Goodbyes and Hellos With Adventures To Come!

We got our tickets today and head back to the place our kids call “home” Cambodia.  Mixed feelings fill our hearts.  Mostly joy but fear too. The love we feel from friends and family whose relationships seem to go on hold for another 3 years.  Don’t get us wrong, those 3 years will be a roller coaster of emotions such as joy and pain fighting the dark with light.
kids
One of my favorite bands is Sleeping at Last.  The song “In The Embers” is my life song! My prayer! May my life be surrounded by darkness. May I be like a firework pulling apart the darkness around us.  Darkness of poverty, abuse, need, fear, hate, hopelessness.  Lyrics below:
“In The Embers”
We live and we die
Like fireworks
Our legacies hide
In the embers
May our stories catch fire
And burn bright enough
To catch God’s eye

We live and we die

Like fireworks
We pull apart the dark
Compete against the stars
With all of our hearts
Till our temporary brilliance turns to ash
We pull apart the darkness while we can

May we live and die
A valorous life
May we write it all down
In cursive light

So, I will write it all down with the best words that I can.  I will describe the pain, the joy, and the journey.  Will you come with us? Read our blogs. Comment, like, criticize! May we hear from you and no matter where our paths lead or how far from you we go, may we feel more close to you through sharing our stories and hearing yours!
See yourself as light today for your home, your family, your neighbors, your friends, and your enemies.  Surround yourself with dark and pull it apart with light.  There is no other life that I would live but the life and faith and love.  You can too and PLEASE share your journey with me.  I will always want to listen.
door
The Halls promise you this, we will continue to explore our world
and share our journeys with you!

 

Holiday Blues: Our Testimony of Sadness To Joy

It is full blown holiday season and for many a time of happiness, peace, and joy but for others this is not true! The stress of the season can pull many down.  The weather changes can cause darkness and cold decreasing outdoor activity. And often this is a time we feel the loss of loved ones gone or the struggle to bring family together that may not want to be together! But, for us the hardest part of the holidays was learning to enjoy the season without many of our loved ones and without the holiday culture that we had experienced in America.

Enjoying the holidays in a new location is a learning process!

bad-santa
I think this is the worst Santa pic ever! Check out Santa.

We have come a long way. This year we enjoyed Thanksgiving with family and will return overseas for Christmas.  We realized that we will not have time to do the traditional activities such as putting up the tree and opening presents so we found another solution.  We are planning a stop in Europe for Christmas where we can hopefully worship our Savior at The Cathedral of Notre Dame.  What a unique experience that would be.  Keep following the blog to see if it happens! But, how did a family with 4 kids come to celebrate the holidays with joy when the experiences are so nontraditional and far from those we love.

We want to share our advice for getting the most out of this holiday season!

The biggest drag is expectations! There is a book that helped me the most and not just at the holiday season.  I came to realize that my own expectations of what the holiday season should be were holding me back.  My own expectations of myself were also holding me back.  Expectations of the culture such as the number of gifts our kids get compared to others can also be a hindrance to joy. Lastly, was feeling as if there were expectations from others such as family and friends. It was freeing to realize the power of expectation on my emotions in many aspects of life, I realized that I had allowed these expectations to burden me instead of freely celebrating in a way that was mine and ours as a family. To learn more, read this book about expectations:

You’ve heard the saying:

Jump in With Both Feet!

And, this is true for experiencing the best holiday overseas.  I do not recommend family videoing their Christmas gathering and you watching that in a far location.  You might think that this would help you feel included and happy to be a part but what we have found is that this often leads to tears.  Maybe not at that moment but when the video is done and it is dark and quiet, sadness can creep in.  We have tried to share holidays back and forth with pictures, phone calls, and messages allowing a brief time of enjoying the holidays together but keeping in the present with both feet at the location you are.

Connect Where You Are!

Don’t Try Doing It Alone!

If your single, a couple, or with kids, anywhere you travel, you can find others ready to celebrate.  So join in and make friends where you are. You never know, sometimes these friendships can become as close as family.

cookies-with-friends
Teaching a friend to make Christmas cookies.  Bringing in others who have never celebrated this holiday brings great joy.

 

Lastly,  Once the above is accomplished, you are free to make your own holiday plans and thats where the joy and excitement for the season begins! I will share some traditions that we have created but go with your own.  You may or may not have kids but holidays can be a joy whether you have 2 or 6!

