Sensory Blanket for Alzheimer’s/Dementia Patient Care
Browsing through our local publication, The Connection Magazine, I came across an article that sparked my interest and warmed my heart. Knit for Peace, shared a column about creating fidget hand muffs and blankets for patients with dementia.
I love creative projects, especially ones made with compassion and a purpose. I was surprised I had never heard about this idea. Our family is all too familiar with the struggles that accompany a loved one progressing through the stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia. The concept of a sensory blanket (or fidget/busy blanket as some people call it) really excited me. It would be a practical way to show our love, get the girls involved, and hopefully provide a gift for Grandma that she could use and enjoy.
I believe God had His hands in this one. Within 2 days I had a completed lap quilt (with a full schedule and 2 younger girls in the mix, projects can often get delayed and take weeks or even months). I was thankful to find several pre-cut squares from a quilt I had made many years ago; and there was plenty of fabric remnants to finish the small project. I actually ended up having everything I needed in my craft closet.
I stitched the blocks together and then added the denim pockets before the gingham border.
I added several items: buttons, safety pins with beads, a carabiner with washers and key ring, bows, a felt flower, lace, ribbons for braiding. Some of the embellishments are purely for visual or tactile effect, others are to help stimulate hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. I like the side pockets that will drape down when it sits on her lap. She can store other items in there or tuck away the ribbons and braiding so they are out of the way.
After hand-stitching on all of the decorative details, I cut out a piece of backing fabric and batting and pinned it all together. The quilting didn’t take too long since the lines are straight and there isn’t much surface area. I finished it with the floral binding. (If you would like more information or step-by-step instruction for creating a quilt, follow this link to my Blanket of Blessings post.)
For a final little touch, I added a button and loop to secure it when it’s rolled up. (Next time I will remember to add the loop before the binding, but it still turned out fine.) It’s not impossible to add extras once a blanket is finished, but it’s easier and looks nicer to do it before it’s all stitched together.
This would also be easy to do with a tie fleece blanket. You could add the enhancements to the top piece, then line up the bottom and tie it together. It would be a great activity for the kids to help with or possibly even the patient themselves.
I get sentimental with things like this, and it brings me great joy to see little pieces of all of the family in the quilt. It tells its own story. The top fabric was from my favorite shop in Nebraska, Country Traditions, where I first learned how to quilt; the border and backing fabric were from my grandma Ruthie’s stash; the pockets were from my husband’s old jeans; the center bow was from ribbon we used at our wedding; the buttons were from my grandma Ruth’s collection; and my girls picked out the beads and helped every step of the way. It was a true joy and blessing to be able to make this blanket for such a special person.
Have you ever made a sensory blanket or something similar? Do you have a great suggestion for items to add on a future quilt? I’d love to hear about it. Please feel free to share your ideas in the comments below.
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I am a early on dementia patient and I am going to my make my own sensory blanket. I will use my favorite fabric,( I was a quilter ), pieces of different textured fabrics yarns and ribbons. pockets for special trinkets . pieces of crochet lace I’ve made. I can’t wait to get started !
thank you for such a wonderful project !
Your comment has truly brightened my day! Grandma has enjoyed hers, and I hope your creative process and end product are a blessing for you. I would love to see your work, it sounds beautiful. If you feel like sharing don’t hesitate to send me an email. You are an inspiration to me as well as for patients walking through this journey.
Thank you and God bless,
Good morning Pat, I just was looking at this post and your comment caught my eye. I just wanted to reach out to you and let you know I am adding you to my prayers. I worked in several nursing homes from 14 yrs old to my 40’s. Please post a picture of your blanket I want to see your finished work. Be Blessed!
Thank you Sarah
I heard about fidget muffs and wanted to create them for our Spring Alzheimer’s fund raiser. My close friend organises an afternoon tea party in aid of the charity. Now our craft group can visualise this project and hopefully make their own to sell on the day.
Wow, how wonderful! All of that sound amazing, the fund raiser and tea party, and a craft group to create items to sell! I think you’re really on to something there, that sounds right up my alley! It warms my heart so much to hear about people so loving, caring, and out there making a difference. These are the types of stories the world needs to hear about. Please feel free to share any ideas, or pictures of your events. You can always email me or find me on social media (the top of the page has buttons to facebook, twitter, etc..) I’m going to be sharing how much these comments are blessing me. Thank you! Many blessings to you and the groups!
