I’ve only recently discovered that being called a baby boomer is an insult when used by young things intent on saving the planet. Heaven knows what I would be called, being even older than a baby boomer, but hey, it’s been worth the long ride!
The tragedy of the Covid 19 seems to have gone a long way towards meeting the Extinction Rebellion’s movement’s aims. It seems even worse than their favoured methods of bringing attention to the plight of the planet. These seemed to involve bringing the maximum misery and difficulty to the world’s workers who found themselves unable to get to work, get to hospital, late home after a tiring day’s drudgery in their offices and cafes and other work spots, thanks to delayed trains and blocked motorways.
But the other side of the coin of lost loved ones, lost jobs and lockdown in the Pandemic has been the joy it’s brought to the rest of the planet… there have been pictures of hippos surfing on empty South African beaches, and monkeys running amok in deserted Indian squares. There are majestically antlered deer grazing on English village commons, and jellyfish gliding through the newly clear waters of Venice canals. The blue unpolluted skies have restored long lost views of glorious places like the Himalayas, and there are weeds growing between the paving stones in empty Roman piazzas.
Bird-watching societies in England report that their membership has soared by thirty per cent during lockdown, and English optimists are reckoning on a bumper crop of baby hedgehogs, as with empty roads, the populations of amorous adults are getting to the other side without being squashed by continuous traffic. The seas around busy Portsmouth and the Solent, usually a dull muddy brown, are now sparkling tropical turquoise blue; and not only are the skies clear and bright, but with no travel and no aeroplanes the continuous drone of noise in the sky has ceased.
People are hearing the birds again, and fish in the sea, disturbed for so long by the vibrations of tankers, ferries and cruise ships, are able to roam the deep in peace. The beaches in this country, NZ, usually alive with overseas tourists, are now deserted in lockdown and the few observers doing their allowed daily stroll, say it feels as though the land is returning to its pristine beauty before man arrived here.
How can we keep these gains, not just for the planet but for ourselves, when lockdown ends? Will we go back to the extravagant wasteful consumerism of the last decades… or will we try to limit our travel both in our cars and overseas, stop buying cheap Chinese goods ( very difficult when they even make the screws in appliances made in other countries), continue to keep cooking nutritional food at home, and consider the creatures we share the world with?
This would not be difficult for baby boomers, and those like me who lived through an even simpler childhood than theirs. We had few clothes, and usually only one or two pairs of shoes – an indoor and outdoor pair – which when the soles wore out we took to the cobblers to be repaired. Our clothes were made of natural fibres like wool and cotton -man-made substitutes weren’t available then – and clothes were often homemade and usually too big so we could grow into them. The hems were ‘put up’, and as we grew, they were ‘let down, and I hated the crease which was ineradicable so you could see where it had been lengthened.
We usually knitted our jumpers, and often our socks. We darned holes, repaired tears, and handed them on to smaller or younger siblings, and others. When I was twelve, I remember the glory of a luxurious reversible satin dressing gown – pink one side, blue the other – which the Colonel’s wife handed on to me when her daughter had outgrown it… and her linen flowered pyjamas…
We scraped the butter wrapper with a knife to get the last fragments of the two ounces per person per week – a butter substitute was to mash parsnip with banana essence – not recommended – I preferred dry bread with a soupcon of rationed jam. We ate dripping from the tiny Sunday roast – our meat ration was five ounces per person per week – smeared on bread with salt and pepper, while one egg per week per person meant falling back on dried egg substitute – revolting. We never left anything on our plates and never threw food away.
We had larders instead of fridges which didn’t use any power… they were dim and cool and usually had a stone floor, and marble slab for meat and cooked food and leftovers, and shelves on which to store bottled fruit, jams, pickles and tins – if our war-time coupons ran to buying them – and if we could find them in the shops.
Though it was boom-time in America after the war, England and Europe were still struggling with shattered economies, bombed cities, broken bridges and wrecked or neglected infra structures. We endured food rationing for fifteen years until it ended in ‘54. There were no boom-times for boomers. The frugal life of war-time continued into peace-time for many years. Few had TV’s, telephones, fridges, mixers or electric kettles. (the Queen’s coronation in ‘53 prompted a surge in TV ownership) Neither did we use power for washing machines and dryers – we sent our sheets and linen to the laundry every week, and washed the rest ourselves.
