Monday, 28 December 2015

3 Questions to Ask Yourself When Setting Goals This Year

2016 is nearly here!
Do you know what you want to do this New Year?

2015 becomes 2016

Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what goals to set.  It doesn’t matter if you are setting goals for the infamous “New Year’s Resolutions” or at some other time of the year.  If you are as stumped as a tree, take a look at these questions to get those goals uprooted:

  1. How did you feel about your life this time last year? Question marks
    Are things the same? better? worse?  Have others noticed a difference in you?  What changes are necessary for improvements to be made?
  2. What do you want to have accomplished by the time you die?
    A great way to figure this one out is by writing your own obituary.  What do you want to be known for?  What would you need to do to die happy or at least satisfied with your life?
  3. Do you see an unfulfilled need in your community?
    Say you are the catalyst for change in this situation; what would you do to make a difference?  How can you inspire others to help?

I know these questions can be tough to answer.  They are deeply personal – but that deepness is absolutely essential if you want to make any improvements! 

The most eye-opening exercise I have done was writing my obituary over a year ago.  It helped me decide what I want to become and what personal successes I hope others will see in me.  Most of it was about what moral characteristics I hope to develop and what I hope to do (ie. goals I hope to accomplish) to become that type of person.

Will you consider these questions when creating goals for this New Year?  What else do you ask yourself when formulating new goals to set?

Next week’s topic: [My First Impression of Depression]

Don’t forget to download your free Microsoft Excel 2013 “templates” for setting up your family’s budget for 2016!  Make it a goal to be more financially aware this year!

Family Budget "Templates" for 2016

Monday, 21 December 2015

The Christmas Tree Letters

Only 4 more days until Christmas!!!

It's beautiful images like these that make me wish I had a DSLR camera.
(But yes, I did take this with a typical digital camera.)

This is our third Christmas together as a family and the second with Tevia.  This year things begin to get exciting with her.  We’ve only just started doing our own Christmas traditions.

Take a look a what we are doing this year:

It’s “Christmas” – NOT “Clausmas”

First, a note: we are not celebrating Santa Claus in our home.  None of our decorations represent Santa or his reindeer.  We only want to invite the true Spirit of Christmas, of Christ’s birth and all things beautiful and holy.

Yes, we will teach Tevia about Santa Claus – who he is based on (Saint Nicholas) – but we don’t want her believing that this man will magically bring gifts to her once a year.  I think that if this belief was encouraged, she would expect to receive gifts more than focusing on giving gifts to others. 

Presents under the Christmas tree
Nearly half of these gifts are from our Secret Santa!

The only “Santa” we will have is to be someone’s “Secret Santa” (and wear Santa hats if we wish).  In fact, we are recipients this year of some “Secret Santa!”  The doorbell rang late in the evening a few nights ago and Lucas opened the door to find some presents on the doormat.  I was so tempted to open them right then and there to see if they left their name(s), but Lucas took charge and won’t allow any gift opening before Christmas morning.

Secret Santa card and gifts
Who are you kind people?!

Family Christmas Fund

We would rather decide as a family what to budget for celebrating Christmas each year.  This year we decided to fill our stockings.  Maybe another year we can go on a trip or buy some special thing that the whole family could enjoy.  Ideally, the budget will grow as the family grows (assuming our income grows as well).

Tevia's duck stocking
My old duck stocking is now Tevia's stocking.

Christmas Tree Letters

A tradition we started last year is writing letters to each family member.  Lucas and I write to each other and to Tevia.  Once Tevia is old enough to read and write she’ll be able to write letters to us.  Until then, we are filing away the letters for her until she can read them herself.  We also hope to one year have our own personalized letter boxes to store these special letters.

Christmas tree with letters, stockings, and presents
With difficulty, the completed letters are placed on the tree.  Of course, the letters and stockings are hidden away for now because of Tevia's curiosity and enjoyment of destruction.

To close, I’d like to include the final paragraphs of each letter I wrote because I felt they were very fitting for all:
(To Lucas:)  “I am so happy to be able to spend Christmas this year with our lovely little family. I feel like this will be the most joyous one yet in our marriage. I can’t wait to open presents with our Little Lady. I love to admire the Christmas tree with her. I hope the traditions we are introducing (such as very little focus on Santa) will help her know what we are really celebrating: Christ’s birth and His gift of eternal life and exaltation. We will never be able to give any gift comparable to what He has given us. I think the best we can do is give of our love, kindness, and service, and spend quality time with family and dear friends.”
(To Tevia:)  “Remember that Christmas is about giving all of your heart and receiving with gratitude. Jesus Christ gave all of his heart for us when He atoned for our sins and died on the cross so that we can live with Him and Heavenly Father again when we die. Be grateful for this gift He has given to you and appreciate all that others do for you because of Him.”
Merry Christmas!!!

How did you see Christ in your life this year? star
(We have a star but it's too heavy for our tree.
So... we are using this star I got from church yesterday.)

What special Christmas traditions do you celebrate with your family?  Do you include Santa in your celebrations?  Why (not)?

