Here again

You may know that  I’ve been writing a book “Lost Man Found,” on my late husband, Michael Creamer, and the time we had together (3,003 days). If you know me, I love backwards/forwards numbers, so it must be right that I am writing this now…

Mike’s friend, and mine, Ron Bucchino sent me this great picture he took of Mike in 1975, after he came home from Vietnam, between the times I knew him from Youth Theatre Workshop, and when I re-met him at The Wall Dedication (1982) in D.C. I think it’s a great photograph. He looks very Steve McQueen, and I held a long belief that I would marry Steve McQueen. Drats that Ali McGraw. (She was a Guest Editor too.) But I did get to marry my Steve McQueen.

Play Misty Copeland for Me

I had the opportunity to hear ballerina Misty Copeland talk today at Dillard University in New Orleans with our ballerina hopeful daughter and some of her barre friends from NOCCA. We got there extremely early–nearly 2 hours early as Lily had heard that it was going to be packed. It was by the time it started, but she managed to get the first row behind the VIP reserved seats. She got this fantastic picture of Misty.

MistyCopelandCopeland, in case you don’t know her, is the first black principle dancer for the American Ballet Theater in two decades and barely any before that. She was a relative late-bloomer, and prodigy, having started at 13, she was en point three months later!! Pretty unheard of. She’s been a big hero for my daughter, who, thank heavens, is pretty color blind nor does she red line her inspiration. The President of Dillard caught the 2 minute commercial Misty does for UnderArmor in which a young voice reads the rejection letter Misty got when she was starting to dance, over the image of an unbelievably strong, dancing Copeland. It is so potent that it enamored me to her too when Lily showed me. He said he simply had to invite Ms. Copeland come to Dillard, to inspire his young students to NOT TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER.

BookSigningThere was an abundance of little brown girls in the audience, and often Ms. Copeland refers to them in her new book,”Life In Motion.” In the introduction, she writes intermittently throughout her narrative:…”This is for the little brown girls.”  Copeland is breaking down barriers and her visit to Dillard was all about keeping the ball rolling, scoring strikes the whole way.

My girl isn’t brown, but she did start late in ballet, and was told when we moved to New Orleans (from a prestigious ballet school here) that she couldn’t go into the class where students were at her level–she was just too old for it. Adieu. At NOCCA last year with only a year of ballet from another school, she finished her freshman year as “the most improved dancer” in the Dance department according to some of her teachers at her year end review. And this summer after studying with Ballet West through NOBA’s summer program, she decided to be a ballerina. She works hard at it now. She on her fifth pair of point shoes since the summer (her “auntie” Joanne is her shoe patron, thanks, Jo), and she studies point privately since they don’t put the sophomores on point at NOCCA.

LilySmileWe’re just coming to understand, Dennis and I, what ballet parenting is all about, so Misty, thanks for the lessons tonight. We don’t want to Black Swan Lily’s career, so we need some source on how and why and where in the ballet world, just like we had to figure out the same for a dyslexic student with brains who could easily have been brushed under the rug. So we’ll keep you posted and try to make intelligent decisions, read Misty’s book, talk to Lily’s ballet teacher who is helping us with direction, and let Lily make the decisions and commitments it will take for her to succeed in this world.

It’s a tough world, and not one I ventured down, but I’ve ventured down tough roads, and you don’t need someone telling you NO. You need someone helping you to figure out HOW. Misty Copeland can help us figure out how. (And if you are reading this, thanks, again.)



A New Car in the Family

I knew we needed one; the old Highlander we bought to ferry up and down to Kildonan six years ago had long passed 200,000 miles, and gotten dinged and bumped by icy trees shedding branches, and unyielding telephone poles placed in the middle of parking lots. It was bought during the lean six years, so any of the insurance money just went to paying doctor bills and necessary stuff–yes, Geico, sorry for that, but one does what one can.

The used car salesman, Big Will, said, “How much you want for that car?”

Dennis said, “$2,500.” I kept silent. (Take it I prayed silently, just take it away…) He handed the keys over to the one who would drive it to see that True Blue bucked, cut out, wheezed like a rat was living behind her steering wheel, had a jab in the middle of the driver’s side mirror like someone on Broadway Street ran the gantlet and lanced it, and was nearly empty (folks who own this car don’t top off after 1/4 tank, tsk, tsk), and needed an oil change. Oh yeah, and had so many warning lights that never went out that it wouldn’t pass inspection again without bribing someone.

We went to the dealer not to buy but to look. The Highlander was dirty and filled with stuff on the way to Salvation Army. We wanted to check out the 2001 Rav that we could get for $157/month, but all of us fell for the pretty blue 2011 with only 23,500 miles and one owner. We got into the back and there was LEG ROOM!!!!.

Having owned a brand new 1997 Rav, which we drove to over 200,000 miles, then gave to my sister Barbara for a buck to make it legal. We knew those Ravs go on and on. And we wanted a better car for the New Orleans streets with their Katrina-holes. (Oh, the pot holes in NOLA!!!!) A Rav on the highway was high enough to believe our 16 year old would be safer than in some tinny little thing, yet small enough to maneuver the “why did you even think of parking there” obstacle course that New Orleans also provides on a daily basis. Why do people park opposite other cars that are already too far into the street?? All those lopped off mirrors!!!!

“The Highlander is only worth $1000,” Bill said. Big Will knew we liked the baby blue though; still I needed to get home to a pot roast on the stove. He said you’re getting cold feet. No, no, I protested, I could only imagine the smoke detector scaring the dog near to death. He said, “If we make it so you only have to pay $250/mo, will you go with the newer car? ” It was late. They’d only moved 2 cars that day. Below quota.

“Yup.” (I have been saying yup for a while now. Text it a lot. Yup. I’m in the Yup of my advanced years. Nothing much to say but Yup.)

“So we’ll give you $2,000. for the Highlander, so you can make the payment.” Okay. Off to the finance office, across the lot. (Oh, that pot roast, everyone joked, will be so tender!) Truth is the woman in finance came up with $270/mo and we just shook our heads: Nope. (The opposite of yup)

“Big Will said he’d get it to $250/mo., that’s the deal-maker.” BW gets called in–comes to a $268 or so. “Nope.” Will you settle for $255? “Yup.”

