Goals for 2016

The new year is finally upon us! Well, actually, it’s been upon us for three days now. I love using the new year as a fresh start for pursuing my goals, so I’ve spent the last few days composing a list of the goals I want to achieve in the coming year. Last year was pretty great, and I was able to accomplish many of the goals I’d set out for myself. But there were still many things on my list that I didn’t complete. The common trend in those unachieved goals was that there was no clear motivation behind them – they were just items on a to-do list that were never done. This year, I really hope to focus on the goals that will have a real impact on my life.

More steps per day on my Fitbit

I purchased a Fitbit Flex back in September, and I love being able to see how much exercise I get on a day-to-day basis. I’d like to be more consistent with increased activity levels this year so that I can improve my emotional and physical well-being. My realistic goal is 50,000 steps per week, but I’d love to hit 70,000 (the recommended 10k per day)!

8 hours of sleep

This one is so hard to stick to, especially when the rest of my household doesn’t have a fixed sleep schedule (that’s the boyfriend and the cat). I personally benefit in a lot of ways from getting enough sleep, so I’d like to make this a habit!

Read more

I used to be a voracious reader, but now I’m ashamed to admit that Netflix has taken over. Reading has all of the benefits of television for me, without the downside of lasting lethargy. I’ve already started making a list of books I want to read on my new Kindle (both fiction and non-fiction), and I hope to wean myself off TV as much as possible.

Knit a pair of socks

This one is a bit arbitrary, but I just got a set of circular needles for Christmas, and I want to tackle the quintessential knitting project!

Improve my technical skillset

I haven’t narrowed this down yet, but I want to become more proficient in technology. This might be in the form of a new programming language, a concept or course… I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

Keep blogging

As I mentioned when I launched this blog, I want to stretch my writing muscles, share my thoughts, and get to know myself a little better. I hope to post at least every other day and nail down what this blog is really about!

Identify my dream job?

I don’t want to jump the gun here, but if I don’t make it a goal, how will I ever achieve it? I hope to do some soul-searching and research in the coming year.

Track and plan my goals

I’ve got a really sweet planner (more on that later), so I want to use it! Creating mini-goals will help keep me motivated and on track to succeed.

What are your goals for 2016?

You may have noticed that I talk a lot about my cat. I’m a proud pet lover. But when I was in university, I didn’t have the time, money, or commitment level for a dog or a cat. (Two of my housemates ended up getting cats, actually. I loved having them around, but I definitely wasn’t ready to make the leap myself.) I lived in an on-campus residence in first year, and I missed having a pet – at the time, my family had a dog at home, three hours away. In my second year, I moved off-campus into a house with some friends. I took that year to ponder what type of pet I would like… and could handle.

  • A fish? Interesting to watch every so often, but not much of a “pet” in the companionship sense.
  • A bird? It would be a risk – they could be loud and messy, which would be an issue with housemates. Plus, their feet kind of creep me out.
  • A reptile? Not cuddly enough. Their diet was also a bit off-putting.
  • An amphibian? Same deal as a reptile. Cuter, granted, but still not the kind of experience I was looking for.

I’d narrowed it down to mammals. While I considered factors such as size, lifestyle, and expense, I had a friend introduce me to her own hamster and share some of her experiences. Hamsters met all of my criteria! And in September 2013, I acquired Henry the Hamster.

why hamsters make the best pets for students - henry

This is Henry. Sitting in a shoe.

So what made Henry the best pet I could have asked for as a university student?

Size and Footprint

In a small student apartment, the size of a pet and the equipment needed to take care of it is a deal breaker. For Henry, I bought a cubic collapsible fabric box with a lid (about 50 cm each dimension). His cage sat on top of it like it was a table, and I was able to fit all of his equipment inside the box if I ever needed to do so. For exercise, I had your standard 7″ exercise ball, and he could just run around my room – no need for a playpen like some larger pets.


From what I’ve seen and read, hamsters are moderately social. They don’t get along well with other hamsters, and most of the time they like to be left alone. With more social pets, skipping a day or two of play negatively impacts their mood and mental health. For a hamster, leaving them alone simply gets them accustomed to being alone, so it may take some time to warm them back up to playing with you. The longer you wait, the harder it gets, but if you’re looking to get a pet for companionship, I’ll assume that you’re planning to socialize with them regularly anyway. I tried to play with Henry daily, or at least have him get some exercise in his ball.


