5 Books You Wish You Read in High School

Before I went crazy and decided to be a perfume maker, I taught middle and high school English. That lasted a hot minute and I am one of the people who buckled under the pressure of teaching. I worked with students in the inner cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco and it was one of the most joyous, enlightening, humbling, and heartbreaking (all at once) experiences of my life. Yesterday, my friend told me about a new book by Sara Benincasa called Great. It's a YA geared retelling of The Great Gatsby with gender-swapped characters. I haven't read it yet but I can't wait, the reviews are pretty stellar and its supposed to be wickedly funny. I bring this up because as I read the description of the novel it reminded me of my biggest failing (but also biggest breakthrough) as a teacher.

Picture it: I was a newly certified teacher taking over for my master teacher who left on maternity leave. The kids knew me in the role of cool teacher helper who had their back, and now I have the audacity to come in and tell them what to do. The first month was hard and I was desperate to re-connect with them and find a piece of literature to bring them back to me. I thought back to my high school days - what was my favorite book to read in English class? Lord of the Flies. It was violent and scary and had all that crazy Freudian/religious stuff going on. Plus, lets tie it into Lost (which was in it's last season at the time) and do a survivalist, philosophical theme, it will be great! And it was great, they loved it and their minds were blown when they found out Lord of the Flies means "the devil." But the very first day one of them raised their hand after we were only a few pages in. "Ms. why are we reading a book about a group of British white boys?" My heart sank. In that second it all clicked for me - my upbringing and background were privileged in a way these kids hadn't seen and instead of finding something that spoke to them, I just rolled out the same "classics of literature" and expected them to react the same way I did.

I'm not saying that the classics shouldn't be taught or that they aren't relevant. That's not the case at all. But so often in high school English (at least from what I saw from my fellow colleagues and what I was guilty of) was an adherence to the old standards with modern supplements strewn in on a limited time budget. Which, again, is fine and at least we're throwing them a bone by including things they might like, however, the bulk of what they are tested on is the old stuff. Why not start integrating more diverse books and using the classics as the backup? Or have special English classes devoted to modern literature? When I say diverse and modern, I don't just mean issues of race (in the classroom described above I was the only white person which is problematic for lots of reasons I won't get into here) but also issues of gender, and one of the most important things I found during my time teaching - having texts that were representative of my students' neighborhoods/cities. And none of this is a question of whether or not modern students can handle the complexity of classic literature (um they totally can and excel at it) but more a matter of being tired of stories told by predominantly rich, white, privileged characters. Hell, I fall into that group (sans wealth) and I get tired of it.

So here are some ideas for books that we might look to that can speak to modern kids. I'm not adding Great to this list just yet since I still need to read it, but that's what we need to be going for!

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian (I'm going to write most about this because I actually taught it)

Of course today, the day I write this blog post, some school district in Idaho bans this book. I really don't know why, this book is absolutely amazing and should be required reading for all students. Sherman Alexie's semi-autobiographical novel won the National Book Award and is loosely based on his life growing up on a reservation, or "rez" as he calls it in the book. It's funny, it's heartbreaking, it's about real teenagers. The premise is that a 14 year old Native American boy named Junior, a smarty, a cartoonist, a basketball player, but most important of all, a kid who dreams of breaking the cycle of poverty and making a new life for himself, decides to transfer to an all white school. Junior has to navigate the world of the white people who don't accept him for his race, as well as his tribe who feels that he has betrayed them. This in addition to dealing with teenage hormones, a disability, death in his family, alcohol abuse, and poverty. The language in this book is accessible and it absolutely killed when I taught this. Before we started I brought in photos of a reservation (I can't recall which one) but the photo series was from Harper's Magazine and it was about alcoholism and poverty in the particular tribe it represented. We did a gallery walk and the students looked at the photos and then had to write reactions. This was paired with an excerpt from Howard Zinn's A Young People's History of the United States (more on this below). This unit was poignant and all of my students - African-American, Asian, Hispanic, White (no Native American kids in my classes unfortunately) - connected with the material. Junior is an underdog, an everyman. You root for him. The book is also hilarious. This was my favorite thing to teach.

