Hands Up



Shoes off. Coat and hoodie in the bin. Wait. My belt—I whip it off, roll it up, and tuck it under the coat. I check my pockets. Oh yes, liquids—I pull the ziploc bag out of my backpack.

I think I’ve got it all. Oops, the iPad. I sigh as I reach over to get another bin. I pat my pockets again and run through the list in my head—iPad, liquids, shoes, belt... I’ve got it all.

I step up to the machine. The TSA rep motions me to go in. I know the drill—I stand with my feet shoulder width apart and lift my arms up. I feel my pants slide down a tad... and it’s time to step out of the machine.

The rep motions me over to the side. She points at a screen—on the stylized image there’s a patch of yellow. “Do you have anything in your back pocket?”

I shake my head as I pat it, just in case.

“I’ll have to pat you down.”

This isn’t the first time. 

I prefer to travel wearing cargo pants. All those pockets are extremely convenient—when I need to set things aside, they go into my pockets: phone, wallet, passport, boarding pass... But the cargo pants turned out to be inconvenient in another way—a couple of pockets always show up as yellow patches on the monitor. Once I realized the pockets were the problem, reluctant to forgo wearing cargo pants, I bought a pair made of thinner fabric. Alas, the same thing happened. 

I gave up and decided to try jeans. I had a particularly comfortable pair. I convinced myself that I’d manage fine without  all those lovely pockets. And I did—when the need arose, I shoved things into the front pocket of my backpack.

Going through security, the jeans worked like a charm—the image on the monitor was white, no yellow patches in sight. It worked a couple more times. And then this time, there it was, a yellow patch.

The rep patted me down. “Widen your stance.”

She found nothing. She swabbed the palms of my hands for gunpowder residue. As we waited for the machine to respond, she suggested, “Next time you go through security, pull your pants up. The machine is sensitive to bunched up fabric.”

My eyebrows shot up—but, but… That didn’t makes sense. I almost said something to the rep but decided not to, probably wisely.

Turning to gather my things, I briefly became distracted, until I noticed the guy behind me going through the same spiel. He too was told to hold his pants up. I caught his eye. We both shook our heads and shrugged.

Once I was clear of security, I put my shoes on, placed my iPad and my bag of liquids back in my backpack, wove the belt through the loops, hitched up my pants, and buckled the belt.

Without a belt and my hands up, as a hipless wonder, there was nothing to prevent my pants from slipping.

I have yet to come up with a way to hitch up my pants while my arms are raised...




I thanked my Facebook friends for their good wishes. “You’ve warmed the cockles of my heart.” scrolled down some more and logged out.

Eyelids heavy, I put my phone down, and rolled over. I was confident I’d get back to sleep. I sank into my pillow, relaxed my muscles one by one, and focused on my breathing…

My thoughts popped in between breaths. Aren’t cockles seafood? Like mussels? No, no, don’t go there. I knew I was in trouble now—that song...

As she wheeled her wheelbarrow
Through the streets broad and narrow
Crying "cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh"

Alive, alive, oh
Alive, alive, oh

Ever since the surgeries, no matter how tired I am, I have difficulties getting a good night’s sleep. Falling asleep is often a problem, especially after I wake up in the middle of the night. And once my thoughts start darting around, chances are that I’ll stay awake until it’s time to get up.

Last night at 4:45 a.m., I woke up for no apparent reason. I tried to get back to sleep by relaxing my entire body—toes, feet, legs, torso, hands, arms, shoulders, neck, face. But it wasn’t happening. I thought that scrolling through Facebook would help. Sometimes it does. When I found my eyelids getting heavier, I sighed with relief, and tried to fall back asleep. But the word cockles popped into my traitor of a mind.

I knew that cockles, a mollusk, were not kosher. But what about the cockles of my heart? Are they kosher? And if not, what does that mean about me, as a Jew? Do I have non-kosher bits inside me? Is that even a thing?

I had to look it up. Back to my phone. In Dictionary.com I found that a cockle is “any bivalve mollusk of the genus Cardium, having somewhat heart-shaped, radially ribbed valves, especially C. edule, the common edible species of Europe.”

Hmmm… “somewhat heart-shaped.” Was that where the phrase “warm the cockles of my heart” came from?

