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Hodgepodge from The Geranium Farm

Debbie Sharp Loeb, teacher by training but full-time mom to a disabled son, craftsperson, bead artist, great cook, creative homemaker & terrific spotter of cool new products for everything under the sun, presents Hodgepodge: recipes, household hints, stories about children, friends & relatives, cool stuff, music, & much more.

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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Corn Muffin Mix

I like to make some of my recipes up into little mixes so they're all ready to make. For this recipe you'll need to leave the baking soda out of the mix. Also I use the "Brownulated" brown sugar - the kind you can pour. I made this recipe up after adjusting another recipe I had gotten off a package of corn meal.
To make the muffins:
Preheat oven to 350'.
Dump the dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk together.
In another bowl beat the sour cream and the 1/4 tsp. baking soda with the whisk until the sour cream thins out.
Add the already beaten egg and whisk some more.
Stir the sour cream and egg mixture into the dry ingredients with a spoon. Mixture will be thick. Then stir in the 1/4 c. milk.
Spoon into greased muffin tin and bake 16-18 minutes until lightly browned on bottoms.
By the way - if you have any leftovers refrigerate them in a Ziploc bag. To reheat one microwave for 25 seconds and they'll be warm and soft like they just came out of the oven!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A Way to Access Your PC Away from Home or Office

I came across this and I thought it might be of interest to some of you.
You can get secure remote access to your PC from any Web browser or wireless device in real time. The website: www.GoToMy is a fast, easy and secure way to:

*Access files, programs, email, and network

*Increase your flexibility and productivity

*Work on your office PC from home

*Travel and use your PC remotely

GoToMyPC allows you to remotely access your computer from any other Internet-connected computer in the world with almost any operating system through a secure, private connection. Go to the website to see about a free trial period.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Breath Easier

Deacon JoAnna of (MOLC) here on the Geranium Farm had sent this along for me to post.

"The concept of Breathing Coordination*TM was the result of ten years of medical research started in 1958 by Carl Stough and elaborated by Reece Stough in 1964 for advanced researchers in the international respiratory field."

It comes from:

What You Can Do To Help Yourself
In practicing Breathing Coordination*, it is advisable to lie on your back with a pillow under your knees and a pillow under your head. In this position the diaphragm is not working against gravity and you are not bringing any voluntary muscle into play just to balance and support the body. The hardest thing you have to do is to think that you are not going to work. You are not going to work on the inhale or the exhale. The goal is to extend the exhale to its natural conclusion.

You make sure the jaw is loose and you open your mouth on the inhale. This doesn't mean you have to do all mouth breathing; but at this point, it helps to keep your throat open. After the inhale comes, you start with the only thing that can be called an exercise, making audible sound. This is the developing process. It is like a weight lifter lifting weights. So, you should start to count very simply. Sometimes it is better to start with two at a time.

That means that you count quietly until the inhale comes as a reflex. When the inhale comes, you count "1-2" out loud; then you count quietly (almost a whisper) again to relax the rest of that exhale as far as it will go until the next breath comes. Then you count "1-2-3-4" and continue in this manner. If that is very, very easy for you, you may increase the count by 5's instead of by 2's.
The other important thing to remember is that ultimately you want to be heard. That doesn't mean that you are making an effort to be loud; but at the same time, you have to think of projecting the sound, otherwise the throat won't stay open when you're making sound.

If this goes easily, every so often prop your knees up and let your knees swing from side-to-side to loosen the lower back. You may also put your hands together in front of you and let them swing from side-to-side to loosen your shoulders. All of this should be done while you are lying down. Also, be sure that while you are making the swing and moving the body, you are doing that on an exhale; and counting quietly helps to keep that exhale going.

The point is to be able to extend the exhale as long as possible with sound, but not by making an effort. You never want to force when either inhaling or exhaling. Just the fact of priming the diaphragm to make the sound is enough. You may be able to get to a length of count of 40 or 50 without rushing, but keeping it moving, by doing it in a sort of sing-song manner. If you do a count that is too precise, the diaphragm may not be moving smoothly. Whereas, if you make a sort of sing-song sound, you are making one single effort.

While you are counting, you can make sure that the diaphragm is rising. If the diaphragm tenses, you can feel the pressure in your lower abdomen, between your hip bones. The lower abdomen is not contracting, but it drops inward when the diaphragm rises. When the diaphragm rises, everything above it and below it releases, so that you can feel the chest and the lower abdomen both dropping toward your spine.

If the count goes too far and the diaphragm begins to tense, you feel the pressure in the lower abdomen. Don't push past that. When this becomes easy, you may see whether you can accomplish the same thing sitting or standing. The sensation should be similar.

In addition to the quiet counting, you may also do "la-la-la" sounds, in which the tongue moves from behind the top teeth to behind the bottom teeth. It does not involve the jaw. This can be done without any sound and with the mouth hardly open, so that you can use it any time, any place, just for relaxation and to prime the exhale.

The best time to practice is the first thing in the morning and the last thing at night. You should prime your breathing before you start making physical demands.

If you do it the last thing before bed, it should be very relaxing, you get better sleep, and your breathing doesn't become too shallow.

