18 Things You Should Know by Now

Cold-call a client, overcome writer’s block, make a spectacular entrance, minimize your carbon footprint: A cheat sheet for women of experience.

By Rebecca Adler, Marisa Cohen, Lisa Selin Davis, Juliann Garey, Cathy Garrard, and Amanda Robb

How to Bluff at Poker

Professional poker player Cyndy Violette shares her secrets for keeping a straight face; whether you choose to use them at the gaming table or elsewhere is your call. "Observe the competition for at least one hand to analyze their betting patterns," she says, "and don’t create your own by playing with your hair or fiddling with your chips. I hold my cards with both hands at all times. A good hand is easy to recognize: Players’ pupils get big. They look as if they’ve just woken up, and they study their chips to calculate their winnings. Breathe — holding your breath is a telltale sign that you’re lying! Raise the bet only two or three times higher, and focus your eyes on one thing, like the flop [the face-up cards] — a reasonable thing to stare at. You’re not going to pull it off all the time, but when you do, it’s a great feeling."

How to Relax Before Speaking in Public

Ask anyone who’s at ease in front of a crowd how they do it, and the first thing, the key thing, the if-you-only-do-one-thing-do-this thing she’ll say is: prepare. "As the actor Michael Caine has said, ‘Rehearsal is the work, and performance, the relaxation,’" says Patricia Fripp, a San Francisco-based executive speech coach. That doesn’t mean memorizing your entire speech, says Ann Hastings, a board member of Toastmasters International. But you must practice it, in front of live people, as many times as you (and they) can stand it. Fine. We get it. But we’re not Michael Caine. We need a little more help for the day-of.

Get to the venue where you will be speaking about an hour early, Hastings advises. Test the sound system and any other equipment you’ll be using. If you can, greet the people who will be in your audience, "That will make them feel like friends," she says.

About 10 minutes before you speak, use the bathroom.

About five minutes before, take some deep breaths — "just enough to get your adrenaline under control," Hastings says. We like the 5-5-10 method: Breathe in through your nose for five seconds, hold for five seconds, then exhale through your mouth for 10 seconds. "Let your arms hang by your sides and just shake them, discreetly," she suggests. Or, if you have some privacy, slip off your shoes, stand on one leg, and shake the other. Switch legs and repeat. "When you put your foot back on the ground, it will feel lighter," says Fripp, explaining that this will channel your nervous energy into the floor. "It’s a practical technique used by actors." Aha! And we thought Sir Michael simply rehearsed a lot.

How to Shrink Your Carbon Footprint

The slingbacks you’re sporting may say you’re a size 8, but one backward glance and you just might find you’ve walked a mile (or more) in Bigfoot’s shoes. How much energy we use (and greenhouse gases we emit) by driving and flying and turning on the lights is known as our carbon footprint. Here’s how to tread a little more lightly.

1. Measure your footprint with a carbon calculator, found on Web sites such as epa.gov and climatecrisis.net. You’ll need your electric, gas, and water bills; your car’s make, model, and average gas mileage; and your air travel mileage for the year. Include your state and the size of your household. Then compare your score with the national average, which is 7.5 tons of CO2 per person per year.

2. Take just one baby step. Your sleeping computer or plugged-in empty cell-phone charger consumes loads of standby (a.k.a. phantom) energy — at least five percent of your bill. Plug all your nonessential appliances into one or two power strips and switch them off when you don’t need them. If all four million women readers of MORE did this, the atmosphere would be 2.5 million tons of CO2 lighter this year.

3. Offset what you do use. Buy "carbon credits" that plant trees or invest in clean solar or wind power (at sites such as nativeenergy.com, terrapass.com, and carbonfund.org).