According to the Urban Dictionary, a cockle also refers to the ventricles of the heart. I was getting somewhere. I decided to look up the phrase.

From the website “World Wide Words” I learnt that it means inducing “a glow of pleasure, sympathy, affection, or some such similar emotion.” That made sense.

Satisfied with that explanation, I set my phone on the nightstand and settled back into my pillow. As I was falling asleep, a ditty drifted by, “Alive, alive, oh.”

It’s been several hours now, dawn has come and gone, and I can’t get it out of my mind:

In Dublin's fair city
Where the girls are so pretty
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone
As she wheeled her wheelbarrow
Through the streets broad and narrow
Crying "cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh"

Alive, alive, oh
Alive, alive, oh
Crying "cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh"

Labels and Stories

He wore his favorite jeans, soft with wear, in contrast with his white button down shirt, chafing at the collar. He almost raised his arm to ease the discomfort at his neck, but it was safer to stay still.

There was nothing to differentiate him from the men blocking his way, except for the shoes. They wore sneakers. He wore his old dress shoes. And his shirt was wet with perspiration.

And they had machine guns, all pointed at him.

He could see it in their eyes, hard, calculating—are you one of us, or one of them? Friend or foe? There was no way to tell. Until he opened his mouth and his speech pattern gave him away.

Here, the label, friend or foe, was a matter of life and death. The word “stranger” would mark him as a target.

James was black, beaten to death, Jamal was a Muslim, attacked in broad daylight, Kelly was raped, just because she was a woman, in the wrong place a the wrong time.

Labels, whatever they may be, dehumanize, sometimes evoking violence.



If the man at the roadblock were given a chance to tell his story, of his background, his family, and his potential killers were to listen, he would no longer carry the label of stranger.

In most cases, the “wrong” label may merely lead to suspicion.

Fortunately, my label as a mathematician often evokes glazed looks, not violence. And at social occasions, if I add the label weaver, disinterest sometimes transforms into curiosity. And the curious more often than not, ask to hear the rest of my story.

I am not only a mathematician and a weaver. I am also a loving mother, a textile enthusiast, a thriving brain injury survivor, and an award winning author. But however many labels I carry, they only mark the beginning of my story. If you want to know me better, you need to listen to my stories, and I have many. About my love of teaching, my textile collection, my book about ethnic textiles and my memoir of recovery from brain injury, my family. Some I have already told, but most have yet to emerge.

And if you tell me your story, about your journey through childhood , your family, your growth, your life, I will listen.

We need to communicate, so we can connect and shed the label of stranger, so we can become friends.

Jersey Shore

I paused at the bottom or the steps to the beach—nostrils flaring, I inhaled deeply, relishing the salt air as it filled me entire being.

Dad contemplated the watermarks on the wall. “Look how high the water reaches at high tide.” I’d heard the waves pounding at the sea wall the previous evening.

gentle waves.jpg

On our way towards the water line, I paused every so often to admire the well defined tracks I was creating in my wake.

We hesitated when we reached the water—to the left or right, cliffs or fishing boats? I shaded my eyes, looking both ways. “The cliffs look more interesting. We can explore the boats tomorrow.”

Gentle waves lapped at the shore, curved under at the forefront, leaving arcs of foam on the wet sand when they retreated. I glanced behind me—the water softened our footprints as it washed over them, once, twice, three times, until they faded altogether.

Tiny holes—“made by crabs,” Dad said—emitted small bubbles as the ocean drew the water back in. Wondering what happened to those crabs at high tide, I turned towards the sea wall. Dark wet sand faded into white. A few clusters of pockmarked rocks, more sand, and then the wall. A wide expanse of dry scrub grew beyond the wall.

Dad pointed further inland to towers made of what? Stone? Concrete? “German fortifications. From when the Nazis occupied the Channel Islands.”

Tiny silhouettes of a dog and his person ran along the top of the wall. Another dog ran in the scrub, weaving his way between the shrubs.

Dad suggested we explore the tide pools.

We scrambled over the rocks, searching for sea life in the pools. Dad smiled. “We used to do this with Granny. We usually found something, minnows, small crabs.”

The only evidence of life was seaweed swaying in the almost imperceptible current. Dad and I gave up after peering into half a dozen pools.

