Stress Toys for Kids?

We know stress is bad for creativity.

Turns out, stress is really bad for a lot of things, most especially your heart. Let’s remember that heart disease is the number one killer in the US for both men and women.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that some of the top “toys” of 2017 are actual stress relievers for kids.

On the top toys list…

I want you to think about that for a moment. Kids are so stressed, that top toys for Christmas are basically colorful versions of adult stress aides. In the top 20 toys, there are four different items that are designed to help reduce stress.

WTF?!? I mean seriously, when did it get to this?

Sure, yeah, I get it. Kids have never had an idealistic existence. Once upon a time, less than a hundred years ago (1938, to be exact. My skeptic wonders how much of that was to keep kids from taking adult jobs in the Great Depression rather than to protect kids, but I digress), poor kids worked to help support their families. Okay, poor kids worked so there was food on the table.

But in 2017 middle-class America, which is what these advertisers are marketing to, I was blindsided by seeing anti-stress balls marketed alongside “twins” for your child to play make-believe with.

I’m not entirely sure when this happened, but I shouldn’t be shocked. The most stressful years of my life were high school and college. I had to make excellent grades in high school to get into a good college.


Being smart wasn’t enough. I was a poor kid and needed scholarships. And I wasn’t getting special treatment because my parents were alums anywhere. So, I had to be in sports, volunteer, find ways to make myself stand out.

I don’t remember there ever being a weekend where I had nothing to do. I’d try to get homework done on Friday night and Saturday morning so I could at least have Saturday night. It seldom worked. All this while making it through the coursework and trying to find my way through teenage hormones and a far less than ideal home situation.


But I did it, and then came college. Now everything was on the line. I wasn’t going to be working for the rich family I didn’t have (unlike some of my classmates), so every future employer was going to be looking at that GPA for the rest of my life. It didn’t matter that my grandmother died or I had a massive allergic reaction to something that almost closed my windpipe. I had classes to attend, projects to finish, and tests to take. All so I could get a job at the end to pay back the loans I still had to take.

Yeah, I remember those days. And not fondly.

Apparently, the stress on kids is starting earlier and earlier. I’m not entirely sure why.

Perhaps because 44% of American children are living at or near the poverty line.

No, I didn’t mistype that number. I actually looked it up several places to verify it. It shocks me. And it saddens me. To climb out of poverty, to try to focus on school and work when you’re hungry, maybe that’s why people are buying a stress ball for Christmas.

For the other 56%, some are saying it’s because kids are too busy. Parents are so focused on trying to give them what they’ll need to succeed, that kids aren’t getting any time for relaxation and play.

This feels a lot closer to what I’m seeing. Now that I have kids, I see how much of my life is taken up just getting them to where they need to be. Once at dance class, soccer, or swimming, the kids are now in organized activities with a whole new level of stress on them. How good am I at this sport or activity? Am I good enough to compete? What do I have to do outside of class to get good enough?

When I was a kid, we couldn’t afford such things. Frankly, only the rich kids in my schools ever did such activities. Now, it’s expected of parents to provide these enriching experiences.

All of this is before you add in the stress of trying to figure out things like how to put your dress on the right way each morning. How to make new friends on your first day of school. How to handle peer pressure. And everything else kids have always faced.

I know how I feel about this, but I’m not really sure what to do about it. Children aren’t mini-adults. They do so much learning through play. I worked my tail off and waited until later in lie to have them because I wanted to give my children a good life. Not a life that includes stress balls for 5-year-olds and high blood pressure medication when you graduate high school.


How about you? Have you seen this phenomena? If so, how have you addressed it?


The Power of Placebos

We’ve heard about placebos. You know, the sugar pill researchers give a subject and suddenly their migraine is better.

No wonder I still have the same migraine for three days.

But is it real? Harvard says placebos can be as effective as traditional treatments for some things, but getting the placebo effect requires more than just positive thinking.

Basically, placebos are effective by creating a stronger link between the brain and the rest of the body. They don’t actually cure disease. So, cancer cells or brain tumors aren’t going to be shrunk by the placebo effect.

However, placebos can make you feel better. Where they excel is in areas regulated by the brain. Things like pain, fatigue, and stress.

Things like migraines.

We still don’t completely understand how placebos work. Imaging and blood tests have shown us that there are real changes in the areas of the brain that light up and in the neurotransmitters present in the brain. We also don’t know why placebos are more effective for some people than others.

We do know that the process of being treated plays a part. Going to a doctor, being examined by perceived professionals, being given pills or asked to undergo procedures all has an impact. Perhaps it’s because you feel like you’re getting care, or perhaps it’s because the brain is now focused on a problem. Again, we’re not sure.

Being the skeptic that I am, my next question was can I get a placebo effect for taking sugar pills I know are sugar pills rather than my expensive migraine meds.

I make the same face all the time. Hazard of being a skeptic.

The answer is a definitive maybe.

