Goodbye California and a Special Offer

by Liz Jansen

goodbye californiaAfter making my way across the country, I stalled for a week in northern at the Horizons Unlimited travelers’ event, then visiting with friends in southern California. Today I’m back on the road, heading east to Georgia, planning to arrive there on the 12th.

The weather in LA tried to lull me into a false sense of security. The warm, sunny climate is a stark contrast to the cool temps and rain that have been hanging around southern Ontario. As hard as it is to leave, I have to keep the weather in mind and arrive home before it gets even colder—and snowy.

The riding has been amazing, and so have the friends—old and new—I’ve spent time with along the way. Trudy’s received an oil change, new sprockets and a chain. We’re both reenergized and ready for the next act.

Today, it was imperative that I be on the road. It’s exactly a year since Dad passed, and I miss him dearly. Riding across the open landscape gives me time to honor his memory and celebrate his life. He loved the wide open spaces and I know he’s with me. “I trust,” were the last words I remember from him as he lay in surrender, a poignant reminder of what’s important as I go through my life’s journey.

More Crash Landing Blurbs and an Offer

Here are a few more endorsements from early reviewers.

“Made me want to hop on a motorcycle and travel not only ‘cross country but deep into my own spirit.” Joan Dempsey, award-winning author of This Is How It Begins.

“This is today’s version of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance if the book had been written by a sixty-year old woman with a bladder infection who had a great knack for crashing. Liz Jansen isn’t your typical rider, nor is this your typical self help book. Jansen will do whatever it takes to heal herself, and the result is compelling, startling, and fun.” Alexandra Shimo, author of Invisible North

“In a time when many seek adventure in unfamiliar corners of the world, Jansen proves “coming home” is more than just a destination—it’s about unveiling the ancestral influences that echo through time and highlight the generational and personal crossroads that lead to who we are today. You’ll relate to every mile of Liz’s journey.” Susan Johnson, Horizons Unlimited

Now it’s your turn! I’d really appreciate your help in marketing Crash Landing. I’m looking for readers who are interested in a free advance copy of Crash Landing. While there’s no obligation, I’d be very grateful for your honest review on sites like Amazon and Goodreads the day it goes live (Dec. 6, or within a couple of days), sharing through your blog or social media, or just telling a friend about my book. Reader reviews make a huge difference on the how well the book sells. The first ten people to respond will get a copy! Thank you!

If you’d like to be the first to know about upcoming offers and events, respond in the comments below.


NOTE: Wow! Thank you!! We have (more than) our 10!  I’ll respond individually below! Watch for more offers! 

Announcing Crash Landing Launch & Welcoming the New!

by Liz Jansen

This week’s post comes to you from the Horizons Unlimited travelers’ event in Mariposa, California. I’ve been awed by the ever-changing and stupendous natural beauty as I’ve traveled across the country. It’s the perfect way to cap the first leg of a remarkable road trip across the country—gathering with friends old and new, and sharing camaraderie, stories, and more stories with like-minded others!

Even more monumental, is the news that Crash Landing will be published and available on December 6!! You’ll be hearing more about it in the coming weeks, but for now, I’d like to share a few blurbs, which will give you a glimpse into what its pages tell.

Stories change us. Liz Jansen’s story is both an adventure and a mesmerizing process of excavating the meaning, messages, and magic embedded in our everyday lives. Her journey is an invitation to be awake to the story our lives and the lives of our ancestors is telling. And that kind of story heals the heart.” ~ Oriah Mountain Dreamer, author of The Invitation

“Liz Jansen brings a rich vitality to several generations of ordinary people who become extraordinary through her painstaking research and beautiful writing. The Ancestor Trail is a journey with a difference: part road trip, part spiritual exploration, and part self-discovery, it answers questions that lie within all of us. I’m so glad she was able to overcome its many challenges to close the circle and tell this story.” Mark Richardson, author of Zen and Now, editor of Canada Moto Guide 

“Warning! Crash Landing is an emotional tour-de-force that may drive you to explore your own Ancestral Trail. BYO vehicle, baggage, and spirit guides! Jansen’s meticulously-researched historical account of her Mennonite grandparents’ exodus from Bolshevik Russia to the farmlands of Canada is a captivating journey through history and its effect on generations to come. Crash Landing demonstrates the power, drive, and generosity of the traveler and those she encounters to pass through any obstacles on a healing journey.” Carla King, author of American Borders

I intended to be here in Mariposa four years ago, on my way to Central and South America. As you know, life changed and my plans evaporated. Writing Crash Landing is done. Being here now is symbolic of the completion of an amazing cycle and the beginning of something new. I can’t think of a better preparation for releasing my book and accepting whatever comes next than to be on this road trip.

