Thursday, March 31, 2016

Catching Up On All Those Blessings Laura L. Valenti

First, I begin with an apology for missing the last couple of weeks of blogs. I left for El Salvador on Thursday, March 17 with an electronic tablet, thinking I would email the world from Central America, but sad to say, upon arrival I discovered for some reason, I couldn't get the thing to work. Instead, I texted folks, called a few times and let the email and blogging slide. The blessing, on the other hand, was being back in my beloved second country, one named for God's son, The Savior (El Salvador) and staying with our original Peace Corps family. Elena and Fito are now nearly 90 and 87 years of age, still living in their own home and while his health is starting to fail, we--their daughter, Carmen and I--struggle to keep up with Elena when she takes off walking fast! We went to Catholic Mass on Palm Sunday, shopped 'til we dropped at the local artesian markets (buying cool souvenirs like brightly colored towels, blouses, and painted crosses) spent a day at the beach and ate lots of fish, shrimp, rice, beans and tortillas. For me, that is una vacacion perfecta!

My husband and I were Peace Corps volunteers  there, 1973-1976 for over three years and I cannot explain the joy of being back there, except to say, it is like 'going home' to where I was raised. And I was in part, in Latin America, specifically traveling with my parents in Mexico many years in February and March in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s. My father was a natural-born gypsy. Not the Romanian variety with dark curls and a ring in his ear, but a Missouri boy who literally read about Guatemala in the National Geographic in 1957 and said to my mother, 'Let's go!' and we did, year after year. We never made it as far as Guatemala, something about a border war in a place called Chiapas. (And you thought that was a new thing, right?)  Years later, our Peace Corps family was a great deal like an American family who hosts an international student here, but in our case, we all bonded in a way that has now lasted over 40 years. Carmen was 13 years old when we moved in with her family and today she has lived in Lebanon, married to a local gent, Brian McCulloch and raised two kids of her own and even has a young grandson. She and I have now made three trips back together to see her family and other friends over the last few years and before that, I made it back to El Salvador several times on my own.

Then we both came home to welcoming husbands. Both Brian and Warren showed up at the Springfield airport to collect us and seemed pretty happy to have us back. That was a big blessing in and of itself!

And then this week, my sixth novel finally arrived. The Heart of the Spring Everlasting is the fourth in my historical series on Bennett Spring. The first, The Heart of the Spring, is set in 1924 and tells how Bennett Spring State Park, Missouri's first state park, was established. The Heart of the Spring Lives On comes next and takes place in 1935. That was when the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was at Bennett Spring, building the Dining Lodge and the triple-arched bridge, features we still love and enjoy 80 years later.  The Heart of the Spring Comes Home continues the story in 1946 as people come back to Bennett Spring immediately after World War II and fight to save their church. The Bennett Spring Church of God plays a central part in this fictional story that is based on the church's actual history. And now, The Heart of the Spring Everlasting picks up the narrative of the Darling and Shine families in 1967. As our nation struggled at that time with major issues such as a divergent youth population, Viet Nam, and a Cuban refugee crisis, the lives of those even in remote places like Bennett Spring were also touched by such things.

And so while I was off the blogging trail for a couple of weeks, my blessings have continued to multiple, en espanol y ingles, los dos. In my lifetime, I have been blessed to live in two of the most beautiful places in the world, a five mile stretch of pristine beach (fishing village where we worked) in El Salvador and Bennett Spring. It is good to be back at Bennett Spring, my home for nearly 40 years now, but it is also good to go 'home', and see la familia once in a while, too.

Friday, March 11, 2016


I was invited to Lebanon High School this past week for a special showing of  He Named Me Malala, the story behind the Pakistani young woman, now 18, who won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. Her father named her after Malalai, a Pashtun heroine of a bygone era. Some have said that Ziauddin Yousafzai, her father and a teacher who is also not afraid to speak up for the truth, pushed Malala into her current position as an activist for girls' education. Malala adamantly refutes this and says all he did was show her where the door was. It was her choice to walk through it.

As I watched the account of this extraordinary young woman, Malala Yousafzai who at age 14 stood up to the Taliban, who run her country by various decrees including the idea that women should not be educated, I was struck by her incredible courage. For speaking out, she was shot in the head, by order of the Taliban and nearly died. She still has some significant loss of nerves to her face,  hearing and other basic functions due to her injuries and yet she soldiers on. She and her family now live in England and do mourn the fact that they are not able to return to their homeland. And it makes me many of us could have stood up to those threatening our lives when we were still just teenagers? How many of us could do it now, as full-fledged adults?