Of course, at any time in your schedule that is convenient, you may practice for about 10 minutes. The more you do it, the faster you can develop, as long as it is done in a relaxed manner. The length of the practice should depend on your success. If it is going very well and you have the time, you should continue much longer. If it is not going well, let it go and come back to it at a later time.

Breathing Coordination Principles Help Many People With Asthma
All respiratory problems are primarily the result of high residual volume. Residual volume is the amount of carbon-dioxide-laden air left in the lungs at the end of an exhalation. Asthma patients often have difficulty inhaling because of this. Sensations of shortness of breath are always directly related to high residual volume.

In the asthmatic this is primarily due to the fact that they have very sensitive bronchial tubes, bronchi, and even alveoli. The tissues swell, and the person experiences shortness of breath. The person tends to hyperventilate, employing accessory breathing musculature in the upper chest instead of the diaphragm, the primary muscle-organ of breathing. The chest is lifted on the inhale, as the person grabs for a breath. Shortness of breath results because you are inhaling more than you can exhale, thus building up carbon dioxide in the lungs.

Without reducing the residual volume, there is no way to treat asthma except with medication. When you have a high residual volume, the pressure in the lungs constricts the bronchial tubes and the alveoli. Asthmatics take medications to dilate these airways. This undue pressure may extend to the trachea, the neck and the jaw. The opening of the throat may be reduced. Voice production remains caught in the throat, which creates more pressure and further closes off the airway.

Breathing Coordination provides the only known way to reduce residual volume, by redeveloping the diaphragm. Breathing Coordination has demonstrated that by extending the exhalation to its logical conclusion, the inhalation will occur as a neurological reflex and the diaphragm will begin to strengthen. When you redevelop the diaphragm, you can prevent an asthmatic attack. Once you can alleviate the panic that goes with an attack, you can develop the breathing further.

The stronger the diaphragm becomes and the higher it rises inside the ribcage on an exhale, the less residual volume you have.
The goal is to develop the diaphragm to its maximum potential. Often the diaphragm has weakened as a result of allergies, asthma, and an unrecognized pattern of holding the breath. Breath-holding may begin in early childhood. This causes stress, which becomes part of a vicious cycle of stress and breath-holding.

When the diaphragm moves upward inside the ribcage on the exhale, there is a simultaneous relaxation of the upper chest and the abdomen. The abdominal muscles rest more fully into the abdominal cavity because the diaphragm rises. The goal of Breathing Coordination is to gradually extend the length of the exhale without using any accessory muscular force.

To systematically develop the diaphragm, you would practice a building count, counting from 1 to 10 repeatedly, increasing the duration of the exhale slightly on each successive exhale. You would start by counting 1-2 out loud on the first exhale; 1-2-3-4 on the second exhale; 1-2-3-4-5-6 on the third, and so on. This primes the diaphragm to rise higher and higher inside the ribcage. This has been done successfully even with young children. As soon as they would begin to be short of breath, they would start to count and would never even have the asthmatic attack.
There are two ways of counting to extend the exhale. It can be done with or without vocal sound. The exhale can be extended by counting silently, using a very soft, phonated whisper, with no audible sound. This can be done any place. When the extended exhale is practiced without sound, the diaphragm performs very little work. The exhale can easily extend to its maximum length. When the extended exhale is practiced with sound, it creates an exercise for the diaphragm. The diaphragm has to work harder to rise within the chest cavity to make the pressure to produce the sound.

A school teacher who has studied Breathing Coordination introduced these principles to third, fourth and fifth grade children who had asthma. She would have the children count, to extend the exhale without forcing. They were able to feel their upper chests and abdomens release in unison. It was so successful in the school situation that the teacher learned from the children's parents that many were able to reduce or eliminate medication.

To find out how good your breathing is go to:

Monday, May 28, 2007

Remembering Our Troops and Their Families

Click on the link for the presentation:

Friday, May 25, 2007

Email About the Pasta

"Thanks for the easy pasta recipe. I was able to use it with whole wheat flour and it worked well. I added garlic powder and parsley. I plan to try a fetuccine with basil and top with sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil. (We are trying to lower our cholesterol.)
I would also add that the texture of the noodle with whole wheat flour is different than you expect from a white flour noodle. I used my pasta machine, and this recipe (unlike some others I've tried) was very happy being pushed through the machine. Thanks again. I love reading through Hodgepdge; I love going to the Geranium Farm in general! "
South Carolina

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Stop the Junk Mail!

You can stop your postal junk mail by 75 - 90%, have a tree planted for you monthly, and get only the catalogs you want.
To find out more go to:
"For a dime-a-day, GreenDimes will reduce the marketing at your home, help you maintain your privacy and plant a bunch of trees on your behalf."

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Homemade Cheese Ravioli

See Monday's post (5/21/07) for the recipe for the dough.
These really were easy to make!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Disposing Those New Light Bulbs

Barbara received the following email and passed it on to me.

