Treats And Truths Of Country Living

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Our peaches are ripening! The bumblebees, and a little hand pollinating by feather, have done the trick. An exciting time in the rickety greenhouse on our organic acre in Berwickshire, UK.

These are the treats of country living that are hard to beat, a blessing so much appreciated, especially when one pays such a high price for living in the British countryside, surrounded by vast acres on which synthetic fertilisers, highly toxic sprays and huge machinery are employed to perform every task. It’s the little blessing that gives strength to the next hour.

It has been a journey learning to live in this cold and temperamental climate, living very isolated in a range of ways, learning to understand the lie of the land, to work with the seasons, to make sense out of some vicious hands that have been dealt. The eight years have been incredible in many ways, but they have also been eight of the hardest years of my life, pressed and crushed and shocked by all sorts.

With every squeeze, in every rocking challenge, I always take my focus back to the blessings, back to what is solid, back to what is beautiful, back to what is miraculous, back to what is even fleetingly lovely, back to what is simple and straightforward, back to what is truth, back to what is sustainable, back to what is real and utterly good … Always refocusing, always learning, always getting back up, always moving forward inch by tiny inch …

These peaches are quite symbolic, representing what is still reliable, what is honest, what is wonderful, what tastes and is pure and purely good. Nourishment for the body, nourishment for the soul. The taste of Summer, the taste of health, the taste of joy and delight. The taste of innocence, the taste of simplicity, the taste of hope.

I started this blog / website a few years ago, to record some of my experiences, poetry, recipes and thoughts, now and over the fifty plus years of my interesting life. The blog grows in hiccupy stops and starts, but there is a fair body of collected writing here now.

These peaches form part of the story of the last eight years, and so much more.

 

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Yours mindfully,

Holly x

[This post has been adapted from the original, which appeared on Instagram on 13 July 2017  Link: https://www.instagram.com/p/BWeocXsgLZQ/?taken-by=hollymaxwellboydell ]

A Childhood In Photograph

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I saw this picture yesterday, for the very first time. It was a complete surprise. It came in a little collection, that I had not been expecting. It is a photograph of myself, taken circa 1965, on a journey from Durban to Cape Town. A journey that, in more ways than one, was to totally rock my world.

At first, on looking at this tiny picture of my little self, I felt the numbness experienced after years and years of irregular life pattern. And then the dam in my heart ripped open, my soul cracked painfully, and wide. This picture, part of a little collection of my and my brother’s very early childhood, was placed in my hands by my son, who had conveyed it carefully from Africa, along with other meaningful photographic portraits and treasured dossiers that had been lovingly handed to him to give to me, of our much valued family history.

Simple things that others might take for granted, without their natural presence through my childhood, appearing now they shake my world … towards a more grounded and more beautiful life, I hope. Pain has forced me to lean on God, from a very early age.

I have no grievance about the hand I have been dealt, time and again, only sadness that it needed to be so. I feel gratitude that these treasures are coming to light, although at fifty four it almost feels as though my life has slipped through the gate. To be honest, my adult heart breaks for this little girl.

When your world has been shaken many times, it takes courage to keep one’s head up. I trust that God and his promises are in all of this, and that true grace is firmly intact.

In mindful contemplation,

Holly x

 

A Little Note For Readers

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Dear Readers and Visitors to The Holly Tree Tales ,

A warm welcome to those visiting my site and I hope you are enjoying reading my Blog, as it builds a little at a time.

This is just a brief note to say that it would be lovely to hear from you, if you would like to leave a little message underneath posts, so that I might know that you have ‘popped in’?

It is always good to know who one’s audience is and to know when my writings, or merely short quotes, have made a difference, been of interest, or helped someone in some way.

Thank you for stopping by and, if this is your first visit, please feel free to click FOLLOW, if you would like to be kept informed of new posts.  You will not be sent any spam by my site, and will be a much valued member of the group of readers here.

With kindest regards,

Holly Maxwell Boydell

Being A Blogger Is A Process

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It has been two years since I began the journey of technically building a blog, and writing one.  My first ever blogging experience began with the process of creating “The Holly Tree Tales” on WordPress, something that was completely and utterly unfamiliar to me, in every sense.  It was early in January 2015, the first to be precise, when I gathered my two children together at my computer, in order to consult them where possible, and set off cautiously into the jungle that has been my complicated technical process of setting up and managing this website.