How to Get a Passport at the Last Minute

As soon as the State Department announced last year that Americans returning by air from Canada, Bermuda, the Caribbean and Mexico would need passports to reenter the U.S., applications jumped almost 50 percent, overwhelming the already overtaxed system. If you have tickets to travel within two weeks, contact the National Passport Services Center (877-487-2778; travel.state.gov) to make an appointment at one of its 13 regional offices. Bring proof of citizenship, two passport photos, your airline tickets, and payment (a new passport is $97, a renewal is $67; the rush fee is an additional $60 plus the overnight delivery charge). For about $100 more you can hire a private passport expeditor — they are allocated a set number of priority appointments at the regional offices; see the National Association of Passport and Visa Services’ Web site (napvs.org) for more details and a list of expeditors. If it’s truly an emergency — you have to retrieve a sick family member, for example — call an elected official and ask for help. "And if you’re even thinking of travel anywhere within the next year, apply for your passport now," advises Cheryl Hudak, president of the American Society of Travel Agents. "The system will only continue to get more backlogged."

How to Look 10 Years Younger, Guaranteed

Next time someone asks your age, lie up.

How to Finesse Forgetting Someone’s Name

It’s a midlife moment we would rather … forget. So next time you find your mind going blank, meet, greet, and cheat! Jeanne Fitzmaurice, an entrepreneur and philanthropist in Bend, Oregon, who has met with hundreds of clients over the years, offers these tricks for wriggling off the mnemonic hook:

When introducing two people, start with the name of the person you know. "I’ll say, ‘I want you to meet Joan Smith. She’s a dear friend. Joan…?’ Joan will then introduce herself, eliciting a response from the person I’ve forgotten."

If the situation is one-on-one, restate your name and pray the person returns the favor. Or leave the name out: "Use a detail you remember about them instead, such as ‘How are things going with your new health food business?’ If all else fails, say, ‘It’s so nice to see you again. I’m so sorry, would you please tell me your name again?’ Nine times out of 10, they can’t recall your name, either!"

How to Ask Your Parents for Power of Attorney

Talking with the folks about who’ll step in if they become ill or mentally incapacitated involves so many emotional land mines, you may be tempted to steer the conversation to just about anything else. (Sex or politics, anyone?) But asking for the legal authority to make financial decisions on an elderly parent’s behalf — including buying and selling property, accessing bank accounts and paying taxes — is a conversation you need to have, and sooner rather than later, says Joy Loverde, author of The Complete Eldercare Planner. "Your parents must sign the form while they are still of sound mind," she says. "If there is no form on file [when you need it], then you have to go into a guardianship hearing, which can be heartbreaking and difficult for everyone."

Each state has its own laws, so start by talking with your lawyer or your state attorney general’s office (get contact info at naag.org). You’ll need to find out what is required and learn the differences between nondurable, durable, and springing powers of attorney.

"Don’t try to weave this subject into a casual conversation or a boisterous family gathering," Loverde says. "You want to have an adult conversation." Broach the topic by mentioning a friend or acquaintance whose parent had suddenly fallen ill and did (or didn’t) have such a document in place. (You could also use a TV show or article as a jumping-off point.) Another option is to say, "I’m getting my affairs in order, and I’ve been reading up on power of attorney. Do you have any advice for me about how you’ve handled it?"

If your parents agree that it’s a good idea to grant you power of attorney, ask if they’d like to speak with their own lawyer or visit yours together. If they respond that they’ve already taken care of it, say, "Great! Who has the papers?" But if they resist talking about the subject, don’t push. At least you’ve planted the idea, Loverde says. And she suggests telling your parents "I’ll let you think about it, and I’ll call to discuss it in two weeks."

How to Style the Hair on the Back of Your Head

"The back of the head is actually what most people see," cautions MORE‘s beauty and fashion director, Lois Joy Johnson. To improve the rear view:

"Blow-dry with the biggest round brush possible for your hair length; grab a huge section of hair from the crown down, wrap it around the brush smoothly, and extend the hair out from the head, maintaining tension as you sweep the dryer back and forth. Pros advise starting from the underlayers, but I say, who cares if the underneath part is awry?!

"Thinning spots can be camouflaged with multitone streaks and long choppy layers for a permanently tousled look that you casually run your hands through — even in meetings, at lunch, in elevators. No mirror required.