We trudged back towards the water, our feet sinking into the dry sand. Dad proposed that we head back to the hotel. Loath to end our time together, our easy companionship, I turned towards the cliffs. A black maw caught my eye, the entrance to a cave. “I bet we could climb up to it with no trouble.”

Dad hesitated. He had an odd look to his face. He seemed… reluctant? I was puzzled—the Dad I knew would have been eager to explore further, especially if it involved climbing rocks and investigating a cave. I looked at my watch—we had plenty of time before we had to get back for breakfast.

And then it clicked—he would have trouble with the climb.

I’d forgotten. He was in the advanced stages of macular degeneration—he’d reached the point when he could only see fuzzy shapes, colors and contrasts.

Calculus Revisited

There are days,

Calculus Mustache Day

Calculus Mustache Day

Math Grad Students Fake Mustache Day

Math Grad Students Fake Mustache Day

and there are days:

Calculus Hoodie Day

Calculus Hoodie Day

And then we went for socks. Some were interesting. Others...

Calculus Sock Day

Calculus Sock Day

The teaching assistant couldn't make it to class. So...

The teaching assistant couldn't make it to class. So...

They asked, "Can we have a candy day?"

Calculus Lollipop Day

Calculus Lollipop Day

There were some left over, so math grad students celebrated the day as well. (And I got another.)

There were some left over, so math grad students celebrated the day as well. (And I got another.)

Now what?

Calculus Balloon Day

Calculus Balloon Day

But best of all--Balloon and Gus Day and my birthday!

And  the last day of the semester!  Woohoo!

And the last day of the semester! Woohoo!


When Joan gave me a plate of yummy looking cookies, my immediate thought was “that’s the way the cookie bounces.” I wondered whether that expression meant the same thing as the idioms “that’s the way the cookie crumbles” or “that’s the way the ball bounces.”

According to My English Pages, “that’s the way the cookie crumbles” means, “things don’t always turn out the way we hope.” The Cambridge Dictionary it is “said when something slightly unlucky has happened that could not have been prevented and so must be accepted.” The Urban Dictionary is much more succinct—“shit happens.”

I strongly suspect that the phrase “that’s the way the cookie bounces” does not hold the same meaning as the other two.

I thanked Joan profusely, the cookies looked so good. I was also hungry. Also she went through all that trouble.

I was particularly intrigued by the spherical brown ones. Mum and I used to make ones that looked exactly the same, made of cocoa, flour, and sugar. Sometimes we added walnuts to the mix—tum!. They never lasted long in our household. I couldn’t wait to try one of Joan’s.

As soon as she left, I attacked the saran wrap that covered the plate. It put up a decent fight, but determined, I won.

I raised the largest cookie to my mouth. As I bit into it, my eyes closed in anticipation. My teeth sank into it. The texture was wonderful, somewher between shortbread and—

My eyes flew open and my jaw froze—rubber? More rubber than crumble. And the taste… Yech! Bland with a hint of bitterness. Actually, more than a hint, quite a bit more.

Was she trying to poison me?

I spat it out. I briefly thought of trying another cookie to get rid of the taste. What about one that looked like a snicker-doodle? But realized that perhaps it wasn’t a good idea. Instead, I reached for my water bottle and rinsed my mouth out with water.

After I got over the initial shock, my mind started roaming. Spherical and rubbery—if I dropped one on a hard surface, would it bounce or splat? I was sitting at my desk. The floor was carpeted. Hmmm… It had better be the desk.

I cleared away some space, took a quick look into the hallway—would witnesses be a good thing, or a bad thing? It was a moot point—there was no one there.

I picked out the most regularly shaped spherical cookies and dropped it onto the desk.

It bounced. Not high, but it was definitely a bounce.

And then it splatted.

Flying High

From Morocco, to Hungary, then on to Japan. Next came China and India. From there I traveled to Estonia. My next trip was to Scotland, later to Panama and Thailand. Zimbabwe followed, and from there I went to the Philippines, then to Bhutan and Ghana.

Here I sit in the U.S. at my computer, yesterday my thoughts were on Ghana, today, I dream of Haiti.

I researched weaving in Morocco and the Philippines, and studied embroidery in Thailand and India. In Scotland, I learnt about kilt hose, and in Panama I found molas, the colorful reverse applique of the Kuna Indians.

When I mentioned a couple of my trips to a friend, he asked me when I got back. I laughed—I don’t travel in person. I wish I could.

