25 before 26

This year I decided to give myself one word to focus on throughout the year as my mantra. That word, funnily enough, was FOCUS. Let’s see how I’ve been getting on nine months down the line...

FOCUS my belongings:
This year I moved house twice within the space of a month. My friends unknowingly volunteered to help me move the hefty amount of stuff I called ‘my belongings'. I took the look of shock on their friends as a sign for change - it was time for a clear out! Charles and I donated three bin bags full of things we didn’t need and threw away (or recycled) another two while unpacking our new flat. I purged all of the clothes that I had rarely worn, were worn out or I no longer had use for. I donated a quarter of my shoe collection. Chemistry textbooks and folders went back to the office. Drawers were pruned and re-organised. To-do lists for loose ends were made. One of my 25 before 26 things (throw away 25 items) was achieved, several times over! Needless to say, I feel a lot lighter and I’m sure my wardrobe does too! Now I just have to tackle everything I left at my parent’s house...

FOCUS on myself:
I’ve been a bit useless at this part of the mantra so far. I haven’t enjoyed cooking so much this year due to living in shared halls and simply not being at home until late. Regular posts on this blog have been non-existent as my energy has been taken up with work (hello PhD life). I will try harder to do the things I enjoy doing more often! Maybe I can make it up in the last few months of the year.

FOCUS my work:
I laugh at Emily nine months ago. A regular schedule for a PhD student? What was I thinking. I have however tried my hardest to leave the office or lab before 6pm every day. This has been achievable most days, with the help of my fellow researchers reminding me of my goal. There have, however, been several late nights - including one where only a water-cutout forced me to leave the lab. The nature of my research project at the start of the year meant I had to prioritise getting the work completed quickly - meaning early mornings and late nights. Now my work has reached a more steady state and so I’m able to control my time more successfully (phew).

So there you have it - a FOCUS three different ways. I'll update you again at the end of the year.

Last December Charles and I took a month out of our PhD's to road trip around New Zealand (and pop over to Sydney for New Year). We blogged our way across the country, taking over 3000 photos and days of video footage, which we condensed into a three minute video.

New Zealand is simply the most stunning country I've had the pleasure of visiting. The landscape is so beautiful, even if you do nearly lose a couple of your fingers to frostbite to enjoy it (I need to buy more insulating gloves).
tongario crossing rainspaceship campervan orange

We stayed in a camper van - or rather, a bright orange Spaceship. I hadn't driven a car for about five years before I got behind the steering wheel bright and early after our first night in the van. Fortunately I didn't need to worry about a thing - changing gear was easy as the ship was an automatic, New Zealanders drive on the same side of the road as 'us Brits' and in the end, I actually quite enjoyed driving!

I couldn't possibly decide what my favourite part of the trip was for me, each day had its own quirk (whether good or bad). Some of my highlights included: walking the Tongario Crossing, Rafting over the highest commercially-raftable waterfall, swimming in a secret hot spring, taking a helicopter ride to climb on a glacier and seeing a rare yellow-eyed penguin waddling out to sea.

For the full low-down on our adventure take a look at our travel blog. Looking at the photos makes me want to go back already. See you again soon New Zealand!

This post completes one of the 25 goals I have set myself to achieve before my 26th birthday.

This beast occupied most of my time last October. You probably couldn't call a 44 page report (excluding the five introductory pages of contents and standard boring stuff) a beast, but it sure felt like one.

The confirmation report, in its simplest form, is a collection of your first year PhD research. You and the report are subsequently examined in a viva-voca to test your competency and capability to complete your PhD within the time frame you have been given (the University allows 4 years but I only have funding for 3 and I sure am not self-funding any longer).

I handed in my report a month early, just before I left for New Zealand at the start of December last year. Taking a month-long holiday has wiped some of the details of my project from my brain - fortunately I have a handy report to refresh my memory before my viva next week! I’ve been trying not to think about the viva too much and undertaken some ‘positive procrastination’ by doing more experimental work this week (the results are looking pretty good). I will however be revising some of the theory before the big day! Wish me luck...