More to come about the launch—and the book—in the coming weeks!

Moving Down the Road — With All it Brings

by Liz Jansen

moving down the roadFive days into another road trip and I’m settled in to the uncertainty and unpredictability of life on the road.

Thinking I could get 650 km/400 miles behind me the first day, I made a reservation at a KOA in Millbury, Indiana. Last minute preparations meant I got a late start. I took Interstates, to make distance and get through Michigan’s automotive country. Riding at 75 mph, dodging semis, was not pleasurable, nor was the industrial landscape.

The tranquil-looking tent-site was misleading. Out of sight less than a stone’s throw away, was a gully, through which ran a busy State Road. What I didn’t see until the morning was that the very tired KOA property backed onto intersection of two busy semi-carrying roads. In a fascinating juxtaposition, the clop, clop, clop of horses pulling buggies along the shoulder, tried to counterbalance the frenzy.

Was the day’s energy mirroring back the energy I was projecting? Did I need such a frenetic reminder? Likely—to both. It was the first day of a new way of being. I haven’t worked from the road in quite some time and any change is unsettling, even when it’s eagerly anticipated.

I’ve adopted a more reasonable pace of approximately 400 km/260 miles a day. That leaves time for delays like Tuesday’s severe storm—waited out in a gas station, stopping to rest in small-town squares, or cooling off in little libraries while I tend to other business.

Riding reminds me of my spirit and humanness—and invigorates both. The beauty and energy of the land, trees, sky, and rivers fills me with peace and gratitude. For four days, I’ve ridden secondary highways through small towns, vast cornfields, and pastureland. It’s an intimate glimpse into everyday life of real people living life the best they know how. Contrary to the factory-scapes of day one, mass producing stuff, much of which we don’t need, it’s grounding being on the land that grows our food, watching the harvest, seeing the massive trucks that transport it to the next step (even when I have to duck flying corn cobs) on the way to our table—a very real reminder of our humanness.

Not surprisingly I overestimated how much “work” I could get done on the road. It used to frustrate me; now I recognize the familiar voice that’s driving me to ride further, keep pushing, and get more done. Change makes that voice louder. As in the rest of my life, I’m learning to practice mindfulness whatever I’m doing. I’ve realized that being on the road, remaining in a state of surrender and acceptance even when things don’t go as I think they should, is my “work” just as much as the other projects I’m involved with.

I’m moving down the road. The mountains, and all their wisdom, await.

Photo credit: Nicholas_T on / CC BY

5 Voices of Resistance aka Pre-Trip Noise—and 5 Antidotes

by Liz Jansen

voices of resistanceIn a few days, Trudy (my motorcycle) and I will be on our way across the continent. You’d think with the hundreds of thousands of miles I’ve ridden, departures would be easier.

It is an exciting time. At least now I recognize the voices of resistance that appear leading up to each extended trip are transient. They’re like a reliable friend, trying to help, and visiting like clockwork every time. Knowing what to expect on the road—anything—helps manage the chatter.

5 Voices of Resistance

My mind pummels me in an effort to keep me “safe and secure,” with thoughts like:

  1. Autumn is one of the most beautiful seasons in Ontario. Why do you need to go anywhere else? Stay here and enjoy it.
  2. How are you going to get all your work done if you’re spending most of your time on your motorcycle? Isn’t that frivolous?
  3. Riding is physically exhausting. How do you expect to keep up the pace of work and travel, especially while camping?
  4. Where will you stay? You don’t even know your route! You’ll be lonely.
  5. What about your mother? Your weekly visits make a difference to her, even if she can’t express it.

Those voices, in whatever form or wording they use (this is only a partial list), present as an ally. Really, they’re trying to preserve the status quo, threatened by change. But adapting to new settings, meeting new people, and stretching our comfort zone, helps us grow and enriches our lives.

5 Antidotes

I’ve listened, and taken note.

