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Camping In Hershey

Posted by Kathy Torrence on Jul 28, 2008 in Family Stuff, Local Community, Scrapbooks

As you may have gathered from my previous post, we spent this weekend camping in Hershey, PA at the Hershey Highmeadow Campground, one of our favorites.

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We had a really nice time…with the exception of a few minor meltdowns due to the heat and the crowds – and half the time it was me melting down, not even the kids!  But after a break in the shade, a cold beverage and a chocolate-y snack, all was well.

We spent our first day (Saturday) hanging around at the campground – just enjoying the nice weather, swimming in the pool, playing some games – my parents even came up for a visit.

We purchased tickets for HersheyPark for Sunday, which meant that we could go on Saturday night for a few hours for a ‘free preview’ of the park.  Unfortunately, we were not the only ones on the park Saturday night – in fact, there was a record number of people at HersheyPark that night!  Between the Jonas Brothers and Brad Paisley concerts at the arena this weekend, the place was CRAZY!!!!

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Emily was very excited to see that she was a “Reese’s Cup” this year and was tall enough to go on most of the rides.  Andrew, of course, is now tall enough to go on anything he wants!

We fought our way through the crowds and managed to go on a few rides that first night, but that was about all we could take and left exhausted.

Sunday morning, we headed out bright and early – as guests of the campground, we got to enter the park an hour before it opened and enjoyed a few quick line-free rides.

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As soon as it opened, Emily, Matt and I headed over to the new “Boardwalk” – a huge waterpark filled with all kinds of fun things for the kids to do.  We changed into our swimsuits and played for about an hour…until it started to thunder.  At which point everything in the park shut down.

This was not such a bad thing – it was time for lunch and we needed to let the dogs out anyway, so we headed back to the camper on the shuttle bus and returned later in the afternoon after the skies had cleared.

Emily was proud to go on her first real roller coaster and Mike and Andrew went on a BUNCH of roller coasters including the new “Fahrenheit”– which to me looks just insane.  But no more insane than this one – the “Stormrunner” – which goes from a complete standstill to really-really fast at the very beginning of the ride.  Every time I saw the start of the ride and heard this creepy voice, I had my own personal little panic attack – and I wasn’t even on the ride!  I managed to take a video of Andrew’s car at the start of the ride – take a look at this (this voice still gives me nightmares):

Andrew on the StormRunner

And here he is by one of the loops:

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Matt doesn’t enjoy rides very much, but he waited very patiently at the ride exits for everyone to finish:

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We made reservations to stay at the campground again next year – between the campground, the amusement park, the water park and all the other activities, this is one of our favorite ‘one-gas-tank’ trips!

 
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Happy Birthday Andrew!

Posted by Kathy Torrence on Jul 28, 2008 in Family Stuff

Today my son Andrew is 14 YEARS OLD!!!!!  I can’t believe it – he’s growing up so fast!

And he’s at the age where it’s so easy to embarrass him – yesterday I mentioned to everyone that we saw (on the bus, at HersheyPark, at the campground, etc) that it was Andrew’s birthday the next day – he HATED that! 

Here he is trying to sit as far away from me as possible at the park:

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Then I woke him up with my own rendition of "Happy Birthday To You" this morning…he hated that too.

Here he is trying to avoid having his photo taken by me:

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I sang to him on our entire drive home from Hershey…he hated that even more.

Here’s when he wouldn’t even turn around and look at me on the Classic Car ride at HersheyPark (Matt couldn’t turn around – he was the one driving):

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But maybe he won’t hate this one little post – Andrew, I love you…happy birthday!

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Rescue Swimmers in Action!