It all fell to the Highlander. They paid us $2500. for that car all bumped and bruised. We couldn’t have pulled it off on craigslist. We would have disclaimed so much David Letterman could have made it into a parody. But it’s gone. We didn’t mean to buy a car for so much, but we did, and now, to drive it? To drive this car is like butter. Like reluctantly buying a wallet the other day at DSW  because my old wallet’s zipper was busted for the past month and a half. I didn’t want to spend the bucks, but I did, and I got it home and put all my cards and stuff into my new wallet and I was so HAPPY! If salespeople can get to that–to motivate one to the point of happiness, then every sale would be so so easy.

And for Lily? She took driver’s ed in a little 4 cylinder boxy little SCION that when you took your foot off the gas, decelerated. Teaching her in the 6 cylinder Highlander I’d say, “Slow it down,” and she’d say “I am.” and I’d say, “You’re not, put the brake on.” And she would be annoyed. When I pointed out that the new Rav decelerated once you stopped pushing the pedal, she said “Yeah, that’s like the car I learned on,” and I knew that somehow, a major milestone had been passed between a bossy mother teacher and a learner’s permit holder daughter–since neither of us was wrong. And I breathed easier; yes, this would be the car for her. (More than a yup.)

I have to hand it to my husband though, home for only two days from toiling in the vineyard with Tyler Perry in Atlanta, and he was the one to initiate getting the car. We needed that mutual relief, and something major once again shared between us, that came once we were driving it home the next day. We haven’t had a car payment in about 14 years, but it was going to be much better than the constant concern over repair or not, and the added gas consumption that took all our loose change. He was the one to really get it going and set in motion the good feeling you can have when you get yourself out of a ratty-looking outer wrap, no doubt seen and noted by many. Thank you, Dennis, for being the best, hardest working, most fabulous husband and father, and helping us get Baby Blue. It’s a much need change for our family. And it’s good to have you home.


The Mill River Legacy of 1874

(This is an excerpt from my historic fiction/non fiction, I’ve been working on for about 20  years in between all of the other life issues. It’s written in the vernacular of the times–the times spanning 1860 to 1966. Arthur Miller is my great grandfather on my mother’s side. )

Had the rains not beat down so badly that early morning, had the reservoir dam been built of better materials or as one of the building crew mentioned later at the coroner’s inquest, “We probably didn’t get enough of the organic matter out;” had Mr. Logan, the overseer for the first six years of the dam’s short existence, the person who knew the Williamsburg Reservoir Dam inside and out, not died the previous November, then in all likelihood, the dam might have held and Williamsburg might not have lost so many and so much. Goshen, the town just upriver had successfully dammed the Mill River and “Burgy’s” three mills along with the other four mills downstream in Haydenville and Leeds and Florence, wanted similar good water flow in dry seasons. The river valley mills were enjoying a particularly innovative post-war run; many of the mill owners were inventors themselves, devising new means to turn their factories into faster and better manufacturers.

Before the flood the morning of May 16, 1874, there were plenty of jobs, good schools, nice buildings. The town was growing continually; people came from cities like Brooklyn, to work in Williamsburg. It was a place with a future, moving with the times. The wall of water—some say 10 feet tall, others say 20 to 30 feet tall—losing 600 million gallons of water in just an hour’s time changed all that.

Reporters from the Springfield Herald came up faster than one can imagine given the means of travel of the day. They spread out, breaking into a reconnaissance team, ferrying news back to one of the men who sat in the telegraph office tapping in a continuous flow like the floodwater itself. Thunderstruck survivors were found and interviewed, telling tales of entire houses with their kin still in them being lifted off their foundations and swept into the raging waters. Their stories were hastily written down in words, then transformed into dashes and dots, translated back into words back in Springfield and with that, whatever was found downstream—if it was identifiable—was captured on film, printed into black and white photographs, then screened into halftone dots of varying diameters that would hold ink in near proximity to one another thereby creating the photographs people craved to see.

People loved the stories the dots conveyed. They stood in line as newspapers came off the press to read more of what had become of Williamsburg and see the unbelievable destruction. The Civil War had been over for nearly a decade, and it had elevated people’s desire for news. They were eager for spectacles, especially disasters—natural and man-made. This disaster, being very man-made was big news. Downstream everybody talked about the flood. In Williamsburg survivors told their stories, then told them again, and several more times before the reality of what had happened to them, to their families and to their town just left them with no more words to tell.

The aftermath of a flood such as the one that swamped the center out of Williamsburg is not pretty. One hundred and thirty seven lives of family members were caught in the current and nary a one wasn’t precious. Besides the obvious—the collection of bodies and burials and mourning—the sadness piles up like the delta of wreckage and mud stacked all along the widened banks of the Mill River and the newly formed estuaries made in its overflow down through the valley. There are things people lose that can never be replaced and there are things that survivors are left with. Volunteers waded amongst the debris to begin the cleanup of the things that could be cleaned, but it would take several lifetimes for the people of Williamsburg to get beyond that breech.

Annie Gage was eighteen years old as was her betrothed, Arthur Payne Miller, a machinist in the ironworks plant that sat above the Mill River. Annie lived with her parents, up beyond Cemetery Hill, northwestward of where the Williamsburg Reservoir Dam broke. The Gages sitting at their breakfast table heard the roar of water that morning of May 16, but didn’t fathom the proportion of the mouth from which the roar was uttered. It was only after the warning bell on the mill tower had been rung that they managed to get themselves down the muddy road to witness what the commotion was about.

Already that morning, Arthur, Annie’s sweetheart, was at work. Leaning over his workbench on the high side of the river he could see out his window the swollen stream and hear the unnatural rumble of boulders being tossed down the white-capped river in the wake of the deluge. He rallied the rest of the workers from throughout the small brick building, urging them to “Take to the hills!.”

