Are you sitting down?

23 Jul

I’ve got some news. Are you sitting down?

Well, the news is that I’m not sitting down. I’m standing up!

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My new standing desk. By the way, do you like my re-designed bulletin board?

 

For months now, I’ve been reading about the negative effects of what they call “sitting disease.” According to the experts, “sitting is the new smoking,” and the hours we spend each day are cutting our lives short. According to the Mayo Clinic, ‘If Americans would cut their sitting time in half, their life expectancy would increase by roughly two years, by reducing sitting to less than 3 hours a day.”

So a few weeks ago, I decided to buy myself a standing desk to use at work. After researching several options, including some pricey treadmill desks, I bought a Varidesk Pro. It’s an adjustable desk that sits on top of my current desk and raises and lowers my entire computer setup — both of my monitors, my keyboard, my mouse, and even my business cards, Post-It Notes, and Chapstick. When I want to stand, I pull the desk up. When it’s time to sit, I push it down. Each movement takes about two seconds.

I also bought myself an anti-fatigue mat to keep my footsies from aching too much.

The Varidesk comes with an app that pops up on my screen to tell me when to sit and when to stand. (Though, now that I think about it, it would be cool if it came with a Jewish version of the app that said “Please rise” or “You may be seated” in the voice of my childhood rabbi.) The experts say that sitting all day is not good for you, but standing all day isn’t either, so the combination of the two is the ideal. I set my app to tell me to stand for 30 minutes and sit for 30 minutes.

My standing desk in the standing position. Pretty meta to see the picture of me composing this blog entry, right?

My standing desk in the standing position. Pretty meta to see the picture of me composing this blog entry, right? (Excuse my mess of wires; I’m working on it.)

 

The adjustable desk in the sitting position.

The adjustable desk in the sitting position.

How’s it working out? I love it. Here are some of my favorite things about it:

  1. Stepping. While I’m standing, if I’m on the phone or responding to e-mails, I might even get a few extra steps on my Fitbit. I can talk and walk; why not type and walk? It works great.
  2. Better posture. I’m not including a picture of the way I sit at my desk in this post because, honestly, it’s embarrassing. I’m a bit of a sloucher, especially when I’m sitting; so when I’m standing, my back feels much more natural and comfortable. Sorry, Notre Dame, you won’t be gaining any hunchbacks from this girl.
  3. More alert. You know the post-lunch “Why-can’t-we-be-like-Europe-and-have-afternoon-siestas” feeling? I won’t say that I’ve completely lost that feeling, but it has certainly improved. If I’m feeling tired, I’ll stand up, walk a little, and get back into my groove.
  4. Burning calories. My Varidesk app, in addition to telling me when to stand and sit, keeps an estimate of how many calories I’ve burned on a daily basis due to standing. I’m not sure how accurate this actually is, but the app tells me I burn around 500 calories per day from standing. I don’t know about you, but that sounds to me like an extra couple of French macarons.
  5. Helping others. My job often requires other people to come and look at my computer to edit a flyer or see something on our website. When I show them the computer in the standing position, I feel like I’m doing a small good deed by giving my coworkers a brief respite from their sitting. And hey, it’s fun!
  6. It’s a conversation starter. I love icebreakers, and this is certainly a big one.

Alright, you’ve made it to the end of this post — I think it’s time to reward yourself by standing up.

Global Entry office, right next to McDonald’s

16 Jul

You’re now looking at the newest member of the Global Entry program, offered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. After a thorough investigation of my background and determining that I’m a relatively nice person, I now have access to quickly cut through security lines and customs lines when coming into the U.S. from abroad. So, here I come, world! Or, more accurately, after exploring other countries, I’ll get to enter back into Sweet Home Chicago a little faster.

But this isn’t the funny part.

The funny part is that when I received my letter in the mail with my new Global Entry card, here was the return address:

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Was it absolutely necessary for the return address to indicate that the Global Entry office is next to McDonald’s?

First, are letter carriers not as smart as they used to be? Suppose the Global Entry office sent me a letter, the address turned out to be incorrect, and the postman had to return the letter to its sender. Would he really get so lost that he’d need a physical landmark to direct him?

Second, when I think of the people who protect our country from the bad guys from abroad, I like to think of neat, clean offices with people wearing badges sitting at organized desks with white walls. I don’t like to think of greasy cheeseburgers and M&M McFlurries. Though, then again, McDonald’s might be the most American thing in our country, so maybe it is appropriate to pay homage to the symbol of our country’s obesity on my Global Entry letter.

