Resilience with Mashed Potatoes

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:” Ecclesiastes 3:1

Terry’s family had a secret to “holiday-worthy mashed potatoes”. Being a new cook and wanting to incorporate their family traditions into our newly married life, I followed their secret: one can of evaporated milk. I had never even heard of evaporated milk before, unsure of where to find it in the grocery store. As a novice, I opened the can, spilling the thick grayish milk all over the counter. But I continued, wanting to impress my new family. I peeled seven pounds of potatoes, diced them, and cooked them until tender. I softened butter and began mashing them, adding the canned milk until the right consistency. Salted and peppered, I served them in my grandmother’s red Pyrex bowl on the table. But while others were indulging in the feast, I plopped the glossy looking potatoes on my plate, disappointed by the gummy texture and quickly apologizing to everyone, knowing I had made better potatoes in the past.

This tradition continued for years with the same results, until one year I had a revelation: it was the canned evaporated milk that ruined the holiday potatoes. And from that point on, I decided to break with that tradition: I was making mashed potatoes my way. I started by switching the potatoes from russet to golden. I added cream cheese, along with half-and-half and butter, to add a slight acidic tone to the potatoes and give it body. The potatoes were still served in my grandmother’s Pyrex dish, but they looked light and fluffy, and tasted amazing. That was the first year I didn’t apologize for my mashed potatoes.

November begins the holiday season for our family. I usually start breaking out Christmas music in early November. We typically have our Thanksgiving feast late afternoon and put up our Christmas tree the day after. In the past, our house was full of Christmas cheer, spilling out in every room. As a family, we watched certain movies and read certain books that, for us, embodied the Christmas spirit. I baked dozens of cookies and made candy that filled platters during the holiday season. And for eight years, we ended the season with a big bang: a huge Hot Chocolate Party with homemade peppermint marshmallows!

Traditions are important, they help anchor us and create a sense of community and family. But they are not meant to be so inflexible that they lose their value. I spent years making these “traditional family mashed potatoes”, hating one of the most important dishes of the Thanksgiving meal. The crazy part of breaking this tradition, my father-in-law, the inventor of the “traditional family mashed potatoes” commented on how delicious my new mashed potatoes were.

Change is hard and, like most people, I dread the notice Apple gives me when they say my phone is due for an iOS update. I know that along with the so-called benefits of these updates, I may have to adjust to a new way of operating my phone. These changes are uncomfortable and sometimes unwanted. The word change itself seems to evoke unpleasant emotions. But, like my iOS updates, seasons change in my life, and I have an opportunity to either embrace these changes or cling to the past. I’ve explored this topic before in To Everything There is A Season, but I think it is something that bears repeating. And I also think its time to choose a different response to change.

Resilience is a buzzword I hear often in podcasts on spiritual growth and mental health. It means the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties or the ability to spring back into shape. I believe it’s the antidote to change in my life. I can choose to cling to the past or be resilient, not only embracing the changes, but creating a different reality. Elizabeth Edwards faced a lot of changes in her life including the death of her son, a presidential campaign with her husband, and, later, her husband’s infidelity while facing a terminal cancer diagnosis. She said “Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good.”

This is our first holiday season as empty nesters, and I am choosing to be resilient. I am letting go of some old traditions and looking forward to creating new ones with our family. We are moving Thanksgiving to an earlier lunch and eliminating the huge brunch to accommodate schedules better. We will be celebrating our Christmas early, due to our Rhode Island family being here only at Thanksgiving. I have streamlined our Christmas décor, and we will be watching less Christmas movies. I will still bake, but am looking forward to maybe having smaller, more intimate groups of people over rather than the huge Hot Chocolate Party. And yes, I will still be making homemade peppermint marshmallows, because I love them! Finally, Terry and I are choosing to create a new Christmas Eve tradition, one with books, chocolate, and candles.

Reader, I recognize that being an empty nester and adjusting to new traditions during the holiday season may seem trivial to some. I know that some of you who read this blog may be facing the first holiday season without a loved one due to a death, or maybe you are facing a health crisis, or maybe life is just hard. I, too, have faced hard seasons. And maybe, this year, there is one tradition you need to continue with to make sense of the chaos swirling around you. But I encourage you, hard season or not, take some time to do an “iOS update” on your traditions. Do they serve you and your family well? Do they add to the chaos on your life, or do they bring joy? And if you decide to let go of some traditions, do something different to add joy to your life. And just maybe this new thing, will become a new tradition!