Most of the men who worked the ironworks were able and strong enough to fend for themselves; only Mr. Esterbrook, the shop foreman’s uncle, needed help with his “darn bum knee”. Coworkers hoisted him, chair and all, up the treed embankment onto the other side of Mill Road to a point of safety. Mill girls and townspeople were beginning to stream from the cotton mill and flooding clapboard houses on the downhill side of the river. Some of the ironworkers raced to the water’s edge in search of a crossing that would allow them to help the workers from the cotton mill, which stood directly across from the ironworks. Knowing Annie was probably home on high ground, Arthur too waded down to the water with a coil of rope from the now soggy ironworks floor. He and two men on the other side were able to secure the rope, tying it to trees on either side, which they hoped would allow them to cross the deepening ravine made by the now cresting river. Unbeknownst to them, this early pouring was only the leaking precursor to the rift about to follow.

Water was pouring in high above the banks and widening downhill, onto the town side of Williamsburg. Maybe they would be able to ferry people uphill. But people able to run were running away from the river out into the plain of seeming safety, unaware of the wall of the water about to send greater and swifter torrents their way.

Arthur felt helpless, realizing the futility in his rescue attempt as the cascading water left him dangling, barely holding to the rope over his head. The next minute the water dragged him, rope and all, several feet downstream, soaking him completely, but still able to hold on and grab a footing again. Arthur heard the sudden creaking and crashing of trees and buildings falling in the force of the floodwaters and knew the current was too swift for him to be of help. Amid the sounds of destruction were cries for help that he could not accommodate. Feverishly, Arthur pulled himself up, stumbled into the water, rolled with it for a few yards, got up again spitting the muddy water from his mouth, and afraid to look any longer at the horrific scene unfolding on the south side of the river, he climbed the embankment to safety.

Once on the road that led up to Annie’s house, Arthur turned to survey the maelstrom that had overtaken the tranquil hamlet of Williamsburg as cows and carriages, rooftops and rain barrels were uprooted with trees and whatever else was in the way, painting a picture so vivid, he would find it too hard to forget for the rest of his life.

Sometimes, emotions can get chiseled out of one’s heart by something so traumatic that the love that was inside that heart spill out and are wasted. Then too, disasters such as the one Arthur Payne Miller endured that day can unite two or more witnesses, and their shared emotional experience will bond them for eternity. For Annie and Arthur, the bonding was evident. Arthur Miller could not sleep through the night without Annie beside him, and the Gages—Sanford and Maria, as Puritanical as they could be, allowed it. Before the month was out, the two were joined together in the still-standing Congregational Church with every available Burgy town folk turning up to celebrate the affair, the first cause for celebration since the flood of the 16th. That’s not to say that the gouge in Arthur’s heart from his failure to save anyone had healed. It scarred over, that’s all. But Arthur Miller knew it was there, every time he caught a glance of himself in a looking glass, he saw it.

The Mill Valley was certainly well worth redeeming and throngs of volunteers made their way up to Williamsburg when the washed out roads were passable again. The coroner’s inquiry was certainly part of the upriver lure; then too, folks downstream would come across something in their gardens that they knew had come down with the flood, and those things started to be returned and exhibited outside the church to be reclaimed by their rightful owners.

Burgy wasn’t the same Burgy as it used to be. A pall hung over the town and would have grayed it down even more than the gray place it had become, except for the fact that whole forests of trees—evergreens and budding orchards as well as grand, syrup-bearing maples—had been lost wherever the flood’s path meandered. That left sunny openings throughout the river town, a welcome circumstance to some. Nothing much came of the coroner’s inquiry in the way of placing guilt on the mill owners who had financed the dam and filled it with its lethal legacy. It took a few months for the inquiry to be capped off, and then the real work of putting the town back together ensued.

Annie and Arthur Miller started their family almost immediately. Annie proved to be as fertile as the flooded banks along the Mill River Valley bearing evidence of the closeness of their marriage. Baby Fred was born only ten months after the deluge, followed shortly thereafter by Helen Louise, Sherwood, Blanche, Howard, then Alice, who would be called Ethel (her middle name), Marjorie (called Daisy) and lastly Olive Thorne Miller, born twenty years after the flood of emotions that brought Annie and Arthur together.

In the struggling years after the flood when inhabitants were cobbling together what was left of Williamsburg, Arthur and Annie found a home out on South Street beside an abrupt Berkshire-like foothill in the backyard with plenty of room for a big garden and a place for a couple of cows and a dozen or more chickens to mill about in the field to the left of the old structure. In need of a whitewash, the old house hadn’t been lived in for a few years, but it hadn’t been deserted as a number of old houses that survived the flood had. Structurally, it rambled back on a slight slope from the front lawn, having been connected over time to the barn out back by two different additions, the kinds that were customarily built after dreadful New England winters. So there never really were outbuildings per se, rather extensions of the original structure with doors on either side that allowed for the circulation of people not only to the barn, but from one side yard into another. This satisfied Arthur who, by virtue of his ever-increasing role in the family, had become known as Papa. Papa wasn’t exactly fond of the cold; he had developed arthritis in his right hip that made it difficult for him to walk long periods of time, especially up or downhill.

Subsistence farming is what the Millers called their lifestyle though it was a term Howard, their son, coined for himself more as a slur than an actual known way of life at the time. Being the last of the few Miller boys, much of the chore work fell to him, especially in light that the older son, Sherwood who’d been given Maria Gage’s middle name to live with, was a child prone to breathing problems, egged on by the barn smells. Howard’s relationship to the homestead and the Miller’s way of rural life didn’t bode well. His schoolmates in Burgy tended to be from non-farming, working class families—those who had stayed to rebuild Williamsburg, who had the money to live in town in remodeled clapboard and more substantial brick buildings. Many of the farming families had evaporated from town when their marketplaces dried up what with the decreased populations imposed by the flood.

The demographics of the public school changed for each of the Miller children, reflecting subtle changes to the population in the twenty years post-flood. Olive’s schoolmates would be very different from Howard’s, but for Howard who felt part of the underclass of Williamsburg, the subtlety was missed. Howard could still recall the refuse remaining on the banks of the Mill River and the town’s countless efforts to remove them. As long as the remnants of the murky days of Williamsburg remained, Papa too might be found staring off at the distance, trapped in his memories, the lethal roll of boulders calling out to him.

“What’s the matter, Pa?” Howard called to his dad as the two of them worked putting up some chicken wire.