  1. I live in a beautiful part of the country, but it’s a huge earth full of beauty and majesty. Why impose limits on myself when there’s so much to see?
  2. I don’t need to be on a motorcycle to be frivolous with my time. Being out on the road sparks my creativity, leads to amazing insights, and nourishes my soul. It melds physicality with spirituality. The gifts of the road make me more effective in what I’m here to do.
  3. I’ve left plenty of time to balance travel and stillness. In spite of that, I’ll still think I can get more done than there’s time for. I’ll need to remind myself I’m the co-creator, not the Creator. (See 5 Ways to Stay Grounded When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed)
  4. I’m not the only person on the roads. There are tons of very nice campgrounds, hotels, and a few friends I can’t wait spend time with again. Times can get lonely, but they’re fleeting. What’s more likely, is my heart aches for loved ones to experience the same joy that fills my days. Over planning is stifling. Leaving room for the inevitable serendipity of the road is magical. The route overview on the map is a guideline and helps me maintain perspective. It connects a few places I want to visit. In between is variable.
  5. This one’s hard. Mom lives in a wonderful long-term care facility and is well taken care of. I cherish what little time I spend with her and will see her the day before I leave. Other siblings visit regularly, and I know, without question, if she could, she’d tell me to go. That’s how she’s lived her life.

It’s constructive and helpful to take note of resistance to change, in whatever form it shows up in your life. There may be something you haven’t thought of that you need to address before you can move forward.

When I pull out of the driveway, it will be with the sense of wonder, awe, and curiosity—and gratitude—I try to embody every day, no matter what I’m doing, taking in the grandeur of the present moment while wondering what’s around the next bend.

Photo credit: Brandon HM Oh on / CC BY-NC-ND

5 Ways To Stay Grounded When You Feel Overwhelmed

(Or Why I’m Going to California)

by Liz Jansen

As if to remind me to be alert to signs and messages of reassurance and guidance, a hummingbird appeared while I was sitting outside writing this post. She reminded me it’s time to say yes to adventure, trust the calling I hear, and take bold action.

ways to stay groundedOn September 16, I’ll begin working from the road for five or six weeks. I expect that road to take me on a giant loop through the continental USA, a total distance of about 10,000 kilometers/6,000 miles. The Horizons Unlimited event in Mariposa, California is the impetus; I’ve wanted to attend for four years. The timing couldn’t be better.

For four years, I’ve focused on writing, revising, and refining Crash Landing—with much help from readers and editors. Now it’s time to shift into the marketing phase, to ensure I’ve done my part to ensure it gets into the hands of those who will find meaning in its story.

There’s a tendency to let the volume of work overwhelm me. Besides the flood of expert advice to sort through, I have other, ongoing, work. It doesn’t seem logical to hop on my bike and meander across the country, yet that’s what my heart is asking. If nothing else, the lessons of the past years have taught me about listening! Heart and head are working together on this one.

The best way for me to clear my head is to get outside on the road. While not everyone can (or wants to) do that, everyone can follow these tips.

5 Ways to Stay Grounded When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

  1. Remember you’re a co-creator, not the Creator. This has been one of my most comprehensive and hardest lessons, and I’m still learning. For some reason, I think I can do it all, and that nothing will happen without my hard work. This thinking couldn’t be further from the truth. I have only to look at the magical moments in my life that happened “out of the blue,” which I could never have orchestrated—the right people appearing at the right time, invitations showing up in my inbox, and clients requesting my services.
  2. Remember your roots. Even though my grandparents have been gone for more than thirty years, I understand (and miss) them more than ever. Exploring my ancestral history, trying to place myself in their lives, gave me a whole new understanding of them, and myself.
  3. Reach out. Connect to other human beings in real time rather than texting or social media. Meeting people from different cultures and perspectives, hearing their stories and understanding even a bit about their lives is one of the joys of travel—whether it’s around the block or around the country. It reminds you that people see things through their experiences and fosters understanding and tolerance.
  4. Spend time with people and activities that align with your heart. It helps maintain balance and nourish body, mind, and spirit. Trees derive nourishment through their roots; they also reach into the heavens to absorb sunshine. Our physical, emotional, and spiritual bodies all need tending if we’re to be of greatest service in our life.
  5. Spend time in nature. Go for a walk in the woods, a city park, or find some trees. Stop, sit still, and observe what’s going on around you. I’ll be out in the wide open for much of my trip, riding under the expanse of the big blue sky, the wind in my face, as they say, and sleeping under the stars at night. I feel miniscule and infinite at the same time. Nothing is more powerful.

