A Wondrous Weekend: Atwood and Penner

Good morning!

I hope your last week was as busy but as fantastic as mine was. Now I just need a week entirely alone to curl up and process it all. (Seriously).


The beginning of the week was the long weekend, but our week really kicked off for us on Wednesday, when we got to see Fred Penner live. Amazing Canadian children’s singer that I grew up watching. He is from Winnipeg, Manitoba and has a list of hits that include “The Cat Came Back” and “Sandwiches”. Fred Penner used to be a part of my day when I would tune in to Fred Penner’s Place. Does anyone else remember that show? I saw that he was coming to the Calgary Children’s Festival and jumped at the chance to see him live, which I have never done, with a bunch of memories coming back to me as I clicked ‘Purchase’. I play the CD I had as a kid for my children and they love it as much as I did/do, so was worth the money for them to see him too. Both Izzy and Hunter were extremely excited for the show. It was at the Jack Singer Concert Hall downtown. Our seats were in the second section so that there was no one sitting in front of us, and the kids would be high enough up to see properly.


Before the show started, I noticed that Izzy was fascinated by the sound board, which was just in front of us.

Part of the sound board

Part of the sound board


Then the lights dimmed and Fred Penner’s voice came on, joking that the show would start in ten minutes…oh he means ten seconds…..

Fred Penner

Fred Penner

Fred Penner came on with his co-host Paul and they began to ham it up, sing, rock out and perform. It was such a good show! Monty Python and old rock song references for the adults, skits and songs for the kids, clap-alongs and sing-alongs for everyone! Just a fantastic show. Fred Penner has so much energy! There was rocking out, a bit of dancing around, lots of story-telling and a whole lot of energy injected in to every song. He is a really good singer and so entertaining. The kids played along and laughed and sang and interacted the whole time. It was an intimate and casual  concert, full of good energy and love and fun. I recommend going to his concert if you get a chance. There was a couple beside us, without kids, that were there on a date clearly for nostalgia sake, which I LOVED seeing. Fred Penner told us a story before every song and it gave little insights in to his childhood or his life now, which was nice. Afterward, he promised to hang out in the lobby for pictures, but we had to get the kids to bed. Fred Penner played an incredibly fun encore, and we had to get home after.

The next day, after not enough sleep, both of the kids had a field trip to the Children’s Festival with their school. Since Hunter’s class would be gone for the whole day as well, I was able to volunteer to help with Izzy’s class. We didn’t have much time! We had a storyteller to listen to, lunch to eat, and a Ache Brazil Martial Arts performance to see. It was a fun but exhausting day. I had a group of 4 kids, and managed to keep them in a group all day without losing one, and we managed to mostly agree what to do all day. Isabella loved the storyteller who told us a story about a greedy spider and a turtle who tricks him (“Anansi the Spider”) but had a little emotional breakdown when she realized we wouldn’t get everything done in one day. Lunchtime cheered her up, and then it was time to head to the Ache Brazil show, at the Jack Singer theater, which Izzy and I felt like we had just left.


The Ache Brazil show was interactive and entertaining, and made me miss Capoeira, which I did briefly the first time I lived in Calgary, before I left to teach English in Japan. I only did it for 3-4 months, but it was a lot of fun and a great workout. The show made me consider joining again. One of the mothers volunteering is Brazilian and it made her miss home a little, even though some of their “history” lesson was a bit fabricated for the entertainment value. At 2 pm the show ended and we rushed back to the bus, exhausted. A great day for the kids, all in all.  A lot of walking, but my group (which we named Team Awesome) were troopers. I was very proud of them. They rushed from one thing to another and stayed close to me for the most part. Izzy was over the moon that she got to spend the day with me and that I got to know some of the kids in her class a bit better- even if she did find the whole day over-stimulating and partially emotionally over-whelming.

