on the walk to Lewes

on the walk to Lewes

During my recent trip to England, this was the usual weather. And these muted greens and earth colours were the palette in the South Downs area.

There was some relief from that the day I went to Brighton to meet Sonia. I’ll write about our pleasurable meeting later, you can see Sonia’s account of it here.

I’d thought Brighton was a charming, small white-housed seaside resort- so I was kind of surprised at my first glimpse of it through the train window!

Brighton from train

And after Sonia and I had a light snack at the museum, and I headed out to the ocean, I got away as fast as possible from this scene.

brighton boardwalk
So I guess it isn’t surprising, considering the dull pre-spring greens I’d been seeing up until then,  that when I finally got to the beach, my eye was pulled to stronger colours. I had a brilliant time scavenging for bits of washed up plastic. Though it was devastating to see evidence of how plastics end up in the ocean food chain, I decided to see them also as colours and forms. Below is the first collection.

Collected within a circle about 2 meters from where I was sitting.

Collected within a circle about 2 meters from where I was sitting.

After that I set about collecting (via photos) plastic objects, one for each colour of the rainbow.

I’ve recently returned from 2 weeks in the UK. The first part was a city visit to London galleries. And the second part was meant to be a restful walking holiday in the South Downs national reserve area.

I stay in youth hostels and was looking forward to trying the new one at Southease, not far from Brighton. It is advertised as being rural, in the middle of the South Downs coastal walking area, and after 5 hectic days in an overfull 12 bed dorm in London, I was looking forward to some peace and quiet.

Getting off a the tiny Southease train station and walking the 200 meters to the hostel, it appears to be just what is says on the tin. It is a rebuilt farm with rustic elements, and looks great.

approaching from the station

approaching from the station

Here is the view looking back to the railway line.

Looking toward Southease

Looking toward Southease

Once in the hostel, I was shown to my dorm and regardless of my budget, immediately upgraded to a private room.  It was so narrow and tiny, and had no storage space for my  things, that I couldn’t face 5 nights there. Luckily there was a room available, and I began to unpack. But for a moment I couldn’t believe my ears- whoosh, whoosh, …..cars, trucks, horns! What is this?

So here is what they don’t tell you on the site or anywhere else about South Downs yha- namely, that it is located literally on the side of a major artery, A26 . And that there is heavy traffic there from 5AM to 11PM, and that the rooms are not well insulated. Underneath is a picture of one of my windows (pink arrow) , the other one is on the corner where the blue arrow is, the blue arrow is pointing to the road.

my window

my window

Below you see how close it is to the road, the blue arrow shows where my other window was. And there is are other bedrooms right on the road side as well.

approaching hostel

approaching hostel

In the photo below, the blue arrow shows the hostel.

Back side of hostel approaching from the otherdirection.

Back side of hostel approaching from the other direction.

I’ve already written to yha (see update below)  that I feel this is a gross misrepresentation. I didn’t sleep well at all, even with earplugs, and a quick nap during the day was impossible.

Still, I was there, and the surroundings were nice, so I did make the best of it. But I want to add that this hostel is designed badly, there is more emphasis on externals than actual needs of the visitors. There are many glitches besides not enough storage space in the dorms, which are more than just teething problems. Looks like it was done by a committee, with an eye to profits as the bottom line rather than creating a caring, comfortable place for hostellers to relax. I wouldn’t recommend this hostel to anyone.

Update March 20, 2014:
One good thing about YHA is their dedication to improving the quality of their product and services. After every stay you get an elaborate survey to fill in covering all aspects of your stay, from cleanliness to staff friendliness. I wrote a rather damning evaluation plus a separate detailed report to the customer care manager of all the things that were wrong, and requested a full refund. I received the most sympathetic and kind mail from Alice Brooksbank from customer care, going into every one of my complaints and either letting me know that things would be changed, or explaining why they might not be changed on the short term. Most important, the building will be better insulated for sound, this is already a funded project (YHA is a charity).