Life moves at a frenzied pace. Because it’s easy to get so caught up in our own world, we lose perspective and forget to have fun. Our lives are so busy, we leave no room for serendipity and mystery. Stepping outside our cocoon, in whatever way works, helps us stay grounded and opens us to endless possibilities.

Photo credit: Mal B on VisualHunt / CC BY-ND

7 Things to Start Doing For Yourself

by Liz Jansen

start doingAbout the time I got my first bicycle, I got my first paid job — picking strawberries on our farm. I could keep what I earned but I had to buy my clothes. Early on, I learned how to work, budget, and be self-sufficient. I embraced my cultural and family’s values of independence and hard work, within a social structure. It offered such freedom!

Needing help at age sixty for routine activities I’d taken for granted all my life was a shock. It also opened my eyes to how simple gestures of kindness can turn someone’s day around. I’d trained as a nurse and thought I knew how to care for others. Being on the receiving end taught me empathy at a new level.

These actions made a difference to me, and I’m mindful about using them every day.

  1. Extend a smile, a kind word, or a gentle touch. Never underestimate its power. You don’t know what led someone to a situation or action. The distance between a prestigious job, beautiful house, new car, and homelessness can be two pay cheques. Listen to The Healing Power of Jam.
  2. Respect others and your surroundings. How we treat other people, animals, and nature, is how we treat ourselves.
  3. Have fun. Laugh. Laughter stimulates your whole body. It reduces stress, boosts immunity, and increases the endorphins released by your brain. Sharing it with someone makes it even better.
  4. Open your unique gifts. They’re made to share. Focus on what you’re here to do rather than trying to make a difference. Set aside what you or others think you should be doing. What is it that makes your spirit soar? If we all do that, the world changes.
  5. Be curious. Ask questions. Show genuine interest in another person and their circumstances. Break the routine of daily life by taking an alternate way home, stopping at a shop you’ve never entered, or trying different food.
  6. Listen, with all your senses. Cultural and social conditioning makes us vulnerable to judging others without understanding them. Seven months after my crash, I broke my ankle while walking. My shoulder wasn’t strong enough to support me on crutches so I ended up in a wheelchair. You disappear when you’re in a wheelchair. At one point as I sat there getting advice from a health care practitioner who addressed only the friend who was pushing me, I felt like screaming. “Don’t assume he’s my husband! Talk to ME! Ask ME about my living arrangements, not the person who’s pushing the wheelchair I’m in.”
  7. Spend time in nature. A walk in a hardwood forest is my most powerful healer, greater even than a long motorcycle ride. It keeps me in the present moment. It builds confidence. The seasons remind me of the nature’s cycles. It reminds me who I am and that I share this earth. If you can’t get to the woods, go to a park, or a tree in your yard. Look at the sky, the moon, and stars and imagine what’s out there, and who else in the world is looking at the same thing you are! Read: How Walking Changes the Brain.

Making a difference in our world begins with me. Start doing these things and you’ll change the world. If I’m true to who I am and what I’m here to do, the rest looks after itself. It doesn’t mean I won’t go off on a detour, but life has a way of reminding us we’re off course. Learning the lesson and getting back on our road is part of life.

Related post: Open Your Gifts and Make A Difference

Photo on

15 Things To Do When The Going Gets Tough

by Liz Jansen

when the going gets tough

The day I left my marriage was one of those days. We both knew I was leaving, but circumstances compelled me to move up the date. My new boss had called a staff meeting in Toronto so my commute was longer than usual. To avoid traffic, I took a toll highway, where I got pulled over by the police for having a dirty license plate, which could make it difficult for the camera to discern my registration. I arrived late, upset, and barely able to think straight.

We’ve all had those days, weeks, or even months. Illness, job loss, relationship break-ups, death of a loved one, life transitions, caring for aging parents, and financial insecurity affect us all at some point. Whether they’re voluntary or involuntary doesn’t change their ability to disrupt our lives.

Doing even one of these things can help dissipate that dark cloud that seems to be hanging around.