Posted by Kathy Torrence on Jul 28, 2008 in Family Stuff, Local Community

Just a quick update – the same day that Emily and I toured the Coast Guard facility at the FAA Technical Center and visited with their rescue swimmers, there was a severe thunderstorm in the area later that afternoon.  The very helicopter that we sat in was called out to rescue passengers from a sinking boat just hours after we were in the helicopter – and the rescue swimmers had to jump in to the rough seas where they managed to save 2 of the 3 people on the boat!  When we saw it on the news, Emily was so excited to see ‘our’ helicopter involved in a rescue that very same day…

 
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Aviation Enrichment Mini-Symposium

Posted by Kathy Torrence on Jul 24, 2008 in Family Stuff, Local Community, Today's Photo

What a strange name for a fun event that we attended at the FAA Technical Center yesterday! The Tech Center is not just the building where I work – it’s a 5000-plus acre facility containing the main building (for FAA system development and research) plus the Atlantic City Airport, US Coast Guard facility, 177th Fighter Wing Air National Guard facility, Federal Air Marshal facility, and other buildings where there is research done for bomb detection, airplane safety, weather phenomena…it’s a really interesting place to work.

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I took Andrew and Emily with me to work yesterday for a series of tours and workshops introducing kids to different aspects of aviation – labeled an “Aviation Enrichment Mini-Symposium”.  That was the title of the email that was sent out to all of the FAA employees a few weeks ago announcing this event – and I think many of them ignored it because they had no idea what it meant.  So many people stopped us and said that they had no idea the event was even taking place today!  If the email had been titled, “Fun Things For You and Your Kids To Do Together So You Don’t Have to Just Sit At Your Desk All Day”, more people might have opened it and read it.  But there were still lots of kids there today and they all seemed to be having a great time.

Unfortunately, my poor son Matthew has walking pneumonia and wasn’t able to come with us today – Mike had to stay home with him all day.  I hope Matt feels better soon.

During the day, Emily and I made some crafts (of course – any time crafts are offered, you know we’ll be there!), watched a K-9 demonstration by the Egg Harbor Township police department (we’re not sure who was policing Egg Harbor Township while most of the police force was at this event), tried a flight-simulator, made some paper airplanes and took a fantastic tour of the Coast Guard facility on base.

I had NO idea exactly what the aviation division of the Coast Guard did – and boy, was I impressed!  These are some extremely brave men and women – especially the rescue swimmers.  I had no idea of the intensity of their training or the extreme danger of their missions.  These are the guys that are dropped from helicopters to rescue boaters or others who fall victim to sinking boats and rough seas, often in shark-infested waters.  Their physical stamina is incredible – they have to be able to swim with no floatation devices in sometimes up to 20 foot swells for up to 30 minutes – almost impossible conditions that require the swimmers to remain in top physical condition.  We met several of the swimmers who were very candid about their experiences – and were also quite easy-on-the-eyes if I do say so myself!  But I digress…

While we were there, we were able to tour the Coast Guard facility and the children were allowed to climb aboard a $10 million helicopter while a pilot explained the controls to them individually.  They were so accommodating and so patient with the children – I’d like to thank them for a great experience.

Meanwhile, Andrew was able to tour the 177th Fighter Wing, NJ Air National Guard facility.  He got to see their F-16s and weapons too – a boy’s dream!  After that, he toured the Federal Air Marshal training facility (which was a little bit more secretive about their operations – these are the guys who are present on every airline flight and act as cops in the sky) and also toured some air traffic control labs in the main building.  He also got to participate in a ‘mini egg drop’ where the kids has to try to cushion an egg that would be dropped from the second and third floor of the atrium.  Unfortunately, Andrew’s egg cracked on the first drop, but we had fun watching all of the other egg contraptions fall while we cheered them on.

I wish I had taken more photos, but my camera seemed to stay on my desk for most of the day while we ran from event to event.  I didn’t realize that the facility gave so many tours – this would be an excellent place for class trips for elementary and middle schools.

I think this experience also gave the kids a glimpse into what it’s like to work at the FAA Technical Center – they saw that the work that takes place there is interesting and that we can sometimes have fun at work too (like when one of my co-workers gave Emily a toy moose that ‘poops’ out brown jelly beans – thanks a lot, Jeff).

