Thoughtful Gifts for the Chronically Ill

Since I often blog and speak about my chronic illnesses, I occasionally find myself on the receiving end of an email that sounds something like this, “Hey Stephanie, my friend so-and-so just found out they have insert diagnosis here. I really want to send them a care package or a gift to show them I care. Could you give me some kind of idea of what they would want?” In fact, I get these sorts of messages so often I’ve decided to dedicate an entire blog post to answering this, so I can point people towards this list in the future.

It’s important to remember: whether your friend or family member is facing a life long chronic ailment, is spending the next few months enduring chemo or radiation, is facing a long bedrest for pregnancy complications, or is learning to cope with a new physical handicap – every case, and every person, will be different. Not every gift is appropriate in every circumstance or personality, so above all, don’t be afraid to ask. But in the end, I know first hand how hard it can be to ask for help even when it’s offered, so hopefully this list will offer some great ideas when you have that friend says “it’s ok… we’re managing” (Yeah, guilty as charged on that one!)

Heartfelt Gifts

Caring Crate Subscription Box ($39.95 per month, or discount if ordering multiple months)
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Subscription boxes are all the rage right now, and this incredible company decided to create a box specifically to minister to the needs of the chronically ill. Every box has beautiful self care products for the body and mind, each hand chosen with those suffering from long term illnesses in mind. They are the perfect gift for somebody going through cancer treatments since you can arrange a 3 or even 6 months subscription so that when the initial wave of cards and calls start to taper off, they are still receiving beautiful reminders each month that someone is thinking of them.

Spoon Necklace ($14.99)
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Members in the chronic illness community have adopted the spoon as one our most important symbols, often referring to ourselves as “spoonies.” The inspiration behind this comes from an incredible post called The Spoon Theory, that you can read all about here.  A spoon necklace is a touching way to tell your friend that you understand the choices she faces each day with managing her “spoons.” I suggest adding a thoughtful note to let them know you always want them to have an extra spoon for those especially tough days.

 

 

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Easy Letter Play with Alphabet Stamps

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With Jack being three, we’ve begun to take on a little bit of homeschool preschool. We’re not using a strict curriculum or even a set schedule, it’s mostly just following his interests and his lead and getting him comfortable with school-like activities, pre-literacy skills, shapes, numbers, etc.

Today’s activity was a real hit! We had purchased a jar of alphabet stamps from the fun in a jar collection by Recollection (available at Michaels) earlier this summer. I’m unsure if this item is still available, but I found this gorgeous option on Amazon for only $7.96 with free shipping for Prime members! I’m tempted to get one of these for the boys since it has both upper AND lower case options, as well as numbers and some punctuation as well.

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Jack enjoyed spelling out his name and Aidan’s with the stamps, as well as copying words from his Melissa and Doug See & Spell puzzle set by stamping each letter on his paper. It was great to see how comfortable he was getting with the idea of sounding out letters phonetically into words without the frustration of needing to write each individual letter.

Some quick and easy ideas for incorporating alphabet stamps into your own homeschool routine or letter play:

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Easy DIY Watercolor Project for Preschoolers

My sweet mama has a birthday coming up soon, so Jack and I set up some super inexpensive supplies we had on hand and made her a piece of art I know she’ll treasure. This project is super simple and Jack needed very little instruction other than “try to fill up all the white with your colors” and he was happily entertained at the table for longer than Im usually able to keep him in one place.

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All you need for this project are:

* Thick Watercolor Paper
* Washable Watercolor Paint Palette
* Brushes
* Scrapbook “Thickers” Letter Stickers
* Cup of Water
* Paper Towels (for blotting and clean up)

Instructions:

1. Decide what you want your art piece to say. We opted for “Happy Birthday GRANDMA love JACK”

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2. Place scrapbook thickers onto your water color paper. Make sure to press them down all over so they have a tight seal.