  1. Acknowledge your feelings. They’re real and neither right nor wrong, they’re trying to get your attention. Allow them without filtering or judging, but don’t dwell on them. Attempting to block or resist can amplify them and lead to physical illness. Stoicism was a hallmark of my ancestors. They couldn’t afford to let grief, regret, or self-pity bog them down when survival was at stake. I’d inherited their quiet fortitude in my energetic DNA, but I had no basis to embody it as they had. Yet, to my detriment, I suppressed my feelings for many years.
  2. Conserve your energy for the things you can control. Don’t waste your precious reserves on worry, anger, and trying to change what’s outside your sphere of influence. What’s the point? You don’t change anything for the better and you propagate negativity.
  3. Take a time out. Exercise your curiosity. Unplug from the bombardment of email, text messages, and sensationalized news. Even ten minutes spent alone can recharge your energy.
  4. Smile. It transforms you and those around you. The act of smiling, as hard as it may be at the time, activates neural messaging that release a litany of benefits for your health and happiness. Smile at someone and they can’t help but smile back, and that changes both your days. (Read: There’s Magic in Your Smile.)
  5. Accept that you’ll make lots of mistakes. It’s how we learn. We don’t intend to make mistakes, and try to make wise decisions, to the best of our ability. Admittedly, some mistakes have greater consequences than others, but keep them in perspective, learn from them, and move on. Beating yourself up doesn’t change things or move you forward.
  6. Measure your wealth in intangibles. The size of your bank account, motorcycle, or house is not a measure of who you are. Staying true to your values, your skills, and your heart speaks volumes.
  7. Recalibrate. Compare yourself to your purpose, desires, and situation. Don’t base your actions on other people’s ideas, goals, and recommendations. They’re seeing and commenting on your situation through their eyes and experiences. While they may mean well, it’s more important for your health and happiness to be true to who you are.
  8. Challenge your perspective. One lazy Sunday afternoon when I was married, I lay on the sofa looking up at the massive beams and the house I’d waited so long for and worked so hard to finish. I was deeply unhappy and dissatisfied with my life, but loved the house and clung to it like a safety net. Did I really think this building on this particular plot of land was the only place on God’s earth where I could be happy? Of course not! Coming to that realization was liberating and gave me an infusion of energy.
  9. Challenge the stories you’ve believed. When the nurses returned newborn me to Mom after bathing me, a pink bow clung to a few strands of fiery red hair, forming a spout on top of my head. The cultural training had begun: Girls wear pink, even with red hair. No matter who our parents are or what culture we’re born into, we’re raised with deep-rooted beliefs and expectations. Often stories get passed down through the generations without question and have lost their relevancy, yet we accept them without question. Who says it’s so?
  10. Keep moving. Maintaining a steady throttle on your motorcycle often gets you out of uneasy situations. Slowing down can get you mired down, or cause you to lose control, and you’re still in the situation! When the going gets tough in life, and you feel like you’re not getting anywhere, do something. Write down something you want to get done in the day, no matter how trivial it seems, then do it, and cross it off your list. Your sense of accomplishment and new energy will surprise you.
  11. Ask for what you want. What’s the worst that can happen? You can get a “No” and have to move on. Our culture values independence and self-sufficiency, yet we’re communal beings. Other people aren’t mind readers and are often unaware you need help. I used to hate having to ask for help to lift my motorcycle onto the center stand. I still don’t like it but I’m getting better. People are usually happy to help, and you never know whom you might meet! (Read The Art of Asking: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Let Other People Help.)
  12. Practice gratitude. My grandfather was a master of gratitude. Having lived through civil war, extreme poverty, and famine, nothing could displace the gratitude he felt for living in a country of freedom and peace. Early frost wiped out the grain harvest? They had their freedom. They’d manage. And they always did.
  13. List the things in your life you’re grateful for. It doesn’t change the unpleasantness of your situation, but it helps re-establish balance.
  14. Let go of your attachment to a particular outcome. It’s easy to get upset when things go wrong, or at least not as we expected, When my scheduled weekend of motorcycle instruction got cancelled at the last minute, I was disappointed. I’d planned my time and budgeted on it. But it freed me up to attend an author event where I met people willing to help me launch my book.
  15. Be kind to yourself. Eat well, go for a walk, preferably in nature, attend an exercise or yoga class, and get plenty of sleep. You’re worth it! Tomorrow will come and you want to be ready for what’s ahead.

What’s your favorite go-to activity when the going gets tough? Tell us in the comments and let us know how it helps.