There were many women who eked out a living by taking in other people’s washing – boiling, rinsing, starching, mangling, ironing, and we all washed our own cloth nappies. Children felt useful as they were required to run errands and deliver messages to neighbours, since we had no phones or computers…
We listened to the radio for selected programmes and the news, and read books, and knitted and painted and did jigsaw puzzles, played cards and chess, Ludo and Monopoly.One of the features of the news, was that at the end, a solemn voice would say: Here is an SOS message for… they would give the name and last known address and ask them to report to their nearest police station as soon as possible. With no telephone this was the quickest way to contact people in an emergency. Otherwise, the telegram boys would deliver a short cryptic message, in which every word was counted and paid for.
We wrote letters by hand in ink, and posted parcels in re-used (re-cycled we’d say now) brown paper, tied with string which had been used many times before with knots laboriously untied. We used sealing wax to make sure our knots on the parcel didn’t come undone. Envelopes were constantly re-used, with sticky labels to cover the previous address, and a sticky label to seal it.
We’d never heard of takeaways, or drive thru… we queued for fish and chips wrapped in newspaper on Friday evenings, and that was our one bought meal.We had real milk, sold in bottles, which were washed and put out the next morning for the milkman to replace. We didn’t go to a rubbish tip – if there were such things – but when the rag and bone man drove round the streets with his horse and cart, we brought out our inorganic rubbish.
When things were broken, we had them repaired. All these customs and this way of life, meant that these jobs gave many people work – laundering, collecting the metal dustbins, delivering coal and milk and letters and telegrams, cobbling shoes, dress-making, mending clothes, repairing watches, lamps, and a myriad of other household items. Most of these skills and jobs have disappeared now in the disposable society in which today’s millennials, generation X and all the other categories now live.
Boomers couldn’t afford to be wasteful. We lived frugally, and didn’t despoil the planet with travel, tourism, eating foods out of season, flown around the world, throwing away the cheap clothes which shrink or lose their shape. Actually, we had a quality to our lives – good food grown locally, leather shoes, wool or cotton clothes, and simple pleasures and pastimes.
So though Greta Thunberg (who comes from Sweden where, not having participated in the war, their Boomers didn’t have to cope with the ruin of their country and economy) told us at the UN that we had ruined the lives of her generation; and while the Extinction campaigners rail at us for being Boomers, it isn’t such a badge of dishonour as they would try to make us think.
This wonderful world which has re-emerged during the tragedy of the Pandemic has shown us how it used to be, and it’s up to us all to try to keep it that way. One of the ways in which the world was a kinder gentler place when we grew up, was that people didn’t insult and name-call those whose opinions were different. The spitefulnesses of social media were un-imagineable cruelties.
So the challenge for us all, is to not only try to preserve the planet, but also to preserve the tolerance and kindness, the courtesies and decencies of those times so stigmatised by younger generations. Live and let live so that we can all share a brave new world!
Note: we are indebted to Shakespeare for those ringing words: a brave new world.
Unable to stand for long with my bothersome back, the microwave has become my friend, and this little dish has become my comfort food.
For one person, slice about a third of a leek into thin rounds, arrange in small ovenproof microwave dish, and pour hot water over half the depth of the leeks. Cover with kitchen paper, and zap in the microwave for five minutes.
Remove and cover with cream and a thick layer of grated parmesan, and grill till golden under the grill. When I’m up to it, I shall also chop a hard- boiled egg over the leeks and then cover with Parmesan.
It makes a small meal for a delicate digestion! Better still, for the hale and hearty, would be to enjoy a hot roll and a glass of good white wine with it ….
Food for Thought
Winston Churchill spoke these words during those times of our lives:
‘The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.’
‘All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom; justice; honour; duty; mercy; hope.’
PS- a reader has written privately explaining why boomers are condemned, this was my reply:
- I know it’s fashionable to beat boomers with a stick over consumerism, the environment etc, but maybe some of these positive facts and thoughts may console you for being unfortunate enough to be born a boomer!!!
