Big Changes in Summer 2006

We finally did it. After nearly 27 years for me and 25 years for Tim, we moved out of New York City. We’d been thinking about it for a while. I was more interested, at first. I spent 13 years of my life in western Pennsylvania as a kid, of course, and until moving to Manhattan, I’d spent a lot of years in small towns or suburbia. Manhattan was wonderful, heady, exciting, thrilling, everything you dream. Then I wanted to move away, but we couldn’t afford it. Then we settled in. In recent years, though, I really started to miss traveling less than a couple of hours to get to real woods. I wanted a house, with a yard. I wanted bird feeders and trees. I wanted to be able to put friends up for the night and maybe have a garden. Worse, I wanted all that for less than a fortune. When he began to look at prices for things like houses and auto insurance, Tim began to see what I meant. He took longer to come around, but every time we returned from trips away, he’d spend a week cursing our New York-sized kitchen, in which it’s impossible for two people to move around. He looked at our bills and our Manhattan stores, and compare them with the ones in upstate New York.

We’ve been recording my books on audio with Bruce Coville’s Full Cast Audio company in Syracuse, New York, for five years. We’ve been up here in the dead of winter and in the summer heat for two and three weeks at a time. We’ve gotten to know the area and the people in the company. Of course we came to wonder if this wouldn’t be a good place to move. New York, and our best friend, and my publishers, are a five hour drive away. And it’s GREEN up here. When we rented a house (for a quarter of what we pay in New York) for March, we decided to keep it for the summer, to bring our four cats up, and see how they liked house living. Except we changed our minds when we learned we could get out of our lease, and decided to stay.

Well, you know it’s not that easy. We could afford movers, thank God, and better still, movers who pack. But I didn’t want to trust my stone collection to strangers. I’ve been working on an original book for Full Cast Audio for a year and a half. The main character is Evvy, the young stone mage who appears in Street Magic. In fact, Evvy narrates the book (Evvy was my first exercise in writing a book in first person, though Terrier, with its narrator Beka, is my first published book in first person). Living in Evvy’s head for eighteen months… well, it did something to me. I noticed it two years ago, when I began to want to pick up stones from rock formations we passed on the highway. But I really got the bug at Christine Cowan’s Undiscovered Treasures table at Confluence (the science fiction convention). She had rocks. Kunzite. Vanadinite. Cinnabar. And something I had never heard of, fire opal in its matrix, the stone in which it forms. I turned it in the light, and color glinted back at me.

So I got rock collections like the ones they sell to schools, illustrating metamorphic, igneous, and sedimentary rock. I got obsidian, apache’s tears, moonstone, labradorite, ammonite, charoite, sugilite, amethyst, quartz, mica, lepidolite. And I found opals: fire opals, Andesite or Honduran opals, Nevada opals, Ethiopian opals, and all the varieties of Australian opals. There are online opal dealers who know me by name. I have chunks of flint and Honduran opal and jasper the size of both of my fists. I couldn’t trust these things to movers.

And then there are my painted pony figures. I only have four, but Medicine Horse and War Pony have a lot of doodads hanging off them. There are my feathered shoulder puppets, who nod and spread their wings. There are my stuffies, who do not like being jammed into boxes. And there are my weapons, some of which are very long, all of which make people nervous, for some reason. I ended up carrying the tricky ones up myself.

We had Tim’s DVDs and videos, and his video and computer magazines. More importantly, we had Tim’s computers, VCRs, DVD players, TIVO, hard drives, laptops, and every other piece of technology required to support them. All of that had to go up by hand, and first, because I had to work from the moment we moved half of our stuff for what we thought would simply be the summer. Most important were the cats and the birds. The trip up, at least, for the cats was not traumatic at all, because we drugged them. We checked them several times during the ride: their inner eyelids were at half mast, and they were purring like mad. The parakeets, who we thought would be out of their minds in terror because A) they were in a strange cage and it was moving, B) they were within smell of the cats, and C) they had a cover on for the first time in their lives (we haven’t covered our birds since Zorak pitched a fit over it in 1997 after Tim got her used to staying up until midnight), LOVED the car trip. They tweetled, peeted, and chirruped happily through the six-hour trip, and fluttered in panic only once. (I crawled in back and opened the cover and talked them calm again. When I covered them, they went back to peeting and chirping all the way to their new home.)

Decanting the cats went as expected. They fled. Scooter was the first to emerge within a day and a half, the Scrap not long after him. It took us a couple of days to discover where PeeWee and Gremlin were hiding. True to his nature, Gremmie had found ways to open the doors on the lower kitchen cupboards. He taught the other cats how within the first week. We should have known. It was Gremlin who worked out how to open all of the closets in our apartment. Now they have things worked out better, particularly with the arrival of the rest of the furniture in August. They’re getting used to our new housekeeper, Andy, and learning that NO, they cannot go outside. With us feeding stray cats on the back porch, that gets a little dicey, but so far, so good.

The birds settled into the cage we bought for them, known as the “palatial manse,” installed in the dining room, well out of range of all of the cats. The one thing they seem to mind is that they don’t see as much of us as they once did—the drawbacks of having two floors and not being on the direct route to the front door. We make sure to stop and talk to them several times a day, not just to feed them. And they can hear all kinds of birds in the back yard, and they talk to them. Since Timon learned sparrow from Junior, who learned it from Zorak (who was living with sparrows when I found her), and since she taught it to Egg, I’m assuming Timon and Egg are finding some common language with the sparrows, at least, even if the upstate New York accent is different from that of Riverside Park.