How to Know When it’s Time to Update Your Identity

by Liz Jansen

Update Your IdentityGrowing up in Niagara, close to the U.S. border, it was commonplace to go “across the river” for shopping and entertainment. Any photo ID would do; a passport wasn’t necessary. Once I started traveling, especially by motorcycle, we’d cross regularly, traveling through or to American destinations.

Five years ago, I got a Nexus card to ease land crossings. It’s much faster during peak time bottlenecks, way better than baking in the sun while waiting in line, and saves carrying a passport.

So imagine my surprise when last month, U.S. Customs officials seized my card. I’d used it in April with no issues. This time, I was making a routine crossing with a friend to hear Paul Pelland, aka Long Haul Paul, speak to the BMW Riders’ Club of Western New York. Jeff had cleared uneventfully and was waiting for me to do the same.

Inadvertently, I’d tried to use a card that had expired on my birthday in May. After a very brief secondary check, customs officials cleared me, although they kept my card.

Passports are valid for ten years; Nexus cards expire after five. In 2013, when I got the card, I was preparing for a six-week pilot trip to the Pacific Northwest, experimenting with living and working from the road. That trip led to my extended quest, begun in 2014, seeking the answers to how the experiences of my ancestors had shaped me. It was a life-changing trip in every way.

Now in 2018, I’m not the same person I was when the identity card was new, yet I was trying to pass off an outdated version of myself.

Rivers, bridges, and borders are all symbols of crossing to a new state of being. My old identity worked that evening and got me to the meeting, but it was the last time.

It’s easy to fall back into old patterns, thoughts, and beliefs rather than questioning whether they’re still valid (or ever were). That’s what my quest was about. Spirit has a way of reminding us to question the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and where we’re going. Sometimes, the message is subtle; other times, as with my border crossing, it’s vivid and definitive. Still, the meaning didn’t sink in for two weeks, and then it was unmistakable.

So it’s time to update how I view myself and how I operate. Old ways of being no longer work to get me to my destination.

Watch for the signs. If your identity’s due for a refresh, they’ll be there.

What “aha” moments have you had recently, and how did they come about? Tell us in the comments.

Photo credit: Internet Archive Book Images on VisualHunt / No known copyright restrictions

Remembering my Grandmother on Her Birthday

Four years ago I set out on a quest, seeking answers to who I was before my culture told me who I was. To help me understand my ancestors’ lives, I followed their migrations in Western Canada after they’d arrived as refugees. How have they informed me and shaped me into who I’ve become?

Today, I pay homage to my maternal grandmother, whose birthday was this week.

remembering my grandmotherSusanna (Susa) and her twin sister Anna were born in 1898 to Heinrich Koop and Sarah Klassen in the village of Alexanderkrone in the Molochna (Mennonite) colony in southern Russia, now Ukraine. Five days later, their mother, age twenty-six, died. Everyone thought the babies would die, too, so they left Sarah’s grave open. Both babies lived into their late eighties, a harbinger of their strength, resilience, and determination.

Heinrich, a farmer, already had three daughters—ages six, four, and barely two. He couldn’t manage two more babies, even with his parents, who lived next door, taking care of their toddler. To help out, his late wife’s sister and her husband, the Enns, who lived near the middle of the village, offered to take one of the twins. The only condition was that whoever joined them would be considered part of their family. She could visit her father and sisters, but had to accept their home as hers. Heinrich was in a poor bargaining position. In the end, they sent one of their teenage sons with instructions to “pick one.” He picked Susa.

Already as a newborn, she’d lost her mother and was separated from her father, twin sister, and three more siblings.

The Enns were well off. Their sons were grown, and a baby girl in a houseful of boys was a novelty so they treated her like royalty. Russian servants looked after everyday housekeeping chores. She didn’t even have to do any dishes until she was eighteen, just before the Bolshevik Revolution erupted.

Susa flexed her independence and courage, before her marriage to Gerhard Reimer, in a move that was surprising for the times. Within their tight-knit colonies, Mennonites had divided into two distinct “strains,” KGs and MB’s, differentiated largely by their method of baptism. Susa had been raised and baptized as a KG. Gerhard was an MB. The MB church insisted Susa be re-baptized their way before getting married. She refused, stated her case, and they ceded. (Anna did the same thing.)

