February Meeting – It’s Sexy Time

At our February meeting, the Belles were delighted to welcome guest speaker Miranda Kane, a comedian, a champion of body size acceptance, and a former sex worker. Her stand-up show, The Coin Operated Girl, has been getting great reviews at festivals across the country.

As well as treating us to a preview of her performance (more on that later), Miranda introduced some of the complex legislation surrounding sex work and explained the concepts of ‘legalisation’ versus ‘decriminalisation’ – the latter giving sex workers maximum control over their bodies and their careers.

Many women in the room (particularly those who live, or have lived, in shared houses with female housemates) were surprised to learn the definition of the term ‘brothel’ according to the Sexual Offences Act.

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But the most entertaining (and enlightening) parts of the evening were summed up perfectly by Secretary Alice, who prepared the official minutes for the meeting.

Miranda explained how she got into the industry, which was simply because she enjoyed having sex and realised that she could in fact get paid for it. A highlight of the evening was Miranda revealing the top ten things men asked for when they engaged her services. These included: threesomes, uniforms, dressing up, foot worship as well as both whole body and face squashing. It was felt to be a very informative meeting, challenging stereotypes and reinforcing the strongly feminist belief of ‘my body, my choice’.

–RI

November Meeting – A Raw Experience

Our November meeting wasn’t half-baked – it was raw! The Rocking Raw Chef Barbara Fernandez came to talk to the Belles about her culinary speciality: raw vegan food.

First things first, this chef certainly does rock! Barbara opened the evening with an impressive musical account of her discovery of raw food. But once she had decided to start eating this way, she hit a problem: many delicious dishes took too long to prepare, and quicker recipes just didn’t pass the taste test. That’s why she set out to create raw meals that were both fast AND tasty.

Barbara explained some of the principles of ‘cooking’ raw food – a surprising one was that she’s not limited to eating salads! According to Barbara, it still counts as raw if it’s warmed up, as long as it doesn’t get ‘hot’ (she just checks the temperature with her little finger). Many of her recipes use clever preparation techniques to mimic the texture of cooked food, but without any cooking. She showed us what she meant with a live demo – a raw spinach dip prepared in a blender has a really similar consistency to cooked spinach. All of Barbara’s dishes are vegan too, even the creamy chocolate and banana pudding that she made us for dessert. Her top tip here was to soak cashews in water then whip up in the blender for a vegan-friendly creamy texture.

For any Belles who fancy giving it a try at home, the spinach dip and more raw recipes are available on Barbara’s website. She also runs cookery classes in Cambridge.

The bakes from this month’s cake fairies were, however, not raw. These perfectly cooked treats were delicious as always, and made a great addition to our fabulously foodie meeting.

– RI

October Meeting – It’s All About Us

Sometimes it’s fine to say ‘me, me, me!’ and the October meeting was one such occasion. This month we held a members’ showcase, an opportunity to find out more about our fellow Belles. Well, what a talented bunch we are! Six members volunteered to share something that they feel passionate about, from arts and crafts to community initiatives, to starting your own business.

Creative Belle Victoria brought a beautiful selection of her handmade crafts, and talked about how she makes a living by making things she loves. Through her business Butterfly Crafts, she sells cards, jewellery, soap and more, as well as running Craftea workshops for aspiring crafters.

Artistic Abi shared her skills in watercolour painting, guiding her fellow Belles to have a go themselves.

President Lucy told us what she learned at this summer’s Tea and Tents festival: folk art. Using a variety of tools to apply paint, a group of Belles made some gorgeous custom cards.

Sarah showed off some fabulous shoes from the range she has in stock at Modish, her store on Green Street. As well as sharing her favourite footwear, she told her fellow Belles about the experience of setting up her own business.

Jan informed us about Cambridge’s first co-housing project, K1 in Orchard Park. She has spent years working towards this purpose-built complex where residents will reduce their environmental impact by sharing certain resources, while building a sense of community through social events in their large common house and shared garden.

Campaigns Officer Laura took the opportunity to chat to members about this year’s WI campaigns, what we can do to get involved and how we could start a campaign on an issue that’s important to us.

