29 June 2014

June 2014

As if we're half way through 2014, how did that happen! June's been a good month I suppose, brining the start of my summer. Saying that, I've been working a hell of a lot but I can't complain, at least it keeps me busy. I have felt quite stressed recently though, feeling like I have so much to do when really, I don't. 

I think the stand out event in June was receiving my final results for first year, it turns out I did way better than expected and have made it into the university that I missed out on getting into first time around, it's safe to say that that day was a good day! Obviously there was Lee's totally fun birthday day out which you can read about here and my grandma's birthday was also celebrated, with a family meal at Bella Italia. It was my first time there and we were a little apprehensive as we had wanted somewhere quite fancy for her, but I was very impressed! The decor is lovely and I had the tastiest duck pizza, Lee was the only one that managed three courses plus birthday cake, the beast he is. 

Me and Lee finished Breaking Bad at the start of June and it feels weird to not look forward to the next episode marathon. I do think they dragged it on a little too long but the ending was unexpected, which I liked. I'm all in to trashy reality related stuff so I didn't think me and Breaking Bad were going to get along but I thoroughly enjoyed it, the acting on the most part was great and there were lots of super intense moments throughout. What series do we need to start watching now? (He's already half way through OITNB so that's not an option, I need to catch up!). We also, of course, had to go and see The Fault in our Stars. I loved the book and was so looking forward to watching it come alive on screen, I don't want to put any spoilers out there but it didn't disappoint, the book was captured perfectly, take plenty of tissues! 

Unfortunately, June was the month that I failed the 30 day shred. I got a few days in to level three and it was a killer. In all honesty, by the time I got home from work and ate my evening meal my mam had already claimed the TV for the soaps leaving me no where to do the shred and by that point I think Jillians voice and words of encouragement had just got a little too much. I'm a bit gutted but will definitely go back to it as I do believe the workouts are effective if done properly. I still haven't been eating too badly, although we did indulge in our first BBQ of the year and boy was it good! I'm already looking forward to the next one, that's one of the things I love most about summer, time spent outside next to the BBQ with no laptops, just family, friends and lots of chatting. That night ended with a trip to the pub, our only night at the pub in June surprisingly! I haven't been up to much else, had a nice shopping trip with my mam, a lovely walk around a big lake with Lee and our two friends whilst triathlon training was going on, it was crazy to watch them all in sync with one another in the water and noticing that the resident swans had made their way to the other side to stay out of the way. I stole my close friend for a night whilst she was visiting home for a catch up, me and Lee found a new route on a spontaneous drive and finally, I listed lots more stuff on my eBay after a clear out, there's more to come! 

I'm ending the month tomorrow with a final pre holiday shopping trip as our holiday to Tenerife is fast approaching, 5 days!! That's reason number one why July will be great and number two, it's my birthday month. I hope you've had a wonderful June!

Rachael x

26 June 2014

The Graze Box

From day one of starting my little journey to eat healthier snacking has always been my vice. I'm not saying snacking is bad, but I continued to constantly crave snacks in the form of sugary goods and I desperately wanted to substitute the chocolate and biscuits for some healthier alternatives. This is where Graze came in, I'd heard about this nifty little box quite a bit via the internet but the money always put me off and I didn't think it was something I'd ever actually venture in to. However, I was a girl in need of some inspiring snacks so I went ahead and ordered from the website. Now, I'm going to be honest here, my initial plan was to do a first impressions type post but I wasn't able to photograph my first box because as soon as I walked in the door and spotted my first Graze box on the floor, I ripped it open and demolished the flapjack within seconds, before I could even think about what I was doing, oops. It was delish though.

If you have a code which often come in leaflets with packages (mine was ASOS) or they come with your box for a friend, you will be able to get your 1st, 5th and 10th box free and will be charged £3.99 for each of the others (including delivery). Graze offers three different boxes, the nibble box, which is the one I get but also the breakfast box full of cool granola, porridge and museli mixes and the goody box, designed for kids. You can choose how often and on what day you'd like your box and what's also great is that, not only is the packaging recyclable, it's letter box sized so you don't need to worry about missing a delivery as you can be guaranteed that your box of treats will be awaiting your return. Don't feel like you're tied down either as it's easy enough to cancel deliveries and if you go on holiday, you can 'book a holiday' so you don't receive any boxes during the time that you're away. You receive four snacks of good sized servings in each box and a little booklet telling you the nutrition values, use by date and nutritional benefits. The whole thing is customisable too, after you've demolished your snacks, you can go on line and rate them which will determine how often that particular snack is sent, if at all and you get the option to tick things that you'd like to be sent in your next few boxes, pretty nifty.

