By Susan Nelson

Winter has definitely arrived in Northern California. Went out to retrieve the newspaper this morning and the water on the plastic bag had frozen. Good day to stay inside and do my projects and keep warm.

I’m spoiled really, living in California. For three years I lived in Wakefield, Massachusetts where winter laid a far heavier hand across the land then its gentler touch here.

Typical of small New England towns, Wakefield was a quiet bedroom community offering little in the way of excitement, but making up for it with the quality of living it provided. Spring found gardens overflowing with bright flowers, and an abundance of butterflies circling in the air. Summer days varied from warm to downright hot, with the humidity making it seem more so, and a heavy thunder-storm thrown in here and there for good measure to keep the sweat forming over your upper lip. Fall afforded a pallete of golds, reds, and oranges, and when winter arrived the landscape was snow laden boughs, icy roads, and cold, colder, and downright frigid, temperatures. For the most part, however, it was a lovely place to find yourself any time of the year.

Our house sat across the street from the lake on the northern end of town, allowing us a spectacular view of the water as well as the well forested area surrounding its shores. The home was owned by a local couple in their early 80’s, and had been in their family for many years. At one point their son and his wife and three children had come to live with them, so in order to provide some sort of privacy for themselves and their son’s family they divided the house in the center, with the front half occupied by the owners, and the back half used by his son and family, with a common door at the back of the living room.

Originally when we moved into the front half of the house, the back was occupied by another young couple and their two-year old daughter, but shortly thereafter he was relocated out-of-state so for the next year and a half we were the sole occupants.

My husband and I worked in Boston and commuted via subway, bus and car each day, dropping the children at their babysitter’s house before boarding a bus to the subway station, and retrieving them in the same manner in the evening. My husband worked for large corporation immersed in realigning their computer systems, of which he was an important link to their success. Consequently, this required long hours, and often overnight stays at hotel near the job site, which left me on my own with the children more nights than not.

The kitchen in the back unit was the original kitchen, so ours had been added on when the house had been divided, thus was quite modern and equipped with all the amenities. There was a large picture window facing the lake, a center work unit with overhead pot rack, and a full bathroom directly off the kitchen itself, along with a generously sized laundry room towards the back of the house.

One blustery evening, with a heavy snow falling outside and wind whistling eerily through the cracks in the old house, I found myself once again alone with the children. Dark had fallen, seeming darker yet because of the storm, so I lit a fire in the hearth for warmth and a bit of atmosphere, and grabbing some warm pj’s for my little ones deposited them in the tub for a much-needed soak. I had just soaped their hair when the house plunged into darkness, which delighted my two pirates who thought it was a game. Wrapping them in towels I carried them to the front window where looking through the sheets of snow I could barely see a hazy light coming from my neighbor’s front window.

Our house was old, actually it had a historical plaque on the front of the house honoring its historical significance to the community. During the summer we’d lost power several times because of blown fuses. The owner had come by and taken me down into the bowels of the basement to show me how to put a penny in the fuse receptacle to correct the problem at least temporarily until someone could come to look at it. Now I’m not the jumpy type, but the basement access was at side of the house towards the back. It was creepy in broad daylight. Accessing it required opening two wing doors, then venturing down a decrepit set of crumbling stone steps into the depths of the basement itself, which was liberally strung with spider webs and inhabited with God knows what else resided there.

Unable to use the phone, and no one to rescue me, the only light in the front of the house provided by the fire and several large candles, I realized that my only option was to go outside and check out the fuse box. Both toddlers still wet, I dried their hair, dressed them in their pajamas, snow suits, mittens, and hats as well as putting on my snow gear and ventured outside. Holding hands and flying blind we pushed our way to the side of the yard and after some struggling I was able to release the wing doors.

I kept the flashlight in front of us dimly casting a glow across the floors and concrete walls while producing strange shadows that led back into the unlit spaces. I kept reminding myself on the long walk across the room that I was a grown-up, but I must admit the little girl in me was swimming rapidly towards the surface. Reaching the fuse box at last, I released the children’s hands, removed my gloves, and searched my mind for the instructions on what I was to do at this point. Penny in hand, I managed to remove the obviously burned fuse and replace it with the penny. And then we had light.

Quickly retracing our steps, we made our way back through the storm, and once upstairs, hot bowls of steaming chili topped with melting cheddar cheese and onions in our stomachs, and the children warmly tucked in for the night, I felt pretty good about being able to take care of myself and them. I poured a nice Irish Coffee, and shortly thereafter fell asleep in front of the fire to awake the next morning to a winter wonderland outside my window.

This chili is a good way to use up the leftover turkey.

Crockpot Turkey Chili

3 cups of cooked turkey, chunked
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 green pepper, chopped
4 14.5 oz. cans petite diced tomatoes, undrained
1 16 oz. can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 15.5 oz. can chili beans, undrained
1 15 oz. can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
2 Tbsp. chili powder
1 1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. salt
cheddar cheese
sour cream
red onion, chopped (garnish)
Mix all ingredients well in 6 quart crockpot. (I spray mine with cooking spray before adding ingredients.)
Cook on low for 10 hours. I serve over a small bed of white rice and top with grated cheddar cheese, red onion and a dollop of sour cream.