- One of the things I’ve always been glad about is the spread of the motor car, so we no longer mistreat overwork and exploit horses to carry us around ! On the other hand, the diminishment of public transport everywhere because of the spread of cheap Japanese cars after people got over their prejudices about their atrocities, has undoubtedly damaged the planet…
- Wiki. states that …
- Boomers are often associated with the counterculture of the 1960s, the civil rights movement, and the “second-wave” feminist cause of the 1970s.
- 60% lost value in investments because of the economic crisis
- 42% are delaying retirement
- 25% claim they will never retire (currently still working)[4
- Memorable events the boomers were involved in -: the Cold War (and associated Red Scare), the Cuban Missile Crisis, assassinations of JFK, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr., political unrest, walk on the moon, risk of the draft into the Vietnam War or actual military service during the Vietnam War, anti-war protests, social experimentation, sexual freedom, drug experimentation, the Civil Rights Movement, environmental movement, women’s movement, protests and riots, and Woodstock.
- So Boomers – and not merely American boomers, helped to change the world in many positive ways when you read about their challenges, and what they were involved in.…
- Just saying !!
29 responses to “Those were the days, my friends…”
Washing milk bottles reminds me of my very new husband saying in his speech at our wedding breakfast he hoped my mother would be as kind to him as she was to the milkman. He noticed her putting a milk bottle in the oven after washing it and asked her why. She explained it was to make sure it dried properly so the milkman didn’t tip cold water on his hands when he tipped the tokens out.
She was a model of tolerance and kindness, the courtesies and decency and would have seconded your plea to preserve them. I will do my best to follow the example of both of you. Ele Ludemann
Dear Ele, what a lovey story, and what a special person your mother sounds.
Thank you for including me in the same company as your beautiful mother, with love, Valerie
I agree with you that there are some things we can learn from in those bygone days, but we mustn’t forget how cruel people could be too. My friend and I who are in our late 60’s and early 70’s were talking about how cruel and crude our grandfathers and fathers could be. Only yesterday I was listening to a podcast about another ‘boomer’ whose father and uncle lived in cruel conditions and were crude in their language and considerations. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. We cannot sustain the population of this planet by going back to the old ways but what I’m hoping is we can be more careful and thoughtful in our own lives and decisions and learn the art of compromise again. Thank you for your always thoughtful pieces, Valerie. x
Hello Ardys… I was so surprised by your experiences with fathers and grandfathers. I must have had a very sheltered upbringing., I never heard anyone – male or female – swear in my family or those around me. The most profane my father became in really trying circumstances, even after six years of hellish fighting WW2 was hell’s bells- very rarely- bloody..
You refer to them living in cruel conditions – was that why they were so pained that they swore?
I’ve always been amazed by how much people swear these days.
So my memories seem very different to yours,which is sad.
I think you were fortunate to not know many of the men (and some women) of that generation who were not gentle and not kind. Yes, it was mostly due to hard lives and the war. It took my friend and I both the first half of our adult lives to throw off the effects of those adults. Thank goodness I married a kind man. Not all my siblings were able to work through the issues. There are still many people suffering with abusive parenting, but we have more resources for support now.
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Well spoken, Valerie! I appreciate the depth of your research about all the benefits to our earth; you speak of many that I hadn’t heard of. Your blog posts always tell a tale very fully.
One thing that wasn’t great in our generation was the sexism. I see it lingers on in your language – ‘land is returning to its pristine beauty before man arrived here.’ I hope you will forgive this gentle chiding from one who loves and appreciates your writing and you!
Hello Juliet, thank you as ever for your generous words…I always appreciate your thoughtful and sensitive comments…
Yes, we have the baby boomers to thank for beginning the process of trying to eradicate sexism.
I hear what you say about it lingering in my language and I know where you’re coming from. But I refuse to tamper with the rhythms of the beautiful English language – I remember when Pat booth went through the manuscript of his biography on Edmund Hillary, correcting the feminist editor’s corrections to his words, things like ‘personkind’ instead of ‘mankind’. We laughingly debated what we should call a man-hole to avoid sexist language.
