Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond Book Review

Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond
by Essie Mae Washington-Williams

Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond is an interesting read because of the scandal it would have created had the truth of Senator Strom Thurmond's illegitimate black daughter become public knowledge during his heyday. A racist politician in South Carolina who unsuccessfully ran for president in 1948, he most famously opposed the Civil Rights Act because it would cause the "mongrelization" of the South.

Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond by Essie Mae Washington-Williams

In 1925, Thurmond was a wealthy twenty-three-year-old Southern man who took advantage of a black maid named Carrie. He frequented the garden and kitchen where she worked, and became interested in the beautiful young teenager. When a daughter results from their union, Essie Mae, she is squirreled away to live with an aunt, whom she calls 'mother' and doesn't meet Carrie until she is thirteen. Her surrogate mother conditions her to keep silent about race issues, and she meekly complies. 

Washington-Williams insists Thurmond loved her mother despite the uncrossable cultural gulf spanning between them, and cites evidence to support her belief. When Carrie takes her to meet her biological father, the girl carefully scrutinizes their behavior with one another. She picks up on some feeling between the pair and writes, "They were in love, clearly in love," a sad attempt to make sense of her birth. Thurmond also regularly supports Carrie with envelopes containing hundreds of dollars in cash, continues to see her throughout her life, doesn't marry until she dies, and most importantly, has a relationship with their daughter. He guides Essie Mae to a negro college in South Carolina and even visits her on occasion. He supports her with the same envelopes of cash her mother has received and always treats her with kindness.

Senator Strom Thurmond and His Black Daughter

However, Washington-Williams' natural craving for a sense of identity apparently leaves her with a romanticized version of events. She glaringly overlooks the clues indicating Thurmond's lack of love in its true definition. He keeps his liaison with Carrie a secret from almost everyone, especially his mother, a powerful figure in his family. The money he gives Carrie and later to Essie-Mae seems like a fortune to them, but it is in untraceable cash and is spare change when compared to his family's vast wealth. And when Carrie dies at thirty-eight, he not only doesn't attend the funeral, but he was unaware that she had even been sick. He never states that he has loved Carrie, and when Essie Mae finally asks him the question her readers have been waiting for, "How could you have loved my mother?" he doesn't answer. To his credit, he doesn't hurt Essie Mae by admitting an obvious but harsh truth, that lust is not love and physical intimacy doesn't guarantee commitment. 

Her moment of clarity comes after studying Southern history in the library when she says, "Southern racial orthodoxy... made me feel like the worst blot my proud, white family could conceivably have." By her own admission, Washington-Williams says "white men were entitled, by nearly divine right, to have the run of the hen house, or slave quarters." 

It is telling that Washington-Williams doesn't write her memoir until after Senator Thurmond's death. The man has kept Carrie and Essie Mae a carefully guarded secret, and they never demand the acknowledgement and full relationship a legal wife and child are entitled to. His daughter never upsets the apple cart of his well-ordered life and reputation, but she does eventually give in to her desire to declare her existence when she writes her memoir. It does contain photos, but there are no pictures of Carrie, which is disappointing. 

On rare occasions when Thurmond sees Essie Mae in public, he introduces her as a family friend. He never acknowledges his paternity. She is a skeleton in his closet, but she can't face this painful reality, claiming repeatedly that she knows he cares about her. Thurmond was obviously a conflicted man, and Washington-Williams is fortunate she didn't divulge the truth when it would have damaged her father's career. Who knows, her compliance may have even spared her life.


Washington-Williams, Essie Mae and Stadiem, William. Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2005.

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Mill Valley Arts Commission First Tuesday Artwalk

Tomales Dusk by Jan Buscho, $275

The June 2013 exhibits for the Mill Valley Arts Commission's First Tuesday Artwalk offer a wonderful opportunity to see Marin's artistic talent in a centralized location. Most of the venues are within walking distance of each other in the trendy downtown area of Mill Valley.

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Over twenty sites showcase the artworks on their walls, including the Throckmorton Theater, The Depot Bookstore & Cafe, hair salons and real estate offices, an easy walk from one display to the next that allows viewers to see everything within a couple of hours. Public buildings like the library, Community Center and City Hall have also shared their spaces, though city offices are closed on weekends.
Shell Landscape by Libby Mills/Running Fence-recycled

Textile artist Libby Mills' work is shown at Gelateria Noci in a joint show with her son, Will Durkee. Mills includes four works from the Running Fence-recycled collection, an artist collective that creates works from the actual fabric panels of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's historic Running Fence, Marin and Sonoma Counties, 1976. Dorallen Davis' oil paintings can be seen a few steps away at Frank Howard Allen Real Estate office, the figures and portraits particularly demonstrating her strengths. At The Top Salon features watercolors by Mary Greenberg, many of them California scenes. Her Birch by the Road, Outing at the Beach, and an untitled landscape from what looks like Yosemite are among her best ones.

