by Chrysa Smith

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The Mary Cassatt Tea Room at the Rittenhouse Hotel in Philadelphia.

MaryFran and I have birthdays that are exactly a month apart. So, rather than buy each other physical gifts, this year we decided to gift ourselves with a better than average lunch. But where to go that would be ‘special?’

After thinking about it for awhile, we threw out the lunch idea and opted for something we never do: afternoon tea. So, we headed down to Philadelphia and the Rittenhouse Hotel. For those who aren’t familiar, this is a swanky, urban place that serves tea in the Mary Cassatt Tearoom, housed in the lobby and facing an outdoor courtyard complete with waterfall.

China, waiters dressed in formal attire, a tiered treat tower, crisp linens, a beautiful view. What could be better? Maybe the tea sandwiches or the mini desserts or the feeling that came from treating ourselves to something unique. We felt celebrated, and slowed down enough to stay clear of cell phones; sinking deeply and involuntarily into our chairs.

With all of our advancements, we have failed to take care of the basics—time for ourselves. Victorian women knew how to do it so much better than us. Afternoon tea was a ‘pick-me-up’ during the slumping afternoon hours. Women would take a break from the duties of the day and unwind with a drink and a little ‘nosh’. How come they knew what they needed a century before us?

photo(8)We sometimes think we’ve come so far, are so much further along than our predecessors. Yet I often beg to differ. Cramming another chore into our ‘to do’ list doesn’t make us any more accomplished, successful, complete. Rather, it often depletes. And we’re so darn busy, we don’t even realize just how void we can be. We’ve been sold some sort of bill of goods that says ‘more is more’ when actually, less is often so.

So do me a favor. When you ask how someone is doing, listen for their response. Count how often ‘busy’ comes up. And we say it proudly–like a badge of accomplishment or an acknowledgement that we are busy and therefore important, needed, fulfilled.

So I say, don’t wait for a once a year birthday. Instead, once a month or every week, schedule some time for something special. It could be as simple as a cup of tea with a friend, a massage, an unexpected trip to the nursery or antique store. Instead of saying ‘Yah, I should really do that’, say ‘Just did it.’ Don’t just aspire to make yourself a priority in your life. Schedule it in. And feel the freedom, the relaxation, the uplift that comes with it. Aah, nothing like a most civilized afternoon—-I mean life.

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Slow down, relax and LIVE!

If  you go: Afternoon tea in the Mary Cassatt Tea Room at the Rittenhouse Hotel is served daily from 2 to 5 PM, with several menu offerings at different price points. Reservations suggested.