Archive | April 2013

Turns out it IS who you know that counts.


Used by permission of

By Chris Little

One of the things I’ve loved about being a stay-home mom, and then a stay-home “off the merry-go-round” writer, is getting to stay home! I love it when the kids are shambling around the house doing their own thing, being a little loud and making a mess. And I love it when I’m home alone and the house is tidy and quiet (except for the washing machine, always the washing machine …).

That said, one of the things I’ve really struggled with as a stay-home mom and writer … is being home so much! It can be lonely, especially when the kids are off at school. Sometimes, I’ll admit, I wish I had a full-time job to go to, just so I’d have access to a water cooler to stand around and chat with coworkers! So when I’m alone a lot, I create my own water cooler—I force myself to have ten real live conversations a day with friends or extended family members—emails and texts don’t count!—as a way to reach out of my isolation. It never fails to make me feel better.

But every downside has an upside, right? I like to think that my bouts with this largely self-imposed solitude give me a greater appreciation for the people in my life. I mean: I don’t spend a lot of time wishing people would leave me alone! And I don’t typically crave the opportunity to get away by myself.

So this article by Emily Esfahani Smith in The Atlantic offered me some reassurance that I’m on the right track, as I lean less on my work and more on my family and friends for my happiness. Smith describes journalist Rod Dreher’s book, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life, in which he relates the life and untimely death of his sister Ruthie. Dreher contrasts Ruthie’s choice to work as a schoolteacher in the small Louisiana town where their family had lived for generations with his own decision to leave town to travel the world in an ambitious pursuit of career success.


As Dreher accompanied Ruthie through her struggle with terminal lung cancer, he came to appreciate the beauty of her network of friends: How her neighbors pulled together to take Ruthie to her doctor appointments and cook meals for her kids. How they raised money to help cover her medical bills. How they were there for her husband after her death. Ruthie’s life may have been small, even invisible, compared to Dreher’s comparative fame as a respected journalist. But her life was deeply, richly interconnected with the lives of the people around her. And she wasn’t the only one—Dreher saw that anchoring sense of connection to family, friends, and neighbors in everyone he talked with back home in Louisiana. It was something he was lacking in his own life—and he realized it was something he missed. Dreher and his wife eventually decided to move home to Louisiana with their three children.

I love this story—it’s a good antidote for those days when I question my decision to step away from a career-centered life. In her article Smith cites a study that finds that ambitious people, perhaps not surprisingly, tend to seek more education at more prestigious schools, and to make more money at more prestigious jobs, than less ambitious folks. But, she notes, the study fails to find a similarly clear correlation between career success and life satisfaction. In fact some studies suggest that the pursuit of money and social status can lead to a lower overall sense of well-being, she writes.

Bayou Conversation

It seems that it’s not our careers but the strength and number of our social ties—those messy, compromise-ridden, sometimes-difficult relationships like marriage, family, and close friendships—that best predict our happiness, our satisfaction with our lives, even our physical health.

Now certainly, we can work full-time and have those rich relationships. Having a spouse or children aren’t prerequisites, either. The most important thing is probably the simplest one—just recognizing how deeply satisfying it feels to be held in a web of relationships. To have those ten conversations (or more!) each day. After that, placing a priority on sustaining and enriching those ties comes naturally.

So how about you? How do you feel most connected with your family? With your friends and neighbors? Do you find that you intentionally create opportunities for those connections? Or do you struggle to find the time and energy?

News flash: This week National Public Radio ran a fascinating segment on Rod Dreher discussing his sister Ruthie, their home town’s practice of community, and his new book. You can listen to it here.

Images: Some rights reserved by NJ.. and Editor B.

A Dog Named Blue

By Karen Hendricks


Photo Credit:

One of the most moving books I have ever read is Little Boy Blue: A Puppy’s Rescue from Death Row and His Owner’s Journey for Truth. Last fall, coincidentally, as my beloved greyhound was dying of bone cancer, I devoured this book, stunned at the statistics and moved to tears by the state of our nation’s animal shelters. Author Kim Kavin, a fellow journalist/writer, did an amazing job of chronicling her experience adopting her dog Blue, interweaving her narrative with eye-opening research.