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How I Lost 50 Pounds in Only Six Months

How I Lost 50Lbs A year ago I was the heaviest I had been my whole life. At 5’9″ tall, I was 212 pounds and was wearing a women’s size 1x or an extra-extra-large. I was constantly fatigued, my chronic pain issues were becoming more and more inflamed, and I was so frustrated with the way clothes fit that I was beginning to lose any sense of what my personal style really was anymore. As my confidence suffered, so did my marriage, and it was difficult to want to go to social occasions when I knew I was going to face the inevitable parade of trying on 20 uncomfortable and poorly fitting outfit ideas before ultimately settling back into one of the 4 or so comfortable pieces I had relegated to myself almost daily. I was finally unhappy about it enough to be ready for change. In 6 short months I was able to shed 50lbs, bringing me to 162 lbs and a women’s size 8 on top, 10 on the bottom, or a size medium. The transformation has been a dramatic one, with the weight loss visible not just in my body but in my face as well. It changed the entire way I look, but more importantly it changed the way I feel. Not only was I able to lose the weight, but in the past 6 months I have been able to successfully keep it off, fluctuating  in a range of only 5-7 lbs through different seasons and changes in activity and diet. Amazingly, none of this weight loss was from working out, as when I was losing this weight I was going through various health issues and wasn’t cleared for physical activity any more strenuous than regular walking or occasional hiking with my boys – so nothing with a caloric burn to really bring about significant weight loss. This means ANYONE can lose weight, even if you’re facing physical handicaps that keep you from strenuous exercise. So how did I do it? Three main components made up my plan.

 

1. Kick Preservatives to the Curb: Eat Whole Foods Instead

ProduceI actually began my dietary changes not to lose weight but to help with various health issues I was experiencing. Rather than count calories, I was intentionally limiting the amount of processed foods and preservatives I allowed into my diet. In fact, I wasn’t tracking calories in much of a meaningful way for most of my weight loss journey. My focus was on eliminating the amount of chemicals making their way into my body. I learned quickly that the battle was best fought once at the grocery store, rather than over and over at home. This meant trying to keep my shopping trips to the outer walls of the grocery store as much as possible, and avoid purchases from the aisles in the middle. We kept tons of easy to snack on produce, especially berries and cuties oranges, to make up for the sugary treats I had become rather addicted to. Salty snack cravings were satisfied with choices like lightly salted almonds, or specially chosen tortilla chips or baked pretzels from a trusted whole foods provider like Trader Joe’s. I had to change the way I looked at what constituted a typical meal, since I wasn’t always able to cook meals from scratch but still didn’t want to fall back on processed convenience food. I actually ate many a lunch that looked almost exactly how I would feed my young kids: a few pieces of a preservative-free lunch meat (like turkey or nitrate-free salami,) a few nibs of cheese, a handful of pretzel crisps, a large carrot, and a selection of fresh fruit. I ate regularly, I never excluded any major food groups, and I never let myself go hungry. And sure, I would occasionally cheat, especially if eating a meal out with friends, but my goals were less about following a perfect program and more about creating a different lifestyle in how we approached food overall.

2. Find Ways to Actively Treat Yourself: Too Much Restriction Leads to Cheating & Quitting

Trader Joes ChocolateOf all the times I’ve managed to lose weight in the past, the process has been full of starts and restarts, and usually the pounds I lost came back within months – and it would bring some of its friends. This time I wasn’t so much focused on losing weight as on overall health, so I was allowing myself treats more than on any previous diet attempt. As the weight continued to slide off, and all throughout the past 6 months of maintaining my new size, treating myself has remained an important way to KEEP with these healthy changes. I’ve found from experience that the more I try to stick to super restrictive plans that require you to cut out entire food groups or eliminate all sugars or fats, the more Im tempted to cheat;and the more I cheat, the more quickly I convince myself I’m going to fail and quit the diet entirely. By allowing myself treats (like these amazing 100 calorie chocolate bard from Trader Joe’s,) I wouldn’t feel like I was on a diet, and my attention would be less focused on what I “couldn’t” have and more on the incredible changes I was seeing and feeling in my body.