She promised me a 50% refund which I won’t complain about. So I’m satisfied.  Here is the last part of her letter:

I am really so pleased that you wrote in to express your frustration we love to hear from our guests and I encourage you to always give us feedback in the future. I have been made aware that the Hostel Manager did try his very best to resolve as many issues as possible at the time of your stay and we are extremely sorry that you found YHA South Downs so dissatisfactory and as a gesture of good will would like to offer a 50% refund…

 I would like to take this opportunity to express how valuable you are to the YHA as without your support we would never be able to meet our charitable objectives.

New photo books!

November 1, 2013

photo  Rende zoutewelle

photo Rende Zoutewelle

Rende, my husband has designed 3 books of his photography and has had them reproduced. They are one-offs and they are gorgeous in themselves as well as being beautifully reproduced.

And here you can see LEAVES.

Here you can look through BOATS .


photo Rende Zoutewelle

photo Rende Zoutewelle

And here is the one on DOORS and WINDOWS  from his recent trip to France.

photo Rende Zoutewelle

photo Rende Zoutewelle

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

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 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.

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.

Cologne cathedral in morning sun

Cologne cathedral in morning sun

I had a great 3 day getaway last week in Cologne. I  went specifically for the centennial  recreation of the 1912 “Sonderbund Exhibition”-  ‘the single most important presentation of European Modernism’. Artists including Cézanne, Gauguin, Macke, Munch, Nolde, Picasso, Schiele, Signac and van Gogh were represented; and the Wallraf-Richartz museum has re-collected many of these Post Impressionist and Expressionist masterpieces from all over the world to recreate the original exhibition.

It was impressive, but I found the entourage cold and unwelcoming. And this affected my enjoyment of the paintings. I was actually glad to leave.

On the other hand, I accidentally bumped into the David Hockney ‘Big Picture’ show at the gorgeous modern Museum Ludwig, which had been originally shown at the Royal Academy, and this was worth the whole trip.  Hockney doesn’t permit unauthorised reproduction of his paintings, so I don’t have any images, but you can Google some.

The show was a total immersion experience in the art and life of this artist of stature. I’ve always liked Hockney’s work, but these huge composite canvasses of as many as 18 paintings making up one whole wall of landscape were just awe inspiring. It was a privilege just to see this work. I wish I had had another day, because room after room of paintings, watercolours, sketchbooks, videos showing him at work, videos showing a changing landscape, and more, were too much to take in on one visit. It was all good, all well drawn, all honest, all meaningful, relevant. And yet also decorative, unique and humorous.

I left the museum totally inspired. There is so much passion in his work, I feel an urgency there, that he knows he’s getting older and he still has so much- so very much to say. Being exposed to the collected works of someone like that works a magic in the viewer. The pure dedication, passion and mastery force one to ask,’What am I dedicated to in the same way?’, and ‘Am I using my time well to honour this?’. I came away with a renewed sense of purpose and the conviction that painting as a path is overflowing with meaning. That it is a worthy way to love the world and truly partake in this amazing dance of life.

market at night

Christmas market at night

Then there were the wonderful Christmas markets where people stood around socialising, with mulled wine and deep fried potato latkes bought from the stalls.  And the many Christmas wares for sale. The last picture is of a sweet breakfast café called Yummy, where you could put together your breakfast muesli from a bar with about 30 different cereals and toppings. It was very crafty and cute with great food.

I stayed at a fantastic new hostel around the corner from there. Check it out if you ever want to go to Cologne, a friendly, richly cultural city which I would highly recommend visiting.


Market stall Christmas market


‘Yummy’ muesli bar

Well, the last 5 posts have been a lot of talking about art, today, I’m finally getting a chance to DO some!

But first an update on my recent trip to the UK. Sorry no photos, I’ll bring my camera next time.