"Or splurge on the Hermes signature half-scarf, a triangle that sits Jackie O-like on the forehead and crown. Add a big pair of hoops and dark glasses. This eliminates any concerns about the back of your head. Everyone will be trying to figure out who you are."

How to Make a Cold Call

We’ve all been on the receiving end of the call: the intrusion you grumpily field at work or in the middle of dinner. Here’s how to craft your opener when you’re on the other end of the line. "First, know who you are talking to, what their issues are, and what they need from you," says Wendy Weiss, a New York-based sales trainer. "Don’t say ‘Hi, I’m Sue, and I sell insurance,’ Try ‘Hi, I’m Sue. I work with a lot of people in your neighborhood, and my expertise is helping people make sure their families are taken care of.’" This also works if you’re fund-raising for a charity; in 1991 Weiss started an AIDS-education dance project. Her phone lead was "We’re the only dance company that saves the lives of children." If you’re asking for an informational interview, introduce yourself, then say, "I’m thinking of switching fields, and I was wondering if you could help me learn more about your industry." Most people, Weiss says, really do like to help. And the ones who don’t are probably just in the middle of dinner.

How to Calm MRI Jitters

Magnetic resonance imaging from closed (read: claustrophobia-inducing) machines were once far superior to the open type, but that gap is, er, closing. "Ask your doctor if your exam can be performed on an open machine," says Dr. Jacqueline Bello, director of neuroradiology at the Montefiore Medical Center, in the Bronx. "If the answer is yes, make sure it’s a machine with a field strength in the one tesla range." If an open machine isn’t an option, consider the following:

Make It a Mini Spa Visit

No, seriously — take advantage of the fact you’ll get to lie down for a half hour! Place a few drops of lavender oil under your nose and a plastic or foam compress over your eyes. "The coolness and wetness sends a soothing message to the brain," says Bello. MP3 players are a no-go because metal and magnets can’t mix, but most centers will play a CD for you. (MORE reader Denise Foret favors Gershwin’s "Rhapsody in Blue" because the machine’s clanking sounds remind her of New York.)

Distract Yourself

"I have MRIs regularly because I have MS," says MORE reader Sandra Daddario. "I stay calm by naming all the fruits and vegetables I can think of, or animals, or books that I’ve read, working my way through the alphabet." Ask your radiologist for a pair of prism glasses, which are offered in most imaging centers. The angles created by the prisms allow you to see outside the machine through the open space at your feet. "Some centers even have scenery painted on the wall, like a field of daisies or tropical fish," Bello says.

Use Meds as a Last Resort

But don’t pop Valium at home beforehand and not tell anyone. "God forbid you have an asthma attack, and the doctor doesn’t know you have drugs in your system already," Bello says. If you feel it’s absolutely necessary, let the doctor medicate you accordingly at the center, so you’ll be properly monitored.

How to Kick Your Crackberry Habit

It used to be that we’d take our work home with us. Now, thanks to PDAs, we’re taking it everywhere. (You didn’t hear it from us, but a certain editor-in-chief has been known to Treo from the loo.)

"Who, Me?"

As with any addiction, the first step is admitting the problem, says Mara Blumenthal, moderator of crackberry.com’s Dear Berry column. If you take your PDA to weddings and funerals, if it "feels like a third person in your relationship," enough already!

Cry Uncle

The Sheraton Chicago hotel locks up guests’ PDAs free of charge, a service the general manager initiated after kicking his own habit. At the Mayflower Inn and Spa, in Washington, Connecticut, the only place you get cell phone service is on the putting green, "which makes you look really stupid," notes one PDA-addicted friend. Check your device at dinner along with your coat, or ask a friend to hold it. (You’re not really going to plead for it back during the salad course, are you?)

All thumbs

If going cold turkey is too overwhelming, set the instant message function to "unavailable" or turn your wireless capabilities off for a while. See? That wasn’t so bad.

