Christmas Letter 2012: A Year In Review

December 20, 2012 in Asia, Malaysia, Travelogue

Phuket, Thailand

Phuket, Thailand

Since I’m not sending a paper Christmas letter this year, I thought I’d post it to the blog.

For the folks who are used to getting an envelope in the mail, I’m sorry we couldn’t send handmade cards this year, but it’s awfully expensive to send a hundred envelopes clear around the world, and since we’re currently living out of our backpacks in Borneo, we don’t exactly have our craft supplies in attendance. Hang that danged Jacob’s ladder card I send you a few years ago, and that you all saved, on your tree and pretend I sent it this year!

If you’re not on our family Christmas list, I hope you won’t mind being subjected to our annual Christmas letter, feel free to skip it if it’s over kill… the regular blog will resume with the next post!

On any given day our life just plods along.

We work, we play, we teach our kids, wash, rinse, repeat. And then, I sit down to write the Christmas letter. I look back at the pictures from this time last year and I see how much the kids have grown, where we’ve been, the precious people we’ve been privileged to share the journey with and I’m amazed and grateful for the people, the places and the adventures that make life rich.

2012 has been a three continent year for us, spanning 11 countries. That in and of itself is dizzying, but it hasn’t felt that way. Life just unfolds one day at a time. At the close of the year, I can say with confidence that it has been a year of growth, of forward motion, of the beginning of big things, and a year of learning for us all.


Has had plenty of work; more than he can stand sometimes. He’s perfected the art of working from anywhere this year, and tested his theories from Cape Cod to Canada, to the DMZ in Vietnam to the palace of the last prince of Laos, to backwater Cambodia. He lamented the passing of the “last good internet until New Zealand,” as we left Singapore a couple of weeks ago.

He spent his summer working hard learning to kite surf and sampling as many different Thai dishes at the beach front restaurants as he could stomach. He’s eating a wide swath across Southeast Asia. Thailand has quick become a favourite place for him and he’s enjoyed having a motorcycle again as a primary means of transportation.

He’s been reading the Hobbit, the Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and its sequel, as well as Tom Sawyer, A Wrinkle in Time and some others to the children. This winter he’s seeking to round out their educations with a tour through the old James Bond movies, and Laura Croft, Tomb Raider (we did visit Angkor Wat, after all!)


My favourite part of the year has been the people, as ever. The hardest part of life is missing people and the best part is the addition of new friends to the fabric of life. I suppose that’s true no matter where or how you live. So many of those who are dear to us are people we never would have met if not for hitting the road. There are lots of days I wish I had a washing machine, or a dishwasher, or a car big enough to fit all of the kids, or more than two gas burners to cook on, but I wouldn’t trade all of the conveniences of home in the world for folks like the Sztupovsky family, who we spent a month and a half with this fall.

As ever, I’m writing, and looking for balance in the question of “how much is too much.” It’s something I enjoy immensely and is a creative outlet for me, in addition to being what I do for “work.” It keeps my hands busy between the margins of life, when I’m not schooling kids, cooking for a crowd, knitting someone’s socks, or sifting through markets in search of dinner.

This year I dedicated myself to cultivating the small happinesses in the small moments: the quiet few moments between waking and my feet touching the floor, smiling faces around a dinner table, the sound of Tony doing the voices for dwarfs as he reads, music in the afternoon, a long walk on the beach with a handful of shells the kids collect, tea on the couch with my friend.


We celebrated Hannah’s 16th birthday in Hue, Vietnam, and then visited Angkor Wat a couple of weeks later, as that was her requested gift. She finished her high school work in June and dove into Oregon State University courses with gusto this fall. She’s learning to balance her course work with her internships and the online freelance work that she’s doing.

This year she had the opportunity to intern with a fantastic journalist who’s worked for PBS, NPR and NBC over the years doing video content development. She’s continued with her travel writing mentorship through Wandering Educators, and she’s bravely branched out into the adult freelance travel writing market with success. She was contracted to write her first book for the tween audience this fall and just this week she turned it in to the editors, that will come out in the new year through a company called Artzy Girlz.

She continues to pursue music and provides a beautiful soundtrack for life. In the new year, she’s got big plans for solo adventures that will take her continents away from us! It’s exciting stuff, this growing up!


This man-let is growing like a weed and needs to stop it right now! He officially topped six feet tall this fall and shows no signs of stopping. He took over the other big backpack from me this year and he’s proud to be the family pack mule.

