Talk to strangers

Cartoon that says don't talk to strangers, don't talk to anyoneIf you read last week’s blog, you’ll know I was planting trees this past weekend. Hope you got your hands dirty too. One of the gentleman who was volunteering at Lemoine’s Point knee-deep in mud yesterday told me that his great great grandfather was a brick layer who came over from England. He had designed and built the portico in our Parliament Buildings in Ottawa.

We also got into an interesting conversation about physical education in our school’s system, and how children need daily exercise in order to focus and do well in school. He cited studies that showed students did dramatically better on math tests when they engaged in 60 minutes of exercise immediately before testing.

We go to school, take courses, attend workshops and conferences to learn, and yet one of the most easiest and free ways to learn is simply by talking to people.

Especially strangers. When you talk to a stranger, you are more likely to learn something new and see things from a whole new perspective.

Travelling is wonderful for this. When I travel, I always talk to the person sitting next to me. On recent flights, I’ve met a girl who worked for Mastercard who was a personal consultant to high net worth clients (she advised people with millions of dollars on how to get the most of their card purchases). One time I sat next to a songwriter from Nashville who was on his way to Chicago for a high school reunion. He had written songs for stars like Willy Nelson.

When I was in New Orleans this March, I had lunch at a diner style place (these places are great for single travelers who don’t want to eat alone) and met the priest from St. Louis Cathedral who told us what it was like to live in the middle of “bedlam” as he referred to living on the edge of Bourbon Street. My cab driver who drove me to the airport told me he had just signed up for Obamacare which led to an interesting discussion on health care in the United States. Even when I’m travelling to Toronto or Montreal on business on the train, I try to shut my laptop down for 20 minutes and talk to the person sitting next to me.

We can learn so much if we reach out and talk to people. This week’s Happy Act is to talk to a stranger. Strike up a conversation, ask about what they do, their family. I’d love to hear what you learned, so leave a comment and share your experience.

A special note to parents this week: One of my biggest pet peeves as a parent is when I hear another parent say to their kids “Don’t talk to strangers”. I remember years ago going out for Dave’s mother’s birthday for a family celebration to a restaurant in Burlington. Next to us, another family was celebrating a birthday. Dave’s Mom, who was around 65 at the time leaned across and said a few words to the young girl, and her mother hissed at her to not talk to strangers. Dave’s Mom was crushed.

Do we really want to teach our children not to talk to other people? I get the safety thing, but there is a HUGE difference in engaging in polite, idle conversation with people, and getting in a car and going somewhere with them. We’ve taught our children the difference, and things like code words to keep them safe. But telling them not to engage with others and learn from others is so terribly sad. If you have young children, I beg of you, please banish this phrase from your vocabulary.


Get your hands dirty

IMG_1439I moved to the country about 20 years ago. I wasn’t sure whether I was going to like it, having lived in the suburbs most of my life. Much to my surprise, I fell in love with this area, its vastness, beauty, community spirit and the freedom we have to roam and explore. I feel like I can breathe here.

Country life isn’t for everyone, and this post is not meant to wax poetic on the joys of country living. But I do believe that in today’s urban culture, we have become separated from the land that sustains us physically, emotionally and spiritually.

We have moved from a society of hunters and gatherers, to producers and manufacturers, to knowledge workers who use screens and devices to do our work. What toll does this have on us as human beings? Have we lost basic skills of survival? Have we lost a respect for our land and its sustainability? Have we suffered spiritually or emotionally from not being firmly grounded with terra firma?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. All I know is when we drive back from Toronto and pass the final townhouse in Oshawa and see the open fields, I sigh a big sigh of relief and rejoice in the sights and smells of the land on my way home.

This week’s Happy Act is to get your hands dirty and plant something. Saturday, May 3 is Community Tree Planting Day in Ontario. I’ll be planting trees twice this week. My kids’ public school is having a work bee to build a new garden as part of the school’s Eco Schools initiative (a big shout out to Union Gas for donating $1,000 and volunteers to help with this project). On Saturday, my entire family will be at Lemoine’s Point Conservation Area planting trees for the Cataraqui Conservation Area. If you go to the Trees Ontario website, you can find out where you can plant trees in your community this Saturday.

NOTE: Apologies for the late post this week for you Sunday morning regulars. Our home internet was down for the last five days–country living!

Here’s some pictures from the tree planting: Volunteers from Union Gas with a young helper, and my family at Lemoine’s Point in Kingston.

Union gas volunteers planting trees



Swinton family planting trees