Did you know that hamsters can be potty-trained? And it’s actually the easiest thing! They will naturally pick a spot in their cage to use as a toilet, and you just place a potty tray in that spot for next time. Not only that, but they will also clean their sleeping nests of old food and other garbage, so the cage doesn’t get as gross as you might think. Of course, a hamster’s standards of cleanliness might be different from yours, and you’ll still have to remove trash, litter, and old shavings regularly. But your hamster will help you out as much as they can! I know mine did.

Sleep Schedule (no, really)

You might have heard that hamsters are nocturnal, which sounds pretty awful for a pet. But in reality, they’re crepuscular, which means they’re awake twice a day during “twilight” hours: around dawn and around dusk. I don’t know about you, but when I was a student, I was basically out of the house all day doing work. I’d only really be home for a few hours before going to sleep. So while a diurnal pet sounds like a good idea, you might actually miss most of the time they’re awake because you’re busy in class or at the library. In general, Henry was awake from 6pm-10pm, then again early in the morning when I was getting up to go to class. This turned out to be an awesome schedule, as I didn’t feel like I was missing out on any of the fun!


Maybe this doesn’t apply to everyone, but one of the reasons I wanted a mammal as a pet was for the feeling of fur when holding, petting, or playing with them. There’s probably a scientific, oxytocin-related explanation behind it. I found it was very beneficial to have a cuddly creature always available during stressful times such as exams.

Relatively Low Costs

It’s obvious that there is a correlation between a pet’s size/complexity and the cost to raise them. Here’s a rough cost breakdown for Henry over 22 months:


  • Hamster: $10
  • Cage: $30
  • Bedding: $5/month ($110 total)
  • Food: $5/month ($110 total)
  • Toys: $20 (plus free stuff, like paper towel rolls)
  • Cleaning spray: $10 (the bottle lasted his whole lifetime)
Total: $290 ($13 per month)
If you buy food and bedding in larger bulk quantities than I did, you can probably reduce that monthly cost as well.

Advanced (i.e. Additional Costs Because I Spoiled My Hamster A Lot)

  • More Toys: $30
  • Litterbox: $10 – it’s not really necessary, but it will save you time and effort in cleaning the cage.
  • Litter: $5/month ($110 total) – it has to be small animal litter, since cat litter will mess up their little lungs! I recommend this stuff since it clumps for easy cleaning.
  • Cage Extensions: $50 – I’m talking tubes, a carrier, a fancy wheel, a mini maze…these were always on my Christmas list.
  • Treats: $20

Total after additional costs: $510 ($23 per month) – keep in mind, though, a lot of this was in the form of gifts.


Even though hamsters are small, simple animals, they still have quite a bit of personality. Some of the stuff Henry did was pretty hilarious. I’ll let you discover the unique personality of your pet on your own!


This one is a little bittersweet, but it’s true. In university, most of us don’t know where our lives will take us next, so committing to a pet that will be with you for a few decades may not be the best decision quite yet. Henry lived to be almost 2 years old, so he and I went through third and fourth year of university together. When he did pass away (peacefully, in his sleep), I was sad, of course, but also confident that I had given him a pretty awesome life for a hamster.

So if you’re thinking about getting a pet to be your companion during school, I would definitely encourage you to consider a hamster! What have been your experiences with pets in university?

How I Quit Nail-Biting Using Apps

I’ll start this off by saying that it wasn’t easy. Nail-biting has been a 16-year habit for me (a solid 73% of my life), and an unpleasant one at that. For context, I’d say I was a middle-of-the-road addict: I would bite them right up to the nailbed, but usually not beyond. The exception was back in middle school, where a combination of stress and boredom really took a toll on my fingers. It hurt! Not to mention the hangnails, infections, and inability to scratch or grasp anything that needed nails. At that point, I knew it was time to stop, but I didn’t really know where to start. It was so ingrained in everything I did.

My thumb in July 2014. Ick.

My thumb in July 2014. Ick. And this is nowhere near the worst of it.