“Nothing,” came the answer a little too late to be believed, and barely audible.

If Arthur could have put a name to what hampered him, he would have. Had he known how his behavior would feed his youngest son’s longing to connect, he surely would have dropped it. But deep pain resurfaces through tiny pores, and he had no way of knowing his behavior would fuel his son Howard’s choices to be in direct contrast to his own way of life. Howard grew to loathe the farm and neither of them could support each other’s longings. Their exchanges grew perfunctory, even early in Howard’s life, for as the family grew, and with each new personality needing one more facet of him, Arthur grew more and more to himself, and like his farming, Arthur Miller subsisted.

© 2014 Martha Voutas Donegan


Sleeping with the Jonas Brothers

So my daughter is off tonight to see One Direction at the Superdome with her friends on tickets we bought her for Christmas last year. She is so psyched. NPR said the Dome is gearing up for thousands of little girls–ours is almost 16–to converge all over Poydras Street and warned of traffic jams and stoppages.

It reminded me of this piece I wrote in late 2009/early 2010 about our life in Amenia, NY when we were on the verge of big changes. Here’s a post that helps define what length we go to to help our kids get over the potential threats to their full achievement.

And now: Sleeping with the Jonas Brothers—

It’s a humble second-story flat. We sleep on mattresses on the floor, the woodwork surrounding the door jam—heck, most of the door jams—have yet to be completed. There’s a folding paper shade over the west window that faces the brick building next door, being converted into a coffee house. That’s the window you can see into from the sidewalk. Most times we leave the shade up; it’s not a heavily traveled street. A castoff rug, unrolled to show only a few small stains covers most of the dark, fake wood flooring, surface-grained with darker knots: A good fake floor. It all adds some hominess, though mostly the place reminds visitors of their college apartments. It is very “college apartment;” only we have two bedrooms.

We sleep in the back bedroom, on the sunny southern side of the house. From the front bedroom, we can pick up the wi-fi from the library across the street, so that room has become more of an office, the room where we sit and watch “Glee” on Hulu, our favorite.

We’re only here Monday thru Friday, a fact, which no doubt adds to the college apartment mentality, that and the mattresses on the floor, the mismatched sheets, the scavenged but antique furniture and furnishings, and Lily’s iPod blaring whatever she’s into at the moment.

That’s how we came to be sleeping with the Jonas Bros. She’s like, addicted to them. Loves their music and, okay, so do I. Joe is my favorite; Nick is way too swarmy in the way the young Marlon Brando was swarmy, oozing with self-possessed sexuality bulging from his biceps. You’d imagine he’d only need a mirror to get off. Kevin, of course, is out of the picture now that he’s married. We could take his picture down, but it works with the three of them. Kevin cudda been a contenda, but for me, it’s Joe.

I don’t think Lily’s made up her mind on them, just as she vacillates between Edward and Jacob, but mainly stays with Jacob. She’s young yet. She cried last night when we read aloud Jacob’s epilogue of “Eclipse.” Now we have to go to the library and order up the fourth Twilight book. I can’t wait.

The Jonas’s pictures are plastered on the wall, torn out of the Rolling Stone issue her dad bought her. At least Lily taped them up neatly, all in a row, but she chose the long, windowless wall and well, they dominate the bedroom. I’m glad my mattress is the farthest away from Swarmy.

On cold nights like last night, Lily doesn’t like to sleep alone, so she cuddled up with me. I got up, plugged in the space heater, and when she’d nodded off again, I moved onto her mattress. One of the objectives of moving here besides going to Kildonan is/was to get her to sleep in her own bed—hence the twin mattresses. So if it takes the Jonas Brothers to give her solace, so be it. She’s eleven, what more can I ask?

ThoroughbredWe’re here, Mon.-Fri. on a mission. We decided these things as a family, my husband Dennis, our daughter Lily and I, together. Predicated on the fact that The Kildonan School was and is 100 miles north of where we lived and live—past and present becoming oddly the same—and it being the perfect school to treat her dyslexia, what with their 1-on-1 daily tutoring, small classes and exceptional horseback riding program, we plotted a not so little lifestyle flip, that for the most part seems to be working.

We call it our “Schooling Segue,” though really it is so much more.

On Mondays Lily and I drive up at 5AM to arrive here by 7:45. We might stop for breakfast—a drive-thru perhaps. Lily goes to school, I go home, unload the car of clean laundry, laptop, stuffed animals—you get the picture—come upstairs and check e-mail to see if clients need me (thank you, God, for the Internet), usually they do, so I avoid the unstashed clutter till I find time to put things away.

This is a very different place from our home in Belle Harbor, Queens, a block from the ocean. We are overrun at times with “stuff” there—paperwork, yardwork, a garage and attic full of castoffs collected from the trash or the dumpsters at “As the World Turns” where Dennis works as a set decorator. Each of us inherited earthbound relics from deceased partners: all their worldly possessions now in our possession.

The residue of our past lives—my client samples: six and a half years of printed Perry Ellis pages and Donghia furniture catalogues nearly bow our attic trusses with their dead-tree weight. Dennis’ decorative painting supplies of gold leaf and tincture of such and such present themselves in odd places when we are trying to create order at home. It has to, had to, whatever, change. So, unable to do it outright—his job, my clients, the real estate droop, basic inertia—segue was essential.

In first finding a school that offered not only a way for Lily to overcome her weakness, but a way to fuel her passion for horses, “I want to be a jockey!” we looked at our beleaguered lives and put twos and threes together and it started to make sense.

Thinking about it, Dennis’s show was bound to close (it has since been cancelled from the CBS lineup as of September 2010). It had only been reupped for a 1-year contract as opposed to the standard 2-year contract for soaps, so the soap scum was on the wall, especially after “Guiding Light” went dark. And dammit, I was feeling a need to get on with my persistent desire to write that had been back burnered through childrearing and then working my tail off to pay for private schools in light of the local pubic school’s failure to educate Lily. Budget cuts further complicated things in Dennis’ as well as my life. What were we holding on for?

In addition—since change was in the air—maybe we could eliminate TV as Lily’s closest companion? change my eating habits? pare down on possessions? get Lily out of our bed, thereby improving our connubial bliss. We decided to go for it—Making Segue!

