The Wanderers

When I was teaching adult ESL students, I would often begin a get-acquainted (getting to know each other) discussion by asking two questions. The first was “how would you describe yourself? Are you a Mexican (or Korean or….) living in the U.S., a Mexican-American, or an American of Mexican descent (nationality; where your family came from).”

The second question was “how do you think you’ll describe yourself five years from now?” As you can imagine, we had some very interesting discussions.

These discussions always reminded me (made me think) of my ancestors (family members who lived many years ago) and the path they took to the U.S. and into American life and culture. I recently saw an interesting description of them that was written at the time they arrived in the U.S. The writer said they were “ethnically Dutch, culturally German, and nationally Russian.” What he meant is that my ancestors were Dutch people who had lived in Prussia, or northern Germany, long enough to pick up German cultural traditions, including the German language. And, at the time they moved to the U.S., they were Russian citizens.

As you can see, my ancestors moved around. In fact, one writer refers to them as wanderers (without a permanent home). Let me see if I can condense (shorten) their story into a few paragraphs.

My ancestors came originally from a region (area) of Holland called Friesland. Most were farmers and some, possibly (maybe), were teachers.

Sometime near the end of the 1500s, the Prussian government invited them to move to an area west of Danzig, which is now Gdansk, Poland. They were given religious freedom and some very bad farmland – most of it was wilderness (never been developed) and marshes (ground that is always wet). In a few years, however, they turned the land into productive farms.

Later, around 1800, the Russian government invited these hard-working farmers to move to the southern Ukraine , near the Molotschna River, to help develop farming (agriculture) there. They were offered (told they could have) religious freedom and freedom from serving (working) in the Russian army. In addition, the government helped pay for the cost of moving. Today, if you visit southern Ukraine, you’ll find large wheat farms that they started. And you can still find many of the villages they lived in.

By the late 1800s, it was obvious (everyone knew) that the life these people enjoyed in Russia would soon end, so they began to look for a new home. They looked at locations in Canada, the U.S., Mexico, and South America. Most of them came to the U.S. around 1875 and settled (started living) in Kansas, in the center of the U.S. Kansas was on the American frontier (where no one had lived before) at that time, so these farmers did what they did best – make something grow where nothing had grown before. If you travel through this part of the U.S. today, especially in the summer, you’ll see miles and miles of wheat farms, the same as in the Ukraine.

Christmas also reminds me of my ancestors and our traditions. I have fond (like very much) memories of gathering (getting together) at my grandparents’ homes at Christmas with uncles, aunts, and cousins. Two of my fondest memories are the food and the music. We’d always eat a large Christmas dinner together and then gather around the Christmas tree in the living room to sing Christmas carols. What wonderful music!

Next week my family will repeat part of the tradition. Even though my children are very American, they love the traditional food and insist on having it every Christmas.

Three foods are always at the top of our list of favorites. First, there are zweibach, a kind of bread or dinner roll usually eaten with jam. Then there is pluma mos, a fruit soup made of raisins and prunes cooked slowly in a sweet cream sauce flavored with cinnamon and other spices. And finally, there are peppernuts, small hard cookies flavored with ginger, cinnamon and, yes, a little pepper. Any day now, I expect the UPS (United Parcel Service) man to ring our doorbell ring so he can deliver the box of peppernuts my mother sends every year.

For those of you who celebrate Christmas, merry Christmas from me and my family. For those of you who don’t, I wish you a very happy holiday season. And to all of you – in advance – Happy New Year!

~ Warren Ediger, creator of Successful English where you can find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.

photo from Molotschna colony, Ukraine, from GAMEO

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33 Responses to The Wanderers

  1. Ali says:

    Those two questions are the best questions that you asked them.

  2. Fuad (KSA) says:

    I admire your traditions and i wish a happy life to all of you.
    Here in Saudi Arabia, we don’t celebrate Christmas, for we use our official calender, ALHIJRI (HIJRA), which is the time when the prophet Mohammed ( peace be upon him) moved to Madina to establish the first Islamic State.
    we’ve started the 1432 new year since 10 days.

  3. ji says:

    I m so jealous your X-mas tranditions. I don’t have those traditons for chistmas since I am a korean and buddhist. But I remembered that my parent used to gave presents to us at christmas. (Kids are love Christmas ^^)
    but depending on family some Korean also celebrate Christmas their own way.
    We uaslly celebrated New year and Korean Thanksgiving. During that time we have family gathering and eat a lot of tradition foods.

  4. emiliano says:

    Thank you Warren to share with us your thoughts and your ancestors history what is always nice to remember and now even more.
    All my family comes from Burgos (Castilla) except my mother´s father who comes from Galicia. Pontevedra.
    He was dead several years before my mother was married, so have not any memories of this grandfather not either from the
    other as he died soon after I was born.
    I would like to know both of them, very much in fact, as the lack of grandfathers and grandmothers make an invisible wound in a person
    and I have this wound as long as I could live.

