Local mom wears her heart on her ‘shirt’ sleeve in new humor book


La Cañada mom Kristen Brakeman has always had a penchant for turning life’s slings and arrows into highly comedic reading material.

As a production supervisor whose personal and humor essays have been published in the Huffington Post, the New York Times, Washington Post, the Valley Sun and several magazines, putting her feelings onto the page just comes naturally.

So when Brakeman saw an opportunity to weave together journal entries from two momentous and slightly chaotic summers and turn them into a book, she jumped on it.

“It was kind of fun,” she said of the process in a recent interview. “Even on vacation, I’d write a few notes. I discovered I wasn’t just living my life — I found myself realizing I could write about it, too.”

The result of those two introspective summers — “Is That the Shirt You’re Wearing?” published by Tidal Press — comes out Friday and will be available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. On May 12 at 7 p.m., the author will speak at a book signing event at Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse, where copies of the book will also be available for purchase.

“Is That the Shirt Your Wearing?” juxtaposes the summer of 2011, when Brakeman was dealing with the frenzy of having three children at home and an aging mother beginning to show signs of needing support, with the summer of 2014, as her oldest daughter was on the brink of leaving home for college.

Book One is a countdown of 10 crazy weeks, full of vacation plans and the usual summertime ennui the author herself cannot wait to escape, while in Book Two, Brakeman tries to savor every minute she has with her oldest daughter before sending her off into adulthood.

Instead of writing a serious tome on the ups and downs of the “sandwich generation,” those still raising children while also caring for their aging parents, Brakeman offers a light and comedic touch on parenting in La Cañada, the inevitability of slowly turning into one’s parents and moving through life’s transitions at a sometimes dizzying pace.

Longtime friend and former co-worker Marla Zack, who lives in Burbank and has kept up with Brakeman’s essays over the years, says she’s thrilled for the release of “Is That the Shirt You’re Wearing?” and has already ordered a copy.

“She speaks to so many of us, and she has such a funny way of expressing herself that just hits things square on the head,” Zack said of Brakeman’s writing. “To me, it’s reminiscent of Erma Bombeck. She’s not trying to be something she’s not — she’s putting herself out there and saying this is who I am.”

One essay features the author’s peeve with the ageism suggested by the label “ma’am,” and her suggestion of “m’lady” as a suitable replacement, while another focuses on techniques she uses to help her young daughter forget she’s just learned a really bad swear word.

Anecdotes are interspersed with more serious ponderings about her husband’s prostate cancer diagnosis and her mother’s needing a care companion.

Although her family plays a central role in the book, Brakeman says she chose to put the spotlight more on herself and her reactions to certain situations. As such, she used pseudonyms throughout the book to maintain a certain measure of privacy.

“The focus is usually on me,” she said. “It’s self-deprecating comedy, where I’m usually the butt of the joke.”

That fact was happily confirmed by husband Forrest Brakeman, who helped provide feedback and occasional editing, and to whom the book is dedicated. A former stand-up comedian, he said he was pleasantly surprised at how tender and revealing it sometimes reads while still being quite funny.

“I love it. It moves me,” he said of the book. “I’m seeing glimpses of her nobody gets to see, and I know how much she’s giving of herself in those moments to put that out there.”

As for the author, the impending launch date is simply one milestone in the marathon of publicity and promotion that will surely follow. But despite the steep slope ahead, Kristen Brakeman’s spirits are high.

“I’m feeling pretty confident,” she said.

If You Go

What: Kristen Brakeman will speak and sign copies of her book “Is That the Shirt Your Wearing?”

When: May 12 at 7 p.m.

Where: Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse, 1010 Foothill Blvd.

More information: Visit

Twitter: @SaraCardine