Part II: For the record, it is January 5, 2010, Lily’s first day back after Christmas break—sorry, but I still call it that and will. Frigidly cold, we fight to get out of bed, having come up the day before, and warm up enough to eat, straighten her hair and get to school on time.

Lily is eager to get to school (yea!), to meet the new girl who starts mid-year. Lily loves math and literature and history, subjects she barely looked at without a frown. She does all her homework at school, which makes my evenings delightful times spent reading with Lily, cooking, or writing.Ellie and LilyCROPPED










In pulling together her records to send off to the lawyer who will plead our case for partial tuition reimbursement I note these crucial aha!s as credence to this segue construct of ours. 1/ The Kildonan School grades students in three measures: B= beginning; D= developing and S= secure.  It is remarkable to have found a school where the highest mark your child can receive is SECURE. Wow. 2/ In Lily’s first trimester report, she scored zero Bs, twenty-three Ds, and thirty-four Ss, including 10 straight Ss for Elementary Riding, a full class period and graded as such, not an extracurricular activity such as Art and Music and Movement for which she received one D each.

While Lily received 10 Ds from her self-proclaimed “tough” Math teacher, her only S from her was for “Tests and Quizzes.” Lily loves Ms. Neiman. It’s not that grades are everything, but to have Lily fighting to do well is the child my husband and I are meant to have. She resembles us at last, and I know where she is coming from. She fought my plan last month to skip school for a day to go to NYC for a doctor’s appointment because it would ruin her perfect attendance, and when an alternate plan to leave early was suggested, Lily emphatically replied, “But I can’t miss my Math test.”

Is this segue working? It appears, from Lily’s perspective, to be going great guns. It’s difficult to leave my husband week after week. Last time I left he was sick; he called from the doctor to tell me he was breathing at 47% lung capacity and he had been instructed to clean the bedroom 29 times. I kid you not. I wanted to turn the car around and drive home and start vacuuming, maybe I could prolong his life!

Our time together is very valuable. Lily’s and mine, yes—we read together—volumes of things. It’s helped my writing. I can’t wait to get to the next Twilight book as much as she does. But the best laid plans…it is tough to get to Brooklyn to see my clients enough. And Dennis and I miss each other tremendously. Since the day he heard about his show closing, Dennis has been redecorating the Belle Harbor house readying it for the market, indubitably stirring up the dust, which doesn’t help his asthma much. The one weekend he came here since then, he sewed curtains for the sunny bedroom and surveyed the flat anew, sizing it up as a family residence, at least for the short run.

Making segue gives us a platform for looking at our lives, what works, what doesn’t. Things don’t stay static though, we have many new things to consider—co-pays for this lung problem alone were $84, and what will we do without health benefits? And the doctor says get rid of our Labradoodle, Dixie. Lily is beside herself! Then too, maybe the Board of Ed will consider us renegades at 100 miles north, and we won’t get any settlement and that will draw an end to this exercise in finding our way. Still, we have a 2-year lease and mean to keep it, and hope that good will continue from our attempts. We’ll keep thinking, and looking and finding ways to change for the better, if only in short hops, in segues.

Biographical information: Martha Voutas Donegan

Updating: Martha Voutas Donegan began her career at Vogue after her writing (Illustrated Humor and Non-fiction) won her a Mademoiselle Guest Editorship (1973). She studied with graphic guru Milton Glaser at SVA, illustrated two beauty books—one for Shirley Lord, the other for Robert Renn. She wrote and illustrated for magazines, while art directing posh Henri Bendel on W. 57th, then launched an ad agency ( Early on, she explored a 5-minute cable TV segment concept with hair maestro Kenneth and eventually created the brands for, among others, Perry Ellis (everything Perry for first 6.5 years), Tahari, Donghia Furniture, Bill Robinson, Dukakis/ Bentsen, and La Louisiana. She redesigned Woman’s Day for Peter Diamandis and Ellen Levine, Rags for one of the Ms. founders, Mary Peacock and created promotions for Bergdorf Goodman, 7Days and HB Playwrights. While penning quotes for fashion press kits and articles for Working Woman, Self, and The Village Voice or ghostwriting blogs, ( and websites (, she chaired the Massachusetts College of Art Foundation Board (her alma mater).

Martha also worked as Creative Director (2-D) for Deskey Associates NYC, branders and packagers for Fortune 500 clients. Married to Emmy winning set decorator (As the World Turns), Dennis Donegan, Martha wrote her first play, “Mr. Muybridge,” read at St. Clement’s in NYC. She studied playwriting (w/Brian Silberman) and sitcom at Gotham Writers’ Workshop. Pat Flicker Addiss produced a rewrite of Mr. M then read at the National Arts Club, directed by Michelle Tattenbaum. Her second play “4th Down,” about domestic abuse in a football family, (hot topic) is under consideration. Martha co-authored “TapCracker” Nutcracker on tap and a memoir “Born Gifted,” set in 1950s El Barrio, w/ spiritualist Miriam Cora. She continues to work with NY, CT and LA clients, among them Alan Alda, Chris Goutman, “Ravenswood,” and Sean Gilson, and contributed to Rizolli’s 2013 coffee table book on long-time client Perry Ellis. Martha was culled into the PBS documentary “Search for Spirituality,” from her sangas with Thich Nhat Hanh at the “Healing the Wounds of War” workshop at Omega.

In 2012, Martha and her family moved to New Orleans to pursue careers—their daughter is a NOCCA  (New Orleans Center for Performing Art), dance major; husband Dennis is the set decorator for Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta working on four TV shows, the most recent being, “If Loving You is Wrong” —and to be close to Dennis’ aging family.

Ethel,MinnaBeachMartha recently finished, an historical fiction/non fiction book, “Bequeathal—the Story of a New Bedford Spinster House,” set in MA from 1862 to 1982. It portrays the lives of Great Aunt Ethel and her companion of 30+ years, Minna Littman, an award-winning reporter for New Bedford Standard/Standard-Times. “Bequeathal” tells of what Ethel undertakes to inherit the house from former mill girl Sophie Briggs, how Minna purchases the home back from Martha’s mother Eleanor, after Eleanor’s bequeathal from Aunt Ethel permits her to go to college after bearing eight children, which lifts her family from poverty. Based on fact with fiction filling in the missing pieces and history doing the rest, it is illustrated with the spinsters’ own journal entries and letters, with picture postcards and photographs from Ethel’s extensive albums.


