My Adventures with a Standing Desk

by Aubre Andrus on September 4, 2014

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Just about every media outlet has written something about standing desks as of late. Here’s all you need to know: sitting is killing you slowly and people love their standing desks. Once they start, they can’t stop. I am no exception. Here’s what else you need to know: you can hack your own standing desk very easily and cheaply, but make sure you buy an anti-fatigue mat. SRSLY. Ok. Back to my story…

One Monday in April, I was feeling fat so I started researching treadmill desks. I soon realized it was unlikely I would be able to afford one or use one or hack one. So I jerry-rigged the next best thing — a standing desk. With my wedding dress box (for my keyboard), an overturned Target storage bin (for my desktop), and a pile of books (for my trackpad), I managed to create a decent set-up. And I fell in love after four hours.

I didn’t mess around on Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest because I was standing. And if I was standing, I wanted to power through my work so I could get it done and eventually reward myself with the chance to sit. But here was the even more magical part: there was no afternoon slump. I actually felt energized once 5PM rolled around — I worked out, made dinner, did my laundry, and cleaned my entire office after a full day of work. I was hooked. My feet hurt pretty badly that night, but that was my only side effect besides the boundless energy. After a few days, there was still no back pain but my legs and butt were sore from standing so much even with the extra padding from my gym shoes. But overall I felt 100 times better.

Although a standing desk proved to be a game changer, spending $1000+ on a potential fad seemed a bit extreme. I promised myself that I could splurge on an electronic standing desk if I first used a cheaper hacked standing desk every day for three months straight. After some serious online research about the best anti-fatigue mat and how to hack a standing desk with IKEA products and the proper height dimensions for standing desks, I ordered a few supplies:

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Paired with my overturned Target storage bin and my existing desk, this standing desk hack served me well. Because I work from home, I can wear workout clothes and bare feet. Why is this helpful? Because I’m constantly stretching and moving and stepping and tip-toeing and bending and squatting and lunging. I essentially use my desk like a ballet barre. When I want to take a break and sit down, I slide the anti fatigue mat under my desk, ditch the shelf, angle my screen downward, and roll up my chair. With an automated electronic standing desk, I could change from standing to sitting with a push of a button.

Did I end up using a standing desk every day for three months? Nope. This summer I went on a coffee shop rampage because I wanted to get out of the house and enjoy the weather. Sitting at a table at a coffee shop really hurt at first — it was so uncomfortable that I couldn’t last for more than an hour. But don’t worry, I worked hard to keep my ass in that chair and re-instilled the horrible habit of sitting all day. Eventually my back started hurting so badly that continuous yoga classes were the only remedy. I finally realized how stupid I was and went back to the standing desk situation in my office.

Now it’s September and I’m just getting back into the routine. If I last through December, perhaps it will justify a $700 Locus Seat (for quick sitting breaks) and this $500 standing desk. But when you think about it, $1200 is a small price to pay for a healthier body and a more productive career.

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Pretty in Paper Won an Oppenheim Gold Seal Award!

by Aubre Andrus on July 30, 2014

Gold Book 170The Oppenheim Toy Portfolio awarded Pretty in Paper a 2014 Gold Award in the Best Book category! Gold Seal Awards are “given to outstanding new products that enhance the lives of children.” How cool is that? You can read their review of Pretty in Paper here and see the other winners here

If you haven’t heard of the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, it was created by child development experts Joanne and Stephanie Oppenheim (a mother-daughter duo) in 1989 to independently review children’s media. They cover books, toys, audio, and video for infants through tweens. Stephanie is on the TODAY show occasionally, so who knows? Maybe my book will make it on TV one day… 

I’m super excited to be included in the 2014 lineup of products that are great for kids! This is the second time one of my books has won an award (Slumber Wonders won a Silver Honor Award from the California Reading Association) and it’s super flattering.

Buy Pretty in Paper on Amazon.
Buy Pretty in Paper at American Girl.

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photo (1)As a freelancer, the number one question I’m asked is whether or not I get stir crazy working from home. Funny enough, I tend to get cabin fever in the summer not the winter. In the winter, I’m more than happy to avoid a snowy commute and cold temps, but in the summer I want to get out there and join the world. Because of that, I’ve been frequenting coffee shops often lately. Just like the Eater 38 (an updated list of the best restaurants in the city), I want to compose a quarterly list of the best places for freelancers to work from in Chicago. If you know of any great places to work from in Chicago that meet the strict requirements, let me know! I’d love to check them out!

When I go to a coffee shop, I expect a beautiful place where I can do good work. I want to avoid coffee shop disasters. As always, here’s what I’m looking for:

  • Free wi-fi
  • Plentiful outlets
  • Food made in-house
  • Good music
  • Great ambiance
  • Comfortable seating

1. Buzz Killer Espresso (Wicker Park)
Despite the two-hour wi-fi limit (I just grab multiple wi-fi cards from the counter… shhh…) and the fact that there’s no food (I sneak in my own and sit upstairs… shhh…), the lighting in this place can’t be beat. My favorite place to sit is in the upstairs booths — each table has a plug and there’s a bathroom just a few steps away. I love that they leave the windows open so it’s never freezing. There’s also a small outdoor patio overlooking Damen. Oh, and the iced coffee is addicting.

