By Ariana Salvo
I have a confession to make. At Lady Baker's Tea our motto is "take time for what matters," and as the team member behind our social media for a number of years now, I am constantly encouraging our customers to slow down and savour the moment. Despite this, as someone who has up until recently worked three jobs: helping private clients like Lady Baker's Tea with online marketing, flower farming and arranging, and teaching English as a second language, I have been struggling to find time to even reflect on what matters most, let alone make time to enjoy these things. As a result, I have been more and more overwhelmed, and, unable to see a way to make time for a break to clear my head and figure out how to make things more manageable, my work, health and relationships have begun to suffer.
I'm not sure if you have had this experience, but I find whenever I have gone through some of the toughest periods in my life where I both very much needed a break but could not responsibly see a way to take one the universe has somehow forced me clear the slate and take a break whether I wanted to or not. Sound familiar? At the end of August, in the midst of flower harvest season, a busy teaching schedule and the middle of our busiest season at the tea company, my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and has since started chemotherapy. My mother lives in California, and I live on Prince Edward Island off the east coast of Canada. The reality of having to leave my teaching job, shut my farming operation down long before my growing season ended, and pack up and sublet my apartment so that I could travel to California to help support my mother was very sobering. Suffering from a serious health scare myself as a result of the stress of the situation that landed me in the hospital was even more so.
I have always been a fiercely independent person, trying to manage everything on my own and not asking for help unless absolutely necessary -- an amusing quality given that I have chosen to live on Prince Edward Island because of the incredibly strong sense of community and mutual support. But the combination of the speed at which I had to pack up my life at, my own health issues, and the enormity of the tasks that I needed to accomplish before leaving PEI and heading west this month meant that I had to acknowledge that the only way I was going to succeed was if I asked my friends and community for help. And help they did. My colleagues at work all ordered bouquets of local flowers to help me sell as much as I could before I left; my friends and community members all came to my last farmers' market and purchased so many bouquets that I sold out two hours before the end of the market; customers ordered extra arrangements to be delivered before I left; friends came over to help me pack and move boxes to storage; friends cooked meals for me so I could focus on packing and preparing to leave; more friends offered to harvest some of my drying flowers from the field so I will have some to work with when I get back this winter; some offered to come weed while I'm away, and then friends turned up at the hospital with changes of clothes and tea from home and get well soon cards. On the morning that I left to fly west at 5.50am another friend insisted on driving me to the airport despite the 4.30am pickup time. The kindness of generosity of my community repeatedly brought me to tears in the weeks leading up to my departure. Needless to say, I wouldn't have been able to do everything that I managed to get done without my community.
I am now in California, where, although my mother and friends tell me the weather is shifting, I am back to wearing tank tops and sandals and have to admit to having turned the air conditioning on for a period of time almost every day since arriving. The sky is clear blue. The hummingbirds are feeding outside my mother's kitchen window in the morning. I can hear the constant roar of traffic from the six lane highway three blocks away. This massive shift from the cooling weather on PEI and the onset of fall to the heat and frenetic energy of California is quite a transition. I have been here just over a week now, and am only just starting to get my bearings again. But the break in my routine has also made me realize a few things about taking time for what matters.
It seems like there are concentric circles of what matters. Work is the outermost of these in many ways. Not that it doesn't matter, but at the end of the day life will go on without us and we are not as essential to the grand scheme of things as we sometimes like to think we are. Relationships with friends are the next layer in. Without them our lives really do not really seem to mean much, and any illusion that we can get by on our own really is simply that: an illusion. It may sometimes seem like taking time to be with friends is time we cannot afford to spend, but at the end of the day I don't think any of us look back and wish we hadn't gone out for supper or taken a walk with a close friend. Inside the friend circle is the family circle. When something is wrong with a family member everything else falls away and things that seemed incredibly important suddenly seem far less so. Having my mother get sick is scary but it is also a gift because it has forced me to stop putting off time together until some time in the future, and to savour every moment that we have together. I would never have said this in the past, but as a result of my recent health issues, I now feel that physical and spiritual health comes before family because without it I am of no use to anyone else, my family included. Doing what has to be done to maintain optimum health is now at the top of my list of priorities.
I share all of this because it is easy to say "take time for what matters," but it is far more difficult to live this every day. This past week in California I have been trying to focus on the inner rings of my circle and actually taking time for what matters. Here are some of the things on my list:
1. Getting enough sleep for the first time in many months and waking up slowly in the morning.
2. Taking time to have breakfast with my mother in the morning in her sunlit kitchen, talking about our day ahead and taking pleasure in watching the hummingbird feed on the flowers outside the window.
3. Praying with my mother. My mother has always woken at dawn to pray and meditate. I have never been much a dawn person myself, and this has not changed, but we are praying together every night before we sleep, and it is a time for us to slow down and connect and breathe hope and faith into this journey she is on and that I am here experiencing with her.
4. Checking in with my best friend back home who had her first child a few days ago -- a little girl named Layli.
5. Taking walks with my mother so she gets outside in the breeze and sunshine, which do wonders for her spirits and strength.
6. Drinking tea. Sometimes while reading a book (my most recent find, which is like a mouthwatering dessert to enjoy with your cup of tea, is How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry) and sometimes while chatting with my mother, and sometimes while I sit quietly and watch the sun filter down through the green leafy trees. I go through phases where I am especially appreciating one or another type of tea, and this week my two favourites are Moonlong -- a sweet, creamy oolong to which I like to add almond milk and a spoonful of maple syrup, and Dapple Apple -- a black tea with tart apple and sweet butterscotch, which I add whole milk and maple syrup to. Both are a real treat!
7. Cook and eat delicious, healthy meals with my mother. There is such diversity in California, and mom and I are enjoying every bite!
8. Sitting in outdoor cafes for iced drinks in as little clothing as we feel is acceptable. Because we can. Because this is California and why not. Because I am never in California in the fall so I might as well savour the longer-than-usual summer.
These are a few of the seemingly simple things I am taking time to savour this week. What about you? I invite you to take some time to reflect on what matters most to you this week and try to carve out time for these things even if it means that you have to say no to something that may currently seem mightily important. At the end of the day, you may realize those things that seemed so very important really aren't, and the things that are may not be there forever, so this is as good a time as any to start giving them more of your attention.
Wherever you are reading from, I wish you a beautiful fall season. May the leaves turn crimson and gold and flaming orange, and may you make the time to take long, satisfyingly crunchy walks through them as they start to fall -- alone or in the company of those who make your heart full. Raising my teacup to you, friends!