“Bend and Stretch, Reach For the Sky”

Hello and welcome to Week 5 of Library Life Hack! Today, we’re checking out whether or not a person could realistically use library materials to learn yoga.

But First, a “Prior Knowledge” Disclaimer
I do have a little background with yoga: two six-week worksite classes and exactly one hot yoga session (which I decided was the new-age equivalent of Opus Dei). But I tried to approach this life hack with fresh eyes, pretending to be someone who was exploring the idea of regular yoga training but didn’t necessarily want to commit to regular studio classes.

So … I didn’t look for books on yoga – that just seemed like an impossibly tortured way to learn a physical skill. Instead I checked the DVD holdings in my home library, and came back with Yoga Journal’s “Complete Beginner’s Guide” and “Complete Home Practice”.

I skimmed both DVDs and started with the Beginner’s Guide. This is a two-disc set. One disc is a visual encyclopedia of basic yoga poses and the other is set of three “practices”: a 60-minute “Essential Practice”, followed by two shorter practices for awakening or quieting. I watched a few poses on the encyclopedia disc and then decided to dive right into “Essential Practice”. You need three props: a yoga mat, a yoga block and a yoga belt. The disc also advises on suitable substitute props – I found that a bath towel, textbook and the belt from my bathrobe worked just fine.

The first thing that struck me is how well thought-out this program is. When Instructor Jason tells you to put your hands behind your back and do something with your fingers, the camera moves behind his back so that you can actually see what he’s doing with his fingers. That being said, I did have to shift around to follow everything that was going on. (In the “Downward-Facing Dog” pose – which happens a lot in beginner yoga practice — I eventually turned my back to the TV and watched Instructor Jason through my ankles.)

60 minutes of Essential Practice went by quickly. At the end of it, I was nicely stretched but not overly tired. To me, this felt like I had lucked into the perfect beginner’s yoga workout – some of it was fairly easy, some a little more challenging and some of the poses I would need a lot of practice to be able to hold at all. In other words, there was plenty of room to grow.

Could You Actually Use a DVD to Learn Yoga on Your Own?
I went into this a little bit skeptical, and expected that I’d be advising you all to take a few classes with a professional and then try training with a DVD. But these videos are so well-executed that I’m going to say I think it’s quite possible to life hack this skill and learn yoga on your own. Mastering the “Essential Practice” would probably take several months, and then you’d be able to branch into Yoga Journal’s “Complete Home Practice” DVD, which goes through nine advanced routines. To help you along the way, Yoga Journal also maintains a comprehensive website, full of articles designed to support practitioners at every level.

A Word About Solitary Practice
One of the things I learned in this week’s experiment is that we aren’t always as solitary as we think. For example, I share my household with my trusty editorial assistant, Jack the Cat. Jack saw my 60-minute yoga class as an ideal time for us to bond. While I was sitting on the floor doing the first few poses, he hopped into my lap. My lap disappeared quite soon, but Jack was undaunted. When I rolled onto my stomach for “Cobra Pose”, Jack decided to strike “Triumphant Cat Pose” on my backside. That didn’t work out either, so Jack harumphed over to my yoga mat/bath towel and stretched into full-length “I’m Not Done With You Pose”, forcing me to finish the rest of the class on the bare floor.

This is pretty funny, but there is a point: practising yoga at home is maybe not as simple as I’d assumed. If a mere cat could generate this much interruption, I can only imagine what a husband or toddler would be capable of.

And Now, the Numbers
These two DVDs aren’t available at chapters.indigo.ca, but amazon.ca lists both Yoga Journal’s “Complete Beginner’s Guide” and “Complete Home Practice” at 22.49 each.

If you trained twice a week, I estimate that these two DVDs could keep you busy for at least four months. Based on the cost of a 30-class pass for the yoga studio nearest my house, you would be saving $345. Added all together, that’s a total of $389.98 saved with this week’s library life hack. Cha-ching!