"Hello. Thank you for the reflections on the "new"bulbs that take some of the stress from the environment. Perhaps you would also tell folk that while they last a loooong time that they also need to be carefully recycled. There is mercury in the bulb and you can't just throw it out as with an incandescent bulb. "
Thanks -- Dick Lewis Central NY

You should know that:
*One teaspoon of mercury can contaminate a 20 acre lake forever
*The EPA reports that 187 incinerators nationwide emit approximately 70,000 pounds of mercury into the environment each year.
*Each year, an estimated 600 million fluorescent lamps are disposed of in US landfills amounting to 30,000 pounds of mercury waste. is just one resource for any light bulb ("lamp") user seeking details on recycling spent mercury-containing lamps. To get more information go to:

There is a lot of information out there about this on the Internet, but for your local town, call them up to find out what to do in your area.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Make Your Own Pasta - It's Easy!

Homemade Egg Pasta
2 1/3 c. flour
2 eggs
1 tsp. of a dried crushed herb - basil, marjoram, or dillweed
(or pick your favorite herb)
1/2 tsp. salt

1/3 c. water
1 tsp. olive oil or cooking oil

With knife blade in processor, process flour, eggs, herb, and salt until mixture is cornmeal consistency.
Pour water and oil through feed tube and process just until it forms a ball, remove, cover and let rest 10 minutes. Divide into quarters and roll 1/16" thick. Let rolled out dough stand out 20 minutes so surface dries slightly and then cut into desired width. Let dry at least 1 hour and then put in moisture proof container. Label and freeze up to 8 months.

I made this just a few days ago. After I made the dough I cut it in half, rolled each of them out, and making two pieces just a bit smaller that 9 x 13 for lasagna. (I used basil in the dough.) I boiled each piece, al dente, separately for about 5 minutes.
You could easily make your own homemade ravioli with this dough.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Water and You

Here's some information about water summarized from an article from the

"Water is your body's principal chemical component, comprising, on average, 60 percent of your weight. Every system in your body depends on water. For example, water flushes toxins out of vital organs, carries nutrients to your cells and provides a moist environment for ear, nose and throat tissues."
On average, food provides about 20 percent of total water intake, while the remaining 80 percent comes from water and beverages of all kinds.

A lack of water can lead to dehydration where your body doesn't have enough water to carry out normal functions as nearly all major systems in your body depend on water.
What are those functions?

* Regulates body tempature
* Moistens tissues such as those in the mouth, eyes, and nose
* Lubricates joints
* Protects body organs and tissues
* Helps prevent constipation
* Lessens the burden on the kidneys and liver by flushing out waste products
* Helps dissolve minerals and other nutrients to make them accessible to the body
* Carries nutrients and oxygen to cells

You lose water every day through your breath, perspiration, urine and bowel movements. The Institute of Medicine recommends that men drink about 3.0 liters (approx. 13 cups) of total beverage a day and women 2.2 liters (about 9 cups).

There are various factors that can influence the amount of water you need such as:

Exercise - The more you exercise, the more fluid you'll need to keep your body hydrated. Longer and more intense exercise will require more and it's best to use a sports drink that contains sodium, as this will help replace sodium lost in sweat and reduce the chances of developing hyponatremia, which can be life-threatening. You should replace fluid after exercise and drinking 16 ounces of fluid per pound of body weight lost during exercise is recommended.

Environment - Hot and humid weather can make you sweat more requiring additional fluid intake. Heated indoor air can cause you skin to lose moisture which will need to be replaced. Also high altitudes can increase breathing and trigger more urination which uses up more of your fluid reserves.

Illnesses and Health conditions - Fever, vomiting and diarrhea, cause your body to lose additional fluids where you may require oral rehydration solutions, such as Gatorade, Powerade or Ceralyte in addition to water. Bladder infections or urinary tract stones, require increased water intake, while certain conditions such as heart failure and some types of kidney, liver and adrenal diseases may impair excretion of water and even require that you limit your fluid intake.

Pregnancy or breast-feeding - Women who are expecting should drink 2.4 liters (about 10 cups) of fluids daily and women who are breast-feeding need 3.0 liters (about 12.5 cups) of fluids a day.

It's not a good idea to use thirst alone as a guide for when to drink. By the time you become thirsty, you may be already slightly dehydrated. As you get older your body is less able to sense dehydration and send your brain signals of thirst. Excessive thirst and increased urination can be signs of a more serious medical condition. Talk to your doctor if you experience either.

Signs and symptoms of dehydration include:

Mild to excessive thirst
Dry mouth
Little or no urination
Muscle weakness

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Penny

You always hear the usual stories of pennies on the sidewalk being good
luck, gifts from angels, etc. This is the first time I've ever heard this twist on the story. Gives
you something to think about

