Archive for the ‘Home’ Category

… but she’ll always come back!

A few weeks ago, I was back in my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. (My GPS says “St. Louey,” which makes me laugh every time.)

It’s a place in the news a lot lately.  In a perfect world, this would be an opportunity for everyone to come together and find a new path to improve life for everyone. I’m hoping for a perfect world. On the other hand, go Cards!

I was in town for several reasons: to reconnect with family first and foremost. Also, to attend my first meeting of the Webster University College of Arts and Sciences Advisory Committee in beautiful Webster Groves. And since I couldn’t go on a Humphrey tour because I’m still recovering from neck surgery and can’t lift anything over ten pounds, I did a little Humphrey business as well, because my husband, Frank, was with me and he CAN lift more than 10 pounds.

The best part of the visit was spending lots of time with my sister, Janet, and her husband, Steve, niece Jen and nephew Todd, nephew-in-law Jeff, gorgeous great-nieces Samantha and Carter! Oh, don’t forget dog-nephew Elmo. I brought along copies of Humphrey’s Tiny Tales and discovered – amazingly – that Elmo can read! Really- I didn’t stage this shot. I found Elmo with the books on the couch as pictured.

I also visited schools. I spent a day in the Affton School District, where I attended school grades K-12 Unfortunately, my elementary school, Reavis, was torn down long ago … and it was practically brand new when I attended! But when I spoke at Gotsch Elementary, I think the kids were pretty surprised to learn that Mr. Gotsch was our principal and a really outstanding one!

Then I went on to Mesnier Elementary. Mr. Mesnier was the Superintendent of Schools when I lived in Affton and lots of my junior high and high school friends went there. The most notable thing about Mesnier – at least from the outside – is the giant ice cream cone in front! I know that ice cream cone well. It stood in front of Velvet Freeze – a stellar ice cream place within easy walking distance of my house, in the days when milk shakes had real milk in them and they served actual malted milks. When Velvet Freeze was being torn down, they donated the ice cream cone to Mesnier, which makes it the yummiest school on earth! Great to connect with Affton students today, still going strong. Here I am with an authentic Affton School bus. There’s something funny about it if you look closely -my friend, Nancy, is standing behind me, peeking out. Maybe she was camera-shy?

 

Frank and I had another mission while in town: to get a picture of me with the street sign for Humphrey Street. Yep, there’s a place behind the name of that familiar classroom hamster! My parents grew up as neighbors on Humphrey Street in South St. Louis and were best friends – inseparable, people say – from the age of nine. So all my aunts and my uncle and grandparents were neighbors on Humphrey Street. Later, I spent a lot of time visiting my mom’s parents on Humphrey Street. The house looks quite a bit different now, but oh, the happy times my sister and I had there. And the wonderful stories my grandmother told about growing up in the country – some of which are in my book, The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs. Finding the Humphrey Street sign proved to be a bit of a challenge. It’s now a one-way street, so the sign closest to my grandparents’ house isn’t there. (Near Humphrey and Morganford for those in the know.) So we had to go further down to find a sign – and when we did – there was a huge construction truck next to it! Not good for a photo-op.  So we drove around the neighborhood awhile, down the street where my dad’s parents eventually lived, and the street where my great-aunt lived. And down Grand Avenue, which was the big shopping district, and Tower Grove Park with its amazing Victorian pavilions.

When we got back to the Humphrey Street sign, the truck was gone! Success!


On the weekend, my sister and brother-in-law threw a party for us, with all my local relatives – as well as the Braun “boys” – who might as well be relatives because we grew up not just as neighbors but as one family – and I’m not exaggerating. Great to see them, great to see that my aunts and my dad’s cousins are all in excellent shape! My son curated the cheese and charcuterie from Murray’s Cheese in NYC, where he is a buyer. Niece Jennifer and her caterer friend Heidi did the rest and – well – you can see it was quite breathtaking.


Back to “work” again meant traveling to the historic and picturesque river town of St. Charles (on the Missouri River – you DO know that St. Louis has both the Mississippi and the Missouri Rivers) to Main Street Books. They handled all the books sales for Affton and for Hazelwood, where I spoke as well. All I have to say is this: Main Street Books is not only the most charming but the most jam-packed-with-goodness- indy bookstore ever. Indies rule! Thanks to co-owner/proprietress Emily Hall who journeyed all the way to Affton to sell books and to Mary who drove me to the schools in Hazelwood. Here’s Emily in front of her store, and don’t you love the old typewriter? I want it!

We see things on the news about St. Louis and there are problems to be resolved. But for those of you who see St. Louis as a fly-over city or a sound byte – it’s a physically and historically beautiful place, with great people of all ethnicities – and my fervent hope is for a bright future and progress for all!

