Motherhood Makes Beautiful Things

In recent months, there has been a resurgence on  “war on women”.  I’m not referring to the “war on women” that has been happening for centuries in the Middle East or the heinous atrocities happening to women in Africa or even the verbal attacks in the U.S. political arena. Instead, I’m referring to the age old war of working moms vs. stay at home moms and the other ugly battle, attachment parenting vs. traditional parenting.  First, it was the ridiculous comments made by Hilary Rosen about Ann Romney.  Then, there was an uproar in response to the Time magazine cover.

Why do we allow society or the media to flame these feuds?

If you work outside the home and still have the strength to raise a family, then you should be applauded.  If your job is a full time mom trying to juggling it all without losing your mind or yourself trapped between a world of toddlerese and Lori Berkner, then your efforts should be applauded as well.  Neither job is easy.  Motherhood no matter how it’s dressed up, be it a corporate suit or yoga pants, requires sacrifice and that sacrifice should be praised not ridiculed.

And yet, somehow that sacrifice opens the door for ridicule or judgment rather than praise.

As moms, we make decisions every day about child-rearing with the sole purpose to do what’s best for our children.  Therefore, how can any reasonable child-rearing choice be wrong?  If you choose to breastfeed your child until school-age, who are we to judge?  If you choose to bottle feed your baby over breastfeeding, who are we to judge?  And if your child stays on the bottle, boob or binky until kindergarten, then that’s also a parenting choice and no one should judge.

No matter which avenue we choose to get there, we all want a stress-free existence with confident, well-adjusted children.  Our ultimate goal is the same.  So why not build a society that mirrors the one created when we cradle infants in our arms, be it on the breast or on a bottle?

Acceptance and support starts with each of us.  As mothers, we need to stop criticizing each other and start supporting one another.  We can’t allow magazine images and political sound bites to open the door to criticism and attacks.

Motherhood makes beautiful things.  Society needs to stop turning into something ugly.

With yesterday being Mother’s Day, I felt compelled to share my thoughts about moms supporting other moms and what better way than incorporating it into a Music Monday post.  What topics and tunes are moving you?

I’m still co-hosting with Xmas Dolly and her Monday’s Music Moves Me crew (LorieStacyCallie and Cathy), so link up and share.

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Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

End Hunger This Holiday Season

Did you know that in 2008, 49.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households, 32.4 million adults and 16.7 million children? (Statics borrowed from Feeding America)


Many people are of the mindset “If I don’t see it, then it doesn’t exist”, but the horrifying reality is the hungry are your neighborsThey’re real people with real stories of hardships and hard times.  Impoverished children sit next to your child in school.  Starving seniors live on your street.


From Feeding America:

In 2008, the prevalence of household food insecurity in suburban areas was 12.7 percent (6.1 million households), and the prevalence of very low food security was 5.1 percent (2.5 million households).



Among members of Feeding America, 74 percent of pantries, 65 percent of kitchens, and 54 percent of shelters reported that there had been an increase since 2006 in the number of clients who come to their emergency food program sites.


During the holidays, feeding the hungry is a constant reminder.  Churches and schools host canned good drives.  Supermarkets have collection bins at the front of the store.  However, the hungry go hungry all year round and it’s even worse for children during the summer months.  Low-income children are subsided meals through school provided breakfasts and lunches, but during the summer months, the meals stop due to lack of funding.


As stated on Feeding America:

In many ways, America is the land of plenty. But for 1 in 6 Americans, hunger is a reality. Many people believe that the problems associated with hunger are confined to small pockets of society, certain areas of the country, or certain neighborhoods, but the reality is much different.  Right now, millions of Americans are struggling with hunger. We all know and are in contact with people affected by hunger, even though we might not be aware of it.  These are often hard-working adults, children and seniors who simply cannot make ends meet and are forced to go without food for several meals, or even days. Most of us simply have no idea. It’s time to educate ourselves about the causes of hunger in America.


More staggering statics from Feeding America:

Feeding America is annually providing food to 37 million Americans, including 14 million children. This is an increase of 46 percent over 2006, when we were feeding 25 million Americans, including 9 million children, each year.

  • That means one in eight Americans now rely on Feeding America for food and groceries.
  • Feeding America’s nationwide network of food banks is feeding 1 million more Americans each week than we did in 2006.
  • Thirty-six percent of the households we serve have at least one person working.
  • More than one-third of client households report having to choose between food and other basic necessities, such as rent, utilities and medical care.
  • The number of children the Feeding America network serves has increased by 50 percent since 2006.