Several years ago, a friend of mine and her husband were invited to
spend the weekend at the husband's employer's home. My friend, Arlene, was
nervous about the weekend. The boss was very wealthy, with a fine home on the waterway, and cars costing more than her house. The first day and evening went well, and Arlene was delighted to have this rare glimpse into how the very wealthy live. The husband's employer was quite generous as a host, and took them to the finest restaurants. Arlene knew she would never have the opportunity to indulge in this kind of extravagance again, so she was enjoying herself
immensely! As the three of them were about to enter an exclusive restaurant that
evening, the boss was walking slightly ahead of Arlene and her husband.
He stopped suddenly, looking down on the pavement for a long, silent moment.
Arlene wondered if she was supposed to pass him. There was nothing on
the ground except a single darkened penny that someone had dropped, and a
few cigarette butts. Still silent, the man reached down and picked up the penny He held it
up and smiled, then put it in his pocket as if he had found a great treasure !
How absurd! What need did this man have for a single penny? Why would he
even take the time to stop and pick it up? Throughout dinner, the entire scene nagged at her.
Finally, she could stand it no longer! She causally mentioned that her daughter once had a coin collection, and asked if the penny he had found had been of some value.
A smile crept across the man's face as he reached into! his poc ket for the penny and held it out for her to see. She had seen many pennies before! What was the point of this?

"Look at it." He said.
"Read what it says."
She read the words "United States of America."
"No, not that; read further."
"One cent?"
"No, keep reading."
"In God we Trust?"
"And if I trust in God, the name of God is holy, even on a coin. Whenever I find a coin I see that inscription. It is written on every single United States coin, but we never seem to notice it!
God drops a message right in front of me telling me to trust Him? Who am I to pass it by? When I see a coin, I pray, I stop to see if my trust IS still in God at that moment. I pick the coin up as a response to God; that I do trust in Him. For a short time, at least, I cherish it as if it were gold. I think it is God's way of starting a conversation with me."

Lucky for me, God is patient and pennies are plentiful! When I was out shopping today, I found a penny on the sidewalk. I stopped and picked it up, and realized that I had been worrying and fretting in my mind about things I cannot change. I read the words, "In God We Trust," and had to laugh. Yes, God, I get the message.
It seems that I have been finding an inordinate number of pennies in the last few months, but then, pennies are plentiful! And, God is patient...
Have a blessed day!!

This is one of those stories going around the Internet that I thought I'd pass along.
And may I add a shameless plug? Save those found pennies for "Pennies from Heaven" for Episcopal Relief and Development. (Thanks for sharing Carrie.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


1. Most students entering college this fall were born in 1986.
2. Desi Arnaz, Orson Welles, Roy Orbison, Ted Bundy, Ayatollah Khomeini,
and Cary Grant have always been dead.
3. “Heeeere’s Johnny!” is a scary greeting from Jack Nicholson,
not a warm welcome from Ed McMahon.
4. The Energizer bunny has always been going, and going, and going.
5. Large fine-print ads for prescription drugs have always appeared in magazines.
6. Photographs have always been processed in an hour or less.
7. They never got a chance to drink 7-Up Gold, Crystal Pepsi, or Apple Slice.
8. Baby Jessica could be a classmate.
9. Parents may have been reading The Bourne Supremacy or
It as they rocked them in their cradles.
10. Alan Greenspan has always been setting the nation’s financial direction.
11. The U.S. has always been a Prozac nation.
12. They have always enjoyed the comfort of pleather.
13. Harry has always known Sally.
14. They never saw Roseanne Roseannadanna live on Saturday Night Live.
15. There has always been a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
16. They never ate a McSub at McD’s.
17. There has always been a Comedy Channel.
18. Bill and Ted have always been on an excellent adventure.
19. They were never tempted by smokeless cigarettes.
20. Robert Downey, Jr. has always been in trouble.
21. Martha Stewart has always been cooking up something with someone.
22. They have always been comfortable with gay characters on television.
23. Mike Tyson has always been a contender.
24. The government has always been proposing we go to Mars,
and it has always been deemed too expensive.
25. There have never been any Playboy Clubs.
26. There have always been night games at Wrigley Field.
27. Rogaine has always been available for the follicularly challenged.
28. They never saw USA Today or the Christian Science Monitor as a TV news program.
29. Computers have always suffered from viruses.
30. We have always been mapping the human genome.
31. Politicians have always used rock music for theme songs.
32. Network television has always struggled to keep up with cable.
33. O’Hare has always been the most delay-plagued airport in the U.S.
34. Ivan Boesky has never sold stock.
35. Toll-free 800 phone numbers have always spelled out catchy phrases.
36. Bethlehem has never been a place of peace at Christmas.
37. Episcopal women bishops have always threatened the foundation of the Anglican Church.
38. Svelte Oprah has always dominated afternoon television;
who was Phil Donahue anyway?
39. They never flew on People Express.
40. AZT has always been used to treat AIDS.
41. The international community has always been installing or
removing the leader of Haiti.
42. Oliver North has always been a talk show host and news commentator.
43. They have suffered through airport security systems
since they were in strollers.
44. They have done most of their search for the right college online.
45. Aspirin has always been used to reduce the risk of a heart attack.
46. They were spared the TV ads for Zamfir and his panpipes.
47. Castro has always been an aging politician in a suit.
48. There have always been non-stop flights around the world without refueling.
49. Cher hasn’t aged a day.
50. M.A.S.H. was a game: Mansion, Apartment, Shelter, House.

© 2004 Beloit College, Beloit, Wisconsin

Want to read more about the Mindset List or read other ones?
Go to:

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Why Olive Oil is Good for You!

