Cool digital magazine

June 13, 2013

Go see my friend Kristina’s new magazine. It is so colourful, fun and summery. Great job.

You can download it and look at it at your leisure.  I found it really relaxing and upbeat.

thanks K and friends.

love ,Sarah

Building in Braddock PA

Building in Braddock PA

When I was growing up in Pittsburgh, the city was awarded, ‘Most livable city’ a number of times.
And it was a wonderful place to live-  with its beautiful situation on the rivers, its numerous parks, prestigious universities, diverse neighborhoods, and general high standard of living.

For some people.

Preparing to go back this time, I stumbled upon a video revealing the other side of Pittsburgh as ‘number one livable city’ in the US.  I always knew about the poorer neighborhoods of Homewood, Homestead and the like.  We never ventured there because of the drugs and violence associated with them.
But seeing the conditions in Homewood now  shocked me awake.

So I resolved on this trip  to get to know not just prosperous Pittsburgh, but also the less advantaged side of my city.

Braddock building

When I started to dig deeper into this  part of Pittsburgh that was unfamiliar to me, I hit upon mayor John Fetterman and what he is doing in Braddock.  And all my lights lit up.  See the video of his Tedx talk about the transformation of a violent, neglected neighborhood into a community gradually climbing back on its feet.

When the steel industry moved out of Braddock in the 60’s,(there are still 2 working mills there) this town lost 90% of its jobs, population, and houses. John Fetterman, through a combination of vision, guts, brawn, know-how, partnering,and magic is helping revitalize this damaged community. What captured my imagination of course, was that the arts were high on the priority list of community-building projects.

near railway Mills and garden

Since I’ve been here in Pittsburgh, I’ve worked with Miss Rachel’s 6-12 year olds in the Braddock Carnegie Library, and am  going back today to assist in another craft session- Crafty Wednesdays being one of the many art, music, movement programs offered there.

Working as a white-skinned person and an outsider with a largely African American population brings up questions about integrity and effectiveness of social engagement. I’ll be exploring these further in future posts on Braddock and more.

Braddock youth garden project

Braddock youth garden project

After a fantastic 2 1/2 days with Jeff and Joyce up visiting, I had to get used to being on my own again. We’d spent the days touring Pittsburgh neighborhoods, talking about old times, laughing and stopping for yummie things every once in awhile. Thursday night I made a big salad and we ate out on the deck with the fairy lights on, magical. And last night we made a nice dinner here and had a cozy meal while it stormed outside.

So when they left, first I walked over to the house where I grew up.  In that neighborhood I met a man walking a dog and we walked together through part of Frick Park, turns out we went to the same grade school. That shared history is one thing I really miss living outside of my own culture and place.

Later,  I revisted Square Café where J&J & I ‘d had lunch yesterday, and sat at a table for one. I’d had a brief exchange with a lady on the way to the counter to order, and at some point she came over and said I was so sweet looking she just had to come and wish me Happy Mother’s Day (I figure Lucie counts as a child of sorts, so thanked her 🙂 ). We got to talking and had a warm conversation. She went back to her table and later come over and gave me the cookie pictured to welcome me to Pittsburgh. She told me her son is a cook at the café. So we talked some more, and she came around and we posed for the picture, I’d given her one of my little silk ribbon roses.

When she left, I got to talking to the couple seated next to me, and that was really nice as well. We all agreed what a friendly town Pittsburgh was. Well, mostly….. I was walking through my neighborhood this past week and a car came tearing around the corner with 5 police cars screaming after it. It was a real car chase, but not at all entertaining. There was only fear and desperation, and a real risk of someone getting seriously hurt as the car tore through all the intersections, it really shook me up.

Other than that, though I feel safe and comfortable here, on the edge of Wilkinsburg.

Pittsburgh spring

May 7, 2013

Pears in sunlight

Pears in sunlight

Pittsburgh, PA   May 7, 2013

I’ve arrived in the middle of a perfect Pittsburgh spring. The watercolor above captures the sense of it for me, sunny, homey, comfortable.
(It was made in the spirit of Richard Houston’s wonderful loose painting a day series. I’ve linked to his blog in previous posts if you want to see his work.)

There has been a long string of warm sunny days. All the cherry and apple blossom trees are in bloom and the neighborhoods here are abundantly endowed with them

What a gift to be able to walk on streets you’ve only been able to dream about- to see the familiar pavements and plants and hear the much loved bird song- especially of the cardinal. It is so sweet and melodious. The parks and Panther Hollow and Schenley lake- those amazing deep clefts with shale outcrops and tangled undergrowth that I know with a kind of visceral knowledge, like the scent of home or a loved one.

Image credit

Anyone who has given up or lost a landscape one has truly loved will probably recognize the unexpected feeling of being held, loved and received in turn by that same landscape.

I’ve been here for 2 weeks now, mostly just adjusting -in the beginning it felt like another planet. Now I am in the house I’ll be staying in for the next 3 weeks. After the social whirl of meeting old and new friends has died down a bit, I’ll get down to some serious exploring and museum visiting.

Here is where I am staying, in a great mixed bag of a neighborhood on the east side of the city.