Next week’s topic: [3 Questions To Ask Yourself When Setting Goals This Year]

Monday, 14 December 2015

Family Budget Spreadsheets FAQ

Last week I released to you two free budgeting Excel worksheets that work together to help you keep track of your expenses and stay within your proposed budget.

Note: I found an error in one of the files.  If you downloaded the files before Dec 14, 2015 you may want to re-download them.

Free Family Budget "Templates" for 2016

Q:  How do I set up my budget plan?

A:  Here is a basic run-through:
  1. FamilyBudget_Balance2016.xlsx: go to the “Start Here” tab.
    1. Modify, replace, or add new categories that fit your family’s needs.
    2. Modify, replace, or add new accounts that your family uses.
    3. Modify, replace, or add new transaction descriptions that you know you will be likely to use frequently over the year.
    4. Modify, replace, or add new locations that you know you will be likely to use frequently over the year.
    5. Enter the starting balances for each account.
  2. FamilyBudget_Plan2016.xlsx: go to the “Budget” tab. (Keep other file open.)
    1. Copy category items related to income (eg. “Income (Gifts)”) from FamilyBudget_Balance2016.xlsx to cell A7 on “Budget” tab of FamilyBudget_Plan2016.xlsx.
    2. Copy remaining category items (ie. not related to income) from FamilyBudget_Balance2016.xlsx to the first cell in column A below “Expenses” on the “Budget” tab of FamilyBudget_Plan2016.xlsx.
  3. Repeat step 2 for copying category items to the “Actual” tab of FamilyBudget_Plan2016.xlsx.
There is a bug with the copy-paste method above that I currently don’t know how to get around.  If it doesn’t work properly, undo paste, press tab at the end of the table, and add each new item individually or modify existing items.  Right click to delete table rows for any excess categories you don’t want.  If you desire, you can sort the list alphabetically by selecting all cells under “Income Type” or “Expenses” (as appropriate), right click, and select Sort –> Sort A to Z.

Q:  How do I edit or add new categories, descriptions and/or locations?

A:  Add items as needed by pressing tab at the end of each list.  Modify and delete items as needed.  After you have entered all items, sort the edited list alphabetically by clicking the gray box to the right of the header and select Sort A to Z.

Q:  How specific should my categories be?

A:  As specific as you would like them to be.  We decided to combine groceries, personal hygiene supplies, and basic home supplies (such as batteries) all under “Grocery.”  Check out this blogger’s article about 20 categories that are often overlooked when making a budget.

Q:  Why do I need to list these account names, categories, descriptions and locations?  Am I wasting my time?

A:  In the long run, this is a time-saver!  When a cell under Description, Location, Category or Account is selected, there is a down arrow that appears to the right of the cell that allows you to choose an item from a drop-down list.

Drop down list example
Default drop down list for Location.

For Description and Location, this is just more convenient than always re-typing the same information when you complete similar transactions on a regular basis (buying groceries or paying rent, for example).  It is necessary, however, to list category and account names because this information links to various parts of both worksheets in order to make calculations.

Q:  What happens if I don’t do as you say and end up deleting or renaming a worksheet tab (for example)?

A:  You will most likely break it.  All tabs draw from data on different sheets, so it is important that none are deleted or renamed because many functions won’t be able to find that data anymore.

Q:  There are only 5 lines for each month’s balance sheet and I have more than 5 transactions to enter for this month.  What do I do?

A:  The default number of lines for each month was set to 5.  To add more lines to the end of the table:
  1. Select the bottom right cell.
  2. Press tab.

Q:  It’s the end of the month and I just realized that I forgot to include one transaction in the middle of the month.  Do I have to delete all of the rows of data I entered after that date and pretty much start all over?  Can I add a row in the middle of the table, and if so, how do I do it?

A:  No, thankfully you don’t have to undo all that work you’ve already done in entering your transaction history!

To add a line in the middle of the table:
  1. Select any cell in the first row that passes the date of the transaction you missed.
  2. Right click the selected cell and select Insert --> Table Rows Above
  3. You will notice that the cell containing the balance at the end of the row below the new line will have a small green triangle in the top left corner.  Select the cell and notice the warning symbol that appears to the left of the cell.
  4. Click on the symbol and select Restore to Calculated Column Formula.  If you do not restore the formula to that cell, the new transaction amount you enter will not be added to the current balance.

Q:  What is this “Cash Available” table all about in FamilyBudget_Plan2016.xlsx?

A:  This table shows your cash flow and has a slightly different purpose on the “Budget” and “Actual” tabs in FamilyBudget_Plan.xlsx. 

When planning your budget (ie. on the “Budget” tab), ideally you want the numbers here to be equal to $0.  This table is helpful for setting up or adjusting your budget because it helps you to know how much money you have left to set aside for each category.  When you enter your expected income in the “Income” table, the values in the “Cash Available” table will be positive.  Then, as each expected expense is entered, the value decreases.  If the value drops below 0, your expected expenses are greater than your expected income – ie. you will not be “living within your means.”  Either you need to find a way to make more money each month or cut some of your expenses.