Less than a month before arriving in Canada in 1924, Susa and Gerhard had been parents to a beautiful little girl, whom they buried the day before emigrating. They were Soviet citizens, and lived in a large colony established 110 years earlier. They’d sung in a community choir. Seven years before that, Gerhard had qualified as a teacher and begun work. They laughed, played, and sang. They worshipped. State officials held the Mennonites in esteem for their economic prosperity.

Almost overnight they’d lost most material things and become peasants, having to beg for food at times. At one time, Susa and her brothers stashed their motorcycle in a false wall in their barn to hide it from the terrorists and soldiers. Gerhard had said two classes of people remained after the Revolution—poor and poorer. They’d pled with God to spare them and their country from one pestilence after another, including the human one. The only thing the terrorists couldn’t take were their souls, although they tried.

Mercifully, they were allowed to emigrate. As was the custom, Susa left with her husband’s family, not knowing if she’d see her father or siblings again. Fortunately they followed a few months later.

In Canada, they had their freedom, but life wasn’t easy and it took decades to get established. They’d zigzagged across a huge area—first to central Saskatchewan, then back to southern Manitoba, and then another 800 miles west to Alberta, doing what they had to do. When they had to forfeit their farm in 1931 after three years of weather-related crop-failure, they moved to Southwestern Ontario, just as materially poor as the day they’d arrived.

Life didn’t get easier, although by now, most of Susa’s family lived in the area. One day when the cupboards were bare, Susa didn’t know how they would feed their family supper. Unannounced, her uncle stopped by with a loaf of bread. That got them through until the next day when Susa would earn twenty-five cents at her housekeeping job and be able to buy three pounds of hamburger meat.

By the time I came along, they were living in Niagara, on a farm (still in the family) they’d bought when post-WWII credit was easy to get.

Susa was slight, fair, and willowy. She wore her waist-length medium brown hair in a Schups—a long braid, wrapped around the back of her head and kept in place with long hairpins. As the oldest grandchildren, my cousin Jude (Judy) and I, born two months apart to sisters, and more like sisters ourselves, reaped benefits, like overnight visits. We’d gape in awe when Susa let her hair loose to brush it and it would cascade down, almost to the floor. We had yet to learn about her life, and how her stories had shaped us. To us, she was Oma, and we adored her.

Happy Birthday Oma! Thank you!

What favorite Grandmother stories do you have?  Tell us in the comments. Susa would love to hear them! 🙂


Related stories:


Who’s that Face in the Mirror Looking Back at You?

by Liz Jansen

face in the mirrorIf you could divest yourself of social constraints, expectations, and cultural conformity, who are you when you look in the mirror? Who is that wild you? What does she or he want? What are their dreams?

Four years ago this weekend, I set out on my motorcycle seeking the answer to that question. At age sixty, I was on a quest to understand who I was before my culture told me who I was.

I’d expected to be on the road for twelve to eighteen months, traveling the Americas. Barely three weeks later, my crash in rural Alberta changed my plans. The external journey got put on hold, but the internal journey continued apace. It wasn’t until two years later that I resumed the motorcycle trip, and even then, it had an entirely different trajectory. Looking back, I needed that time off the motorcycle to get to my destination.

We tend to define ourselves by familial, professional, and social roles. In addition to being a friend, daughter, sister, and aunt, I’m a healer, writer, author, and motorcyclist. Yet none of those define me. They aren’t who I am. They’re what I do. I need to put something on my LinkedIn profile and business cards.

As soon as you hang a title around your neck, it limits you. None of us fit in a box. We hold a perception of what titles or possessions mean, and the expectations around those who hold them. What happens when you lose that role? For ten months I couldn’t ride a motorcycle but that didn’t change the core of who I am.

I love that I can express myself through written and spoken words and on my motorcycle. That, I believe, was the message of the stranger in the parking lot I wrote about recently. (Read Opening a Message in a Bottle — Or Parking Lot.)

Knowing the answer to who I am, under all the layers, is important to me. Each of us brings unique gifts into the world to be shared for the highest good of all. In order to be fully present in life, I need to let that wild, untamed nature have expression. She’s a force to be reckoned with!

While my quest helped me understand who I am, allowing myself freedom to shine takes courage and is a life-long lesson.

How do you define yourself? Tell us in the comments.

Photo credit: Jim Bauer on VisualHunt / CC BY-ND