On Turning 30


Hey guys, I thought I would drop in and share some news with you – it was my birthday over the Easter weekend and it was the BIG 30! Three decades on this earth and I have so much to be thankful for. A kind and very handsome husband, a beautiful little girl (the tall, blonde version of myself, still wondering how that happened but totally going along with it slash considering going blonde and getting leg extensions), a growing business I have built from scratch, a sweet little home in a sweet little town, a broad network of loving friends all over the globe, and my family who still love me despite skipping town to follow my heart eight years ago and never returning. So while I am entering what I feel is a new phase in my life, as a woman and mother, I thought I would ring in this milestone with a personal post – rare for me despite being a very open person (at times, embarrassingly so) to those who know me personally – and just share some thoughts on turning 30.


The thing is, I have never quite felt my age. Growing up I was often described as an old soul, relishing in the company of adults and perpetually drawn to classical, jazz and blues music from a young age. I would sit quite happily for hours at age 9 doing needlepoint with my mother and making tapestry works of art that we would excitedly have made into pillows. I belted emotional Celine Dion numbers from the top of my lungs at age 11 (all by myseeeeelf…..) and worked out to Ray Charles at 18. Old soul or not, I had to grow up fast when my mother suffered a string of illnesses that nearly took her life when I was 14. I spoke about this briefly in this post, but I don’t speak of this time often. Naturally, as it was a turbulent time for me and my family, it’s marks still etched on my memory and in my heart. 

After my mother became ill and was no longer be able to withhold her position at work during treatment (chemotherapy) she began making handbags as a way to make up for the lost income, selling them at our local markets. They were delightful little things, made out of fabric with various trimmings on them, into which she poured every last ounce of energy she had left in her. They were a ray of sunshine in our lives, little colourful pops of hope and beauty at a time when everything felt scary and uncertain. I would often join her at the markets and watch her sell bag after bag, in awe of her creativity and unwavering energy despite all she was going through physically.

When she was suddenly whisked off to hospital after suffering her first of two very serious brain haemorrhages, I taught myself how to make her bags. We had orders to fill and a mortgage to pay, after all. I didn’t ask questions. I had seen her make a thousand bags before – I would sit in the garage of our home singing Norah Jones songs while she pieced bag after bag together – and so I got on with it.

I sewed bags while she recovered from a coma, and I sewed bags while she was in rehabilitation after her second stroke. I sewed them late into the night every Friday, I sewed them before school and after school and I sewed them during school holidays while my friends were at the beach. And when I was not sewing bags I was dreaming about them. In essence, I ran a small business and it was from that business that the mortgage was paid, though I didn’t quite realise that at the time. I was mature, driven and undeniably responsible for a young girl my age.

I sewed and sold handbags from the age of 14 until I was 19 and then simply couldn’t sew another handbag. I wanted a life, a youth, not a business. I wanted to be out on Friday nights like my friends were and lazing on the beach on Saturdays. I stopped making bags and started caring for children instead. For two years, I looked after three children full time under the age of eight, attending classes for my university degree in the evenings and waitressing at a cafe on Saturdays.


By the time I boarded the flight that swept me off to Europe – where I stayed – I was tired, weighed down by responsibility, yearning for freedom and longing for adventure. Fast forward a few years, lots of adventure, a life-altering encounter with a handsome Dutchman, a university degree and subsequent career as an editor, and I was suddenly a mother at the age of 25. From my role as a nanny, I was painfully aware of the kind of responsibility that went with parenthood and felt both underprepared and overwhelmed at the path that lay ahead. But Lola arrived into the world early one June morning and we did our best with what we had. She is a joyous, bright little girl and obviously the best thing that has ever happened to us.

Perhaps the shock of becoming a mother much sooner than I had anticipated was greater than I realised at the time, but I never really felt like I fit into the ‘mum role’. I always felt too young, though I had been though much more in my short existence than anyone else I knew that was my own age. While other mothers around me looked like they had it all together, I was scrambling about trying to scratch what felt like a thousand things – all of equal importance – off a mental to-do list as long as my arm before I could say I had it together. Get married, buy house, have car that works, start career. I was the youngest mum in Lola’s creche group which made me feel vaguely like a teen mom – not made any easier by the fact that I referred to her father as my boyfriend at the time – and am pretty sure I’m the youngest mum in Lola’s class at school and still feel slightly uncomfortable about that fact. I am a dedicated mother with enough love for my daughter to sink two battleships, but am also very focused on my work and often feel guilty for not getting that out of my system before becoming a mother.

And now I have arrived at what I feel to be a landmark – a shift both mental, physical and emotional. Turning 30 for me is the stepping away of a version of myself that never quite felt fitting. I was always an old soul, accomplishing things early on in life but never feeling truly content about it. And after years of being ahead of myself on so many levels yet immature on others, I am stepping into a version of myself that feels like home. I am a wife, a mother, a business owner. I have travelled the world, I have accomplished things that I would not have dared dream about merely five years ago and continue to surprise myself each day. I have insecurities which I don’t think will change no matter what my age, but somehow, now that I am 30, I feel more confident about who I am and where I am going. I am at home in my body despite it’s many imperfections, I am at home in my mind with it’s sometimes irrational thoughts, and I am at home in my role as a mother, finally ready to expand my family and embrace that role on a deeper level.

So long story short, how do I feel about turning 30? Kind of like I’m stepping into a pair of shoes that were filled a long time ago – strangely foreign and altogether new, yet worn, comfortable, familiar.

