Standing Desk

There’s growing research that suggests that sitting down all day is bad for you so in a bid to live longer and see my sons growing up I’ve built a standing desk. Here’s how to build a standing desk for under £20.

A home made standing desk for under £20

A home made standing desk for under £20

Since using standing desks at work I’ve seen most of my back pain disappear so I thought I’d try it at home also.

Standing all day though comes with it’s own set of aches and pains though, so I’ve tried to seek a balance.

At home I’ve built my own standing desk for just £16.

Buy a coffee table?

Simply buy a coffee table from Ikea (or other furniture shop) and stand it on your desk. Sounds too good to be true right? But it worked for me and it looks ok.

I got the inspiration for a standing desk from this blog about using an Ikea coffee table. Their solution is a little bit fancier than mine though.

I used the Lack Coffee Table from Ikea.

My current desk is a length of kitchen worktop that I re-used when I stripped our kitchen a few years back.

I built the flat-packed coffee table, stood it on my desk and created a standing desk.

I was aiming to have my hands just below my elbows when typing as this is most comfortable for me when using a standing desk. As it happened it was pretty much perfect out of the box but you may need to experiment by adding and removing length from the coffee table legs. Measure twice and cut once :)

The keen eyed amongst you will notice that on my standing desk I have a MacMini and that the desk is permanent. This means I cannot sit down to work at home without re-arrange the screen or using my laptop – thank goodness for Dropbox and Evernote.

In the future I may take the plunge and invest in a Varidesk (aff)  which is what I use at work.

It’s expensive but it means you can adjust between sitting and standing simply.

If you have a small budget then why not consider the coffee table on your desk idea?

This post contains affiliate links (aff) – for more on affiliate links see my Cookie Policy page.
Rick Stein

This year we chose to head to Padstow, Cornwall, for our summer holiday and whilst there I spent an evening with Rick Stein.

Padstow is often referred to a PadStein given that the chef Rick Stein has made Padstow famous. Rick has several restaurants in Padstow along with a cookery school.

I joked with my wife that I would tweet Rick Stein and see about meeting up for a beer. She laughed.

I then checked out his website and noticed that he would be in Padstow that week doing “An Evening With Rick Stein” event. Fate.

Rick Stein

Rick Stein


So I took the plunge and spent a reasonable sum of money of buying a ticket.

Rick Stein is one of my food heroes. I love cooking and I love food but I don’t watch many cookery programs. I find them boring when it’s just the chef cooking a dish in their trendy kitchen, or their garden, or whatever. But I do love watching shows when the chef heads out in to the world and explores different cultures and cuisines. Rick Stein’s later shows are about travel and culture, and that appeals to me. He marries travel, culture, other people’s lives and food together.

Rick himself has a laid back approach to cooking where the eating and socialising is as important as the food. He makes mistakes and is a little clumsy – he’s human, and his dishes are not too ponsy for my roots. I like this natural approach.

So when I got the chance to have an evening with Rick Stein and meet my food hero I jumped at it.

And he did not disappoint.

I rocked up early and got a seat right at the front.

Rick Stein preparing a salmon dish - Page 99 of his new book

Rick Stein preparing a salmon dish – Page 99 of his new book

Rick and his personal assistant pitched up and some of his chefs were mingling around helping to prepare some of the food.

Rick spent the evening talking and cooking three dishes from his new book – Fish and Shellfish. He told some wonderful stories and got on his soap box a few times. All good stuff. He’s a good presenter and has a natural way of engaging with an audience.

Members of Rick’s team were serving some amazing wine and his chefs were in the back cooking individual portions of the food for each guest to eat.

It was a fabulous evening and something I’m pleased to have done. It was an expensive few hours but it’s a memory I’ll hold on to for a long time.

The great news is that he’s going to be opening a new restaurant in Winchester, Hampshire in late October 2014. My home city – great.

The evening was of course a chance to promote his new book – Fish and Shellfish – which I have bought. I’ve already cooked the hake dish he prepared on the night. Simple, but amazing – my family enjoyed that dish.

The book is great. It’s got lots of information about buying and preparing fish, as well as loads of great recipes.

On the evening he cooked Sliced Salmon with ponzu and pink grapefruit (page 199), then hot and sour squid salad (page 249) and finally grilled hake with mash (page 142).

The Hot and Sour Squid Salad - Page 249

The Hot and Sour Squid Salad – Page 249

You can buy the book on Amazon…for a lot less than I paid on the night :)

Wine List
I’m not a fan of white wine normally and out of the three I only really tasted a decent amount of the first one which was The Crossings Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013 from NewZealand. It was beautiful. Really crisp and refreshing.

Me and Rick Stein :)

Me and Rick Stein :)

 

Rick Stein fielding questions

Rick Stein fielding questions

Links in this post are affiliate links to Amazon. It costs you no more to buy through an affiliate link but I do get a small percentage of any sales to help keep this site going.