For many years I had been told, by all sorts of people, that I ought to write my story, communicate my philosophical thoughts, share about my experiences through childhood, describe my journeys in new places, reveal my trepidatious steps through parenting my children into the great humans that they are, discuss my gardening exploration and tips, reach out by telling others about my life in foreign environments, share my love of Nature that has seeped into my soul on three continents, speak out about my innermost dreams and learnings about leadership, business and ethics, and that I should share with others my poems and recipes, created over decades, a little at a time, and sometimes all at once.  The project of writing on a public stage was a daunting one at the start … there have been many hiccups since, and now I’m back on the writing stage to say again: “I am still daunted by it all.”

When I look, as I infrequently do, at other websites and blogs, I feel mildly intimidated by the seeming ease with which so many appear to have established expansive readership numbers, umpteen likes on their posts, and in many cases income through their ‘blogs’ simply being online.  At the outset, I knew that I did not want to have my website / blog vulnerable or susceptible to the screeching distraction of advertisements, and the random intrusion of brands with which I was potentially distinctly uncomfortable … so I decided to invest money in setting up a ‘premium’ WordPress blog, instead of going with a theme that would be provided free of charge.  I do not regret this choice, but am mindful of the investment that I have made annually since 1 January 2015, an investment which is not insignificant in my present phase of life.  There have certainly been many times when I have wished that The Holly Tree Tales’ presence on the internet would magically manifest a fabulous income, alongside the many other things that I do with my life under current circumstances, mostly non-incoming earning as I write these words.  The internet is not an arena that I have tapped into as a source of wealth, but no doubt those vast stores of potential await, by some means or other yet to be explored!

Being a Blogger is a process; establishing a website (or blog by any other name) and learning to drive the engine of spectacular technical complexity (no matter how simple it may seem to those people several decades springier than I am) has come with immense challenges for me.  There have been days, like yesterday, when I have purposely set aside the time to concentrate (as ‘solely’ as possible) on My Blog, with a clear purpose in mind, when I have achieved absolutely nothing … I lie: yesterday I managed to alter the date on the copyright bit at the bottom of each page.  All by myself, and in record time.  Nothing else happened … no matter how long, how hard, how disconsolately, how cheerily even, I stared at the screen … nothing went in, nothing went out, nothing improved, and all remained clouded in a veil of foggy tomfoolery.  I could not, simply could not, find my way back to what had once been a familiar screen with black background, where I had hoped to re-visit my previously unsuccessful attempt at tidying up the “Categories” of the Blog.

This morning, having wasted several hours getting nowhere fast, I decided to allow myself only ONE HOUR in front of my WordPress screen … one hour to do whatever I could possibly do to make things more streamlined, more logical, more attractive, more like honey to bees … the objective, clearly, is to make an excellent impression, regardless of the audience, wishing to tailor the entire thing so that it is fresh, crisp, chic, intelligent and simple to navigate at will.  I have a goal, I had that goal on the 1st of January 2015 too, and I am still trying to reach it!  Well, this morning my one hour produced little, again … and then suddenly a ‘lightning bolt’ hit!  With two minutes to go before the 9.30am cut-off time allowed for this frippery, my cursor reached the very bottom line on the “Customise” screen … and my eyes fell on the sight of “WP Admin” … I gingerly pressed down on the mouse … et voila!! Shrieking “Praise the Lord!” to my startled hound, causing my suddenly awake teenage son to come bounding down the stairs, I dropped my head into my hands and gave thanks … I had finally found something that looked vaguely familiar … my screen with black background was there …

Or so I thought.

After describing to my son the reason for my shout of adulation, which he very kindly indulged me in by smiling unpatronisingly down at me slumped in my chair, I started to direct my mouse (computer species) towards the destination I’d been trying to head in for hours previously … “Categories” … only to discover that the whole format, despite its familiar black background, has actually changed since we were last acquainted in this deeply meaningful and hot-headed pursuit. Erk.  Breathe.  Head up.  Back straight … let the fingers do the crawling all over again …

Oh my, is Blogging ever a process!  Technological mastery of a beautiful blog is one thing, writing the words is quite another, and then there’s the business of streamlining how you make sure that other people can find the words once you’ve had them crawling all over your site.  I currently have about 75 (yes, that says seventy five) Categories listed, and heaven only knows how many Tags … which desperately need tailoring, tidying, organising, shaping, parenting (yes, that’s a WordPress blog design term, I think) … and I’ve been at this for months – off and on – hence the scarcity of written work, while I try to housekeep the collections of words somehow.  Of course, in the meantime, Life itself has been taking place too … but all that must wait, until I have managed to tailor this jolly blog.