We did have a particular stray cat incident (read addendum below). I had noticed a Siamese hanging around and called to him. Much to my surprise, he came over. He was cross-eyed, so of course I called him “Clarence,” after the cross-eyed lion. He was extremely friendly, so I petted him. I don’t know what possessed me, but I picked him up, too. When he growled at me, I didn’t obey all the rules of strange cat etiquette: I didn’t put him down INSTANTLY. He bit and scratched me. I put him down, said “Bad cat!” And then I fed him.

A friend of mine had gotten a really bad infection from a cat bite, so Tim insisted I go to the emergency room, where the doctor talked me into the beginning of a series of rabies shots. He also explained, as did Animal Health the next day, that if we could catch the cat and have him observed for ten days, I wouldn’t need the rest of the series of shots, and if the cat was healthy, then he would be put up for adoption. I was going to Toronto and Washington in the next two weeks, which meant I was going to have trouble meeting the shot schedule, and they did tell me Clarence (if I could catch him, and I didn’t see him the next day) would be put up for adoption if he was healthy. The day after that, Clarence was around again. I fed him, and then I put him in a cat carrier (he didn’t even growl, bite or scratch), and took him to the Central New York SPCA.

They told me, AFTER they took Clarence, that even if he didn’t have rabies, he’d be put to sleep, because he was a stray cat who bit people. In other words, I’d been lied to.

We waged a campaign to get Clarence back, saying he was OUR cat, not a stray. Of course, that sounded a little funny when the SPCA let us know that Clarence was a SHE, but never mind, SHE was still our cat. She made it through ten days of observation with no sign of rabies, and came home to us. We had to keep her in quarantine for nearly a month from the other cats, because she got a bad case of kennel cough, but finally introduced her to the other four. That was really interesting. Clarence (the name stuck) isn’t really a cats’ cat. She’s a people cat. She loves people. She’ll slink around, growl at, and sometimes sniff other cats, and move in and take over their territory. And she loves Tim. His office, when he still mainly worked here in this house, was her quarantine space, and she had him all to herself. When he got a separate office, she moped when he wasn’t around. She likes me fine, but she is Daddy’s cat. We tried her going to Tim’s office in the carrier, which she hated—though she liked being in the office while she was there. We tried taking her on a leash. She wouldn’t walk, and she hated the harness. Finally she just moved to Tim’s office, where she doesn’t have to put up with other cats, and people come to visit her. And she has Daddy all to herself.

So we settle in. I’ve taken books to the library. We’ve bought these colorfully-painted metal geckos from Haiti at the Fair Trade Marketplace and placed them on the walls all around the house for something bright—they have goggle eyes, spots, and stripes, and I like the way they brighten up a piece of wall. I also got a big (2.5 foot tall x 3 foot long) cloth kite in rainbow colors to hang over my computer for some more brightness. With Tim moved into his own office, I now have two in this house. This little back one is where I write, so I have my computer and printers here, my research library, bulletin boards with my pictures for the books I work on, my opals, my leg exerciser, and my stuffies. I also have a view of the big maple in the back yard where we’ve hung the bird feeder. I can look out and see squirrels, birds, and the odd cat. Birds often perch right outside. In the bigger office in the front of the house I keep the business files, my books, my shelves of children’s books, fantasy and historical novels, my own books, my Civil War library, and my CDs and audio tapes. That one also doubles as a guest room. It also has the computer on which I play solitaire and our guests can check e-mail. Tim works there early in the morning.

We have a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, and a breakfast nook (which is for unpacked boxes right now), a cellar, an attic, and a garage (where we also feed strays). We have a front porch and a bird feeder.

We have a car. He is a Toyota Hybrid SUV named Bernard the Groundmunk (ground squirrel/chipmunk hybrid). I am learning to drive partly on Bernard and partly on whatever compact Branch’s Driving School and my instructor Mr. Andy Branch brings around. Going back to school at 51+ is an exercise in humility. I used to drive, back in my twenties, but living in Manhattan for 27 years, with no money for most of them, I forgot how. This is my reward. I have a whole new list of pet peeves, largely centered around people who don’t do what the driving manual says you have to do. First among these is coming to a full stop at the stop sign.

The airport is 20 minutes away from my home. The prices are much less, and the stores much larger. People walking past when I go out to bring in the paper or the garbage cans (yes, we subscribe to a newspaper now), or to put out peanuts on the porch rail for the sparrows, or to get the mail, say hello. The nice ladies at the Fair Trade Marketplace know we have a comic book coming out in November. I raked up five bags (they’re so long that I have to stand inside them to open them out all the way) of leaves from the back yard to set out for collection the weekend I write this. Last night Syracuse University had fireworks for the Homecoming Game, and the highlight of my summer was seeing “Menopause: the Musical.”

No, it’s not the same as Manhattan. It’s different. And I like it. I think Tim does, too. He says so, anyway, especially when he goes to the store for “just a few things” and comes back with crates, saying “But it was on sale.”


ADDENDUM (10/13/2006 by Tim): We found out today that Clarence the Applehead was not abandoned, as we originally suspected. It turned out that her owners lived around the corner, and have been looking for her since June when we adopted her.

So Clarence, whose real name is “Beauty,” has been returned to her real family—who informed me I’ve been overfeeding her, because she’s about five pounds heavier than she was in June.

Now one of the other cats who hangs around the yard but belongs to our neighbors, who Tammy calls “Pink Nose” and the neighbors call “Lilly,” glares at me every time I come out back—that is, when she’s not trying to get into our house! Sorry, girl—I’d have kept the Applehead if I could, but she’s your sister… like it or not…

– Tim, Your Admin