Here's some information about why olive oil is good for you taken from an article* from

Olive oil has polyphenols that are potent plant antioxidants to protect against cancer-causing cell damage. The oil's monounsaturated fat has anti-cancer effects as well. As to proof just check the lower rates of breast, ovarian and prostate cancer among Southern Europeans whose diets are rich with olive oil as compared to their northern neighbors.

Olive oil ups the good HDL cholesterol and lowers bad LDL, and reduces other harmful blood fats (triglycerides). Also it reduces inflammation which is another contributor to cardiovascular disease.

If your blood pressure is not below 120/80, you need to get it there. Olive oil can help enough to reduce the need for daily meds. Those potent polyphenols appear to dilate arteries, which brings blood pressure down. You should always choose extra-virgin olive oil because its minimal processing preserves the maximum number of antioxidants and heat-sensitive vitamins.

All oils have the same calories but olive oil has a fuller flavor so less is needed for tantalizing taste. Research has shown that overweight people who eat a diet with some fat, including olive oil are more likely to shed pounds than those who slash fat because the oil's rich flavor makes it easier to stick with a program.

If you're prone to headaches try routinely dressing your salad in extra-virgin olive oil. It contains oleocanthal, a natural compound that blocks pain-producing and inflammatory substances but without the risk of stomach upset, like ibuprofen. While daily oleocanthal doses aren't the painkiller's complete equal, they could lower your risk for heart disease, cancer, arthritis and possibly Alzheimer's.

5 Reasons Why Olive Oil is the Ultimate Healthy Fat
Posted Tue, Apr 10, 2007, 3:19 pm PDT

Monday, May 14, 2007

A Spring Farm Get-Together

Here's some pictures from our latest get together. Father Matt and his wife Melanie came down from Yonkers. It was so nice to get to meet them after having watched his YouTube which you can find on the Geranium Farm homepage. He does some really creative stuff.
Pam, Anna Crafton's future mother-in-law, had come up from Kentucky to surprise Anna and her son the next day at the bridal shower. He had called her while she was there and she had to pretend she was home. Of course we had to watch the Derby should he question her further. Jenn suggested a small side bet and don't you know the two future mother-in-law's won! Actually Barbara had the winning horse and Pam, coming from the home of the derby, had the last horse! (We had predetermined the last horse would be a winner too.)
Matt and Jenn brought their wedding album, so beautiful, and the DVD of the ceremony which was fun to see Deacon Joanna performing her first wedding. She did an excellent job.
My brother, John, a.k.a. Trapper, came along too.
Deacon Joanna (MOLC) and Carol Stone (WOW) weren't able to attend this time.

Copyright © 2007 Deborah Sharp Loeb

Friday, May 11, 2007

A Tea Party Bridal Shower

Copyright © 2007 Deborah Sharp Loeb

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Honeymoon In Southeast Asia

Hello everyone. This is Matt the Web Dude borrowing a little space on Hodgepodge to tell you about my honeymoon last year in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. Debbie has been trying to get me to post this ever since we returned just before Christmas. Here it is 5 months later and I'm finally getting around to it! I still haven't completely organized the 1400 digital photos I took but I'll be sure to include a bunch here just for you Hodgepodge readers!

As you may know, my wife Jenn and I were married by Deacon Joanna Depue on June 3rd, 2006 at the Ram's Head Inn on Shelter Island, NY. You can check out DJ's writeup about our wedding on her blog and there's also a picture of us.

We spent a post-wedding week together on Shelter Island but didn't go on our actual honeymoon until December 1st. The plan was to visit Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand and return on December 22nd, 3 weeks later. I sent 2 separate emails to all my friends and family during the trip. The first was after Day 10 and the next was on Day 20. Each email detailed our activities for every single day of the trip. Each email took about 2 hours to write. And I know they took a long time to read as well, but everyone I spoke to afterwards told me how much they enjoyed them. But they were written more for myself than for anyone else. These emails, along with my 1400 pictures, serve as a digital journal of the events of the most incredible trip of my life...

Dear Family & Friends,

Below contains the update previously sent which hopefully you've already received but I've included it again as I've added a few more email addresses to the list. So if you've already read the first update, continue at 12/12, where the new update begins. Hope you are doing well.

Jenn and I have had quite a trip so far. After the 22 hour flight from JFK to Anchorage to TaiPei, we took our last leg and landed in the capital city of Hanoi on the morning of Dec. 3rd - we are 12 hours ahead of you here so for you we landed on the night of the 2nd. Anyway, we headed for a travel booth in the airport because we hadn't been able to book a hotel in Hanoi (I personally called or emailed about 20 hotels the previous week and even had AMEX travel services call their 24 hotels - all were booked for the 4 nights we needed). The travel booth was able to get us a decent place for the nights of the 3rd, 4th and 6th, but not the 5th - so we took it and figured we'd find something later for the 5th. It's called the Hoa Binh Palace but it sounds a lot more plush than it is - but we were comfortable. When we got to the hotel we basically crashed for 19 hours or so.