 

 

3. MY SECRET WEAPON: Essential Oils Were the Ultimate Game Changer

Essential Oils for Weightloss

Now some of you may have read this far and thought to yourselves, “this isn’t really anything new to me – eat healthier and dont worry too hard about it… been there, done that.” For you folks in particular, I’m about to share my secret weapon that changed my health and diet in ways I honestly thought fell under the heading of internet scam or too good to be true. And in the spirit of honesty, when my friend first started telling me about essential oils from Young Living and all they could do for my health, I thought, “Yeah, sure… and Dr. Oz has the magic kale smoothie cure for cancer right?” At the time though, my health was in a pretty nasty way, and after trying so many things that simply weren’t working, I was desperate enough to give it a try. When my starter kit first arrived, I would classify myself as a “hopeful skeptic.” I certainly didn’t expect the oils to live up to the hype, but I was desperately hoping they would help even a little. And man, did those little bottles exceed all of my hopes. Within a month we were successfully using oils to help everything from insomnia to viral infections to chronic pain to acne that had plagued me since my teenage years. It was at this point that I heard about a trio of oils recommended for helping in weight loss. According to the experts, an empty capsule taken each day filled with a mixture of lemon, peppermint, and grapefruit oils could help with weight loss in incredible ways. Peppermint would aid in digestive function, lemon would help detox and balance the system, and grapefruit would drastically curb sugar cravings and help speed metabolism. Since I had already seen such wonderful results with other uses for the oils, I decided to give the oils for weight loss a try – and within 6 months I was 50 lbs lighter. When taking the oils I could feel a noticeable difference in my energy levels, in how quickly I felt full at meals (my portion sizes were dramatically reduced,) in how regular I was, and most noticeably in how much less I craved sugar. At one point I even went off the capsules for 10 days to see if it was just placebo effect, and by the end of the 10 days I was swearing up and down I would never stop taking them again. When a sugar craving hits especially hard (::cough:: PMS much? ::cough::) I put a little grapefruit oil directly on my skin like eau de toilette or diffuse it into the air, and the craving is noticeably eased. Thanks to my amazing mason jar tumbler and glass straw from The Mason Bar Company, I have also been able to add various citrus oils too my water intake each day. Lemon, Grapefruit, and Tangerine have become my favorite oils to drink, and just a few drops make keeping up my water intake super easy and delicious, while also providing the health benefits of the oils themselves.
(*It’s super important to point out that citrus oils should never ever ever be consumed in plastic of any kind, as they can eat at the plastics over time and can pull toxic chemicals from the plastic into your water. Only drink citrus oils from glass or stainless steel products. I cant recommend the glass tumbler and glass straw I’ve shown here highly enough!)
(**It’s even more important to point out that not all essential oils are safe to ingest. In fact MOST essential oils are absolutely NOT. Please research all essential oils before you purchase or ingest. I did a lot of research before decided on oils for my family, and the only brand I can SAFELY recommend for these uses is Young Living, especially because of their Seed to Seal process.)

I’m so grateful for the way these oils have affected my health and my weight loss journey, that I’ve decided to give away a 24 oz tumbler with my favorite mint lid and a glass straw (generously given by our friends at The Mason Bar Company,) as well as a full sized bottle of grapefruit, tangerine, and lemon! Enter using the Rafflecopter widget below. Winner will be selected by Random.org. Contest will close at 12:00am on 4/1. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

5 Quick and Easy Valentines for Procrastinator Moms

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If you’re anything like me you’re spinning 20 different plates at any given time, and its pretty easy for things to occasionally fall through the cracks. If you’re really like me, then you may have been one of the moms who suddenly realized their child has to bring in 25 valentines the next day only to run out to target and discover the seasonal section now looks like this:

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Mom fail. But have no fear fellow procrastinators! I have pulled together 5 super easy valentine ideas that are easily pulled off the night before the class party – and most of them are cuter and cheaper than the pre-made valentines too! As an added bonus ALL of these options are candy free.

1 – Star Wars Glow Stick Valentines

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These are actually the valentines that Aidan is bringing to his class this year. As an added bonus, most Target dollar spots are selling containers of bracelet sized glow sticks, so with these adorable free printable these valentines are incredibly low on cost and time, but certainly don’t show it. Boys are girls alike will be thrilled with their glow sticks, and parents and teachers will appreciate the candy free gift.