Free Food






Part of a Large Block of Work called DIRT POOR

It’s that time of the year. Time for what some call, gleaning. I call it watching for opportunities for free food and making them happen.

Gleaning is something the impoverished part of the fiefdom, kingdom, city was allowed to do, after the crops had been “gathered in”. Sometimes not. What it amounts to is picking up the small orts of food left after the harvest.

In the Bible story of Ruth, the young widow (and in those days that meant poor) asks to be allowed onto the field to pick up what is left after the barley harvest, and in doing so, she meets Boaz who will eventually take her into his household. People for centuries have survived on what is left over, the cast-offs, the garbage, the refuse of richer meals not their own.

Since moving to the south, I realize I love the bounty that surrounds me, growing on the trees right in my neighborhood. We moved to an apartment with a pecan tree–and though it bore no pecans this year–I was told next year it might. (Something to research, how to get a pecan tree bearing again, since I’ve heard that skip a year stuff is a myth.) I walk the dog and everywhere there are lemon trees and oranges. This morning we ate a grapefruit my sister in law brought to me from a neighbor’s yard; it had fallen off a tree early.

Another sister-in-law has friends who live in Poplarville, MS, about an hour north of New Orleans. I asked if she was driving up to pick pecans. She said she would, if I would drive. I agreed. Her friends have both deceased, and their son is now tending the property, and welcomed us to pick what we wanted. Some of the pecan trees closer to the road appeared to be picked, but when the son came home (yes, he was a prodigal son at one time, don’t get me started on this Biblical side) he said, “Go up close to my house.”

The tree there had a carpet of fresh, big pecans. I filled my plastic grocery bags, then a bigger one (from the H+M opening last week where we stood in line, Lily and I with three of her friends to get scratch off cards for dollars off. Lily won a $50 off and I won a $25 off.) I then slipped two of the grocery bags, already tearing from the sharp ends of the pecan shells into the “Personal Belongings” bag from Dennis’ last visit to Tulane Hospital. I didn’t want a precious pecan to drop out; I wanted them all.

The son said, “Pick all the citrus you want.” My sister in law was eager for the kumquats. “Nobody picks these, just me, and Miss Sadie,” she said wishing in her words that her friend was still with her this day. “I look at you picking these kumquats, and I like to think that you’re Miss Sadie.”

“I’ll be your Miss Sadie. I’ll come back with you again and pick the ones that aren’t ripe yet, and I’ll be your Miss Sadie.”

“Sadie taught me how to make kumquat marmalade; they’re not much good for anything but that.” I bit into a kumquat, straight from the tree and it was bitter and orangey, but not bad.

“I’ll make marmalade with you.”

“They make good Christmas presents, you know.” She thinks like I do. I like homemade gifts much more than expensive ones or even inexpensive ones I can’t afford. I picked lots of kumquats. From there we drove over by the corral where we’d left the heavy bags of pecans, and worked our way over to five or so citrus trees, drooping with orange bounty.

“He said he could get about $300/per tree in the market for these,” my sister-in-law said. “But he wants us to take all we can eat.” We each picked big brown bags full and loaded them into the back of the HIghlander.

By the time we got back to New Orleans, I felt I had made a killing on that trip alone. I wanted to bake up some pecan pies for Thanksgiving and pecans were costly in the store.

The day before, the missionary sisters called and said they had a whole tall brown bag of crusty ole poor boy (Nawlins sandwiches) bread that someone had given them. “Can you find something to make with these?” The girls were at a total loss.

“Well, bring them up,” I said, “we’ll make some bread pudding. It’s good with French bread!” There were eight or nine long baseball bat hard loaves, but they cut pretty well with a serrated knife. I set up an assembly line–one of the girls chopping walnuts that I’d already bought on a buy-one-get-one free–the other cubing the loaves. The milk, cinnamon, eggs and vanilla we paid for. In another container, I mixed up smaller cubes with spices I’d gotten from my sister whose son-in-law works for McCormack. He sends my sister $2.00 coupons and sample spices regularly, and there are always more than she can use, so she decided to send them on to me, her Dirt Poor sister. With the other bread, and a bit of fresh parsley and onions and butter, I will make our Thanksgiving stuffing.

The missionaries leave with a 9 x 12 pan of bread pudding for an investigator they are sharing the Gospel with. I keep the remaining long loaf and a half which I will shred into bread crumbs, since I’m out of those too. We have the remaining three pans of bread pudding to share–one for an after funeral event for a friend Ramona, and another two to bring to the potluck after church the Sunday before Thanksgiving.

On Saturday, we go to a our daughter’s dance performances at 7 and 9 PM at the Fringe Fest in New Orleans. To help out, Dennis runs to get a meal for in between the shows for the company–chicken wings and salad makings to feed the twenty-two young teenage girls who are dancing with Lily. Afterwards, there are greens left from the salad and a partial bag of carrots. No one wants them; we take them home.

The next day is Sunday, and I help carve the turkeys for the potluck dinner after church. That is where I glom–my word for getting something free–glom two turkey carcasses with which I make soup. Nobody ever wants the carcasses. I have been the recipient of untold turkey carcasses at this kind of event. I have even taken them, out of their foil cooking pans from the top of a church trash can, tote them home, and get the biggest pot I have to boil them down.

It takes a few hours for the orts of meat gripping the bones to fall off, and in the meantime, our house is filled with the most fragrant aroma of comfort food salvaged from the waste.

Getting free food doesn’t mean not working for it. It took me a good hour to clean the bones of that turkey glom. I separate it into three groups–the best of the meat that is appealing and edible, the meat by-products, let’s call them–though the turkey liver and heart are far from that–that I cull out for our dog Dixie, and the bones, skin and gristle that I’ve boiled down to add flavor to the soup makings, but are too fatty for my dog to eat, or just not good for dogs. So not only do I get food for our table, but the turkey boil nets me three servings of turkey bits that I will mix into the dog’s kibbles to remind me of how thankful we are to have a great dog.