Balancing Worlds by Sarah Means at Illumigarden

Postcards from Iceland by Will Durkee

Chadwicks of London and Ruby Living sell home furnishings, so the works by Raquel Baldocci, Christine Kelly and Paula Alsterlind appear right at home, gracing the walls above the stores' offerings. Also displayed are pieces by Kim Kitz and Jan Gauthier. The Depot Bookstore & Cafe appears to be a prime spot for showing artwork since it is in the center of town and enjoys a huge volume of customers. Sipping lattes, they can observe exceptional oil paintings by Jan Buscho depicting familiar Marin scenes like China Camp, Tomales Bay and Nicasio Reservoir.

All works in Mill Valley's First Tuesday Artwalk are for sale to those interested in asking for a price sheet. The Artwalk lasts through the month of June, with some pieces continuing to show through the month of July. A no cost reception will be held Tuesday, July 2, 2013 from 6:00 to 8:00 the Mill Valley Public Library, 375 Throckmorton Avenue, for those who would like to meet the artists.

Mill Valley City Hall

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Art of Racing in the Rain Book Review

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein is a heartwarming story written from a pet dog's viewpoint. Enzo's master Dennis, whom he adores, is a race car driver who demonstrates his mastery of the sport in his life off the track, too.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

"Your car goes where your eyes go," says Dennis in a conversation, with Enzo listening in. "No race has ever been won in the first corner," he adds, "but many have been lost there." Enzo observes that Dennis is emotionally intelligent and in control of himself despite the pressures of making decisions at high-speeds. When Dennis has victory within his grasp in an important race but loses because another driver has rammed into his wheels, he only blames himself.

"Getting angry at another driver for a driving incident is pointless," Dennis says. "You need to watch the drivers around you, understand their skill, confidence, and aggression levels, and drive with them accordingly." Dennis believes that any problems he encounters on the track are ultimately caused by himself because he is responsible for where he is and for what he is doing. Thus Dennis takes responsibility for his devastating loss because of his vulnerable position to a lesser experienced driver, and then he emotionally moves on.

Dennis faces obstacles of many kinds beyond the dangers of his career, like his wife's cancer, resentful in-laws and the custody battle over his daughter. He maintains his wits to survive and conquer based on the skills he's acquired from high-speed racing. Enzo is his faithful companion, frustrated because he can't speak human words to communicate his loyalty, love and friendship, but Dennis seems to know it anyway.

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Anyone who has observed their beloved pets uncannily communicate feelings through body language and facial expressions will relate to this novel. Enzo is a loyal and beloved companion many can identify with, and the lessons he's gleaned from Dennis are artfully passed on to the reader. The Art of Racing in the Rain would be an excellent choice of a book for teenage boys to read.

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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Peanut Butter Protein Balls

Peanut Butter Protein Balls
photo by Kitchen Goddess

Looking for a healthy snack recipe that is easy to make? Try Peanut Butter Protein Balls, and keep them on hand for a better alternative when sugar cravings strike.

Recipe for Peanut Butter Protein Balls

This concoction was devised by my health-conscious and very beautiful sister-in-law, who wanted a tasty snack at mid-afternoon or before bedime that wouldn't be too caloric. She loves peanut butter and honey, and when she combined it with protein powder and flax seed, found a real winner of a recipe.


  • 1 cup (240 mL) organic peanut butter (the natural kind where the oil separates and needs to be stirred)
  • 1/4 cup (59 mL) honey
  • 1/2 cup (118 mL) protein powder or whey powder, preferably vanilla-flavored (use one that is 80 calories for a 1 scoop/20 g serving)
  • 2 heaping tablespoons (30 mL+) ground flax seed
  • 1 heaping tablespoon (15 mL+) of nonfat powdered milk or the protein or whey powder (the reason for adding the powdered milk is because it is more economical and doesn't change the flavor, especially when making this recipe in bulk)
  • 1/4 cup (59 mL) Rice Krispies cereal, uncrushed (optional)
  • 1/4 cup (59 mL) finely chopped nuts (optional)
  • 2 oz. (57 g) of dark chocolate (optional)
  • 1/4 cup (59 mL) of unsweetened shredded coconut (optional)
  1. Mix the peanut butter, honey, protein or whey powder, flax seed and nonfat powdered milk (all the ingredients except the optional ones) together slowly with an electric mixer; the consistency should be like Play-doh. Note: Raw almond butter has been substituted for the peanut butter, but the consistency of the balls were drier.
  2. Add the Rice Krispies and then by hand, form the dough into 12 round balls. The Rice Krispies add a nice texture and also stretch the dough.
  3. Place the balls on a plate and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  4. Melt the chocolate over low heat in a very small bowl.
  5. Put the chopped nuts and the coconut in two other very small bowls.
  6. One by one, dip the balls in the melted chocolate, nuts or coconut and return them to the plate. 
  7. Refrigerate them for another 30 minutes before eating or transferring to another container. The balls should be stored in the refrigerator and last a couple of weeks. This recipe makes 12 balls, each about 100 calories with 9 grams of protein. 
Some of the protein, energy and meal replacement bars sold in stores offer only an illusion of nutrition because they contain too much sugar, sodium or chemicals. Why not make your own snacks at home without the unhealthy additives? Peanut Butter Protein Balls are easy to make, taste great and are sure to become a family favorite.

Read more: How to Make an Attractive Fruit Platter