Up north farmers' market

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

We're entering into my favorite 2 1/2 months of the whole year. Mid-August to the end of October. Favorite, weather-wise, that is. Low humidity, highs in the 70s during the day, high 50s at night, perfect for sleeping with the windows open. Love it.

Michigan can be so humid in the summers, and so gray and cloudy in the winters. We have no spring here. Just snow, then heat and humidity. 

So I savor this time.

It's so hard to find a good peach. There's a small window, and when they're good, they're wonderful!

My friend and I split this peach pie for lunch one day. Yum. We got it at the Harbor Springs farmers' market.

Locally spun yarn.

Heirloom tomatoes always look a little wonky. But delicious in a BLT.

Hope you're enjoying these lovely days of late summer.

We need our girlfriends

Monday, August 7, 2017

Friendship is a sheltering tree. -- Coleridge

Our hydrangeas are beautiful and prolific this year.

We had our 3rd annual book club sleepover this past Friday night.

I'm so thankful for this special group of women. We've been meeting for more than six years now, and have read more than 100 books. 

We are all former or current homeschooling moms, with a love of books.

But we're a lot more than that. These 10 women are some of the kindest, wisest, strongest, funniest, most beautiful women I know. We've cried together, laughed together, prayed together, helped each other pack and move, hosted bridal showers, helped with graduation parties, gone through illness and heartbreak together, rejoiced together . . .  I think about the combined skills and talents and intelligence and life experiences we have, and I'm pretty amazed.

Nine of us gathered for dinner Friday night, with five of us spending the night, and a sixth returning in the morning to share breakfast with us.

I made signs to put on the bedroom doors. And one on the entrance to the family room, as one sweet volunteer slept on the couch. Out of 10 of us, there are 5 Debbies! We all spell our names differently -- a Debbie, a Debby, a Deb, a Debra, and yours truly, a Deborah.
It had been a hard week for many of us. One wasn't going to come and had to be coaxed, some showed up in tears, some got upsetting phone calls early in the evening, one had an emergency and joined us later. But we rallied together, praying for each other, listening to each other, and giving lots of hugs and words of encouragement.

Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. -- Romans 12:15

And we ate some good food. Indian takeout, including mango shrimp, samosas, tamarind chicken, and eggplant. Baklava and fancy little desserts, half eaten before I remembered to get a pic.

We played a board game.

And we laughed. Long and hard. So healing to laugh with friends who get you.

 A study done at Stanford University reported that the best thing a man can do for his health is to marry a woman; the best thing a woman can do for her health is to have girlfriends!! Funny, but the idea is that women know how to emotionally connect. Men tend to share activities, like golf and other sports, with their friends. They don't usually share emotions or personal issues.

But we women are all about sharing and talking and supporting and nurturing. Men need women and women need women because of this. (I would add that women need men, for sure!)

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. -- Proust

Coffee and coloring in the early morning.
I'm kind of taken aback when I encounter women who gossip and create drama, who play games, who are catty and rude. I've been spoiled with my friends, not just those in my book club, but the other dear ones I've chosen to have in my life. Including my lovely and special blog friends!

The ones I've chosen. I finally learned a number of years ago to let go of people who aren't kind, who try to steamroll you and run your life, who are competitive and envious, or who play games. Sometimes we have to deal with people like that in the workplace or, unfortunately, sometimes among family members, but we can choose our friends.

I'm leaving tomorrow to spend a week with a dear friend who just had surgery and can't be on her feet for a few more weeks. Looking forward to laughing and crying together, drinking tea, and watching lots of good movies.

Hug a girlfriend today.

What do you think of the minimalism trend?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Minimalism, the decluttering lifestyle trend, has been on the radar for several years now. Marie Kondo's book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, helped bring attention to the movement, and to judge by the number of blogs and books devoted to the subject, it doesn't seem to be going away any time soon. It's said to appeal to millennials. And people resisting consumerism, materialism, and wastefulness. People overwhelmed with 21st-century life.