Here’s the information on this week’s library resources:

Yoga Journal: Complete Beginner’s Guide
Released Nov 24, 2009
ASIN B002JYPV7C

Yoga Journal: Complete Home Practice
Released Sept 6, 2011
ASIN B0058HW7J2

And that’s it — thank you for reading this week’s post! Next week, we’re going to tackle another food hack – homemade goat cheese. We’re also going to check in on our imaginary portfolio of stocks from Week 1, and see how they’ve done. In the meantime, have a great seven days. Namaste!

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P.S. A Little Extra Research
As part of this week’s blog work, I also watched the 2008 documentary “Enlighten Up!” This quirky yet thought-provoking little movie was made by Kate Churchill, filmmaker and dedicated yoga practitioner. She recruits Nick, journalist and yoga know-nothing for an intense six months of yoga training, convinced that he will undergo a dramatic spiritual transformation. (If this story sounds familiar to you, it should. It’s “My Fair Lady” in stretchy black pants. Except that Nick and Kate don’t fall in love. Or sing.)

Nick spends most of the next six months being followed by a camera and trotting around the globe, talking to and training with a whole palette of gurus. His physical skills improve, but he infuriates Kate because he doggedly refuses to reach any kind of enlightenment – and some of the scenes are laugh-out-loud funny. I highly recommend it. : )

What Gyoza Round, Comes Around

(Yes, I know – it’s a terrible headline. I had to stretch — the word “gyoza” just doesn’t seem to turn up in popular songs and clever sayings.)

But hey! It’s Week 4 already. Time does indeed fly when you’re having fun.

This week’s life hack is about making gyoza at home. If you’re not familiar with them, gyoza are light little dumplings, Japanese in origin, and usually stuffed with a mixture of ground pork, cabbage, onion and ginger. I love them, but find them a little expensive at the grocery store. Plus, they’re an easy snack that’s healthy for you.  In my perfect world, I would have a bunch of little ziplock bags in my freezer, each containing three gyozas that could be whipped out, microwaved and chomped down immediately.

Could I find an inexpensive DIY solution at the library? I figured I could. I located an easy-to-follow recipe for gyoza in “My Japanese Table”. Written by Debra Samuels, this cookbook is packed full of recipes for everything from sushi to black sesame ice cream, and gorgeously illustrated.

Running from Store to Store …
I tried to be an equal-opportunity shopper when I went looking for the ingredients, realizing that not everyone has access to ethnic markets. Some of the ingredients I could find in Wal-Mart, and some in Safeway, but I had to go to a Chinese grocer to find the dough wrappers and Chinese cabbage (also called suey choy).  And generally speaking, you will find the best prices for gyoza components at a Chinese grocery store.

The most expensive ingredient was rice wine. I couldn’t find anything readily identifiable as rice wine in grocery stores, so I went to a liquor store and bought a small bottle of sake. (Which is rice wine, but perhaps fancier than what Debra Samuels had in mind.) I also substituted ground turkey for the ground pork.

Putting it All Together
With everything bought, it took about 30 minutes to prep the gyoza filling. Assembling them took longer — about 2 hours for 45 of the little beggars. (It’s a bit tricky to figure out and I highly recommend the photo tutorial found at Cooking Cute.) I produced 15 lumpy, dishevelled-looking gyozas before I had one that actually resembled the pictures.

(If you try this life hack out, here’s a hint: although they look deceptively large in photos, the pleats are actually quite tiny, only a little bit more than 1/8”.)

Boil or Fry?
Gyozas can be boiled, or pan-fried and steamed. Boiling is certainly healthier, but my taste-tester and I by far preferred the texture of the pan-fried and steamed version. We pan-fried some in butter and some in oil, and the final vote is for pan-frying in a light oil, followed by a quick steaming.

Better Than Store-Bought?
I have to admit that this is the first library life hack where I haven’t been 100% enthusiastic about the results. My homemade gyozas are as good as the ones I can buy at a grocery store, and they actually taste fresher. But to qualify as a full-on life hack, I think they should be spectacular — and they’re not quite there yet.  My feeling is that, with some more experimentation, I could kick this recipe up into the “really, really great” bracket. So … you may well be seeing a new and improved gyoza hack sometime in the future.

