One of the things I promised myself once I got back out on my own was to spend more time with Shadow and Kender — I still think it’s unpardonable, as much as they mean to me, that I visited them as little as I had over the last few years. There’s a lot of reasons that was the case, but none of them seem sufficient in retrospect.

So on the 1st of March, I once again took slipped away from work early to go and drive north to the Tennessee mountains for the occasion of Elf’s fourth birthday party. The drive up was pleasant and uneventful, with a brief stopover in Chattanooga to do a little shopping. I found a cute teddybear in the Hallmark store while browsing for cards to send to Kitanzi, and also a cute blue top with a line-drawing cartoon of a cat done in glitter. Armed with birthday presents and chocolate chip cookies I finished the drive in good time.

(One brief bit of excitement — I stopped at a fast food place to use the restroom. While pulling out of their parking lot onto the small access road back to the main street, my car suddenly jerked and skidded. I immediately stopped and got out, and was greeted by what appeared to be my rear drivers-side tire come off the axle and lying flat on the ground! Only appeared to be, though — someone had left the tire in the entranceway to the parking lot, and I had essentially caught it under my rear tire as I turned. It gave me quite a scare, though!)

Got to Oak Ridge before Elf’s bedtime, but only just, and after visiting a while, we all went to bed. Kender had just finished taking exams a few days earlier and was still a knot of stress, with a thousand things to do in the morning before the house was invaded by small people with boundless energy, so sleep seemed like a good idea!

The next morning, I ran errands for Kender while she got the last details done before all the grandparents arrived. Elf was VERY excited because all four of her grandparents were going to be at her party. I told her that I was very excited too, because I hadn’t seen any of her grandparents since before she was born! (Absolutely true — the last time I’d seen them was when I was a guest at Kender’s folks house for her baby shower, about a month or so before Elf was born! Time flies….)

The afternoon was a bit of a blur — there were some number of kinetic short people who ate cake and played games and made a lot of noise. I spent most of it sitting in the den talking with the adults. Kender’s brother and his wife were also there — I hadn’t seen him either since the baby shower, but had discovered in the interim that we had a mutual friend here in Atlanta (Hi drishnak!). The highlight of the party was the Taming of the Indestructible Pinata. I expected to go and find a box for this thing labeled “Solid Pinata! from Masochist Games and Toys!) Each of the 3-4 year old children got 2 whacks each,and with went round at least three times with no visible damage to the pinata at all. Finally, Kender’s brother said “here, give me that”, and took hold of the large plastic golf club they were using as a stick. He rared back and gave it a mighty blow….and the stick broke cleanly in half. It was another 10 minutes before the impenetrable skin of the cardboard butterfly split wide, spilling its trinkety goodness to the concrete floor of the garage. The kids all seemed to enjoy it, with the exception of one little girl who was quite sensibly scared of the thing, and I think they all get extra XP since the Gargantuan Butterfly Pinata obviously has a challenge rating far in excess of their average party level. Luckily, it never got a chance to use it’s breath weapon.

After the pinata came the opening of the presents and the showing off of same, which is always fun to watch — I still remember bright cold Christmas afternoons at my grandfather’s house, when the presents would be passed around and wrapping paper and tinsel littered the rugs — its a warm, happy, family feeling, and I was glad to be there and soak that in.

Finally, the party dispersed and the family plus myself went to a local pizza buffet for dinner. It was very pleasant company until someone decided they really wanted to watch the basketball game at very high volume, and we dispersed after that. Shadow’s parents spent the night, so I got to spend a lot more time getting to know them. It was very nice. During the course of the evening, I managed to have taken what may be the most embarrassing photo of me currently available on the Internet – so don’t say I never gave y’all nothing…..*grin*

Sunday it was time to drive home. I’ve really come to look forward to my visits to Tennessee — it’s sort of a spiritual recharging place. The house has a sunroom on the back which backs up on a zillion acres of forest belonging to the University of Tennessee, and I can walk out there and just stare out at the unspoiled nature and feel very much at peace. For a person who has always felt a bit adrift, this adopted family is a great goodness in my life. Shadow, Kender — I love you guys. A whole lot.

The drive home was pleasant and filled with good talk. Being the weekend, I had a lot of cellphone minutes I could burn, so I called GEM and kyttn and caught up with them for a while — we talk regularly on #filkhaven, but its the first extended conversation I’d had with them voice in well over a year, which is just too long. At some point my travel agenda must include Virginia….

After ringing off with them, I called browngirl and talked with her the rest of the way home. (I should note here, since i was asked by a concerned friend (*hug nrivkis*) that I was doing all this drivetime conversation using an appropriate hands-free headset. I don’t condone the irresponsable use of cellphones in traffic) The rest of Sunday was spent doing all the household chores I normally reserve for the weekend that of course didn’t get done while I was away. (There’s one more cool thing that happened at the beginning of the weekend, but that’s for another post…)