By the way, Andrew found it difficult to believe that I might actually have some knowledge about something other than raising kids and housework.  He kept saying, “So people actually come to YOU with questions about this stuff?!?!”  He may have actually been impressed with his own mother – although I’m sure he’d never admit it…

 
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Confessions of a Reality Show Addict

Posted by Kathy Torrence on Jul 21, 2008 in Uncategorized

First, let me start with a shoutout to my international blog viewers!  I have noticed from my blog statistics that less than half of my readers are from the United States.  After the US, I have the most readers in Sweden, then the UK, then Canada and then Australia.  So hello to all of you and thank you for reading!

Okay, now that I have that out of the way, I have a deep, dark secret to share…I am a reality show addict.  That’s right – I won’t deny it anymore!  I’m not ashamed and I’m (somewhat) proud to admit that I follow the struggles of aspiring hair stylists (Shear Genius), house-flippers (Flipping Out), interior designers (Design Star), cooks (currently The Next Food Network Star – formerly Top Chef), realtors (Million Dollar Listing), matchmakers (Millionaire Matchmaker), D-List comedians (My Life on the D-List) and even housewives (Real Housewives of Orange County/New York City).

This summer is absolutely RICH with new first-run reality shows – especially on Bravo (my fav for these types of shows).

But my favorite reality show of all has just started a brand new season – Project Runway is back for season 5!  I don’t know what it is about this show that I love so much – something about being given a challenge, making an artistic attempt and having it judged by others – not so different from creating crafts for publication, I guess.

So for those who have seen the first episode of Project Runway where the designers had to make an outfit from items found in a grocery story (a repeat idea from season 1, but still fun to watch)..how could they have left Blayne on after that horrible drawer-liner/jump-rope/pot-holder thing!  I mean, the scary shower-curtain/raincoat with the axe-murderer gloves that eliminated Jerry was frightening, but at least it required some effort!

And speaking of Project Runway, I saw that Michaels craft store is now carrying little “Project Runway” paper doll kits for girls that allow them to create their own outfits with fabric and accessories – how cute!  Hmmm…maybe I’ll buy a kit for Emily as a ‘gift’ and then play with it myself…

And for those other closet reality show addicts out there, I’ve found a whole NEW set of shows that are equally fun to watch on TLC.  There’s Rock the Reception where a choreographer teaches a couple how to do a fun dance at their wedding reception (sounds corny, but it’s cute).  And Must Love Kids – a dating show for single moms with children.  And one that I couldn’t stop watching this weekend, Ashley Paige – Bikini or Bust. Ashley owns a famous high-end bikini design shop, but is having trouble paying her bills and running her business.

Sigh…my DVR is going to fill up fast this summer!

 
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A Change of Direction

Posted by Kathy Torrence on Jul 20, 2008 in Family Stuff

If you haven’t already noticed, my blog has a new title and a new look to go with it.

I felt that my blog has taken a different direction the past few months. While in the beginning I used to post mainly about my stamping and craft projects, I have found that my focus has shifted (both on my blog and in real life).

I have found myself writing more about what’s happening in my personal life – especially with my family. I’ve been sharing more reports about my family’s experiences, our comings and goings, my children’s achievements and even a few book and travel reviews thrown in here and there.

I’m still crafting and I’ll still share my projects here (and will keep all previous posts available for viewing), but I don’t think I’ll be getting work published again any time soon (unless you count the specification that I just developed for the FAA…and you would only want to read that if you’re having trouble sleeping).

The new working title, “Flying By the Seat of My Pants”, accurately describes my current family life.

I have friends who have their lives perfectly planned out – what they will wear, where they will go, when they will retire…even what their kids will be when they grow up. You can give them a time of day and they know exactly where they’ll be. Give them a month in any given year in the future and they can tell you what they’ll be doing. I wish I could be that way.