    It has to be wonderful to have these memories and the traditional food that reinforce them.

    A happy merry Christmast to you and your family Warren also in advance a new year plenty of good ideas and peace
    for all of us.

    All the best to you dear teacher.

  5. Sharron says:

    Warren I am getting addicted to your articles!
    This would be a great way to get students talking.
    How did you gather all that historical information?
    Have you ever taught students who are studying
    for their Naturalization interview? This would be
    a good exercise to get them to practice their
    English skills beyond memorizing facts.
    Thanks again!

  6. yusmary says:

    I enjoyed this article so much. It always amazed me your reservoir of ideas. You should write a book someday. thanks

  7. Ivan, Belarus says:

    In our country (Belarus) we have two Christmas day. One of them is Catholic Christmas (December 25th)
    and another one is Orthodoxy Christmas (January 7th). Many people celebrate both of them.

    One more interesting thing is we have two New Year!!! the first and main of them is New Year on January 1st.
    The second one we call Old New Year and it is celebreted in a week after Orthodoxy Christmas (January 14th).
    Unfortunately Old New Year isn’t a holiday and we celebrate it traditionally.

    Great thanks for Warren and… merry Christmas!!

  8. The peppernuts just arrived! Yummmmmm.

  9. peter says:

    talk about an intricate family tree man:)

    Hi Warren,

    how is life treating you?

    you have quite a history there. can speak any of those languages.

    By wanderers you mean nomad .(just joking)

    but they quite roaming around before settling hear.
    One question come here. why your given name and family name is pure English then?
    you took me for a Irish man.
    I don’t why but I alwaya had this feeling (assumption) that you and Jeff share the same origin.
    Warren, it is not like that just your kids are quite Americans unless you are about 140 years old:))

  10. peter says:

    Warren ,

    I don’t have anything to offer you here ,in return. Compare to your forefathers, i just arrived here. but if you hang out quite a bit ;a few generations from now. My, in a way, kids have a lot to swap with your great, great kids. But,the thing is we always are runner-ups to you guys:)) you came first:)))

    Seniority always goes :))))

    They will probably start the story telling that their ancestor arrived in Canada in the year 2003 .His English was awful ,then he came across Eslpod out of fluke( pure chance) then his English abilities got better then he raked it in :))) I mean stuck rich by a windfall or something, a big lottery perhaps:)))

    I know you are saying,”Dream on,pal”
    Just a wishful thinking

  11. Peter says:

    Yusmary you are right!!
    He is quite a writer!
    To me ,the post is a kind of memoir
    I m with you on that
    You know what ,the tool u just mentioned our friends at Eslpod center have at their disposal is very mighty.
    You know what I mean,it is a gift
    They are all gifted ,
    They are naturall
    It is a gift.

  12. Roberto says:

    You are right Peter because your grandsons, grand-grandsons, etc… are talking about you, they will say: at the beginning, he didn’t speak very well English language but he worked hard for improving it and, at he end, he spoke as an American. You have to look at you as an authentic pioneer, in the same way of ancestors of Warren (the wanderers, another word to learn).

    Thank you Warren for this topic and I am jealous of you for your knowledge about your family is very important that people know their own roots.
    Peppernuts…! Mothers never fail, Warren

  13. Betty says:

    Thank you, Warren, for such a heartfelt story of your own ancestors. I am a wanderer myself, so were my ancestors, and my husband’s ancestors.

    One day if one of my descendents will probably write a story about how their ancestors went to United Kingdom, and how their ancestors’ ancestors went from one part of China to another part of China, and then to Hong Kong, etc. etc.

    Both of my maternal grandmothers died very young and I only met my step grandmothers and my grandfathers very briefly. I totally agree with emiliano, having no real connection with grandparents does resemble missing part of the jigsaw in one’s life. That’s why I am very happy that my children get to know my parents.

    Nowadays many young people in Hong Kong simply could not be bothered to find out which part of China did their ancestors come from, they simply said their parents were born in Hong Kong and they are Hongkongese. I only started paying attention to my family history recently. Probably it is natural for people to be interested in their own history only when they become more mature.

    By the way, like ji’s parents, although we are not Christian, we give presents to children and friends and families at Christmas. Since it is a magical moment, we do magical things and be happy.

    A Very Merry Christmas and a Very Happy and Prosperous New Year to everyone who are related to, be you my teachers, my fellow friends and everyone behind the screen giving all the technical support to this website and making it possible for us to enjoy this English class.

  14. Betty says:


    I am sorry I got my earlier message wrong in saying ‘Both of my maternal grandmothers died very young’.

