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donnaodonnellfigurski.com - Fotos of Phrends
Fotos of Phrends
November 2009

What better way to take advantage of a day of off school than to hop a bus and head to the City to meet my dear friend, Angeli. Angeli and I s
pent several lovely hours at Dafni Greek Taverna on 42nd Street. We started with a hot appetizer of baked imported cheese called Saganaki. It was lethal, but oh so good. We both tried the combination platter of gyro, bifteki, and souvlaki with tzatziki. Yummy! Unfortunately, we had no room for dessert, but we still felt decadent. We had to work off those extra calories, so we strolled up Broadway to Lincoln Center just a-walking and a-talking.

We reminisced about the racing days when our scientist-husbands turned amateur open-wheel race car drivers. We talked about our weekends together in the Berkshires. And a whole lot of girly-girl talk was thrown in, too.

                      November 2007

It was a strange way that I met Aparna and her husband, Vikram. But, I know it was supposed to be.

Several months after David’s trauma, around June of 2005, I received a phone message. A woman’s voice asked to speak to me about tutoring her son in Spanish. I thought she must be trying to get help for her high school student who needed extra help, and I thought it must be a mistake.

I can handle 1st grade Spanish and even 2nd or 3rd, but I knew I was no match for high school level Spanish. Even though I had majored in the language in high school and college, and had recently returned from Puebla, Mexico where I studied all things Mexican for five weeks, I knew I couldn’t teach advanced Spanish. And then since I was so overwhelmed with David’s care, and preparing to go to Santa Cruz, California with him for more therapy for what turned into six weeks, I’m afraid I was rude and never returned Aparna’s call.

Aparna didn’t give up. There was a message on my machine when I returned home in late August and an email shortly after that. I was put to shame. When I finally contacted her she told me she learned of me through lesson plans I had written foreshaan-2005 my graduate studies course with the Oregon State University. Aparna explained that Eshaan, her four-year old son, really wanted to learn Spanish. I agreed to meet her and, Eshaan. 

Over tea at Aparna’s house I picked up a blue block and said, “azul.” Eshaan repeated. I pointed to a yellow one and he mimicked my “amarillo” perfectly. I continued with verde, rojo, blanco, negro, and anaranjado. Then he ran off to play in the adjoining room. When Eshaan returned after fifteen minutes, I called out the colors to him in English. He told them to me in Spanish. He stole my heart. I fell in love.

After that Eshaan came to my house for about thirty minutes each week and we sat on the floor with flash cards spread between us. “Muestrame el perro,” I said. He pointed to the dog. (el gato/the cat; el cerdo/the pig; la luna/the moon) We counted how many cards he won (the ones he knew instantly) and the ones I won. (the ones he took more than a second to call out) We stood at the window talking about los arboles/the trees, el cielo/the sky. We sang to the songs on the computer—Los Pollitos Dicen. We practiced shapes and numbers and the days of the week. And no matter how tiredeshaan-&-vikraam-2007 I may have been after teaching school all day, I brightened when Eshaan came through my door. He made me smile.

Eshaan doesn’t study with me anymore. He’s learning Spanish in his first grade classroom. But we still see each other--either at his house or mine when we go there for a visit or he and his parents come to ours. Aparna and Vikram and Eshaan and his little brother, Krish, have become very dear to David and me. I’m so glad that Aparna persisted in contacting me and didn’t let my unintentional rudeness stop our budding friendship.

                   Summer 2007

Where did the  time go? Every time I see or think of Nancy that thought races through my mind -- sort of the way the time has raced by since we met. It was a long about way, but an interesting story. nancyandyeurocafeapr07

I was a student in the Education Department of William Paterson University. My dream of becoming a teacher was near reality. Okay, I'll start at the beginning.

I didn't always want to be a teacher. In fact, I was never overly fond of school. I always did well, but I do remember struggling over those times tables in 3rd grade. Anyway, when my daughter, Kiersten, started pre-school, a co-op in Claremont, California, I was required to spend time in the classroom helping out. It was fun. Then when we moved to Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California and Kiersten began 1st grade, I volunteered in her classroom. Her teacher, Fran Barker, was amazing! Fran suggested that I apply for the 1st grade assistant teacher job next door. I did . . . and I got the job. This was the beginning of my new career. Gone were my jobs as receptionist for the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Rochester. Gone, too, were the combs and brushes and blow dryers - the tools of my trade while I was a hairdresser. My new tools were pencils and books and addition flash cards. My favorite fruit was -- you guessed it -- apples. well, not really. My favorite fruits are cherries, blueberries and sweet clementines, with no seeds.

I worked for one year in 1st grade with Lauralie Stanton. Then tearfully, I told her that David and I had to move back to the east coast. (David was offered an assistant professorship at Columbia University.) Lauralie made me promise to go back to school/college to become a teacher. Her words, "You are a natural born teacher!" sent me racing to enroll in the education program at William Paterson University as soon as David and I settled into our new home in Tenafly, outside of New York City.

I wanted desperately to be in the classroom and I needed to go back to college. So . . . I did both. I worked as an assistant teacher from 8:00am to 4:00pm for two years in Englewood, New Jersey, while going to school at night. I won't say it wasn't hard. It was!  But I needed both of these things so badly that David made it home by 6:00pm three nights a week. He took care of our two children, Kiersten and Jared, then aged nine and four years old, so I could travel nearly an hour to go to classes. Summers were a little easier. My third year I took the dreaded math class. I knew I could never pass this class, that I would fail miserably, and Inancymcdonoughdonna2006 would NEVER become a teacher. But, to my surprise I had the most amazing instructor. I'm sad that I don't even know her name, but she made algebra fun and I loved it. I not only passed the course, I got an "A." It matched all the other "As" I got, (except for the one "B") and I graduated Magna Cum Laude. I was ready for student teaching.