In a 2014 study published in Science Translational Medicine, one group took a migraine drug labeled with the drug’s name, another took a placebo labeled “placebo,” and a third group took nothing. In the study, the placebo was 50% as effective as the real drug to reduce migraine pain. Researchers can’t say why this was the case, but they suspect it was the act of taking a pill. The participants’ brain sees taking the pill as medicine, so it creates a healing effect. Remember, pain is something the brain controls.

I doubt this will work for me, as even taking Excedrin Migraine medicine isn’t enough to kill my migraines. Still, it might work for others.


How about you? Ever experienced the placebo effect? Did it work for you?

One-Way Love Affair

I have a one-way love affair with Amazon, and this worries me a little. Okay, maybe a lot.


It started out small back in “the old days”. Amazon sold mostly books, and when I wanted an author’s back list and couldn’t get it at Barnes and Noble, this is where I’d go.

Then, they started selling more stuff. I was skeptical at first, but the free shipping for a $25 purchase at the time really helped me get over my skepticism. I was working full time, newly married, and going to grad school at night. Time was a premium.

Best thing was Amazon’s prices at the time weren’t any higher for the things I was buying at brick and mortar stores. Sometimes, they were even a lot lower.

Another few years rolled past, and we were expecting our first child. I’d been buying a lot from Amazon at that point, but they hadn’t lured me into their Prime club yet. I actually thought it was pretty ridiculous to give $89 a year to get stuff a few days sooner.

But, they knew exactly how to get me.

They gave a free one year subscription to Prime to all new moms who enrolled in their mom’s reward club (the club has since been discontinued). Along with the Prime membership came a sizable discount on diapers and wipes, things I was about to need a lot of, and they promised to deliver in two days. I figured it was free, so I had nothing to lose.

Yeah, they had me after the first few months.

Like there’s any better transformer to be!

More years later, and I’m still a Prime member. A paying Prime member. Not only that, but we now get monthly Amazon shipments. We tune in to their Prime streaming service, and our kids have loved several Amazon-created children’s shows. Once Netflix lost Sesame Street, we turned to Prime.

I even got my kids a Kindle and was super impressed with the yearly subscription that lets them play a slew of the most popular kids apps, and with the subscription, all the in-app purchases are included. Want another life? Click the button, no fee required.

Amazon was luring me deeper and deeper into the Amazon morass.

Then, this year at Christmas, I was shocked at the deals Amazon was running on popular kid toys. They were running 20-40% toys that my kids wanted. Even if other stores had the items on sale, most of the toys were still cheaper at Amazon.

I look at all of the plastic stuff invading my house, and a lot of it came from Amazon.

I do my Christmas shopping early, so the two day shipping was nice but not necessary. Then Amazon started running specials where if you were willing to wait five days to get your packages, they’d give you $2 or more towards a digital purchase. Hello more Kindle books!

Now I’ve been reading about the struggles of so many bricks and mortar stores to stay open.

I squirmed a little.

That’s somewhat my fault, right? I would way rather pop onto Amazon and have something magically appear at my door two days (sometimes in less than twenty-four hours) later than actually drive to the store, wade through the merchandise, hopefully find what I want, then wait in line to pay for it. About the only thing we get at the store anymore is toilet paper and paper towels because Amazon can’t touch Target’s pricing.


My first thought was that Amazon was servicing a time-strapped American population. Sure, a lot their products don’t go on sale like they do at Target, Aldi’s, or wherever you shop, but I don’t usually bother with sales. Sounds stupid, I know, but if I need paper towels, I’m not driving 20 minutes out of my way to get them a dollar cheaper. My lack of frugality on this drives my poor mother insane, but I’m willing to pay $1 to keep 40 minutes of my time.

Or a good idea to drive two towns over to buy it.


I am careful on Amazon lately as there have been instances where Amazon (no, not a third party seller, but Amazon), is quite a bit more expensive than other stores. Last year, when DD1 wanted a pony castle for her birthday, Amazon was $20 more expensive than Target or Toys R Us. Yeah, $20. They came in line a few weeks later, but I’d already bought it from Target by then.

Once you start talking third party sellers, all bets are off. Might as well be eBay.

So, I always check an Amazon purchase with other stores’ online offerings.

But what happens if those stores go out of business? Does that mean Amazon can get away with charging me $20 more than I would’ve paid at Target or Toys R Us?


I don’t know.

But it worries me.

I’d love to say anti-trust laws would come into play to prevent a monopoly like that, but I have no faith or trust in our government to enforce such rulings. Especially not recently.

Will this concern change my behavior? Yes. I have been regularly checking for things and ordering if I can wait the few extra days for them to arrive. I love Amazon, but I’m not sure I’m ready to pay the price of assimilation just yet.


How about you? Have you been lured into the Amazon morass? Are you a Prime member? Are you worried about them becoming a monopoly and crushing their competition to the point they can charge us whatever they wish?

When the Skeptic is Right

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know I’m a skeptic. If you haven’t been reading for a while, welcome!  Hi, I’m Elizabeth Drake, romance author, Gen-Xer, and skeptic.