On the 4th we went over to Handspan travel just around the block and booked a 2-day trek/bike/boat tour of the National Park called Cuc Phuong - and surrouding areas for the 5th and 6th - that took care of our accomodations for the night of the 5th as we'd be staying in a guest house at the park overnight. Afterwards we took a self-guided walking tour of a large part of Hanoi, visiting the pagoda in Hoan Kiem lake, ate at a local cafe, checked out the Temple of Literature, walked by the Ho Chi Minh Museum and Mausoleum (both were closed on Mondays unfortunately), another large Pagoda on the West Lake, sat down in a street cafe for a brew and then made our way back through the bustling market section of the Old Quarter to our hotel. By the way, traffic is crazy here - not that many cars but the amount of scooters is intense and there seem to be few if any traffic laws - not that anyone really follows them anyway. If you want to cross a street you basically need to wade through oncoming scooters like the video game Frogger. Some say the best way to do it is to close your eyes and go! I don't know how many miles we walked but it took about 9 hours. Needless to say we weer both pretty bushed that night and went to bed early.

On the 5th we met our guide, a small 25 y.o. Vietnamese girl named Tuan, at Handspan at 7 a.m. for our trip to Cuc Phoung. After a 2 hour drive with a quick stop at a local souvenir shop, we arrived at Cuc Phoung and immediately took a tour of the Endangered Primate Rescue Center - where we got a close look at monkeys they are rescuing, breeding, studying and releasing - these included mostly gibbons and langurs - very interesting and their crys and calls are something you have to hear to believe. Then we headed to the Park itself. There we took a 3 hour trek through the rainforest and visited the Cave of the Prehistoric Man - a deep dark cave that we needed flashlights to get through - some tight spaces too! We also encountered the 1,000 year old tree, stick bugs, and a vine that stretches literally for miles horizontally through the forest. That night we stayed in average accomodations with mosquito nets over our beds. The food was excellent.

On the 6th we got up and headed to nearby Ninh Binh province, site of the ancient capital city, Hoa Lu where we visited the old pagodas of former kings. Then we hopped on bikes and cycled several miles through the local towns and rice fields where almost everyone we passed enthusiastically smiled and said "hello" as we passed - especially the children. We finally arrived in the area called Tam Coc, known as the "inland Ha Long Bay" - because it mirrors the dramatic rising mountains of the coastal region of Ha Long Bay. There we boarded a sampan boat and were rowed through the wetlands of this area by a 50 y.o. local woman for 2 hours. At one point we entered a cave and came out through the other side to a lagoon with another pagoda dedicated to the mountain god. I took some GREAT photos here at Tam Coc! When we arrived back on the boat we jumped back on the bikes and pedaled to another village for lunch and some local beers. Very good. After that we took a 3 hour car ride back to Hanoi and checked back in to the hotel. From there we got in touch with Jenn's friends Merideth and Kerri who had arrived in Hanoi that day - we met them out for dinner and drinks. Tomorrow we would all be going on a boat trip to Ha Long Bay.

The 7th. We all meet at Handspan at approximately 8:30 a.m. 9 of us board a van with our tour guide, Son, and travel to Ha Long Bay - about 3.5 hours away - for our Ha Long Bay Ultimate Getaway tour. The ride wasn't too painful though because I plugged my iTrip into my iPod and we all took turns playing DJ through the van's radio. The group of 9 of us took to each other very quickly because we were all approximately the same age with similar interests. There were the 4 of us, 1 British girl from NYC (Annabelle), a dating couple from Seattle (Terin and Chatam) and a dating couple from Australia (Paul and Marteen). When we arrived we boarded a big beautiful junk boat called the Dragon Pearl and checked into our cabins - very nice by the way - and headed into the bay. Some of the most fantastic scenery any of us had ever seen. Can't wait to show you the photos of this! The food on the boat was top notch too, including squid balls (not what you think) and Praying Mantis Prawn which literally looks like a huge praying mantis but the meat is like a very tender lobster and very tasty! We partied late that night with our group and had a lot of laughs due especially in part to Paul "Blarry" Blaire from Australia who is hilarious. He gave us all Aussie nicknames.

Got up early on the 8th for a 3 hour kayaking tour of Ha Long Bay - with an hour long BBQ on a secluded beach in the middle. The kayaking tour took us through local floating villages where they do fishing and pearl and mussel farming - these villages sometimes have upwards of 200 people living together in rafted up floating houses. We also at one point ducked under an overhang and found ourselves in a protected grotto. Great photos from this too! Afterwards we headed back to the Dragon Pearl for dinner and sleep.

On the 9th we motored to an area of Ha Long Bay where there is an enormous cave called the Cave of Awe (Hang Sung Sot) and spent an hour inside literally in awe. After that we boarded the boat again and headed to a swimming spot where our guide and myself jumped several times off the very top of the Dragon Pearl - I'd say at least 25 feet up - gets the juices flowing! Then we headed back to port and hopped the bus back to Hanoi. However our group was so tight we all decided to go out for dinner and drinks when we arrived back in Hanoi. Near the end of dinner we had to say goodbye to Meredith and Kerri - they had to catch a train as they were breaking off and heading up to the northern area of SaPa. We exchanged emails and numbers with Annabelle and Paul and Marteen (Marty) - funny enough Paul and Marty were going to be in Hoi An (our next destination) a day after we arrived there so we made plans to meet. We headed to the airport hotel to crash for the night - very meager accomodations knowing that'd we'd need to be up at 5 a.m. for our flight to Da Nang.