On top of all this, the committee ran a Blue Belles 101 information stall to get new members up to speed on WI ways and a crafting corner for some chill out time. And don’t forget the cake! This month’s cake fairies shone with a spectacular offering of delicious treats. This cosy, intimate meeting was just right for when the nights start drawing in early. It may even have qualified as hygge.

–RI

September Meeting – Being Bookish

Stop! Rewind. We Belles have been taking full advantage of the last few weeks of summer, but now autumn has definitely arrived so we’d better get back to work and fill everyone in on what went on at the September meeting.

Vice President Jo brought everyone to order at our new, earlier start time of 7:45, after our efficient meeting fairies and committee got the room set up super-quick. Everyone had the chance to grab a cuppa, and then it was time for the good news round. Plenty to celebrate with Belles reporting a promotion at work, an almost-finished Masters and plans to visit family.

Cambridgeshire-based author Guinevere Glasfurd was our guest speaker for this very bookish meeting. Guin has recently published her first novel, The Words in my Hand, which was the Times Book of the Month in January 2016. Set in 17th century Holland, it’s the story of Helena Jans van der Strom, a maid who had a child with the French philosopher René Descartes. After reading numerous books about Descartes, Guin was shocked at how history had largely ignored Helena, so she decided to tell this woman’s story. She talked us through the process of writing a novel, from finding the confidence to explore creative writing in the first place, to getting funding, going on research trips to the Netherlands, and finally being published.

Although it may seem to a reader that stories spring into existence fully formed, Guin explained that a book is really just lots of short pieces of writing that gradually come together. She was helped along on her journey by the Escalator programme at Writers’ Centre Norwich and the Gold Dust programme for mentoring writers. For any budding novelists among us, she also recommended checking out the WoMentoring project and the Words and Women annual writing competition. Above all, Guin stressed the importance of placing value on her writing and recognising that it was time well spent, inspiring us all to believe in our capabilities and ourselves.

After a couple of readings from the book, many Belles were keen to find out the full story, so The Words in my Hand was chosen for our book club. Guin even had a few copies for sale at the meeting, all of which were quickly snapped up! She kindly signed them for us, in striking beetroot-coloured ink.

Tea time featured caterpillar cake and some delicious homemade brownies, and then it was the business section, which Jo revealed will henceforth be known as (drum roll) … Belles’ Bits! Thanks to the earlier start time, we managed to get through all our Bits and still finish up at 9:45, so every Belle was able to get her beauty sleep.

–RI

June meeting – Money, money, money!

Well, that was interesting! Our June meeting addressed the very serious issue of money and personal finances, and it somehow managed to be a fun and engaging session in spite of our original speaker cancelling.

After the usual business and reminders, we had a (very difficult, yet interesting) quiz to get us in the right frame of mind – once awards were haded out we needed some sustenance, and happily we had lots of cake and treats to choose from. Thank you to all the meeting fairies that contributed: Aoife, Liz P, Jackie, and Kara!

The it was time to share our wisdom with the rest of the group. Belles Jan and Liz P shared with use some insights they have gaining from working in financial services: Jen as a debt advisor and Liz as a mortgage broker. Lots of advise and information, it was great to find out more about issues that affect us all.

We had a fabulous raffle, New Belle Luck struck again and a lot of the prizes went to new members and visitors.

We had planned to have a tip exchange but time ran away from us so we ended up collecting all the tips and recommendations on paper, the committee is collating everything and we’ll make it available as soon as possible. In the mean time, if you have something to contribute to the money guide (like a catchy title, for example!) please email us or post in the Facebook group.

Finally, a heads up that there is no formal meeting in July – we are having a party instead! Details will be emailed to members, and we look forward to having visitors and potential new Belles at the August meeting, which will be about Photography!.

– LG

May meeting – Shiny rocks, rocking the resolutions, and resolved new Belles!

May meeting – Shiny rocks, and rocking the resolutions!

We had a super interesting meeting in May. The first half was taken up by Jason Middleton, who talked to us about gemstones, their features, uses, as well as the countries where you can find each different type and ways in which they are mined. He brought samples of many different kinds (sadly no diamonds!) so we could see for ourselves what he was talking about. It was very informative and it peaked our interest to find out more!