Like most people, the first thing I tried was straight willpower. It was just a habit, right? All I needed to do was not bite my nails. Simple enough – but not easy. I could last about a week or two this way (and only when I was really trying). But when it came time to clip my nails shorter so they wouldn’t break or tear, I’d just bite them off and start all over again. The second one of my nails had a jagged edge, I knew I was screwed. It took me a long time to finally figure out that I should carry a nail file with me, but even that solution wasn’t very effective since I was prone to forget about it.

Next I tried keeping my nails painted. A number of problems arose from this:

  1. It was hard to keep up – every time the polish started to chip off, I’d be back to biting.
  2. My job at the time only allowed clear nail polish, and since I couldn’t see it to remember it was there, I’d end up biting anyway.
  3. I ended up not minding the taste of it. Gross, I know, but that’s the truth.

Then there were the drastic measures: bandages on my fingertips, gloves everywhere all the time, that gross-tasting polish stuff. They all failed; none were consistent enough to actually make a lasting difference.



About a year ago, I started getting really excited about apps for everything – games and stores and fitness and organizing and finance and writing… and it occurred to me that there must be an app to help people quit nail-biting habits. When I sought them out, I found lots! But most of them didn’t suit my needs. In fact, many were general habit apps, and a lot of them tracked on a day-to-day basis. Back then, it had become so bad that I couldn’t even make it a day without biting my nails. It was pretty demotivating to see long streaks of “missed” days. Not to mention, if I happened to bite my nails in the morning, I would treat it like a free-for-all and end up biting them straight through the day – it would all look the same on a habit tracker anyway.

Much further down on the Google Play search list, I found a funny little app simply called “Nail Biting“, and it looks like this:

Nail Biting App

And that’s it. You open up the app and press the “I DID IT” button whenever you bite. To be clear, it was a little annoying to have to open the app every time (I would have preferred a widget), but because the app itself is so simple, the loading time was negligible.

The cool part, which ended up being the most helpful, was the granularity of the statistics:

nail biting app stats

Hourly! So exciting!

I used this app on its own for a few weeks. I did see my no-biting stretches increasing, but I still had some slipups now and then. Once I was able to go a day or two without biting, I added another app to the mix: HabitBull (the free version). This app has a lot of features and is good for lots of habits, which I won’t get into here.

This is my real progress back in April. The thought bubbles indicate comments I've added to those days.

This is my real progress back in April. The speech bubbles indicate that I’ve added comments to those days.

I would log my nail-biting in the Nail Biting app throughout the day, and then transfer the number of times in the day over to HabitBull before bed. I would also add comments to days when I filed or clipped my nails, since those were they days I struggled the most. It was the combination of mindfulness and accountability (in the form of red “missed” days) that made the difference. Plus, I love charts.

It took me a few false starts on HabitBull, but as of April 14th (260 days ago), I no longer bite my nails! I stopped using HabitBull in August; it was getting pretty tedious to record each successful day.

how I quit nail-biting in 2015 using apps — progress


I should clarify: I no longer bite my nails. I still do, on occasion, pick at them, tear them, or randomly find that I’ve got my fingertip in my mouth after zoning out for a while. I’m working on those things. The longer I go without biting my nails, though, the easier the other pieces of the puzzle are to leave behind.

Unfortunately, I’ve also noticed that my nailbed doesn’t seem to be growing back. Every time I clip my nails, it sort of looks like I’m starting from scratch (though not nearly as gross). So a warning to you nail-biters out there: even if you quit, your nails may never be as good as new.

Do you have any nail-biting struggles or tips to share?

Happy New Year to all!

Ten Commandments Digital Organization

The New Year is fast approaching, so now’s the time to get a handle on all of the clutter in our lives and start the year off on the right foot. This year I’m all about organization — specifically, digital organization. And after spending way too much time at work trying to sort through endless folders and files searching for a particular document, I cried out in desperation, “There must be a better way!” (In my head, of course.)

Don’t do this. Ever. Please.

I volunteered to reorganized some of those folders, and in doing so, I realized that there are a few rules I inherently follow when organizing computer files. If you’re struggling to find your files months later, maybe this could help you out.