But is it just a trend? Does it make sense?

 I've read a number of these blogs and books about minimalism over the past few years. I've done the whole Project 333 thing, reducing the clothes in my closet. Decluttered and tried to simplify. And I've come to some conclusions about the whole thing.

Like anything, minimalism can be carried to an extreme. I've read blogs about it that are just silly. For two people, all you need, max, is four plates, four coffee cups, four towels, etc. Extra points for reducing that even more. Put your mattress on the floor so you don't have to clean under a bed. Get rid of all your books and only borrow from the library. 

Super simple, Zen living is appealing to some. But, to me, it only works if you're going backpacking in the woods for a couple weeks and you don't want to lug around a big heavy backpack. It just doesn't seem practical for real life. And, really, why?

Jennifer L. Scott, who has written the Madame Chic books, and has a popular YouTube channel, talks about a 10-item wardrobe. I think the concept of finding clothes you love and will really wear and feel good in is helpful, but I don't feel I need to strive for such an extreme.

For a recent prayer time with a couple friends.
      On the other side of the coin, there are hoarders, but I think we'd all say that isn't a good idea. We've seen the show. 

Then there are "preppers" who may or may not go to extremes, and just plain common-sense folk who advocate stocking up supples for emergencies, including storms and other natural disasters. Living in Michigan, with snowstorms and frequent power outages, I do like to have a supply of food on hand in the winter. Even if there's not a ton of snow out there, who wants to go out on icy roads if you don't have to?

The benefit for me of reading these blogs and books, especially a few years ago, was that it coincided with a change in my life circumstances. I was ready to clean up, clear out, and re-focus my energies.

Ending my homeschooling days and sending three children off to college really changed my life. I no longer needed a schoolroom, shelves of homeschooling books, or the extra food and pantry items for hungry teenagers and their friends.

It was time to clear out and get ready for the next stage. Books on minimalism were inspiring and got me motivated to organize and declutter.

It took me a few years, but I donated or threw out boxes and boxes and bags and bags of stuff.

As I re-thought my diet and my cooking preferences, I gave up my grain grinder and my canning supplies. After all, I've been trying to cut down on the carbs, and I no longer have a family of five to feed.

For the most part, I did well. But I was overzealous. There have been a number of things I wished I had held on to.

Why did I get rid of my canning supplies? Several years later, I'm wanting to can again. After all, my husband and I still eat. I still like to have things put away in my pantry. It's nice to give jam or pickles  as gifts for friends. 

Back in my grandparents' day, people didn't declutter. They held on to things just in case. The Depression was too real for them, and scraps and bits of food and fabric and string were saved, and used. (I read a book once called String too Short to Be Saved. A frugal New England farmer saved everything, and had a jar of string with that label on it!)

The minimalists tell us, get rid of it! If it doesn't spark joy, pitch it! (I think the underlying assumption is, that if you find you really need it, you can just go out and buy it again.)

I don't like clutter, and I like things neat and organized. But no one would accuse me of being a minimalist. Not with more than 1,200 books, 75 teacups, and drawers of antique linens. Not with shelves and drawers of makeup and jewelry and scarves.

If you want to treat yourself, get the Prismacolor colored pencils. SO much nicer than the Crayola.
And, as I've said, my Project 333 has broken down, mostly because I've gained back some weight, and my carefully curated closet doesn't quite fit. Even when I -- ahem -- get back into those clothes, that minimalistic of an approach probably is not for me, although it was a very useful exercise. 

To me, "spark joy" isn't always a useful maxim. Does a treadmill spark joy? Maybe it should, but it just doesn't. A better maxim I think is the old one, "have nothing in your house that is not beautiful or useful." A treadmill doesn't spark joy, it's not beautiful, but it is useful in helping me get some exercise.