This month’s refreshments deserve a special mention. Not only did we have delicious cupcakes, mini-poundcakes, and sponge fingers (fingerellas?) – we also tried out having fresh fruit for those with any dietary concerns / trying to eat healthier. It went down very well, so we’ll try to make it a regular feature!

The second half of the meeting was all about the 2016 resolutions. We introduced the idea of resolutions for our visitors and Belles attending their first meeting; we also brushed up on the rules of how to vote and what happens with our vote at the AGM. Members Aoife and Yvonne introduced a resolution each, and explained their views about the wording and the content. This helped us get a quick short discussion started around each topic and then we voted.

Collectively, we decided not to support either one of the resolutions while also giving our representative discretion to change her vote at AGM if any amendments were introduced. We think it is important to say that our lack of support is not because we do not care about the topics or because we don’t think they are important. It was mostly the wording what stopped us from voting in favour.

In the case of the Avoid food waste, address food poverty resolution the general feeling was that the wording is not strong enough and that it should be about the whole food production, supply, and retail chains rather than just the supermarkets. We will try to find ways of avoiding food waste and reducing food poverty in our community through means other than the resolution.

Something similar happened with the Appropriate care in hospitals for people with dementia resolution. In spite of discussing it in groups and having a personal testimonial, we couldn’t quite see how the resolution could be implemented or what it was seeking to achieve. We will strive to support those in our community that are struggling with dementia and other conditions as best we can, independently of the results of the vote at the NFWI Annual Meeting.

Jason, our main speaker, remarked on how lively our group is – he is right, of course! The May meeting saw one of the highest attendance records both for members and guests. We were delighted to have friends of Belles visit us, as well as WI members that have moved to our city and WI rookies visiting a meeting for the first time. Five fabulous women signed up to join us after the meeting, which means we are now almost full. A handful of spaces remain – get in touch by email (cambluebelles@gmail.com) if you, or somebody your know, are interested in becoming a Blue Belle.

April Meeting – Bingo, Raffles, and a new Committee

Our Annual Meeting / Birthday got very animated and loud! So much so that we tripped the motion activated alarms on the windows more than once!

Kara, Victoria, and Laura, our Treasurer, Secretary, and President, did an excellent job of reviewing the past 12 months for us, and we played our now traditional Buzzword Bingo while we listened to them. Lots of Belles won sweets and Independent Cambridge books, and there were a couple of lovely flowery prizes for the overall bingo winners.

We also had two very exciting raffles. First, the long awaited draw of the Dig for Denman Bursary, which went to the fabulous Emily. She has been an important part of Blue Belles since the very beginning, and has had different roles in the Committee for the first three years so it was a lovely of Lady Luck to make her the winner of the bursary this year. Right before we drew the bursary winner we had a vote to amend the rules of the bursary to allow our dual members to participate, the Committee will amend the guidelines and circulate them before the next Annual Meeting.

The second raffle, of a £150 voucher for the amazing Cambridge Satchel Company went to the Liz C. – she was thrilled with the prize:

Liz and Lucy visited the CSC shop in St. Mary’s Passage the Saturday after the meeting, so that Liz could choose a satchel and have it engraved. The team at the shop took great care of them and they had so much fun!

Liz ended up picking the classic satchel, in an updated version with magnetic clasps that makes it so easy to reach in when you need something, while keeping the contents secure. Liz went for a lovely shade of red and had her initials and a bicycle engraved. Alice, from CSC, let us watch while she did the engraving. It’s a super cool process:

   
These bags are meant to last, it’s all about style and not disposable fashion, so Alice also showed us how to take care of the leather and Liz got a couple of products to protect her new satchel. Did you know that the Cambridge Satchel Company will fix your bag for free in the first you have it, and after that they can still reattach clasps, get straps, and fix any stitching issue? I’ll stop gushing now – I don’t want this to sound like an advert! (Though if you haven’t visited the Cambridge shop, you really should stop by – it is gorgeous!)

Head over to the President’s Blog to find out all the details about the new committee, and what you can expect from them in the next 12 months, as well as way to contribute and get involved in the running of the group.

-LG

March, March, March!

