Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Saturday 22nd November - We turned 2, and celebrated with glue, glitter, cake and fireworks!

Hello! This time we have a guest post from Sarah - thank you for your unique take on last Saturday's proceedings Ms Glynn! Over to you...

Today was our second birthday and we have officially entered our Terrible Two's. We can walk fairly steadily, say 'No' and 'Go away' and don't need our bottles at bedtime any more (well, not THAT sort of bottle anyhow).

So to celebrate this momentous event, was there a champagne breakfast in bed, something shiny from Tiffany to unwrap and a surprise party? Well no, but there was mulled wine, Jayne's totally inspired Darling Roses cupcakes, and a chocolate gateau that must have taken the Spar forecourt shop staff an age to make and decorate. And just when you thought it couldn't get any better, there were fireworks. Because a birthday wouldn't be a birthday without a bit of shock and awe.

We didn't let birthday excitement get in the way of having a meeting, even though we could have probably been excused, what with it being such a special day. We managed to fit in a discussion about how best to celebrate the WI's Centenary. Do we go down the 'days of yore' route and loiter outside the Moortown M&S in Edwardian frocks, yowling 'Jerusalem' and rattling jam jars, or do we embrace the Zeitgeist, dress in Zara and put on a display of pilates and knife skills? Or do we do both? Or neither? Well, the conclusion was, we aren't sure either yet, but when the time comes, we'll do something totally excellent.

After lunch we started this month's workshop. At this point I'd like to ask you to decide what you would do with the following. Approx: 30 glue sticks, 200 sheets of patterned paper, a box of scissors, pencils, stencils, stiff card and loads of glitter?
a) Sort everything into size and colour order.
b) Using a combination of Jayne's help, creativity and ninja like cutting skills, make a state of the art paper Christmas decoration.
c) Scream and run out the room.
If you've had a really stressful week you probably chose a) and/or c). If you were full of sandwiches, buns and unresolved issues around never getting to be a Blue Peter presenter, you probably chose b).

The result was a batch of wreaths, baubles, cards, stars, snowflakes, advent calender bunting and some 'work-in-progress' stags heads that all looked pretty amazing. And in the case of the stags heads - will look pretty amazing.

For those who just couldn't bear the thought of the party coming to an end, there was a birthday meal at Pizza Express in the evening. Was there a huge ice-cream with a sparkler in? Was there more cake? Were there drunken shenanigans? We'll let you know.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Jam and Mehndi in September + Our 2nd Annual Meeting in October

On September 27th, we gathered together again for that most traditional of WI activities - jam making (come on, I'm sure you've heard it's pretty much compulsory). However, before we could light the camping stoves, we had the usual business of our meeting to run through, and also a lovely guest speaker to welcome -  Sadeia Afzal. Sadeia has practised the beautiful art of mehndi for many years, and joined us to give an introduction to the art and a demonstration. We all loved Sadeia's gorgeous, intricate work, and there was no shortage of volunteers wanting to be guinea pigs! A huge thank you goes to Sadeia for sharing her passion for mehndi with us (and for painstakingly painting Sarah in the corner!) - here are some pictures which hopefully give a taste.

"Have you got time to do my whole arm?"
Emily's 'Kidz Korner'
Then the heady, pungent whiff of mehndi cones was replaced by a powerful blast of berries and sugar in our jam making masterclass (ahem). I tell you, all the lethal-looking gas cylinders and maslin pans that have seen better days might make this look like less than a professional operation, but we sure do know how to make delicious jam, yes sirree. The results were yummy, and we had the added bonus of a very sweet-smelling hall, which was preferable to the Great Onion Stink of '13 that we created at the same time last year when making pickles and chutneys. Here are some more pictures - as always, the workshops where we cook together make for double the communal fun.

Kate led the apple cidery breakaway unit - looks like it was going pretty well!

So, there you have it for September. In October, it was time for our 2nd Annual Meeting, and due to the long list of business we had to review for the year, we didn't really have time for our usual hands-on workshop, and instead made way for a double bill of speakers at the end of our meeting.