1. Thou shalt name thy files and folders in a descriptive manner.

If I see one more “New Folder” folder with actual important information in it, I’ll scream. Same goes for “doc-123015” or folders named after people for no apparent reason.

2. Thou shalt use consistent date formats.

Switching between yymmdd and mmddyy and yyyymmdd for the date will make the list impossible to sort in your file manager (or in your head).

3. Thou shalt use consistent naming conventions.

I’m talking about version numbers, word order, owner… whatever needs to be in the title. If the documents go together, they should look like they go together.

An extension of this: you can use version numbers or dates in your file titles, but not both. You’ll lose track of your version control and make a mess for everyone. That means:

  • Do this: “File Name – 01012017”, “File Name – 01022017”
  • Or this: “File Name – v1”, “File Name – v2”
  • But not this: “File Name – v1 01012017”, “File Name – v2 01012017”

4. Thou shalt name subfolders concisely.

If you have a folder called “Project A”, and then a subfolder containing all of the legal info for the project, call the folder “Legal Info” (or whatever). Don’t bother calling it “Project A Legal Info” or “Legal Info – Project A”. It’s unnecessary and makes your list of folders cluttered and hard to scan. Plus, if you have to send the path to the folder to someone else, “Drive Name:\\Project A\Legal Info” makes perfect sense.

5. Thou shalt not need to scroll through the list of files in a folder.

If the list of files (or subfolders) extends beyond a reasonable-sized window, you need to divide those documents into categories of some kind, and place those categorized groups into appropriately-named subfolders.

Disclaimer: when it comes to folders full of pictures, you can usually disregard this commandment. If you’re looking for a particular picture from a vacation out of a pool of hundreds, you’re probably just looking at the thumbnail anyway, so it’s not worth going crazy with categorizing. The same goes for anything clearly labelled by date or another numbering system.

6. Thou shalt not create a folder for one document (or no documents).

Maybe this sounds counter to the previous commandment, but a “category” of one isn’t a category at all. Either broaden the scope of the folder so that more documents fall into the category, or bring that document up a level.

7. Thou shalt not create a shortcut to a folder… and store it in the same place.

Why is this a thing? This is common sense, right? Maybe it was just a mistake, but I keep seeing it and it kills me every time. Shortcuts have to save you time to be shortcuts.

8. Thou shalt not save everything on thy desktop.

In my opinion, the desktop is for commonly-used applications/programs and shortcuts to commonly-accessed folders that are otherwise properly stored in a hard to reach place (e.g. you’re currently working on a particular section of a project and don’t want to have to go down five levels of subfolders to find your files every few minutes).

Another potential use is for files that you need to access right away, but don’t have time or the need to store it somewhere logical. If you needed to send that file to your coworkers yesterday, it’s probably best that you don’t spend a lot of time finding a good place for it in your folders. When you do have time, though, either delete it or put it away. The same goes for shortcuts or programs you don’t use much anymore (see the next commandment).

9. Remember the organizational “Sabbath” day.

By this, I mean that every so often (monthly, or whatever works for you), you’ll need to go through your folders again to make sure everything is in order. Some of the categories you used to create subfolders may not make sense anymore, or may need a shift. I also do this, to some extent, with my email folders, which helps declutter my inbox and my mind.

10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s organizational paradigm.

Just kidding.

That about covers it. Of course, it’s all up to your discretion… but if you want happy coworkers/family members/other people that share files with you, give it a try!

What are your digital organization tips?

I thought I was and would always be a dog person. They’re just so lovable, loyal, and furry! And I’d been convinced that cats were selfish, violent, and even boring. In spite of all the extra effort required to take care of them, weren’t dogs clearly superior companions? Long story short, after some soul-searching, Buzzfeed-quiz-taking, and pet-visiting at local shelters, Joe and I settled on Lorelai, and I’m so glad we did. Since I had no experience with and not much exposure to cats, a lot of Lorelai’s behaviours that have surprised me, even though I’m told they’re totally common things. Here are a few.

  1. Kneading.

    Here is an example.

    When I first saw her do it in her brand new bed, I figured it was like a dog circling to pat down the bed before lying down. But then she just kept going… and going… and going… Maybe it’s relaxing to her, but it looks like a lot of work! Adorable, though. I still can’t get over it.