Lorraine: “This is such a great thing you found for the elderly to do with your little quilt. I plan to make some also thanks so much for sharing”
Sarah: “Thank you, Lorraine. I hope you have as much fun with the Sensory Blankets as I did. I’d love to hear any ideas you came up with and see what you create!”
(The original comments above were attached to a temporary link. They have been copied here verbatim)
Bless you for posting this! I’m a CNA for private-pay Seniors and since I’m in their homes, I have the luxury of introducing different things to help them. THIS is pure genius!!
What a wonderful career! I can’t imagine all of the challenges you are presented with on a daily basis. Thank you for having such a loving heart, I’m sure all of your patients are very blessed. It’s amazing how quickly this idea is spreading. And yes, whomever came up with it originally is so smart! I can’t believe I hadn’t heard about it, or thought about it sooner.
My sister in law is visually impaired but she loves to crochet. I had her crochet small mats for the base and then added bells on a ribbon , small plastic canvas hearts, crocheted flowers, beads and buttons. They are great!!!
Those sound wonderful! It’s so exciting to see people of all skill levels and all walks of life making their own creative lap blankets/mats for such a worthy cause. This is one of those great projects where everyone can contribute something. Thank you so much for sharing!
Many blessings to you and for all of your future endeavors!
What a beautiful idea wish my muminlaw was still here it would have been a lovely gift fot her she was a very caring mum even with Alzheimer’s miss her very much
Thank you so much for your sweet comment. It’s so difficult to go through the loss of a loved one who is so near and dear to your heart. And especially when they go through Alzheimer’s. I have recently heard of several people donating to Alzheimer’s research in honor of loved ones, either financially, with their time, or even by creating their own blankets to donate to local hospitals. We’re all praying for a cure, and I pray that God gives you comfort and peace as your fondly remember your mother-in-law.
Thank you and God Bless,
I’m going to take this to my quilting group and suggest we make some as a project. Such a great idea. I have a neighbor who has early Alzheimer’s and I’m going to make one for him. Thank you for the great idea!
Thank you so much for your comment. I am so excited to hear about so many other people making these! Many recipients are going to be so blessed. Thank you for your kind heart and support for Alzheimer’s patients. They will benefit from this tangible source of love!
Thank you and many blessings to you and your quilting group!
As a certified and licensed Occupational Therapy Assistant, I would recommend adding some weight to your fidget lap quilt. The deep pressure that provides is calming to the nervous system. We use that type of thing for children with autism, attention deficit, and other sensory needs. You can buy poly beads to add weight to the quilt, or use dry rice, beans or washers.
Thank you, Kathy! I will definitely research those techniques for future blankets. A few other people have suggested the weighted blankets, as well as constructing it like an apron so they don’t slide off of their laps. I love the open dialog this has provided to have a platform to present ideas and suggestions! Thank you so much for sharing your expertise. I truly appreciate it.
If you think of anything else that would be great to add, or things we should avoid, please feel free to let us know!
The apron tag on for lap quilt, awesome idea., think rice may not good idea if needs washing, perhaps something washable better. Just a suggestion.
That is an excellent point. Any blankets or quilts that I construct going forward will probably be very different to allow them to be more easily washed. I love the idea of adding the weighted element and poly beads are probably the best way to go.
Thanks so much!
I have been wanting to sew for charity for some time now and this sounds like a good idea. How do you think a crazy quilt pattern with beads, lace and velvet go over? I usually sew clothes but have made a quilt or more. Thank you for posting this.
I think that sounds great! I love the idea of different textures of fabric, like the velvet. I don’t think there are really too many restrictions when it comes to creating a blanket. I’ll have to check around and see if any of our local hospitals would put any limits on what’s acceptable. But I would venture to guess, they’d be thrilled to accept almost anything you create. One person might prefer a solid color fleece blanket, while another will be excited with multiple colors and shapes. And different styles would give the nurses options to swap them around to different patients too possibly. You might want to see what charity or hospital is in your area to see what they suggest. And if anyone else reading has input having already done this for charity or from a medical professional’s standpoint, please feel free to comment and let us know your thoughts!
Thank you so much, I bet your quilt will be perfect!