Since I was already working as a teaching assistant in a 1st and 2nd grade combination class at Stillman School in Tenafly, New Jersey, I worked out a deal with William Paterson. They allowed me to student teach in the morning and continue with my assistant job in the afternoon. This was perfect! I was in a classroom all day for a whole year. What was even more perfect was that my student teaching mentor was Nancy McDonough. Nancy was wonderful! She was, and still is, a very serious teacher, who loves teaching children, watching them grow, and helping them to expand their minds. She is energetic. She is creative. She is a teacher with very high standards and she is a model for other teachers. BUT, best of all she is my very good friend.

Our friendship spans from our days in the classroom in the early 1980s to the present. Now Nancy and her spouse, Andy, and David and I meet every few months for dinner to catch up--to talk about the old times, to plan for the new times, and to wonder where all the time has gone.

                June 2006

This is my friend, Patty Williams Streips. I call her Trisha. No one else does. Only ME!

Trisha and I met in Rochester, New York. She was the secretary for the Microbiology Department at the University of Rochester. My husband, David, and I lived in Rochester for four years right after we were married, while David did his graduate work in the Micro Department at the U of R. You can read more about Trisha on my WIND River page. Below is a poem I wrote for my . . .


Though we don’t talk on the telephone, 
Or see each other every day.   
Our hearts, our minds, our souls, 
Are not so far away.   

You know I’ll be here for you. 
And I know you’re there for me. 
A friendship likes yours and mine, 
Is treasured eternally.  

You are my friend; and I am yours.     
Oh . . . the secrets and joys we share!    
I send my love, girlfriend,
To remind you that I care.  

With love and wishes
for a happy birthday!

              March 2006

Here is David with a professor friend of his, Dr. Aaron Mitchell. Aaron is the Department Chairman for the Microbiology Department at Columbia University.

This picture was taken on March 7, 2006, which was David's first day back to work after the Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) he suffered on January 13, 2005. It was a long-awaited day. It was a happy day!
David and Aaron are outside the office of Dr. Gerald D. Fischbach, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine for the College of Physicians and Surgeons. David was officially welcomed back by both Aaron and the Dean. An article and a picture can be seen at IN VIVO The Newsletter of Columbia University Medical Center. (scroll down)
When David was an inpatient at Kessler Institute of Rehabilitation, Aaron visited David at least once a week, but more often twice, or three times. He was a welcome face at the door. I loved his quirky sense of humor and his quick smile. David and Aaron discussed scientific research and the goings-on in the labs at Columbia, but mostly Aaron kept David apprised of his students' progress. Aaron's visits continued at our home after David was released from Kessler until his return to his lab.

Before David's trauma, I hadn't know Aaron well. Sure, we met at dinners to honor retirees or at parties to celebrate a student's successful thesis defense. I was occasionally invited to a dinner in Manhattan with other professors and their spouses when the department was hosting a speaker, but at the end of the day, the professors scattered to the edges of the tri-state area. Columbia's position in the northwest corner of Manhattan did not make socializing easy. Though the circumstances were unfortunate through which I got to know Aaron, I am very glad I did. He is an intelligent, kind, and sensitive man and I am so glad that he has become a good friend to both David and me.

            June 2006

Liz and Ron Leavitt have been our friends for many, many years. David and Ron were both in Dr. Donald Helinski’s laboratory during the mid 1970s at the University of California at San Diego. UCSD
lizleavittcardiff2006  ronleavittcardiff2006
Though the years have passed, and though we don’t see each other often, our friendship has endured. So, that when we all got together in San Diego in June of 2006 to honor Dr. Donald Helinski (David's and Ron's mentor) in his retirement, it was just like yesterday. So many things have changed in all of our lives, but our friendship remains the same.
          May 2006

Lillian and I have been friends since her daughter, *Cathy, was in my 3rd grade class so many years ago.  I was performing the play, Charlotte's Web with my class and I cast Cathy as Fern's mother, Mrs. Arable. Cathy seemed comfortable with the part.

But, Lillian came to me after school that afternoon with a very worried expression. I thought she was unhappy with the role in which I had cast Cathy. She assured me she that she wasn't, but she was concerned about Cathy's costume in the play.
lillian-elliott-2006I told her I would like her to wear a farm-type dress. Lillian's face became even more worried. Then she just blurt it out. She told me that Cathy was very upset because she did not want to wear a dress. I told Lillian not to worry; I can be pretty convincing. She said I could try, but she doubted that I would be successful. She said that Cathy never wears dresses and can be very stubborn about it. I told her not to worry. If I could not persuade Cathy to wear a dress, she could wear overalls. Lillian's face visibly relaxed and though I did my best to convince Cathy, I failed and Cathy made a wonderful Mrs. Arable in overalls.

Lillian also played an important part in my life when I became very ill in the mid 1990s. By then, Lillian was a secretary at my school. When I was finally out of the danger zone, but needed to be hospitalized for months, Lillian carted my children's journals home (and any other work that I needed to see). Then my husband, David, picked everything up and brought it to the hospital to me and returned everything, including my plans, to Lillian the next morning.

Lillian kept calling David her boyfriend -- she still does. So when I couldn't go to the Broadway production of Phantom of the Opera with David, my father, and my stepsister, Renee, I begged Lillian to go with them. It took a lot of begging, but like a good friend, she gave in, went, and had a great time. That's what friends are for!

*(Cathy is now all grown up, a beautiful young woman, and a Physical Education Teacher -- somewhere in middle New Jersey.)
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