If you have feedback, dear Reader, please feel free to comment below this post and let me know your thoughts on The Holly Tree Tales generally.  I value the presence of every Reader, value the ones who have signed up to follow the blog immensely too, and ask everyone to continue to bear with me, as I continue to hone my live media skills.

With perseverance and onward striving determination,

Holly x

 

A Quick Catch-Up

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Dear Readers,

Just a little note to say that the Blog has not been forgotten, despite the large gap between now and my last post! Lest anyone think that The Holly Tree Tales blogposts have ceased, I thought best to post a quick note to reassure you to the contrary.

It has been a very busy few months, a big time in the lives of my children and I, with all manner of travel up and down the UK, attending milestone events and doing one’s best to keep abreast (or ahead) of the days’ priorities, as well as the expected emotional highs and lows that go with the territory … endings and new beginnings, all happening in these months.  With the Summer come visitors from afar and abroad, and much demanding attention in the garden as well, with everything growing at once, so the Blog has had to settle into the background for a little while.  If you are waiting for a response to messages, please be assured that I shall be writing as soon as I can, and you have not been forgotten either!

In the midst of all the ‘busyness’, I recently decided to dip my toe into the world of Instagram so, if you are on Instagram too, do feel free to connect and follow my picture posts there.  The link is https://www.instagram.com/hollymaxwellboydell/?hl=en

Shall be back, just as soon as I am able.  In the meantime, thank you for continuing to visit and enjoy the writings on The Holly Tree Tales … your presence and your feedback are always greatly valued!

Kindest wishes,

Holly x

Blogging Moments

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Dear Readers, hello again!

It has been ten days since I last posted a note and, despite several attempts at posting new content, I promise that the time in between has not been all together wasted … I have been learning, or at least attempting to learn, how to make a few adjustments to the site.

Having celebrated the first anniversary of The Holly Tree Tales with the most wonderful surprise of many post likes and some new Followers too, delighted at the fact that the blog seems to be moving steadily now … in writing and arrival of new interested Readers … I then hit a wall.

Do you have days when you set out to make a great alteration or improvement to your website or blog, thinking that you can see the way forward clearly in your mind’s eye, but then fail miserably when faced with several open tabs across the top of your screen, as you battle your way back to the clarity that you possessed before sitting down in front of it?  Well, I have had a few of those sorts of days recently and, Murphy’s Law, they have appeared soon after ‘celebrating’ one year on the Road of the Blog. It is utterly maddening and frustrating and I can only think that, if there is a lesson in here somewhere, it is making me a finer and more agile manipulator of all things communication.

Today, at my wits’ end, I have wished that sitting nearby or hanging over my shoulder were a team of bright tech folk, ready, willing AND able to lend a hand to get me back onto my strengthening but wobbly Blogger feet. However, I am completely alone here through most days, living out in the sticks, and have no idea how to even call the WordPress Happiness Engineers for one of their charming cyberspace hugs.  So, I have ‘printscreened’ all of the facts collected, carefully saved into yet another Word document to refer to another day, and am going to keep praying for Enlightenment.

What is the thing that I am trying so hard to achieve, you might ask?  Simple, really: I am trying to add a footer to the bottom of The Holly Tree Tales’ site, saying  © The Holly Tree Tales 2016.  I have followed (at least I thought that was what I was doing) all sorts of instructions, WordPress and otherwise, but do you think I can get any closer to the prize?  Nope.  It has simply not been meant to be … and I promise I have tried until I was almost perspiring the endless cups of Rooibos or organic berry teas I’ve been drinking this week (having decided to cut down on the tannin I was consuming via my multiple cups of organic Earl Grey every day) … Eish.  That’s “fed up” in mod speak.

And what else have I been trying to do … apart from the rest of life, obviously?  Well, I chanced upon the notion that my blog, which uses the Hemingway Rewritten Theme (a Premium one, that is) supports a Static Front Page, amongst its various other bells and whistles.  Understand, please, that I am spending precious pennies on the running of this blog, pennies that are not in plentiful supply right now, nor renewable, in the hope that soon my head will be clear enough to make the pennies chink more loudly and waterfall-like into my ready hands, in all manner of ways.  For now, I optimistically invest a not-inconsiderable amount annually, to have this written internet presence and I really and truly want it to work well.  However, I have yet to see the light as far as something as simple as getting that Static Front Page set up … and still have a number of other areas in the Blog that need, and have been waiting a long time for, updating and more flesh.