Do you have to know the dementia person to make a sensory quilt to be able to personalize it?
You don’t have to know a patient personally to still be able to make a blanket or quilt to donate. I’d suggest checking with a local facility or seeing if there happens to be an Alzheimer’s/Dementia charity nearby. They could provide a better idea of their current needs. Some facilities assist people who may be more self-sufficient and could use blankets that are more intricate (buckles, weaving, laces, zippers), and others might prefer something that is more visual/tactile (various fabrics, loops, shapes). But I’m sure just about any colors, fabrics, and whatever you’d like to do, they’d be happy to have! I believe for every quilt, there is the perfect person ready to receive it!
Thank you, and many blessings!
I think these ideas are great. I work in a facility with a dementia init. I think a lot of ladies and even some men would like something like this. I actually had a man where I bought a small model of an engine and he would tinker on that a good part of an afternoon. We do have boards with buckets and different hinges and openers but they get bored with it. We also have several ladies who like to fold clothes. We have tried different things to help calm and keep older people with dementia active. We have an excellent activities people who do lots of activities with resident’s. But, I live this idea, they already have a quilter’s group so maybe an idea like this would be something up their alley. Plus I have a 12 yr old girl thays so excited for her fabrics class this year. She has even gotten out my sewing machine and sews different things. We have had to read the instructions a few times. I think you should know that you are truly a blessed peraon to have these ideas and are willing to share them. Thank you from a nurse in a long term care facility
Thank you so much for the kind words. It takes a special person with a beautiful heart to be a nurse and care for and love the patients. It’s so encouraging to know there are such wonderful people helping to bring joy and comfort. I’m sure the entire atmosphere changes when you walk into the room as you bring your smile and peace with you!
I love the idea of the model engine, and have heard several others say that the simple act of folding clothes or blankets was very calming. With the holidays fast approaching and colder weathers that keeps us inside more often, I think these are great craft ideas, especially for someone like your daughter. They don’t have to be perfect, just from the heart. I think I’ll be doing some of the more simple tie fleece blankets with my daughters since they are only 4 and 6, but incorporating some sort of sensory items on the top before tying the layers together. Then they can have the fun and joy of delivering them to the local nursing home for Christmas.
Please feel free to share any of your creations or suggestions, especially since you have great insight as a professional as to what works and what doesn’t.
Thank you again, and God Bless,
I am always very pleased to hear of crafty ways of contributing to help others @ knit @ sew from my sewing offcuts. I made a little hanger of my m-in-laws life @ interests for my sister-in-law with embroidered details @ charms as a remembrance @ thought charms of the patient’s special interests could be included in the dimentia quilts. Very best wishes from Sydney Australia.
Your little hanger with your mother-in-law’s interests sounds wonderful! I bet it turned out great. I love that idea of including bits and charms that are special to each person. On the one I made, my girls picked out special beads and we spelled out Grandma’s name. They chose little animals and cats because they knew Grandma always loved animals.
I’ve also seen some neat ones that are more masculine with nuts and bolts, small measuring tapes, even fishing gear that isn’t sharp. I’ve seen people use plastic kitchen tools and measuring cups or spoons; the possibilities are endless. If you know the patient personally, or the medical facility can give you some guidance for their interests, I think the personal details make it extra special!
Thank you, and many blessings!
Sarah, so glad I found your fidget lap quilt. My dad is in an Alzheimer’s Assisted Living home. I am a quilter and this is a perfect project for me. I plan to make as many as I can in trDiti9nal male and female colors for dad and his housemates. Thanks,
I’m so glad this has sparked your creativity and will be a good project for you! The recipients will be very blessed. Feel free to write back and share any great ideas or email pictures, and we can all learn and grow from each other’s progress!
Happy quilting and many blessings to you and your dad,
This is such a great idea. Do you ever sell your creations? Thinking of this for my ‘fidgrty’ Mother, who is in the early stages. Thanks!
Thank you! Currently I do not sell any of my projects, some day in the future though possibly! At the moment my young girls help keep my days full, and we recently found out we’ll be moving out of state. Once we’re settled, I hope to devote more time to this blog and making more blankets and other creations.
However, I just searched on Etsy.com and there are several options there! I hope you can find one that will be perfect for your mother, or we can touch base in a few months to create a special one just for her!
