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This afternoon, after I watched cartoons with my friend’s son, and ran a couple errands, and braved the post office, I sat down on my couch, and I sighed. Have you done that lately? Just sat down in a quiet house and let out a good, heavy sigh? I highly recommend it.

I’m not sad or weary. My shopping is done, and pending the delivery of a couple more packages, all the presents will be wrapped and laid under the tree with care. Our Christmas menu is planned, I’ve got cookies on my horizon, and since the forecast promises sunny and 65 degrees for the rest of my life, I’m having an easy breezy California Christmas.

So why the sigh? It’s to do with balance.

This year, I learned the discipline of working as a writer. That means that I sat down everyday and pounded out a minimum number of words. I didn’t get to quit until I had those words down. This took planning and determination and patience. It was hard, but it was a good lesson in perseverance and in the real, day-to-day, butt-to-chair writing practice.

But the problem with that was that all the work-work-workiness of my writing took over, and it left no room for play, for art. Inspiration moved to a back burner. I couldn’t look around and let the world infuse my writing with newness and images and snappy language; I had a plan, and nothing would make me deviate from the plan. There was no balance, and that’s a problem.

I once got a batch of six beautiful Roma tomatoes from the farmer’s market. It was post-season for tomatoes, really, and it was cold outside, so I decided to make scalloped tomatoes, which would yield a cheesy, bread-crumb-encrusted, bubbly tomato dream. The recipe called for 3 pounds of tomatoes; I had six tomatoes, so I halved the recipe and called it good. (It wasn’t good. I don’t do math.)

The problem, on top of my bad math here, was that I didn’t halve the rest of the ingredients, so the bread crumbs pretty much swallowed the tomatoes. And when we took bites of it, the first thing we tasted was salt. Salty, salty, salt-salt-salt. Tons of it. Way too much. It was the kind of failure that makes you simply pick up the dish and dump its contents into the trash can.

We know that balance is required in cooking. We would never expect for too much salt to go unnoticed. The salt must match the other ingredients; it must be proportionate to the number of tomatoes used. Everything must be balanced.

So if we don’t expect it to work in cooking, why do we expect it of ourselves? Why do I expect it in my own life – in writing, in making a home, in my expectations of myself? We are the tomatoes and this – life, the holidays, work – this is our balancing act. We control the salt. We can do the math. (Well, most of us can do the math.)

The point is:  we’re all tomatoes, and when we let our to-do lists and our expectations and other people’s expectations and the appointments and social engagements and errands and dreams and wishes and laundry pile up and mount into a big monster, we’re basically dumping cup after cup of salt over our heads.

I’m a salty tomato, people. I’m about to turn into a pickle.

It’s a bit too early for New Years resolution posts, but here comes the jackpot epiphany in advance:  I need an attitude adjustment, and I need to balance.

So I hope that you can have that, too. I hope you can find a moment or two (or an entire afternoon – wouldn’t that be glorious?) to just sit and relax. To find some balance. Drink a warm beverage and flip through a magazine or stare out the window and just be. That’s what I’m endeavoring to do:  I’m aiming for restoration. I’m rinsing off salt.