If your journey into the blogging world has been full of pits and nasty surprises, fear not: you are not alone.  I might even say, we’re in this together.  Let no one convince you that being a Blogger is an easy feat.  It is not.  Not unless you were born wearing a Tech Design hat, or have been schooled in the fine art of this secret science.  Over time I am sure that The Holly Tree Tales will become better and easier to manage, and more worthy of the loyal and wonderful Readers who so kindly spend their time on the content collected under the shade of The Holly Tree Tales’ branches.  I thank you all for being here still … I will, eventually, get this figured out and into some sort of rhythm, I’m determined.

As with so many things in life, I realise that it is in the letting go that we receive that which is most elusive, if it is meant to come towards us, and so I am letting go … and hoping that somehow all will soon fall into place.

Until next time,

Holly x

 

PS. The pic above was taken three days ago, on Saturday 9th January at 8.00am. The sun had done its best to rise and delight me … but two minutes later, it had disappeared.  The snow was beautiful though, a lovely change from all the muddy fields around here at the moment.

A Moment Before Christmas

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A moment of mindfulness, under this year’s fresh and fragrant Christmas tree.


 

 

Written on Monday 21 December 2015

 

I have stolen away from all the things I am ‘supposed’ to be doing, to do something that I need to do … to write a few thoughts down and to catch a moment, to consider and to prepare for the coming Christmas days.  Less than an hour ago, I was in a blind panic, about all that remains to complete on my To Do list, and then I pulled myself together with the remembrance that there are so many around the world right now, for whom Christmas will have anything but a To Do list, a To Buy list, or a to invite list …

I know that this is the time of year when many around the world feel the deepest sense of aloneness, purposelessness and loss. I am aware that we are among the fortunate few on the planet, who have a roof over our heads, food in our tummies every single day, warmth as we snuggle down into our beds at night in the northern hemisphere, know comfort as we do the same in the south, and so much around us from whence we can each draw joy, if we will but stop a moment and see how much we are each blessed by.  And so, I stopped.  In the midst of my busy, modern Christmastime anxiety, I just stopped. I breathed. I remembered those less busy, less encumbered with ‘blessings’, and I gave thanks that I have people in my life for whom I ‘must do’ and complete my To Do list for.

What has happened to Christmas?  What has happened to the Christ child in the meaning and the midst of Christmas?  What has happened to the hearts of those hell bent on spending their cash on things that they and others truly do not need?  What has happened to this time of year when, despite the shops being full and the banks’ coffers overflowing, so many go without everything that we take for granted, and so many have not one loving soul to warm their hearts with?  Why are so many doing so much to sell us what they and we know that none of us truly needs for life to go well?  Why have we become so needs orientated and so acquisitive, anyway, so goal orientated rather than love inclined?

Why have we forgotten that this is the time when we remember how Love came down to meet us where we are already at?  How can we imagine that materialism and things can fulfil us, when those who are totally alone at this time of year know only too well that they cannot?   How many would give their eye teeth to have someone loving to hold?   How many fear the alcoholic rages that follow the “Christmas Cheer”?  How many children wait expectantly for Father Christmas, or Santa (who has stolen the show), and yet many live in fear of what their own fathers might do to them, and have no knowledge of the Father who is our very own and loving God?  How many have grown to hate Christmas, because it hurts, or sends them into spiralling debt?  How many dread the gatherings and the opulence, when all they really want and need is love?

At the start of this day, a mere four days before Christmas Day itself, I had so many plans and intentions of things to complete, my list long and courageously ambitious, as I continue to struggle with the pain of a recently strained back.  At the beginning of this day the morning sky lit up, with tones of pink highlighting the clearing grey clouds, offering hope and promise of strength and resolve and fortitude … and I have done the best I could with those. However, the end of the day is here now, and I have left most of my List a dream and a hope for tomorrow, undone and only with the help of a miracle to be completed in good time. I believe in miracles, have seen and know a fair few myself, but it seems that this time my List really is ridiculous and life is showing me to calm it all right down.

Four years ago, for the first time, I hosted Christmas (with all the traditional British trimmings) in our own home here, with and for my wider family in the UK.  In previous years, we had either been living in Australia, or had spent Christmas in one or another of my UK family members’ homes, but that year I had begged to be the one (as the eldest sibling), to do Christmas for everyone in our home for once.  I look back now at all that was so lovingly created for that day, by myself and by my children and a friend from Hong Kong who was staying with us, and I marvel at the beautiful homemade Christmas crackers, the food (so simple and yet for me, coming out of a breakdown, such a major feat to produce, tasty and on time).  For the first time in my life, I had made Christmas pudding (organic and to my own experimental recipe) for our family to share. Adventurously, I had baked an impressive organic Christmas cake (partly my own recipe too, a scary first time process, baking it nervously in my trusty round Le Creuset), completely homemade and iced, even the marzipan was made by my own hand. That Christmas had every element of magic and joy that I could conjure up, working against so much that had been and was holding me back, and I think I and my team of merry helpers managed to pull it off well … the pictures, in hindsight, certainly looked respectable!