When analyzing your budget (ie. on the “Actual” tab), ideally you want the numbers here to be greater than or equal to $0.  A negative number (which might appear within parentheses) means you are losing money and a positive number means you are making money.  A balance of $0 (whether for the month or by the end of the year) means you are keeping exactly to your budget. 

Q:  A cell turned red in the “Expenses” table on the “Actual” tab in the file FamilyBudget_Plan2016.xlsx.  What did I do?  Did I break it?

Red Cell
A red-highlighted cell means you have spent more than your budget allowed for that month.

A:  Don’t worry, you didn’t break anything!  In fact, it is very important to note if a cell has turned red.  It means that within that category, you have spent more than what your budget allowed.  You may need to revisit your budget plan and make a few adjustments to that and other categories to decrease the chances of another month of overspending.  It would also be advisable to review what your money was spent on within that category (ie. review your budget balance for that month) to see if you could cut out any of those expenses next month.

Q:  Little green triangles keep showing up in the top right corner of the cells under Description and Location on my balance sheets in FamilyBudget_Balance2016.xlsx.  What are they and why won’t they go away?

A:  These triangles alert you that there is an error with the contents of that cell.  Blank entries or entries that are different from those listed under Frequently Used Descriptions and Frequently Used Locations from the “Start Here” tab will appear as errors.  You can ignore those.  If you really don’t want to see them, select the cell with the error, click the warning symbol that appears to the left of the cell, and select Ignore Error.

Ignore error
How to ignore error for non-frequently used description.

Q:  I have an Apple computer.  Can I still make these files work for me?

A:  If you have Microsoft Office for Mac 2011 or 2016, I assume everything should work fine.  If you are only able to use the Mac program, Numbers – comparable to Microsoft Excel – it might be compatible, but may not look the same.  I’m not sure if all of the formulas or other functions I used are available in Numbers.  I do not have a Mac to test this out on, so if any of you fellow readers have tried this out, please share your experience with it!

Q:  Can I delete the instructional text boxes in the worksheets?  They’re in my way.

A:  Of course!  Everything you need to know is on this page for you to refer back to.

If you have a question about these budgeting worksheets that was not answered above, please comment below!

Next week’s topic: [The Christmas Tree Letters]

*This page will continue to be updated as needed.*

Monday, 7 December 2015

Microsoft Excel 2013 Family Budget “Templates” for 2016

  1. Do you have a budget? 
  2. Do you stick to it? 
  3. Do you track your expenses?
  4. Is it too much work to make sure your spending is within your budget? 
If you answered YES to the last question, regardless of how you answered the first three questions, I have a solution for you!

Free Family Budget "Templates" for 2016

I struggle with sticking to a budget.  For about the first year or so of our marriage I only kept track of our expenses because we weren’t sure exactly what to budget for.  (I think this was alright for us since we had money and time to spare – but only barely.)

Then, in the last year we set up a budget as best as we could with a very random pattern of income.  But it got tiring adding up all the amounts we spent in each category each month and then comparing it to our budget.

The New Family Budget Spreadsheet

What I am about to reveal to you is actually an updated and much cooler version of what I adapted for us.

I took some online courses this year that included Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced courses in Microsoft Excel 2013.  I absolutely loved it!  I took what I learned in those courses to set up these linked worksheets to make the user’s job so much easier.


  • Track your monthly expenses, including details such as cheque number, date, description of transaction, location, account transferred from or into, and credit (deposit) or debit (withdrawal).
  • Watch as your balance is calculated for you after each transaction is entered.
  • See whether your cash flow is increasing, decreasing, or staying the same each month.
  • Compare your starting balances to the current balances in each account.
  • Save time by listing frequently used descriptions and locations to choose from a drop-down list. (optional)
  • Watch as each category’s expenses or earnings are calculated for you each month.
  • After entering in your proposed budget, see different categories turn red if your spending has exceeded your budget for that month.
  • BONUS:  View a breakdown of your yearly expenses in a pie chart.

Instructions are included in the files, but they will be more in-depth here for future reference.

Download Instructions:

Two files are included in this free download: FamilyBudget_Balance2016.xlsx and FamilyBudget_Plan2016.xlsx.  These are not true templates because they are linked together, but they act as templates.  It is necessary to keep them in the same folder or else the data can’t be transferred to FamilyBudget_Plan2016.xlsx.

Note: I found some errors in one of the files.  If you downloaded the files before Jan 2, 2016 you may want to re-download them.

You will need to unzip the file folder after you download it.  Then move the files to your desired location but just make sure they are saved in the same folder!

DO NOT rename, move, or delete:
  • File names
  • Tables
  • Columns or rows within a table
  • Headers
  • Sheet tabs
  • Cells with formulas
DO rename, sort, or insert:
  • Category items
  • Account names
  • Frequently used descriptions and locations
  • Rows into monthly balance tables (how-to included)
TIP:  It is recommended, though not necessary, that both files are open whenever changes are being made, preferably opening FamilyBudget_Balance2016.xlsx before FamilyBudget_Plan2016.xlsx.

If you download, please comment below and share the wealth!  (Pun totally intended.)

Please ask any questions you have about using these files!