Playing with the Math
I had an ethical debate on pricing out the groceries that went into this week’s hack. The raw ingredients for 45 gyozas added up to $33.69, or 74.9 cents each. Grocery store gyozas are $3.79 for 10, or 37.9 cents each.

Oops.

I blame it on the fancy rice wine, which was $12.69. But here’s the dilemma. I only used a small portion of some ingredients. So … do I only count the price of what I actually used? In that case, the total cost for 45 gyozas is $10.42, or 23.1 cents each. That’s a lot better, but it seconds the motion that this life hack needs a little more polishing.

Here’s the rest of the story on the numbers. The book is $19.75 at amazon.ca and $20.79 at chapters.indigo.ca. That’s an average of $20.27 saved by taking it out of the library. Based on my somewhat weaselly number-crunching, you could save $6.64 by making gyozas at home instead of buying them.

And finally, here’s the information on the book:

My Japanese Table: A Lifetime of Cooking with Friends and Family
Written by Debra Samuels
Published by Tuttle Publishing
Released Sept 10, 2011
ISBN 4805311185

That’s it for this week. Thank you – always – for reading all the way down to the bottom. Please feel free to leave a comment (especially if you have a hot gyoza tip!) And if you have a life hack you want to see me try out, drop me a line at LibraryLifeHack [at] gmail.com. Have a great week and tune in seven days from now for Week 5, where I’ll be learning yoga with the help of a library DVD. Namaste!

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Long May You Run …

Hello and welcome to Week 3! This week, we’re going to be using library resources (with the help of a website) to build a training plan for a middle-aged runner aiming for their first marathon. (That would be me, but I’m hoping I have some company out there.)

I started running in 2006, at the age of 44. I took a “Learn to Run” class early in the spring and loved it. Once I’d finished my first race (10 km) that summer, I was hooked. I ran my first half-marathon the following summer, followed by four “halfs” the next year. And then in the summer of 2010, I went back to school part-time and stopped running completely. I made a resolution in January 2011 that I would run a marathon that year … and did almost no training. Undaunted, I made a resolution in January 2012 that I would run a marathon that year.

Admittedly, 2012 started off better than 2011. By the end of June, I was running during the week and breaking 20 km on my weekend long runs. But my pace was slow. As I piled on the mileage, it got slower. And slower. And slower. I had a look at the previous year’s average pace times for the marathon I was planning to run. I was going slower than the people who were the last finishers.

At this point, I had an awful vision of myself on race day: plodding along, just barely past the half-way mark, when a police car pulls up behind me. Guess what happens next? The officer in the passenger seat rolls down his window and says “Hey, lady! Sorry, but we have to shut down the course. Hop in the back and we’ll take you to the finish line.” Yecch. You never want to be the “Hey, lady!” lady. I fell off the training wagon again, except for a 10 km race in August.

So now it’s 2013. I’ve learned not to make any resolutions but I still would really like to run a marathon. With that in mind, I went looking in my home library, and found Jeff Galloway’s “Running Until You’re 100”. I wasn’t expecting anything earth-shattering but Jeff surprised me. An older runner himself, he’s developed a system that involves longer warm-ups, a combination of running and walking, specific drills, and slower pacing. He also has a section on nutritional advice for older runners, written by a dietitian. This book made a ton of sense to me.

I had a look at the marathon training plan found on Jeff Galloway’s website. At 32 weeks, it’s quite a bit longer than the traditional 16-18 weeks. And the pacing is much gentler than anything I’ve done up until this point. I combined the training plan from the website, information from another Jeff Galloway book called “Running: A Year Round Plan” and fine-tuned it with advice from “Running Until You’re 100”. I have a plan!

Now that I have a plan, I’m looking for some peeps. Specifically, I’m looking to form a little network of first-time marathoners. You don’t necessarily have to be over 50 and you don’t have to live in Edmonton. I want to hear your running stories and what you’re doing to train. Leave a comment or send me a note at LibraryLifeHack [at] gmail.com.