This post completes one of the 25 goals I have set myself to achieve before my 26th birthday.

veg_garden_2526In May I went along to a meeting to learn about a new garden I had heard about on campus. Little did I know that this was a ratification for a new garden society and that I would walk away as the vice president. I had next-to-no experience of growing my own veg or looking after a garden but it's something I had always wanted the chance to learn and I do love a challenge! I could only hope that I could really push the society to grow into something that would attract members that knew what they were doing... Fortunately Charles and Tom were also cast into the committee as president and treasurer and so I was in good company to start things off.

Before any planting we had to layout the ground:

The committee deciding the garden layout earlier this week

A photo posted by Uni of Surrey Garden Soc (@gardensoc) on

The next step was to erect the polytunnel. We had a fun weekend in the mud trying to get this thing to stand upright and look presentable - the first challenge was to correct the ground poles as the builders had concreted them into the ground one foot too far apart, adding an extra couple of hours to our build time.

Garden Soc Polytunnel Timelapse from Garden Soc on Vimeo. The Garden Society is one of the fastest growing societies on campus, with 87 active members on our mailing list that we managed to retain from over 300 that we signed up at Fresher's Fayre in October. (I put this down to the garden jokes in my emails.) You can read about us on our blog, on Twitter and see our pictures on Instagram. We've also been featured twice in the University's student newspaper, 'The Stag' and mentioned several times on Stag Radio thanks to our media guru Tiff.

I take pride in heading up events for our members outside of the garden - so far we've run a Halloween pumpkin carving event with Surrey Marrow society and a plant pot painting session with CRAFTSoc (the craft society). I am really excited for next year's plans to hold a big pot-luck in one of the restaurants on campus - preparations are already underway!

You can't really avoid the Garden society on campus - we seem to pop up everywhere! In November I helped prepare 60L of vegetable soup to sell on our stall at the Wellbeing Fair and the committee spent the (same) evening thanking the University's Annual Fund donors for their generous contribution to help us get the garden off the ground.

I may have slightly lead you the wrong way down the garden path with this post - I have to say I have been so busy on the committee that I haven't actually had any time to plant anything! I have however failed to grow some grapes from a free kit I received (I think it's too cold in my office) and planted some chili seeds at home (growing strong!).

This post completes one of the 25 goals I have set myself to achieve before my 26th birthday.

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25 before 26 food processor and carrot cakeThis post completes two of the 25 goals I have set myself to achieve before my 26th birthday.

I have broken two food processors in the last month.

Charles bought me the first one as an anniversary present. He was really excited for me to start using it so set it up for me while I looked through the instruction booklet. A heartbreaking cracking noise filled the room - as he turned the processor on, the bowl had shattered in various places. Quick to rectify the problem, we boxed the several broken pieces up and took it back to the shop to exchange it for another.

I managed to bake a batch of vegan scones, some cakes to sell for one of the Surrey Roller Girls' home games and use some of the chopping attachments to make a Thai curry paste before the replacement broke. I left it on the drying rack after washing up the remains of the curry paste when a mysterious force (aka, gravity) caused it to fall off and crack, again. Surely the mixing bowl should have been sturdier than this, it didn't even fall that far!

I need a food processor that can cope with me throwing it around. Something big and strong, with a good motor and thick mixing bowl. I used to own a true vintage 80's Magimix, handed down to me by my Nan. It lasted 30 years before it broke! A new Magimix will become part of my kitchen toolbox very soon (once I've saved up my pennies). Until then, I'll continue to make things by hand - including the carrot cake I made this month for Charles and his new house mates (no picture sorry, it was eaten too quickly)!

One piece of advice to add - take a picture before you take something with many parts out of a box! It will help when trying to get said items back into the box, in the correct configuration to be able to actually close the box. It took us maybe half an hour to work out which way we had to put the items back in when we forgot to take a picture the first time (not a great advertisement for PhD students).