Thanks again, and many blessings to you and your mother,
Hi Sarah, What a brilliant idea! I will suggest for my upcoming bee to craft a few. Point of interest is that it would be practical to make them durable enough to launder them. Thank you so much for sharing this.
Wonderful! I am so excited to hear about so many people creating their own, and sharing the idea with their crafting circles. And Yes! I couldn’t agree more about being more intentional about making sure the blankets will hold up and considering how they will be laundered. Especially if this is a group setting where there is a possibility where multiple people might use the same blanket, one would want to be sure the blankets would last and be easily cleaned.
If you think of any other great ideas, please feel free to share!
Thanks again, and many blessings!
My Mother has advanced Alzheimer’s. My neighbour is a member of a volunteer group that makes these quilts for patients in our province. My Mom lives in a nursing home in another province. As I am not a quilter, I asked my neighbour to make me one for my Mom and she graciously made a sensory quilt for me to give her. My Mom was always picking at her face, her hair, her clothes. I was amazed when I gave her the quilt, she was immediately drawn to all the little sensory items sewn into it. I crochet and had made a couple of 3 dimensional flowers for it. She loves to touch them. She does not know me at all anymore, but when she touches those flowers and smiles…well it warms my heart. We put pictures of dogs and some faux fur on it and she pats the fur. It has a zipper, buttons, braided rope and the squares themselves are different textures of fabric some with pictures of butterflies, birds, flowers and dogs, all my Mom’s favourite things. It’s in pinks her favourite colour. When she has the quilt on her lap, she hardly touches her face at all.
These quilts work amazingly.
Linda from Canada
Thank you so much for sharing! What a beautiful example. I know the blankets are comforting to many patients, but your story brings it all into perspective. The quilt sounds perfect, I love all of the personal details. The fur, flowers, different fabrics, and other items are all wonderful ideas. All of these responses are so inspiring. I’m really looking forward to making more as time allows.
Thank you again, and many blessings to you, your mother, and all of your loved ones as you move through this season of life in grace. Our thoughts are with you!
My mother-in-law as dementia and resides in a nursing home. I like the Idea of making something useful for her, but I don’t quite understand the connection between dementia and the figety quilt. I would appreciate a bit of explanations, which would guide me in producing something useful for her.
Some of the biggest benefits caregivers are finding is the calming effect from keeping their patients’ hands and minds active. Often patients with Alzheimer’s and Dementia tend to become anxious and restless, especially as the stages progress. Some notice marked improvement from the patients’ nervous fidgeting (pulling on IVs and other medical equipment, picking at their skin, pacing, rocking etc.) the underlining desire is fulfilled by channeling the energy towards the blankets. The quilts also enhance fine motor skills when they can practice simple tasks like buttoning a button, tying a bow, lacing, sewing, and so forth.
A website I came across, In Our Care, has several wonderful quotes regarding Sensory Quilts. “They help to stimulate curiosity, memories and awareness, provide a sense of purpose and of ‘doing something’, and this having a calming & soothing affect on the user…They are user-friendly, functional, induce comfort and warmth… providing a constant reminder of a family that loves them…It keeps their anxious hands engaged, mind occupied and their legs warm…Because people with Alzheimer’s and other dementia experience an ongoing decrease in their brain’s functions, simple, repetitive movements and sensory experiences become more important.”
Hopefully this will help give you some additional insight into how you could create a blanket that would be perfect for your mother-in-law. If you have any additional questions or suggestions, please let us know. Several of the other comments above have great suggestions and ideas as well.
Thank you so much, many blessings to you and your family,
Wow … I loved your kind response to each comment!
You (and all those who commented) are very kind-compassionate people!
May God Bless each one of you! ??
Thank you, Lynn! This has turned into a beautiful little community of many wonderful and caring people. I have been so amazed and blessed to see such compassion and hear the inspiring stories. May God bless you and all of your endeavors as well!
My sister has dementia and such an item has kept her from scratching her skin. One point I would like to make is that some people with dementia put thing in their mouths. My sister being one. So it is very important to sonsider what you are putting on the quilt. We only had to remove one item from the quilt a friend made her but it was a potential hazard.
Thanks so much for posting your quilt idea. Your compassion can not be hidden.