Chicken-Hearted Disclaimer
I have a plan. I do. And I will undertake this training in good faith, reporting back to you at the beginning of March. But I’m not quite ready to brazenly guarantee that I’ll be running a marathon this summer. Before I do that, I want to see how this training works. But … I’m excited! Dang! Let’s put this hack in motion and see what happens. (If you want to see the first six weeks of my plan, it’s here.)

To wrap things up, here’s the scoop on this week’s library resources:

Running Until You’re 100
Written by Jeff Galloway
Published by Cardinal Publishers Group
Released Aug 15, 2010
ISBN 1841263095

Running: A Year Round Plan
Written by Jeff Galloway
Published by Cardinal Publishers Group
Released Oct 31, 2005
ISBN 1841261696

Between amazon.ca and chapters.indigo.ca, the books average out to $14.78 and $15.82 respectively. Since you’re saving the cost of a marathon class, I thought we could add that in as well. Where I live, the most popular clinics are $69.99 plus tax, for a total of $73.49. That makes this week’s life hack worth $104.09.

Bonus Hack
This plan is built solidly around short interval training. Rather than investing in a piece of advanced runner’s technology, I went looking for an interval timer for my phone. There are several but this one looked perfect for my needs. And it’s free! Cha-ching!

That’s it for this week. Next week, I’ll be tackling a less ambitious life hack, and learning how to make gyoza at home. Remember … if you’re running your first marathon, drop me a line. And even if you aren’t, have yourself a great week!

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“ … and in between I drink black coffee …”

Hello and welcome to Week 2! The title of this post borrows the words of the great Sarah Vaughan and her song “Black Coffee”. This week, we’re covering two important topics (to me, anyways): coffee and money.

I really love a good cup of coffee. I own a bean grinder and a French press pot, and they get put to work every morning I’m at home. Over the last few years I’ve bought medium roast beans from a variety of coffee shops in my home town of Edmonton: Java Jive, Second Cup and occasionally Starbuck’s. They taste great, but $17 for a pound of coffee does seem a little steep. Could there be a less expensive way to get a good cup o’ joe?

This looked like an ideal challenge to bring to Library Life Hack, so I went in search of some books on coffee. I found two methods for home roasting coffee beans in Susan Zimmer’s “I Love Coffee!” This is a brilliant little book – a primer on all things coffee and 100 yummy recipes (cognac mochaccino, anyone?) I tried out both of the roasting methods in the book: stovetop and oven. Although it’s not directly covered, I also tried roasting coffee in an old air popper (the kind you use to make popcorn.) Here are the results:

Stovetop Method
You need green coffee beans, an old frying pan (it must have a lid) and an old stand-up thermometer that reads air temperature. Essentially, you heat the pan up to an air temperature of 400 degrees F, toss in the beans, pop on the lid, and shake for about eight to twelve minutes.

Pros
It was pretty quick and gave me enough roasted coffee for two weeks.
Cons
It’s a little tricky to get the beans evenly roasted. Even on my third try, I burned some of them. And once you start the actual roasting, you have to keep shaking the pan for the whole time.
If You Try This
It doesn’t actually take much heat to get an air temperature of 400 degrees F. The “medium” setting on my stove was enough. And you do need to use an old pan that you don’t care about. Heating up a stainless steel pan empty will permanently discolor it — I found that one out the hard way. Also, as soon as you’re done roasting, transfer the beans out of the pan and into a dish to cool. (If you leave them in the pan to cool, they’ll keep roasting and you’ll get burnt beans. This applies to all three methods.)

Oven Method
For this one, you just need green beans and a cast-iron frying pan (new or old). Heat up the oven to 500 degrees F, put a layer of beans into the frying pan and pop it into the oven. Shake the pan every now and again, and about 20 minutes later you have medium roast coffee.