Fitbit graphs

I’ve spent a year with the Fitbit Flex and I’m mightily impressed despite some little irritations.

Fitbit versus Omron

As a numbers geek I inevitably set out to see how accurate the Fitbit Flex was compared to my trusty old Omron pocketable pedometer.
At first there were some marked differences in steps with the Fitbit Flex suggesting I’d done more steps than the Omron.
After a week or so it settled down and they were within about 5% of each other. I soon stopped using the Omron and settled on the Fitbit Flex.

The Fitbit Flex

The Fitbit Flex

Comfort
The Fitbit Flex is really comfortable to wear.

I don’t shower with it on and often don’t wear it at night but all day it sticks to my wrist. Here’s a picture of it on my arm as evidence :)

I’ve not yet had it fall off and it’s uber comfortable. I’ve had no problems with rashes, itching or other nasties like other users. In fact most of the time I forget it’s there.

Silent Alarm
The feature that I really like is the silent alarm where the Fitbit vibrates with no sound. I use it to wake me up or simply remind of things I need to do like take my anti-biotics or get up and go for a walk :)

It’s a great feature.

Steps and Dashboard
If you double tap the Fitbit is indicates, using flashing lights, how many steps you’ve done.

The flashing lights offer some indications as to how many steps you’ve done against your goal. If your goal is to do 10,000 steps, for example, then each flashing light (5 of them in total) would be around 2,000 steps. It’s a rough indicator but useful for a quick snapshot of how I’m getting on.

Fitbit graphs

Fitbit graphs

I don’t really use the online app and instead rely on the Android version on my phone. It’s awesome and it’s super easy to see a lot of interesting information. The phone app has everything I need it to do.

Linking to MyFitnessPal
I’ve got my Fitbit account set up and linked to MyFitnessPal  so that when I record food I’ve eaten in MyFitnessPal it shows as calories on my Fitbit dashboard. It’s a great feature and the Fitbit service connects with many other services too.

Does it inspire more walking?
It absolutely does. I often check my steps and if I’m miles away from my daily goal then I’ll do some more walking. It inspires me to do even simple things like taking the stairs or parking my car further away from the shops. It’s all about the steps now and making sure I get my daily goals.

Any Problems?
Yep – there were some. In the early days the Fitbit would simply stop recording steps but a firmware update soon solved that one.

I tend to do a lot of DIY and activities like drilling a hole or hammering a nail triggers the Fitbit Flex in to sleep mode which is frustrating but innevitable. Even clapping can trigger the sleep mode so be warned – it’s sensitive.

But the above are just minor niggles in an otherwise issue free ownership. The Fitbit Flex just works, it’s not intrusive and it’s helped me lose weight and walk more…can’t say better than that.

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It’s amazing how much paperwork we receive to do with our kids. We get letters, forms, contracts and other paper stuff from nursery, child minders, school, clubs and of course, the UK Government. Here’s a simple way to organise parent paperwork using Evernote.

There is a growing amount of paperwork and other related information that needs to be stored and sorted. Some of this is digital, some of this is physical. All of it needs somewhere to live.

I’ve started to scan all of this information and put it in to Evernote as a master source of information. There are always bits of paper we need to keep that cannot be discarded, but most of the paperwork that comes from having children can be binned after being scanned. The stuff I need to keep goes in the minimalist filing cabinet.

Storing it in Evernote keeps it in one place and makes it super searchable. Don’t worry about losing it all. You have a local copy of the database on your machine, which you could backup with a service like Dropbox for example.

I scan the paperwork using my Scansnap s1300i (aff)  scanner (it’s awesome) connected to my Mac Mini. It does the job easily and quickly meaning I don’t have the paperwork hanging around.

I tag the scans liberally and store them in a central notebook. I use an offline notebook for this so that the notes are not stored online. This limits the devices it’s available on but it does mean it’s more secure. Anything more private is encrypted within the note also.

It’s a great way to minimise the amount of paperwork hanging around and after a while it becomes a fairly seamless routine to get on top of.

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Reading notes in Evernote

The underlying theme that runs through my Parent Brain blog is learning.

Learning and curiosity for the world around me is key to my life.

In my own personal life I am always learning and growing my mind. It’s not unusual for me to read several books a week. My RSS feed is stacked with cool stuff from the web and my mind always wants to seek more information.

Having lots of information coming in to my head is great, but it can cause fogginess and brain meltdown.

Just because I read material doesn’t mean I take it all in or learn it. Reading and learning are two different things.

Here’s how I currently organise my learning using Evernote and XMind (a mind mapping tool).

When I read a book I make copious notes either on paper, in the book or if I’m reading on a Kindle, then using the Kindle clipping tool. If I read material from the web then I typically clip all of this directly in to Evernote using the web clipper.