Third, if you’re going to mention McDonald’s, please note the proper spelling of your beloved neighbor: M-c-D-O-N-A-L-D-apostrophe-S.

Maybe I should start addressing my own letters with landmarks.

You can write to me at:

Lia Lehrer
One of the highrises on Lake Shore Drive, across from the dog beach
Slightly south of the Clock Tower
Near the intersection that becomes a swimming pool in rainstorms
Two apartments to the right of the apartment that always smells like Indian food

You’d have no trouble finding me, right?

A look “back”

9 Jul

For this week’s blog post, I thought I’d take a look back to see what I was thinking around this time of year in my past life. Let’s time travel back to July 8, 2005 — almost exactly nine years ago.

Ahh! My back!

I think I have become a 60-year-old man.

Well, maybe not. But I don’t think I’ve ever felt pains in my back like this before.

I’ve been doing a lot of filing at work (in between stuffing envelopes), and I guess today did it for my back. I had to reach high (yeah, I had to stand on a stool to reach the top drawer–I’m short) and low, bend over and reach across shelves. I only got a few papercuts and I only needed two band-aids for my fingers.

I don’t imagine that I’ll be very comfortable sleeping tonight. And it’s too bad that I don’t like massages, because one would feel really good right now if I liked them.

I have therefore narrowed down my career options. When I grow up, I do NOT want to be a professional filer.

 

So, current Lia, how did we do? Nine years later, have we fulfilled our dream of living in the filing cabinets for eight hours a day?

I am pleased to say that no, thankfully, I am not a professional filer. And as for my back — well, sitting at my desk, I don’t have the best posture, but I’m excited that I bought myself an adjustable standing desk. More on the standing desk in a future blog…

See you never, back pain!

What your area code says about you

2 Jul

zackmorrisWhat can we learn about you based on the area code of your cell phone?

847: I grew up in Northbrook, though I’m temporarily enjoying “city life” for five years in Lakeview before I move back to Northbrook forever.

224: I was a bit late to the cell phone game, so by the time I got one, all of the 847 numbers were taken.

773: I got a cell phone while I was a hip young adult living in the city, and now, like my butterfly tattoo on my left ankle, it will stick with me forever, even though I’m 48 years old and live in Deerfield.

630: I live in Naperville, which is a suburb of Chicago. Really, it’s only a 45-minute drive from the city! I’m basically a Chicagoan.

708: I live in the western suburbs, home of Oak Park and other great things; OR, I still use my old phone number from the early ’90s, before Lincolnwood and other northern Chicago suburbs became 847.

917: I am in denial that I moved here from New York — even though I have lived in Chicago for the past nine years, there’s still a chance I might make the big move back to the Big Apple. Here’s hoping!

312: I am a business in downtown Chicago.

BONUS: If your cell phone number is one digit off of the cell phone number of your spouse: We are SO in love, even after 25 years of marriage. We do everything together. We play tennis together, we take the subway to work together, and we have a special recipe for pasta primavera that we cook together. We thought that getting cell phone numbers one digit apart would be just one more thing to prove our endless love, devotion, and togetherness.

My son is also named Bort (a post for Simpsons fans)

25 Jun

The other day, I found a parked car with the following license plate:

Bort

I couldn’t believe it. Are there any Simpsons fans reading this?

A week in Montreal and Quebec City

18 Jun

As I mentioned in last week’s blog post, Montreal and Quebec City transport you to a magical land of castles and crepes, French and food, history and hipsters.

Here are some of the highlights of our time in both cities.

Underground City
Despite our request for a week of sunny weather in the 80s, on our first day in Montreal, it rained and rained. Luckily, Canada is equipped for bad weather. After checking in to our adorable boutique hotel and grabbing some lunch in our neighborhood, we headed to Montreal’s Underground City. The Underground City is mile upon mile (okay, kilometer upon kilometer) of malls connected to each other underneath (and above) the city. We used it as a way to experience the local culture, do some window shopping, and make our way from our hotel’s neighborhood to the Old Montreal neighborhood without stepping outside. Montreal’s Underground City seemed like it would be the Chicago Pedway system’s rich uncle who owns a house in the Cayman Islands.

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All of this is underground!

 

Notre Dame Basilica
After walking through the cute Old Montreal, we concluded our rainy Tuesday with a sound and light show in the Notre Dame Basilica that described the history of both the church and Montreal.

Notre Dame Basilica

Notre Dame Basilica

 

Mount Royal
Montreal is named for the mountain (well, it’s really a large hill) in the middle of the city. Designed by the same architect who did Central Park in New York, Mount Royal is full of beautiful tree-lined pathways and plenty of benches. You can take the long way to the top of the mountain (as we attempted) by walking the pathways that slowly angle upward; or you can take hundreds of stairs. On a cloudy (but clear!) Wednesday afternoon, after attending Shavuot services at a local synagogue, we put on our walking shoes and made the trek up the mountain. We were greeted by friendly passersby who were always willing to point us in the right direction. At the top of the mountain, we saw a beautiful view of Montreal, as well as a view of very interesting people. We saw a group of young adults holding an exercise class; we saw an eclectic group of people filming a cover of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”; and we saw a man playing the public piano who very well could have been Moses.

Before the climb: Who's taller, Adam or the mountain?

Before the climb: Who’s taller, Adam or the mountain?

Stairway to heaven? Or the top of Mount Royal?

Stairway to heaven? Or the top of Mount Royal?

On top of Mount Royal, overlooking Montreal

On top of Mount Royal, overlooking Montreal

Making a video to Pharrell Williams' "Happy"

Making a video to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”

 

Moses playing piano on top of Mount Royal

Moses playing piano on top of Mount Royal

 

Olympic Stadium, Olympic Tower, the Botanic Garden, and the Biodome
Remember in 1976 when Montreal hosted the Olympics? Yeah, me neither. Well, they did, and now you can visit the Olympic Stadium. It’s next to their botanic garden, as well as a biodome, which is a bit of a combination of a zoo and a greenhouse. The Olympic Stadium features the Olympic Tower, which you can ride up and get a great view of the city.

Olympic Stadium

Olympic Stadium

The botanic garden, featuring the Japanese and Chinese gardens

The botanic garden, featuring the Japanese and Chinese gardens

Adam makes new friends in the biodome

Adam makes new friends in the biodome

On top of the Olympic Tower

On top of the Olympic Tower

 

Cirque du Soleil
This famous circus show began in Montreal, so when the traveling show happened to be in Montreal while we were there, we knew we had to take advantage. Cirque du Soleil is a show full of acrobatics, music, and tricks, loosely based around some kind of plot. Unfortunately, the speaking was all in French, so we didn’t quite understand the plot; but everyone speaks the language of balancing six chairs on top of each other and then doing a handstand on top of the tower.

Cirque du Soleil: "Kurios"

Cirque du Soleil: “Kurios”

 

Montreal neighborhoods
We enjoyed touring two neighborhoods: 1) Old Montreal and 2) The Plateau. Old Montreal is the historic, touristy area full of food and souvenirs (if you like maple-flavored food, why aren’t you living in Canada?). We enjoyed walking around, sampling some sweets, and seeing the historic buildings. Our hotel was located in the neighborhood known as The Plateau because it’s near Mount Royal and thus on a higher level. This neighborhood is a bit hipster, a bit funky, and very colorful; and we happened to be touring the area while it held a summer festival.

Old Montreal

Old Montreal

Colorful houses on The Plateau

Colorful houses on The Plateau

The most French Canadian thing ever: A maple-flavored French macaron filled with ice cream at a summer festival

The most French Canadian thing ever: A maple-flavored French macaron filled with ice cream at a summer festival

 

Exploring Quebec City
Quebec City is the most picturesque, historic, adorable city I have ever seen, at least on this continent. We loved the cobblestone streets, uneven buildings, and storybook feel.

Quebec City street

Quebec City street

Before riding the Funiculaire to get to the top of the city

Before riding the Funiculaire glass elevator (in the background) to get to the top of the city

The sun sets over the Chateau Frontenac, the iconic hotel towering over the town. Is this place even real?

The sun sets over the Chateau Frontenac, the iconic hotel towering over the town. Is this place even real?

 

The walls of the city
Quebec City is the only fortified city north of Mexico, so we had a great time walking the walls of the city. Inside of the walls is the cute, storybook town; and outside is the modern world like any city.

Adam is on (in?) the city wall!

Adam is on (in?) the city wall!

 

It was a great trip, and we did so many other things not listed here. We did a lot of walking, a lot of eating, and even learned some French here and there. To get the full story, you can see more pictures when we post them to Facebook. But for now, when you’re thinking about your next vacation, think no further than two little French towns just to the north of Maine, where a two-hour flight will bring you to a magical world.

Montreal and Quebec City — magical lands of castles and crepes

11 Jun

IMG_1297After a two-hour plane ride, I felt like I was in a small town in Europe.

Last week, Adam and I traveled to Canada to visit two places to which neither of us had ever been: Montreal and Quebec City. We both really enjoyed Montreal, but we truly fell in love with Quebec City.

I couldn’t believe that nobody had told me about the magic of Quebec City. I almost felt cheated that there was this secret town I hadn’t heard about until just now.

Montreal and Quebec City are cities in the province of Quebec in Canada — our friendly neighbor to the north. In both cities, the number one language spoken is French, and both are full of French culture and French food.

Montreal is a major metropolitan city with skyscrapers in the central business district and plenty of funky neighborhoods surrounding it, as well as a touristy Old Montreal area.

Quebec City is straight out of a fairy tale. The streets are lined with stone European-style buildings of all shapes and colors, and street musicians are everywhere. The upper level of the city is home to the majestic Chateau Frontenac hotel, as well as many shops, restaurants, and churches. As you travel the hundreds of stairs to the lower level (or the glass elevator called the “Funiculaire”), the Chateau Frontenac becomes a charming site in the backdrop of the shops and homes.

I’ll write more next week about the sites, smells, and tastes of each city. But for now, here are some general observations.

Pay phones
I have never in my life seen so many pay phones. Not only were there pay phones on every street and in every public place, but I actually saw people using them. Real people were standing at real pay phones making real phone calls. And these weren’t leftover relics from 1980s John Hughes movies — they were modernized to accept credit cards, as well as coins. Did these people’s cell phones run out of power? Did they leave their cell phones at home? Are they calling collect, waiting for their mom to pick them up at the mall? I almost tapped a pay phone user on the shoulder to ask her these questions, but I wasn’t entirely sure she was actually a human.

Pay phones at the airport

Pay phones at the airport

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Pay phones at a museum

This pay phone even came with a PHONE BOOK! I almost didn't know what it was.

This pay phone even came with a PHONE BOOK! I almost didn’t know what it was.

French
I definitely learned some French while in Quebec. Aside from the common words like sortie (exit), entrée (entrance), and toilette (restroom), the majority of the words I picked up were related to food. I learned that I enjoy chocolate chaud (hot chocolate), chocolatines (chocolate croissants), oeufs (eggs), and pommes (apples). But most importantly, I learned all of the flavors of French macarons (I don’t think I need to tell you how many of these I ate over the course of the week): vanille (vanilla), chocolat (chocolate), fraise (strawberry), framboise (raspberry), caramel de sel de mer (sea salt caramel), chocolat à la menthe (mint chocolate), and érable (maple). These are LIFE SKILLS that I’ve learned here, I’m telling you.

This is me at a bakery looking up the French words for the macaron flavors in my French-English dictionary app.

This is me at a bakery looking up the French words for the macaron flavors in my French-English dictionary app.

This macaron map was also helpful.

This macaron map was also helpful.

Food
Canada — and specifically French Canada — is my culinary match made in heaven. Don’t tell my diet, but in addition to all of the framboise macarons, chocolatines, and chocolat chaud, I loved the pizza, crepes, baguettes, eggs, crepes, desserts, breakfast food, and, oh, did I mention crepes?

Delicious meal in Quebec City

Delicious meal in Quebec City

Maple crepe (yum)

Maple crepe (plain crepe with maple syrup)

Nice people
I hate it when people play right into their stereotypes, but boy, these Canadians were so NICE! Any time we looked at a map for more than a few seconds, or sat at a restaurant, or spoke in English, or asked for directions, the locals were downright wonderful to us. They loved to give directions, recommend their favorite places, or just chit chat about how they’ve never been to Chicago but heard it’s nice (and even some people knew the real reason we’re called the Windy City is because of our politicians). When we climbed Mount Royal, the central mountain (though it’s really just a large hill) for which Montreal is named, every passerby was helpful in pointing us towards the top and then towards the bottom. I can’t recall a time I’ve encountered so many nice strangers.

See? All of the people in this wall mural look NICE.

See? All of the people in this wall mural look NICE.

This person picking his nose behind us -- I'm sure he's nice, too!

This person picking his nose behind us — I’m sure he’s nice, too!

So why haven’t more people traveled there?
Is Quebec just not a vacation spot that people visit these days? Is it just a well-kept secret that there’s a magical town with crepes, castles, and churches just a direct two-hour flight to the north? If people do go there, why don’t they talk about it? Well, friends, I’m here to tell you: Go there. Maybe skip the winter months (though I hear they have a great winter carnival), but take a trip to this wonderful place. And stay tuned next week for our list of the favorite things we did there.

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Beautiful street in Quebec City

 

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