Gabe is plowing through his high school work with purpose. He’s a voracious reader and has devoured the Zane Grey series this fall. Gabe is by far the best kite surfer of the four of us who learned over the summer. He’s a kid born to water, without question. His big passion in life, at the moment, is boats; sailboats, to be specific. He and his Dad have been looking at them in person and on line. They’re hoping very much to find one and give our adventure sea legs. He’s got his sights set on a series of courses that will allow him to crew on live aboards and make money as he goes. He’s plugging through the syllabus of the courses, self educating, so he can take the tests as soon as they present themselves.

If you need fish gutted, Gabe is your man. He makes a mean fried fish dinner, from flopping to hot on the table. He caught this big crab with a piece of rope, on Monkey Beach in Malaysia this fall. He and his friend Dylan talked some local guys into letting them throw it on their grill.


When this boy was little I was sure he was shy; nothing could be further from the truth. Elisha doesn’t know a stranger, he makes friends everywhere we go and he has an enormous following in the 4-8 year old crowd right now. He can leverage the power of a soccer ball to cross cultural boundaries like no one I know. Language barriers don’t phase him. He dives in with a smile and comes out with buddies wherever we go.

He continues to notice the things in life no one else does. It occurred to Tony and I, in Iceland, that Elisha would make a fantastic tour guide, because he can tell you the obscure story related to a place and remember the quirky details in a way no one else in the family can. It makes him a fun guy to travel with.

Elisha got to spend his birthday in Hanoi, visiting the mausoleum and home of Ho Chi Minh. He’s taken to calling him “Uncle Ho” and proudly wears his t-shirt from that day until I peel it, stinking, from his body and insist he was the shirt and the boy beneath it. He’s a thinker and he enjoys learning the history of the places we visit, that, and he enjoys climbing the ruins.


This kid reduces me to tears of laughter at least once a week. He is the funniest person in our family. He has a gift for delivering the punchline of life at the exact perfect moment and bringing down the house. His sense of humor, coupled with his off the charts determination are a lethal combo some days!

Ezra loves an adventure, from tracking Orang Utan along jungle paths to all night bus rides, this kid is up for just about anything. For his birthday, he chose riding elephants in Pai, Thailand; it was, perhaps, the very best day of our trip thus far, all four and a half years of it. I don’t think I’ll ever forget him laying on the head of his elephant, hanging onto its ear and patting it between the eyes, talking to it. What a way to turn ten.

He’s pushing hard to read the Lord Of The Rings and earn the privilege of watching the movies. He’s excited about getting his SCUBA certification somewhere in the islands this winter. He’s learning to play the mandolin part for a couple of Hannah’s songs, and his greatest motivator in life is keeping up with the teenagers.

This year, we’re celebrating Christmas in a little house in Miri, Malaysia.

It’s about half way down the northern coast of the island of Borneo, if that helps you. There’s no snow, but there is monsoon rain instead. We have some red and white striped arm warmers that I stitched shut on one end to use as stockings. We’ve got an oven (first one we’ve seen since we left Canada!) and so we’re baking cookies and roasting chicken. As always, we’re missing friends and family as we celebrate, this is the first year in many that we haven’t had one set of grandparents, or friends join us.

We’re thankful for a roof over head, plenty of work to keep funding the adventures, a great big world to explore, our health in these beautiful middle years of our lives, the fleeting gift of our four fantastic children and the hope of a couple more years of family life with all of them under our mobile roof.

We wish you all a very Merry Christmas, wherever this holiday find you…

With much love,

The Miller Family

We’ve had some adventures this year… here are some excerpts from the highlights:

Jenn surprises a friend in Canada:

Honeymoon to Iceland:

Jenn goes to Ukraine to help friends adopt:

Some of our best friends surprise us… from Germany!!

We say good bye to the people we consider “home”:

We say good bye to family… Tony’s side:

Hello Southeast Asia!

We learn about Art & Life in Vietnam:

We stare history in the face:

We return to our love of bicycles in Laos:

We see things that disturb us in Cambodia:

We have the privilege of changing a life:

We fall in love with Angkor Wat:

We ride some elephants:

We see beautiful things:

Some time with Jenn’s family for a wedding:

We meet 8 other traveling families for a week’s party!

We saw things that disturbed us:

We find community on the road:

We love our beach!

We stay in a fantastic place:

We attend our first foam party:

We meet Singapore: 

We see our first wild orang utans in Borneo!