Oh, and everybody should go to St. Charles. Charming place. And from there, we went to another charming place: New York City and the Hudson River Valley. Cheese caves! Rip Van Winkle! Coming soon to a blog near you!

 

 

 


I live in Los Angeles, where rain is treated the same way a blizzard might be treated in other parts of the country. But I recently found myself in SNOW and it was beautiful!

I was in Northern Virginia for some school events with Bookworm Central – kudos to Radhika and Laurie for being fabulous hosts and the whole Bookworm Central team and our fabulous lunch! I also had a great dinner with local librarians and Baker and Taylor, wholesaler to libraries which is doing a big promotion for the Humphrey books and their new, virtually indestructible Paw Prints binding. It was a business dinner that was pure pleasure. (Thanks to Penguin’s Mary Raymond and to Katie Tucker who was there live and in person!)

 

 

 

Me with team Bookworm Central!

 

The big event was live-streaming and taping Meet the Authors for Fairfax County, VA. But the show is not limited to Fairfax County.  Any school can be involved – and should be!

http://www.fcps.edu/fairfaxnetwork/mta/birney.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

      With Katie Tucker of Penguin  

             Baker & Taylor dinner

 

I worked in Hollywood as a writer and producer, but I’d never done the equivalent of a live TV show. Luckily, host Della Kidd and the whole staff made it incredibly easy and fun. It live-streamed that day, and streamed again a few days later. Eventually it will be in their video archives and on video on demand. Challenging but fun, with kids Skyping questions from Oklahoma and Oakland, CA … taped questions from kids …. and live phone-in calls. Great questions and it was LIVE.  (I think I already said that.) They also had a great pre-taped segment on writing with tips from a very smart hamster named Mr. Bibbles!  Funny, because Humphrey book 11, coming out in 2015, has a lot to do with writing! Stay tuned for more info and the link.

 

My other news is that Humphrey’s Tiny Tales, which have been in the UK for awhile, are coming to the US in late August! These are shorter, illustrated books and they’re being reillustrated by a fabulous artist I know and admire: the one and only Priscilla Burris!!! She is perfect for Humphrey – yay!!! Keep your eyes and ears open for more details. There are two coming out in August: My Really-Wheely Racing Day and My Playful Puppy Problem. This is such exciting news, Humphrey is spinning on his wheel for joy night and day!

On a personal note, I’m having neck surgery April 8 and may be off the internet for awhile but am looking forward to coming back stronger than ever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strange New Year

January 19th, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luckily, I’m not superstitious. So just because there’s that “13” in this  brand-new year, I’m not worried. However, if I did suffer from Triskaidekaphobia, I would have plenty of reasons to think that this would be a strange year.

Here we are, not quite three weeks in and:

– Our five-year old Prius, which up until now I have loved, has been in the shop three times, for a total of six days and finally, the mechanics had to call on Toyota engineers to figure out what the problem was. It’s healed now – fingers crossed. Oh, wait, I can’t cross my fingers if I’m not superstitious. My theory is that the Prius wanted attention. We just hadn’t been showing it the love. Lesson learned. Have you hugged your car today?

-I got locked OUT of my office for the better part of a day – which is very difficult for me because my life is in that office! This was due to the Prius unexpectedly spending the night in the shop – along with one key to my office. AND I’d locked my other key IN the office, thus locking me OUT. Needless to say, we now have a lot of extra keys.

-I got locked IN my office two days later. That’s right, I couldn’t get out because the doorknob was broken. I suffered some mild panic, because my office is wonderful and cozy but it doesn’t have a bathroom! Luckily, the locksmith came quickly and I was relieved – in more than one way. And of course, there were plenty of people suggesting I need a lock-that-doesn’t-lock for my office. My husband is convinced I could have gotten out through the window, but the window is small and high and there are those windowboxes ….

My mother always told us that whatever you do on January 1, you’ll be doing the rest of the year. For all my life, that’s made me be careful about what happens on New Year’s Day. This January 1, I wrote all day. I imagine that is what I’ll be doing the rest of the year – though I have quite a bit of travel coming up. Anyway, I’m not superstitious.

I also didn’t make any resolutions this year, which is a first for me. (My mother also used to make resolutions FOR her husband and children.) It’s still not too late, is it?

And another strange thing: it really was cold here in Southern California, but the warm temps have returned and I am grateful.

I hope 2013 turns out to be a lucky day for one and all. Bring on the strangeness!

 

 

 

[Note: Humphrey asked me to tell you that if you’re a fan, he’d be unsqueakably happy if you “Liked” his Facebook page at http://facebook.com/accordingtohumphrey.]