  1. Before kids, we would often spend the holidays at a nice hotel that had holiday activities and lots of other couples.
  2. Many Thanksgiving holidays we’ve enjoyed cooking for other expats and Asians who wanted to join us. This created a busy and happy atmosphere leaving no room for tears!
Dancing
Dancing
Singing
Singing

3. Include nature in your celebration as being outdoors will lift your spirits. This can be a picnic, hike, or ocean view with holiday songs and reading.

4. For Christmas, we have celebrated the whole week before with daily activities such as making and decorating cookies, attempting a ginger bread house, writing cards to each other and opening them together, a night of singing and worship, and so on.  Some of these activities can be done no matter where we are.

christmas-soup
Cambodians like to celebrate Christmas with curry and bread.  Here is the curry being cooked in my back yard and stirred with my broomstick!!

Reflecting back on our first Christmas with a child, we have realized how much our feeling of joy for the holidays has increased no matter where we celebrate.  The first Christmas, there were very few decorations.  We brought this baby tree from America and decorated it with lights we found sold at idol worshipping shops.  Strange, but we were able to create a sense of holiday.

no-eye
Eli’s First Christmas in Cambodia

 

Be present this holiday season.  Whatever activities you get to enjoy, be there with your whole mind, all your thoughts, a grateful heart choosing joy.  Often your emotions will follow.  But, if you have a moment of tears, don’t feel guilty but get up the next morning ready to turn it around! Christmas was given as a gift to you in Gods special package and there were no lights on trees and malls to buy gifts on that day! So celebrate this season freely and I think you will realize that this joy is contagious!

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Visit These Places To Get Close With Endangered Animals in Asia

But hurry, because they may not be there in the near future!

Why I’m writing this article:

The time is now because it won’t be much longer until these opportunities will likely pass just like its passing for the slow loris pictured above. (Picture of slow loris skins was taken by me at local market).

My family has been up close to these endangered animals and I can tell you that it has filled us with passion to help see that they are protected for years to come and worship of a creative Creator!

  1. Orangutans: Critically Endangered!
close-up-orangutan
Orangutans are found in the wild in Malaysia alone but their homes are being destroyed daily due to palm oil plantations. Here is my brother trying to figure out the camera while an orangutan flies past:)

Rainforest Discovery Center of Sepilok was a perfect place to visit Orangutans close up in their natural habitat.  Recently being released into the wild, they no longer fear human beings and therefore are easier to spot.  The sad part is that there is nowhere else for them to go due to the palm oil plantations surrounding this small park.  http://www.forest.sabah.gov.my/rdc/

2. Sun bear: Endangered!

bsbcc-fulung_orig
The Sun Bear is endangered due to poaching.  Many people still eat these bears as a delicacy or kill for medicinal reasons. When rescued, many zoos throughout Asia are overcrowded with these bears and they are not well cared for.

The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center is well known throughout Southeast Asia as the experts on these bears and work to help surrounding countries to best rescue and save this bear.  They also provide close up interaction with the smallest bear on the planet! http://www.bsbcc.org.my

conservation.jpg

3. Probiscous monkey: Endangered 

brooke-and-probiscus

 

One of the most interesting animals on earth is the Probiscous Monkey.  Only seen in Borneo, this monkey is well know for the dominant male with his harem.  To sit and watch them will make you laugh as they interact with obvious animal instincts!  But, sad to say that the time is short for these beautiful monkeys as they feed on Mangroves along the ocean shore which is also prime land for palm oil and resorts.  Labuk Bay is one of the few places to see them up close and watch their odd and hilarious behavior. http://www.proboscis.cc

4. Gibbon: Endangered

gibbon-closeup
Gibbons are endangered because they need lots of free jungle to live and prefer to be far from humans. This rescue center in Cambodia gives a rare opportunity to feed a gibbon.

When it comes to protection of the gibbon, the organization http://www.wwf.panda.org is definitely working hard to combat the loss of habitat, illegal sales, and poaching of this incredible long armed, gentle small ape. Up close and personal with one of these shy animals is difficult but not impossible.  In Mondulkiri Cambodia, one can trek 2 nights into the rainforest and wake to the sound of these apes flying in the trees above.  Need a guide?  www.naturelodgecambodia.com is who you need to visit for lodging and a trekking companion (ask for Cham).

5. Asian Elephant: Endangered!

asian-elephant
My kids sat on this elephant while it was in the water, as it came out my daughter, who is scared of heights, was a little more than frightened.

Elephant tourism is risky so be careful.  There are many places to see elephants upclose in Southeast Asia but not all of them treat the elephants well.  More than once, we have seen scars on elephants from human abuse.  My suggestion is to do your research before you go!