We were joined by Pauline Neale who gave us the lowdown on the admirable work of Oxfam around the world, and Maggie Poppa, who gave an absolutely fascinating talk about her life and career, and in particular how she embarked on a brand new career in broadcast and print journalism, at an age when most people are settling into retirement. Maggie's tales were very inspiring. I personally love to hear stories about people's 'second acts' - the idea that it's never too late to do something totally new, or fulfill a long-held ambition, is a great thing to hear (and more importantly from someone who has really lived that philosophy).

As there was no workshop, there are no pics to show you of us doing anything really... ?! (Er, I don't think that came out quite right.) But anyway, instead I will show some lovely images of our lovely smiling ladies, just enjoying the day.

Maggie Poppa, our guest speaker, on the left
Thank you to Pauline and Maggie for joining us

That's all for now. On November 23rd, we'll be in the hall making lovely things with paper - books, festive decorations and the like. It is also officially our 2nd birthday! We'll be having a select gathering at Pizza Express to celebrate, counting the days...

Thursday, 13 November 2014

30th August - Wine, cheese, birds and Molly...

Debbie with the purveyors of wine and cheese (angels)
Hello people. Well, here we are - six weeks to go until Christmas, and it's been a little while since the last update in the Summer! We've had three meetings since then, at the end of August, September and October (we had July off). I apologise in advance for the fact that this might get a bit unwieldy. It is three meetings we're talking about after all... So, deep breath, I will try to get us all through this in one piece.

After our Summer break, we were ready to jump back into things at the August meeting - not to mention the fact that the promise of plentiful wine and cheese is a very big pull! Once our meeting agenda had been done and dusted and we'd attacked the lunch table, our first two speakers could begin.

First we were joined by the indomitable Molly Hughes, a veteran WI member who spent many years on the West Yorkshire Federation Board of Trustees and also served as the representative for the Associated Country Women of the World - a role which took Molly all around the world and gave her a wealth of knowledge on women's issues. We first came into contact with Molly at the Resolutions Conference in April, when she was drafted in at the last minute to speak about the campaign against female genital mutilation - after a no-show by the booked speaker! Molly gave us the background on the issue that we needed, and clearly cared very much and really impressed us with her knowledge and passion. Which is why we asked her to come and speak to our group on the very same subject. It is a very difficult and distressing issue to hear about, but we did want to know more as a group and were disappointed when this campaign didn't get through the NFWI resolution process. Molly did a really wonderful job (thank you Molly), and we hope to bump into her on the 'WI circuit' again before too long.

Molly holds court
Our second speaker was Linda Jenkinson, bird watcher par excellence. I tell you, what that woman doesn't know about birds isn't worth knowing (I should say I've picked up that comment from Sarah Glynn, who automatically states this whenever Linda's name is mentioned. Sarah is one of Linda's students so she should know!) Linda gave us a fantastic introduction to the addictive pastime of bird watching, complete with many cute pictures of little feathered friends - lots of oohs and aahs all round. Thank you Linda!

Get birding with Linda
And finally, the wine and cheese appeared - hurrah! Val Berry and her team from Hayley & Clifford Delicatessen on Street Lane joined us once again this year. Val gave us the history and tasting notes on six carefully selected cheeses, specially chosen to complement our wines. And that's where Helen from Majestic Wines came in, with lots of lovely bouteilles du vin. We did actually manage to keep things classy this year though, no fear. The artful presentation of the wine and food by Helen and Val slowed down our consumption, and actually allowed us to appreciate the produce - unlike our self-service approach last year where we did all pile into the wine table really, as fun as that was! It was all delicious, and we all had fun discovering new tastes. A big thank you to the Hayley & Clifford team and Helen from Majestic Wines.

The anticipation builds...
Yes, it's working

Next time... Jam and Jerusalem mehndi.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Saturday 28th June - The Roses at Harlow Carr

It seems like a long time ago now (summer's flown!) but let's look back to the end of June and our meeting at Harlow Carr Gardens in Harrogate. Our June workshop was a repeat of last year's hanging baskets, and this year we were lucky enough to make them in the stunning surroundings of the RHS gardens at Harlow Carr. It was actually a great opportunity to see the gardens in early Summer, when everything was beautiful, fresh and blooming.

