Gifts from the neighborhood drugstore. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles…)
It's still two weeks to Christmas, and there are those among us who have already finished their holiday shopping. Admirable people. Enviable people. But suppose, just suppose, you're not one of them. Right about now, you might be in dire need of some cool stuff for the stockings on your list.
Well, fear not. Piece of cake. (And not some dry, tasteless piece of fruit cake either.) You can find something for everyone at your neighborhood drugstore — something not just inexpensive but healthful to boot. All you have to do is wander aimlessly for a while and, before you know it, a host of possibilities will be revealed unto you.
I know this plan can work because I tried it. The only ground rules for my expedition: Items had to fit inside a stocking (duh!), cost $25 or less and be designed to do a body good. Here's a sampling of what I found that fit the bill.
Stress ball: This is simply a ball that you can squeeze … and squeeze ... and squeeze, depending on just how tense you're feeling. The one I tried looked like any blue rubber ball, but with every squeeze it released a "soothing scent." Stress balls come in many varieties (foam, beanbag, liquid-filled), and they're not always round. (A squeezable rubber duck, anyone?) As a test, you could pick one up at the start of your shopping adventure and see how calm it keeps you as you work through your list. The scented rubber version goes for about $8.
Jump rope: An ordinary jump rope can be a fun way to exercise, and it works for kids from preschool age all the way up to the Social Security years. A beaded rope (considered the longest-lasting and easiest to twirl) will set you back about $10, give or take. You might be able to get a book to go with it — with rhymes for youngsters or workouts for adults — and still stay under $25.
Bag Balm: If you're expecting this ointment to come in a bag, think again. In this case, "bag" is a euphemism for "udder." Technically, Bag Balm is intended to be used on cows after they're milked to prevent chapping. The FDA hasn't tested it for human use, but people have been using this super-thick, not-exactly-aromatic goo for years on their own dry skin — singer Shania Twain once told a reporter she used it as a moisturizer on her face and hair. Instead of a bag, the balm comes in a seasonally fortuitous green tin with red clover flowers on the lid. A 10-ounce size goes for $8 or $9.
Reacher/grabber: This is essentially a long stick, usually aluminum, with a handle at one end and "jaws" at the other. The jaws can lock on objects the user wants to reach that are either too high or too low to grab without stretching or bending. This means it's useful for anyone with a bad back, anyone who doesn't want to get a bad back and anyone who's a tad lazy. They generally range from 26 inches to 36 inches in length and run from $10 on up to $25 and beyond.
Other nifty back-savers include sock aids (starting at around $8) that hold socks open while the user puts them on — they come with long handles to reduce the need for stretching or bending — and a super-long shoe horn that serves the same purpose for $4 to $7.
Chewing gum: It's true: Gum can prevent cavities and amp up brainpower. The act of chewing stimulates the flow of saliva, which can wash away plaque and coat teeth with cavity-preventing minerals. The gum has to be sugar-free to prevent cavities, of course, and studies have shown that gum sweetened with xylitol does that job best. But you should probably avoid fruit-flavored varieties. A study just this fall found that acidic flavoring can cause irreversible mineral loss that leads to structural damage in teeth.
Rather less obviously, the act of chewing has also been shown to stimulate the brain. In one study from Britain, people who chewed actual gum did much better on memory tests than people who chewed imaginary gum — though they in turn did better than people who didn't chew at all. Experts don't know why chewing seems to help, but one possible explanation is that it increases one's heart rate, so oxygen gets delivered to the brain faster. A pack of gum can be had for about $1.
Ultraviolet toothbrush sanitizer: Of course, the old-fashioned way of cleaning teeth — namely, brushing them — is still the best. But it's not perfect. A toothbrush can be a very hospitable place for germs to grow. That's where the toothbrush sanitizer comes in. It's a storage case that doubles as a germ terminator. When the lid is closed, a UV bulb lights up for 10 minutes and does away with up to 99.9% of the malingerers. Models range from $5 to $30.