When I was giving the prizes at a school, the chaplain ended the occasion with the glorious words from the Anglican prayer book
Go forth into the world in peace.
Be of good courage.
Hold fast that which is good.
Render to no one evil for evil.
Strengthen the fainthearted.
Support the weak.
Help the afflicted.
Love and serve the Lord,
I tackled him afterwards about why he’d substituted ‘Honour everyone’ for ‘Honour all men’, and he sad he’d gone on an Anti-Apartheid march and been pursued and vilified by feminists for carrying a placard reading ‘ I am my brother’s keeper’. Why not sisters, they raged.
I abhor the language being tampered with / mutilated in the name of ‘new-speak’, or “thought crime’, as when the UK NHS banned the use of father in its pregnancy pamphlets, saying it offended some people, and the word ‘partner’; should be used instead. The word ‘father’ has a resonance, and has been a part of our consciousness and culture for aeons and has nothing to do with sexism… as you can see, I feel strongly about the language being revised in the name of political correctness..
I’ve tried to think what word would not bother you… homo sapiens, people, the human race, maybe, but to me, in the context in which it was used it implicitly means everyone, of whatever gender they are, or decide to be.
So though I respect your feminist principles, which I suspect are very similar to mine, dear Juliet, as a writer who loves the language, and takes great care to balance meaning, the exact word and the flow of rhythm, I cannot change.
And still, with love,
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Hi Valerie, Excellent piece! It strikes me that it is very short sighted to paint all so called ‘baby boomers’ with the same brush and colour. I’m a baby boomer technically, born in 1962, but if we equate this label with the pursuit of consumerism, I certainly have never lived like this, or wanted to. And it further strikes me that it is the socio-cultural mileau of RIGHT NOW in the west which is driven by capitalism and greed for personal gain. We can’t point the finger at certain times in the past for later developmental faults, we can only point the finger at now. What do we do now? And who do we need to convince in order to bring about change, be kinder to nature and ourselves, to live more simply and with less selfish values? That is the question about our brave new world, to end with Shakespeare!
Lovely to read your thoughtful response as always…I think you’d probably be interested in what Janet at Sustainabilties further down the comments has to say about the Wall Street Occupy projects in the light of your words. You’re so right about greed and personal gain, and I feel that we are all held to ransom by the billionaires of big business who are behind globalism, our dependence on China, etc etc…
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I love your beautiful steps, the wee little path all covered in lush abundant blooms! That one photo speaks volumes to me about you and Douglas. Thank you so much for this post, I, too, am a Baby-Boomer, born in 1949…the delight of my parents, who were born in the depression. Also, the delight of my Grandparents who were born at the turn of the century…each era of people brought forth huge, gigantic changes from one generation to the next…although, those coming behind the Baby Boomers might like to blame us for “you name it”, there are also marvelous things our era brought to this one.
Which brings me back to your delightful blossom ladened pathway…sometimes the hardscape (although very necessary) is softened with just the right mix of beauty to make the journey perfectly wonderful. A person just has to start and then get to end to understand that.
Love you!!! For eons and eons.
Lovely comment thank you – a letter is on its way to you, I loved what you had to say and want to add to your observations…
Much love XXXXXX
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Hugs and love to you you, My Friend. I hope you are feeling ever so much better each and every day!
Your post brings back memories of the 50’s and 60’s. Of course, I’m a baby boomer born the same year as Himself. I remember my mother cleaning and saving aluminum foil until it fell apart. Anything that could be reused was. Jeans with holes worn in the knees were patched and socks darned. My mother did a wonderful job of darning socks, which is a talent she tried, but failed to pass onto her daughter. Hand-me-downs from my New York cousins were always a treat.
As a child I filled glass creamers in my father’s restaurant. There were no plastic disposable containers to choke sea creatures.
At any rate, this is a wonderful, evocative post. Love to you and his ailing self. Take care of each other, my friend.
Shalom and hugs from a long distance,
Loved your memories.Rochelle .. including the darning – I was very good at darning ( do today’s snowflakes, generations XYZ even know what darning is) – and used to do huge darns in my father’s favourite cardigans when the elbows had given out and my stepmother wanted to throw them away. They were too big to even use the toad stool – does anyone know what that is now ?????