So this is my idea:

*** (Try to) keep an organized, clutter-free home.

*** Love what you love and have as many as you want/can afford/have room for, whether it's books and teacups or yarn and fabric or shoes and handbags. (Just don't collect lots of everything!) Be grateful and enjoy.

*** Keep a reasonable supply of backup goods (extra towels and sheets for guests or illness, extra food and water for emergencies).

*** Get rid of stuff that you really don't like or that you're reasonably certain you won't use again. Paper clutter drives me crazy, and I'm constantly sorting through that. I've also tried to get rid of most plastic, itchy fabrics, decorative items that aren't beautiful to me, clothes that don't suit me, books I don't like.

*** Resist impulse buying and temptations to consume. Unsubscribe to emails that tempt you to buy.  Unsubscribe from catalogs, or put them right in the recycling bin. If you really need something you can go looking online and probably find, or wait for, a sale. In the meantime, all that advertising won't be taking up your time and mental space.

Like everything in life, balance is a good thing. So while the minimalist trend has been helpful in identifying what kinds of things I like in my life, and helping me to get organized, I'm on the side of balance and moderation. Paring down to the bare minimum is really no fun.  The other extreme, hanging on to everything "just in case" or out of guilt, is just too overwhelming.


Speaking of minimalism, check out my teeny pillow.

Yes, this is what I sleep on. It helps my neck from getting all cricked up. It's a tiny travel pillow. I made these little pillowcases for it.

They won't let me bring my pillow to my overnight sleep study. No pillows can be brought in unless they're brand new, still in packaging, and they watch you open it. They're trying to avoid bedbugs. 


What do you all think? Are you a minimalist? Or do you love your stuff? In between?

Bronchitis . . . and a little time to think and plan

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

I'm recovering from bronchitis . . . I seem to have lost two weeks of summer. Last time I had this I cracked a rib from coughing so much. Felt sure I was going to do the same this time.

But, as they say, there's always a silver lining. Or, as my mom says, "it's an ill wind that blows no good . . . "

*** I discovered that I sleep much better on the mattress in one of our guest rooms. I was sleeping downstairs on the recliner because of my cough, and graduated to a guest room so as not to wake my husband. My back is not sore in the mornings. I'm hoping we can switch the mattresses soon. Although my husband likes our softer mattress. Hmm . . . 

*** I finally finished the second sock I was knitting. Other than the last 12 stitches. I need my knitting instructor to show me again how to do the kitchener stitch to finish it off. I'm so proud of this pair of socks. A lot of effort and a couple tears were shed in the making.

*** I re-read Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson, and was inspired to get into a better routine with my housework. One of my blogger friends has discovered the old Side-Tracked Home Executives method, but it looks a little too complicated for me.

I remember a couple years ago I made myself a whole list of daily chores, and it exhausted me after a week!

Because I don't work outside the home, it's easy to get lax with housekeeping routines. I need to set something up so I can keep up with things, get some projects done, and make time for other pursuits. Have any of you found a system you like?

*** I became convicted -- again -- about social media. I'm tempted by IG, but going to resist. I only posted there for a few months, and it was fun to see my friends' pictures and keep in contact with them. But it is another pull on my time. I'm definitely dealing with the FOMO, but, oh well.

I just read another article on the time-sucking, creativity-draining, mind-numbing effects of social media and screen time. I've often wondered how my grandmother accomplished so much. Things were quiet, and there were no media distractions.

I fasted from my phone and laptop on Sunday. I think I will make this a regular habit.

I'm also thinking about having a set time during my day to get online. Not always checking and getting distracted all day long. Have any of you tried this?

*** Sitting and staring at our backyard (while coughing lying a-bed) helped me to formulate a plan to de-forest.

In the 19 years we've been here, the woods keep advancing toward the house, to the point that I can barely see the sky from my kitchen sink.

My husband has fought a valiant fight over the years with his chainsaw, trimming and hacking away. But it's time to get someone in to clear out some of scrubby brush (hawthorn bushes, mostly), dead branches, and vines, and to thin things out a bit.