    I should have said ‘Both of my maternal and paternal grandmothers died very young’.

  15. Sanaz says:

    First, Happy New Year! Wish you and your family have a great time altogether and wish you the best of luck, health, and success!
    Second, it’s so interesting that you can find your family trees and history and you try to keep the traditions. It’s valuable.
    Third, I’m so jealous of your traditional foods and the christmas gathering.
    Forth, it’s interesting again that goverments asked them to immigrate in order to help them in making lands fertalize . For your ansectors, it didn’t matter where they lived, they reclaimed the area and did their best. So they always were successful as you are!
    Fifth, in my country, Iran, we celebrate our new year which is called “Norouz”. It begins with the first day of spring and lasts for almost 13 days. All the families gather in the house of grandparents, eat sweet which is special for the Norouz, and parents, grand parents, aunts, and uncles give presents that is mostly money to children. We set special table for Norouz named “Haft seen” or “Seven Ss” which contains seven things that have special meaning for us and is told that they can bring us fortune, health, frindship, money, trustworthy, etc. It’s interesting that as its name shows all of the words start with “S”. So, every year I seat in the middle of the table as my name starts with S as I can bring fortune to my families’ lives!! 🙂

  16. Peter says:

    Christmas is fast approaching still no shoulder to cry on.
    Being lonely sucks, particularly at this time of the year.
    Because after one year relentless hard-work to keep the wolf from the door:)) finally everybody gets a chance to rest their body ,and more importantly to rest their soul ( very sacred time).
    To do that, the best thing one can is to hang out with peopl whom one shares history. In case of me,I don’t have anybody,nobody even to share an anecdote with.
    It totally sucks.
    I had some friend,but they all left here for good and left me high and dry.
    They moved either to other cities or to their place of origin.
    So ,I guess I should share my joyous occasion with this very blog.
    Solitary life doesn’t do it for me.
    Thanks God I still love English language ,my only beloved,other wise I would have gone nuts by now.
    You know what,
    When you feel sad ,you feel sad. That da.n thing never takes a holiday.

  17. Peter says:

    Sorry fellas,
    Never meant to bring you done.
    I am planning to go watch a couple of movies these days. Some good pictures have come out in the recent present.any body outer care to join me. No Torontonians among you guys?
    Guys in Eslpod center, r u going out of tone.
    I mean shooting down the while thing for a bit or you continue on?
    I bet Jeff is gone already to his birth city.
    Ofcourse,he can conduct the whole thing or run sth here on the blog remotely from there.
    All it takes is his laptop!
    But ,for recording he must present here.

  18. Peter says:

    Again me,
    This time I m on the blog purely out of lonlynees. I am totally out of my mind I don’t know what to do,consequently I return to my last resort:))
    I m so desperet that even a dalliance work for me.
    Hope the word”dalliance ” is not under the category that Jeff and his hange at the center draw a line at:)
    No body out there willing to venture

  19. Peter says:

    I have this very question for u
    Why native speakers sound “wannet ” when they want to say,”wanted.”
    I wannet to do so rather than I wanted to do so.
    Why Is that
    Because it rhymes better?

  20. Peter says:

    Did u noticed that Eslpod has become an inherent part of our lives.
    Another year with Eslpod is about to end. It is huge;doing good deeds relentlessly for more than half a decade.
    My dear comrades,
    Let’s make a pact.
    Let’s make it our the top-on-the-list resolution that don’t let their good deed goes unoticed this coming year.
    Do something worthy of doing. The time of verbal prasing is, it is the time that we put our money where our mouth is and do something for Eslpod
    Worthy of doing!!!

  21. Betty says:

    I have been reading Peter’s repeated notes urging us to be members of

    It is true that the Learning Guides are very valuable and we will improve our English at least ten times faster with the help of the Learning Guides, and I totally agree with Peter on this point.

    Sometimes people can be selfish and want to be the best with something themselves, but Peter is very selfless here and tell us one of the best way to acquire our English quickly.

    Peter, just a strange question out of curiosity, have you read any series of the Harry Potter by J.K.Rowling?

    J.K. Rowling is now richer than the Queen of United Kingdom, thanks to her love of writing and the successful selling of her story books.

    Would you be another J.K. Rowling soon?

  22. Karl, Austria says:

    Hi Warren,
    your family history is very interesting and fascinating. Wandering seems to lie in your family’s blood. I am wondering which place your descendants will go to next ? Perhaps to a far away planet in outer space, cultivating new land for mankind ?