Like I said, I never really thought Graze was something I'd go for and it was a bit of an impulse thing, my intention was to give it a go and cancel after the fifth but honestly, I'm yet to be disappointed. I have surprisingly enjoyed pretty much every thing I have tried (I gave the olives away as I wasn't quite brave enough to try them) and Graze has given me the opportunity and the motivation to try new, healthier snacks, quite often things which I wouldn't have in the house or consider buying. Considering I'm quite fussy and don't generally like healthy things that's pretty good going. The little punnets make great snacks for work and when you're out and about. I also think that some of the dried fruit/seed mixes would be great toppings for porridge in the morning! I love how the whole thing is designed, as well as the website and I think the little logos on each punnet are great for letting you know the nutritional benefit of that snack. 

I'm not sponsored by Graze in any way by the way, I'm just pleasantly surprised by the whole creation! It did seem a bit steep to me at first having to pay £3.99 a week but really, that's £1 a snack and they're so worth it! Even if you just want some healthy eating snack inspiration you can head on over to their website and have a browse as there's a lot of choice! Also, here's my friend code for you to claim your three free boxes: LY24WL3PPHave you tried Graze?

Rachael x

22 June 2014

A Birthday Surprise - Go Ape

No, not my birthday, not quite yet. Lee celebrated his 19th birthday on the 18th and I'm sure you girlfriends can relate, I wanted to do something super special. He is a very good egg and he deserves it. Although we didn't do much last year as we were at a house party the night before and let's just say poor Lee was a little worse for wear on his birthday, I did organise a weekend away to Alton Towers the year before which was awesome and who knows what we did the year before that, we were 15 and hadn't been together long, aw. However, this year I was completely stuck for ideas, I have not been blessed with a creative mind. So, this surprise was put together in a bit of a rush but I must say, I was quite impressed with myself.  It was a light bulb moment when Go Ape sprung to mind, he had been talking about wanting to go for a while and I was SO up for it. For me, simply giving him the tickets in his card wasn't enough so after a bit of Googling and Pinterest browsing a treasure hunt is what I decided on to reveal the surprise, cue last minute route planning and crafty clue card creating.
That's how the morning began, I teamed each clue with a little gift; chocolates, a car air freshener, protein shake sachets, a voucher for his favourite gym clothing store, his card and Clyde the caterpillar birthday cake. It was so nice to see a huge grin on his face as he hunted for the next clue, and he totally appreciated the thought that went into it which made it totally worthwhile. Our next stop; McDonalds for breakfast. Then the drive begun, thankfully the weather was on our side and we were greeted with a gorgeous 24 degrees heat, making the scenery even more beautiful. After stopping for ice cream and a photo opportunity, we arrived at Whinlatter and were helped into our harnesses before being briefed on how to keep ourselves safely attached (and alive). Lee was a bit anxious about the height but once we were up there, he nailed it and it was SO much fun. Zip wires, Tarzan swings and multiple high ropes obstacles such as a hanging tunnel and some shaky ladders. Thankfully the course was quiet. There were 5 sites and we were up in the trees for just over two hours.
As the weather was so nice, we demolished some butterscotch birthday cake and headed into Keswick. The Lake District is our favourite place and the views were looking as amazing as ever, we took a walk through the town passing the cutest little cafes down to the river before returning for an obligatory fish and chips. The heat had totally taken it out of us, so the drive home began, accompanied with plenty of chocolate. P.S. Dairy Milk Oreo Marvellous Mix-Ups are my new favourite. We had a fantastic day and I couldn't be more relieved that Lee enjoyed his surprise, I would recommend Go Ape to everyone. It is physically demanding (justification for the crappy food right there) but that's paired with a great feeling of freedom, being up there in the trees tackling some bad ass obstacles, it's something different. To anyone who is after those girlfriend/boyfriend points, I would totally recommend taking inspiration from the treasure hunt too as it was definitely a success. 

Rachael x

18 June 2014

University; Organisation

One thing I love is organisation; something you have to be pretty good at at uni. It can be quite daunting going in to university and being faced with the fact that organisation is completely up to YOU but hopefully some of my tips are helpful and please feel free to add to them in the comments, I'm sure you can help someone out.


For the first few months, note taking was very trial and error. To begin, I tried putting everything in to one A4 notebook but that meant that modules were mixed between each other and it was hard to find particular previous notes when needed. I then tried using one notebook for each module, this only resulted in a very heavy and full bag, not ideal. Failing that, I resorted to printing off the lecture slides, taking them into lectures and adding my notes to them before going home and putting them in a lever arch file, divided into modules. However, this one file got very full very quickly and it meant relying on lecturers to actually put the lecture slides on line before the lecture itself and in my case, they were quite forgetful. My note taking dilemma was resolved when I purchased a few Pukka pads after seeing others using them and I LOVE them. This is what I used for the rest of the year and will continue to use next year. I have one for seminars and one for lectures, each split by built in dividers into modules. 