Next week’s topic: [Family Budget Spreadsheets FAQ]

Monday, 30 November 2015

Redesigned House Plans: Our Sweet Suite

Last week I introduced my new series, “Redesigned House Plans.”  If you missed this post, click here to learn about what I’m about to do.

The first segment, “Our Sweet Suite,” will be an analysis of our current home.  It is completely hypothetical since we are renting and can’t alter the property without permission of the owner.  I decided to take a look at our basement suite because it is the first place we’ve lived in since we married that feels like “home” to me (ie. I like it a lot and hope to stay here for a while!).

Our basement suite.
Notes: Cross-hatched section is inaccessible to us (doors from kitchen and laundry room are locked). Windows are not included.  All measurements are approximate (rounded to the nearest 6 inches).

What I Like

  1. I like the central location of the bathroom.  It is conveniently placed near the bedrooms but is also easily accessed from the common living areas (the kitchen and living room).
  2. I like the large entryway, kitchen, and dining room.  There is plenty of space for many people to remove coats and boots in the entryway and to cook and clean in the kitchen without bumping into each other.  The dining room is large enough to fit a table for eight and still have plenty of leftover space.
  3. I like the generous amount of counter space in the bathroom and kitchen.  More counter space in the bathroom makes the room feel more spacious.  More counter space in the kitchen equals more room to prepare food.

What I Don’t Like

  1. The most annoying part of this layout: going to the dining room from the kitchen for meals.  It is awkward and inconvenient to say the least.  But let me explain why it was designed this way.

    Stage 1: Before the back porch.
    Stage 2: Storage underneath back porch.
    Stage 3: Current layout.
    [Note: I included the windows from the kitchen into the dining room but forgot the one from the hall into the entry.]

    Originally, this suite didn't include the current dining room and entry.  Perhaps it wasn’t even a suite back then.  The door from the entry to the hall is actually an external door and the remains of a doorbell can still be seen. 

    The dining room is positioned below the back porch add-on and was used as a storage area.  Later, tile was installed over the concrete floor and previous tenants used the room for storage, eating, or whatever else.

  2. There is an excessive number of doors in the suite.  The main reason there are so many doors, of course, is because of the previous layout.  I personally think the doors from the entryway to the dining room, entryway to hall, and hall to kitchen are not necessary.
  3. There are unnecessary windows looking into the dining room from the kitchen and from the hall to the entry.  Understandably, this is because of the addition of the back porch and dining/storage room to the house.
  4. I don’t like the location of the kitchen sink.  It is difficult to wash the dishes without counter space on both sides of the sink.  For me, at least, I like to have the dirty dishes on my left and work towards my right.

    My typical dish-washing system (with section d to the left of the sink and sections a and b switched): Take dirty dish from section d, wash in section b, rinse in section a, dry in section c.
    My current dish-washing system: Take dirty dish from section a until empty and then from section d, wash in section b, rinse in section a, dry in section c.

  5. The pantry is too small.  To make things more difficult, the folding door interferes with the space needed to put in and remove items.
  6. It seems that in rental suites there is never enough closet space (or it is in inconvenient locations).  There isn’t a linen closet for the bathroom and only one hallway closet for storage besides bedroom closets.

How We’ve Embraced the Space

extra pantry space in kitchen, recycling and cleaning stations in hall, storage space in entry, dining room contains Lucas's tinkering, Kristina's gardening, games.
Zones we've implemented to make things work for us.

We've been able to maximize our space by using zones in various rooms.
  • Entryway: extra space is used for storage (mostly old packing boxes and our bikes right now).

    entry storage
    We really need to get rid of those boxes...
    • Dining room: table in center of the room, and then in the corners we have a chest freezer, Lucas's tinkering table, games storage, and my container garden.

      Lucas's tinkering table, freezer, dining room table
      Lucas's tinkering table, freezer, dining room table.

    games storage
    Games, oh our lovely bunch of games... ;)
    My (wilting) container garden brought indoors for the winter.

    • Hall: recycling station and cleaning supplies nook.
    Our messy recycling station.
    Cleaning Supplies Nook
    Our cleaning nook.

    • Kitchen: extra pantry items on shelves.

      Extra "pantry" space... on shelves.

      What Should Be Changed

      And now, what you've all been waiting for...

      The re-done floor plan of our basement suite!
      1. At the least: remove doors.  No door is needed from the entry to the hall and from the hall to the kitchen.  Even more so, remove walls.  No walls are really needed between the entry and hall and the hall and kitchen.  Removing doors and walls would make it easier to pass between rooms and opens up the space.
      2. Build a small coat closet in the hall where our current cleaning nook is located.  It is close to the entrance and no temporary wardrobe or several coat hooks are necessary to corral coats, shoes and boots.
      3. Open up the wall between the kitchen and dining room next to the living room to make a doorway.  (A small portion of counter and cupboards would have to be removed and the previous doorway filled in.)  This is the more convenient set-up to be able to serve food, eat, and clean-up without feeling like you are running in circles (or, rather, U-turns).
      4. Build a small storage space with the extra room in the entry.  For renters, at least, this is an awesome addition!
      5. Rearrange the counters, cupboards, fridge, and sink in the kitchen so that there is counter space on either side of the sink and fridge.  This allows the counter space against the dining room to be used mainly for cleaning and serving and the opposite counter for preparing and cooking food.