My fellow blogger Ruth wrote part one of her family’s story of pet adoption, The Adoption of Fletcher, last week. Stay tuned for her next post… but in the meantime, I thought I’d open the discussion on some interesting topics that Ruth touched upon, as they intersect with the book Little Boy Blue.

If you’re an animal lover like me, I highly recommend you read the book… but if you’re a busy mom like me, here’s the basic synopsis without giving away too much of the story: Kavin found Blue through an online listing via Petfinder and applied. Blue seemed to be close by her New Jersey home. In actuality, he was at a shelter in the south, rescued through a network of volunteers and brought north. Curious, Kavin spent months retracing the circumstances that led to Blue’s adoption and discovered he was lucky to escape a North Carolina  “high-kill shelter” equipped with a gas chamber. Blue’s story is similar to many other dogs’ tales:

America is spending more than a billion dollars a year to operate animal shelters.  Some of these facilities are functioning like actual shelters, meaning sanctuaries and places of safety, while others are killing more than 80 percent of the dogs and cats entrusted to their care.  That’s four out of five dogs, all but dead on arrival at the doors of the shelters like the one where Blue was found.  Fully three-quarters of those dogs are healthy and adoptable as opposed to sickly and vicious, but only one of four dogs who end up living in our homes come from shelters in any given year.  Most people get their dogs from breeders or from pet stores while perfectly wonderful puppies and dogs are left to die in shelters every single day.  Those statistics were bad enough, but the one that got me in the gut is this:  If just two in four people, instead of one in four people, went to shelters instead of breeders or pet stores to get their next dog, then the entire problem of killing dogs like Blue would be statistically eliminated across the country. (page 55)

Blue turned out to be a sweet, loveable prince of a dog, which makes Kavin’s story all the more heart-wrenching. To think what might have happened to him… routinely placed inside a gas chamber had Kavin not stepped forward to adopt him. But the gas chamber is, in fact, the fate of other shelter dogs every day.

Kavin does a great job at presenting all the statistics in an understandable way. Later in the book, she references an article from The Wall Street Journal, which quotes John Hoyt, former president of the Humane Society of the United States, who says that American shelters in the mid-1970’s were killing an estimated 85 percent of the dogs and cats who came into their care.  By his guess, that was nearly fifteen million would-be pets a year.  Our nation’s current estimates, as many as five million dogs and cats being killed every year, are a step in the right direction—and are a credit to the people who run excellent shelters that save far more dogs than they kill.  But it’s wrenching to learn that taxpayer-funded shelters like the one where Blue found himself are still moving backward.  If you don’t count the help of rescue groups, they’re killing dogs at an even higher rate than dogs were dying across America thirty-five years ago. (page 248)

Blue - at 18 months. Photo Credit:

Blue – at 18 months. Photo Credit:

You can follow the latest news and progress made, in the wake of Little Boy Blue being published, through Kavin’s website/blog. The very shelter that once housed Blue is starting to turn itself around. Just this past January 2013, officials dismantled and removed the gas chamber.

If you’re thinking about pet adoption, I highly encourage you to visit your local animal shelter or SPCA. Our family has adopted wonderful cats from shelters over the years. In a future blog, I might address the special plight of one breed of dog in particular–greyhounds in need of adoption. My family provided forever homes to two greyhounds over the past 15 years and I am hooked on their sweet, gentle nature. They are almost always adopted from rescue groups specializing in that breed. But after reading the story of Blue, I’d be open to adopting a shelter dog.

Other ways you can help, besides adopting:

  • Educate yourself about your local shelters. What are their procedures?
  • Volunteer at your local shelter and lend a hand. Good volunteers are almost always in short supply.
  • Donate money or resources to your local shelter. Find out what they need: pet foods, cleaning supplies, etc.
  • Consider fostering animals until permanent homes can be found, either through your SPCA or local adoption/pet rescue groups.

Click here for a YouTube preview of  Little Boy Blue. To learn more, go to The Little Boy Blue website and read the first two chapters of her book for free. Warning: This will probably hook you! You will probably end up purchasing and finishing the book—or check your local library.