Pros
This was also pretty quick and gave me enough roasted coffee for about ten days. It was also less hands-on than the stovetop method. I could peek in on the beans every few minutes, give them a quick shake and walk away. I used the convection setting on the oven and came away with beans that were evenly roasted and lovely.
Cons
Minor. Cast-iron frying pans are heavy. And heating up an oven to 500 degrees just to roast a single pan of coffee beans is a little wasteful, energy-wise. Get around this by using the oven to cook something else – just make sure it’s not smelly.

Air Popper Method
You need green coffee beans and an old air popper (the oils from the coffee will transfer to the sides of the popper). Put in a handful of beans and turn on the popper. Depending on how powerful it is, you should have roasted beans in about eight minutes.

Pros
It’s the quickest way to get the job done, and the beans come out evenly roasted.
Cons
It’s smoky, and as they roast, the beans will throw off this chaff that the popper sends flying all over your kitchen. The other major con is that it barely makes enough roasted beans for a week.
If You Try This
Place the popper in front of your kitchen sink so that most of the chaff flies in there. Bonus points if there’s a window nearby to let out the smoke.

And the Winner is …
My vote goes to the oven roasting method – a small amount of effort, evenly roasted beans and enough coffee for ten days or more. (Susan Zimmer does point out that roasted beans start to lose their flavour after a week. I’ll let you decide how dedicated you want to be.)

Now, the numbers. This is the sort of double whammy life hack I love. Not only does your library card save you the cost of the book, there’s a big savings on beans and you’re getting an excellent cup of coffee to boot. I use an average of 30 grams of coffee beans per day and I’m going to guess that I’m home about 345 days each year. That works out to: 30 x 345 = 10.35 kilos of coffee. So:

One year of specialty beans (@ 17.00 per pound or 37.40 per kilo) = 387.09

vs.

One year of home-roasted green beans* (@12.98 per kilo) = 134.34
*from the Italian Centre Shop

The book is 12.91 at chapters.indigo.ca and 12.26 at amazon.ca, for an average of 12.60. Add that to the money you’ll save on beans over the course of a year, and this week’s hack adds up to a total of $265.35 saved with your library card. Cha-ching! Here’s the details on the book:

I Love Coffee!
Written by Susan Zimmer
Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Released Mar 1, 2007
ISBN 0740763776

But Wait! There’s More!
I discovered a bonus life hack in “I Love Coffee” – making café latte without a fancy machine. You do need a moka pot, but these are reasonably priced. The book provides instructions for frothing milk with a French press or in a saucepan with a whisk, and shows you how to assemble the final product. (The French press worked like a charm for me – even with 1% milk.) Brilliant!

And that’s it. Thank you for reading this week’s post. Do you have a favourite life hack that revolves around coffee? Leave me a comment or drop me a line at LibraryLifeHack [at] gmail.com. Then tune in next week, when I’ll be using the books of running guru Jeff Galloway to learn more about running your first marathon past the age of 50. Have a great week!

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Let’s Get This Party Started

Hey! Happy New Year! And welcome to Library Life Hack. This blog is a year-long experiment into determining the actual dollars-and-cents value of a library card.

Over the next 52 weeks, I’ll be talking about new skills that I’ve picked up through the use of library resources. What will I be learning? Skills that are useful to me, and skills that I hope might be useful to some of you. Ideally, in the true spirit of a life hack, these should be skills that save us time, money, or both. Expect posts on roasting your own coffee beans, learning how to speak another language, packing a decent lunch, building a sofa bed from scratch and knitting a sweater in a weekend.

How will it work? Each time I post, I’ll add up the consumer purchase price of the materials I’m using, plus any other money saved along the way. This will go onto the Math page. At the end of 2013, you and I will get to see what my library card is worth.

When you think about it, public libraries are one of the great original life hacks. Abraham Lincoln is said to have educated himself almost solely with borrowed books. Philanthropist Andrew Carnegie believed so strongly in public libraries that he funded and built 2500 of them, over the course of 46 years. If they time-travelled forward, I have no doubt that the wealth of knowledge housed in a modern library would astonish and delight these two great men. But enough background. Let the hacking begin!