Loved the idea of having patched jeans – before the tears and fraying and distressed fashion of today bought cheaply or at great cost !
Lovely to hear from you… yes, we’re aiding and abetting each other in our ailments !!!
Much love, Valerie
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I love being a baby boomer for we have lived through many events during our generation. I did not see the WWII years or the 1930’s as my father and mother did, but I learned from their example. Scraped the butter foil over and over again. We have made progress in many areas – the work is not yet complete, nor will it, in all likelihood because we face “wicked problems”. Horst Rittel, a design theorist, was on of the first to formalize a theory of wicked problems, which is a social or cultural problem that is difficult or impossible to solve for as many as four reasons: incomplete or contradictory knowledge, the number of people and opinions involved, the large economic burden, and the interconnected nature of these problems with other problems. While the Covid19 pandemic will abate eventually or a vaccine is found, others may follow. Other wicked problems include poverty, injustice, mental health and the one that will determine our survival as a species, climate change. It will take all of our efforts to face these challenges, and assessing blame to a specific generation, is a simplified response that will only exacerbate the situation. I am with you Valerie – kindness, compassion, understanding, diligence, determination, team work, evidence based strategies – these will keep us together. I am comforted by these discussions because this is what will create positive changes. Many thanks to you for this post and many thanks to the wonderful contributors – excellent thoughts.
What an amazing comment, so much information and such an interesting take on my meander through the past.
Horst Rittel’s theories sound fascinating… did he offer any solutions our ‘wicked problems’?
So many of the challenges facing us seem so intractable.
Little by little I suppose. I’ve never forgotten an incident in John Halifax Gentleman, when the irascible old Quaker who’d taken in the homeless boy, challenged him to break through his thick high impenetrable yew hedge. Sixteen year old John Halifax said he’d break open a hole twig by twig until he’d created a passage through…( on the strength of this he was employed.,,
The only way for all problems I’ve often thought… twig by twig…
I think you and Horst Rittel are in sync. I agree twig by twig. And of course, I must add Winston Churchill’s quote about progress that reminds us all that solutions and strategies are given within the context of a wider community that spans time and location: “Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.” Much love coming your way, Valerie. Thank you for making my day pure sunshine. Now, I’m off to look for John Halifax Gentleman – thanks for the intro.
Hope you love it as much as I did, I read it first at eight, and many times since… it’s been one of the books which shaped my beliefs and attitudes – along with Black Beauty and Little Women – all written by women – who were either Quakers or transcendentalists and Mrs Craik a devout nonconformist… XXX
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My kind of woman!!!
Another beautifully presented post, Valerie. I treasure your thoughts and your firm yet gentle defense of your beliefs. You have a kindred language spirit in me and I’m wondering whether you’ve ever come across any books by Richard Lederer, my favorites of his being “Anguished English.” He is a mighty verbifore and a man of much wit and humor. He would be perfect reading right now, too.
I find it astonishing and comforting to see how quickly nature has rebounded during the pandemic. It would be lovely if we could find a middle ground between this and the way things were and not just in the natural world. As for condemning one generation or another, that has to stem from lack of knowledge of history and a certain unawareness of the present. For instance, when Occupy Wall Street or other movements rage against big business and then the participants text each other or take photos with their iPhones (or other phones), buy their already-distressed clothes (that mostly come from China), and so on, one has to wonder. “The good old days” weren’t always that good and there are good and bad things in each generation.
I’ve taken up enough comment space, so I’ll just leave it at that. I’m glad to hear you’re feeling a bit better and sorry to read that D. isn’t. Prayers for and love to you both!
What a wonderful comment, Janet. First of all, thank you for your lovely appreciative words … and I loved that you understood my defense of the English language – ‘Anguished English’ sounds just my sort of book – and what a wonderful title!!
I also loved your observations on the Wall Street occupiers and other protestors… it seems like a lot of double think there…I felt much the same about the Extinction rebellion, with Emma Thompson flying first class from California to join the protests in London, wearing dungarees to show how proletarian she was!
An awareness of history seems to be one of the advantages that younger generations don’t seem to have.. it’s a pity, and sad for them ( though they don’t know it) because the past explains so much about the present.