But I feel like I have no consistent plan – every day is really like flying by the seat of my pants. Where will I be next year? Not really sure – will I still be working? Full-time? Part-time? Heck – let’s not even look that far ahead…what are we doing tomorrow after church? What are we having for BREAKFAST tomorrow? Some may call that spontaneity…to me, that sounds too kind. It’s really more like trying to get through each day, trying to go with the flow and basically…surviving with myself and my family intact.

So I’ll be sharing more of those personal experiences here on my blog in the months to come. Hey…is that a plan? No…it may not work out and I may change my mind. See – I’m still flying by the seat of my pants – even here on my blog.

One idea that I’ve been tossing around in my head is the idea of doing a little bit of writing (maybe that’s why I haven’t been sleeping – I need to bring home a copy of that specification as a sedative). I’ve been doing so much reading this summer and I can’t help but feel drawn to writing something myself. And as silly as it seems, writing up that specification has brought out the writer in me again. I just need to shift from boring technical writing to something more interesting (not too hard to do).

So I may test out some of my ideas here – I was really drawn to the idea of little essays and observations like the ones written by David Sedaris in the last book I read, “When You Are Engulfed in Flames”. Not that David and I have anything in common – he’s a small, Greek homosexual man that graduated with a literary degree from Princeton…and I’m not. I have no writing experience or education other than that I did in college.

But I have a few ideas both for little essays and even for some potential longer stories that have been floating around in my mind for a few months – maybe I’ll give it a shot and let some of those ideas loose on paper.

Then maybe I’ll have some room in my mind to sleep at night again…

 
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Summer Reading – When You Are Engulfed in Flames

Posted by Kathy Torrence on Jul 20, 2008 in Books I'm Reading

I’ve been reading quite a bit this summer but have started to grow tired of stories of failed relationships and family tragedies…I just needed a change of pace.

When I heard an interview with David Sedaris on NPR last week about his new book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, I thought it was just the change I was looking for in my next summer read.

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Okay – the cover looks sort of scary and the title’s a little bit odd, but this is a great book that had me laughing out loud several times.

The book is a series of essays filled with life observations as seen by the author. The title comes from a Japanese hotel safety brochure written in poorly translated English. And the skeleton…David’s boyfriend Hugh asks for one for Christmas and then decides to hang it in the bedroom right next to the bed.

This is certainly not a book for children (or for conservative adults, for that matter), but you can’t help but find the humor in stories like “Solution to Saturday’s Crossword Puzzle” where the woman next to Sedaris on a plane that asks him to give up his seat to her husband so the couple can sit together – and Sedaris refuses because he doesn’t like where the husband is seated. The woman screams to her husband, calling Sedaris a very unflattering (and obscene) name across the aisle…then she falls asleep. At which point David sneezes and loses his cough drop on the woman’s lap – what to do…what to do…

Sedaris’ storytelling is so clever and funny…I just love his writing style. Some stories are silly and touching at the same time – others are just plain weird (like the babysitter who made David and his siblings scratch her back for hours with a “plastic hand attached to a foot-long wand” – or the birds that keep flying into his windows until Sedaris cuts pictures of terrorists’ faces out of the newspaper and hangs them on the glass). Either way, the stories are still lots of fun to read.

I started reading this book yesterday…and have finished all 323 pages by today! I was sorry when I’d read the last page – I wanted more of Sedaris’ wit. After reading this, I’m definitely going to pick up other books by this author and give them a try.

This book was indeed a nice change of pace – I’d highly recommend it if you’re looking for a little laughter while enjoying the summer sun.

 
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Look Me In the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s

Posted by Kathy Torrence on Jul 18, 2008 in Books I'm Reading, Family Stuff

This post is sort of a book review and personal post all in one. You see, I just finished reading a book called Look Me In the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robison (John was the older brother in the book/movie, Running With Scissors):

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This book really hit home for me because I also have a life with Asperger’s – I do not have the disorder, but both my son Matthew AND my husband Mike have Asperger’s syndrome – so in one way or another, my own life is affected every single day.