Week One
It took a while to decide where I should start, but I eventually settled on opening with a topic that would potentially generate some money, even if it’s only in the theoretical sense right now. This week, we’re going to talk about learning how to play the stock market.

My crash course in stock market investment came by way of a book by Jason Kelly called “The Neatest Little Guide to Stock Market Investing”. It was first published in 1998, and he releases an updated version about every three years. (The very newest one came out about a week ago.)

This book lives up to its name. It’s a quick 320 pages and it explains, in simple and tidy language, exactly how the stock market works and exactly how to invest in it. It’s comprehensive but there’s no fluff — just easy-to-understand, common sense instructions. By the end, I was pretty confident that I could use the book to build a real-life stock portfolio.

For the purposes of this blog, however, we’re going to build an imaginary portfolio and track its progress for the next year.

Here’s how it works: First, I followed Jason Kelly’s advice to locate a group of stocks that I thought had good potential. Next, I used his worksheet to whittle down to 15 winners. This worksheet compares stocks across 30 criteria. I know that sounds like a lot of work, but these are standard numbers and ratios and they aren’t that hard to locate.

For US stocks, the bulk of the information that goes into the worksheet can be found in three publications: Value Line Investment Survey, Standard & Poor’s Outlook and Investor’s Business Daily. And this is where library access REALLY pays off.

These are three outstanding investment periodicals. And a year’s subscription to them will set you back just over $1000. Unless, of course, you have access to a library. You’ll find them in the business reference section of most larger libraries, where you can research them for free. Cha-ching!

With Canadian stocks, you can find most of the worksheet information by digging a little between Google Finance, Yahoo Finance and the annual reports of the companies you’re looking at. (What you’ll have to live without are the ratings that are specific to Value Line and Standard & Poor’s.)

Meet the Library Life Hack Dream Team
This imaginary portfolio contains one share of each of the 15 winning stocks. We’ll be checking in on them once a month.

Company Name Ticker Symbol Closing Price Dec 31
AEtna Zentaris Inc. AEZS 2.38 CDN
Bombardier Inc. BBD-B.TO 3.76 CDN
Callaway Golf Co. ELY 6.50 US
Cameron International Corp. CAM 56.46 US
Canadian Tire Corp. CTC.TO 81.00 CDN
Cott Corp. COT 8.03 US
Indigo Books & Music IDG 10.68 CDN
Koninlijke Philips Electronics PHG 26.54 US
Magna International Inc. MG.TO 49.68 CDN
Research in Motion Ltd. RIM.TO 11.80 CDN
Ryder Systems Inc. R 49.93 US
Sherwin-Williams Co. SHW 153.82 US
Sparton Corp. SPA 13.87 US
USG Corp. USG 28.07 US
Westjet Airlines Ltd. WJA.TO 19.81 CDN
Total Value $CDN $179.11
Total Value $US $343.22

And ta dah! That’s our first library life hack. If you want to try it for yourself, here’s the complete information on this week’s library materials:

The Neatest Little Guide to Stock Market Investing
Written by Jason Kelly
Published by Plume
Released Dec 25, 2012
ISBN 0452298628

Value Line Investment Survey
Found at valueline.com

Standard & Poor’s Outlook
Found at spoutlook.com

Investor’s Business Daily
Found at investors.com

And now, the numbers. The current cost of the book on amazon.ca is $12.27 and on chapters.indigo.ca, it’s $12.92. That averages out to $12.60. Value Line Investment Survey is $598 US for an annual online subscription. A year of Standard & Poor’s Outlook online is $200 US, and a year of Investor’s Business Daily is $269 US. Once you do the conversion to Canadian dollars, that’s a whopping $1067.86 saved by using a library.

I’m pretty jazzed about this year-long experiment. But you know what? I’m even more jazzed that you took the time to read this post. If you like, leave a comment and if you have a life hack you want to see me try out, drop me a line at LibraryLifeHack [at] gmail.com.

Next week, we’re going to tackle some simple ways to home-roast your own coffee beans — which leads to a great cup of coffee at a better price. In the meantime, have a great week, and Happy 2013 to you!

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