12/10 - 06:35 flight to Da Nang - arrived at 07:35 and a driver from the Victoria Hoi An resort was waiting with our names on a sign. On the way to the resort town of Hoi An we drove past the famed China Beach area where many American troops were stationed for a large part of the war. Left behind are many large helicoptor hangars and buildings. The Victoria Hoi An is a really nice place - we checked in and were greeted with a welcome drink - and the room is really nice. After checkin we headed to the restaurant for a late breakfast which was awesome. Then we took a taxi to the center of Hoi An to shop for locally made tailored suits and shirts. I ordered 2 silk-lined wool suits and a dress shirt - Jenn got 3 silk-lined wool suits, 5 shirts and 3 matching skirts - grand total $399 - no tax. We pick them up in 24 hours. From there we headed to a local bar, got some local beers and shot pool before getting a taxi back to the resort for a nice dinner.

12/11 - Oddly enough it's 12:11 p.m. as I write this (remember we're 12 hours ahead). Jenn and I woke up early, got breakfast and headed to the spa for side by side 2 hour full body coffee scrubs and Asian blend oil massages - I've never done that before but it was ah-NICE. At 5pm we headed into town to meet up with our Aussie friends Paul and Marty who had arrived in Hoi An earlier that afternoon from a 16 hour train ride from Hanoi! We met for drinks, then we all took a Vietnamese cooking class at a local restaurant where we learned hands-on how to make vegetarian spring rolls, grilled mackeral in banana leaves, a squid slaw appetizer, and some other stuff, which we then sat down together and feasted on - damn we're good cooks! The class, the meal and a couple of beers was about $12 each. After class, we went out for a few more brewskies, or "schooners" as the aussies call them - and caught scooter rides back to the resort from some locals.

12/12 - We checked out early and took the flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia, which made 2 stops in Vietnam before arriving there, including 1 in Ho Chi Minh City - but no time to visit. We were picked up at the Siem Reap airport at around 7pm from a driver from the hotel we stayed at - the Shinta Mani. This particular hotel is a hospitality training ground for orphaned young adults (their parents died during the war, or of disease, or land mines) where they learn skills related to hospitality - hotel services, wait staff, and many are trained to be chefs as well. A portion of our bill goes to this Institute of Hospitality (we also made a separate donation before we left). Anyway, after dinner in their restaurant we crashed early that night knowing we'd have a long day at the temples ahead of us on the 13th.

12/13 - After a leisurely breakfast we headed to the temples around 10am with the same driver from last night and an English speaking guide. We kicked it off with a visit to Angkor Wat, the largest of the temples in this area built in the early 12th century - and is now featured on the Cambodian flag. The magnitude and artistry of this incredible architecture is simply awesome - it truly is a wonder of the world. Next we checked out the Bayon temple of Angkor Thom, as well as the Terrace of Elephants nearby. Again, amazing stuff. From there we headed back near Angkor Wat for a Cambodian lunch and a semi-cold Angkor beer. After lunch we quickly checked out another temple called Prah Khan. The last tour of the day was to the floating villages, where we boarded a long boat with our guide and motored down the river past scores of floating homes on the water - a very poor area but very very interesting to see. There are Vietnamese and Cambodian families living together here - and the Vietnamese especially near the mouth of the river, who wait in their boats for the tourist boats and paddle furiously to us in an attempt to get to us first before the other competition - they were selling sodas and beer - we got one of each from the first boat to reach us. On the way back up river, we stopped at a floating restaurant which had a catfish cage and an alligator cage built into the dock we were on that contained about 100 alligators. After this, back to the hotel for dinner, a swim and sleep.

12/14 - Awoke at 5:00am for our preplanned trip to Angkor Wat for the sunrise. We arrived at Angkor and followed the people with flashlights through the first gate and got a nice spot on a 900 year old ledge of the building's facade. Soon enough the place was teaming with Japanese and Korean tourists. I had to place my camera on the ledge to steady it for the long exposure night shots of the main temple's 5 towers in the distance. After the sun rose we headed to the reflecting pool for some reflection shots. Then, since we'd already seen the temple, we went back to the hotel for a long nap and then lunch. After lunch we drove about an hour and visited "the women's citadel" Banteay Srei which has incredibly intricate detail in its carvings and bas reliefs, Neak Pean, Ta Som, the "Tomb Raider temple" - Ta Prohm - where parts of that movie was filmed, and finished off the day at Pre Rup, a temple built of brick, sandstone and laterite in 961 AD, for the sunset. We headed back and that night went out for a buffet dinner and traditional dancing show - both were a bit of a let down, but oh well.