Even more basic, as I watched, I thought once again, as I have many times, of how blessed I am simply to have been born when and where I was. In a large portion of the modern world, girls and women are still subjected to incredible prejudice and abuse, simply because of their gender. It is not something we spend a lot of time thinking about. As a matter of fact, if we start fussing about sexual discrimination, it is more likely to have something to do with finances--such as hiring practices, a substandard paycheck or the cost of health care. It is not to say that any of those are unimportant but they have to get in line behind basics like education, the right to choose who you will marry, or not to be traded off for a few goats or these days, flat out sold for cash or drugs directly into the sex trade.  It is not something we think about often and yet, for so many of our sisters around the world, it is a daily reality.

And from there, my mind wandered a bit closer to home, to some I've met along my way as a writer, including a young lady in Bolivar, born with no legs and no hands. She still gets up every day, faces the world with an incredible Christian spirit and has excelled as an artist, a writer having already penned her own autobiography before age 30, a college student and a world traveler. Or the farm wife and mother of four I found most recently just a short way up the interstate highway, who was severely injured when hit head-on by a drunk driver. She left the scene that night with internal injuries, a fractured pelvis and crushed ankles. Today, after multiple operations, she still struggles to keep her balance when she walks with the aid of braces and lace-up boots, yet she is back working as a farm wife, tending to cattle on a daily basis. And like the lady in Bolivar, she does it with a joyful heart and an overwhelming attitude of Christian love and forgiveness.

As one who has a family history of depression and has fought that monster many times over the years, I try to remember these remarkable sisters of mine and many others on days like yesterday when I'd like to just stay at home on a cold, gloomy, rainy day and have my own 'pity party'. No reason for it, mind you, except my own fouled up bio-chemistry, but still if I can remind myself to read my Bible and remember ladies like Malala and many others, I have a better day. Yesterday, I spent the day at home, reading and writing, curled up warm by the fire. I didn't go out but it was still a good day, a day of remembering blessings of all kinds, especially the basics. I'm so glad I accepted the invitation to go see a movie earlier this week. God bless the many Malalas in our world!

Friday, March 4, 2016


Recently at a Weight Watchers' meeting, we were discussing overall health as well as weight loss, such as the benefits of exercise and drinking more water. I shared a view I've long held about the vehicle each of us is issued at birth and it struck a cord with several of the ladies.

Think about the year you were born.  You were issued a vehicle at that time and today that is the one you are still driving. We all know it takes more maintenance to keep a 1951 model on the road than say a 1976 model and if you want to keep going, you have to do that maintenance! Many times, we tell ourselves, we don't have the time to exercise or to eat right. I can tell you it is a little more expensive many times to eat right or it takes more time to fix a salad rather than to pop pizza rolls or a hot pocket into the oven or microwave, but the benefits do outweigh the disadvantages, if we will just make the effort! We know that water is better for us than soda, especially for organs like kidneys and bladder, but so often we think of it as more comforting to reach for that extra blast of caffeine. And don't even talk to me about energy drinks!

We all know what happens to the vehicles that are not properly maintained. You see them broken down on the side of the highway, sometimes with the highway patrol's little orange sticker on them, showing they've been there for a day or two. And after that, they land in the salvage yard, many times never to leave there again. For us, that is called the nursing home or the funeral home, for that is where our personal vehicle lands if we do not take proper care of it.

In this world, we are issued only one vehicle. We can do the maintenance and there are certainly cosmetic procedures available (aka a new paint job) and some repair parts, new knees and replacement hip joints, but there are no trade-ins. This is the ONLY vehicle you get so you better take care of it....or else!

When I get tired of exercising, walking in the cold or the heat here in Missouri, trying to convince myself I don't have time to go to the YMCA and swim my laps, I remember my old neighbor, Jack. Jack was a great guy (a good Democrat) and we had many a lively conversation. Jack liked to smoke, he enjoyed his liquor and his idea of exercise was walking the 150 feet from his mobile home to the highway convenience store he ran with his wife, Barb. One winter evening, Jack slipped on the ice on his front porch and broke his ankle. (They were having a big family spaghetti dinner and Jack had run back over to the store to get a couple bottles of wine. My understanding is when he fell, he was trying to save the wine!) Within weeks, the doctors had to amputate Jack's foot because his circulation was too poor to keep blood flowing to his foot. Jack was not yet 70 years old and today, his widow lives near his grandchildren, where she has had the opportunity to watch them grow up. So, on days when I get the 'lazies' and think 'enough!', I don't want to do this anymore, I think of Jack and remember I don't want to start losing parts off my vehicle before it is time to report to the salvage yard that one final time.

So what year vehicle are you driving? And what kind of maintenance are you doing on it? trade-ins!