Food for thought: If you spend three days reading the book, then in that same time period, as many as 42,000 companion animals died in American shelters.  (page 299)

I encourage you to join me in trying to reverse this trend.

More Resources:

Click here for the ASPCA website

And click here to visit

Small Changes You Can Make to Help Improve & Save Our Environment

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

Earth Day is April 22nd.

Earth Day is April 22nd.

Earth Day is Monday, April 22nd – Go Mother Earth! Indeed there is much to celebrate on this annual occasion which was first held on April 22, 1970 in the United States. It became an international event in 1990 with organized events in 141 nations.

As we clean up some of our past environmental messes and come up with ideas to better care for our Earth in the future, there exist more groups than ever to help us do just that. These organized groups address environmental issues on local, national, and international scales.

According to author Andrew Rowell, the largest and most influential environmental organizations in the United States are the “Group of Ten” comprised of organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, and The Wilderness Society.

Public awareness and environmental sciences have certainly improved in recent years, and environmental issues have broadened to include concepts such as “sustainability” – as well as to address new concerns such as ozone depletion, global warming, acid rain, and land use.

Additionally, environmental movements often collaborate with social movements such as those that work for peace, human rights, and animal rights; or who are opposed to nuclear weapons/power, poverty, and hunger. 

Pretty “big picture,” isn’t it? In a couple of my past blogs, I have written about topics that involve a “little things” focus. Here, I intend to do the same because when you think about environmental issues in too big a context you can become overwhelmed and even complacent. Have you ever thought, “What can I do?” or, “Does my small part in all of this really make any difference?”

Well…yes. Doing little things, making small changes, and focusing on doing your part can make a big difference. Even if you are not part of an environmental group, there are many other steps you can take to contribute toward improving our environment and making Earth a cleaner, healthier, better place to live – for us all!

Here are simple and easily implemented ideas to get you started – from the outside in:

The Great Outdoors

+ Take a look at the property you live on. If you have acreage, consider its location. If you live in an area where your land meets certain criteria, you can apply to the National Wildlife Federation to have it certified as a wildlife habitat area. I speak from experience! Receiving such a certification as we have means you have taken steps to provide a viable area where wildlife can thrive.

+ Start a compost pile. Do you have a spot outdoors that would be an ideal location? When you research this environmental tool, you will find there are many ways to create one even without a large plot of land. Cleaner and more convenient than a compost pile is a compost bin which is easy to build and can even be used on a porch or patio. Our compost pile is contained by bricks, and once it has built up through the fall and winter my husband uses it in the spring to jump-start our garden! We bought a stainless steel, compact pail that we keep next to our sink. In it, we collect and store our compost (fruit peels, rotten tomatoes, vegetable skins, etc.) until we have enough to take outside to our pile. The special odor fighting insert helps keep the pail’s contents a secret.

Putting in a garden yields the best in natural, "home grown" food!

Putting in a garden yields the best in natural, “home grown” food!

+ Put in a garden. Gardens come in many forms and sizes. My husband designed a small one in our backyard to grow a few of our favorite vegetables using organic methods. After a year of trial and error to get it going, he planted and tended to a row of blueberry bushes bordering the garden – yielding more berries each season. Next step is a few fruit trees! We have also grown vegetables, such as tomatoes in big planters, and strawberries in large flower pots on our deck.

+ Plant trees. Whether you buy saplings or trees with some growth, planting adds oxygen to our environment and creates natural habitats.

+ Add flowers and plants wherever you can. We invested in several flower/plant/herb boxes and lined our deck railing with them. The bees and butterflies seemed appreciative, and this little step which we saw as simply beautifying our favorite outdoor gathering place has contributed toward many life cycles. Plus, you get the benefit of a beautiful outdoor retreat on a warm spring or summer day!

Ahhh...a lush garden retreat!

Ahhh…a lush garden retreat!


+ Sign up with your energy company for their energy savings program. The ways to save energy vary by company, as does the level of participation. BGE in Maryland offers “Peak Rewards” in which we participate. Even the higher level has proven of little inconvenience to us. We receive big savings on our monthly bill – and save the environment at the same time!