I write articles about textile techniques from around the world. And now I’m working on a book, each chapter based on one of those articles. I have fabulous photos of the textiles. But I have none of the artisans at work. I want, I need such photos. For the book. For myself.

I wish I could travel as much as I do virtually. I would like to go to Morocco and hang out with some of the Berber rug weavers. If I could only watch the Jalq'a weavers of Bolivia in person, there's so much I want to ask them. To be able to get an up close look the double ikat weaving in Patan, India... I’d love to visit my friends in Bhutan, one of whom was a weaver to the king.

Marilyn shook her head. “But the altitude...”

But— But— I’ve wanted to go for so long. I was planning to go within the next few years. I hadn’t thought of the altitude. That ruled out Ayacucho and Cusco in Peru as well, both places I wish I could explore, where I have friends.

I was in the highlands of Guatemala when I suffered my acute brain bleeds. According to many members of the Angioma Alliance, high altitudes can trigger bleeds. Some members won’t travel by plane for fear of hemorrhaging.

I refuse to give up on traveling. It’s an important part of my life. I fly to visit friends and family in Israel at least once a year. Colorado is another of my regular destinations. A few months ago, I was in New Mexico. My brother lives in Massachusetts. I’m long past due a trip to England. And Iceland sounds good, as does Laos, and Ghana, and New Zealand, and, and...

Yes there’s a danger of a bleed, and travel is beyond exhausting fatigue exacerbated my deficits. But…

Maybe I won’t go to Peru, and hold off on Bhutan. But I will go back to Santa Fe in February, and Israel in March, and Iceland… sometime. I just have to watch myself, to pick and choose.

Most of the time I'm fine about giving up on my dreams of travel, but whenever I work on one of my textile articles, I feel a brief twinge. Then I remember the shemagh (or keffiya) that Ghofran brought me from Saudi Arabia, the piece of Assisi embroidery that Matteo found for me in Italy, and the gorgeous shawl Poonam sent me from India. And I realize, that really I'm very lucky. When I travel vicariously through friends and family, I feel fulfilled, especially when I know they've been thinking of me. I can feel the goofy smile on my face as I listen to them recount their adventures as they searched for the glorious textile they just presented to me.

There's something about a thoughtful gift from a good friend accompanied by a story that counteracts all the twinges in the world.


When I wore skirts or dresses, I walked differently, my hips swayed more, it was almost a floating sensation, as if… as if I was a girl.I felt awkward, ungainly, like I didn't quite fit in the role, like I wasn't myself.

I haven’t worn one in more than a decade. When I needed to dress up, I usually wore a nice top with slim fitting black pants, occasionally harem pants.

And now, I wanted to wear a skirt. I needed a skirt.

I was off to the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market where I was to interview several of the artists, two of whom were Muslim. I thought that by wearing more modest clothing, i.e. a skirt rather than a pair of pants, or, worse, a pair of shorts, I’d reduce potential causes of unease. I also regarded it as a way of showing respect.

It was time to go shopping--one of my least favorite activities.  I wanted something that didn’t restrict me too much, not too expensive either. This was a one-time deal. Made in India should do the trick. Not an Indian wraparound skirt—I never liked those. A broomstick skirt, perhaps. But not too long—I didn’t want to get tangled up in it and trip.

I was surprised at the one I chose, the one that felt right. It was made in India, it was the right length—mid-calf. It had an elastic waist and gave me a full range a motion. And it was soft. But it was sparkly. I didn’t wear sparkly. Ever. This one had sequins. And it jingled with my every step, with each sway of my hips.

I loved it. It felt good. It felt right. As if a side of me that had been hidden for too long had resurfaced. I bought it. I also bought a feminine top to go with it.

The morning of the interviews arrived. I pulled the sparkly skirt off the hanger and the top out of the suitcase. I chose the most stretchy bra I could find—I had to find comfort wherever I could find it. Next knickers. I had a choice of Thor, Spiderman, or Superman. The choice was clear—superman. The Thor and Spiderman underwear were covered in comics. The Superman underwear just had the emblem on the front. I could be Superwoman under my feminine finery. In my mind I could be flying around, one arm outstretched the other bent at the elbow, toes pointed, one leg straight the other bent at the knee, and my skirt streaming behind me.