In terms of the content of your notes, it really is tempting to copy down everything that's on the screen in front of you. I'd definitely advise against this, it's pointless as the lecture slides should be on line for you to access, it's not likely you'll have enough time to write everything before the lecturer moves on and you'll miss any expansion on the main points. Instead, when revising, use the lecture slides alongside your notes and in lectures, make sure to take down all of the extra stuff to accompany the slides. Saying that, try to pick out what's actually relevant because trust me, lecturers like to go off on tangents and tell you their life stories, making it unclear as to what the main point actually is. I like to write in typical list form but I witnessed others using mind maps and colour coordination, a few students even recorded every lecture on to some device which was always a tempting idea, but thinking about the time it would take to listen back and having to sit through all of the lecturers stories and bad jokes put me off. Find how you work best and adapt your note taking ways to fit. 

This ones probably more applicable to those living away from home, although I do feel I can offer some tips as a stay at home student. I think creating a balance between spending your student loan on necessities like food and spending it on way better things like nights out and clothes is important, although the student in you may definitely see nights out as a necessity. So, to make your money go a little further I would do a few things; make use of the university's library instead of buying books, text books can be expensive, especially if you need a lot of them. I found buying the main textbook needed and then using the library was definitely efficient enough for first year. Additionally, only print when really needed. I was surprised at how much could be charged for a single piece of paper with some ink on it and when, like me, you decide to print every journal article rather than reading them on line the price quickly adds up. I soon stopped that and only printed when I really needed too, which was rarely. 

A lot of universities will have tempting cafes such as Costa or Starbucks on campus but they're often ridiculously overpriced, bring your own lunch and treat yourself every now and again. Also, shop around and keep an eye out for offers and vouchers and take advantage of them, this can definitely be helpful for the dreaded food shop if you're living away and it's always useful to keep a note of what needs to be spent on what. Finally, I'd definitely suggest opening a savings account and letting a small amount of your loan transfer in to there, you won't miss it too much and it will help in the future. 

Rachael x

15 June 2014

University; First Year Experience

So here we are at the end of my first year of university, it is absolutely insane how fast it has gone by and now I'm rather scared for the next two years flying by as fast as first year has! Here's an insight into my experience and some tips for if you're starting university this year, or are planning on it for the future. I'll try and keep it short and concise, although you probably know, that is not my forte. 

Quick run down; I'm studying Psychology at the University of Sunderland, living at home and making an hour and half commute each way. Hopefully next year I'll be moving to Northumbria, which I didn't originally get the grades for, to minimise that tedious commute time. I would say my first year has been a very up and down experience; I've felt awfully lonely at times and there has been many occasions that I've felt like giving up and quitting, whether that has been because of the loneliness, because I was struggling with the workload or because I simply just didn't feel quite right. However, I have enjoyed the majority of the course content, the university itself is pretty decent and I have met some great friends, even if they aren't on my course which has led to some great nights. 

What course to do? What university to go to? Stay at home or move away? It's quite an overwhelming time having to make so many life impacting decisions. The only advice I can give you is to THINK very carefully, weigh up all of the pros and cons to each university and to each course. I was a bit silly when it came to making choices, I applied to the same course at 5 different universities, two which are close to home and three which are too far away for me to have stayed at home. However, I kind of knew that I didn't want to move out, I just naively hoped to have been successful for the two closer universities but I did think at some point that if I did get into those that were away, maybe I would give moving out a chance. Typically, I received interviews for the three that were away which I soon rejected after confirming the decision to stay at home. I was left with two choices, both of which were declined. There I was with no offers feeling completely useless, but then fortunately I was offered alternate courses and then went on to get the grades for Sunderland, before changing courses again! If I was to do it all over again, I would apply for a variety of courses at the universities closest to me to maximise chances of an offer and so I could definitely stay at home, because I wasn't really set on studying a certain course. Explore your options.

I would suggest visiting all of the possible universities on your list multiple times at different times of the week to really get a feel of the place, use student forums and talk to others about their experiences. Research the student satisfaction rates and make sure you know what kind of assignments you'll be doing and what you'll be covering in lectures and seminars to see if it suits you and your interests. Not only should you explore the campus, but also the city, as it is where you'll be living for three years if all goes well. 