Thank you for sharing, Mary! That is a great point, we do need to be careful about the embellishments and how these are crafted. I know it is a case-by-case basis, but when in doubt, a good rule to follow would be to make it to the standards one would use for children, adding nothing that could pose an entanglement or choking hazard.
I really appreciate you bringing up this point, for many of us just starting on this journey there is so much to learn and I love when we can all glean from each other’s experiences and wisdom.
Thanks again, and many blessings to you and your sister,
Sarah, thank you for telling your story, i was very touched. My Gramma, Mom, Aunt and Uncle all passed from this awful disease. I wish I’d have know about something like this that maybe could of helped them get thru their days. I did not live in the same state as them and it became extremely difficult to care for my Mom and Aunt. I made them all (Mom, my Aunt and Uncle) quilts from my Gramma’s clothes after she passed and they cherished the quilts. Seeing what you have done, I’m hoping to bring some comfort into the lives of a few people I know who are currently struggling with Alzheimer’s. Although I’m not that great of a “quilter”, I will give it my best! Thanks again for sharing.
Thank you so much for your kind words. I am so sorry this horrible disease has robbed you of so much! I pray that peace and love will help soothe the holes that are left behind.
What a gift for you to make the quilts for your Mom, Aunt, and Uncle. It is so inspiring and exciting to hear that you want to make some additional quilts to help bring comfort. I know the recipients will be blessed and you will too for your compassion and generosity.
Thank you again, and God Bless!
What a great idea. I worked in a nursing home for ten years. I am sure you idea will work very well. I wished that I had thought about it forty years ago.
I have a quilt group that could help me make many of them.
Thanks so much for the idea. I will take it and run with it.
Thanks so much! It’s so exciting to hear about so many people taking the basic idea and making it their own. I’m sure many will be blessed by your graciousness. If you come up with any great ideas or suggestions, please feel free to share them or any pictures with the group. It’s so neat to see us all growing and learning from each other.
Thanks again, and God bless the works of your heart and hands!
I am starting to make fidget lap blanklets and want to know what the perfect measurements would be .
It’s so exciting to hear you are making some blankets of your own. I have actually seen blankets in all shapes in sizes. Some people prefer larger ones, almost like a throw so it can drape down and cover their legs. This also allows for more fidget items to be attached.
In my case (excluding the denim pockets) the measurements are close to 16″x24″. I wanted a smaller quilt because space in the nursing facility is extremely limited. The ability to roll it up and tuck it away safely was important. I used 4.5″ squares (with 1/4″ seam allowance they are 4″ finished) and a 2.5″ (2″ finished) border.
Hopefully this helps, I’m sure whatever size and direction you end up taking, they will turn out wonderfully!
Thank you again, and many blessings on your projects!
Thank for the great information
I love this idea! I’m a novice quilter and find this amazing. My cousin is activities director at a nursing home and I’m going to contact her about this tomorrow!
For the weight, I was thinking about washers on all 4 corners; this may also keep it from sliding off the lap.
Thank you for sharing!
That’s so exciting! I hope it is a resource that will be helpful for the nursing home. That’s a wonderful idea about adding the washers too! Thank you for sharing. I love gathering suggestions together so we can all grow and learn. As you embark on some projects, please feel free to continue to share any updates or suggestions!
Thank you again! Many blessings on your family and the work of your hands!
Thanks ever so much for this wonderful idea. I appreciate your sharing it andyet hope with all my heart I will never need it for anyone.
You’re so welcome, Heidi. It’s nice to feel like we’re contributing in a small way to provide some comfort. But yes, I pray that someday soon a cure will be found and this will be obsolete!
I have made several fidget quilts, I use velcro, zippers, random quilt blocks and odds and ends from my sewing room. Good use for my stuff and good charity project both
Thank you so much for the ideas! Yes, it’s a win-win all around. We can use up random bits and blocks and make them into something meaningful that will hopefully provide comfort! Such a wonderful project! May you be blessed in all that you create!
Hello Sarah, what a lovely post.
My Mother had dementia, and I made a couple of the knitted/crocheted versions of the fidgety muffs for a few of the ladies, each one with their name in beads. Being a quilter I love the idea of small lap blankets for the same purpose.
I am currently away from home, but I shall get on with this when back home.