+ Develop an awareness of your electricity usage patterns. Are there lights that are on unnecessarily? Our home has many big windows that let the sunlight in – we have very little use for lights once the sun comes up!

+ Add motion detector lights and switch to more efficient light bulbs. This reduces electricity usage and conserves energy.

+ Use cold water for washing clothes whenever possible. Warm and hot water is usually not needed to effectively clean clothes.

+ Become conscience of your water usage habits. How often to you turn on a water faucet? How long do you leave the water running? Consider cutting back on the length of your showers and turning off the water while you brush your teeth.

+ Recycle. Establish an easily followed process. Throughout the day, we put recyclable materials (what is accepted as such varies by county) in a non-descript box on top of our kitchen counter. When our recyclables pile up, we take the box to our upper deck and distribute into two bins – one for paper and cardboard, and one for plastic and cans/jars. On weekly pickup day we empty the bins into the large containers the county provides (stored outside) and take them to the end of our driveway. When we read on a product what recyclable materials were used in its production or container, we know we had a part in that!

We can all make a difference if we just do our part!

We can all make a difference if we just do our part!

These are just some ideas for conserving energy and resources, reusing materials, and contributing toward a cleaner environment that we can all live in and enjoy! So this Earth Day, take a pledge to look around you – just outside your door or around your home can be far enough to make a real global impact when we all make a little effort or a small change.

What are some little things you do to help improve our environment? We would love to hear from you!

The Adoption of Fletcher

By Ruth Topper



Fletcher is the furry “man’s best friend” in our household.  He recently (March 28) celebrated his 6th birthday and in mid-April we will be celebrating 4 years of Fletcher in our lives.  For many, getting a pet or having multiple pets is a very easy, painless decision.  It was not like that at all for our family.  My husband Gary and I never had any desire to have a dog.  It was enough for me to keep three kids, one husband and one plant going!

Of course, as the kids got older and most of their friends had pets, the requests for a dog became more frequent.  In the summer of 2008 after returning from our annual week at the beach we started looking at and even visited our local SPCA.  We didn’t find any dogs with real potential and held the kids at bay.  As we got into late summer and the begging continued we finally had to tell the kids that we just couldn’t do it. We had one child playing travel soccer and another had just joined the midget football team.  We were going to be on the go most evenings and weekends.  It just wasn’t fair to a dog.

Our “stand” crumbled at Christmas that year.  We went to visit my sister, who at one time did have a dog and cat but both had passed away.  She had a firm stance that there would be no more pets in her house.  Well, she lost her battle over the Thanksgiving Holiday when she realized how much her younger daughter missed her sister who was at college and desperately wanted a cat to keep her company.  They adopted Jasmin by the end of the weekend!  On Christmas Eve, my family arrives at their house and all three kids are immediately “smitten” by Jasmin, the kitten.

"Smitten" by a kitten!  Thanks Sis!

“Smitten” by a kitten! Thanks Sis!

So by early January Gary & I broke down.  Who were we to deprive our children of the childhood pleasure of a dog!  We both had dogs as kids.  However, in both instances the dogs were never allowed in the house.  This was one of our big hang-ups – having a dog that might damage furniture, make “messes” on our carpet, get sick, etc.  We very quickly came to the conclusion that we needed an adult dog that was already trained and mild mannered.  I also had concerns because I had quite a few people come and go in my house with my Creative Memories business.  I didn’t want a dog that would be barking and jumping all over people and be over active.   We were back on again!

We made several calls and inquiries that led nowhere …. until we found Jesse.  Jesse was a 9 month old chocolate lab and corgi mix.  He had been rescued from Kentucky and was being fostered in the Harrisburg area.  We were able to have Jesse visit our house for a few hours in early March and we liked what we saw.  Jesse came to live with us the following Friday.  Things were going well until a friend who came to visit said that he looked “bloated”.  I “blew” her off since he had just been to the vet a few weeks earlier.  That Thursday we went to a dog trainer since I had no idea what I was doing with a dog!  She immediately made the same comment as my friend.  I called the vet and got an appointment the next day.  We were told that our dog was very sick.  Jesse’s heart wasn’t working properly and he was filling up with fluid.   Her recommendation was that we should return him to the rescue group and get a healthy dog.  It was heart wrenching to take away within a week the dog that we had waited for so long.  We did learn the following day that Jesse was born with a heart defect and would be on medication the rest of his life.