Poor Hunter had yet another field trip the next day. I volunteered for this one as well, since it was going to one of my favourite places in the entire world… the library! I had a group of three, so the girl in my group chose to hold my hand and Hunter and his friend held each others hands and walked in front of me. We took the busiest street to the library since we had a lot of parent volunteers to keep track of the kids and keep them safe. Keeping the boys in my group from goofing off was a little challenging, but they never complained about the five long blocks to the library and hustled when I asked them to speed up. The girl held my hand and told me a lot of stories. It was very cute. The kindergarten class must have been tired after their long day to the Children’s Festival the day before, but all of them were very good. The stories at the library were super entertaining and he led the children in songs. Then a quick tour of the library and back to the school. I could tell the kid’s energy was lagging. They were a lot slower, there were some tears and some shouts of “I’m hungry!”, plus it happened to be uphill on the way back which wasn’t ideal. Back at the school, we cut up apples for the kids to snack on and then it was home time. All Hunter talked about on the way home was napping; he ended up having a short afternoon of quietly looking through books and watching a short TV show. Izzy was out early, and we had to get going to visit Josh’s 90 years young grandma (she keeps very busy). We had supper there and a few games of Go Fish. A nice time was had by all, but the kids got the giggles at the end, over-tired as they were. We left for home and the kids passed out in their beds before I became best friends with the couch!

Saturday was sunny in spots, so we decided to craft before the kids went to the amusement park, Calaway Park, with their daddy. We were so inspired by Hunter’s class tie-dying clothes to wear to the Children’s Festival that we decided to finally use the tie-dye kit we had been gifted! It was a lot of fun and Izzy did hers entirely on her own, to great success. I helped Hunter do a shirt, but I didn’t wear gloves and now my cuticles will be purple and blue for days to come.  In the afternoon, the kids and Josh headed off while I caught up on things at home. They had an amazing time.


Sunday was my most exciting day. The University of Calgary is hosting a special event until June 3rd called Congress 2016.

Some of the events are open to the General Public and some of the talks are Free. When my husband told me who was coming to do a Keynote Address, my jaw dropped. Margaret Atwood!

For those of you that don’t know her, Margaret Atwood is a critically acclaimed Canadian author, who wrote the famous Handmaid’s Tale and the MaddAddam series. She also happens to be one of my literary heroes and someone I look up to.

I registered as soon as I found out. The speech started at 10am, so I needed to wake up early and make sure I was there in time to get a seat.  I carefully mapped out my trip Sunday morning, including where to park,  and got ready to go with enough time to spare. I got there, found the parking successfully, and went up to the main floor. The feel of being on a campus again was exhilarating. I loved being back at a University, if only for a talk and only temporarily. It made me miss my years at the University of Saskatchewan. I remember jumping at the chance to take on more classes and make my work load heavy, like an idiot who loves learning and being stressed out at the same time. Seriously, I loved going to classes and learning from professors; sometimes challenging their ideas…. memories of my time at Uni came flooding back as I stepped on a campus, even if it wasn’t the one I went to.

Once I came up the stairs and started looking around, I realized there were not really any signs directing me to the main events. I expected signs! Mini panic attack inside my brain when I realized there were no signs to guide me at all. Looking around, clearly looking lost and holding my ticket, I was approached by a middle-aged lady who asked if I was there for the Margaret Atwood talk, too. I said that I was and she explained she was a bit lost and had also expected more signage. Together we found an information booth, where we were directed to follow people also going to the talk! Phew!! I checked in at a different location than my new partner-in-crime, since I wasn’t there for the all-day conference, and made my way in to the auditorium. I was only about 5 rows back; fortunately just beating the huge rush of people. Minutes later, all of the seats filled and then we just waited. I came alone, so only had to find one seat. I was just hoping getting up early on a Sunday would be worth it when I saw Margaret Atwood herself come to the side of the stage to wait and I suddenly knew it was. My heart fan-girled all over my chest and I took a moment to get a hold of my myself.

Margaret Atwood came on after some short introductions by profs and organizers and we listened to her talk for an hour. Witty, insightful and edgy, she held us in awe for an hour, with the occasional shared laughter at her witty insights or jokes. She is such a dynamic speaker! I was all ears for the hour and wrote my favourite parts down in a notebook I had brought with me, because I am that nerd who loves to take notes. The talk was on Compassion in Contemporary Culture as it relates to nursing and her talk was informative as well as enlightening.

Margaret Atwood touched on how much compassion is too much. She discussed how compassion compels us to act ,or react, and that we don’t all have the same triggers for compassion.