2. Bourgeois Pig (Lincoln Park)
This is a new find for me so now I’m obsessed. It’s an incredibly overpriced sandwich shop (with dishes named after literary characters) on one side, a coffee shop on the other, and it’s all built into an old house with cozy nooks and rooms. I love the upstairs seating on the coffee side and the weird portraits hanging from the wall. Apparently the owner lives above the sandwich side. Old school jazz plays all day and it’s amazing. No limit on the wi-fi despite what the Yelp reviews say. Small outdoor patio.

3. Filter (Wicker Park)
An old reliable. There is a full working kitchen here with legit breakfast and lunch options plus tons of vintage couches, seats, and tables plus plenty of outlets. Filter always has a laid back vibe and there’s no limit on the free wifi. You’ll never be disappointed here — unless you want to sit outside because there is no outdoor seating. Cash only but you can also pay with the Level Up app, which hooks up to your credit card.

4. Heritage Bicycles General Store (Lakeview)
This place is like hipster catnip. Bike store + coffee shop = awesome atmosphere. It feels like a real neighborhood joint where everyone knows each other. I mean, the owner lives upstairs with his family for the love of god. His kid rode through the shop on a little scooter to say goodbye to his dad, which was the cutest thing ever. There aren’t a ton of seats and you’ll likely sit on a stool at a communal table, which could get uncomfortable for extended periods of time. There’s also a small seating area outside overlooking North Lincoln.

5. Alliance Bakery (Wicker Park)
Another neighborhood favorite. Pick up a delish croissant or cronut and iced coffee then head next door to their wifi outpost or sit outside on the patio. The seating area is nothing fancy but it’s quiet and charming and looks onto Division. Because it’s detached from the bakery, you don’t have to listen to loud espresso machines.

In the running:
Lovely: A Bake Shop (Noble Square): Great light, delish food.
Big Shoulders (Noble Square): Decent atmosphere.
The Wormhole (Wicker Park): A little too cool for school.
Dollop (River East): Super tall ceilings, lots of light.
Floriole (Lincoln Park): When the huge front windows are open, it’s great.
Gaslight Coffee Roasters (Logan Square): Seating options aren’t great.
Letizia’s Natural Bakery (Wicker Park): Great food, patio in back.
A Baker’s Tale (Ukrainian Village): Cute place.

Places I want to check out soon:
The Winchester (Ukrainian Village): Open all day, free wifi.
Mindy’s Hot Chocolate (Bucktown): New breakfast service with wi-fi coming soon.
Elaine’s Coffee Call (Lincoln Park): No wifi unless you’re a Hotel Lincoln guest.
Puck’s at Museum of Contemporary Art: Don’t need to pay museum admission.

Non-Coffee Shops with Free Wi-Fi:
Harold Washington Library (South Loop): I love working from the Winter Garden.
Chicago Cultural Center (Loop): Need to test this one out one more time.
Cafecito (South Loop): Best cuban sandwich ever, next to a hostel so there’s always an interesting crowd.
Little Goat (West Loop): I effing love this place and there’s a rooftop now.

The Blacklist:
All Intelligentsia Coffee Shops: I love your coffee, but you have no outlets and terrible seating.
La Colombe Coffee — it’s beautiful but there’s no wifi or food. But there is bubbly water on tap.

Illustration by me, on the Paper app. 

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New Instagram Obsession: @GirlEatWorld

by Aubre Andrus on June 24, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 4.02.15 PMImage via @GirlEatWorld on Instagram

There are many times — mostly on Kickstarter — when I’ve stumbled upon something and I’ve thought, OMG WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT? Or more importantly WHO THOUGHT OF THIS MAGICAL THING AND HOW CAN I BE THEIR FRIEND? This was one of those times. A girl who’s obsessed with food and travel (ahem, sound familiar?) takes photos of her food. But they’re not just regular boring food photos — they are photos of local food in their natural surroundings. DUH. We are soul mates, @GirlEatWorld! Let’s hang out!

As I went through my Instagram, which is filled with boring food photos from around the world — sorry, everyone! — I noticed that I tend to do these slightly-more-interesting food shots too but with drinks and ice cream. I didn’t even realize I was doing it. Here’s my local-drinks-in-natural-settings montage, which features Thailand, Cambodia, China, Italy, Alaska, and Chicago (the Slurpee one obvi). I need to eat a few more ice cream cones before I can make a montage.

If you want to participate in the @GirlEatWorld fun, use the hashtag #WeEatWorld and she might repost your Instagram food pic to her feed.

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Cooking My Way Through Pinterest and Instagram

by Aubre Andrus on June 19, 2014

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I’ve been cooking up a storm lately. Above are just some of the meals I’ve made myself then Instagrammed over the past few weeks. My kitchen binge started when we moved to Chicago last year. I love eating out in this amazing food city but unfortunately it makes me fat. Thank you, Chicago dogs, tacos, and pizza. Someday I will move to a coast where I can eat seafood and I will be skinnier because of it. That day is not right now.

