Friday, 9 June 2017

January through May - a mini mega-catch-up!

What on earth is she doing? Read on, in the vain hope of finding out!

OK, DR blogging has been on a cheeky break, let's call it a sabbatical ;-)
In the interest of keeping my equilibrium (believe me, I need all the help I can get), and keeping this blog post at all readable and reasonable in length, here goes with an equally cheeky little whistle stop tour of the year so far.


With the Christmas festivities behind us, and the New Year dawning, for the 2nd (or is that 3rd?!) year in a row we got a bit more serious than usual and indulged in some (fairly) lengthy discussion of this year's shortlist of potential national campaign resolutions. Committee members took one of the options each, and offered up a short presentation of the facts and considerations for our members to ponder. We deliberated and then cast our individual votes... and our overwhelming favourite as a group was the resolution to improve maternal mental health services for women. Then, after a bit of sustenance and a gossip at the shared lunch table, we worked up a tiny bit of a sweat (essential in our stone cold church hall in the Winter!) by shimmying away in a Salsa workshop with Ana Luisa Munoz.


In February, we were joined by the brilliant campaigner and charity worker, Nik Peasgood of HALT, who spoke to us in depth about their work with survivors of domestic abuse. The subject matter was, obviously, fairly harrowing but we don't shy away from the more difficult and troubling issues as a group, and we actually had quite a profound discussion which touched not only on the abuse that some women suffer, but the wider questions about our culture, social conditioning and how abuse happens and is tolerated by some. The general theme of our talking seemed to keep coming back to women's self-esteem and the importance of assertiveness. All in all, a really edifying and valuable opportunity to share our thoughts, experiences and ideas.

Now, to completely shatter that illusion of us all seeming very serious and profound... we followed our shared lunch break with a workshop that was, ahem, a bit of a one-off, shall we say. You see, we had planned some kind of crazy 'weird science' themed workshop (replete with our committee donning lab coats and goggles), in honour of Science Week, but unfortunately the Science guru who was to lead this had to cancel at the last moment, leaving us in something of a quandary. Our President Debbie rode to the rescue, put her teacher's hat on, and devised a simple (oh so simple!) challenge, for us to work on together as teams. Many were totally bemused, to be completely frank, by the instructions to design and make a vehicle from the little packs of materials offered, but we got stuck in, and were ready to race our vehicles against each other within the hour. We were in no danger of winning any innovation awards, I can tell you, with the most beautiful of the 'cars' refusing to budge at all, my group's offering travelling some distance (but using the cheaty tactic of being blown along a length of yarn), and the others managing to move, true, but really failing on the definition of being a vehicle! It was hilarious though. You had to be there! :-)

Waiting for design genius to strike
Ready to race?!
Which one is Keyser Soze?
Weirder and weirder
Words fail me!
Gobsmacking audacity!
Excitement at the finish line


With Spring beginning to make its presence felt, we invited in the very droll ?? from the beautiful little local treasure, York Gate Garden in Adel. ? joined us to share some of the history and beauty of the Garden. He was a brilliant guest who really made us smile, and also really made us want to visit York Gate. The stories of the family who bought the house in the 1950s, and how they developed the garden, were fascinating and bittersweet. ?, Sybil and Robin ? have left a beautiful legacy in the heart of North Leeds. We urge you to visit.

Then continuing the floral theme, Lucy from Blooming Lovely (and her lovely daughter!) joined us to lead us in a workshop, using flowers, greenery and other materials to make beautiful creations, with an emphasis on upcycling and creating something new and beautiful from a bit of 'old rubbish'. Thank you to Lucy and daughter for leading us in a lovely and absorbing bit of green-fingered crafting.


April held the exciting prospect of our 'Victoria Wood Memorial Day' (Feel free to dress up / perform your favourite sketch! Or not! The shy were welcome to just laugh at the memories...) Then seeing as you were already dressed as Mrs Overall, you'd be all set for the voice coaching workshop after, led by, (I'm told) 'a voice coach to the stars'. Oooh!

I was actually swanning in Italy when this happened, so can't really add any more, but I'm sure you'll be happy with these choice photos for a flavour of the day.