12/15 - Took a morning flight to Ko Samui, Thailand ("Ko" means Island in Thai) with a brief stop in Bangkok. We got picked up at the airport by the driver from our hotel - Rocky Resort - drove there and checked in. Nice place! Immediately we jumped in the pounding surf to check it out - like bath water temperature wise - ah-nice. Then we went to the bar and I embarked on a quest to have all 7 of the cocktails listed under "Bartender's Favorites" on the menu (we took a picture of it). Quest completed. Then we had a nice dinner at the resort, tried to play Scrabble (not very successfully), and turned in.

12/16 - We had a booking to do some jungle canopy gliding but it was raining all day so we canceled that, had a swim, some lunch, borrowed some DVDs from reception and had a nice relaxing day inside - we watched "Match Point" (all you guys out there - very boring) and "Green Street Hooligans" (all you guys out there - check it out - lots of fist fighting - loved it).

12/17 - We checked out a day early because the weather wasn't cooperating and boarded a van filled with 7 other people at 5:40am for the beginning of what we expected to be a fairly simple 8 hour trip to Ko Lanta in southern Thailand. This was the beginning of the madness. This van drove us 30 minutes to the bus stop, where we boarded a large bus, which then took us to a large ferry, which ferried us about 80 minutes across the ocean to the mainland of Thailand, where we reboarded the bus which drove us about 40 minutes to another bus stop/restaurant, where we unloaded our bags and waited an hour for the next van which drove us an hour and a half to another bus stop/convenience store where we waited for another 40 minutes (during which it downpoured) - then a canopy covered pickup took us 30 minutes to Krabi town (during which it downpoured and we got pretty wet) and we got out and waited 20 minutes for another van which took us about 40 minutes to another ferry which took us to Ko Lanta Noi (Noi means small), then we drove about 20 minutes to another ferry which took us across to Ko Lanta Yai (Yai means big) and then we drove to another bus stop/bodega, dropped 1 person off, then to another bungalow place and dropped off 3 more, then finally arrived at our resort, called Sri Lanta, at around 7:45 pm. So basically 7 vehicles, 3 ferries and 14 hours later we made it to our destiantion! Incredibly, we enough left in us to go to a nearby club, get some shish kebobs and drinks, including a bucket of vodka tonic (literally a small bucket with about 7 straws). Then we walked down the beach to a local rasta bar where we played Connect 4, some cards and exchanged magic tricks with the guys working the bar - this was a very laid back place where you sit on pillows/mats on the floor or choose a hammock to chill out in. Needless to say we got back to our room very late and very inebriated - case in point, I grabbed the wrong room key from the rack and Jenn had to go back and get the right one. Good times.

12/18 - Today we spent some time on the beach, snorkeled a little bit, walked down the beach both ways and later had drinks and lunch on chaise lounches near the beach. We also set up a day trip for the 19th and booked scuba diving for the 20th. Nice relaxing, do nothing day. Oh yeah - for those who don't know - Dawn gave birth to Collin Joseph Zipay at 1 in the morning today! Congrats Dawn and Mike!

12/19 - Got up at 7, had breakfast and boarded a van which took us to a large speedboat with 3 200hp Yamaha engines. There were about 20 people with us on this 1 day tour to the Phi Phi Islands. The boat was quick but we all got soaked. The boat made brief stops at a few places for us - sometimes we got off onto land - sometimes just jumped off the boat to snorkel. Highlights include the Viking Cave, Monkey Island where there actually were monkeys that people were feeding bananas and cans of ice tea and pepsi and Maya Bay where parts of the movie "The Beach" was filmed. I took some good photos and video of the monkeys and also while snorkeling using the new underwater housing that Jenn gave me for Christmas. Later that night we walked down the beach a bit to a place called "Miami Beach Bar" for drinks and a great cheap dinner. Shot some video of two guys sparring at Muy Thai on the beach - they had a fire show there too. Turned in early - diving tomorrow.

12/20 - Today we got up at 5:45 am and met the driver from Blue Planet Divers at 6:20 at our resort. We picked up a few more on the way, then boarded their big boat and headed out. The plan was to try to encounter Manta Rays, giant Whale Sharks and/or Leopard Sharks at Hin Daeng and Hin Muang ("Hin" means Rock) but after 90 minutes of motoring it was decided that the seas were too rough in that area so we headed to Koh Haa for some scenic diving. Our dives were nice but turned out to be some pretty advanced diving due to unpredictable current - strong lefts and rights as well as ups and downs due to thermoclines - even at a depth of 95 feet. Highlights include a large turtle, school of squid, large cuttlefish, venomous sea snakes and scorpionfish, triggerfish, nudibranches, a school of barracuda, amazing starfish and coral, and an ascent into an underwater cave where we surfaced, removed our regulators and breathed the air in the cave. I took photos of most of this too. Good stuff, but no mantas or sharks. Boo. After getting back from the dives today we cleaned up and went out for a few hours to soak in our last night here. And I figured now would be a good time to finish up this Part II email of our trip. So there it is.

Tomorrow we will have some more time here before flying to Bangkok for a one night stay and then the day after we start our journey back home - we land at 8:30pm on the 22nd. Hope to see or talk to you soon! Regardless, Happy Holidays!

Matt & Jenn

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