The Madonnas of Echo Park

I mentioned earlier how important it is for student's to read books that take place in their neighborhood. When I taught in LA it was for middle school and this book is way too advanced for that; I didn't pull it out at the high school in San Francisco because the Nor Cal/So Cal rivalry is apparently a real thing and those kids would have killed me if I brought in an LA book. This novel follows a similar format to the movie Crash and features interconnected stories from a cast of characters spanning several decades of Echo Park in Los Angeles. Madonnas, like Crash, explores the different people that comprise the neighborhood but mostly focuses on the plight of Mexican-Americans and how they live between their traditional and "adoptive" worlds. The author's words are elegant and as someone who lived in the area, it was a completely surreal experience to read about my neighborhood and know exactly what he's talking about and just nod in agreement with everything. I can't even imagine what that would be like for a kid who maybe hadn't shown an interest in reading before - you see yourself on the page.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

This book, a Pulitzer Prize Winner, is slated to be a modern classic. If it's not being taught already, it will be. Oscar Wao is another hilarious underdog character who is grappling with the realities of life as a member of an immigrant family in America. It's been a long time since I've read this book so it'd be better if you go read a summary (or the book outright!) but like the previous two books mentioned, I love how relatable the character is for young readers (he likes Tolkien and Marvel). This book as well as Madonnas are both more advanced so I'd wait until junior or senior year (or even honors classes).

The Hunger Games

I have mixed feelings about the inclusion of this book because I don't think it's the best thing out there, but there are two reasons why I feel that teachers should spend a little time on it. 1. Katniss Everdeen is one of the strongest female characters out there (in the first book, I think the world could have done without her getting coupled up by series end) and we need more strong female characters. The Emmas and Elizabeth Bennets just don't compute anymore. 2. This book is a phenomenal way to incorporate a unit on media criticism into your class. Most students came to me believing that whatever they see in a newspaper or on TV must be fact because of how it is presented. This book completely puts that idea on it's head and is perfect for having larger discussions about the role of government, propaganda, how media can spin pretty much anything, and it's also a great introduction to the fact that girls have grit (you would be amazed at how rampant gendered stereotypes are in a class of 14 year olds). I am also pro-books that have an associated movie because I love using media in the classroom and comparing the two, it adds so much depth. We read some excerpts of this during our Lord of the Flies unit (before the movie came out so many of them weren't familiar with the story).

A Young People's History of the United States

This is a supplemental history book but I used it all the time in my English classes. It's always a good idea to prep your class for the time period they will be encountering when you start a new book. What I love about this one is that it's not the PG history that students have heard all their life. It's history from the losing side whose voices are seldom heard and when you are competing for a high schooler's attention, giving them information that is new and refreshing and interesting, goes a long way. This book is a great supplement to any humanities class and is another way to help students learn to question everything...because the world is not so simple as many history books make it out to be.

I'm all for reading Pride and Prejudice, A Tale of Two Cities, and The Great Gatsby in high school... but let's add these books too, shall we? If you have more suggestions, let me know below.




Much like David Bowie who is essentially a phoenix constantly regenerating of his own ashes, my perfume shop is undergoing some changes. (That sentence came out way more melodramatic than anticipated. I also am not comparing myself to David Bowie, more to his phoenix-like qualities. I love you DB.) In bullet point form, for brevity (I'm incapable of brevity - written after proofreading), here they are:

dead writers new label sta

  • Dead Writers (and all the colognes that came in the square bottles) will no longer be in a 5ml size. The small size will be 8ml and it will have a roll on! Due to the shape of the new bottle, the labels are also changing. The photo is a prototype...I'll probably yellow up the paper. There will also be a back label that has a fun little blurb that killed at the Renegade Craft Fairs.
  • I'm going to offer 1 ounce (30ml) options! The bottle is not finalized yet because the one I had chosen I received reports from another perfumer that it has a leaking issue... but 1 ounce, man. It's happening.
  • A bit of sad face to all of you out there who enjoyed Thoreau. I've decided to discontinue it. I really love that one and it definitely has its audience, however, it doesn't sell frequently enough to warrant keeping it in stock. For anyone who enjoys that perfume, feel free to contact me about getting a bottle. As long as I have the ingredients, it's no problem made to order.
  • Pemberley! Pemberley! Pemberley! My newest perfume is an addition to the Dead Writers line. It is the long awaited Jane Austen scent inspired by Chatsworth House...the real life place thought to be the inspiration for Mr. Darcy's estate. This is a floral perfume that literally smells like the English countryside. I've been there, I can attest to this. I researched some of the plants and flowers they have in their gardens and chose ingredients based on that. I really think this perfume does a great job capturing the natural landscape around her as Lizzy took her turns about the gardens in Pride and Prejudice. It's going to be available on the site this week I just have to get my act together and set up its label.
  • Huge Perfume Sale! I would like to clear out all my stock before I start using new bottles. Dead Writers and the rest of the gang (including the last bottles of Thoreau) are going to be half off in my Etsy shop. This should begin on either January 6 or 7 depending when my stock arrives back from Los Angeles (USPS is not in my good graces these days). I'll post on Facebook and Twitter when it happens.
  • Upcoming changes: a new Men's cologne is in the works. It's really awesome, that's all I am going to say about it now. I may change the rest of the 5ml bottle options to 8ml but as before the cylinders will stay cylinders and the writers/unisex will be in the rectangular bottles. Further down the road I might separate the perfumes into more lines (Dead Writers, Fancy Ladies, Dashing Gents etc) because then everything can have its own fun branding like Dead Writers. I'm not hating, I love Dead Writers and am so proud of it, but I want to make sure that I'm evolving. I don't want to have a one perfume wonder or whatever that would be called.

That's it for now I think. My New Year's Resolutions are to spend more time creating new perfumes (last year was way too DW heavy), and I want to spend more time on my own writing. I don't think I've told you, but I have two novels stashed in the metaphorical drawer (computers don't have drawers). One has been sitting patiently for 3 years, the other, a year and a half. They are getting antsy. Hope everyone had a happy holiday season!

EtsyRain Handmade Holiday Show Link Love

This weekend I participated in my second EtsyRain Handmade Holiday Show. I learned a lot last year and felt my display this year was much tighter, more professional...and pretty! I got so many great compliments on my display and on all my perfumes. The big sellers this year were Dead Writers (of course), Dharma Bum (I knew it would because it's one of my best), Lenore, Boleyn, Clara, and Pamplemousse. Pamplemousse and Clara were last year's favorites so I'm happy to see the newbies doing so well, means I'm evolving yay! Here's the display: sweet tea apothecary at etsyrain 2013

Now for my favorite vendors at the show! Please be sure to check out their shops, they are amazingly high quality and perfect for gifts...or for yourself.

Hasenpfeffer This shop was right next to me and all weekend, delighted children (and adults!) would literally run up and grab the toys off their ladder shelf and hug them. They make gorgeous, intricate dolls and other toys that are unique and interesting. There was one toy in particular that I loved and wanted for my baby but wasn't sure if I should splurge on it or not ($70). Every time someone picked this little guy up my heart would sink. I had to have him for my baby girl and I'm really glad I did. We named it Strawberry because it has little strawberries on it's handkerchief. Baby girl loves it!

claire and strawberry

Hammer and Paper I really wanted a gorgeous clock necklace from this shop, but it's the holidays so I didn't want to buy for myself. I'm definitely going to be back.

Deviant Decor This booth was across from me and she had all her pieces on a wall display. I'm going to order a custom one with a typewriter on it for my future booths...fits perfectly with Dead Writers.

StasiaB I just love Stasia B! She is an adorable, creative, and all around nice person. I traded some Dead Writers perfume for one of her t-shirts last year. I didn't get a chance to buy from her this year, but I'm going to purchase some of her art work for my baby girl's room. This in particular:

On to the perfumes!

Sweet Anthem Not only is Meredith the nicest person ever who routinely helps me with all sort of business topics, her perfumes are just amazing. When someone comes to my shop and doesn't find what they're looking for, I send them her way. This year her Fox perfume caught my eye (notice a trend?). This is from her familiars collection and it has black tea and beeswax...no wonder I liked it.