This week, I encourage you to sift through your pantry and donate items to your local food banks.  Make a monetary donation to Feeding America.  Host a canned good drive in your neighborhood. Drop at least one can in the collection bin at your supermarket to show you care.


One small act of generosity can make a huge difference this holiday season.


The least that you can do is CARE.


Restore, Rebuild, ReNew Orleans

I struggled with the title of this post as well as the words for this piece.  So many emotions flood my mind as I revisit the devastation of Hurricane Katrina with images from five years ago resurfacing.  I considered naming this piece When the Levees Broke, based on the Spike Lee Documentary.



However, New Orleans’ creed, Restore, Rebuild, ReNew Orleans seemed more fitting to me as it captures the spirit its people and city.



Two years ago, Allan and I were fortunate enough to win a trip to New Orleans.  Three years after Katrina, the French Quarter showed little evidence that category five hurricane had ever been through there, but the memory of Katrina’s attack on the city still resonated with its residents.


As Allan and I did our own damage soaking up every delicious morsel of Cajun cuisine, the shopkeepers and restaurant owners thanked us for visiting, a small reminder that this great city still struggled to revive itself years later after the storm.


As a condition of this trip, Allan was required to build picnic benches for some local schools.  The project coordinator led them through the Lower 9th District so the participants could see the damage left behind by Katrina and in turn, understand the significance of their contribution.  Building a few picnic tables seemed hardly enough, like a drop in the bucket to a neighborhood that still was drowning in rubble.


Once Allan completed hammering out the picnic tables, we pounded down some Po’ Boys and played like true tourists in this romantic, historical city.  With each step on the cobblestone, NOLA charmed us and stole our hearts as she had done to so many others before us.



Five years later as NOLA still recovers from Katrina and now even more damage from the Gulf oil spill, it saddens me to see such any amazing city suffer again.   But the people of New Orleans have seen devastation and hard times before.  They will use music to lift their spirits and tell their story and to remind all of us to preserve our precious NOLA, her resources and her people.





ReNew Orleans

Flatlining or Steady Heartbeat?

With expecting a new baby, Allan and I decided to change churches and a few weeks ago, we began the process by participating in the church’s membership class. It’s been an interesting journey offering many opportunities for self-discovery. Each week is like a little workshop that delves into understanding yourself, your role in the church and how it all leads up to serving God. Last week, we searched for our heartbeat and I realized I have no pulse.


Your spiritual heartbeat is defined by your passion. What motivates you? What lights your fire and fulfills you? How does your passion serve God?


I could easily answer the first and second questions. I am passionate about so many things: my family, my children, my friends, running, writing, my mom’s group, teaching, connecting with people, charitable acts, politics, women’s issues, humanity and the environment. But for this week’s assignment, we had to tie it all up in a neat little bow with a concise label and for me, my passions didn’t seem related to one another. Each of these things is so different from one another, how do they ultimately lead me to serving God?


I knew I needed to pray about it and have daily conversations with God to find the answer. The search for my heartbeat continued for days after last Sunday’s membership class, but I knew eventually the answer would arrive.


While waiting for an answer or some sort of sign from God, my thoughts were also preoccupied with my friend, Jackie. It would be two years since her daughter, Julia, passed and I knew this week would be difficult for her. As I prayed for her family every day, by chance I bumped into her at our Target. I hugged her told her that she was in my thoughts and if she needed anything, I would be there for her.


An hour after seeing Jackie, I received an e-mail stating that I had been selected for a paid writing job. Then the next day, one of my posts was featured on WordPress’s homepage. Some might call these occurrences simply a coincidence but for me, it was the validation I needed. The things that I was most passionate about were also the things that God recognized as my heartbeat.


Although I still can’t put a label on any of it and fit in all into one neat little package, I understand a bit more about what fulfils me even though I knew it all along, but now I understand how it all relates to serving God. These things (running, organizing my mom’s group, being there for my family and friends) don’t drain me. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. They fill me up with fervor and conviction.


So, what is my heartbeat? “Living life in a way that helps others”


Whether it’s being a SAHM, volunteering at my daughters’ school, leading a moms group, organizing a food or a collection for the needy, writing about my life and all it encompasses (running, children, friends, etc) IS my heartbeat. I am passionate about it all.  By simply being me, I am is serving God and helping others. I live life to the fullest.