My decision to stay at home wasn't for anything specific, just the fact that I didn't think I'd be able to cope in a different city within a different environment with different people. I don't have a lot of confidence and the thought scared me. In all honesty, I also didn't want to leave my family and boyfriend at home. Do I regret not moving out? Not really. I know I've saved a lot of money, I have my family, boyfriend and all of my home comforts right with me and I do have the opportunity to stay at my friends flat whenever I want too, she made the decision to move into halls and loves it; the flatmates get on so well together and they have so much fun, I've made great friends with them so it's always nice to visit and live a bit of that life although I don't think I could do it for too long. I do have moments though, when I see how much fun they get up to, that I think maybe I am missing out and maybe it would've been great for me to explore a new city and meet new people. It can also be difficult when your friends from home are away at uni, or when you live in another city and want to socialise with people from university due to travel etc. There's definitely pros and cons, weigh them up and do what's right for YOU
Like I said, I lack confidence and first year was quite lonely for me due to a lack of friends on my course. This is quite a bitter sweet thing as a lot of the time, I do enjoy my own company and I wasn't too bothered about sitting at a computer by myself during breaks, it allowed me to catch up on blogs, do some online shopping or, maybe, work on assignments. I also enjoyed the quiet travel time, just me and my headphones. However, when I witnessed others in groups chatting and looking happy that made me feel down and I would think why can't I have that. Apart from the fact that I'm just not very good at making friends, I had joined the single honours course late after beginning uni as a combined subjects student therefore I experienced a different orientation week than the single honours students. It seemed like a lot of them made friends in this week or were already in groups of friends from school. I did end up making friends with someone from my sixth form who was on my course, we hadn't spoken in sixth form but I'm pleased we did at uni. It just shows that you can end up making friends with people you wouldn't usually expect too, I think university makes you realise how important being non-judgemental is and everyone gets treat equally, whereas in school 'labels' were much more of a thing. 

My advice is to get involved in everything that interests you and be open minded. There wasn't any course specific events at my uni which was a shame but there's freshers and other student events/nights out. I'm lucky to have two of my best friends living in halls in the city so I was able to join them for freshers (which was SO much fun), even if you bring someone along from home, it's likely they'll have to pay a little but it means you can enjoy freshers too and not miss out. Societies are a great way to meet like minded people too and I wish I'd got involved in some of them. Aim for first year to be a year of having fun, experiencing new things and meeting new people and take advantage of what the uni offers. For most courses, first year doesn't count, it's just a way to get everyone up to the same place so you don't need to stress too much about assignments.

Rachael x

4 June 2014

May 2014

I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that May was the month of stress, completing assignments (one video, one lab report, one reflection document and a portfolio later..), dreaded revision and tedious exams. If exams are still ongoing for you then I wish you lots of luck! I wouldn't say my exams went brilliantly, but they could've been worse. 

May was also the month that I began the 30 day shred and started eating salads, like actual salads with leaves and stuff. Totally unheard of for me but I'm getting used to them, a large helping of fat free Greek yoghurt as a dressing definitely helps! Level one of the shred went pretty well but when level two arrived it was torture, many more combined moves, we're talking abs, legs and arms. All at the same time. This was where my motivation began lacking. However, I'm still going, currently on day 6 of level two, even if those 6 days have been way more spread out than the 10 days of level one. 

Thankfully we had some glorious weather in May so me and Lee had a walk in the local country park and took the chance to drive to Hareshaw Linn, a walk which ends with a lovely shaded waterfall, it was beautiful. Lee has decided that although he's enjoyed Breaking Bad, they've dragged it out a little too long for his attention span so rather than sitting in watching that every night we've been on some nice drives to the usual coastal places; the harbour, the beach, a river occupied by lots of huge and rather intimidating swans, but definitely NOT McDonalds or our favourite take away ;) Nice chats and hyper hours were had. We got out the car one night and had a nice walk along the sand, skimming stones (I fail) and watching two surfers braving the cold (after thinking that they were dogs, then seals..). 

More enjoyable things which probably seem quite insignificant to you; I went swimming at a public pool for the first time in ages and surprisingly quite enjoyed it. I wandered around a shopping centre with the boys and half heartedly acted as stylist (they're definitely almost as bad as girls when it comes to shopping), we did have a major sing-song in the car on the way back though so all was good. I also had lunch with my mam and her fiance at our local Hungry Horse chain and followed up with an evening at the pub with the best ones and an amazing brownie. Me and Lee spent a night with some friends we hadn't seen in a while, we found the cutest Italian restaurant with live music and such a holiday atmosphere! Cocktails and nibbles were had in a beer garden with my friends at uni and to celebrate the end of exams I didn't go crazy, just chilled at my friends flat with the best Pizza Hut pizza and watched Frozen for the first time, it was awesome. The last uni night out of first year quickly followed, made 100x better when I was able to sing my heart out to Let It Go in a bar.

We've definitely been at the takeaways more this month, but I've enjoyed it. I've had more time to chill with Lee in the mornings and more chances to enjoy myself and catch up with my friends. I can feel my summer beginning to slot nicely in place. How was your May? 
Rachael x
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