      The Final Comparison

      floor plan comparison
      Click to view larger size.

      What do you think?  Assuming it is all possible, is this a good or bad change to the floor plan?

      Next week's topic: [Microsoft Excel 2013 Family Budget Spreadsheets for 2016]

      Monday, 23 November 2015

      Redesigned House Plans: Introduction

      Do you live in your dream home?

      "Could this be the one?" [Credit: Couple Viewing/Dreaming/Buying Home by Mark Moz.]
      "Could this be the one?"
      [Credit: Couple Viewing/Dreaming/Buying Home by Mark Moz.]

      If you do, that’s awesome!  Tell me about it!

      If not, does your current home have the potential to become your dream home?

      Redesigned House Plans

      In this series of posts, which I am calling “Redesigned House Plans,” I will be experimenting with existing floor plans of various homes, whether or not I lived in them.

      A sample floor plan. [Credit: 1962 Georgia Pacific by Ethan.]
      A sample floor plan.
      [Credit: 1962 Georgia Pacific by Ethan.]

      This is what will happen for each segment of the series:
      1. I will measure the dimensions of the home (or specific space of the home).
      2. I will draw a floor plan based on rough approximations of the dimensions.
      3. I will analyze all or a section of the plan, noting likes, dislikes, and problem areas.
      4. If provided, I will include ways the residents have "embraced the space" to maximize its potential.
      5. If I see that there could be beneficial changes made to the plan, I will re-draw part or all of the plan and describe how these slight alterations help better serve its purposes.  
      (Of course, this is all based on my opinion and, at times, on discussions with other home owners or tenants.)

      Disclaimer:  In analyzing these homes, I am in no way blaming the current or previous landlords or home owners for the structure and layout of the building.  I am merely trying out ideas on paper.

      Why am I doing this?

      The main reason: for fun!  I like drawing floor plans, real ones or imagined.

      First Floor Layout Pixel Art
      This is a really basic floor plan I drew as a young teen when attempting pixel art.  It is poorly arranged but the concept is fairly clear.  I didn't attempt to design the other floors like originally planned.

      Other reasons I want to do this series of posts are:
      • To compare different layouts and use of space
      • To analyze what does and doesn’t work in a floor plan
      • To see on paper what dimensions “feel good” spatially
      • To begin more serious design of our dream home based on what I learn
      • To help home owners and designers consider other options for trouble spaces

      My first project I will begin next week.  I will review our current home: a basement suite we are renting.

      Are you living in your dream home?  If not, what do you see in your current home layout that, if changed, could make it become your dream home?

      Monday, 16 November 2015

      Family Devotional & the Thank You Jar

      The Ogrins Family Devotional

      President Ezra Taft Benson:
      “Rearing happy, peaceful children is no easy challenge in today’s world, but it can be done, and it is being done. …

      “Children must be taught to pray, to rely on the Lord for guidance, and to express appreciation for the blessings that are theirs. ...

      “Families must spend more time together in work and recreation. Family home evenings should be scheduled once a week as a time for recreation, work projects, skits, songs around the piano, games, special refreshments, and family prayers. Like iron links in a chain, this practice will bind a family together, in love, pride, tradition, strength, and loyalty.

      “Family study of the scriptures should be the practice in our homes each Sabbath day.

      Daily devotionals are also a commendable practice, where scripture reading, singing of hymns, and family prayer are a part of our daily routine.” [source]

      I believe it was the quote above that gave me the idea to have an official “family devotional” rather than just family scripture study and prayer.

      Our Family Devotional goes like this:
      1. Scripture reading
      2. Thank You Jar
      3. Prayer
      I hope, as Tevia grows up, to enrich our devotional to become something like this:
      1. Song
      2. Scripture reading & brief discussion
      3. Thank You Jar
      4. Review plans for the next day
      5. Prayer
      We have our Family Devotional early in the evening, shortly after the dinner dishes have been cleaned up and before putting Tevia to bed.  (Sometimes an evening walk or drive is included before or after our devotional to help Tevia relax.)

      The Thank You Jar

      The idea of a “Thank You Jar” started a few years ago in my own family.  The idea is similar to keeping a gratitude journal, but for the entire family to share.  I’m not even sure who came up with the idea or why we started it in the first place.

      What you need:
      • 1 jar
      • 1 writing utensil for each family member
      • 1 small piece of paper for each family member

      The Thank You Jar
      Our fancy jar

      Each person completes these sentences on their slip of paper:
      1. I am thankful for…
      2. A blessing I saw today was…
      Then he or she flips the paper over, writes his or her name and the date on the back, and folds the paper in half.  The jar is then passed around and each person drops in their folded piece of paper.

      Once the jar is full, the papers are read aloud to the entire family and you find out what your family really is grateful for!

      Nearly full thank you jar
      It's nearly full!

      Since we want Tevia to understand what we are doing when we write on our pieces of paper, we each read what we wrote down before we put them in the jar.  Maybe we will always do it this way – who knows!