My life is my heartbeat.


Musical Monday: Defying Gravity

For those who know me, you would have heard me profess my love for Wicked on numerous occasions.  It is truly my favorite musical and next Sunday, I will be seeing the show for a third time.


Forget what you remember from The Wizard of Oz, because Wicked: The Musical takes a very different yellow brick road when unveiling the not-so-Wonderful World of Oz.  Based loosely on the novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, the musical tells the tale of Elphaba and how she earned her dreaded title.


Elphaba (green as a result of the tonic her mother drank during her pregnancy) discovers the real man behind the curtain and the Wizard’s evil plans to change life in Oz forever.  In her quest to stop his schemes, the Wizard spreads lies about Elphaba and the citizens of Oz begin to fear for their lives.  Out this widespread panic, tales of the Wicked Witch of the West fly out of control.


Throughout the story, Elphaba displays characteristics of strength, passion and compassion and fears nothing, not even her fateful destiny.  The cause is greater than what people may think of her or what could happen to her.  Though she may wear a “wicked” label for the rest of her life, the truth is quite the opposite.


Every song from this Tony award winning show moves me and each song is better than the next.  However, the climactic scene at the end of Act 1 definitely steals the show and always takes my breath away.



I suppose I love this musical because I connect with Elphaba.  People will believe what they want about me, but in the end, I can live with myself.  I take comfort in the fact that I am a kind, good-hearted, honest person filled with strength and courage.  In every aspect of my life, I am passionate about what I do as a mom, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a runner, a writer, a blogger and a mom’s group organizer.


To those who’d ground me
Take a message back from me
Tell them how I am
Defying gravity
I’m flying high
Defying gravity
And soon I’ll match them in renown
And nobody in all of Oz
No Wizard that there is or was
Is ever gonna bring me down!



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Katie for Haiti

Often times when tragedy strikes others, those with the capability to land a hand feel helpless. With each image of despair and destruction from Haiti, many around the world wonder how to help this poor nation. As buildings continue to crumble, some feel crippled by an inability to offer any assistance whether physically or monetarily. Dropping a few dollars in a collection box doesn’t seem like enough.


Then, like a small little light leading the way, a simple solution was found in the heart of a child.



Last week, I received an e-mail from an old friend which explained how her 7 year old daughter, Katie-Ann, wanted to help the people of Haiti. Katie-Ann, who loves painting and drawing, wanted to host an art show to raise money for Haiti. This mini Monet would sell her art to benefit the people of Haiti.




I was so moved by her thoughtfulness and generosity, not to mention her remarkable talent and so were several of their friends and family members. Katie-Ann raised over $200 in a short Saturday afternoon.  That afternoon, she also offered each guest at her gallery a lesson in art appreciation and compassion.




If you would like to help Katie-Ann raise additional funds for Haiti, please visit Katie-Ann’s on-line gallery.


PhotoStory Friday
Hosted by Cecily and Robyn

Musical Monday: To Sir, With Love

This Friday, my dad turns 70.  It’s hard to comprehend my dad being that old, but I feel blessed to enjoy another year with him.


My dad, Horatio Alban Mestanza, loves to share stories about growing up in Washington Heights and the gangs he got involved with there.  Growing up a mutt in Manhattan, he learned to fight after being beaten up by the Irish, Blacks and Hispanics.  He eventually found himself in front of a judge who sentenced my dad with either serving time in jail or serving time in the military.  Without hesitation, he changed his name to Donald, enlisted with the Marines and served two tours in Vietnam.  Rumor has it he can break a man’s neck with one hand, however, years of raising daughters softened this tough guy from the ghetto and he’s become quite the gentle grandpa.



After the military, he became an apprentice to learn steam fitting.  A couple of years later, he met my mom while repairing the fire sprinklers in her office building.  They soon tied the knot and a few years later, my sister and I came along.


Then, in the late 70’s, we moved to Florida, but the jobs for pipe fitters were few and far between in the Tampa Bay area.  Forced with a tough decision, my dad left to find work in Miami and New York to provide for his family.  He became a weekend dad for about 20 years and retired in 1999, the year Allan and I married.


During winter and summer breaks, my mom, sister and I would visit my dad in New York.  Year after year, we would suffer through a walking tour of Manhattan as my dad pointed out all buildings where he worked.  I believe my dad scaled the scaffolding of about ¾ of the buildings in New York, including twice in the former Twin Towers.  As a kid, I hated it, but when Allan and I visited New York last year, I found myself giving the same tour.