How to Say the Right Thing

Tragedy, unfortunately, is a given. What to say by way of consolation in times of sickness, death, a cheating spouse, unemployment, or plastic surgery gone wrong is not. Janet Eisenberg is not a grief counselor. She doesn’t even play one on TV. She is a voice-over casting director from New York who, like many of us, has suffered loss upon loss. (Her mother, her father, her best friend from college and, most recently, her marriage.) Over the years she’s heard some doozies; here are some phrases to choose and to lose.

Send Flowers Instead!

  • He’s in a better place. "That’s so pat. The best place he can be is with his family, in his life. You can’t assume anybody’s beliefs."
  • It’s for the best. "The best!? Are they kidding?"
  • I remember when my aunt/grandfather/parakeet died. "People try to bring in their own losses, and you have to say, ‘Uh-huh … uh-huh … that must have been really terrible for you.’ And you’re thinking, This doesn’t count."

Words of Wisdom

  • I remember when your dad…. "And then they share a wonderful memory or story or tell me something about his joie de vivre or some great moment I didn’t know about."
  • I’d really like to help with X. "Most people just say, ‘Let me know if you need anything.’ The idea is nice, but get specific when you offer. Then I don’t have to cough it up and make the call."
  • I see him in you. "I appreciate hearing about a quality of his that we share." And after listening to as many condolences as she has, what does Eisenberg say to friends who are suffering? "I tell them the truth," she says. "It sucks. And then give them a hug. Really, that’s what it comes down to."

How to Draw a Straight Line

"I start with a thumbnail sketch when I’m animating a character," says Michelle Cowart, who worked on the new DreamWorks film Bee Movie. "Whether you’re drawing a street map for a visiting friend, designing a vegetable garden for your yard, or planning a seating chart, you can do the same. Think conceptually and break down your project into simple shapes."

To draw a straight line, make two dots. Then connect the dots with a straight edge.

To draw a circle, lift your wrist off the paper. Move your arm in a loose, circular motion, feeling the movement to create a more perfect shape.

To draw a 3-D box, sketch a square (four lines). Then draw a second square, overlapping one of the corners. The box is formed when you connect the corners. A rectangle is formed when you space the squares farther apart.

How to Read a Blueprint

First, nobody calls them that anymore, says Mary-Ann Agresti, principal architect and owner of The Design Initiative, Inc. in Boston. It’s drawings or plans.

A floor plan is a birds-eye view showing the width of walls and the placement of windows, fixtures, even light switches and outlets. (There are also roof plans and basement plans.) Elevations show the front, side or rear of a house from dead-on and include finishes and roof pitches; cross-sections are just that: a slice right down the middle.

To make sure what you see is what you really want, take out a tape measure and actually plot out the size of that stove or bay window, Agresti suggests. Or "think in terms of rugs," offers Winifred Gallagher, author of House Thinking. "If I am looking at a plan for an 8-by-10-foot porch, I think of a rug that size so I can visualize it."

How to Overcome Writer’s Block

You would not believe how long it took us to write this. We stared at the blank screen. Took a nap. Had a nonfat yogurt. And a piece of pizza. Then we decided interviewing the subject of the article might help.

Jennifer Belle, whose hilarious third novel, Little Stalker, features a neurotic novelist with writer’s block, has a virtually foolproof method for this condition — the process she has used to write all of her novels and that she uses in her fiction workshops when her own students get stuck. "I really think writer’s block is fear or a feeling of being overwhelmed," says Belle, whose approach is all about taking away the fear.

Use a Journal to Gear Up

"I go to a cafe and write in my diary — anything that’s taking up space in my head. It helps me connect with the writer inside me."


"It’s a great tool. You can be inspired by everything that surrounds you."

Make Time to Write — but Not Too Much Time

Belle wrote her whole first novel on Wednesdays. "I was in a writing workshop Wednesday nights and it was my day off, so that was my writing day," she says. But the idea of sitting in front of a computer for hours every day is enough to give any writer performance anxiety, she warns. "So don’t tell yourself, I’m going to write every morning from six a.m. until noon."