      How We Include Tevia

      Tevia already knows and understands the order of how we do things.  When we say, “Time for Family Devotional!” she goes to the living room and will either point at the scriptures or jar or clasps her hands together (her sign for “praying”) and sits on the floor.  (I really wanted to include a picture of this pose but there was no way she would sit still once I took out the camera!)

      So you can admire these scriptures instead... right?

      Lucas and I take turns reading a few verses of a chapter in the Book of Mormon and, before we are even close to being done, Tevia points and yells at the Thank You Jar.  While we write down our thoughts, Tevia gets to play with the screw lid and then helps put it back on the jar after we put our pieces of paper inside.

      Then, if she hasn’t done it already, Tevia clasps her hands and sits on the floor where we kneel with her.  She usually doesn’t stay in that position for the whole prayer, but she is generally quiet and moves very little.  I’m so proud of her whenever she is still!  Soon I know she will be able to repeat words of the prayer.

      Of course, next is bedtime (the saddest part of the day for her).  But at least she is excited for Family Devotional!

      If you don't already have something like this in place, I challenge you to make your own kind of Family Devotional!  What does (or will) your family do?

      Next week’s topic: [Redesigned House Plans: Introduction]

      Monday, 9 November 2015

      My Morning & Evening Routines

      I think you could say schedules and routines excite me even more than goal setting…

      My earliest experience with making lists and schedules started with playing with dolls with my little sister.  We (or perhaps it was just me…) liked to name each one and, at minimum, give them an age, grade level, and bedtime, which was meticulously written down by me in a detailed table.  We referenced this list as we played.

      I also wrote schedules for myself – to the very minute! – for the entire day every once in a while.  I was very much a perfectionist and was hard on myself whenever circumstances challenged my plans.  Depending on my mood, I would either scrap my schedule for the rest of the day or skip over a few activities until I got to the current time slot.

      I color coded my school timetables in junior high and high school and would study them in fascination, analyzing the patterns of class type, location, time, and day, until memorized – and even still afterwards.  So I don’t think you’ll be surprised to find out that I was absolutely stoked when I got to create my own timetables in university.  (I confess that I even get overly excited when Lucas gets to choose his own classes and he sometimes lets me try to condense his schedule to make it more efficient.)

      Schedule or Routine?

      First, a note: the difference between a schedule and a routine is that a schedule is a sequence of activities that follows time constraints and a routine is a set of activities not necessarily sequential or strictly timed.

      Schedules are great if you have many time constraints throughout your day.  They are very efficient if activities can be timed closely or overlap typically unproductive “dead time” (like travel time).

      Routines are great if you require a lot of flexibility throughout your day.  They are very efficient if you are motivated to move quickly or are well focused on the task at hand.

      I think being able to use a combination of schedules and routines in your day is the most efficient and time-wise thing you can do for yourself.  If you can, have a morning and an evening routine you follow each day with scheduled productive time in the day (such as work or school).

      Determining My Own Routines

      A goal I set this year was to come up with morning and evening routines that would help me accomplish the necessary things each day plus have time to do the things I really want to do.  Some other goals I want to accomplish have been included in these routines to help guarantee that I would actually set aside time each day to work on them.  I also am sure to consider mine and my family’s needs when deciding what to include.

      My routines have now been revised three times since July this year.  What you see below was just redone this past week and I think will work the best for me.  I started out with just a rough sketch of what I thought I wanted to accomplish in the morning and then in the evening, but it was really just too much stuff.  My second revision cut out a few things and rearranged others.  This time I decided to use nap times to my advantage based on how things were typically going in the last two months.

      Morning and Evening Routines
      Side 1 of printout

      For the first part of the morning and evening, I actually try to follow a schedule as best I can.   Sometimes I switch the order of how I do things in the morning, but I still try to get as much done as possible before Tevia wakes up.  In the evening I have Lucas to help and so things tend to go smoothly.  We switch between washing dishes and bathing Tevia each night.

      For the naps and my own bedtime routine, I just included approximate lengths of time it would take to accomplish those tasks, especially since I can’t always determine when those will happen.  Being a mom, I most definitely need flexibility!

      Weekly Morning Activities and Exercises
      Side 2 of printout

      I decided to assign a different activity to each day of the week to work on during “Nap 2.”  I also included an area where I can list which exercises I have been assigned to do by my chiropractor.

      I am definitely still struggling to follow my routines.  Some days are better than others.  Sometimes I only get to follow my morning routine or just the evening routine or something in between.  Sometimes I just have a rough, chaotic day and wonder if I should just give up even trying to get anything done.

      But I’m still trying.  I think I can make things easier for myself if I have things in their proper place each morning and night, ready for the next iteration of my routine.  For example, having the clean dishes put away and picking out my outfit for the next morning before going to bed.

      Do you follow a daily routine?  What do you include in it?

      Next week’s topic: [Family Devotional & the Thank You Jar]

      Monday, 2 November 2015

      Goal Setting: Good, Better, Best!

