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

Collecting Leaves ~ A Poem With Little Punctuation

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Gifting myself an hour outdoors in the weak Autumnal sunshine this morning, the intention being to collect what I could, in that time, of the bounty of leaves lying piled up and scattered all around the house and under nearby trees, I savoured every minute of the precious outdoor time. Every bagful would, in only one year, become freely acquired luscious soil, a friable bounty known as “leafmould”.

As I walked back inside afterwards, my fingers frozen to the bone, peeled off my cosy outdoor boots and set my sights back onto working at the computer, I heard a beautiful tune playing on the radio: “Anno Epilogue” by Oliver Davis.  The haunting melody seemed to contain a mirror of the mood I was wafting through. I sat down, with intentions of attending other projects, but instead I wrote this poem.

I hope it will make sense  … there was little punctuation added whilst writing, not wishing to interrupt the flow of the poem writing itself!

~ : ~

[Please continue reading until the Post Script, dated 21 November 2015, at the end of this post. Thank you.]

 

~ : ~

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Collecting Leaves

Golden sunshine captures me as I look into the leaves …
Smells and sights and sounds I feel
As into the depths of golden hues
I allow my spirit to sink and swim and swallow wholeness
From without into within and all around and all beyond me
When all of a sudden the wind whips up and darkness descends into the daylight
Clouds overhead look to me like mighty thunderous promise
While hard drops of icy water hit the surface of the layers on the ground
Sleety icy cold and glorious, windy wet and perfectly sound
I feel the ice begin to enter through my too thin and puny rubber gloves
Knowing soon I shall have to head back inside
But I wish to remain outdoors where I can smell the Autumn and play in her gifts to all mankind
It might be Friday the thirteenth, but superstition is not a worry to me
I am free and I am unencumbered by the fears that grip so many on this day
All I want to do is stay outdoors and be warm enough to play
I look up and see the holly berries ripening on a holly tree
And quickly realise that there lies more promise, more gifts from Nature on this day
Soon I shall gather boughs of berried holly, before the little birds take them all away
And that way we shall have some festive season redness of natural beauty in our home
As we sit in front of log fires, catching up with loved ones who so often are very far away
Playing games and sharing stories, looking at photographs and reminiscing on times we’ve loved
Knowing that every moment is a precious gem, one not to be squandered
But that day soon comes, when we know not when.
And so for now I gather in my harvest of leafy gold dust,
Which when it turns to dust will become my gold
As leaves of many colours and types and sizes become transformed
From rich, papery, vibrant shades of Autumnal tones in every golden hue
Into the rich brown, sweet smelling earth from which they once came …
Once more they are and will become … leafmould.
As we go from dust to dust, so leaves too return to the Earth
From whence we died, we each become new birth.

*

by  Holly Maxwell Boydell

*

[all rights reserved]

~ : ~

 

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Note: If Readers too would like to hear the beautiful tune I heard before penning this poem, and replayed while I collected its stream of words, here is a link that I found to “Anno Epilogue” by Oliver Davis, via YouTube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-71KIvYOKLk

 

~ : ~

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Blessings,

Holly x

 


POST SCRIPT

Saturday 21 November 2015

I wrote the poem “Collecting Leaves” at lunchtime last Friday, 13 November 2015, and posted it onto The Holly Tree Tales that afternoon.  Little did any of us know that, later that day, the most atrocious tragedy would hit Europe, matched only by some of the atrocities being carried out in other parts of the world too.  Two lines in the poem have been haunting me all this week:

“It might be Friday the thirteenth, but superstition is not a worry to me
I am free and I am unencumbered by the fears that grip so many on this day”

At the time of writing, those words seemed relevant to the ambience and experience on the day, but in hindsight they appear truly crass – which is not and was not, by any means, intended. Out of respect to all those who were hurt on that day, in untold and known ways in Europe and around the world, and to all those who are still hurting in the aftermath of the atrocities,  I have since removed those two troubling lines.  There is now a revised version of this poem, which appears later in the blog, republished and with more punctuation inserted.

In mindful consideration, I continue to hope for peace to come into all of our lives.

~ Holly Maxwell Boydell

A Catch-Up With Readers

Looking South-West at a spectacular evening sky, from outside the Author's home, in February 2015.