Best wishes – Val
PS – a boarder is a person renting space in your home;
border is the word you were looking for, I think. 🙂
(Your comment to Barb)
I’m sure your mother and the ladies were very blessed by the fidgety muffs. What a lovely and heartfelt gift to make for them!
It has been fun and uplifting to see the various ideas, suggestions, and hear about what others have created. I hope you enjoy your time away and please feel free to share any of your new projects when you get back!
PS – thank you for the correction. You are right! 🙂
I found backing your fidget quilt with flannel keeps it from sliding off lap. I like using zippers little pillows with a few beads sewn in side ,key chains attached to pocket so they can place in and out of pocket . buttons , snaps ,velcro,different fabric textures,fabrics with animals , fish . farms , and many more. Add laces ,ric rack ribbons and yoyo’s. I have made a lot for nursing homes and get a blessing from them all. Just be sure you attach all items well because the patient are pretty strong and will pull items off and place in mouth.
Thank you so much for all of the great ideas and insight! I hadn’t even thought about backing the blankets with flannel. Genius! Those are all wonderful suggestions. Yes, thank you for mentioning to ensure everything is extremely secure so that nothing poses a choking hazard or has the potential to cause any other injury.
I am sure the nursing home staff and residents are so thankful for your gifts of love and service! You are making a huge impact and changing lives one blanket at a time!
Thank you again for sharing. I’ll definitely be using these helpful suggestions on future projects!
May God bless you and all you create!
Thank you so much for sharing this with me. I am 69 yrs. old and have moderate dementia. I have been a quilter and painter for yrs. and cannot do either much any more. You are so kind to think of others. I am going to try to make these and I will pray for your journey also.
Thank you so much for the comment. It always makes my day to see how this one little craft impacts so many people’s lives.
I always love meeting fellow artists! I am so sorry to hear that you are facing the challenge of dementia, though. It breaks my heart. But you are well-able, and equipped, and have so much to offer! I know you’re a blessing to all of those around you. Your journey isn’t over, this is just a new chapter and new way of viewing the world. I believe Jesus will be with you every step of the way and even where it might not seem possible, He can bring life, peace, and joy.
You are an inspiration!
Praying God blesses you and brings peace and healing!
I crocheted a sleeve from wrist to almost elbow that would slip over the person’s arm. Like yours, I sewed buttons (very securely), bits of ribbon and beads and put pockets that had small felt animals or hearts that were attached with ribbon so they could put them in and out of the pockets. I took care of my Dad at home for the last two years of his battle with Alzheimer’s and his hands were always moving. I wish I’d known about these things then that could be given his fidgety hands something to focus on. I made some lacy and feminine looking in pastel colors and made others in earth tones with bits of camo fabric and more”manly” trinkets. Our church took them to a local nursing home.
Thank you so much for sharing. I love the idea of a crocheted sleeve, this is so creative. Yes, I think one of the hardest parts of walking this journey with a loved one is feeling so helpless. Even though it might not be much, it feels nice to provide anything that might bring even a little comfort and relief. It makes me happy to hear you have been able to make some and through the church distribute them to nursing homes. I’m sure all of the recipients were very blessed. Thank you so much for your generosity and spreading hope!
God Bless you and your kindnesses!
Wonderful idea as I have a blind grandaughter as she loves to feel different surfaces etc.
You would have to watch small children would not get the beads etc off and swallow.
Such a great idea to modify this for your blind granddaughter! Yes, one would definitely want to ensure nothing could be removed and pose a choking hazard. I bet you could find all sorts of different fabrics and notions to make this one of her favorite blankets.
Thank you for sharing the great idea and many blessings!
I have really enjoyed (and learned a lot from) your article. Aren’t people wonderfully generous! My recommendation, gained from another site, is to remember some patients may become overly excited or physical and could throw the blanket or use it as a weapon. To avoid physical harm to others perhaps heavy objects, such as washers, could be eliminated. Many thanks for your very helpful and interesting post. ?
Thank you so much for your comment and suggestion. Yes, safety needs to be a top priority when making these. The last thing I would want is for this to become harmful for any person involved. That is a great point, and the more we can learn from each other the better! When we first started making these we hadn’t considered all of the aspects like being easy to clean or choking hazards. And your word of caution is greatly appreciated. Thank you so much for sharing! I will definitely keep that in mind for future creations.
Thank you and many blessings,