Sweet Anthem - Fox

Rebel and Mercury This shop makes 100% all natural perfumes and they are lovely. She also had a line of candles which looked so pretty on her display.

Rebel and Mercury Candles

There you have it! My favorite Etsy shops that presented this year. I'm going to be at Renegade LA and SF so I'll do posts for the shops I find there as well. Enjoy!

Smell Dead Writers & All My Other Perfumes This Holiday!

As many of you know, I've been moving at a snail's pace since my baby was born in May. Well I'm happy to announce that I've been feeling much better and have more energy so I'm going to be ramping up production again AND hitting the craft show circuit this winter! For any fans in Seattle, Los Angeles, or San Francisco, save yourself a step and stop by Sweet Tea Apothecary's booth to check out all my perfumes in person. I will be at the following shows selling perfumes and ready to chat:

Seattle EtsyRain - November 29 & 30

Renegade Los Angeles - December 14 & 15

Renegade San Francisco - December 21 & 22

I will try to make Renegade Brooklyn next summer for any East Coast fans out there. If you know of a good craft fair in your city, drop me a line. I'm always looking for new opportunities.

Indie Gift Box, New Logo Design, & Other 2013 Goodness

First of all, thank you so much to everyone who contributed to the discussion about my shop name! I had a minor freak out over whether I should keep the name or ditch it and pretty much everyone talked me off the cliff and I've decided to keep Sweet Tea Apothecary. I feel way more confident about it thanks to everyone's support...so thank you! You are all awesome. So name firmly in place, I hired a graphic designer to come up with a new logo and new labels for all my bottles. I'm hoping to roll that out in the next month so stay tuned :)

Have you heard of Indie Gift Box? It's an adorable site in which they provide a box of samples and swag from various handmade shops on Etsy and beyond. I'm working on a wholesale order for them right now which will be featured in their March gift boxes. That is a perfume themed month so if you're a perfumista, make sure you check it out!

December was insanity (thus my last post being over a month ago). I sold probably 45-50 bottles of Dead Writers and many a locket and sample pack over the course of the holiday season. January has been slower but still regular business. In my first 5.5 months as a shop on Etsy I have made over 300 sales. WOW! For 2013 my main goal is to work on good branding and start marketing myself more to online magazines. I also want to introduce more perfumes and change up my stock. Plenty to keep me busy.

Speaking of busy, for regular readers, in case you haven't figured it out (I think I made it pretty obvious) I am pregnant and due in May. I'm not one to broadcast this sort of info but I want to bring this up because Sweet Tea Apothecary will be closed from May 1 through July 7. This is a ways off but just wanted to make sure my regular customers have plenty of notice.

I think that's it for now...can't wait to show off my new logo soon!

Win an F. Scott Fitzgerald Library

Literary friends! I just saw this on Facebook and thought I'd share. Sribner is having a contest to win an F. Scott Fitzgerald library including: The Great Gatsby /  The Beautiful and Damned / This Side of Paradise /  A Short Autobiography / Tender Is the Night / The Love of the Last Tycoon / The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald Pretty sweet! If you win and I don't we may have words.

Enter here: http://pages.simonandschuster.com/fitzgeraldclassics/

Simple Relationship Advice We Often Forget

This post is a little different from the fare I normally put up, but I think it's important just the same. One of the kindest women I know, and my mentor for the last five years, sent me the video I have posted below. The video features her partner, Martin Novell. Marty is one of the wisest men I've ever met, and he's so freaking funny I want to hire him to attend all my parties so that I look like I know cool people. Marty is a marriage and family therapist who has a booming practice in Los Angeles. In the past he has been a big help in making career goals (he worked as a counselor in the LA Unified School District and coached me on teaching career decisions). Now, he and my mentor Daina are collaborating on a book and video series all about helping couples in long term relationships and marriages keep the spark alive. In this video titled, 8 Seconds Can Save Your Marriage, his advice is simple and just goes to show you how easy it is to get wrapped up in yourself when you've been in a relationship long enough to get overly comfortable. I hope you'll check out his work and I will keep you posted for more videos and book updates from Marty and Daina. They really are lovely people and I'm so excited for them :) [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xunuLRx6Qw]