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.