      I love goal setting!  I regularly set goals throughout the year.  Goal setting has become like keeping a journal for me.  I have learned how to fully express my thoughts on paper – or, more accurately, a screen – so that I am able to see exactly what I want from myself, why it’s important to me, and how I’m going to do it.

      And guess what?  I’m going to teach you how I do this!


      I’ll start by showing you what I used to do.  This is a sample of what many of my goals looked like from the time I was child until I started high school.

      New Year's Resolutions

      I would typically only set goals as New Year’s Resolutions.  That’s a good practice, but “everyone does it” and it usually doesn’t go very far.

      As you can see from this list, the goals I chose are quite random in regards to topic of interest, difficulty/complexity, and time constraints.  Some goals were
      • meant to be accomplished far in the future (ie. not necessarily within that year),
      • not entirely within my control (like getting married in the temple),
      • too vague (what is required to get on the honor roll?), or
      • too rigid (is it realistic to expect myself to exercise every single day?).

      Often my interests would change drastically throughout the year and I would end up letting my eyes drift over some of the goals I made.  Sometimes the goals I chose were too challenging and I’d give up on those too.  (I was a bit too ambitious when it came to solving a Rubik’s cube and cup stacking in record time.)

      Now You Try!

      Write a simple list of 3 or more goals you’d like to accomplish at some point in your life.


      Have you ever heard of SMART goals?

      Smart: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound

      SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. 

      A goal must be specific as to exactly what you are wanting to accomplish.  For example, make a goal to “wake up at 6 a.m. every weekday,” rather than simply, “wake up earlier.”  Write your goal as a complete sentence starting with “I will...” to give yourself a sense of accountability.

      It must be measurable, meaning you can keep track of your progress by a number, percentile grade, hours, etc.  Another way to do this is to have sub-goals or smaller steps that can be accomplished one-by-one until the major goal can be completed.  The following chart is an example of how you can keep track of your progress:

      Kristina's Progress Chart

      It must be attainable for you – not too hard, not too easy, not according to someone else’s standards. 

      It should be relevant to your current lifestyle and values.  If it isn’t important to you now, then you aren’t going to be motivated to work towards it. 

      And it must be time-bound, ie. give yourself a due date!

      Here is an example of a goal I made last year, ensuring I was following the SMART guidelines:

      I also included how high of a priority this was (in comparison to other goals I had made at the same time), additional steps that would help me accomplish this goal, and who I was accountable to whether or not I was able to achieve it.

      This is a better method for setting goals because it helps you to narrow the focus of your goal.  It is a guideline to help you figure out what is necessary to consider if you aim to achieve your goal.

      Now You Try!
      Take those 3 goals you listed above and flesh them out according to the SMART goals acronym.


      I took this further this year with my goal setting by (1) making my goals SMARTER and (2) writing down my thoughts and feelings.

      Smarter Goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound, Evaluated, Reviewed

      This is an expansion on SMART goals: SMART-ER goals!  Make your goals SMARTER by evaluating and reviewing them.

      A goal can be evaluated when completed or still in progress by assessing your goal’s “measurements” and determining how well you are doing at accomplishing it.  For example, if you currently have an average of 75% in math, is this approaching your goal (if it was, say, 80%) or are you falling behind (95%)?

      A goal should be reviewed once the deadline has been reached, but can be reviewed sooner if needed.  Ask yourself:
      • Have I accomplished my goal to its fullest potential?
      • Are there additional steps I didn’t consider beforehand?
      • Are my measurements realistic for this kind of project?
      • Is it too hard or too easy?
      • Is this still relevant to me?
      • Do I need to extend my deadline?
      • Do I need some help from friends, family, coworkers, etc.?

      Answering these questions will highlight the weak points of your goal or, at the least, just remind and encourage you to keep working towards it.

      This is the best way to set goals because it encourages progress – not only of yourself by continuing to set goals, but also of improving the effectiveness of your goals with the experience you will gain as you put these guidelines into practice.

      The example you can see below is more of a demonstration of the –ER of SMARTER.  I visit this document regularly, especially if I know I am not doing a good job of accomplishing one of my goals, to update the additional steps or add my feelings about a certain topic (inside the textboxes).  I found that reading those textboxes helped to remind me of why I set those goals and motivates me to accomplish them for the right reasons: to make myself a better and happier person and to help others feel the same about themselves.


      In case you were wondering, I also break down my goals into different categories from higher to lower priority.  They are:
      1. Personal
        1. Spiritual
        2. Physical
        3. Mental
        4. Emotional
      2. Family
        1. Wife
        2. Mother
        3. Extended relations
      3. Home & Garden
      4. Community & Friends
      5. Education & Work
      6. Talents & Skills

      Now You Try!

      Make sure to expand on your SMART goals by evaluating and reviewing them regularly and after you reach your goal’s deadline!

      What method do you use when goal setting?  How effective is it?

      Next week’s topic: [My Morning & Evening Routines]

      Monday, 26 October 2015

      What's in a (Blog) Name?

      You are probably not the first to wonder why I named my blog “My Little Orange Blob (of love, life and living).”

      First of all, I did not mess up by saying “blob” instead of “blog.”  I’d say it’s a good play on words though – something a little out of the ordinary.