Get Them Here

 

 

 

 

 

2 – Popcorn Bag Valentine

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If you can find personal sized bags of kettle corn or even regular pop corn, then you have an easy and adorable option for class valentines! Just add these adorable free printables and voila! If you can’t find individual sized bags, grab a box or two of microwave popcorn and send one packet home with each child for a treat they can pop and share with the whole family.

Get Them Here

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 – Lego Valentines

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Now here’s a valentine that the kids will go crazy for! You can either buy some of the pre-bagged mini lego sets you can often find in the checkout lane at Target, go to a lego store (if you are lucky to have one locally) and buy loose pieces from the lego wall in bulk, or you can buy a large starter set from your local big box store and simply divide up the pieces between each valentine. You’re sure to be a big hit with the kids, and you’ll win extra points with food allergy families as well.

Get Them Here

 

 

 

 

4 – Color My World Valentine

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This idea is not only candy free, but it’s absolutely adorable too. Buy a large box of crayons in bulk, a roll of cute tape, and print out these free printables – and you have an adorable DIY Valentine that everyone will be copying next year. Super easy to put together and very low cost per child.

Get Them Here

 

 

 

 

 

5 – Apple Sauce Valentine

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If you want to give the kids an edible treat but still provide something that isn’t candy? These adorable apple sauce valentines are sweet and healthy – the best of both worlds. If you aren’t a fan of squeeze pouches, you could easily attach these tags to a lunchbox tub of applesauce and a plastic spoon, or even to a fresh delicious apple instead! The link below is an editable PDF, so you can replace “Charlotte” with your own child’s name, or for older kids you can delete the name entirely and let your child practice signing the cards themself.

Get Them Here

How to Stitch Fix Like a Pro

 

If you haven’t yet heard of Stitch Fix let me be the first to tell you that this subscription box service is completely changing the face of shopping for women everywhere. Imagine items handpicked especially for you by a personal stylist, sent directly to your home for you to try on in your own time and with your own wardrobe, and whatever you don’t like you simply drop into a prepaid shipping bag and send right back. Now imagine the service itself is essentially free, because although they charge a $20 “styling fee” the fee is always applied to whatever you purchase from your box, so it ultimately costs you nothing. That my friends is EXACTLY what Stitch Fix provides.

As a mom with two little boys Stitch Fix has been one of the best things that ever happened to me, because it meant finally doing away with my least favorite aspect of shopping – dragging two little boys into a crowded dressing room with me while I cram myself in and out of ill fitting pants under unflattering florescent lighting while listening to them fight over my iPhone. Now I excitedly open my Stitch Fix packages in my own timing (aka: when no kids are around,) I can sip on a “mommy beverage” of choice, and effortlessly try pieces on in my own bedroom. I can even try putting them into outfits with items from my existing wardrobe to see how easily I could integrate the new pieces. No more digging through racks trying to narrow it down to styles I like, no more wonky mirrors or yucky lighting, and no more rushing to beat a toddler meltdown. Shopping became luxurious again, and its been heavenly.

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Let’s take a peek into my most recent fix to see what the service is really like.

For starters, every package comes beautifully branded and designed, which definitely adds to the overall experience of being spoiled.

Inside the box are your 5 hand chosen items, the return bag, a personalized note from your stylist, an invoice listing out each items price breakdown, and an example card for each of the pieces showing 2 ways it could potentially by styled

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Open up the tissue to reveal the items your stylist has chosen!

I made a challenge to myself that I would try on every single piece my stylist sends, even if Im not a fan at first look. And let me say: that challenge has paid off. Sometimes my stylist seems to know whats going to fit my shape even better than I do. Plus it can be fun to try something new and step out of a fashion rut – you might surprise yourself!

 

Here are the items I received this fix. All 5 were definitely “keepers” for me.

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So now that we have seen the ins and outs of Stitch Fix, lets get down to the juicy stuff – how to get the MOST out of this service. I’ve boiled it down to my top 4 tips.