One thing promulgated in most women’s magazines, beauty blogs, and general female knowledge is that to have attractive skin, a woman must cleanse, tone, use a serum and moisturize every day, twice a day.

Some of you are wondering what this stuff even is.

Cleanse – wash your face, usually with something other than water. Never soap. It supposedly is too harsh and dries out the sensitive skin on your face. Though why it’s okay to dry out the rest of our skin, I have no idea.

Tone –  This is supposed to help sweep away impurities, cleaning pores, making pores less noticeable, and  protecting skin. Yeah, not sure how it’s different that cleansing above. Not sure what’s wrong with pores, either.

Serum – Face serums are lightweight moisturizers that supposedly penetrate deeper to deliver active ingredients into your skin. They’re supposed to make your skin firmer and smoother, make pores appear smaller, and increase moisture levels. Again with the pores…

Moisturize – You add moisture back into your skin to fight wrinkles. Because heaven help us if we don’t look forever twenty. Especially if you’re a woman, though companies are starting to target men, too. Why leave 49% of the population on the table when we can try to convince them they have a problem so they’ll give you money to fix it.  Sorry, that was the Gen-X gene coming through again.


All in, I’m assuming this is all stuff to give us that awesome “glow” that you see on so many magazine covers. Except, that’s not what they really look like either, and these are professional models.   I’ll save the Photoshop rant for another time. And, if you do get this picture perfect skin, I’m not entirely sure why you’d then put make-up over it. Tons of make-up advice starts out with making sure you have a good skin care regime. Clearly, I’m too cynical to be their target demographic.

And yet, they got me on the cleanse, use a serum, and moisturize.

As I was applying my dye free, scent free moisturizer, after having had properly cleansed my skin and given my serum time to soak in, I noticed my skin was tight. Clearly, I needed to moisturize. I even had a trouble spot I had been super moisturizing for months because it was so dry. Then I thought back to before I started using moisturizer. I was younger, certainly, but my skin had never needed it. Even when I started using it, my skin hadn’t really needed it. I was doing it for wrinkle prevention.

I decided to look and see if it’s possible for skin to become dependent on moisturizers.

This is going to shock you, I know, but yes, it can become dependent on moisturizers.   Chronic use of moisturizers tells your skin to stop making the sebum that naturally protects it. Not only that, but many of the ingredients in moisturizers actually promote dry skin. You know, so you’ll keep using their products.

Because of course they do. While I love research, sometimes it really stretches my faith in humanity.

Or at least consumer product manufacturers

Other doctors claim that oil, including the stuff our skin naturally makes, isn’t great. It’s water itself that makes our skin glow and feel moist.  Our skin stores this water in structures called glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), and the water is then sealed into our skin by the top layer of skin called stratum corneum. This upper layer produces natural moisturizing factors (NMFs) — amino acids, urea and lactic acid. You’ll notice these same ingredients on skin care products, and they’re supposed to help keep skin soft, protect it from UV light, maintain the skin barrier that keeps the water in the GAGs,  and regulate the skin’s natural exfoliation.

Problem is, all these natural processes supposedly break down If you artificially saturate the barrier layer  with moisture. This tells the skin to stop producing GAGs and NMFs, which means thinning skin, less water in the skin, and the appearance of fine lines.


In addition, some doctors believe moisturizers reduce the skin’s ability to slough off dead cells, create an oxygen-free environment that acne bacteria love, and clog pores which leads to more acne and rosacea.

Yeah, sounds exactly like what people were shelling out huge amounts of money for the skin care products to prevent.

The doctors in the article I linked to above recommended a skin care regime that eliminated moisturizers, but add a chemical exfoliator. This is supposed to get rid of dead cells and help kick-start the skin making its own NMFs and GAGs again.

I went to trusty Amazon, and the number one rated product had over 7,000 reviews and was still at an average of five stars. It was pricy for an experiment, but I decided to risk it. I figured you can’t buy 7,000 reviews and not get caught.

I got it two days later, because that’s how Prime rolls, and I tried it out that night. It was runny, and it was dye free, scent free, and clear. It had no real smell at all, and at first I thought I might have gotten suckered and bought fancy water. But, I followed the directions and got it onto my skin, let it sit for a minute, then gently rubbed it in circles for another minute before washing it off.

My skeptic wanted the British doctors to be wrong so I could gloat here. But after one use, my skeptic had to hush. The dry patches I’d been struggling with for six months are gone. My skin is softer than it’s been in a long time. I’ve been using it twice a week for a little while now, and it’s done more for me than my standard routine ever did.

I’ll stick with it for now, and I’ve learned to listen to that skeptic. She may not always be right, but she’s wrong less often than you’d think.


How about you? Ever find yourself following a routine even if it might not be working? Your faith in mankind ever challenged by some product or service that causes the harm it’s supposed to prevent? Any insight into moisturizers, toners, serums, or exfoliators? Maybe some research I’m missing?