I am more interested in things art does, without being told. -Margaret Atwood

Her most dramatic example of too much compassion was about ospreys. A nature reserve had put up an “osprey cam” directed on a nest of ospreys. When three eggs hatched, some viewers saw the mother as neglectful and lacking as a parent. When one chick fell ill and the mother osprey was seen as not doing enough to help, several viewers commented that the mother should be removed and “dealt with” (aka killed) and the chicks raised by loving humans. Death threats to handlers ensued, when the request to remove the osprey mother permanently were denied, and the park decided to take the camera down. An excellent example of an overload of compassion leading to anger and then aggression. So, as Margaret Atwood concluded, there can, indeed, be such a thing as too much compassion- which can often result in aggression or depression.

She concluded with the thought that a change in wording can change perception wildly, and that this is being experimented with in hospitals. A change in wording can lead to a balance in compassion and change the way the patient views himself, as well as how the doctors and nurses view treatment of the patient. I am para-phrasing of course, and may have lost some of the impact of this viewpoint, but there is the gist of the conversation. Atwood noted that, instead of calling them “cancer patients”, we should say “people who have cancer”; instead of “burn victim”, a “person who has been burned”. Encouraging us to run with this idea, she stated how this would be useful across the board and should be applied to everyone, perhaps even strengthening feminist viewpoints when applied to sexual identity, when saying “people who are women” or “people who are men”. That way we are all united as people who just happen to be other things as well. “People who are nurses”, for example, or, “people who are doctors”, etcetera.

One of my favourite takeaways from the talk was when she briefly talked about how art is viewed, tying it in to the talk earlier when she noted how nurses have been identified in popular literature. Margaret Atwood says she is often asked, “What is the purpose of art?” but she doesn’t like that question and would rather think of it in a different light. She says she often answers, “I am more interested in things art does, without being told”. Perfection.

After the talk, we were invited to get a book signed if we wished, and I had brought my seventeen year old copy of Handmaid’s Tale that I read in University. I was assigned it in a class and it blew my world apart when I read it. It’s a well worn and often read copy of mine. It has never been lost in a move and it has been loved since I bought it many years ago. I got in line and crossed my finger she would have time to sign mine before the cut off, since she only had a half hour to sign things before she left. I was surprised she agreed to! When I am in my seventies, I will probably be too cranky to sit there and let my hand cramp up while I signed a million copies of my work…..I would hope not but knowing me…..

So I got in line and crossed my fingers. We were given a post-it note to put our name on, streamlining the process. She would look at the sticky note, sign our name and a quick picture would be taken before we were ushered away and a new person went up to the table. I talked to a very nice professor from my home province, Saskatchewan, while I waited. I never got a chance to say a proper goodbye, so if you are reading this I enjoyed our talk and it was nice to meet you! I am very jealous he got to hear Naomi Klein talk after I left.

Finally, the wait was over and it was my turn. I fell silent. She read my name on my sticky note, and almost to herself entirely said “oh, pretty” quietly, then signed my book. She didn’t chat, and she didn’t write anything other than what she put in every other copy, wanting to get as many fans books signed as possible I’m sure, but I was so starstruck I was grateful for the quickness of it all, happy to stay silent.  I whispered, ‘Thank you’, which I am sure she didn’t hear, turned to the camera, got a picture snapped and smiled at her again. She smiled back at me, and I left as quickly and silently as I could. When I got to the side of the room I stopped. I just stood there for a moment, feeling covered in invisible glitter and starlight. It felt like my eyes needed time to focus again, I was a vibrating ball of excited energy. I had to stand for a moment and absorb. I couldn’t believe I had seen, in person, one of my favourite authors in the whole world. She had, not only, stood in front of me a few feet away and delivered a blindingly brilliant and sharply witty talk on compassion,but she had also signed my favourite book. Once I had processed it, I found my way to my car and drove home in a happy fog.

Right after getting my book signed by Margaret Atwood herself.

Right after getting my book signed by Margaret Atwood herself.


I stayed in that fog all day, even while setting up our shared garden in my friend’s backyard.

That night I fell in bed, emotionally and physically exhausted, and happy. I slept like a baby and I am still humming happily to myself today. I am a huge book nerd, so still riding that “I met one of my heroes” high.

As  exciting as last week was, I hope this week is calm and quiet and just the four of us so we can re-group. I hope you all have an excellent week and I will be back on Friday.






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