The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio: How-to edition

The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio: How-to edition

Back by popular demand, an occasional feature we debuted in January: the Big 10, how-to edition, where we seek out expert advice from near and far on a variety of topics.

Got a how-to topic you'd like us to pursue? E-mail it to


How to survive being White House press secretary

SCOTT McCLELLAN, who served in the George W. Bush White House (2003-06), says: "Recognize that serving more than two years in the position is extremely hazardous to your sanity and hairline. Never lose your sense of humor or forget to smile when reporters, in the eloquent and immortal words of General Russ Honore, get 'stuck on stupid.'

"And leave as fast as you can if anyone directs you to use alternative facts or if the president refuses to let you vet his tweets."

MIKE McCURRY, who had the job during the Clinton Era (1994-98), says: "Well, I once conducted a briefing with a paper bag over my head. True story. The truth is, a little humor can carry you a long way. I got out of a tight spot once by complaining to the press I was 'double parked in the no-comment zone.'

"It's really about preparation, getting good answers and having the humility to understand it's not personal, it's about the president."

ROBERT GIBBS, the first of three Obama Era spokesmen (2009-11), says: "One, try to have some fun. Second, always tell the truth. Third, don't take the back and forth with any reporter personally because everyone is just doing their job."


How to write like the world's best-selling author of all-time

JAMES PATTERSON (380 million-plus books sold) says: "Outline, outline, outline before you begin anything longer than a tweet.

"And when you grow up, don't be the next James Patterson; be the next you, with your own voice."


How to cure your social media addiction

MELISSA WESTENDORF, co-founder of the Technology Wellness Center, says: "A good place to start is to get your phone out of the bedroom. This keeps you from using it immediately before you go to bed and looking at it immediately after waking up. And for some, the temptation to take saucy photos.

"Buy a good old-fashioned alarm clock. We survived without phone alarms before, and we can again."


How to avoid common mistakes when it's time here soon to plant your garden

Former Danville Garden Club president and Master Gardener ALICE VERNON says: "Every early spring, I find myself and others addicted to starting too soon. And this year, after being imprisoned by historically severe weather, that is especially true.

"We start planning and planting on the inside getting ready for the outside. As uplifting as it feels, starting seedlings in the house too early results in spindly seedlings that suffer from lack of sunlight, weak roots and damage when you separate them to move outside. Holding off a few more weeks can prevent these problems."

SHANE CULTRA, owner of Urbana's Country Arbors Nursery, says: "The most common mistake is using the beautiful days to shop when you should try and shop in the bad weather, so you can plant on nice days. The crummy days get wasted, and often plants sit on the back porch waiting for the next pretty day."


How to impress your Illini fan friends with your knowledge of the merry mammal some would like to see become the UI's mascot

UI grad MATT O'CONNOR, senior vet at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium, says: "When alarmed, North American river otters make an explosive snort. This would make a great chant for the Orange Krush.

"They're part of the mustelid family — stinky weasels — and can smell a bit like a college dorm laundry room. They produce a pungent odor to mark their territories or ward off predators."

UI grad BETH BICKNESE, senior vet at the San Diego Zoo, says: "While many wild animal species play as juveniles to learn adult skills, otters play as adults also. This can be seen on YouTube clips, as they slide repeatedly down a slope just because it's fun."

JAY TETZLOFF, superintendent of Bloomington's Miller Park Zoo, says: "Although they are cute, they have the ability to do harm. When I worked at another zoo, during a catch-up for an annual physical, our male bit the animal curator in his upper inner thigh, very close to his groin.

"At another zoo, one of the staff had the tip of her thumb bit off through capture gloves."


How to escape the bottom of the NFL pile, following a fumble, with all your limbs

Fox Sports personality, 11-year pro lineman and College Football Hall of Famer LINCOLN KENNEDY says: "I've had players from the other team each take a leg and try to pull apart. I've been tickled, jabbed in the groin, farted on. I even suffered a broken rib from the weight of a pile-on.

"So when you ask what's the strategy for living through one of these melees, I would suggest that you get the ball and try to put yourself in the fetal position for as long as you can. You may be there for a while."

6-time Pro Bowl linebacker KARL MECKLENBURG says: "The NFL's attempt to make defensive players not land on quarterbacks when they make a sack shows that the bottom of the pile is still a dangerous place.

"They are telling you as the sacker that you should sacrifice yourself to the bottom of the pile to protect our precious quarterbacks."


How to show Mother Earth the proper respect

From Germany, Urbana High grad and United Nations Climate Change Secretariat ANN LEE JOE says: "Around 1990, a group of Urbana High School students formed a group called SWI, which stood for Students for World Improvement. The slogan was 'Think Globally, Act Locally.'

"Among other initiatives, the students ensured all classrooms throughout the school were equipped with cardboard boxes, which were placed on top of rubbish bins. The cardboard box obstacle deterred students from simply throwing paper into the bin, paper being the predominate waste product of classrooms. These were then collected and recycled.

"This is an example that a simple initiative can make a difference. Whether it is committing to carrying a metal water bottle, refusing plastic bags at the shop or recycling and reusing common items, every bit makes a difference."


How to make pasta sauce that will have everyone who tastes it asking for your recipe

MARY MANZELLA RACZ, of Champaign's Manzella's Italian Patio, says: "Obviously, we keep our recipe a secret so that our customers come to us for their pasta cravings. One thing I can tell is that when we make our sauce, we use a line of paste that has been the same for the majority of our 59 years, keeping it deliciously consistent. We don't cook it for hours, like most people would think."

TONY PRIOLO, owner/executive chef at Chicago's Piccolo Sogno, says: "Use imported San Marzano tomatoes — six cans, whole in juice — for the best result."

ANTHONY GITTO, owner of St. Louis' Charlie Gitto's, says: "When shopping for the best Italian canned tomatoes, always look for the DOP (protected designation of origin). This is Italy's guarantee that it is the correct kind of tomato and helps protect the reputation of the region's food.

"Also, time is of the essence. I believe cooking low and slow is one of the many keys to a great sauce."


How to choose that first tattoo for you

NICK WIGGINS, owner of Westville's Mark of Cain Tattoos, says: "Get what you want, and ignore concerns of what others might think.

"Avoid copying someone else's tattoo, and keep in mind that if the image already exists — either in print or on the Internet — chances are thousands of other people already had it done on them. Individuality and originality are key."


How to crush your co-workers (or at least not get totally humiliated) in your March Madness office bracket pool

Big Ten Network and Fox Sports bracket master HOWIE SCHWAB says: "When the bracket comes out, I look for three to four sure-fire upsets. Then I take a lot of favorites in the later rounds because the best teams win in the end.

"I remember winning when Maryland cut down the nets. I also remember my wife beating me when UConn won, and she only knew one team, led by Jim Calhoun. Enough said. You need luck as much as knowledge."

Davidson College mathematician TIM CHARTIER says: "Dream of a perfect bracket? You have a better chance of living the nightmare of getting hit by lightning five times in your life.

"How do you get the odds to be ever in your favor? First, lean on the experts. Look online for predictions by those who study bracketology."You take medicine by prescription of an expert, you don't pick it by your favorite color."

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