutally attacking those boxes room by room, far more efficiently than I ever did.  And I didn't have two small boys who wanted my attention while I was trying to unpack.

Not only did Laura just move - the day before she had a huge event to cover - but she moved into the same neighborhood as her mom and mother-in-law.  Personally, I'd be shuddering living that close to that much of my family, but she has a great relationship with both of them and has figured out how to happily balance having them that close and still maintaining control over her family.  If that isn't a skill that needs to be bottled, I don't know what that is.  I think it's awesome that she's going to BlogHer for the first time - with both her parents as a vacation.

On top of that, Laura's a great blogger who has an awesome style - especially the part about cooking and being interested in so many of the same foods that I do.  I love finding people who eat a sandwich and enjoy it, then go home and reconstruct it so they can make it themselves.

Oh, and did I mention that Laura is a hoot?  She's funny and sweet and open and sharing.  And she's busy as all get out.  I'm thinking she deserves a little something special, and I have the opportunity to do something nice for her - maybe.  Beyond just posting that she's a really super sweet awesome person, I am MOMinating (get it?) Laura for the #GoodCall campaign with Collective Bias.

What does that mean?  In exchange for being such an awesome person to hang with, being my lackey holding everything I couldn't carry at one time while I moved things around in my purse or changed lenses on my camera, and taking pictures of me, I'd love to give her something to make her life a little easier - just like she already did for me.

Good Call has an iG1 iPhone Docking Station with Handset that helps those of us who have gotten rid of our landlines enable our bluetooth enabled phones to act more like landline phones of the past.  They have a handset that you can answer - which minimizes small children walking around with phones and losing them (not that this has ever happened to me, nor I imagine will it ever happen to Laura).  It charges your iPhone while you have it sitting in the docking station, and with the iPhone it also still gives you the CallerID I know I can't live without.

Wouldn't that be an awesome pick-me-up for a mom who goes above and beyond for family, friends, and her work?  Send her some good juju and cross your fingers that she is chosen to receive one of the ten that Collective Bias is giving away to members.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of the Collective Bias™ Social Fabric® Community. This content was created for Collective Bias™™ and GoFusion, but is a non-compensated post. As always, all opinions expressed remain my own. #CBias #SocialFabric

Monday, July 2, 2012

Naperville's Ribfest with Ty Pennington and #CBias

So do you know where I was on Saturday?  What?  You don't have my schedule memorized?  I was at Ribfest in Naperville.  It's a local Chicago event that I've heard about for years but just never made it to before.  I mean, c'mon, Ribfest.  What a great way to celebrate summer, and I had the delight of spending the majority of my time in the Sears #GrillingIsHappiness tent with their celebrity demonstrations from Ty Pennington, Robyn Landars, George Hirsch, and Perry Perkins.

Ribfest in Naperville

Personally, I love to grill, and we do it year 'round.  At the pre-event reception on Friday night, one of the Sears folks said something about how they don't want to be there just for the sale of the grill and outdoor living items for the four months we can grill in Chicago, but developing a relationship via #GrillingIsHappiness.  I love almost all that idea - except that part about grilling only four months a year in Chicago.  In our house, we grill all year, and that includes shoveling a walkway to the grill in February!

But Sears is doing it right with the Grilling Is Happiness website.  The four celebrities we got to hang with on Friday and Saturday - who were beyond nice - aren't the only contributors.  The site is filled with constantly updated information on decorating and bbq parties and recipes and everything you need to spend your summer in your outdoor kitchen from all sorts of experts.

Ty Pennington

Ribfest itself was a hoot.  I had a great time hanging with Laura from Mom Mart, another blogger attending.  This is is one of the great Chicago annual events, and there was far more than just ribs there.  The Steve Miller Band played on Friday night - and all concerts are included in the admission - and there was also Joe Walsh and ZZ Top, amongst others.  And just like any other festival, Laura and I found all sorts of other vendors, from the rubber chicken Laura managed to have fly into a grill to every newspaper in Chicagoland to the usual carnival rides and games.  I felt mildly guilty that I hadn't brought the wee ones when I saw the children's area - children 11 and younger are free - but then I remembered how hot it was, and I was ok again.

The carnival games make me giggle as always.  It was fun to watch other people play - neither Laura nor I had any interest in lugging around a prize for the rest of the day - and they were definitely having fun.  Our emcee in the Sears #GrillingIsHappiness tent, Alex, had no such issues and came back from the carnival tent with a giant stuffed husky.  He admitted that he'd beaten out six kids at Whack-A-Mole for it, though he claimed not to have known he was playing kids because they were on the other side.  It made us giggle, and that's what carnivals are for, right?

shooting a basketball

I loved the whole atmosphere of the day.  It was far too hot to eat much of anything, but I made sure to have a few ribs.  As I was on my way out for the day, I found a woman who had the right idea.  A vendor somewhere was selling watermelon or strawberry smoothies - or strawberry daiquiris - in a hollowed out watermelon.  I wish that I'd found it earlier, but I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed my own lemonade(s).  Tell me that isn't one of the coolest things you've ever seen.

Watermelon smoothie

At the actual Ribfest tent, I had a blast.  Of the hours I was at Ribfest, I spent the vast majority of my time hanging out there - and not only because it had shade.  The four chefs each had a demonstration that provided all sorts of neat tips - many of which I recapped in a Google+ album about my Ribfest experience.  When they weren't cooking, they were a hoot.  I loved having a little "behind the scenes" time with them where I could chat with them and see what they were doing to prep their food - extra tips for me!

Candid Ribfest shot

This was such a neat experience, and I got so many great tips.  The whole event was a big draw for me, and I love that this is something local to me.  The big draw for most people, however, appeared to be Ty Pennington.  Ty was at the Sears #GrillingIsHappiness Tent on Saturday with us, and oh did the people line up for their photos with him!  He was so gracious to everyone, which was great.  One lucky person even had the opportunity to grill with him, and yes, Sears gave away grills and other great prizes, too.  We all had to get our photos taken with Ty of course.  Proof that he's a good guy?  When the fan next to us kept blowing my hair into my face,  Ty took care of it - he was my fan blocker with his hand!

Sweaty Ty Pennington
Yes, that is sweat on his shirt.  He had promised to wear shorts, but then didn't.  He regretted it.
The best part of the whole experience is that is isn't over.  Ribfest goes through Tuesday night where they'll have what I've been told are awesome fireworks to close it down.  I'm tempted to go back again this year, but I know no matter what I'll be back again another year.  I just hope it's a little bit cooler so I can try out some more ribs!  Unfortunately, when the winners were announced on Sunday, the ribs Laura and I tried didn't win best ribs or best sauce.  But we were happy with them anyway.  So who's heading to Ribfest with me next year?

Ribfest fibs

Before I forget, I have a winner to announce, too!  In my Father's Day Grilling post, I had a grill tool set to give away from Sears.  Thank you to everyone who entered, but congratulations go to Debi Jackson who was the winner as chosen by Random.org!

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of the Collective Bias™ Social Fabric® Community.  This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias™ and Sears.  As always, all opinions expressed remain my own. #CBias #SocialFabric