If Life Gives You Lemons…

There are times when life throws you a curve ball.

It can come straight out of left-field without warning and you know nothing of it, till it smacks you on the head and leaves you wondering what on earth hit you…..

Or, it’s clearly in your line of vision, you see it coming and you may, or may not, have enough time to prepare and decide what to do. Either way, choice is limited; you can either face it head on, brace yourself for the inevitable impact and hope and pray you’ll come out on top – or at least still standing:

Or you can duck – in the hope of avoiding it altogether:


Or you can just cut your losses and run – like hell!


Well, If you can imagine yourself standing centre-field and not one but ten of these beauties start coming at you fast and furious, all at once…. you’ll begin to have some idea of how my life has been this past month and a half. I won’t bore you with all the details, the most important point is that: Hey! I’m still here and NOT drowning but waving (just!) – a bit battered and bruised perhaps and certainly in need of lots of R&R! But, I’m here nonetheless; more resilient and optimistic than ever.  In fact, I’m all fired up and ready to go, even better-equipped to face whatever next might be heading my way…..so BRING IT ON!

(No, no! I’m kidding! – enough is enough, thank you very much!)

Like I said, I won’t bore you with any details of some of the more frustrating and tedious aspects of Greek island life but, putting humour to one side for a moment, one of those curve balls, more than all the others put together, deserves more than just a passing mention; the loss, recently, of my dearest, darling Mother.

Mere words cannot possibly do justice to the wonderful, beautiful person she was, inside and out, or can even begin to describe the roller coaster of emotions and the deep sense of loss I’m experiencing –  so I won’t even attempt to find any.

Instead, feeling as I do, closer to my mother amongst nature, especially in her beloved garden, more than anywhere else,  I’ll simply share with you a poem I’ve found that goes some way to expressing how weighed down my heavy heart is right now:

‘Haworth’

By Carole Ann Duffy:

I’m here now where you were

The summer’s grass under my palms is your hair.

Your taste is the living air.

I lie on my back. Two juggling butterflies are your smile.

The heathery breath of the moor’s simply your smell.

Your name sounds on the coded sound of the bell.

I’ll go nowhere you’ve not.

The bleached dip in a creature’s bone’s your throat.

That high lark, whatever it was you thought.

And this ridged stone’s your hand in mine,

and the curve of the turning earth your spine,

and the swooning bees besotted with flowers your tune…

I get up and walk.

The dozing hillside is your dreaming head.

The cobblestones are every word you said,

The grave I kneel beside, only your bed.

R.I.P

Yvonne Magdalena Katharina

1923 – 2011

The kindness, support and outpouring of sympathy we’ve received has been simply overwhelming and has helped me and my family enormously through this difficult time. Thank you so much, everyone!

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Despite personal anguish, and with precious little time or space to grieve, Life had to somehow go on and commitments had to be met so, upon returning to the island, the summer season resumed. First, there was an exhibition, held jointly with my friend Despina Mitselou, in honour of the 100 year anniversary of the death of the famous Greek prose writer, Alexandros Papadiamantis. We showed our new works at the ‘Little Gallery’ in Skiathos Town:

before, once again painting guests and visitors began arriving from all quarters.

Earlier in the summer, Pam & Christiana from South Africa had spent a day painting with me in the garden:

with some excellent results!

and new friendships were firmly forgedCaroline arrived from England for a week’s course with me:

and she too created some wonderful work. Then, together with Tanja, all the way from Toronto, Canada and accompanied by her mother, she enjoyed Despina’s icon painting classes and they both showed amazing skill!

 We shared day trips up into the hills, sight-seeing:

and enjoying delicious lunches al fresco; ‘Olive Land’ in Katsarou with its fine cuisine, friendly hosts, George and (another) Despina and its fabulous panoramic views, was a firm favouriteWe also managed an outing to Kastro in the north of the island:

 

Where we met the taverna’s newest resident:

Kastro Beach’s colourful re-vamp this year inspired me to finally finish an oil painting I’d begun some time ago:

On a visit to fellow (American) artist Lauren Cook’s fabulous hillside home and studio:

as well as some wonderful hospitality, guests were treated to an evening of open air ‘performance art’, given by some of her visiting guests; young dancers, all the way from her home in Maryland VA in the USA, who had choreographed a moving, musical interpretation of her latest series of paintings:

And later in Skiathos Town, in the open air theatre of the Bourtzi Cultural centre we enjoyed another evening of brilliant performances given by talented local dancers, singers and musicians; a wonderfully entertaining benefit concert, now an annual event, in aid of the island’s Cat and Dog shelters, was organised and directed by my friend Vasilis Koralis.

I think I’ve already mentioned the two new additions to the family in the shape of two tiny kittens that someone had abandoned and dropped over my garden wall:

Well, sadly the little white one with the eye patch (whose name we changed from Pax to Pandemonium because of the havoc she caused) is no more. She was such a character, the fearless leader of the two, who’d developed the annoying (and frankly painful!) habit of propelling herself several feet up into the air and clinging on to the nearest receptacle (usually my back, right between the shoulder blades!) with her razor-sharp claws. Well unfortunately, in my absence, she flung herself one giant leap too far; right off the garden wall into the path of an on-coming taxi and was killed outright. Her little brother still seems lost without her although Piccolina has become more accepting of him and can actually pass him by now without dishing out one of her customary vicious whacks:

July 27th is St. Fanourios’ (the patron saint of lost things in Greece) Day:

Every year, the evening before, a traditional ceremony is held at the church dedicated to his name; Aghios Fanourious. It is a beautiful church situated above the acropolis, on a commanding hilltop position, overlooking the whole of Skiathos Town and harbour below:

My friend Sam who lives in the neighbourhood,  kindly invited me along to learn about, and join in, the celebration in which each member of the local community bakes a special cake or ‘pitta’, called a ‘Fanouropitta’, for the occasion:

It must be made to a strictly adhered-to recipe, consisting of 7 or 9 ingredients including flour, soda, olive oil, nuts (walnuts) sultanas, cloves, cinnamon, orange juice (and zest) and sugar – but no eggs. Some add a honey liqueur or ouzo but with or without, It’s delicious! It is similar to a heavily spiced but light sponge cake and is offered firstly to the church (to be distributed amongst the poor) with prayers and wishes:

and then to the gathered congregation of friends and neighbours seated outside:

Sam, as well as her own cake, had thoughtfully baked one for me to take along too –  and I was honoured to be able take part in this age-old tradition, to pray for my own recent losses, make my wishes and share my offering with new friends and some old familiar faces.

Susan, another artist, also from South Africa, arrived soon after, eager to learn new painting techniques and hone her existing skills:

She enjoyed working in the studio and her kind, effervescent personality provided me with some much-needed support, as she witnessed the difficulties I was facing first-hand. but most of all, she seemed to really enjoy painting ‘en plein air’ in the seclusion of the olive grove:With only a few more weeks of this season still to go and some final guests yet to arrive, the weather shows no sign of changing just yet. Temperatures outside continue to soar and inside, air-conditioners are still going full blast. We’ve had the occasional hint of a thunderstorm but no sign yet of the much-needed rain….So the island, rather like myself,  I fear, is looking dried-up and dusty and very, very tired…..

The figs, very late this year, drop off the trees the instant they ripen and, in complete contrast to last year’s bumper harvest, there’s not a single olive in sight but that’s no cause for concern. It’s all part of the natural cycle. When I look at the gnarled old olive trees and think of how many years (hundreds in some cases!) they’ve been witness to change, to the wars waged, won and lost, to the generations that have come and gone, enduring a constant battering by the elements, withstanding both good and bad times, well,  I’m in awe that they continue to stand sentinel over this ancient land and remain so resilient.

Seeing them stand proud and upright (well, almost!) and beautiful, with their roots ever more deeply entrenched, regardless, sets a fine example of victory over adversity and it helps me, in noting a parallel with my own situation here, to keep a sense of perspective. Any problems I may have suddenly pale in significance, by comparison. Peace and above all Hope reign once more…..

So, yes, ‘It’s an ill wind…….’ as they say in Scotland and indeed:

“If Life gives you lemons……just make lemonade!”

12 thoughts on “If Life Gives You Lemons…

  1. Yvonne,

    So Sorry to hear about your mother! She was very beautiful and you look so much like her photo! I know you spoke of her the little time we had together….I hope your father is doing OK, I know this must be hard for him, as it is for all of you!

    I do hope the remainder of your stay on The Island is a pleasant and peaceful time!

    As for the Kitty….I sure hope the taxi driver was not Costa!

    I am off to France tomorrow with my group of 7 painters….A NEW ADVENTURE AWAITS!!

    All The Best To You!

    NIKI

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    • Thank you so much, Niki – you’re so kind! Have fun on your new adventure. Can’t wait to hear all about it and see the results.(I’ll have to join you one of these days!). Yes, things here are looking up; my Austin friends arrive here at the end of the week……. Kalo Taxidi! Much love for now Y. xx

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  2. A wonderful blog Yvonne, and so much to digest. A beautiful memorial to your Mum too. You’ll conquer all I’m sure and come out the other side stronger, and even more amazing than you are already! So sorry to hear of little Pax – what a way to go though – quite typical of him – I still have the scars on my legs from his launches onto my lap when I was painting! I do hope the rest of 2011 is easier on you. LOL Jxx

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    • Aw, Thank you Jackie! Lovely words……and much appreciated. Aren’t you supposed to be down in Aussie land now? Perhaps you are….. Hope all is well with you and Peter and you’re making the most of all this fabulous weather! I’ve been keeping up with your blog too and admiring all your wonderful new work. Gosh, you have been busy, keep them coming!! Much love to you both, Y xx

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  3. Yvonne, I lost my mother eleven years ago and I still think about her every day. It is a loss you never completely get over, but it does soften with time. I have also had a hair-raising summer, starting with an 80 foot maple tree falling on my house in April, but nothing as grievous as yours. All the best!

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    • Thank you so much for taking the time to write Sarah! I’m so sorry for your loss too and take great comfort from your words. I didn’t know about the tree. Gosh! How does one cope with that? I hope you are OK and no-one was injured….There must be something in the air this year, I’m hearing so many terrible stories! I really hope it got sorted and things are improving for you now. Let’s hope there’s some truth in the old adage: ‘What doesn’t actually kill us…… can only makes us stronger’ . Stay strong! Much love, Yvonne x

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  4. Hi Yvonne

    A lovely read, very touching and poignant, but your strength is shining through. Enjoyed the photos and folklore a lot. I hope you wake up smiling every morning for one reason or another, mainly because life is beautiful in some way every day! Sorry I didn’t see you before I left (back under greyskies.co.u-flippin’-k today …) but I understand that a court case re swimmers and boats went the right way, so I guessed you’d be very busy helping the friends who needed you most, as ever.

    I’ll keep in touch!

    Sara xx

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    • Ah, Sara – my dear unsuspecting ‘sounding-board’, thank you so much for being so patient with me that day. I had hoped to make it up to you before you left but…well, as you know, the saga continued a while longer. Yes, a good and just outcome but it’s not over yet and yes, I’m having to dig deep but hopefully the strength is there – somewhere! Stay warm, stay close and Happy Thoughts. Much love for now Y.xx

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