The superb Mrs O :-)
Voice coaching strangeness!
What a pair of cuties :-)
Legend :-(


Bringing us, just about, bang up to date, our last meeting in May offered a gentle respite from our sometimes harsh world. Our lovely Emily kindly agreed to tell us all about 'Vesak' or 'Visakah Puja', also known as Buddha Day. Emily's talk introduced the beautiful stories and concepts associated with Buddhism, priming us for our return visit from Steve of the Leeds Mindfulness Group. Steve first visited us around a year ago, and guided us through a mini-meditation exercise as well as talking us through the foundations of mindfulness. This time we waded in in some more depth, trying several different types of mindful meditation as a group. We finished the day feeling restored, a little sleepy, and yes some of us may have drooled and snored a little :-) Thank you so much to Steve for his patience and skill in guiding us. Namaste!

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Sharing a bit of comfort & joy at Christmas

 Just before we move onto our December meeting, I wanted to share these lovely photos from our 4th birthday celebration at the end of November - 4 years old and still smiling! Also, check out that simply beautiful cake, made for us by friend of the Darling Roses, Sarah at Kitsch Cakes. Gorgeous.

Moving on to December, our Christmas meeting has been a bit of a highlight for the last couple of years. Now that we're graced with our member Karen and her piano-tickling skills, the main attraction of the day is now always a good old Christmas carol sing-a-long - and will be forevermore! Don't question it, we like a ritual, and if something works, e.g. carols at the piano, wine and cheese tasting in October etc... we tend to flog it to death. This year, as an extra-special triple treat, Karen not only played piano, but deftly produced her ukelele for a few numbers, joined by another of our members and Karen's ukelele bandmate, Sue.

But before the musical finale we had work to do. It might seem harsh on our hardworking members, but we decided to share a bit of goodwill, comfort and joy around, you know... seeing as it's Christmas. Over the last couple of months we had collected a huge pile of food and toiletry donations for both the local food bank and a women's refuge, and so one team of our members in attendance set to work giftwrapping and packing the boxes of donations.

The second team task was something of a last minute addition, but a very worthy one. We'd heard about a local initiative, 'The Christmas Dinner with Lemn Sissay'. Lemn Sissay is a poet who is known, amongst many other things, for drawing on his own childhood in the care system in his work, and also for his exemplary work in helping to support and provide opportunities for young care leavers. The Christmas Dinner began as a single event in Manchester in 2013, and has since expanded to Manchester, Leeds, London, Liverpool and Oxford in 2016. It is a Christmas Dinner with a difference, a lavish event at a secret location for young care leavers aged 18-25. The events are organised by teams of volunteers who comprise a mix of professional creatives and workers in the care and social system. The creative energy of those involved, and the generous donations of local businesses and individuals ensure a really special and beautiful day for the young guests, who otherwise (sad to say, but it is true) would probably be on their own on Christmas Day.

We got in touch with the organisers and asked if there was anything creative we might be able to do to help at our December meeting, and the reply was "Yes, we need invitations!" As a lovely touch, the invitees all receive personalised invites, and case worker Becky joined us to help our production line with the task. A huge thank you goes out to everyone who helped on the day, and we hope that all at the Christmas Dinner had as much fun as we did at our sing-a-long :-) Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all. xx

Goodies for the food bank

Good job, gift wrapping team

Super work, card-makers

November 2016 Annual Meeting & Book Folding with Trina

November marked our 4th anniversary, time is fleeting! ("It's astounding... madness takes contr..." ah I'll stop there.) Ideally, any anniversary would of course mean a party, but the party must wait - the usual shindig at Pizza Express to take place at the end of the month, it's difficult to persuade anyone else to take us! Official business comes first, and our November meeting was the beefed up version that is an 'Annual Meeting'. Our cue to report back to our members on how the year has gone, and not just the usual vague ideas we bandy about (possibly being too honest there), oh no, using actual hard facts about things like membership and finances. The Annual Meeting is also a great opportunity for us to press pause for a moment and share our ideas and feelings as a group on how things are going, and the general feedback, we must say, has been great. We've had a busy and enjoyable year, packed with the usual activities and workshops, but notably doing a lot more for the community and charities this year (our energies seemed to be mostly taken up with celebrating the Centenary in 2015).

Our second annual stint catering at the Armley Mills Wool Festival in June was stratospheric, with visitor numbers rising from a few hundred the year before to an estimated 2000 at least. The money raised gave us a huge cash injection, and our financial picture is very healthy. We were also able to fundraise for the charities Sunshine & Smiles and Supershoes, and additionally through the year we have collected a huge amount of donations for the local food bank, a women's refuge and local Syrian refugee families. Other highlights of 2016 included a spiffing day out at the Bowes Museum, Castle Barnard in June, and our surprised delight at being presented with the Edward Shaw Cup at the West Yorkshire Federation Annual Meeting in April, for the largest increase in membership in a WI starting with less than 30 members - our swell in numbers has now taken us out of this category! Slaps on the back all round then (kidding) but, seriously, we were happy to be able to report such good news, as our first visit from the new Federation Chairman, Maureen Hancox, coincided with our Annual Meeting. No pressure... happily, the day went well, and we hope that Maureen enjoyed her welcome into the Darling Roses fold.