Thank you for your love and concern… we are battling on aiding and abetting each other in our ailments. It took me two weeks to convince him to go to the doctor !
Keep well yourselves… in these strange times,
much love, Valerie
Oh the ignominy of the let-down hem with its pale line for all to see…and the dragging to school in the boy cousin’s outgrown blazer that still had ‘plenty of wear left in it’ but oh Lord also had leather elbow patches….the shame!!!
Another wonderful post my friend which was a joy to read & also such interesting & satisfying comments….your readers are of the same mind & values & it gives a quiet satisfaction to know that I’m not alone in the way I perceive today’s happenings. A lockdown ‘pleasing’ that I’m currently enjoying is revisiting your early blogs (one a day…not to be squandered!) starting around 2014….still interesting & pertinent all these years on.
Oh Angela, what a vivid picture of our chagrin… that pale line indeed -and the blazer! I know those feelings so well -my hand me downs were often from my step-grandmother, and nothing ever matched… exquisite pain and shame !
What you say about the readers on this little blog is so true… it really is a case of birds of a feather isn’t it…
How very flattering to think you’re re-reading some of my old blogs.. I read aloud the first one I ever wrote to show my love how I felt about my little black cat… when it was first posted, Kerry Hume wrote and said how much she enjoyed it – which felt a pat on the back from the head mistress- , including the recipe, which she’d forgotten !
I always love to see your name pop up, I know a friend is there, and your comments are always thoughtful, heartfelt and encouraging….
How long have we known each other one way or another ??
Heavens Valerie…that’s a good question ….I think it must have been around your first columns in the Auckland Star ….& then you’ve popped up in my life so many times with your books & blogs…it feels like we’ve been ‘friends’ for many lifetimes! Ha ha live the pat on the back from the Headmistress!
Loved this.. I may have arrived slightly later but I remember careless roads, handmedown reversible clothes cobbles, and recycling everything as a matter of course.. sadly I think we’ve crossed the Rubicon and despite our best intentions, there’s no real going back .. let’s hope I’m wrong .. ☘️🎈
So Good to hear from you, yes, those habits become imprinted in our soul, don’t they.. I’d forgotten lovely cobbles, though no doubt they’d be a hazard to health and safety in these days of killer heels… even when we had stilettos, I’m told lots of women sprained their ankles stumbling over uneven pavements or cobbled streets.
I don’t know how you’d persuade later generations to go back across the Rubicon as you so cogently put it !
I’ve been enjoying your blog for some time now and particularly your recipes. Some of these have become standard fillers or sides. My two favorites are the tomato sauce for pasta (in fact everything – it’s become a staple for my fridge) and the latest Recipe below which broke the “Eww leeks” barrier. My partner likes them. I don’t but have bought them and tried different ways of cooking them for him. This recipe I absolutely loved! So It will be used frequently now also. What truly unusual times we are in. I’m pleased to be down at Level 2 and looking forward to meeting with a handful of friends for a weekly Friday morning coffee today.
I work from home so for me that part has been situation normal. My partner travels to board meetings and other work around NZ in normal times, so this has been a lovely time having him here for more than a few days in a row. A bit of a treat to be spending time together in the house we had built for us two years ago, in a cul-de-sac which has turned out to be delightful with lots of caring, friendly neighbours sharing home grown vegetables, fruit, preserves etc all through this time. We are not quite 70 but had lawns mowed for us, compost brought round for our garden. Fussed over like oldies – somewhat difficult to accept tho 😃
I wonder if you would mind changing my email address from the gmail one to our business one thanks. It’s firstname.lastname@example.org.
All the very best and keep up the good work. Rosemary Harris
Sent from my iPad
Dear Rosemary, thank you so much for your interesting comment – good to know you like the recipes too…
Apologies for my tardy reply…. I’ve consulted my partner about how to change your e-mails, and we don’t think we can do it this end…
I think the best way would be to unsubscribe from the gmail one, and then go to your business address, click on my blog, and become a follower or whatever, from that e-mail address……
Thank you again for your encouraging comments, and very best wishes to you, Valerie