Yup. That would work. With a goofy grin on my face all residual doubts about wearing the skirt disappeared. Not only could I do this, but I would actually enjoy it, wholeheartedly.

There was no residual awkwardness inside me, not even a hint. I was comfortable in my own skin, as I hadn't been in decades.


We all agreed, first food then the piercing. After we ate our sushi picnic among the pigeons, Daniel, a recent Ph.D., Sara, an ex-student of ours, Royce, a husky-malamute mix, and I, set off for the piercing shop.

Daniel asked, “Who should go first?”

Sara was anxious. “I don't like needles.”

I asked her, “Would you prefer to go first, last, or second?”

“Not first. It's not the pain I'm worried about. Just the needle.”

Daniel didn't seem to care.

Like Sara, I wasn't worried about the pain, but unlike her, I wasn't afraid of needles.

I'm not a ditherer. I volunteered to go first.

As I'd expected, the pain was too short-lived to impress me.

The one thing that bothered me was the sound of the needle going through the cartilage. It seemed to go on for an eternity.

Before the brain surgeries, a nurse friend mentioned that I might be kept awake during the operation. I imagined a gloved finger pressing here to watch my leg jerk, and there to see my elbow bend.

She added, “It won't hurt.”

It hadn't occurred to me to worry about the pain. My concern was about the sound and smell of the surgeon cutting through my skull.

When I was growing up in Israel, dentists didn't use Novocaine on their patients. Visits to the dentist's office were not my favorite passtimes. The pain was certainly a concern when the she approached with her implements of torture. But I feared the shriek of the drill and the smell of burning much more.

I shook my head when my ex-student, Sara, asked whether the piercing had hurt. “Only for a short bit. It was the sound of that got to me.” and I shuddered.

Wibble Wobble

These days, though I still frequently wake up with a touch of vertigo and a relatively mild case of the wobbles, rarely are the problems with my balance truly debilitating. But if severe loss of balance does hit, it hits hard and fast.

If gravity challenges me while I’m standing or walking, chances are that I’ll recover my balance quickly enough to avert disaster. However, there are situations that are too risky for my taste. Sarah now owns my bike and I’ve donated my ice skates and roller blades to Goodwill.

I was forty-one years old when I learnt to ice skate, forty-three when I began roller blading—I never became adept at either, and my braking techniques often yielded some pretty interesting results: skating into walls, grabbing onto people, running into trees, stumbling onto grass banks, slamming into letterboxes. So, other than missing the sensation of flying, I didn’t really mind giving up ice skating and roller blading.

Not so with bike riding. I was never an avid, ride-every-day cyclist, but when I did ride, I enjoyed it immensely. After the bloody brain, balance issues made biking impossible, and I missed it.

I was on the phone to Cindy, bemoaning my loss and reminiscing about the fierce joy I used to feel as I pumped furiously to the top of a hill and the elation I felt as I swooped down the other side, the wind in my face.

Cindy responded, “Why don’t you buy a tricycle?”

Her suggestion reminded me of a photo on my mantelpiece. In it, Dad is astride a bike, looking over at Mum—who, thanks to her own balance issues never mastered a two-wheeler—riding a tricycle by his side. They’re in their early fifties, the year they spent in Oxford, the year she discovered an adult-sized tricycle she could use—and did, riding around the neighborhood and on shopping trips to the local stores.

I plucked the picture off the mantelpiece and examined it. Mum and Dad looked happy, smiling at each other, possibly laughing. I zoomed in on the tricycle—it was yellow, and it had a basket in the back and a horn attached to the handlebars.

I pictured myself on a tricycle like my mother’s, with a basket, except the trike in my mind was red. I saw myself riding by the river, sometimes pedaling, other times coasting, the water in the background.

Except for table tennis, Mum wasn’t one for power or speed—I suspected she rode her trike at a leisurely pace. For me, power and speed were the whole point of bike riding—the main source of its joy.

As a college student, I rode my bike to the university every morning. I surged down the first long stretch, a glorious downhill, delighting in the speed and the sensation of complete and utter freedom. The next leg of the journey was also long, and uphill. I stood, all my weight on the pedals, the bike swaying from side to side as I pumped furiously, pushing myself to keep going without a break, rejoicing in my prowess.

I purchased a tricycle, a red one, with a basket.