Looking South-West at a spectacular early evening sky in February 2015.


Dear Readers,

Today I thought it would be a good idea to stop a while and say thank you to those who have been kind enough to take an interest in my Blog, and who have so willingly ‘signed up’ to follow The Holly Tree Tales, either as fellow bloggers or via personal email updates.

Having finally begun to set up a blog in January this year, then struggling endlessly to master the technical side of it, tripping over all manner of things, and experimenting with all sorts of posts – while, at the same time, being terrified at the prospect of speaking before an audience I cannot see and do not know, yet determined to face the challenge with authenticity – I think I am getting a little closer to being able to post something, without giving myself palpitations or an exhaustion headache in the process!

Yes, some of the photographs featured are dreadfully amateur, but that’s because they’re usually not staged and are often simply captured in the moment. Yes, some of the writing bangs on forever, but that’s because I try to write as if we were in the room together. Oh and, yes, some of my writing might appear rather stilted or old-fashioned … but perhaps I’m being too harsh on myself … Whatever. I do not seek judgement, please, nor critique, merely simple acceptance of my offerings and the knowing that I am grateful to have any readers at all. Your comments are always welcome and it is very heartening to know when posts have been of use or comfort, so please do not hesitate to share your thoughts with me and the other readers of this blog. It really helps to know that there is an audience out there!

I wonder how many have noticed that I have learnt how to create menu headings? Believe it or not, I did not read the WordPress tutor documents before setting out on this blogging journey … perhaps foolishly, but I did not realise that they existed.  Indeed this too has been a steep learning curve, but such fun, with a sense of personal achievement to finally master! As a result, several menu headings have been set up for The Holly Tree Tales, alongside what I have nicknamed the “Blogscroll” (now that I have learnt that it is also the “Home” page), and that as yet most of the additional menu headings and sub-headings still await their content. This is partly because Life itself has determined the pace at which I have been able to compile the page content, and also that writing clarity has not always matched the energy needed to fill in the gaps. They shall come … both clarity and energy … in tandem, I hope. When the clarity comes further, I intend to tidy up the blog site “categories” too, which currently seem rather endless! One dolly step at a time, as the learning continues.

So, thank you for following The Holly Tree Tales, with its wonky structure and its little moments of applause, and thank you for patiently standing in the wings while I figure out what I am doing on the stage. It has been a nerve-wracking experience stepping up to the podium, and one that continues to challenge me, but I shall continue to do my best to deliver writing from the heart and to share some of my journey with you.

Blessings and encouragement on your journey too,

Holly x

A Letter To My Brother

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To my darling brother,

Whom I have known for fifty years today,

A message that is on my heart to share with you,

On your special birthday far away …

 

I am not sure how to write this, nor how to best begin, and so am going to pretend that we are in the same part of the world and this is my speech for you, as if standing before you, amongst a crowd of well-wishers. I wonder how many know how lucky we are to have you with us still?

When I woke this morning, unusually early at 5.50am, I immediately knew that today was your birthday and the enormity of this realisation hit me like a boat paddle across the head. Thoughts flooded my mind, memories of our childhood – sweet, adventurous, challenging and complex all at once – and tears tumbled out as I recalled how we so nearly lost you. I cannot tell you how grateful I am that you did not die … and that you survived each additional time that you heroically diced with death …

The fact that you are here today is, to me, nothing short of a miracle. Does anyone else know this, I wonder?

It was such a long time ago, and yet even today I cannot bear the smell of chemotherapy. I recall as if it were moments ago, visiting you in your hospital ward, climbing up onto your bed, and you handing me your beloved ‘real rabbit skin’ koala bear … which I took back to my convent boarding school with me, stuck my head into every single night, and cried into as if my heart would break.

You had no hair, your leukaemia treatment had been fierce and your battle was being lost … only one in ten children were able to survive back then, if that, and you were fast fading away. The smell of chemotherapy was powerful in the hospital, and it followed me powerfully everywhere, captured in the fur of the little koala bear. My pain at our separation was unbearable; our broken family disintegrating before my eyes, and the thought of losing you too was inutterably painful. I could not understand what all the words meant which described your health challenge and treatments, nor why I had to lose you, but I knew that I would not be able to go on if you went away forever. With my fervent little girl prayers, I prayed my heart out to the God that I knew and trusted, and I begged him to let you live … I can’t remember what I offered in return, but I begged for my brother not to leave me.