1) Your most important tool is your Pinterest board – hands down.

When filling out your style profile during your Stitch Fix sign up, they give you the option to link to a single Pinterest board. This board is hands down the most important key to getting the most out of your fix. Make sure that this board is dedicated only to styles you would want your stylist to consider when putting together your fix. It can even be helpful to create a separate board you use solely for tracking styles you are most interested in for your current fix, especially if you like to pin a variety of fashion related photos just for fun. Keep your board up to date, deleting things you are no longer interested in or have already purchased something similar to and aren’t looking to receive in your shipment. Most importantly, don’t overlook the caption on your pins. Use that space to point out the specific why’s and how’s of what you’re pinning. A great example would be to say “I love the print and the style of this blouse, maybe not with that type of collar though.” Or you could say “I have pants just like these already, so a jacket like that would be perfect in my next fix!”
(You can see my board here: https://www.pinterest.com/thejoyparade/lookbook/)

2) Find a stylist who gets you, and then request to STAY with them.

Whenever I hear someone say they haven’t been happy with their fix my advice is always the same: change stylists. Between every fix you have a chance to write a note to your stylist to give them extra info for that particular fix. Type *NEW STYLIST PLEASE* as the very first line in this box and you are guaranteed to have your account passed to a new stylist. Don’t worry about hurting feelings, this is a job, and the stylists at stitch fix are not in any way offended if you move to someone new. The service employs so many stylists with so many different tastes and preferences, so its essential you find a stylish you feel like really understand your personal style and can accurately reflect them in your fixes. When you find someone you mesh with, go back to that note to stylist feature and write *SAME STYLIST PLEASE* at the beginning of your request. The longer you stay with a stylist you love, the more they understand your style and can expertly pick your pieces.

3) Find out what others are getting in their fixes, and request items that catch your eye.

This is a tricky one. Please note that just because you request a specific item doesn’t actually guarantee they will have that item in your size when it comes time to style your fix. So always be flexible when making requests. That being said, you absolutely can request to receive specific items in your fix, and even if they don’t have the particular item on hand it can really help your stylist to figure out what sort of items appeal to you most. The BEST way to see what other fixers are getting is to head on over to Instagram and scroll through #stitchfix. If you see an item you love and the poster hasn’t said what it was called, don’t hesitate to comment on the picture with a simple request for details. A great example would be “Hey, that skirt is so gorgeous! Can you let me know what its called so I can request it in my next fix? Thanks!” I’ve employed this method many a time and fellow fixers have always been great about letting me know. You can also search on Pinterest for “Stitch Fix” or queries like “Stitch Fix Top,” “Stitch Fix Review,” or “Stitch Fix Spring.” Just know that with Pinterest its a lot harder to ensure the items you are being shown are current, so you may end up falling in love with items from a previous season. Instagram is a better way to see the most current items available. If you do find an item you’d like to request, include it in the note to stylist feature we discussed earlier. You can also search for the item on Pinterest and add it to your Stitch Fix board if its on there.

4) Don’t worry about being polite, your stylist would prefer you be SPECIFIC.

This is absolutely the number one mistake people make with their stitch fix. There is limited space for writing both your feedback on your checkout survey and your notes to your stylist each fix. Utilize this space wisely ladies. Don’t worry about your grammar, your tone, or pleasantries. If you want your stylist to really nail your fix, you have to be as specific as possible. This is most important in your checkout surveys. When you don’t like a piece, be extremely specific as to why. Did it fit horribly on your hips? Was it a total oddball choice for your style? Did the fabric choice remind you of a clearance rack at a dress barn? Don’t hold back. Your stylist can take it: I promise. This is their job, and they WANT to get your style figured out, so don’t ever withhold valuable information in the name of being polite.  

So that’s it folks: all the tricks, tips, and tools you need to Stitch Fix like a pro.

Leave a comment below letting me know if you’ve tried Stitch Fix, if you have any insider tips of your own, or if any of my advice has helped you get the most out of your future fixes. One lucky commenter will be randomly selected on February 12th to receive Joy Pack of items hand picked by yours truly that are sure to brighten your day.