It was lovely to see so many members at our March meeting! Those that couldn’t make it missed out on an amazing raffle that included books, a purple knife, jewellery, and many other goodies. New Belles continue to be the luckiest in the bunch! This month’s raffle was partially sponsored by Ark Cambridge and it would be fab to show them some appreciation in the form of visits to their shop, tweets, and Facebook likes. If you were one of the lucky Belles that won one of their items in the raffle we would love ‘action shots’ of you using / wearing your prize so we can tweet at Ark. If you’re happy to help with this please post your photo on our Facebook group or email it to the Commitee.

We had some amazing treats courtesy of Kara, Liz C, and Jane – and somebody brought a lovely coconut concoction but we didn’t see who! Turned out Jackie was the mystery baker – thank you all for your the treats!

We are still looking for ideas for new social groups – Film Club? Wine / Beers Appreciation? Dinner Dates? Get in touch by email or on Facebook if you fancy starting a subgroup!

At our next meeting, on April 13th, we’ll be celebrating our 3rd birthday! Woo! We’ll hear from the Committee, have our annual elections, unveil next year’s programme, eat cake (duh!) and we’ll have a very special raffle prize… hopefully this time Lucy’s phone won’t run out of battery so we can have lots of photos!

February meeting – British Sign Language!

Thank you to everyone that attended the February meeting. We had a fab speaker, Jane Kennedy, who brought along materials from the Action on Hearing Loss charity and taught us to finger spell. It was interesting and easy to learn the basics of British Sign Language, hopefully it will spark interest in some of us to learn it fully – if nothing else, it was great fun to sing The Rainbow Song, and we can now sign ‘Cambridge Blue Belles’! Photos and a video are posted in our private Facebook group (only members can see it!).

The treat for the meeting were very tasty and we’d like to share the recipes:

Jo’s deliciously moist apple fruit cake

Lucy’s yummy orange friands (ignore the blueberries, substitute the lemon for orange, add a splash of orange essence)

Alice’s lovely vegan brownies came from a hand written recipe, so you will have to ask her for it!

A highlight of the evening was definitely the small bouquet of new Belles we welcomed – we very much hope you enjoyed your first meeting, do get in touch if you want to be added to our private Facebook group, a lot of social-out-of-meetings activities are arranged there, and it’s also a good place to ask for advice, support, or just to share good news and information. Other facebook groups you might be interested in are the Cambridgeshire federation one, the Unofficial Women’s Institute group , and if you’re into camping there’s the the Tea & Tents group.

Updates on our social groups:

– Our first shared Games Night (organised with Ladybirds and Cam City) is at The Burleigh Arms on February 25th, with games starting at 7:30 pm

– The book club is meeting on Wednesday 16th March at Alice’s house (check the Facebook group for her address, or email the committee). We are reading The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

– The Craft Club is a bit dormant at the moment, if anyone knows what’s going on with it drop us an email. Same goes for the Allotmenteers, email the committee to share any news on the produce + jam front!

Do you have any ideas for a social group you’d like to get started? Get in touch with the committee, we can help with logistics for the first meeting and help you take it from there!

At our next meeting, on March 9th, we’ll be exploring the world of colour, style, and fashion – stay tuned for more details!

November Meeting – Willow Weaving Adventures

Our November meeting saw our intrepid Blue Belles attempt a new skill – willow weaving. Our guest for the evening was the wonderful Val Curwen who first gave us some information on where she sources her willow (Linton and Somerset), the different types of willow and how it is prepared. She then set the Blue Belles loose creating a wreath, followed by a Christmas tree garland and finally a star.

There was much bending and shaping, concentration and mutterings as we came to grips with the quirks of this lovely natural product, but by the end of the evening most of us had managed to produce the beginnings of our willow Christmas decorations. Thanks to Val from everyone for a fabulous evening!

November is also Craft Fair month! The Blue Belles will be hosting their second Craft Fair at St Andrew’s Baptist Church in Cambridge on Saturday the 28th of November. As well as lovely crafts (Christmas shopping perhaps?) there will be delicious cakes, tea and coffee on offer. We’d love to see lots of people there.

Our December meeting will be our Christmas party. Blue Belles should watch their inboxes and Facebook for details, but suffice to say we have a fabulous party evening planned!