      Secondly, it kind of just... created itself.   I expect most blog names were created because of random thoughts popping into a blogger’s head.  (I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.  It’s like those bathroom trips that become “Eureka!” moments.  Some of my best problem solving happens in the strangest places, as is likely the case for you as well…)

      Third, I like the color orange.  It has been my favorite color since I was in grade six.  It also happens to be Lucas’s favorite color.  (A match made in heaven!)

      Fourth, I say it is “little” because my life and ideas may seem insignificant to the world, and "my" because it's, well, mine!

      Once I came up with “My Little Orange Blob,” the first image that came to my mind was a blob of orange Jell-o.  Hence, my choice of design based on some photos I took of orange Jell-o in a clear glass.

      What's in a (Blog) Name?


      The remaining words “of love, life and living” represent the topics of my blog.  Here is an outline of what you can expect to read about (in no particular order and in no way a complete list).  I looked up each of these words at and chose the definitions that I thought suited each noun the best.

      Love: {a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person} : {a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend} : {affectionate concern for the well-being of others} : {the benevolent affection of God for His creatures, or the reverent affection due from them to God}
      1. What brought me here to this earth, to my family, to my husband. 
      2. Why I want to have children.  
      3. Parallels of parenthood and godhood.
      4. How I interact with my friends.
      5. Fun date ideas for groups and couples.

      Life: {the animate existence or period of animate existence of an individual} :{a corresponding state, existence, or principle of existence conceived as belonging to the soul} : {the course of existence or sum of experiences and actions that constitute a person's existence} : {a mode or manner of existence}
      1. Who I am as a person. 
      2. What makes me want to live. 
      3. What makes me want to die. 
      4. How to raise a family in righteousness. 
      5. What my time on earth is meant to be spent doing, becoming.

      Living: {the act or condition of a person or thing that lives} : {the means of maintaining life; livelihood} : {a particular manner, state, or status of life} 
      1. How to organize different living spaces. 
      2. Our education and career choices.
      3. Tips and tricks that help our family “survive.”
      4. What I want to accomplish in my life.
      5. Family traditions and goals.
      6. Our dream home(s).

      If you have a blog, how did you choose its name?  Does the name a blog is given decide whether you would like to read it?

      Next week's topic: [Goal Setting: Good, Better, Best!]

      Monday, 19 October 2015

      My First Ever Blog Post

      Hello!  My name is Kristina Ogrins (OH-grihnz).  I am 23 years old, married to a wonderful husband named Lucas (27 years old), and mother to a 1-year-old daughter named Tevia (TEH-vee-uh).  We live in Southern Alberta, Canada.

      Here are some recent family photos taken by my dad when we last visited my family in my hometown:

      [photos taken by John Greep @]

      Isn’t Tevia the cutest, most beautiful little girl you’ve ever seen?!

      To say just a little bit about each of us:

      Lucas and I have been married for just over two years now.  I finished my B.Sc. in General Mathematics just months after we got married.  We then moved so Lucas could finish his schooling (B.Sc. in Computer Science) and I got pregnant with Tevia right away.  Lucas is now working on a degree in Physics and I am a stay-at-home mom.  Tevia recently started walking and can say 30 or so words now.  You'll get to know us even more in future posts (soon to come!).

      Why I Chose To Start Blogging

      Until just a few months ago, I thought blogging was silly and pointless – an online journal, more or less.  For some, I know this is the intention: to share with family and friends the things happening in their lives, and so on.  Once I joined Pinterest, I came across many blog posts that were actually interesting and about things other than the day-to-day activities of some person I may or may not know.  I found posts that inspired me to share things I have learned in my life.  

      This is a personal blog, not a diary, but I’d say it’ll be more random than most personal blogs.  I like to discuss ideas and plans that emerge just beyond the horizon of today’s cultural and habitual ways of living, loving, and learning.  I’m a well-rounded person, having been immersed in a diverse set of skills, talents, and interests throughout my life.  

      Some things I hope to blog about are more relevant to my current lifestyle, such as organizing tips, family life with young children, and living with mental illnesses

      Some things are from my recent past, like math tutoring insights, going to university, and falling in love

      Some things are interests from my childhood that have been popping up again almost randomly later in my life, such as web and graphic design, sketching my friends, my dream home designs, writing stories and poems, and being a “Mormon” (Latter-day Saint, or “LDS”). 

      And, of course, as time goes on, new things will become the focus, possibly things such as homeschooling or going back to school or moving across the country – who knows! 

      I plan to add a new post every Monday (in the morning – if Tevia lets me), so do check back each week!
      My Comment Policy
      Feel free to comment on my blog posts.  I’d love to hear what you have to say about each topic, whether you agree with me or not – and especially if you have questions or concerns.  If you’d like to send a more personal note, please email me at  I will try to respond to all comments and questions within the week I post each blog, and then periodically afterwards.  Any and all comments containing profanity or irrelevant material will be deleted without notice.

      What would you like to read or learn about?  For those who know me personally, is there anything in my life that you are curious to know more about?

      Next week’s post: [What's in a (Blog) Name?]