The serious reporting bit made way for lunch, which in turn made way for the day's activity, book folding. Our lovely member Trina had volunteered to lead the workshop, after she'd discovered a new passion for this craft over the last year or so. Book folding is the art of producing beautiful, decorative 3D objects by folding the pages of a book in a set pattern. We saw angels, Christmas trees, houses, animals, words and names... and I'm sure there's an endless variety of designs available if you were to delve deep into the world of book folding. The art requires precision, but is actually supremely simple once you've mastered the basics, and gives wonderful results as you can see from the pictures below! Trina was a brilliant tutor, thank you Trina for giving your time and effort and introducing us to a fabulous new craft <3 xx

Face of an angel

The growing pile of donations for the women's refuge

Our Federation Chairman (and our official WI 'friend') Maureen Hancox joined us for our 4th Annual Meeting

Thursday, 27 October 2016

October meeting - the Annual Wine & Cheese Fest!

A big thank you to Sarah Glynn for volunteering to write up this month's adventures...

Hands up if you aren't keen on wine? Hands up if wine isn't keen on you? A few of us it seems judging by the apologies in advance, for absences. Saying that, there was an impressively full looking house for the Annual Wine & Cheese fixture.

Halloween is the time of year when the dead walk amongst us. It seems fitting therefore that October 2016 sees the resurrection of the Darling Roses Supper Club, which has for a while now been languishing in limbo. Keep an eye out for details of forthcoming feasts. In its new reincarnation the person who picks the smiley face out of a box, gets to choose the next establishment to be graced with our presence.

While we are on the subject of forthcoming events - a draft calendar for next year is now in existence with workshops including make-up effects, lip balm and bath bomb making. There is a Buddha day and trips to Fountains Abbey and Paris on the menu too.

Andrea gave us an update on the Syrian family we have been supporting. She recently visited them at home and noticed they were very short of essentials such as bedding and household items. If you have anything surplus to requirements please do bring them along and Andrea will make sure they are passed on. At the start of Advent we are also collecting toiletries and sanitary items to donate to a women's shelter in time for Christmas. So again, all donations are very much appreciated. Remember to stash away any complementary toiletries when you stay in a hotel too because they're ideal.

The annual birthday/Xmas meal is on 25th November this year at our usual haunt of Pizza Express on Street Lane so get it in your diary and let Debbie know if you're able to join in the celebrations.

The annual membership fees of £39 are due in Jan 2017. Although Brexit is seeing prices rise to the point that Marmite is rapidly becoming an aspirational product, the WI annual subscription still remains incredible value for money.

Dr Mehmet Sen is a Consultant Clinical Oncologist at St James Hospital here in Leeds, specialising in breast, head and neck cancers. He also happens, by happy coincidence, to be Debbie's next door neighbour. He very kindly came to give us a Q&A session on breast awareness this month.

One of the first questions that came up was a particularly pertinent one - "If you were a woman, what would you be doing to reduce your risk of breast cancer?" Although a percentage of breast cancers are genetic, there are things we can all do to help ourselves here. Regular self examination is crucial as is attending all mammogram appointments (they're 99% accurate), checking out our family history of breast and ovarian cancers, moderating alcohol consumption and stopping smoking, along with 45 minutes of exercise at least 3 times a week.

A statistic that surprised us is that in a city with a population of approximately 100,000, the percentage of new diagnosis of all cancers is less than 1% per year. Also positive is the news, that as research advances, treatment is becoming increasingly specific and targeted at each sub-group of the disease. In breast cancers, surgical intervention is less invasive than ever and becoming less necessary. Ninety percent of breast cancers can now be treated as a chronic condition such as Type 2 Diabetes, rather than the death sentence it used to be.

A huge thank you from us all goes to Dr Mehmet for his time, his expertise and his caring and compassionate approach to his work.

Dr Mehmet, centre

After lunch it was time to follow one piece of Dr. Mehmet's advice - the moderate alcohol consumption bit - and make a start on the Wine & Cheese.