My mother always made a good turkey soup after Thanksgiving, and with eight kids, she served a big turkey, so there was a lot of it. She prepared it Greek style with lemon egg sauce and rice. I loved that soup she served with crusty French bread and butter that would melt as we dipped it into the hot broth.

On Mondays, we almost always eat free; it’s bean night—a tradition in the Donegan family, and everyone heads out to PawPaw’s house for beans and rice. Dennis’ brother who delivers baked goods in and around New Orleans offers up some damaged pastry shells. We take a plastic nested layer of 12 home, and on Tuesday I take some of the soup makings, eliminating much of the liquid, add cut up carrots from the dance concert leftovers, and add in some frozen peas, thicken it with flour and water, and serve bubbly over the pastry shells that no one can tell are broken with the turkey and gravy over them. When I serve them, Lily shouts out “Happy Thanksgiving,” since we won’t be doing Thanksgiving together, what with Dennis working that day. We have a wonderful, almost free meal, save the peas and a little flour, and I truly am Thankful.

The recipes I mentioned are simple and easy to make

Bread pudding

Bread pudding is simple. Cut the bread into 1.5″ pieces. Mix 4 eggs with 2 cups of milk, and 1 T. Vanilla; add in 1T cinnamon and 1T nutmeg. We used about 1 cup of walnuts chopped to a small pea size. Oh yeah, and for the 4 tins, we used a whole stick of butter, melted. Mixed it all together and baked in a 350 degree oven for about an hour. Read on the Internet a great sauce for top. Let some vanilla ice cream melt and pour on top as a sauce.

“Soup Makings”

In boiling up the Turkey carcass, cover with enough water in a deep (stock) pot. You may have to break up the bones a bit to fit, but if you can’t don’t worry, after a little stewing, the bones break easily. Boil them for a good 3-4 hours. Less will do, but not less than 1.5 hrs. If the turkey was seasoned well–the ones I used this time were seasoned with a strong rub–then you don’t need to add bouillon or bay leaves or salt and pepper. But if not, add all those things. If I know I’m going straight to soup, I’ll add in celery and onion at that time. The more boiling, the more those vegetable “seasonings” as my mom-in-law calls them dissolve into the broth, but if boiling less, they can complicate the “picking” part.

Picking starts by pulling out all the large pieces of turkey carcass remaining, and letting them cool so you can handle them. Then I sieve off the rest of the pieces, and end up with clear broth, or relatively so. This means you’re going to dirty another container and a sieve, but free stuff doesn’t mean you don’t have to do the dishes. It’s worth it to do it right, and small bone pieces are very unappetizing and potentially lethal in the soup.

Pick the bones, and add the meat into the broth. Cooling at this time will bring any of the turkey fat, or the fat used to cook it–unbeknownst to you if your glomming somebody else’s–to the surface. You can scrape it off before heating and using in a recipe, or before freezing.

Now you have what it takes to make Soup or Turkey and Gravy or a Turkey Pot Pie, all using the above “soup makings” as I call them.

Turkey Soup with a Greek Variation

This soup is made from just the makings above. Add a half a chopped onion, some celery, or celery soup–my favorite all round spice–and add some already cooked rice, or if you’re going to finish the soup in this go round, then cook the rice in the boiling liquid of the soup. Reheating rice-y soup can make the rice very soggy.

To add the Greek Avgolemono sauce

Separate 3 eggs put the yokes aside. Beat the whites until they peak, add in juice from 1/2 lemon. Whisk together. Add the yokes in an whisk only to combine, not to whip, add a bit of the hot broth from the soup–about 1/4 cup. Stir together. This will “cook” the eggs ever so slightly. Then pour on top of the soup, either individually or the soup in a serving bowl or we did the whole pan and skipped a serving bowl. Make sure there’s a portion of sauce on each of the servings. Mmmmmmm.

Turkey and Gravy over Pastry Shells

Take the soup “makings” and scoop out more of the solid parts that the liquid. (You can always freeze the liquid in ice cube trays and save for home made bouillon. Pop them out and store in a zip lock in the freezer to use the trays for ice.) Heat in a pan and follow the directions in the text above. Warm up the pastry shells in the oven so the warm liquid works with the dry shells.

Turkey Pot Pie

The pastry shells are just a pot pie variation. Turkey pot pie is made with 2 crusts–bottom and top–I use up all my left over vegetables I have in the refrigerator. The rest of the carrots from the dance concert, the corn in the Tupperware. Making a gravy like the one above makes it succulent. I like to flavor turkey and chicken pot pies with with ground Sage. If I have to stretch a pot pie due to too little Turkey or meat, I add in partially cooked potatoes–either regular or sweet work well. Make sure your ingredients are partially cooked before pie-ing them. Frozen peas will cook in the pie like the 4 and 20 blackbirds, so don’t overcook them.

Fashion Able

I don’t think it’s odd that fashion found a path into my life. I was the fourth girl in this pattern in our family of eight: 1 boy 3 girls, 1 boy 3 girls. I got a lot of dated hand-me-downs. I still possess the first store-bought dress my mother let me pick out for first grade. I either got it at Grant’s or a shop on Main Street before the shopping centers came in and drove them all to closing. I’ve kept that dress all these years even though it is ripped and faded. My kid sisters wore it too. It is turquoise blue on its gathered skirt with a pattern of ballet slippers and violins, and the top is solid nut brown. The collar and short puff sleeves are piped in the patterned turquoise. There is a thin sash that (still) is (partially) sewn into the side seams that hold a bias self-belt. On the belt is an appliqued violin and ballet slippers, and they used to have several rhinestones. I believe one still exists.
I looked for the dress in both of the old chests I have where some of the other important fashions of my life are kept: My wedding suit–light seafoam green, Carmelo Pomodoro silk, my dress of many colors that my mother made for me to graduate college–I was her only college grad. It was so colorful and short as Mary Quant’s. I wore it to New York City in 1973 to be a Guest Editor for Mademoiselle. I also found things kept from college—the black antique beaded and fitted jacket I wore with ripped and embroidered jeans (Can you guess I was a hippie?).