  23. Farah says:

    Hi! Warrant,
    I think all my friends who read the story of your ancestor, admire your ancestors and I believe you are a industrious person. It would be very nice to have a glory past.
    In advance: Mary Christmas.
    In Iran people don’t celebrate Christmas, except Christian people.
    As my compatriot, Sanaz said, we celebrate Norouz.
    I love Norouz, because of its tradition, foods, gathering, presents, visiting, cleanliness, and the weather which is fresh and lovely that time.
    Best wishes,

  24. emiliano says:

    Betty so nice words to Peter, I would like to be another writer as to J.K. Rowling from who I have read five of the Harry Potter books, two of them
    in English and they are really good even for adults like me.
    J.K. Rowling is also a greater charity woman as she is the president of the E.M. decease in Scotland, and she has donated a lot of money for
    the investigations about this illness, the last amount this year was a millions of pounds to be invested in her foundation.
    The mother of J.K. Rowling died as consequence of E.M. when she hadn´t written the Harry Potter´s saga and she was a poor woman with
    a child with nothing to scarcely survive.
    I think she has been very sorry about her mom and now she wants to help as much as possible.
    In fact Scotland is one of the land where more people are suffering this illness together with Canada.

    J.K. Rowling received The Principe de Asturias reward some years ago as being a person who has made something great in favour of
    the children lectures creating this H.Potter books, also as a person that contributes to support lot of institutions.
    Yes I like this person very much.

    Talking about supports I completely agree with Peter and you about supporting as much as possible ESL suscribing the ESL Guides, besides
    this would be the best way of improving our English level.
    We need ESL Podcast and this is the only way of having it as long as possible.

    Happy Christmas for all of you a very good New Year a great happy Norouz, and also happy Hannukkah.

    Regards. emiliano

  25. Farah says:

    Thank you Emiliano, Happy Christmas for you, too.
    I wish every one of you and your family and especially ESL pod team a truly Happy Christmas and a very prosperous New Year.

  26. Betty says:

    Thank you, emiliano, for providing us so much information about J.K. Rowling. I heard a lot about her when I was in England, but not so much now because I am in Hong Kong.

    In an article in website, Brian Ferguson said: “THE story of struggling single mother JK Rowling penning her first Harry Potter book in the warmth of an Edinburgh cafe has become part of the legend of her success.
    But now the internationally famous author has revealed that she still wants to write in cafes – but cannot because of her fame”.

    Now I understand why our Dr Lucy Tse did not want to show up together with Dr Jeff Mcquillan when they did the anniversary videos, might be she did not want to end up losing her freedom to walk in the street of Los Angeles as a free person.

    Interestingly, When JK Rowling was in Porto, Portugal, she taught English as a foreign language before, like our teachers in

    I did not know you had read five of the Harry Potter books, two of them in English. I bought the Harry Potter Books, Video and then DVD (all in English) for my children. They read all the books and watched all the films, I only watched the films. I thought the books had a lot of vocabularies in them and thus I dared not to attempt reading them, too difficult, and too time-consuming if I had to check the dictionary all the time!

    By the way, I have been to Edinburgh, it was like London with tourists everywhere. I took my children to find the Loch Ness Monster which was reputed to inhabit Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. It was in the summer, but it was very cold when we were traveling on the boat in the middle of the lake.

    Although we could not find the real Loch Ness Monster, we believed it was there and we were very happy to take a picture with it (one of the plastic statue of it).

  27. Tania says:

    Hi! Holidays, the December celebrations…Maybe I’ll listen to Beethoven’s 5th or Fur Elise, or jazz music, I’ll search Open Culture…
    Since you have insisted on the American architectural style I was more careful admiring for instance the Transamerica Pyramid from San Francisco. Maybe a travel on the PCH…
    And for a departure from reality…I’ll take a tour of Yosemite National Park.

    Dear Warren, to you and to your family my best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year!


  28. Tania says:

    Hi! Dear Warren, thank you for your posts, for the joy sent to us and for your discreet answers.

  29. Tania says:

    Hi! But we? Don’t we eat the peppernuts?

  30. Redouane says:

    hi there,
    I wish you merry christmass all,the more eslpod exists the more command of english we get………..a special thanks for all what u did.
    by the way,yesterday I got to read sth very funny and I wanna share it…( before I got married,I used to have six theories of marriage,right after when I got married I wind up having six children but no theories

  31. kuong do says:

    I like Emiliano a lot for his comments. I am from Hanoi, Vietnam. I love La Liga football teams, especially Barcelona and Real Madrid.

  32. emiliano says:

    A BIG Thanks to you Kuong do, you are really very nice with me.
    Your comment gives me lot of strengths to be here just in this moments.

    All the best for you and your country.
    When I was young your country was in my mind every moment along years, I suffered with your people the devastating terrible war.
    Now there is peace at last, I hope for a long long time.


  33. Daniel Welsch says:

    Hey there, I just stumbled on your site. You have a LOT of content on here, I’m impressed. Keep up the good work!

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