Our first adoption: Jesse

Our first adoption: Jesse

It was a sad day when we told the kids that we had to return Jesse because he was a very sick puppy.

It was a sad day when we told the kids that we had to return Jesse because he was a very sick puppy.

So – the search began again on   Fletcher was being fostered at a home in the Lancaster area.  We found that Fletcher’s mother, Sasha, and her litter of puppies had been rescued from a high kill shelter in Georgia.  Several of Fletcher’s siblings had already been adopted and they were looking for a good home for him.  After two visits to see Fletcher we decided that he was the dog for us!  Fletcher arrived at our house on Easter Monday 2009. I can’t say that it was easy in the beginning.  We certainly had some ups and downs.   However that is all a distant memory!  Stay tuned for Part II of this story – Life with Fletcher!

Fletcher with his brothers & sisters!

Fletcher with his brothers & sisters!

Do you have a pet that is special to you?   Tell us how you came to adopt your pet.   

Telling Tales that Matter


Credit: Some rights reserved by woodleywonderworks

By Chris Little

As a parent you want to equip your kids to handle whatever comes their way. You buy them helmets to wear when they ride their bikes, and shin guards for soccer practice. But how do you protect their hearts, their emotions, for the inevitable bruises they’ll receive? In this New York Times article, Bruce Feiler writes that the best way to equip your kids with emotional resilience is by telling them stories — specifically stories about their family.

Feiler describes his search after a strained family reunion for what he called the “secret sauce” that holds a family together. “What are the ingredients that make some families effective, resilient, happy?” he asks.

After years of research he came up with an unexpected answer: “The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative,” he writes.

Feiler suggests playing a game of 20 questions with your kids. Ask them questions like: Where did your grandparents grow up? Where did your dad (or mom) and I go to high school? Where did we meet? What is the story of your birth? And others like: How did your grandparents weather the Depression? How about World War II? Even: Where were we on 9/11?

Kids who can answer those questions correctly, Feiler says, have been found to be more resilient when faced with challenges, have a greater sense of control over their lives, and exhibit higher self-esteem. In fact, the ability to answer questions about their family history is the “best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness,” he writes. The reason may have to do with your child feeling like she’s part of a larger social group, a larger narrative, a history.

So naturally the first thing I did after reading this article was ask my kids if they knew where their dad and I met, and where their grandparents grew up, and how their great-grandparents got through the Depression. I was happy to learn that they could answer fairly well — and it was interesting to identify the gaps in their knowledge — but even more gratifying were the discussions we got into as a result. We’ve done a lot more talking about our family history lately.

Feiler points out in his article that there are different ways to tell your family story. There’s what he calls the “ascending narrative,” where you might describe your family’s rise from humble roots to a position of relative prosperity. There’s the “descending narrative,” where you might focus on your family’s fall from heights of prestige or wealth, perhaps in the Depression or as recently as the Great Recession. But the most helpful way to frame your family story, Feiler writes, is called the “oscillating family narrative,” where you point out your family’s ups and downs over the years or generations, and how you’ve always stuck together and supported each other to the best of your ability.

This might be a challenge for some of us, granted. We might be carrying a family narrative in our heads that’s been passed down through generations, one that could be either ascending or descending. But I suppose for the most part we have a choice in how we tell our family stories to our kids — and it might be good for us to look at how we talk about our families and see if we can make adjustments. We can choose to frame our histories in terms of an oscillation, sharing the good times and acknowledging the bad times, always looking for ways to emphasize family cohesion.

