Wine 101

Welcome back! It’s Week 15 here at Library Life Hack and we’re going to learn about all about wine.

Now, before we hit the vineyard, let me tell you about this week’s check-back: a follow-up on my Week 13 poetry hack. I read my own poem in public — and lived to tell the tale! Get the details here.

Not Very Good at Buying Wine
For a long time I had a dismal lack of knowledge about wine. I learned a little more by drinking quite a lot of it, although that’s not necessarily a path I’d recommend. I’ve also gone to tastings – if you pay attention, this is a good way to pick up bits and pieces of knowledge.

But I’m still something of a dunce. Sometimes I score – and sometimes I show up at dinner parties with wine that makes my more cultured friends roll their eyes and sigh quietly. What’s worse is that the groaners can cost just as much as the hits.

Perhaps We Can Fix This
It would be great to go into a wine store and not have it become a game of “Prettiest Label Roulette”. I took this challenge to my home library to see what could be done. There were many, many books on wine, but I was more intrigued by the DVDs. Like yoga, wine tasting is a physical skill — one that might be better addressed in video, rather than on paper. The two resources I checked out were polar opposites in their approach, but well worth the time.

The Monty Python Method
The first DVD is titled “Wine for the Confused” and features British comic actor John Cleese. As odd as that might sound, this is a great little video.

John Cleese’s method is brilliantly simple:
1. Figure out what you like.
2. Find the right words to describe what you like (plummy, jammy, spicy, fruity …)
3. Take your new vocabulary to a good wine store, tell them your budget, and give them the words for what you like.

Cast in this light, it really is that easy. As well, he gives you a short foundation in how wine is grown and produced, how to store it and how to serve it. In 92 minutes, you can walk away from the TV and have everything you need to embark on a lifetime of enjoying wine.Seriously, does it get any easier than this?

Wine Education in a Small Box
Thanks to John Cleese, I know how to find what I like, but what about when I have to take wine to the homes of my friends? This is where Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan comes in. She’s the author and expert host of “The Everyday Guide to Wine”.

This set of six DVDs has 24 half-hour lectures that will take you through each of the major wine types (white, red, sparkling and fortified), each major wine-making region, how to buy, and how to match wine with food. When Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan is done with you, you’ll have some impressive knowledge indeed.

What I liked about this series was that after the first few lectures, she asks you to start buying particular wines in advance of the next lecture (for example a Chablis and a Chardonnay). In that lecture, you actually taste those wines — with her guidance about what to look for, etc. I thought this interactive angle was really smart. Instead of just absorbing dry knowledge, you’re actually learning by doing.

Turn it Into a Party
Can you imagine how much fun it would be to watch these DVDs with a few friends, taking turns buying the wines and tasting them together?

A Secret For You
There’s just one small hitch. In many libraries, DVD loans expire after a week. Ah, but me tell you a little secret. In my home library (Strathcona County), you can renew this loan period up to two more times. That leaves the DVDs in your hands for three weeks. (21 days for 24 half-hour lectures. I think you can handle it.) Check with your own library about renewals or extended loan periods.

The Numbers
Between and, “Wine for the Confused” averages out to $15.68. “The Everyday Guide to Wine” is only available through a company called The Great Courses ( and costs $US 254.95 plus $US 30.00 US shipping. In Canadian dollars, that’s $292.56. Add the two together, and that’s $308.24 saved this week by using your library card. Cha-ching!

Late Breaking News!
This morning, I received a tweet from Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan. In the true spirit of life hacking, she pointed me to a link where you can purchase “The Everyday Guide to Wine” for just $49.95. Frugal friends, you can find out more here and thank you to to Jennifer for pointing the way!

Here’s the lowdown on this week’s resources:

Wine for the Confused
Hosted by John Cleese
Published by Paradox Studios
Released Aug 23, 2005

The Everyday Guide to Wine
Created and hosted by Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan
Published by The Teaching Company
ISBN 1598036475

And that’s it! Tune in next week, when we have some fun with do-it-yourself art forgery. But until then, a question:

How are You Using Your Library?
I know that there must be people out there besides me who are using library materials for their own life hacks. Are you one of them? Have you learned how to fix something, cook something, create something? I want to hear from you! Send me a message at LibraryLifeHack [at] gmail dot com. (Or leave a comment below.) And have a terrific week!


“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, but 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

Yoga Journal: Complete Home Practice
Released Sept 6, 2011

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!


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. : )