This year, with only my small nuclear family around our table on Christmas Day, I want to create the magic that we have all enjoyed at other festive occasions and places, in previous years.  This year, however, we are keeping everything very, very simple.  Our gifts are simple, things that each person really needs, lavishness a thing for others, our company much decreased in numbers, our peace and goodwill at the centre of our meaningful time, rather than all the trimmings that create the chaos, the bling, the acquisitiveness, the potential for debt along the road … We have been beautifully blessed by the arrival of Christmas cards, each one appreciated for the love and the time that went into its creation or its thought, and it is in these little things that we see the gifts of presence, of friends near and far, and loved ones who are missed, too far away to touch and hug and feel nearby.

In days long past, as I was growing up in Africa, we would usually only put up our Christmas tree on Christmas Eve.  Now, I often wonder how there was the time to attend that task, with so much else  to attend on that day.  Some put up their tree many weeks before Christmas, but ours usually appears to take its stage in the fortnight leading up to Christmas, once both of my children have returned home from boarding school or university, and are here to enjoy its choosing, as well as attend the decoration and sparkly splendour that goes with the desired end result.  Having stood our fresh tree in a metal bucket of water, the trunk held steady with variously sized stones, we light the interior of the deep green needled branches with warmly coloured strands of Christmassy light, then surround the base of the tree with a plain calico cloth, upon which our gifts are placed on Christmas Eve.  As we build the scene, we try to keep things calm and co-ordinated, choosing baubles, little wooden ornaments and glistening stars from a selection that has travelled from southern to northern hemisphere with us … the shiny red apples a gift from my mother on my first Christmas in Australia, always a regular on our tree.  Nothing is ever hung before the little wooden nativity scene has been safely secured in a visible spot, nestled amongst the boughs, the real meaning of Christmas taking pride of place in our home.

Today, I broke with tradition once more and began to create a Christmas pudding for Christmas Day … something I had intended to do on the weekend of “Stir Up Sunday”, a month ago.  No doubt I have left this task too late for the flavours to mellow and mingle, but a wish and a prayer might see it through to become a taste sensation, hopefully producing a good waft of dessert joy.  This year I shall attempt to create our pudding successfully with a gluten free flour and, if it turns out really well, we might enjoy it at a future gathering with the wider family, where everyone can happily tuck in.  I wish I had started this process earlier in the year, but the ‘ideal’ time had other pressing commitments, and so this one will happen now, traditional timing out the Advent window, so to speak.

Four days before Christmas … if said pudding works and I pull it off in this time, a new pudding tradition may well have begun.  The very act of stirring those fruits and zests and liquids, as the Christmas Pudding’s raw ingredients came together bit by bit today, was enough to get me powered forward.  As I breathed the lovely, familiar smells of Christmas, in calm silence, without any music needed to add to the ambience, I was filled with hope that, despite all that remains on my list To Do, I shall manage to do only what needs to be done, and only in a way that retains calm and can be done lovingly and well.

In closing my record of thoughts leading up to Christmas, I have been pondering too that yesterday I read a mindful piece about Christmas, written by a Buddhist monk.  In his thoughtful article, the writer mentioned that “The Pope has shared that this Christmas there is nothing to be joyous about, because there are so many among us choosing hate and violence instead of peace and love.”  It is a sobering thought, and so sad that Pope Francis should feel moved to say this, isn’t it?  We, who are safe and loved, have so much to be grateful for. If you would like to read it too, the full article is at http://plumvillage.org/news/a-green-santa-and-a-hug-of-love/

I hope that in these days leading up to Christmas, you will know an abiding peace in your heart, and that all your plans and hopes for Christmas will be beautifully and fruitfully realised.  Let’s spare thoughts and share our hearts and treasures with those not quite as blessed as us.

In Peace and evergreen Love,

Holly x

 

 

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Our 2011 homemade Christmas cake.

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Our little homemade angel, atop our 2011 Christmas tree, her flowing hair made of the purest wool and wings of softest felt.

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The beautiful wreath for our front door, made lovingly by my daughter and a friend, with plant offerings from the garden.  December 2011.

Peace

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Sending thoughts of peace around the world …

Thinking of those in pain right now, and praying for peace to replace all the violence and hatred, everywhere.

Meditate on peace and may peace invade every part of our lives.

With love,

Holly x