For example, I can tell the story of how my grandmother’s family lost everything in the Depression and struggled mightily to avoid going on “relief,” of how their house burned down, and of how my great-uncle failed in his first attempt to win acceptance to the Naval Academy — or I can tell the story of how the family moved to a new city and started a new business and eventually regained their footing, and about how my great-uncle eventually got into the Naval Academy, even serving at Pearl Harbor. Better yet — I can tell both stories. There are ups and downs in every family. What’s important, Feiler says, is to share with your kids the stories of your family’s perseverance and courage and commitment to each other, through thick and thin. It helps them to know they’re part of something bigger than they are. Something that lasts.

“Decades of research have shown that most happy families communicate effectively,” Feiler writes. “But talking doesn’t mean simply ‘talking through problems,’ as important as that is. Talking also means telling a positive story about yourselves. When faced with a challenge, happy families, like happy people, just add a new chapter to their life story that shows them overcoming the hardship. This skill is particularly important for children, whose identity tends to get locked in during adolescence.

“[I]f you want a happier family,” he concludes, “create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come.”

You can read the full article here.

Rediscovering the Margins in Life

By Karen Hendricks

ikea clock

Photo Credit:

This week marks a milestone of sorts… it’s been exactly a year since I left a (more than) full-time, wonderful but crazy position in public relations. And during the past 365 days, my life has gotten back on track. My health is healthier, my family feels closer, my friendships are deeper, and my home-based business and  freelance work is extremely fulfilling. What an amazing turnaround. And it all revolves around TIME.

How often do you think about TIME during one day? It’s not on our side! Is there ever such as thing as having “extra time” in today’s fast-paced life? (Rhetorical question!) Time goes by too quickly, and those of us with children growing right before our eyes can attest to this fact on a daily basis. (Thank goodness the weather is getting warmer and I don’t have to see the bottom of my son’s jeans creeping ever higher into ankle territory. Shorts are becoming  a part of the daily wardrobe, yahoo!)

My children are growing up, like yours, in a fast-paced, digital world. There isn’t a need for good old-fashioned notebook paper that often, although we do keep a stock in our house for homework. I remember going through reams of notebook paper during my school years! So the word “margin” will forever be tied to an image of notebook paper for me.

One of the wonderful additions to my life, during the past year, now that I have a more flexible schedule and a few pockets of TIME for myself… an amazing women’s group that meets weekly at my church. What an inspiration this group is! Right now we are reading the book Margin by Richard A. Swenson, M.D. The subtitle is Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives. Wow, who couldn’t use some of that advice?! No wonder it is a best seller… given our hectic lives and crazy calendars.

Swenson calls “margin” that “space that once existed between ourselves and our limits…. When you reach the limits of your resources or abilities, you have no margin left.” Some of the best stuff in life happens in the margins, in our unstructured time. This is the time where families enjoy time together or friends pick up the phone or stop by. Basically, relationships grow, within the margins of our lives, according to Swenson.

Think about the margin you enjoy… or are lacking… in your daily life. Do you recognize or ignore your limits? Do you schedule your entire day from start to finish? Or do you have some wiggle room, down time, time to just BE?  My margin is probably not as wide as it should be, but I do have a sliver. And I’m holding onto it!

notebook paper

How wide are the margins in your life?


I Gave Up Drinking Soda for Lent

By Jen Ashenfelter

I know drinking soda is not good for me, but Coke Zero or Diet Cherry Pepsi have been my beverages of choice for years. Hi, my name is Jennifer. I’m addicted to soda. I love the bubbles dancing in my mouth…and truth be told, I love the sweet taste and quick rush soda gives me. And it’s diet, so I don’t have to worry about the calories. I know I should drink more water, but how can I give up the flavor?Coke Zero

Challenge Accepted

I decided to give up drinking soda for Lent. There’s greater success in achieving a goal when we are held accountable for our actions. So who better than God to keep me on my toes? I don’t need Mayor Bloomberg to help save me from my own habits, but politics aside, I think he’s got the right idea in limiting the sale of soda to something smaller than the size of a personal keg.