Whatever alchemy has been at work in the past between Majestic Wines and George & Joseph, was in evidence once again this year, with a spookily harmonious selection of wines and cheeses presented by each. A tangy goats cheese from Skipton was paired with a Sauvignon blanc and a surprisingly mellow Yorkshire Brie teamed up with a New Zealand Pinot Gris. A smooth and creamy Comte set off a spicy, fruity merlot. By the time we had worked our way through all six tasters of wines and cheeses we could barely remember which we had decided we liked the best. Honestly though, they were all delicious and an eager queue formed to buy slabs of our favourites to take home at the end.

Many thanks yet again to Stephen from George & Joseph in Chapel Allerton and to Emily from Majestic Wines in Meanwood. You did us proud.

Now - hands up who woke up with a hangover on Sunday?

Kate's very interesting take on jewellery, the wearable wine glass... a forthcoming workshop?!

Amanda, supreme conqueror of all wine quizzes

Thursday, 6 October 2016

September meeting - Our 2nd Annual Bake Off

In honour of the GBBO's return to our screens in September, we had our own little Bake Off themed day. Yes, we enjoyed last year's inaugural event so much that we did it all over again - but with a few tweaks. This time our baking competition was to be judged in an ingenius new *'democratic'* way (after last year's judging was, ahem, judged to be extremely professional, but a bit harsh... nervous cough, #strawberrylacegate). Not only that, but our Debbie had spent the whole Summer trapped in her shed, whittling away specially engraved spoons for the winners! Bless her. But more on all that later.

After our meeting agenda was dealt with, we started the day with more serious business. Our guest speaker was Sarah, a local mother who very sadly suffered the loss of her son Kieran 3 years ago. Kieran was only 17 when he was stabbed and lost his life on a Harehills street in February 2013. The senseless killing of this young man left a devastated family behind, and Sarah talked us through the painful aftermath of losing her son and the impact on family and friends, and (very bravely and nobly) reminded us that everyone directly affected by knife crime suffers - including the perpetrator, who is serving a 20 year minimum jail term, and of course his family.

Sarah is an amazingly strong woman and is trying to build something positive in the wake of her family's tragedy, by working tirelessly to build a knife crime education programme for young people. Sarah shared with us the materials and workshops she has developed and begun delivering in schools and young offender institutions. She feels passionately that there is a place for this type of knife crime education within schools, and has been working to this end - but the process is far from straightforward, with some local decision-makers seemingly reluctant to admit that there is a knife crime problem that needs addressing in this way.

We were both saddened by Sarah's story and experiences, but also tremendously inspired by her bravery, drive and hard work. Sarah's journey toward achieving her aims is still at a relatively early stage, and we hope to keep in close touch with her and offer any help that we can. Thank you so much for sharing your story and your wonderful work with us Sarah.

Our guest speaker Sarah, far right

Once we got our shared lunch out on the tables and on the go, there was even more eating required than usual, because (in a stunning twist) we were all to be the judges of our bake off this year! Our members' baking entries were displayed anonymously in the three categories, biscuits, scones and cakes, and the system was that we were all to work our way around the table, tasting the wares. Claire gave us all 3 gold star stickers each (no more mind, don't mess with Claire!) and you were simply to place a gold star on your favourite in each of the three categories. We thought it was simple anyway... but Darling Roses are mavericks, as you know, they cannot be tamed, so when it came to tallying the scores we found that our instructions had been ignored, with most gold stars awarded in the cake category, and a noticeable shortage in the other two. (Give us strength!!) But seriously, all were worthy winners :-) Here's a sampling of some of the entries.

We saved the prize-giving to the end of the day, as is fitting, and whilst stars were counted, our members settled down for a talk and demonstration from the marvellous Martin of Roundhay Bakehouse. Martin has established, from his home, an artisan bakery that is part of the micro-bakery movement. Every weekend he works through the night to produce hundreds of fresh, traditional sourdough breads, and also pastries, gateaux and other fancies. The emphasis is on quality and authenticity, in both ingedients and the process, and also an insistence on local ingredients wherever possible. Indeed, Martin barters with like-minded customers - sourdough and bakes swapped for eggs, fruit and anything he can use, and all from within a very small radius in North Leeds.

The very amenable Martin entertained us (yes we are the kind of people who can be entertained by bread) with his artisan techniques, miraculously managing to produce beautiful batches of baguettes from our less than ideal church hall kitchen. He also introduced us to the care and feeding of sourdough, which we were brave enough to taste. It was, er, sour.

We then hauled Martin up to present the prizes of wooden spoons and Roundhay Bakehouse vouchers to our lucky Bake Off winners. A winning day for all though! Thank you so much Martin (

Check out class swots, Jay and Kate, practically sitting on the counter! ;-)