Barbara's house

Barbara’s house

Pittsburgh Pennsylvania

April 18, 2013


Pittsburgh PA, photo source here

It has been awhile since my last posting. Things have been quiet here on the inspiration and work front. A couple of projects I was working on fell through and I’ve landed in a creative void. But I’ve learned that these periods always pass and bring with them a whole new energy or direction. So I am weathering this time of relative inactivity fairly well. And anyway, there is always the garden. Finally!

Another reason for not so much activity here is that I’m getting ready for  a long postponed trip back to my home town, Pittsburgh, PA. I’ve not been back for 10 years and though Holland is now home,  I’m needing to reconnect with my original homeland (though I was born in Ireland, but that is another story).

I want to speak English instead of Dutch, feel like I belong instead of being the eternal ‘buitenlander'(foreigner) , get the feel of the country, (re-)meet people and explore Pittsburgh. The old familiar neighbourhoods as well as all the new spaces that have been opened up and developed.  I’ll have 5 weeks to do this. Hopefully I will figure out how to blog from there so I can share my impressions.

I loved growing up in Pittsburgh. It is an embraceable city, perched elegantly on the point where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers merge to form the Ohio. When I was a girl, the rivers were lined with monumental black steel works. When we would drive into town from the suburbs at night, the skies would be lit up orange as the molten steel was being poured.

Now the rivers are cleaned up, there are walking and cycling paths where steel mills once thrived, and everything has changed.

The things I loved about this city were the diverse ethnic groups, each with their own neighbourhoods and events, though still integrated into the whole. And the many large universities, making it one big university town, and the parks, and very rich cultural life, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the International Art exhibition, the Carnegie museums and libraries.

Funnily enough, I’ve landed in a similar place in Holland. I love Groningen as well, it has a lot of water moving through it, it is also a university town, and is rich culturally.

The new Drents museum

February 2, 2013

20 minutes ride by train from Groningen (the northern Netherlands), is the small town of Assen. Recently they have built an addition to their beautiful historical and fine arts museum there. It is called the Drents Museum and I visited yesterday. There was so much to see, I’ll concentrate here just on the building, and talk about the exhibitions another time.

The old museum housed Dutch art from  1885-1935,as well as applied art and exhibitions featuring local history and collected  ceramics, textiles and porcelain. It has something of the flavour of the museums I love best in London like the Victoria & Albert Museum. the building is as much a work of art as what it holds. In the V&A sitting at the coffee shop, for instance, you can hardly stop feasting your eyes on the ceramic wall tiles and mosaics.

Here are a few pictures of the old building and it’s interior. You’ll notice that no new modern wing is visible to mar the historic appearance of the outside. How, then,  did they add the huge, spacious modern gallery spaces? You’ll see in a moment.

old museum building

Original museum building seen from the new garden

old section

old section

tiles in the hallways

tiles in the hallways

OK, here are some views of the inside of the new modern wing, designed by Erick van Egeraat.

I’m allergic to the White Cube Syndrome in modern museums, but even though there are some areas that threaten to succumb to that like the rest rooms, the main interior is exciting and welcoming.

And the new light, spacious, airy wing is all below ground level!

Look at the pictures above, where you see the skylights and vertical wooden beams in front of the windows, especially the close up with the partial moat outside the window. That is ground level. OK, here is how they did it.

The newly landscaped museum garden actually is a feature of the roof of the new wing.

In these pictures, I gradually moved closer to the skylight and eventually looked down into the gallery.

I can’t wait to see it in the spring when things are in bloom and filled out a bit. I love it.

Sonia Demetriou’s new book

Sonia, whose blog I’ve been following for awhile now, has recently self-published a truly beautiful hybrid cookbook. It is a great mix of reminiscences as well as new discoveries of her family’s heritage on the island of Cyprus.

Androula’s kitchen, Cyprus on a plate, contains a wonderful variety of  personal anecdotes and practical information about current and lost ways of life on Cyprus. Sonia also follows up her passion for the island’s traditional skills such as pottery, weaving and basket making, letting us see current examples of the crafts through beautiful photos accompanied by informative explanations. You really get a taste of daily life on the island, and we haven’t even got to the recipes yet.

The second half of the book is given over to ‘Food glorius food”.  What makes it unique is the personal element- nearly all of the traditional recipes were either made in Sonia’s cousin Androula’s kitchen, or given by relatives and friends in the village. Where the recipes are more general, various friend-cooks give handy tips and snippets of history and anecdote to accompany the bread, soup or pudding being made.

I love to read cookbooks, and this one is my favourite kind to have- you get all kinds of background stories that put the dish in a context and add so much more to its enjoyment.

In Sonia’s own words….

‘…this book is a record of my journey in search of some of the island’s local traditions and crafts, which have been integral to the Cypriot way of life for centuries. It is a tale of the people I met, the food we made and enjoyed in Androula’s kitchen, and some of the Cypriot’s best loved recipes, which I collected along the way. The ancient history of Cyprus is well documented; I wanted to find out about the mundane life of yesterday and its place in modern Cyprus’.

This book is brimming with spices, landscapes, stories, characters, seasonings, sweets, art, and handwork, but most of all a lot of heart and soul. It is a  real gift, and it makes an ideal one as well.

No I’m not getting a cut, this is an unsolicited endorsement of a fellow writer’s worthwhile and beautiful creative product.