Break Down the Task into Tiny Little Pieces

"I settled on a main character, and I had her go on little adventures every Wednesday. When I gathered all those adventures or scenes or ‘bricks,’ as I call them, they all started to come together. Because if somebody asked me to build a house and then gave me all the construction materials at once, I wouldn’t know how to do it."

Start in the Middle

Whether you’re working on a toast to someone or a speech or a novel, writing out of order takes the pressure off and frees up your brain. "People sit down and they write ‘Chapter One’ and they freeze," Belle says. "Or they think they have to know what they want to say or they have to have a big thought. But all you have to have to start writing is a desire to express yourself. And then give yourself a little time."

How to Make an Entrance

"Slowly!" says Stephanie Braxton, who played Tara on All My Children. "Lag behind in the receiving line, in the elevator, wherever," and walk in alone. "It’s an old theater trick. On stage you always isolate the figure you want people to focus on." Silently acknowledge everyone around you. "This makes them your ‘audience,’ even if you’re just entering a conversation. It’s also very calming." Now focus on staying in the spotlight. If there’s a photographer, move into the middle of a group of men, advises Dallas philanthropist Heidi Dillon ("You’ll look like the belle of the ball"), and to the far right in groups of women (your name will be first in the caption).

How to Put Out a Fire — Literally

Here’s the short answer: Don’t. "Call 911!" says Cobb County, Georgia, firefighter Denell Boyd. And in the meantime:

If you check on the lamb chops you’re broiling and they’ve burst into flames…

"Close the door to the oven immediately and turn it off," Boyd says.

If you’re lighting candles and your sleeve catches fire…

What you learned in third grade still holds. Stop. Drop. And roll: "You want to take the oxygen away from the fire, so you never want to wave your clothes around."

If you’re cooking Thanksgiving dinner for your entire extended family and a small grease fire breaks out…

Put a lid on the pan. "Never put water on it; it will splatter and spread. Don’t lift the lid or the oxygen will start the fire up again." If you’re discreet and the stuffing’s good, no one will notice.

If your husband’s cooking Thanksgiving dinner and a large grease fire breaks out…

Grab the Dry Chemical ABC fire extinguisher you bought immediately after reading this article. Remove the plastic tie from the handle, pull the pin out and, aiming the nozzle at the base of the fire (but keeping the extinguisher upright), squeeze the handle. The fire-eating stuff should come out. Sweep the extinguisher from side to side until the fire is completely out. If this doesn’t work, back out of the room, direct your guests to the nearest exit, get the hell out and call 911. Then take everyone out for burgers. Charbroiled.

How to Put Out a Fire — Figuratively

Along with power and responsibility come times when everything goes up in flames. Personnel conflicts, budget shortfalls, marital strife, termites, teenage rebellion — your first impulse is maybe to grab a fiddle and watch it all burn. For policy analyst Nancy Soderberg, the fire raged from 1993 through mid-1994. "Somalia was blazing, Haiti was a mess, Bosnia was a failed policy, we were in the process of trying to get a cease-fire in Northern Ireland," she says of her early days working as staff director on President Clinton’s National Security Council. Okay, global upheaval trumps termites. But her strategies for foreign policy crises can be applied to your personal and professional lives.

1. Prioritize. "You’d be amazed how many balls you can keep in the air by focusing on the large issues and realizing that you don’t have to decide everything at the same time."

2. Reevaluate. "You have to say, if I don’t like the results I’m getting, what can I change to get the results I want?"

3. Negotiate. "People often look at crises or problems as a zero-sum game, where there have to be winners and losers. In peace negotiations you need to convince both sides that it’s a win-win situation. Once they realize that, they’re willing to compromise and move forward."

So put down that fiddle and get to work. And remember, whatever crisis you’re facing, chances are it’s not the end of the world.

Originally published in MORE magazine, October 2007.

First Published Mon, 2009-04-06 18:17

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