Before we got down to business with our baskets we held our usual meeting first, in a very nice room set aside for us in the swish Learning Centre.  We ran through a bit of a pared down agenda (this was mostly a day out for us, after all!) and then settled down for a talk from our guest speaker, Dr Eleanor, a GP who'd kindly joined us to talk about women's health issues. There was a fair bit of giggling and groaning as we lamented what lies in store for us girls as we age - one or two uttered comments like "well that's me done for then" or "I'll book myself into Dignitas now" (we all deal with these things in different ways don't we?!) - but hopefully Dr Eleanor knew that we really appreciated her visit, and we do know that information is always a good thing!! A big thank you to the doctor, and we hope that she enjoyed her visit - we did let her make a hanging basket with us after, we're that generous.

Once the making of the baskets got under way, it was the usual mad free-for-all that these events always seem to be. Frantic bagging of plants... more mess than we could have imagined... not helped by the fact that many of the plants were entombed in polystyrene that literally had to be smashed up to get the goods out. Yes, we trashed the place, but you wouldn't have known it after the clean-up, honest. We all produced a pretty basket in double-quick time, and then enjoyed a walk around the gardens together. We even managed a sit down with a Betty's ice cream.

Special mention has to be made of Val Codling, who revealed herself as 'The Mad Bird Lady of Moortown' after showing up to the meeting with a tiny, scrawny, unidentified nestling, which she carried around with her all day in a woollen beanie hat lined with a piece of feather boa! She devotedly fed the little tweeter worms and offered drops of water from a tiny paint brush every half hour, prompted by her phone alarm. Crazy, but very nice, lady!

Since June we've had a bit of a Summer hiatus, but we'll be back at our church hall on Saturday 30th August with a packed programme - two speakers, plus cheese-tasting with Hayley & Clifford and (the one that everyone's been waiting for) wine-tasting courtesy of Majestic Wines. Can't wait!

Monday, 16 June 2014

Saturday 7th June - Our first NFWI Annual Meeting

On a soggy Saturday in June, the NFWI circus finally rolled into our very own fair city of Leeds. Yes, it was Annual Meeting time! And we were very excited because the Leeds venue meant that we had to attend really, it would have been rude not to...

The weather did let us down quite badly though; the city centre was so rain-lashed that I sort of aquaplaned more than walked across town on my way to the Leeds Arena. We didn't dry out till we got home, and so we sat there in the auditorium gently steaming off as we listened to the speakers. But never mind, I hope the thousands of WI visitors to Leeds for the day could see past the grim weather and enjoy the day and surroundings.

It was our first opportunity to participate in the biggest day on the NFWI calendar, and in some ways it wasn't what we were expecting, in a good way. There is a certain amount of formal business to get through (the presentation of reports, the debate on the resolution and voting etc) but really, the formal items on the agenda moved along quickly enough. The debate on the organ donation resolution was interesting and actually quite moving. There were many WI members who took the floor to contribute their own personal experiences with the issue of organ donation - those who had lost loved ones who then became donors, and those whose loved ones had benefited from organ donation. Of course, we had previously had our own discussions about the resolution at our meetings, but it's amazing how different the issues can look when the debate is thrown open and you hear the input of so many different members from completely different perspectives. The resolution was passed, so the NFWI has its latest campaign to add to the cannon.

The speakers on the day were excellent. A special mention must be given to the first speaker of the day, Sir Andrew Motion, the poet (Poet Laureate from 1999 - 2009), novelist and biographer. Sir Andrew - or Andy as we were calling him by the end of the day - spoke about various strands of his life and their influence on his work. He spoke about the teacher who first switched him on to poetry, some beloved poems from his youth (Larkin, Hardy), the childhood love of the countryside that has never left him and latter day travels to the Mongolian wilderness. That might all seem quite disparate, but the themes of his talk came together in a very profound and effective way, and nicely underlined the last segment of his talk on his Presidency of the Campaign to Protect Rural England. We were all rapt throughout. Sir Andrew has a very soft, slow style of delivery and pauses often, but somehow you find yourself completely absorbed in his words. So, it would be fair to say that we'd already fallen under his spell before Debbie, our President, later spotted him standing alone outside the venue waiting to leave, as we returned from our Fuji Hiro lunch. Never shy about coming forward, Debbie pounced and we had our photo opportunity with Sir Andy - and as luck would have it, we even nabbed the official event photographer who was nearby!