So in order to eat healthier, the home kitchen is where I must stay — at least for most of my meals. The issue is that I’ve been lucky enough to eat really delicious food, which means I have really high expectations for a meal. However, you can’t call me a food snob because I love $1 tacos at the Mexican grocery store down the street much more than I like a $30 meal at a trendy restaurant. But I do get angry if I waste a meal — and calories — on something sucky.

A normal person may dedicate a portion of their day to things like putting together a nice outfit or blowdrying their hair or applying makeup or commuting to work. Well, I work from home so I use ALL of that time to figure out what I’m going to eat next. I figured time spent mastering some delicious dishes was time well spent. I’ve always liked cooking anyway, and I always love an excuse to hit up a farmer’s market.

Now I do not condone Pinterest for finding recipes (because we all know that random blogs are not the best places to find reliable craft directions or recipes), but I do condone Pinterest for organizing recipes. I use Pinterest like a bookmarking site. Whenever I find a good recipe from a trustworthy site, I pin it to my themed boards: breakfast, lunch and dinner, desserts, healthy snacks, slow cooker recipes, party apps, drinks, etc. When it’s time to cook a meal — or for me, when it’s time to make a grocery shopping list for the week — I can pull up my Pinterest and find a ton of inspiration.

I created a Tried and True Recipes board where I pin all the recipes that I’ve tried multiple times. The directions work and they taste good. Try them out!

 

 

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Coffee Shop Disasters and How to Survive Them

by Aubre Andrus on June 13, 2014

DSC_1606Part of the appeal of the freelance life is imagining yourself working happily from a beautiful coffee shop in Paris while you sip a cappuccino and nibble on a croissant on the sunny sidewalk patio of a tree-lined street bustling with interesting people. This does not happen. More often than not you’ll find yourself in a dirty coffee shop with slow wifi, no outlets, and an incredibly annoying New Yorker talking loudly on their phone.

I seek out coffee shops and do extensive research whenever I travel. Finding that one magical coffee shop from which you can work from for a morning or afternoon is HARD. Almost impossible. Why? Well, here are just some of the unforeseen issues and distractions I’ve had to overcome when trying to work from a coffee shop:

  • no food
  • 1 hour parking
  • flies
  • too cold
  • too hot
  • loud, terrible music
  • incredibly slow wifi that disconnects
  • wifi that’s free for only 2 hours
  • no wifi (to encourage CONVERSATION)
  • loud talkers
  • crying babies
  • gossiping mothers
  • crazy people who talk to themselves
  • overpriced drinks
  • no open tables
  • dirty tables
  • extremely uncomfortable chairs
  • assholes on their cellphones
  • extremely loud espresso machines
  • a friendly old man who wants to talk your face off
  • no bathroom (I’m not kidding)

Basically, I’ve come to the conclusion that I can work from a coffee shop for two to three hours and no longer. I also have to bring a back up plan. For example, my iPad so that if my laptop dies because I couldn’t find a plug at least I can respond to some email. Or a Kindle, so if the wifi is terrible I can read a book on writing and still feel like I accomplished some work today. Or a snack so that when I’m starving, I can eat something besides my arm.

If you live in surburbia — and I know there are some exceptions, at least I hope — you likely don’t have a local coffee shop except the green mermaid or [insert another national chain here]. It’s pretty safe to say that these places are totally uninspiring. Oh, but your Starbucks has an outdoor patio? Does it overlook the gas station or the grocery store parking lot? Exactly.

This is why I praise the home office. If you’re serious about being a freelancer of any kind or a solopreneur you need an inspiring home office with reliable wifi, a comfortable traditional desk with an ergonomic chair or a standing desk with an anti-fatigue mat, and good lighting. Coworking spaces are an incredible option, but they can be expensive and unless you live in a big city, it’s unlikely you even have this option.

I feel so lucky to have a home office and live in a city that is bursting with local coffee shops in unique spaces with great drinks, free wifi, and outlets. I frequent these kinds of coffee shops occasionally for a change of scenery and to get some exercise. (It’s impossible to reach 10,000 steps per day when you work from home. Thanks for the kick in the ass, FitBit Flex.) But let me reiterate that I’ve done extensive research via Yelp, Google, and in-person visits regarding which coffee shops are worth my time. Here is my extremely short list of shops I’ll work from in Chicago:

  • Filter Cafe on Milwaukee
  • Alliance Bakery on Division
  • Buzz Killer Espresso on Damen
  • Heritage Bicycles General Store on N. Lincoln

That’s it. Trust me, I’ve tried a lot of them all over the city. There are a couple more that *might* eventually make it onto my list like Big Shoulders on Chicago and Lovely: A Bake Shop on Milwaukee, but right now the list of tried-and-true coffee shops is firm at these four. I’m hoping to grow my list eventually, but that means many more mornings spent with uncomfortable chairs, slow wifi, bad music… you get the picture. For now, you can find me at my home office.

P.S. Speaking of pictures, I took that above photo in Salzburg, Austria not Paris.

 

 

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