My birthday was quiet and calm, spent with my family. My husband has given me a holiday to a surprise destination which we are taking in May and all I know is I need to pack a bikini. And run a thousand kilometers before May to fit said bikini.

NOT however before I have appropriately rung in my 30th birthday this weekend with friends who are mostly over 30 and will be suitably consoling me with cocktails and strong alchoholic beverages. All. Night. Long.

I have chosen to celebrate at Alohabar in Rotterdam – a former swimming pool turned trendy bar and restaurant that feels every bit as nostalgic as it does new. Quite fitting a place for me to ring in my dirty thirties, I thought. If you live in the Netherlands and have not yet visited Alohabar, I highly recommend going for lunch or dinner – the menu is divine – and if you have kids it’s a great place to come on a Sunday afternoon as there is a lovely play area with child care so you can have a drink in peace. They have a huge deck laden with cafe lights which overlooks the river which is gorgeous during the summer time, and if the weather is pants or you’re obsessed with interiors like me, the inside of the restaurant is a very hip mix of vintage and design. They also have DJs and a silent disco there too, so it’s got all sorts of seriously cool going for it. Can’t wait, bring on 30, I say!

H x

Photography: Babs van Steijnen, taken during an Inspire Sessions workshop I hosted in my home with Hanke Arkenbout

17 Responses to “On Turning 30”

  1. Hanke says:

    Ohhh wow! This made me all teary eyed Holly! The story of you sewing the bags while your mum was sick. Ah! Such a trooper you are! You’re the best mum Lola can ask for and I think she will be super proud to have such a young beautiful mommy when shopping for clothes later on :). Big hug and see you sooooon!!!

  2. Cecilia says:

    Hey Hols, wow, what a post! You are an amazingly beautiful person with an amazingly beautiful story, and so many talents and determination (and equisite taste!). You can achieve absolutely anything, and we all love you, very, very much. Let’s drink to that on Saturday x

  3. Yvonne says:

    What a beautiful blogpost Holly. Wishing you many happy days and many happy years xxxx

  4. christine says:

    What an amazing story dear Holly, i so admire you and you’re one of the sweatest persons i know! Cheers dear.. to you and your lovely family, i know the big 30 suits you just fine! xo

  5. Happy Birthday Holly – loved this post and found it quite touching. Welcome to your new/old/loved pair of shoes and welcome to this side of 30 🙂

  6. Caroline says:

    Fabulous Holly! Congratulations on achieving so much when you were so young and since then too! Its such a great time to be such a young age-so many exciting things happening and you’re really making the most of it all-keep going just as you are! Cxx

  7. Janine Ross says:

    Hi to you all,
    Let me introduce myself. I am Janine, Hollys mother. I feel compelled to write something here, having read Hollys blog and your replies to it.
    Holly is indeed, a remarkable young woman. To me, she has always been like the Pied Piper, wherever Holly is, you’re sure to find a long line of friends, who adore her, and might I say, for very good reason. Hollys strength in dark times, her determination to succeed, her sense of style, loyalty, are just a few things which make her so special.

    Well done to you, my darling girl, or, as we used to say, “my last little baby”. I’m so proud of you.


  8. Jelena says:

    A beautiful post Holly. As I already said on fb, it really only gets better on this side of 30 (even though I may not always look like I mean it, ha, ha), feeling better in your own skin in every way, and being at peace with who you are.

    Looking forward to celebrating with you in a few days! xo

  9. Tracy says:

    Dear Holly,
    You are a daughter any mum would be proud of, and a mum any daughter would be proud of! Beautiful heartfelt post.

  10. Danielle says:

    You are a beautiful writer and a beautiful woman, Holly. Welcome to your 30s – underrated if you ask me haha you’ve achieved so much, I’m so proud of you and to be able to call you a friend. Have a wonderful party with the people who love you who are close enough to celebrate in person, and us souls far away will send love (and drink a couple of vinos) in your honour here. Mwah, looking forward to hearing your voice soon, Danielle xx

  11. Jamey says:

    First off, Congratsz! Secondly, <3 beautiful post

  12. Still gongratulations! I have read several posts in silence, but found this one a great post! Well written indeed. Hope you had a nice celebration!

  13. I’m two years away from turning 30 but some of the things you wrote hit close to home. Happy birthday! Xx


  14. Hinke says:

    Hi Holly,

    Jump in here from the BYW course and busy soaking up everything! The photography course with you and Hanke is on my wish list now. Accidently planning one between june 26 and july 5 😉 ? That time I will be in Groningen. I love your blog and this is a beautiful post. Had a good laugh about being a young mum, I was 23 with my first, it is so recognazible. Even the feeling of becoming 30, haha!

    x Hinke

  15. Alvina says:

    Such a beautifully written and articulated post Holly. Heartbreaking. Warm. Delightful. Emotional. Real. Thanks for sharing and Happy Birthday! I will put Alohabar on our list to visit one Sunday with my family! x

  16. Petrina says:

    What a lovely post Holly! I came across it while doing a BYW course and have really enjoyed reading it. Do you know, among other things (young person with ‘an old soul’) we might even share a birthday?! I turned 40 this year over the Easter weekend! Have you had your lovely holiday yet? If so I hope you thoroughly enjoyed it. My husband organised a holiday for us and our 3 kids on Hamilton Island (Australia) to celebrate me turning 40. Thank you for a glimpse into your life. I wish you much success!

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