Decades in construction, took a toll on my dad and he has been living with asbestosis for about 15 years now, however, it’s no small miracle that he is can still function without an oxygen tank strapped to him.  I don’t know if it’s the volume of vitamins combined with all the steroids and prayers, but something seems to be working.  Maybe this old gentle grandpa still has some fight left in him after all.


Dancing with my dad at my wedding is one of my fondest memories.  He secretly took dance lessons so he could swing me around for our father-daughter dance.  He tossed my around like a rag doll on the dance floor and I loved every minute.



I pray Dad has a few more moves in him for my mom, my sister, my children and me.




Happy Birthday, Daddy!



My Girls at Gasparilla

Since the early 1900’s, Tampa residents have been invaded by the mythical pirate Jose Gaspar and his krewe.  The invasion, now known as Gasparilla, has grown since its beginning days into a variety of parades, numerous festivals and several races.


Growing up in the Tampa Bay area, it is understood that residents should participate in the Gasparilla festivities at least once in their lifetime.   I’ve attended my share of parades during my college days, but the memories are a little fuzzy.


This year, my family and I attended the Gasparilla Children’s Parade for our first time.  The girls are I dressed in our best pirate outfits, although we were undressed compared to the many Captain Jacks, buccaneers, wenches and other pirates swashbuckling through the streets. I was just happy that my booty could still fit into my Nilla Shields Gasparilla shorts.



Other than watching the Macy’s Day parade every Thanksgiving on TV, my girls have never seen a parade up-close prior to last weekend.  Seeing the pirate ships and all the fantastic floats was quite a thrill for my girls.


We never told Allana and Emmalynn what to expect or about the bountiful of beads that would be thrown into the crowds.  Soon enough, Allana and Emmalynn were blown away by the pirate ships’ cannons firing beads and the people on the floats who pitched beads at all the bystanders.  It was a child’s paradise and my pretty little pirates quickly learned the best ways to catch their treasure.


Emmalynn had the best spot to score a lot of beads sitting on Daddy’s shoulders.




Allana preferred a spot pressed up against the parade barricade.



At the end of the evening, both my pretty pirates had quite the booty.





And despite not feeling well and the absence of rum, even Allan really enjoyed himself too.



PhotoStory Friday
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A Hidden Gem

After our visit at Black Bear Books, Allana begged us to take her to Doc’s Rocks Gem Mine the following day and we happily obliged.


However, before Ms Walker’s (owner of Black Bear Books) recommendation of Doc’s Rocks Gem Mine, we were a little apprehensive of the many mining establishments located in the Boone area.  Jaded from growing up in Florida and numerous tourist traps in our area, I assumed a North Carolina mining experience might also fit into that category.  My assumption couldn’t have been farther from the reality.


After Doc welcomed us, he offered brief instructions on how to mine.  Doc encouraged the girls to select the heaviest bucket as it would increase their chances of finding something worth keeping.  He also explained to the girls that since the buckets are full of soil, many guests often find roots and earthworms as well as great rocks.  He strongly instructed the girls not to discard any rocks, because “you never know what you are looking at” and to leave the inspecting to the experts.  “Sometimes a rock is just a rock, but sometimes a rock can also be a gem.” Doc continued by telling us about all the wonderful treasures they find at the end of the day when they clean the flumes because guests simply toss rough looking rocks and unpolished gems aside.


After carefully assessing the weights of the pails, I purchased each girl a $10 shovel (a small pail full of dirt).  Allana, my little geologist, dug right into the fun.  She carefully sifted through her dirt by rinsing each portion in the heated flumes.  After picking out all the best rocks, she brought her small scraps to one of Doc’s assistants for a final inspection.  The gentleman praised Allana on her excellent work because she didn’t leave much behind for him to find.



As Allana sifted and searched through her dirt, Allan and I helped Emmalynn.  My sensory needy, tactile child loved playing in the dirt and splashing in the water.  She scooped out huge piles of dirt faster than I could sift, but thankfully, we didn’t miss much either.  Emmalynn found tons of amethysts in her pail, which amazed us since purple is her favorite color.