Hidden almost under everything is my mother’s soft denim trousers she wore to garden in. While at Vogue, I found them on a forage home. She hadn’t worn them for years; they were worn and unlike any jeans of those early 1970s–telling of what was to be. I patched their frailty and wore them one day to Vogue. It was bold; it caught Grace Mirabella’s eye as she saw me walking up from the back elevators with stats in my hands. I saw her turn her head and watch me.
So when I ended up at Vogue and illustrating for Mlle, and then at Bendel’s and Rags, and opening a studio for fashion clients like Tahari and Perry and Carmelo and Willi Smith, it wasn’t that I didn’t have it in my background.
I sewed my own clothes to make them special. It was within my budget to do that. I used my babysitting money on a light sky colored trench coat that I also brought to NYC back then and hardly wore, and shoes, and stuff I couldn’t construct. In college I got a job designing and making costumes one summer, and then the producers hired me for the main stage show, Cabaret, at Boston Conservatory after I switched to Mass Art.
My daughter likes clothes too. She has a mini dress form and pins things together on it. She likes clothes and puts them together fabulously. So maybe it’s in the blood

The First of Many Perry Ellis Invitations

Designing for that first Perry Ellis show was hampered by Rea Lubar’s art direction to go pink. The collection–Spring 1979–had some pink, but Perry was launching, not a pink line, but a full blown collection. His time had come. And my time to impress him with my graphic abilities was running short. This invitation needed to bespeak the Perry Ellis about to emerge and after two rounds of design I was feeling down on myself.
Then I got the call. It was Perry, could I meet him at 1441 Broadway in the lobby in 20 minutes? Yes. Good, he had something I needed to see. My studio was 2 stops down from Times Square on the R line; I got there first.
Perry arrived alone and bounded up a dark but grand stairway that looked like it hadn’t been used in a decade. It opened on to a mezzanine landing leading to a dazzling if dusty quadrupled height “ballroom” for want of another word. Four hugemungus brass carousel chandeliers hung about halfway from the paint-peeling ceiling, otherwise the space was echoing empty. Perry spun around like Marlo Thomas in the opening sequence of That Girl, “It used to be a bank; look the vault is even still here, we might have to leave it.”
It was spectacular, the windows looking out onto Broadway were maybe 30 feet tall, and lined that side of the gallery. It seemed improbable that it would be ready in time for the show, we barely had time to print invitations. “We’ll clean it up as best we can; paint the ceiling…I want everyone to know that we haven’t fully moved in, maybe fill it the space with cardboard boxes, shredded newspaper…”
“I have it,” I said, wanting to race back to the studio to design the invitation. Whatever I had to see, I’d seen it, and inspiration was gushing out of me. The timing was perfect as someone on his team joined him and gave me my out.
One of the first art shows I went to in NYC, was Japan House’s “How to Wrap Five Eggs”. I was smitten. I’d been a paper aficionado and always eyed those packing sheets laced between layers of fruits, wishing I had a use for them. Now I did!
c Martha Voutas Donega 2013The three textures were telling of Perry’s sensibilities: My packing matter protectively shielding the voile-like artist’s vellum, and the heavier cover stock, scored and die cut to fit, wrapping it all neatly together.  We always hand addressed. Simple and elegant. And I’m happy to say, just the incentive Perry Ellis needed to hire me to design his corporate identity. But that’s another blog!



Eh, Designers, They’re a Dime a Dozen–Rea Lubar

From my first job at Vogue where I barely designed, (think Devil Wears Prada, I’m Anne Hathaway’s character getting coats thrown at me) to Henri Bendel’s AD where my timing wasn’t so great and I was easily hired away to relaunch a counter-culture magazine, Rags, (that didn’t float), to my ongoing efforts to relaunch my acting career, I set up in 1978 in NYC’s wholesale flower market as a graphic design studio. It was a small patch of real estate in a cojoined loft building. Fabric designers worked up front and a photography studio that played non-stop Donna Summers was in the back. I found a room-sized space just off the elevators. It was in that space that I designed my first Perry Ellis pieces.

Phillip Matthews and my friend David Lewis had launched a decorative pillow business, the showroom for which was also in the front loft. Before staking out the elevator space, I shared a corner in the big loft with Phillip and David, and used their phone for the few calls I made or got. Home furnishings market week was approaching and they had no graphics–no sell sheets, nor hangtags, no press release. I asked Phillip if I could help; he said his friend in PR, Rea Lubar was going to provide that. Fast forward to too late, and I opted in. I shot some Polaroids and statted them up across the street, used typewriter type, statted it down and threw it all together.

The next week Rea came in to see the line. Phillip introduced us. She was impressed with the copy I’d written and asked if I wanted to write for her company. I said, ” Well, I’m a graphic designer.”

“Eh,” in that Elmer Fudd voice that Rea could emit, “graphic designers, they’re a dime a dozen.” Phillip quipped, “Not this one, you should see her book.” Rea took the time right then.

“You know I’m working for this designer, Perry Ellis, heard of him? well, he’s up for a Coty and he needs an invitation to his new show. Can you do it? His line’s all pink and white, you make it pink and white and it will fly. It’s 500 bucks and don’t ask for a penny more. I want you to go see him tomorrow.”

I’d already illustrated Robert Renn’s book on haircoloring–another Dead Designer–and I had early Donghia Showroom pieces in the book, plus the Vogue and Bendel’s work. I might have even had my Gilda Radner cover for the short-lived Rags. I showed him and Jed and Patricia the book in a sunny corner of the Vera offices. Vera was a Manhattan Industries line and they were about to launch Perry’s own collection; that’s what they needed the invite for. He closed the book, looked up said well, “I think you can do it. I’m nominated for a Coty tonight and I’m having a win or lose party at Cafe Un Deux Trois, would you like to come?” He handed me an invitation.

That was the start of a very long relationship. He didn’t win the Coty that night for the Portfolio line, but he won me. I walked over–having only just met him—Carey Donovan and people all around. He extended his arms and said, “Martha, It’s so good you could make it.” And he hugged me. We’d both make it; it was a winning combination.