After finishing the reading I will put these notes in to Evernote. For Kindle clippings I simply open the clippings file in a text file (after connecting my Kindle to my laptop) and then copy the text straight in to a new note in Evernote. I create a new note per book clipping.

For written notes I will transcribe these back in to Evernote, or sometimes, if I’m feeling lazy I will scan them in or snap a picture on my phone.

In a nutshell all of my reading notes make their way in to Evernote. All of these notes get stored in a central notebook called “Inbox”.
Once in Evernote I will tag the note liberally with the following:

·      The author’s name(s)
·      The tag “book”
·      Topics the book relates to such as “culture” or “management” etc.
·      Actions or projects that the note may be useful for such as “Parent Brain”, “work”, “to do” etc

I then end up with a note like this:

Reading notes in Evernote

Reading notes in Evernote

At this point the note is still in the Inbox folder but is now heavily tagged and ready for the next action.

I’m a mind map fan-boy so I string all of my learning together in a series of mind maps based around topical areas.

I go through my notes on the book and extract relevant learning points, which I transcribe again in to a mind map.

It’s very rare that one single book will only generate thinking in one topical learning area, so I will end up adding information to many mind maps.

For example, when I read the book “Priceless”, as shown in the image above, I extracted learning which went in to my “social sciences”, “sales” and “management” mind map.

The process of using mind maps helps me to draw ideas and learning together. It also forces me to think about each point I have taken from the book, condense it down and see how it fits with my other learning. This helps to solidify the learning process and instill that information in my mind.

Learning points in Xmind
Once complete I then move the note to my “Archive” folder.

The “Archive” folder is the dumping ground for all of my learning notes.

The notes are tagged and clearly described which makes it easier to find them simply by searching in Evernote.

This process works really well for me but each person learns in different ways.

It’s always a good idea to experiment with your system until you feel happy you have struck the right balance.

Backing up social media in to Evernote

Many parents are now spending a lot of time on social media channels for personal use and sometimes as a way to promote their business.

This stream of content creation can become unwieldy, especially if you use many different channels. It can become quite hard to see all of your content easily.

To solve this I started using Evernote as a backup for all of my content.

I’ve been using Evernote as a “bucket” for all of my social media posts for a while now.

Evernote therefore provides a rich timeline of my online activity as well as a backup of my social media content over the years.

Getting started is as simple as creating a notebook in Evernote to store your social media and connecting to online automation tools such as If This Then That  (IFTTT).

You could use a specific notebook or just dump all of your social media in to a bucket with everything else.

I chose the latter. I have a notebook called Archive which I use as a dump for everything I have processed. This is where I now also put all of my tweets, blog posts and Instagram images.

Backing up social media in to Evernote

Backing up social media in to Evernote

To get my posts in to Evernote I use “If This Then That” which allows you to automate activities on the web. It’s super powerful.

On IFTTT I created a series of “recipes” (an IFTTT term for a combination of logic) that post all of my social media feeds in to my Archive notebook in Evernote. You can choose your notebooks, the content to include and also any tags you want applying to each note.

Every time one of my social feeds is updated I get a new note in Evernote with associated content.

And that’s it – social media feeds backed up to Evernote.

Evernote is an awesome tool and it’s my de-facto application for managing my busy parenting life.

It’s on every single device and it’s possible to store almost anything you like in it.

As such it can become overwhelming for many people as they work out how to get started with it.

Mobile
I have an android mobile and I use the Evernote Widget (available from Play/App store) to add content.

I can quickly add voice, text or photos by simply tapping the relevant button on the widget. I find this particularly useful for reminders, quick memos, ideas, thoughts and special memories.

For example I often use the audio recording option to record the kids as they play, sing or talk.

The photo option is used to snap the kids, create reminders of events, snap places and ideas that inspire.

I typically use the text note to document to-do lists or blog post drafts.

I also use the audio note to record little monologues to myself whilst on the move.

Drag and Drop
When I’m working on my computer I use the drag and drop feature to get content in to new notes. I use Evernote to store entire PDF documents, which I drop in to a new note. It’s super simple.

On MAC I use a quick add widget that appears on the menu bar. It opens a small window and I can quickly type and add that note.

Email to Evernote
I’ve started to use the email to Evernote option a lot, especially regarding receipts and bills.

I use it a lot to get content from my iPad in to Evernote. For example I could draw something using the Paper app on iPad and then email it to Evernote. This is a good way of getting my content in one place.

As most of my communications arrive by email I can simply forward them on Evernote.

Web Clipper
I use the web clipper tool a lot. This is because most of my life is online (sad I know). I use the web clipper for anything that inspires me as well as for information I need to re-read or content I want to share with the community.

The above are just simple ways I get content in to Evernote.