Asperger’s syndrome is a neurological disorder that is associated mainly with difficulties in social interaction. It also involves obsession with specific interests, sensitivity to light and/or sound, a tendency to see things logically (sometimes to a fault – every issue is black-and-white with no shades of grey) and to be an extreme rule-follower (again – to a fault – there are no exceptions to rules for Aspergians). Creative writing is also difficult for people with Asperger’s – their writing and speech is simple, precise and to the point.

Which is why I thought it was interesting to read a book written by a man with Asperger’s. And the writing style was clearly different from most books – sentences were direct and short – almost as if written by a child in some ways.

But people with Asperger’s are by no means lacking in intelligence! They are some of the greatest minds in areas such as mathematics and science. Not in a “Rain Man” savant kind of way – people with the disorder are highly functioning and can manage quite well in everyday society – but some things that most of us take for granted can be a real struggle for them.

The book gets it’s name from the Asperger’s characteristic of being unable to make eye contact with others. As a child, the author was constantly told to “Look me in the eye!” And that’s something I especially notice about Matt – not only does he avoid making eye contact with others, but he even kind of curls up and turns away to get as far away from them as possible when he’s speaking.

Asperger’s syndrome falls on the autism spectrum and there is no cure – nor should there be. It’s not a ‘disease’ – just a different way of being. Reading this book helped me to better understand some of what Matt and Mike go through. The author explains that he never wanted to be alone – he really did want to socialize with other people – it’s just that he never knew how. He describes going up to another child playing with a truck and feeling like the child was playing with it wrong – he thought he knew a better way. So he grabbed the truck from the child and showed them how to play with it. His intentions were not to be rude – he genuinely wanted to help the other child learn a better way. But it never occurred to him that there was more than one way to play with the truck (part of the rule-following I mentioned earlier – there’s one way…black-and-white…no exceptions) or that taking the truck was socially unacceptable.

Empathy is also an issue for Aspergians. The author gives the example of someone telling him when he was a child that an aunt died. His resulting facial expression was a smile. Not because he thought it was funny…but because in his mind, the death of the aunt didn’t affect him and in fact, he was happy that it was not his mom or dad (hence the smile). The reaction was socially unacceptable – but how do we learn this?

Most of us learn from watching others and from some sort of instinct – it’s the same instinct that leads us to ask appropriate questions and make small talk – something Aspergians are unable to do.

So what’s it like to have a child with Asperger’s? It can be very frustrating, that’s for sure. I have trouble relating to Matthew’s issues because they seem so foreign to me. And it drives me crazy when he insists on correcting everyone (as he is doing right now with Emily on their new Wii video game – I have to keep in mind that he means well…but it can be very frustrating when his is so critical of others – it’s like the story of taking the truck).But at the same time, he’s sweet, bright, honest (lying never occurs to him – part of the black-and-white thing) and I love him for who he is.

And what’s it like bring married to someone with Asperger’s? I think Mike was scared when he went online and tried to find a support group for those with spouses who have Asperger’s and almost all of the posts were about how horrible it being married to an Aspergian and about people leaving their husbands/wives. But I don’t feel that way.

True…I had to make some adjustments in my expectations. Mike will never be a social butterfly or spend time talking with me all night long. But he, like Matt, is sweet, honest, caring, a wonderful father and is one of the smartest people I know. When we first got his diagnosis, I did have to take some time to absorb all that it meant. But instead of focusing on what he can‘t do, I like to focus on what he can do – and that is to love his family and to be the best father and husband that he can be. At that he is successful. And that’s more than enough for me.

 
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One of the Best Kept Secrets in Gloucester County – Lake Kandle

Posted by Kathy Torrence on Jul 15, 2008 in Local Community

In my previous post, I shared that we held my son Matthew’s birthday party at Lake Kandle this weekend.  I am finding that more and more residents of Gloucester County have not only never been to Lake Kandle – many have never even heard of our own little hidden summer oasis!

