This interview is part of a series featuring members of the TOM BIHN Forum.
Forum Name: Mausermama
Profession: Homeschool mom, Barton Reading Tutor for Dyslexia, Writing Coach, English Lit teacher, and occasional knitting and spinning instructor.
Location: Near St. Augustine, Florida
Forum member since: 6/16/2012
Favorite TOM BIHN bag: The Maker’s Bag currently. It’s shiny, new, and lined in Ultraviolet! It hauls my knitting and EDC [everyday carry] things in high style, and its cross body orientation earns it major bonus points! Additionally, I’ve found the Freudian Slip to be the perfect accessory to keep me organized, both in my knitting and in my classroom work!
Q: What role does reading and writing play in your life?
A: Reading—and by extension writing—have always from my furthest memories been immensely important to me.
I was a bit of an “odd duck” growing up in the small farm town of Lindsborg, Kansas. As a result, my closest friends became the characters I found in my local library. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories of her early life, the Hardy Boys’ escapades of solving crimes, and later, Judy Blume’s narratives of other “odd duck” teenage girls were my companions. I’d write about what I was reading in my daily diary.
Later, as a first generation college student, I earned my B.A. in English from the University of Kansas and moved out and into the world. Unable to find work directly related to my degree, I entered the insurance world as an underwriter.
Eventually I happily found my way back to my reading and writing roots when I began to homeschool my first born in kindergarten. He’s now in his senior year of high school and will be following in his mother’s footsteps as he prepares to attend university and double major in English and Business in the fall.
I now continue homeschooling while simultaneously teaching literature and composition classes to local homeschooled students and tutoring students in reading and writing. While my journey has been a long and circuitous one to grasp ahold of my interests, I feel I am finally there at the ripe old age of “middling something.”
Q: Is there anything on your to-read list that you’re particularly excited about?
A: My to-read list extends beyond my life span, I’m afraid. Right now I’m focusing on enjoying all the classics that I never had the opportunity to read back in university.
Currently I’m reading Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady, as well as Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo very soon as well. I rarely read just one book at a time. I’m also navigating the novels I’m teaching in my classes now, currently The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy and Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Perhaps the book I’m most excited to start on, though, is To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf. I’ve never read it, only her essays like A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas. To keep me accountable for all these masterpieces, I’ve joined a classic book club in my community. When it’s my turn to host, I’m planning on assigning the Woolf book to all the participants.
Q: As a teacher, can you describe your philosophy about education/learning?
A: From my earliest days as a homeschool mom to little ones, I was very conscious to never talk down to my children. I really did see them as creative, complete human beings who were instilled with great potential. That means that I listened and paused (or at least tried to) before I imposed my thoughts over theirs.
Rather than use textbooks, I incorporated a “living books” approach. We read books, lots of books about all different topics. We ordered our study of history using a classical approach, and studied it as a four year cycle, repeated three times over the course of their collective compulsory education. We focused on texts that reflected the period by reading ones that were either written during the period we studied, or were at least novels that featured the periods we were studying. We talked about books all the time. We went to museums. We performed experiments. We asked questions. We played.
I think the secret to raising my own kiddos, outside of prayer, was using the Socratic Method, the art of the question, to underscore almost everything we did. And being willing to jump off the planned scope and sequence didn’t hurt, either.
Today I have three teenagers who have chosen individually to study the art of politics by reading Machiavelli and paying attention to current political campaigning, to learn how to identify logical fallacies, to code apps in Java, to study everything related to the lives of wolves, and to read the Poetic Edda while learning how to write Norse runes. None of these excepting the logical fallacies were planned or instigated by me. Instead, it was a self-directed desire to explore an interest that drove each of them to study these topics. They have embraced this way of life because they’ve never found learning to be rote, redundant, or ridiculous. I believe it will be a life-long habit for them.
Q: Has anything you’ve read inspired travels you’ve taken?
A: In my freshman year at college I enrolled in a poetry survey course. It was the first time I discovered John Keats’ poems, and I fell in love.
When my senior year arrived, I decided to apply to study abroad and was accepted. Once in London, I determined to take myself to visit Keats’ home. It was a somewhat daunting adventure for this small town gal (this was well before the Internet and Google Maps), but I gamely hopped the Tube, and I think there was a bus jaunt in there as well, to Hampstead Heath.
I wandered around for quite a bit until I finally stumbled upon the house. I remember; I was newly nineteen. When I saw the tree where he was inspired to write “Ode to a Nightingale,” I was hushed, reverent. I felt goosebumps. What can I say? I was a silly, romantic teenager, but it left a lasting impression on me.
On my walk back I found a small alley garage that had been set up as a tea shop, plopped down, and savored a lovely cuppa while I read from the tiny volume of poems I’d purchased at the museum gift shop.
Q: What fiber arts projects do you have going, and what’s the most complicated thing you’ve ever made?
A: While I learned to crochet first, I started knitting almost fifteen years ago and never looked back. Of all the possible knitting projects, lace shawls are my favorite. When I work from a complicated knit chart, it releases tension that I don’t even realize I am holding on to. Knitting is very centering to me. My ideal project is one that uses an interesting yarn, either by color or fiber composition and a complicated chart.
Currently I’m working on a mystery knit-along (MKAL) to commemorate the final season of Downton Abbey. It’s eventually going to turn into a lace shawl of some variety, but I have no inkling of what that may be. There are eight clues to be released, each one coinciding with an episode. I’m five clues in so far, and it’s been a lot of fun to knit.
My other projects running right now include a lace scarf knitted from yarn that I picked up when my hubby and I traveled to Scotland. The yarn comes from an heirloom breed of sheep found only on the island of St. Kilda’s. And lastly, I’ve got a funky scarf/shawl-like thing I’m knitting from ancient stash yarn. It’s mindless, easy work and I will work on it as I read, since it’s easy to do without looking at my hands.
In addition to knitting, I also spin. I enjoy teaching occasional spinning classes at a local yarn shop. While I have two wheels (one for travel and one to stay home), I find I actually prefer to spin on spindles. They are very portable, and I love tucking them into a Size 2 Travel Stuff Sack along with some fiber. I’m always amazed by how much spinning I can accomplish when I’m out and about. Spinning in this manner makes me feel connected to the thread of humanity stretching back into prehistory.
The most complicated knitting project I’ve done to date is write a pattern for a lace shawl. I’m not frequently designing patterns for the general public, so this one, Hester’s Hope Shawl, which is found in the book What (Else) Would Madame Defarge Knit?, really stretched my skills a little bit. I’m very pleased with the result.
It was fascinating to me to learn the process involved in designing a shawl pattern for publication. On top of that, I needed to write a literary essay to accompany the pattern, which made it even more challenging. I would love to have the opportunity to design again, but I’m afraid I’m just a little too busy for that to happen just at the moment.
Bonus question: road trip, flight, or cruise?
A: Easy! Road trip! When I’m a passenger, I have tons of extra knitting time, and if I’m driving, I get to see America slide past me! Win/win!