I took the train under the English Channel from the Netherlands to St Pancras, London via Brussels. I travelled by train up to Newcastle where I was an invited speaker at a round-table discussion on art in dementia care. We were about 13 artists from different disciplines, a wonderful inspiring group. I’ll be speaking more about that in another post.

Then I trained over to Liverpool for another meeting. That was useful for orientation in participatory arts in Britain, but there wasn’t much concrete for me in the way of support for this in Holland. Still, I had fun at the Liverpool Tate where there was a great installation by Doug Aitken.

Though I visited art galleries and museums in both Newcastle and Liverpool, the creative high point for me personally was the National Gallery in London,- specifically two rooms containing Impressionists and post -Impressionists.  I’d been reading Rilke’s, ‘Letters on Cezanne’ and was yearning to see one of Cezanne’s still-lifes up close. They didn’t have those on display but some of his mountain landscapes were there, along with other icons of art history like Seurat’s ‘The bathers’, one of van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Degas’ dancers.

I think as far as paint application and strength of the image go, I love Sargeant the best.  Still, it was just amazing to stand in front of these canvasses and feel the artist’s presence in every brush stroke.

I came back inspired and nourished, from all the art, and spending time with my mother’s sister, the concert pianist. And from the cities, and all the meetings with other artists and travellers. This was a big contrast with our northern Dutch village life, which occasionally feels claustrophobic.

I started on a large painting yesterday. Wanting more texture and freedom, I applied a thick layer of acrylic as under painting, partly with brush partly with palette knife.

Acrylic under painting with charcoal sketch

Acrylic under painting with charcoal sketch on top       50 x 70cm

And here is one step further with some glazing. Loving how the colours glow through.

Thin oil paint glazes added

Thin oil paint glazes added

I suppose some people would stop here, but I have a vision for this painting of a fairly loosely painted rendering of transparent bottles in their beautiful pale aquas, lime greens and olive greens. There is also some deep plummy tints which will ground the composition. It feels great to be painting again.

Ingrid and Stuart outside of Bon Papillon Gallery,Café, Framers, & Shop

I was lucky enough to stumble on Bon Papillon last summer when in Edinburgh. I’d just visited the wool shop nearby and needed a cup of tea and a place to just chill for awhile.  It was festival time, and my search for knitting wools had brought me onto a side street off busy Prince’s street, a good way down the hill. It was a relief to get away from the intense bustle and crowds, and when I saw the little terrace and art gallery offering cake and coffee, I couldn’t resist.

Bon Papillon had just opened a few months earlier. Once inside I sat down at a wooden table in a lovely, warm and intriguing interior and had the best cake and coffee I can remember having in a long time. And the prices were as friendly as the owners. I chatted a bit with Ingrid Nilsson about her art and this new venture she was embarking on with her partner Stuart Allan. It turns out Ingrid is an exhibiting artist, and Stuart has 20 years experience in catering. Judging from the deliciousness factor of the food there (11 on a scale from 1-10), that’s not hard to believe.

How can you choose????

Stuart's Beet & Ginger cake with lemon frosting

I have mixed feelings about sharing this here, because part of the pleasure, of course, is the surprise in discovering a gem like this. I’d hate to see it overrun and the owners start to consider expanding; the appeal is in the intimacy of a small 2 person place with so much attention to detail. For me the charm lies in the combination of amazing, food made with  pure, natural ingredients, the friendly ambiance which leads to conversation between tables should you wish (people bring their knitting and sketchbooks), the reasonable prices, and the great selection of art. I should add that Stuart has started a framing shop in the back, and it looks like this too is done with the same care and high standard as his cooking. Even though it is not edible!

Café interior

Stuart framing

So, when you are in Edinburgh, do go to this little haven on Howe street, say hi to Ingrid and Stuart,and eat some cake for me.

Oh almost forgot to say, they carry my felt brooches.
Tip- they’ve got some wonderful art shows coming up, see their blog .