Lake Kandle is located on Chapel Heights Road in Sewell behind behind Duffield’s Farm Market (which is a gem of Gloucester County in its own right).  There’s very little to hint to the tucked-away scenic spot behind the fields except for a small sign by the road announcing Lake Kandle Campground and Swim Club.

Turn down the road that leads between fields of peaches, pumpkins and other crops and you soon come upon a sparkling filtered lake complete with its own sandy beach and even a mini-water park for the little ones! 

Lake Kandle

There’s plenty for the big kids to do in the lake too – several diving boards (including a high dive), paddle boats, lakeside fishing, a Tarzan swing, and a twisting, turning tube slide that dumps you out into the clean, cool water.

Swimming at the lake

Fishing at Lake Kandle

The lake is surrounded by trees, completely blocking out the hectic world of Washington Township that surrounds the campground.  You feel as though you’re in your own little paradise just a few miles from home – and with the current price of gas, finding those special spots close to home is more important than ever!

We have found that since we’ve joined Lake Kandle, we no longer feel the need to drive to the shore for water fun.  While my children are busy building sand castles and splashing in the lake, I can relax knowing that not only are they completely surrounded by attentive lifeguards, but there are no large waves or rip tides to worry about either.  I have a much better chance to catch up on my summer reading at Lake Kandle then I ever did at the shore.

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Not only are there activities for the whole family at the lake, there is also a huge crystal-clear swimming pool to cool everyone down on a hot summer day.  There’s even a little kiddie pool for the toddlers with its own dedicated lifeguard.  My family has been to many campgrounds in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and we have yet to find a pool as large or as well-maintained as the one at Lake Kandle.

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One of the best parts of enjoying the water at Lake Kandle is the abundance of shady spots.  Unless you bring your own umbrella to the beach, you are hard-pressed to find a spot in the shade.  But with all the trees surrounding the lake and pool, you are sure to find a cool spot out of the harsh rays of the sun at Lake Kandle (and if you’re a die-hard sun worshipper – there’s plenty of sun to be had too!).

There’s a large picnic grove in the center of the campground as well as a playground, basketball court, ping-pong tables and a fabulous snack bar that serves everything from hamburgers and fries to ice cream and water ice.

Even if you’re not a camper, you can still purchase a swim club membership at the campground for a very reasonable fee.  All of the facilities are available for swim club members from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The cost of a membership is so low compared to owning and maintaining your own pool – and your children will have other children to play with all summer long.

Kids that made the canal

Lake Kandle is a family-friendly facility that does not allow alcoholic beverages or – unfortunately for us – pets either.  The pet restriction is my only complaint about the campground.  I would love to park our camper there for the season, but part of the reason that we enjoy camping is that we can bring our dogs along with us when we travel.

So for now, we’ll just enjoy our Lake Kandle swim club membership and continue to camp elsewhere.  Speaking of which…there are some other campgrounds in Gloucester Country that we have yet to visit – who knows what other gems are out there waiting to be discovered in our own backyard?

 
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Birthday at Lake Kandle

Posted by Kathy Torrence on Jul 14, 2008 in Family Stuff

We had Matt’s birthday party yesterday at Lake Kandle – it was such a gorgeous day! 

I did a little swim theme for the party and got lots of compliments from people walking by – this was so simple (and inexpensive):

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Each child got a little bucket and shovel as a favor (filled with goodies, of course) and I served snacks out of buckets as well (chips, pretzels and starfish goldfish).  Nothing fancy, but it was bright and colorful.

My parents came by for a bit:

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They brought some really yummy water ice for the kids – great on a hot summer day!

I think even Andrew had a good time (13 year-olds are so hard to impress):

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There was lots of snacking, swimming, volleyball and ping-pong all day long (I’m not sure exactly what happened to the brand new ping-pong paddles I bought for the party – they look like they’ve been through a war!).

But most importantly, Matt had a blast – and that’s all that really matters.  Happy birthday, Matt!

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