6. Tiger: Endangered

tiger growl.jpg

 A lot can be said about tiger tourism too as many places have been closed down due to mishandling of the tigers but the Chiang Mai Night Safari is a wonderful place to see these animals and many others up close.  You can even take pictures with baby tigers! http://www.chiangmainightsafari.com/cnsweb/index.php/en/

From Extinct To Vulnerable, It Is Possible!

7. Irrawady River Dolphin: Vulnerable irrawady

boat-on-mekong
After a long evening of watching the Irrawaddy Dolphin, we went for a swim in the Mekong.

 

One of the few places in the world to see this amazing fresh water dolphin leap and play in the water is on the Mekong River in Kratie Cambodia.  Worth the trip!

8. Pandas: Vulnerable

panda

The closest we could get to this amazing unbelievable bear is the Chiang Mai Zoo.  It is a great habitat for upclose viewing.  I could spend hours watching pandas interact and care for each other. Though would love to visit a place that lets visitors hold them!

For the best hotel deals, click here!

What we have come to find in our travels is that animals were created for joy, happiness, to teach us loyalty, care, love, and to cheer us up when we need it.  You may want to travel to Asia to learn more but don’t forget the experiences in your own neighborhood!dog-brings-joy

Comment below and name 5 of your favorite animals and why?!

 

Having Babies Overseas: Tourist Turns Native

Now that we have some old and new friends to join us on our blogging journey, we would like to share a bit of our lives with you!  The most unusual part of our lives is that we have 4 kids all birthed and raised in Asia. If you ask them where they belong, well I’m not sure they would know the answer. They are Americans that are born overseas and live in many places. We delivered our first 2 babies in Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is one of the best places to tour with kids.  There is much to explore and do with children in Chiang Mai from adventure day trips, street vendors, to shopping mall playgrounds.  We had a wonderful birthing experience in their hospitals.

Shopping in Chiang Mai Sunday night market with newborn.
Shopping in Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market with our newborn.

Before we talk babies, first our experiences began with waiting for the babies to be born and forty weeks of pregnancy should never slow a traveling momma down! From the tops of the tallest mountain in Thailand: Doi Inthanon (we ended up hitchhiking halfway to the top) to the caves of Chiang Dao, we didn’t let the big bump stop us.

Doi Inthanon: the tallest mountain in Thailand is surrounded by cool mist and fog.
Thailand mountains are often surrounded by cool mist and fog which is perfect for getting out of the heat.
Exploring the Chiang Dao caves near Chiang Mai while 9 months pregnant. Quite a squeeze!
Exploring the Chiang Dao caves near Chiang Mai while 9 months pregnant. Quite a squeeze!
Baby Eli with baby elephant
Baby Eli with a baby elephant when he was 1week old in Chiang Mai.
2 of our babies were born during a coup in which the airport was shut down. Didn't slow us down!
2 of our babies were born during a coup in which the airport was shut down. Didn’t slow us down!

But, things did change as soon as they came into the world. We choose to take the more Asian minimalist way of birth and baby care. We delivered natural, shared a bed, and tied a hammock in the living room to use as a swing and rock the babies to sleep. .

The hammock in the middle of the room serves as baby swing, rocking chair, and dads nap spot.
The hammock in the middle of the room serves as rocking chair, swing, and dad’s nap spot.

The funny thing was, when I was pregnant, Asians would ask if I was going to put my babies in separate rooms like they heard Americans did or would I put my baby in the little jail cells called cribs? The questions caused me to rethink and reconsider what I would choose from my culture in raising my babies. So we went as natural as we could.

“Rejoice with your family in the beautiful land of life.” – Albert Einstein

As the children have grown, their lives are different from American kids and often without the normal comforts.  Living in Asia often means living in small homes, sharing sleeping rooms, eating meals from street vendors, and shopping in open markets.

The blind traveling barber with every tool imaginable on his bike!
The blind traveling barber with every tool imaginable on his bike!
shopping for baby clothes in the tight, hot open markets
Shopping for baby clothes in the tight, hot open markets of Cambodia.

But, these early experiences make them who they are today and who they will be as adults.  The world is big for them and I see a burning to desire to keep moving.  Is that good? I don’t know yet, we will see!  Having a passport by 1 week of life opens the door for adventures to come for our family.  Everyone told us that we would slow down after kids, but honestly we have picked up as we have realized the joy that comes for a family who travels together.  We wouldn’t trade these memories for anything!

Your family has many unique experiences ahead and it’s up to you!

What can you do now to make that happen?  Start planning it today!

Comment here about your

favorite trip growing up!

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