I’m proud to report I was successful—not a drop of Coke Zero or any other soda for 40 days. Not even a sip on Sundays when we’re free to indulge. I wanted to rid myself of the craving so drinking it every Sunday wasn’t going to help me. In addition to breaking the diet-soda habit, I thought it would help me drink more water. I can report that was an “epic fail.” I drank plenty of black coffee and green tea—I’m probably medically dehydrated and low on calcium, but that’s another story. Hey, small steps for big gains—leaving the water drinking situation for another day.

Health Report: Bursting the Bubbles

We’ve all heard how soda is bad for your health. I’m not here to make any judgments on food and drink choices, but understanding my choice to give up soda wouldn’t be complete without some background information. According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control on obesity statistics in America, more than 1/3 of American adults are considered obese. Obesity rates among adults and children continue to rise. One contributing factor is the consumption of sugary drinks like soda. Add all the health problems related to obesity when listing the reasons not to drink soda.

Knowing that drinking empty calories causes weight gain, I’d drink diet soda with 0 calories. But weight gain and obesity are not the only health problems related to drinking soda—diet or not. Other health problems include:

  • Osteoporosis – one study
  • Fatty liver and metabolic disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart attacks

Heart disease, diabetes and metabolic disease are not good, but as a woman who drinks more coffee and soda than milk and water, I found osteoporosis the most frightening of the problems.

According to a WebMD report:

Researchers at Tufts University, studying several thousand men and women, found that women who regularly drank cola-based sodas — three or more a day — had almost 4% lower bone mineral density in the hip, even though researchers controlled for calcium and vitamin D intake…Phosphoric acid, a major component in most sodas, may be to blame, according to lead study author Katherine Tucker, PhD. Phosphorus itself is an important bone mineral. But if you’re getting a disproportionate amount of phosphorus compared to the amount of calcium you’re getting, that could lead to bone loss.

And let’s not forget reports on the negative effects of artificial sweeteners, sodium consumption and high-fructose corn syrup—but that’s another blog topic entirely. I felt giving up soda was an important goal for me.

The Big Picture

There’s a growing trend in turning to more natural foods instead of highly-processed foods and drinks. As a mother, I want to give my children—and myself—more nutritious meals and snacks, but it’s not always easy. The trend is towards…

  • Drinking milk and water; not juice and soda.
  • Eating lean proteins and whole-grain; not fast food and junk food.
  • Enjoying fresh fruit and vegetables; not sugary treats.

Do as I say, not as I do: Yep, I’m a hypocrite…a fraud. I drink a lot more diet soda than water and milk. I am weak and will scarf down a snack-size bag of chips or handfuls of Pepperidge Farms Goldfish before I consider an apple or raw veggies dipped in hummus. (And I wonder why the jeans feel a little snug or why the kids give me trouble about food choices.) We preach to our kids but how often do we follow our own advice?

I've replaced Coke Zero with a glass of my favorite flavor of seltzer.

I’ve replaced Coke Zero with a glass of my favorite flavor of seltzer.

One Step at a Time

For me, it’s all about making small changes that will become healthy habits, so that’s why I decided it was time to tackle my soda addiction. Here are my personal observations of my very unscientific study:

  • I can survive without drinking soda—and don’t really want to drink it now. (I drank a diet Coke with lunch the other day because I didn’t want the calories of regular iced tea and didn’t find much satisfaction at the bottom of the straw. Lesson learned.)
  • If you give up (diet) soda because of the artificial sweeteners, then it’s almost impossible to find alternatives—except water and flavored seltzer—which do not contain them…or lots of calories.
  • Eliminating soda from my diet but adding jelly beans is dumb—for all the sugar and chemicals, might as well drink the soda.
  • Start water addiction. Flavored seltzer is great if you crave the bubbles. And with the hotter months ahead, ice-cold water will taste much better.
  • Flavored seltzers should be added to beverage dispensing machines and bottles stocked in refrigerated cases. Sure, plain water is usually offered at restaurants, but I just explained that I need to work on my water addiction.
  • Buy honey, mint or lemons and teabags to make fresh iced tea.
  • Wine and spirits do not count as appropriate alternatives regardless of their finer, pure qualities.
  • Everything in moderation!

What habit have you changed for the better? Are you a soda or water drinker?

For more information about the impact of drinking soda on your health, check out these links: