A thinky-thought/ thought experiment for your long weekend consideration (plus: seasonally appropriate recipes, at the end):

Let’s say you’re out for a nice walk, happily strolling along and minding your own business, and you notice your neighbor’s lawn (which isn’t kept up the way you keep up your lawn, but…) looks more overgrown than usual. Do you:

  • Take a photo and post it on NextDoor with a note about code enforcement?
  • Text the neighbor, saying if they don’t take care of the yard you’ll call code enforcement?
  • Decide to mow the yard yourself, because the neighbor’s probably out of town (or just generally slacking) and you’re mowing your own lawn anyway and it’s nice to do things for neighbors and you’ll be helping the whole neighborhood by cleaning up this mess?
  • Text the neighbor to ask if they’re out of town and if they’d like you to mow their lawn while you’re mowing your own, later in the day?
  • Let the whole thing go, because it’s not your circus, not your monkeys?

Wait. Don’t answer. Keep reading.

Let’s say a close friend calls you asking for help with a dilemma. Your friend was out for a morning walk and noticed that a neighbor’s lawn was more overgrown than usual, and your friend wants advice about what to do in response.

What questions could you ask your friend to help that friend solve the problem?

Some examples:

  • Do you know the neighbor?
  • What would you want to happen if it were your yard that was overgrown?
  • What’s important to you about this?
  • What does your gut tell you to do?
  • What have you tried in the past?
  • Have you tried talking to the neighbor?
  • (Et cetera)

And now the question for you, reader:

What difference do you notice in yourself, if any, between being the person who’s deciding what to do versus being the friend advising a friend? How does looking at the situation from an outside perspective (that of a friend helping a friend) reframe the problem at hand and lead to finding a better solution?

Many years ago, at a friend’s suggestion, I took Tina Seelig’s Crash Course in Creativity. (Side note: The final assignment was writing a failure resume, which I wrote about at the time, in 2014).

Once I got over the reluctance (abject terror) associated with joining a Google hangout and having to share my actual personal perspectives, live, with a group of complete strangers from all over the world (!), I enjoyed the experience immensely.

One of the takeaways, that’s still paying dividends? The first step in solving a problem is getting the problem statement right. Reframing the problem from a different vantage point can improve the problem statement itself.

Practice asking:

What would this problem/situation look like from a friend’s perspective?

How about an adversary’s perspective?


Is this the right question?

What are other ways of asking this same question?

Does this question address the true underlying concern?

What is that underlying concern?

Another tip for strengthening the problem-solving muscles is to practice solving low-stakes, irrelevant problems. (Ridiculous examples: What am I going to do about the junk drawer in the kitchen? How can I make a better grocery shopping list?)

And finally, practice asking yourself:

What’s the root problem that I’m actually trying to solve, and why is solving it important?

Food | Week of September 8 5, 2014 2022 (edited/updated)

fall greens 2014

Here are two things I believe to be absolutely, positively true (still, in 2022): The secret to a happy life is being a good sport; and the secret to a good salad is salt.

I’ve been working on my salad skills (a lifetime pursuit), studying what I like in other people’s preparations and making some mental notes. I’ve long been a fan of the Brianna’s brand of salad dressings because they aren’t overly sweet, and they have simple ingredients. And they require zero preparation – good for the rush hour cook. I’ve been trying, for years actually, to get to the point of using only olive oil and lemon juice, but the salads always tasted bland to me. Then, a few weeks ago, we had dinner with a neighbor and one of the other dinner guests brought salad – best salad ever, I swear. The dressing, she said, was just olive oil and lemon juice (equal parts). “Oh, and salt, of course; a good bit.” Try it; you’ll see.

Fall Salad with Maple Viniagrette

A friend brought us a quart of maple syrup from Michigan, and we’re down to the last few tablespoons – not enough to serve a family full of pancakes, but definitely enough for I still like this salad from Martha Stewart, all by itself. Top with poached chicken breasts or shredded chicken meat if you need meat.

Arugula Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash, Cranberries & Candied Pecans

The ingredients in this salad from Saveur are some of my favorites, individually and together. Some chopped pancetta would probably work, if you can’t go vegetarian. A whole grain boule would also be tasty (with butter, of course).

eggs september 2014

Croque Tartine Parisienne with Green Salad

This recipe isn’t as hard as it might seem – béchamel is really very easy to make, and the instructions in Saveur are good. It’s really a baked ham, cheese and egg sandwich with a yummy sauce. For the side salad just toss some tender greens with (yep, you guessed it) olive oil, lemon juice and salt.

Roasted Fall Vegetables with Lentils

Now that my children are in college, I can cook what I like, without worrying about the three bite/peanut butter sandwich rule. So I’m going to make, and enjoy So, no, I probably don’t have a prayer of getting my people to eat and enjoy this roasted vegetable/lentil salad. But I am not giving up, because the three bite/peanut butter sandwich rule is still in place, and it still works.

The Greenest Green Salad

Bookmark this one.

Swiss Chard with Poached Egg

Yep, we’re the egg-eating-est people you’ll ever meet. We love them, and sometimes I can get my people to try new things (Swiss chard, perhaps) if there’s egg involved; so we’ll give this recipe, also from Whole Living, a test run. Nope.