  2. She will actually watch and “hunt” YouTube videos of birds and squirrels. I thought this was a joke when I first heard about it! I guess I had never really thought about it.
  3. Being social and affectionate. It looks like the stereotype of cats hating humans isn’t always true – at least, not in my household.
  4. Other sources of water are so much cooler than a water bowl. Like my glass. Or the bathtub.
  5. She gives her toys little kicks with her back legs when she’s holding them, which I thought was so cute… until I realized that’s how she breaks a mouse’s neck…
    I really wish I was joking. And yes, she's an indoor cat. I live in a very old house.

    I really wish I was joking. And yes, she’s an indoor cat. I live in a very old house.

    And while we’re on the subject…

  6. She’s the cutest little murderer you’ve ever seen. Every moment of play with every toy she has helps her improve her killing skills. But she’s so darn cute!

What’s your favourite kitty quirk?

The False Dichotomy of Growing Up

Aw, they’re adulting!

My aunt cracked that joke at Christmas dinner when Joe and I presented our hosts with our homemade wine. It pretty much sums up how I’ve felt over the eight months since I graduated. I’ve been doing adult things, without actually growing up and being an adult.

Out of my fourth year class (of about 20 people, mind you), I think there are only two or three of us that actually left school this past May. The rest are either finishing up their degrees, in Teachers’ College, or went straight on to a Masters or a PhD. The volume of Facebook posts about exams in the past month from people exactly my age brought on nostalgia and relief… and this sense that something’s missing in my yearly routine. For the first time ever, I’m not heading back to school after Christmas! But everyone else is…?

Then, of course, there’s the opposite end of the spectrum: the magic unicorns on Facebook that…

  • Landed their dream job
  • Became intense, successful entrepreneurs
  • Got, or are about to get, married (or even have kids…)

And suddenly I’m thinking, did I do something wrong? Am I not growing up fast enough? I now have this unpleasant combination of “Who do you think you are?” and “Why are you so behind?” swirling around in my head.

When I really consider it, I know that there is no such thing as the mystical moment, achievement, or milestone that carries you directly from Youth to Adulthood. And, obviously, polished Facebook profiles are the absolute worst thing to compare yourself to. Yet, after spending 75% of my life being evaluated and graded against standards based on my peers, it’s pretty hard to let the whole “comparison” thing go. Like I’ve stated elsewhere on this blog, I really don’t have a clue what I ultimately want to do with my life, so it makes sense that I’m in this uncomfortable limbo between life stages. But am I the only one that feels really weird about it?

Not to mention my domestic hobbies making me look like an old lady trapped in a kid’s body. To each their own, right?

…I’m going to go knit my cat a blanket now.

When it comes to my hobbies, I tend to be pretty hot-and-cold. One minute I’m totally obsessed with one or a couple of activities, and the next, I’ve completely cast them aside for something else. As 2016 is fast approaching and I’m looking to set some goals, I really have to think back and be realistic about what I’ll stick to and what is just another one of my fads. To that end, I’m reviewing some of the hobbies I have adopted whole-heartedly in the past year or so, only to completely abandon them later.



I strongly hinted to my boyfriend that I would like this book as a Christmas present last year. I figured it would help spark my creativity and relieve stress in my last semester of university. I got 18 pages into the 144-page workbook before cluing in that my inability to draw made Zentangle a lot less fun. Go figure.

That led to the purchase of an adult colouring book. Colouring a pre-existing design is a lot less stressful than doing your own design. I’m not doing much colouring anymore, but I won’t go so far as to say that I’ve abandoned this hobby, so it doesn’t make the list.

So much more relaxing!

So much more relaxing!

Friendship Bracelets

Remember this?

Oh, the memories.

Making friendship bracelets was a huge part of my life… in Grade Six. And for some reason, I rediscovered the fun of tying colourful knots while watching hours and hours of Netflix. I made something like a dozen bracelets early this year, and bought a massive pack of embroidery thread from Walmart to expand my creative horizons. I even started printing out patterns from www.friendship-bracelets.net (the most nostalgic site ever).

Friendship Bracelets

There was a Pattern Duotang. I’m not even kidding.

