Organized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living by Tsh Oxenreider

I must admit, I have a habit of reading how-to books, particularly the organizing and simplicity type. Sounded like a match made in heaven, right? Unfortunately, I was really disappointed in this one. While there was a fair amount of useful information, Oxenreider spent so much of the book explaining how she wasn’t talking down to you, that it just came across as condescending. Very much along the “me think thou doth protest too much” line.

All of the suggestions are doable (especially if, as the author does, you live outside the US and you can afford to live on one salary, thus freeing the other partner to do A LOT). She included a lot of appendices with handy worksheets, templates, and even recipes for homemade cleaning and beauty products. There’s also some thought experiments regarding life choices, such as: are you really making more money by having both partners work, or is that decision actually costing you money? I really enjoyed the chapter on “opportunity costs” and found that, perhaps the most beneficial part for me.

I begrudge no one their life choices, but I really could use my books soap-box-free.

The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America by John Demos

John Demos is an historian of another age. He was trained during a time when historians were struggling to be recognized as more than mere stenographers of past events. As a result, narrative history was shoved aside in favor of a more (if not almost purely) analytical approach that stressed interpretation of the stories rather than the telling of them. This was unfortunate as he “had been drawn to history by the stories.” As the subtitle to this work suggests, however, he has come back to that love of story and expressed it through The Unredeemed Captive: A Story from Early America.
Demos’ work tells the story of the Williams family. Theirs is a story that was central to the history of colonial America. Settled in Deerfield on the Massachusetts frontier, John Williams (d. 1729), respected Puritan pastor and community leader, and his family struggled to build a life on the edge of the vast American wilderness. They faced hardships both environmental and physical. The greatest of these occurred 28 February 1704, when the French directed a raid against the community of Deerfield. The raiding party included French troops as well as a great number of Indian allies. Two of Williams’ children were killed outright; four others were captured along with him and his wife. His wife, Eunice, was killed along the way, but the others all survived the arduous trek to Canada. Over the course of almost three years all were ‘redeemed’ or returned to Massachusetts, except for the youngest daughter, also named Eunice. She chose to stay and make her life with the Mohawk family that had adopted her.
This book is ostensibly the story of the raid and capture, the redemption of John Williams and four of his children, and subsequent attempts to redeem Eunice. While focusing primarily on this one family, Demos managed also to tell the larger story of the early colonies. He used a wealth of primary sources, including letters, journals, public notices and legal records. In staying true to his narrative form, he weaves those into the story at times as if they were dialogue. This makes the story come alive in a way that reads much like decent fiction.
Demos does not shy away from the analytical, however. He goes beyond what is merely recorded in the sources to interpret the larger picture of colonial Massachusetts. One of the most salient examples is the third chapter, his study of Williams’ writings during and immediately after his captivity. Demos goes beyond the text in front of him and interprets them through a contextual filter. In so doing, he gives a much more intimate portrayal of Williams, while at the same time widening the scope to show Williams as a product of his time and place.
The second half of the book is taken up with Eunice’s life in Canada. After being adopted by a Catholic Mohawk family, she chose in turn to adopt their ways, language and religion. Eunice was baptized a Catholic (and rechristened Marguerite), much to the horror of her Puritan family that saw Catholicism as grievous sin. She married a Mohawk man and raised a family with him. John Williams never gave up his hope of redeeming her to her old family. Eunice never gave up her new family. In telling this part of the story, Demos relied on, admittedly scant, tribal records and personal papers. Yet he managed to recreate a realistic portrait of her community and family.
Demos managed to achieve his goals of telling a story and doing so from a point of view not wholly European. Through the life of John Williams, he was able to describe a larger colonial story. Through Eunice, he told the story through the eyes of those facing colonization. Through the French officials in Montreal and Quebec, Demos was able to add the additional voice of those North of the border. Unredeemed Captive is at once a story highly personal and yet hugely representative of early America.

Once Again, Entirely too Soon

We’ve lost another tremendous talent to a horrific disease. Whitney Houston died much too soon. And though the official cause of death may not be listed as “Addiction”, one cannot help but speculate that it will prove to be a contributing factor. This, of course, becomes fodder for the would-be comedians again. As someone posted on facebook today, “Whitney Houston picked a good time to die. This seems like the only was she would get mentioned at the Grammys again.” (sic).

You probably know by now that I won’t join in the chuckles. I won’t laugh, though I can’t imagine that I’ll shed many tears, either. I’ve done enough of that over the years, though to what purpose, I’ll never really know. It’s not as though I have known any of these superstars that have died too young. I have known others that shared the same fate, however.

I don’t think it’s funny when someone dies. Period. I certainly don’t think it amusing when they die of addiction.  Of course, there but for the grace of Bob, and all that…so yes, I take it to heart. The only difference between someone like Whitney and someone like me is that I didn’t have millions of people watching every time I stumbled. (Well, income differential might indicate that she had access to better drugs, but that’s neither here nor there) And I did stumble. I fell. I constantly failed to live up to any standards or resolutions that I laid down. Quit? Sure! Absolutely. Hundreds. Of. Times. What did I do to finally succeed? How did I earn the right to keep on living, when those who have so much more to give die one after another? Fuck if I know.

I also don’t know if it will ever be enough. This disease, and yes, it is a disease, so quit your morality-laden willpower bullshitting already, is never cured. I may never use again. I may never drink again. But I will ALWAYS be an addict. And if some future use doesn’t get me, it’s always entirely possible that some past use will rear its head and wipe me out in some other fashion. Don’t believe me? Ask United Health Care. I told them I went to rehab and they said “No, no, no.” As in “Your stint in rehab makes you too much of a risk for us to provide life insurance at this time.” I didn’t bother to ask when might be a better time.

Want to know the truth? Want to know how we know we have truly succeeded at staying sober? We die of something else.

The Disappearing Spoon and Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of Elements by Sam Kean

Incredibly fun history of the periodic table and the elements. Seriously. Kean presents some pretty serious science, but does it in a way that is absolutely accessible. Included are interesting tidbits about the elements and fascinating stories about the people who discovered and worked most closely with them.You will come away with a new appreciation of that little chart you hated so much in high school.