I was in a convent for two years from the age of seven, separated from you from when you became ill aged five, and cannot remember how long the treatment went on for, but every day was like forever. I know that we were hardly ever able to see one another in that time, and much about each other’s life then has been lost to both of us, but I remember the relief when I heard that you would live. You were dying. The doctors had done all that they could to save you. It was just a matter of time … and then one night, bruised and completely spent, you suddenly (miraculously) turned the corner, and your body began to heal. To this day, I believe that God granted the miracle so fervently sought, and that you were supernaturally healed. You were not strong physically, although clearly your spirit was phenomenal, and we had to take the utmost care with you … by then your and my childhood rough ‘n tumbles together had completely ceased. Your body had to be protected, and we were taking no chances with it.

How you got from there, aged five, to where you are today with a beautiful family of your own, amazes me. I am in awe of what you have survived, thrived despite all challenges to do so, overcome and risen above. The thing that I find truly astounding is that, not only did you stare the demon in the face and overwhelm it, but you then went on to tease the darkness several more times, coming out on top each time. Do you remember how, not long after surviving cancer, you climbed up into and then tumbled out of a huge fig tree … hitting your head on the concrete ground below? How did you walk away from that? Fervent prayers again, I wonder?

Do you remember the time, in about 1973, when we went on an adventure to find out where a swarm of honeybees had built their nest? We climbed up a narrow metal rung ladder in the garage, up to an attic space above … I remember clearly telling you to walk along the rafters (how did I know that, aged ten?) … but you disobeyed, and promptly fell through the roof. Your arrival into the living room was so dramatic: not only had you blasted through the ceiling like a super hero, but your steering skills went slightly awry … you took the brass candlesticks with you, as you flew past the stone mantel piece, thrashing your skull before you crash-landed onto the stone-flagged floor below. Why did you do that, my brother? Why did you have to go and crack your head open yet again, and on the day that we were due to travel in a group to Ifafa Beach? Do you know that, while your body was being put back together in hospital, yet again, none of the adults would speak to me? Do you know that they all thought I must have been trying to extinguish you? If only they’d known. What a sad, lonely time that beach ‘holiday’ was … but, thank the Lord, once again you survived.

We had so many adventures … did so many things that most children would not dream possible … our escapades colourful and inventive. I remember watching you, a tiny boy aged ten, swimming across the Vaal River in flood, to collect a dassie or mongoose that had been offered to us, so that we had something to cook on our fire. Our little African friends thought you were Superman, I’m sure. How did you survive that, my brother? Where do you hide your cloak?

You were such a brilliant companion and you have been such a clown all our lives, that I would not trade you for all the world. The times when our joking banter would bemuse others, and your dry humour infuriate them, are so innumerable that I have lost count of all the jests. Perhaps if people had known about your ability to overcome beasts and dragons, as I did, they would have shown you more compassion, as well as much-deserved respect? You certainly have mine.

As I think back over just those few incidents in the fifty years that I have known you, my brother, I see how much I have been blessed to be a part of your life. I have known for a long time that you stand head and shoulders above the crowd. What I did not anticipate, aged fourteen and you aged twelve, was how quickly you’d fall head-over-heels in love with all the Bob Marley music I played. Having rocked to the Reggae beat consistently for several years, disinterested in any other beat whatsoever, you finally gave in and increased your music collection, and yet to this day you remain an avid, loyal and dedicated fan. Rastaman vibration, yeah.

Happy Birthday, my brother. You are a truly bright, shining star and you have been my one rock, one constant, for a full half a century, through treacherous seas, through thick and thin. Here’s to the next half, and may you continue to be blessed.

Congratulations on reaching this fabulous milestone …
No … more than that … THANK YOU.
I do not know what I would have done had you left me behind.

With love, positive beats and admiration,

Your sister always,

Holly x

 

 

Holly & Rhett - matching outfits - enlarged - THTT signed

 

 

 

PS.

Holly & Rhett - Arundel Road (enlarged) - THTT signed