But alas, a few short weeks later, I realized that I was never going to wear the vast array of friendship bracelets I was planning to create. I still have the basket of embroidery thread for the next time I get the urge to tie hundreds of colourful knots.

League of Legends

I don’t know why this happened. I played it in my first year of university, and really didn’t like it all that much. I started up again earlier this year, when I had just graduated and felt like I had so much time on my hands (and no parents around to tell me to get off the computer in the middle of a match). I had some graphics issues with the game on my old laptop, which were resolved when I got a new desktop in October, but by then, the LoL ship had sailed. Good riddance.

Cooking/Eating Healthy

Hmm, what will I have for dinner today? …Kraft Dinner sounds good.

Finishing school, moving out, and starting a full-time job made me think I could cook. Like, every meal. Like, healthy meals. Like, Pinterest-worthy meals. Maybe this hobby is an acquired taste (hah), but I’m not there yet.


My Label Maker

Such good intentions…

I’ll start by saying that I haven’t abandoned organizing entirely as a hobby. I’m still very interested in how to get and stay organized, both physically and digitally. However, it’s a lot of work to really get your home to that place where you can call it “organized”, and I just haven’t yet found the motivation to see it through.


The Running Book

Hah. Hahaha. Let’s be honest. This phase ended before it even began.

I am not an athletic person in the slightest. I have no interest whatsoever in sports, fitness, or physical activities of any kind. I know that’s terrible, and I honestly wanted to do something about it this year. And in typical Hillary fashion, I bought a book about running. And then didn’t do any running. (Not to mention all of the fitness apps, sites, and videos I signed up for.) Oh well, there’s always next year! Or the next year. Or the next…

In conclusion, I like to go all in with my hobbies – even if “all in” only lasts a day. Am I the only one that does this? I wonder what hobbies will be the next big thing in 2016!

The X-Files is coming back and I am so excited. The original series premiered when I was 9 days old, and my parents watched it religiously as I was growing up. Obviously, I was a little young to watch it as it aired, or even as it wrapped up. I remember accidentally seeing part of a rerun of Squeeze (S1:E3) when I was around 8… it scared me so much that my parents couldn’t even talk about the show around me for months.

I don’t quite remember how the whole obsession started. Maybe I caught a rerun sometime in middle or high school, or maybe it was a fluke, but somehow my family was gifted DVD sets of the first two seasons of the X-Files about 7 years ago. In true Netflix fashion, I binge watched them – and all of the other seasons (plus the movie between S5 and S6) as soon as I got my hands on them. I then, of course, rewatched all of the mytharc episodes in chronological order to get a better handle on the overarching story. Then, a few years later, I did it all over again.

I talked about the X-Files enough to get Joe into the series too. We’re currently going through all mytharc episodes, plus any interesting Monster-of-the-Weeks (generally with a  8/10 rating or better on IMDb). We have less than a month to get through the last two and a half seasons!

I just watched The X-Files: Re-Opened (a behind-the-scenes preview of the reboot) and it definitely boosted my confidence. After seeing I Want to Believe, which I consider to be the Phantom Menace of the X-Files, in theatres in 2008, I’m trying not to set the bar too high. At the same time, though, it seems like the mini-series is going to be a lot more balanced between mytharc and Monster-of-the-Week, with a decent amount of fan service without being too campy.

Once the miniseries premieres, I’ll probably do a bit of reviewing on this blog. Will the X-Files reboot be everything I hope it will be? I want to believe…

Last Christmas, my dad gave me a cute starter knitting kit as a gift. (Okay, so I picked it out and he just paid for it and wrapped it. Close enough.) Prior to that, I knew garter stitch. That’s it. I couldn’t even cast on or off. Since then, in conjunction with the purchase of a Netflix subscription, I’ve knit quite a lot! But I still have a long way to go.

Here’s a review of some of my projects from the last 12 months.

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When I get a chance, I’ll upload an image of the one project I’m the most proud of: a wine bottle sweater for the mulberry muscato my boyfriend made over the summer, which we gave to my parents for Christmas. I can’t believe I forgot to take a picture of it before I gave it to them!

I’ve got a week left to ponder what my “Knitting Resolutions” will be for 2016, now that I have my interchangeable circular needle set. And the next decision will be: What show should I binge watch next on Netflix while I knit?