  Mom, me, Janet

 

I once knew a woman who had an unusual daughter.  Many parents panic if they notice anything about a child’s behavior that falls into uncharted territory, but this stay-at-home mom was unflappable.

While her daughter played outside endlessly by herself, way, way  back in the yard – weaving in and out of the row of evergreens that lined the back wall – the mother glanced out the window from time to time. Her daughter talked to herself in a highly animated manner, acting out some kind of a story but the mother was merely bemused. When the girl came back in the house to get ready for dinner, the mother never, ever asked her what she was doing in the backyard. (I’m not sure whether she had to bite her tongue.) Once the girl told her about the little hotel that was back there -each evergreen was a door to a different room – and her mother accepted it without question.

Without question.

When the weather was bad, the girl played in her room. She lined her dolls up on the bed and pretended she was their teacher. It was a small house and the mother couldn’t help overhearing the girl’s monologue, but the mother didn’t questions, although from time to time, she could be heard telling other family members, “I know everything that happened in school today from listening to her play. I knew who got in trouble, who got a bad grade, who talked out of turn.” On Sundays, her daughter returned from church and re-enacted Sunday School.

The girl also spent long hours at her desk, drawing and writing. The mother surely noticed the accumulation of drawings of an endless cast of characters in the wastebasket and the wadded-up pieces of writing, but she didn’t let on. Her mother let her type on the old upright typewriter on the back porch as soon as she could form words.

Sometimes, the girl showed her parents a story or poem she had written. Her writing got good grades at school. The mother was pleased, but she when she saw her daughter scribbling away for hours, she didn’t ask what she was writing.

The unusual daughter had a father, too. He was tolerant, as well. The parents were already used to a daughter who loved to read. After all, their older girl was a devoted reader and when she was very young, they’d take her to three or four libraries at a time. The libraries only allowed children to check out a few books, and their first daughter needed more to get her through a week.

It didn’t bother the father when his younger daughter followed him around while he worked in the yard, her nose stuck in a book, spelling out words she didn’t know so he’d tell her what they were.  It didn’t bother him when she’d call out at night (the family all read in bed every night) and spell out words. He’d just call back down the hall with the word and they all went on reading. No one ever told her she was reading too much, even when she tripped over furniture as she walked through the house reading.

At seven, the younger girl wrote a book (with pictures) and when she  gave it to her parents, she told them she wanted to be a writer. They were surprised but proud. The father, who was an excellent amateur artist, took a shoe box and made a little diorama of her book, with cardboard cut-out figures of her hero, Teddy Bear, and his girlfriend, Tallulah.

When the family converted from an old coal furnace to gas, they painted the old coal bin in the basement, with its thick walls and the little window for loading the coal, and made it into an office for their writerly daughter. She had a desk, a blackboard, a chair, a little china cabinet. She carried a pitcher of water down there and wrote and wrote and wrote. It was her first office, the first of many and one of the best.

Perhaps if the little girl had been a loner, her parents might have worried, but she had loads of friends and in addition to playing alone, she loved to play jump rope, hopscotch, roller skate, ride her bicycle, play with her dog, play piano, play board games (and jacks and pick-up-sticks), watch TV and giggle.

Still …. still …. she spent a lot of time in some kind of imaginary world that they didn’t know. And they never tried to know.

Somehow, this girl’s parents knew that even a child has a right to privacy … the right to grow and change and create without intervention. A decade or two before people started saying, “I need my space,” they already knew it.

I can never thank these parents enough, for I was this girl, and these were my parents and I am grateful.

 

 

March Madness

March 28th, 2010

Mind Your Head I should take this excellent advice from England!

March madness: I’m not talking about basketball … I’m talking about living life like a hamster spinning on a hamster wheel!

What have I been doing lately?

1) answering fan mail
2) writing and rewriting Humphrey book 7
3)answering fan mail
4) writing and rewriting the first of the younger Humphrey books, aimed at kids 5-7
5)answering fan mail
6)negotiating with agents and lawyers on two potential TV series (one Humphrey, one not)
7)dealing with ridiculous time-devouring tech problems with my Blackberry (finally healed) and printer (finally healed)
8)neglecting everything else, like fun, friends and family

I’m HAPPY-HAPPY-HAPPY that Humphrey makes so many people HAPPY-HAPPY-HAPPY. But I still haven’t found that balance.

I miss my travels to schools throughout the country, but I traveled so much over the past few years that I’m only now getting used to the fact that it’s Sunday and I don’t have to catch a plane! I recently drove a friend to Burbank airport on a Sunday afternoon and I was amazed to think that I wasn’t the one getting on a plane. However, I will be traveling to the UK in August/September and next March and that makes me unsqueakably happy.

Okay, so I have nothing to complain about. I need to mind my head!