Andrew Motion being mobbed by a small group of Darling Roses
So, we were officially fans (/ stalkers) after our meeting, and after such a stirring speech on the importance of protecting our beautiful countryside we'd like to lend our support to the Campaign to Protect Rural England. Please read more about their work at CPRE and, even better, you can quickly provide tangible support by signing the Campaign's charter to save our countryside here.

After dwelling on Sir Andy for far too long (!), I shouldn't neglect the rest. The second speaker was Dr George McGavin, the fascinating zoologist, lecturer, explorer and presenter. Dr McGavin spoke to us about some of the highlights of his career, particularly filming documentaries such as Monkey Planet. I loved how he described his move into television - he was well into his third decade as an academic before he ditched his job as Curator at Oxford University's Museum of Natural History to embark on a new career as a TV Presenter. How's that for a second act! Dr George was highly amusing, and a very good Sean Connery impersonator.

The final guest speaker was Bill Turnbull who of course is a household name and a daily fixture on TV screens, but I have to admit I knew next to nothing about him before his talk (not being a breakfast telly watcher). Again, the NFWI had chosen well, and Bill shared lots of amusing anecdotes on everything from the perils of presenting live TV after not much sleep, to wearing a shirt that's sewn to your underpants on Strictly Come Dancing (onesie? mankini?) to the ups and downs of beekeeping.

All in all, a grand day out, but how about some female speakers next year, dear NFWI? I'll sign off with a few pictures from the day.

All rise for Jerusalem!

The NFWI Chair, Janice Langley. Seemed like a nice lady!

Monday, 2 June 2014

Saturday 24th May - Sustainability and Dress a Girl Project

Well, the May meeting certainly came round quickly - I don’t know where the weeks go. It was the start of the school half term holidays so we had a few members away, most noticeably Ann James - this was the very first meeting that Ann has missed since we started, so we felt her absence!

We were joined in the morning by the lovely Gaye Wilmot from Solec ( Gaye talked to us about current developments in sustainability and what we can do to make our own homes more sustainable. It seems that one of the best options for homes and businesses is to swap to LED lights, although I was very interested in the water heating systems too - a hot bath for free! (Well, not free, you pay around £4000 in set-up costs, but it would work out free after 10 years or so.) We enjoyed a good debate about why governments aren’t pushing for sustainable energy resources and opting for fracking instead, and why the monetary incentives and ‘green deals’ are so complicated. Before long we had worked up a hunger and it was time for lunch. As ever, lunch was scrumptious.

Then it was time for El Presidente's Sweat Shop! We had originally planned to have a go at making our own pair of knickers, but at the last meeting it was decided that we should get the sewing machines on the go and attempt to make some pillowcase dresses for the ‘Dress a Girl Project’. When Andrea first mentioned the project a few months ago, we were all very moved by the charity's tag line ‘Every girl deserves a pretty dress’.

It was decided that it would probably be best to work in small teams to create a manufacturing line / sweatshop. We started with the wonderful 'hot press' girls Katherine and Sarah, pressing all of the fabrics ready to be cut up and sewn. Lynn and Kieren were busy cutting up the pillow cases, opening up arm and neck holes. Then it was on to Kate, Jayne, Audrey and Trina working the machines and working their magic.

Margaret was busy threading the elastic from her never ending supply of elastic - where did she get it all from? Val and Maureen threaded the straps and checked overall quality before passing the dresses onto the embellishment team led by Barbara and supported by Trish, Lynn, Pat, Sarah and Andrea. Then there was Clair on the teas and coffees, all encouraged and chivvied along by me.

After the success of previous sewing workshops we had initially thought that we might complete four or so dresses, so we were thrilled to complete no less than fourteen dresses! Clair was sent back to the kitchen and Audrey was allowed to have a slice of her own birthday cake to celebrate. All in all, a great workshop.