Once we finished mining, Doc gave a quick geology lesson.  He shared the origins of the gems and which mines they are commonly found.  He explained how they are formed, the difference between ingenious, metaphoric and sedimentary and the hardness of each stone.  As he sorted our findings, he shared the value of each gem.  We could not believe the assortment of gems we found between the two buckets: emeralds, citrine, rose quartz, white quartz, a garnet, a sapphire, a ruby, amethysts, and a number special stones such as ametrine (a bend of amethyst and citrine)!  Doc pulled aside a few of the gems which would be stunning once cut: garnet, ruby, sapphire, ametrine, and amethyst.



Since the majority of the findings belonged Allana, we requested her permission to cut a few of the gems and she permitted us to cut an emerald, the garnet, and an amethyst for Emmalynn.   Allana also wanted to cut one of the citrine stones for herself, since citrine is her birthstone.  At the end, we explained to Allana that she could keep some of the fun rocks, but the remaining valuable stones (the sapphire and ruby) would be kept in a safe once we returned home.  After all, we’ll need those to pay for books for college someday!  😉


At the end of the day, my suspicions of a mining field trip were proven inaccurate.  Doc’s knowledge and expertise combined with his passion for rocks made for a gem of an experience.  We will definitely return for another mining excursion during our next visit to Boone.


A week later, stones arrive at our house and we were thrilled with the outcome.


Black Bear, Black Bear, What Do You Read?

Stumbling upon quaint mom and pop shops makes visiting small towns a real treat and Black Bear Books in Boone, North Carolina is no exception.


After freezing our snowballs off snow tubing, Allan and I decided to warm up in a bookstore that touted “FIREPLACE” on its marquis.  Sipping hot chocolate next to a fierce fire while reading a local newspaper seemed like a delightful way to defrost.


Upon entering the bookstore, we were surprised by its large stature.  At the back of the store, the girls quickly located the children’s section complete with stacks of award winning literature, a train table and wooden puzzles.


In such a cozy atmosphere, we found it all too easy to settle into this homey bookstore.  Once we found the regional children’s literature section and a collection of the owner’s son’s favorite books, the girls and I swayed in wooden rocking chairs as we read books from each collection.


The owner, Karen Walker, welcomed us into her second home with free hot chocolate for the girls and coffee for Allan.  Her hospitality warmed us better than the fireplace.


Ms Walker shared some of her favorite children’s books with the girls and her own life’s story with Allan and me.  We enjoyed a brief history lesson of her family and the remarkable journey that brought her to settle in Boone.


Allana curled up in the corner of the children’s stacks reading book after book while Emmalynn played with the puzzles and I snuck away for a few minutes to explore the adult fictional regional section since I prefer bringing books home as souvenirs rather than t-shirts or trinkets.



While exploring the store, I discovered the employee’s favorite picks, which included some of my favorite reads, such as Pillars of the Earth and Wicked.  Meghan, a young sale associate, offered a brief description of some of the other books spotlighted on the shelves and explained that Ms. Walker holds a contesteach month to see which employee’s picks sell the most books. By choosing Tom Robbins Jitterburg Perfume, we helped one associate get a little closer to winning the prize.



I returned to the regional fictional literature to continue my hunt for a book set in the Appalachians.  After reading the titles and their summaries over several times, I found one that offered just the scenery I craved: Cataloochee.



For the girls, I grabbed the Appalachian ABCs and coincidentally, Emmalynn and Allana both selected regional books as well.  Allana chose Jack and the Dragon, which tells the adventure of an Appalachian folk hero.  Emmalynn picked Blue Bowl Down.  Its lovely sing-song pattern deserves a banjo accompaniment.



Ms. Walker continued to pour the hospitality along with the coffee and our visit at Black Bear Books lasted nearly two hours.  So taken with Allana’s love for reading, Ms. Walker offered her a free copy of one of her many Magic Tree House Books and Allana chose Magic Tree House #17: Tonight on the Titanic.



As we wrapped up our visit at the register, Allana noticed Ms. Walker’s collection of gems.  Allana expressed her love for rocks and Ms. Walker insisted that we pay her friend, Doc, a visit at his gem mine before we left Boone as most of the gems proudly displayed in her case came from Doc’s Rocks Gem Mine.  Excited about the prospects she would find there, we promised to take Allana the next day upon Ms. Walker’s recommendation.  To hold them over until then, Ms. Walker gave each girl a gem, however, Ms. Walker and our experience at Black Bear Books was the most precious gem we uncovered that day.



***Photo of Karen and Chris Walker and their son, Caleb, was borrowed from The Mountain Times.***