Taking a stand

One summer, I took a fluffy fun writing class called Write Around Portland, in which our class went to various places around Portland (OR) and wrote stuff that we would then read aloud to each other. That’s how I came to be sitting on the floor of a tattoo parlor one day with a small group of fellow teachers, reading aloud a piece I’d written about why I’d never get a tattoo.

That summer I was contemplating the possible end of my marriage, which meant that my ideas about permanence were shifting (more like lurching) to all kinds of  uncomfortable places in my head–which might explain why the idea of getting a tattoo was about as unthinkable to me then as divorce had once been.

When I finished, there was a moment of silence, and then the big, burly, heavily-tattooed  guy behind the counter (because, of course, he had to be big and burly and heavily-tattooed, right?) leaned over that counter and stabbed his finger at me and growled,

“You need to learn how to make a commitment!”

Nah, this isn't a post about getting a tattoo. But this temporary one I got at a library conference last weekend is tempting!

Nah, this isn’t a post about getting a tattoo. But this temporary one I got last weekend is tempting!

I still struggle with commitment, with doing big things that are hard to undo–which is why my latest project is an easy-to-undo standing desk.


Six years ago I left the classroom and took a job that required me to sit for much of the day. If I had been a teacher like Ditto, that wouldn’t have meant much to my physical well-being:

But I wasn’t a teacher like Ditto. I rarely sat at my desk. Now, after 6 years of mostly sitting through my work day, I can see that it’s taking a toll on my body. I not only look different, but I feel different–and I think that’s about more than just aging.

This summer (like every summer since I stopped teaching) I could feel my body getting back into better shape. Although I do get to the gym more in the summer than during the school year, I realized that most of my “exercise” came from just being up on my feet more. I was working in the yard, painting walls, cleaning house. So, I decided that this year I would have a standing desk at work. (Want to read about the benefits of standing desks? Check out this or this. Although not everyone agrees that they are great.)

Problem is, standing desks aren’t cheap, and I wasn’t sure that it was really going to work for me. I didn’t want to invest in something that I might not want to stick with.

I considered several different kinds of hacks to transform my traditional desk into a standing desk, but none of the ones I found seemed super-feasible. I was still going to have to pay quite a bit for parts, and I wasn’t even sure I’d like standing for most of the day. (You can see a nice round-up of Ikea standing-desk hacks here.)

On top of that, making sure the parts would put the desk at the right height started to seem pretty tricky, pretty fast. I had my existing desk, which I didn’t want to get rid of. (Too much hassle.) I wanted something I could put on top of the existing desk, and it needed to be at just the right height, or I was going to have other kinds of physical issues from poor ergonomics.


Image via Wired.

I also didn’t want to lose any work space. Most of the Ikea desk tops  I originally considered weren’t as large as my existing desk top, which I tend to use all of.

I began wondering what I could use other than table legs to elevate a desktop, when I suddenly realized I was surrounded by just the thing I needed:  Books!


As I shared during the summer, part of library business is discarding books, and we had a mess of textbooks in the back room of the library waiting to go. I originally thought I’d use a random collection of weeded books–and cover them with pages from about-to-be-recycled books so my desk would look cute and Pinterest-worthy (instead of random and janky)–but when I saw these I knew they were a much better deal. Because they are all the same size, I wouldn’t have to do any futzing around to get the desk level. And I gave up on the idea of covering them because ain’t nobody got that kind of time. Well, I know some people do, but I’m not one of them.

covered books seen on 3meadowlakecottage

Image via The Precious Little Things in Life

That left just the top. When I measured my existing desk top, I realized that it was almost exactly the same size as a half-sheet of plywood–which is much less expensive than the Ikea desk tops I considered and was the right size.

So Cane and I went off to Mr. Plywood (shop local!), where I found a lovely piece of birch plywood. My half-sheet ran me about $35 (I think). All I needed to do was stain and poly it, and I’d be good to go.

Now, here is another place where my project could easily have gone off the rails. I started thinking, why not make the top look really cool? Maybe I could paint some awesome geometric design on it, or do something creative with stain.

You know, like this great table top from Domestic Imperfection.

You know, like this great table top from Domestic Imperfection.

But I had a Monday morning to get it done, and I knew that if I didn’t get it done, it was going to be another week of me sitting. I decided I was more committed to my health than to creative exploration on this one.

I did let myself have a little bit of fun and bought a grey stain.

HIghly recommend snapping a quick photo of your paint/stain cans--so you can know later exactly what brand/color you used.

Highly recommend snapping a quick photo of your paint/stain cans–so you can know later exactly what brand/color you used.

Then it was simply a matter of painting the stain on and rubbing it off:


I really liked how the stain made the grain stand out:


I put two coats of stain on, then two coats of poly. The hardest part of the project was getting it into my office. I had to carry the desk top in by myself, and it was heavy. I dropped it on my foot, which is still stiff/sore almost a month later.

Yes, it's a blurry phone shot and I was in desperate need of a manicure. But look at that bruise!

Yes, it’s a blurry phone shot and I was in desperate need of a pedicure. But look at that bruise!

But I love the desk!


I do think I need to get a pad to stand on. And I’m more committed than ever to buying quality shoes. One of Cane’s mantras is “I’m too old for that $h!t,” and I’m definitely too old for crappy shoes, especially if I’m going to be standing in them for most of the day.

But the desk is great, and I do feel better now that I’m standing more.

laptop on dictionaries

I did need to boost the laptop higher, but I didn’t want to raise the whole desktop because it would go higher than the windowsill. These discard dictionaries make it just the right height.

I don’t stand all the time. I’m lucky that my little office has another work/desk area, and I sit here when I’m working on a project that requires  creative thinking. I’ve found that I do prefer to sit when I’m figuring out something conceptual, probably because I’m drafting my thinking by hand on a note pad.


So, even though the tattoo guy thought I was incapable of committing, I think I am. I’m becoming committed to my health. Still working on a few other things.


My daughter gave me this postcard with good reason. 🙂



11 thoughts on “Taking a stand

  1. Marian says:

    I’m so glad you posted this, Rita — my husband and I were discussing this very topic a couple of weeks ago. He sits for long hours at work and is feeling the need to make some changes, but is uncertain how to go about doing so (sometimes it can be difficult to make changes in a corporate office). I’m going to show him what you’ve done in your office, and also have him read the third link you provided (the one written by the dissenting opinion). There’s lots of great food for thought in that piece, and he provides a good middle ground (and some good alternatives) to what seems to me to be a rather alarmist and cut-and-dry prognosis (ie. “you sit therefore you die!”).

    I’m curious as to how you finished the edges of the plywood — were they just sanded and then coated with poly like the top? And I have to say I LOVE that you used books to raise the desk top to its proper height, AND that you left them uncovered 🙂 .
    Marian recently posted…Growing All The KaleMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      This was a truly no-fuss project. Just sanded and stained the edges, then poly’d the whole thing. I really did get it done in a morning. I can see why it might be difficult to do something like this in a corporate environment. My office isn’t that visible to anyone else, and people do all kinds of DIY/repurposing stuff in schools. Low/no budget is the mother of invention.

  2. Kate says:

    I LOVE the gray. It looks so pretty!

    Jess and I were just talking the other day that I think so much of aging has to do with how we stop moving. I look at Abram’s squats and how he can hold a perfect squat with his butt just inches from the air for AGES when he’s playing. Violet used to be able to do that too, but now that she’s been in school for two more years – and sitting at a desk more than playing – she’s losing that ability. And I think back to how I could swing and flip and pull myself up on the monkey bars. WHY DID I EVER STOP DOING THAT?!? I WAS SO STRONG!!! Now I’m worn out after a day of shopping, cooking, and yard work!

    I need to make a health commitment too. And I applaud you for doing that.

    (And OUCH!!! to your bruise.)
    Kate recently posted…KitchenMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      I think you’re right–and I remember flipping around on the monkey bars, too. I used to love how that felt. Why do we stop? Now I can get worn out doing almost nothing; doing the dishes always makes my back hurt for some reason. Wish that was reason enough for someone else to do them, but no….

  3. Kari says:

    I think if I had a standing desk, I would do less Facebook browsing or looking at deals on my deals blog.
    I love to hate my deals blog.
    I liken it to what having a drug dealer must feel like…..a chain around my neck.
    If I had a standing desk, I would be much more purposeful in my work.

    I remember that tutorial on that Domestic Imperfection blog but I honestly like your gray much better.
    Kari recently posted…Citrus Bowl My A@#. More Like Citrus Hole.My Profile

    • Rita says:

      Thanks, Kari. I found a lot of table tops with all kinds of tricky/fancy stuff. Aside from my lack of available time, though, I also knew that trying anything like that would be a waste because my desk is mostly covered with piles of crap really important papers. What is a deals blog?

  4. Ria says:

    Ha! My kind of gal! Even when it comes to being bruised coz I am a clumsy clot, you are my kind of gal! I loathe committing to new anything. Call it my ADD kicking in, but I don’t like any change in my routine. However, a standing desk is something I did commit to.Like yours mine is made from books ( I just love reading!) and a MDF frame my friend made to raise the screen and keep a place for my bits and bobs under. I have a desktop computer so the tower sits on the frame behind the screen. Ingenious!
    The downside is I have been diagnosed with a disorder that makes me pass out when I stand for even five minutes. Think of those fainting goats you see on Youtube; that’s me! Well, I am not a goat, but you get the idea. So, the standing desk is a new non-committment because I need to sit down regularly.

    Like you, Rita, I can not bear the idea of a tatt. Whilst others think they are being individual with them, I see only a permanent body marking, which in time will look a wrinkled faded illegible patch of a previous lifestyle. I have enough scars from surgeries, I don’t need to put MORE things on my body!

    I really think the colour on your desk top is terrific!

    • Rita says:

      I’d never heard of fainting goats–thanks for the YouTube time suck! 🙂 I’m sorry to hear about your fainting disorder; that sounds really difficult.

      And no, I’ll never get a tattoo. I could probably come up with something I might like forever, but I just don’t see the point. From everything I’ve read/seen, they HURT. Nothing is ever going to look good enough for me to endure hurt for it. (Not a fan of waxing/plucking either.)

  5. May says:

    As a fellow book-loving-library-visiting woman, I love that the texts you used have Literature plastered all over them! Perfect.
    My husband’s engineering firm is remodeling all work spaces currently. Everyone with have a space that provides both a sitting desk and standing desk so they can mix it up during the day.
    Increasingly we are finding that some of our most hyperactive students increase their success in the classroom when given a standing desk. As you say, though, they are so expensive. $400 for a laminated wood top on for spindling metal legs. I haven’t bounced the idea of my husband yet, but I think he could crank out a couple for us for a lot less.
    May recently posted…Mèredays: Autumn GlowMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Yes, I’ve seen articles about classes where they’ve gotten rid of chairs, or some where kids can pedal at their seats. That makes so much more sense.

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