The good news is that instead of a wall of bushes, we are starting to see a forest, with an understory, and I will enjoy looking through the woods, and having some space for the sunlight to peep through and room for the nicer trees to stretch their limbs, as it were.

We had two sad-looking cedars here at the side of the deck, outside my kitchen window. My husband removed one, and stripped down the other to serve as my bird feeding station.

After years of staining, and replacing boards, we are replacing the wood deck with a new composite one. No more maintenance!

We had been asked to host a large party this summer (which thankfully got postponed). But that was what really got us moving. We were afraid someone's foot could go through the wood in some spots.

I bought this vintage floral fitted sheet at an antique store last year, and hope to get some pillowcases made from it. I sleep on a very small pillow. I need to wrap a regular pillowcase around it 1 1/2 times to fit!

The above picture shows what a lazy blogger I've become. I never would have taken a picture of a wrinkled pillowcase I had just slept on. I would have made up the bed, put on a fresh pillowcase, etc., to take the picture. Sigh . . . 

How's your summer going? Let me know your thoughts about housekeeping routines and managing online and social media.


Coping with "muchness and many-ness" in the quest for sleep

Thursday, July 13, 2017

I've been having insomnia problems again.

I had some real success with the online CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) program SHUTi that I've blogged about, and even though I'm (pretty much) still following it, I'm back to almost three or four nights a week not being able to fall asleep until 4:30 or 5 a.m.

I'm going to a sleep clinic next week, so I'll let you know how that goes.

In the meantime, though, I've been trying to find ways to quiet my mind and ease those racing thoughts that can keep me up.

And one of the things I'm looking at is "muchness and many-ness," a phrase I read years ago in Richard Foster's book The Freedom of Simplicity. I've thought of it often in the years since.

In my case, the "muchness and many-ness" is not so much activities as it is information and sensory overload.

There are some people who thrive on noise and activity, and indeed do their best work when their headphones are on and they're listening to music or to a podcast. I know of people who have a TV in every room and they're all turned on so that wherever they go, they can hear their program.

But this is not me. Too much noise and distraction is crazy-making for me. Please don't ask me to go to Costco with you. Two or three hours at a mall is exhausting. And cable news with all the arguing talking heads? Get me outta here!

This is more my style -- a quiet beach in northern Michigan which we visited last week.
I grew up in a home where classical music was often playing. But I was unable to even expose my children to that or to any other good music (although they all took piano lessons) because I just couldn't have any more noise in a home where there were three children and we were homeschooling and I was busy thinking about many things.

There's plenty of noise going on in my head without adding any more. Thinking, thinking, thinking about something all the time.

{Over the years, I have asked my husband "what are you thinking about?" And he'll answer "nothing." I used to feel hurt that he wasn't sharing with me, until I realized he was telling the truth! Some people really do have times when they are quiet in their minds. Just chillin'. No wonder he sleeps so well.}

So I've had to deal with the fact that I cannot have too much "muchness or many-ness" in my life. Even though I've always led a quieter life, I need to do so especially now. And there are so many more distractions and so much more noise in our world.

All electronics have to be shut off at least three hours before bed. For me, that means no computer time after 8:30 p.m. No movies or books that could be scary, stimulating, or interesting enough that I will want to think them over at bedtime and that will keep me wired up into the early, and late!, morning hours.

It's a frustrating thing as evening is prime time for reading and blogging and researching things on the internet. I feel impatient with myself that I can't handle these things without literally losing sleep.

So, I can knit. Or read gentle books like old favorites by Miss Read or Grace Livingston Hill or Elizabeth Goudge. Or take a bath. Or write in a journal.

 I had a quiet childhood, with a professor for a father, and, later, when she went to work, a librarian for a mother. Books were big. Other than the classical music and very small amounts of TV time for some favorite shows, it was quiet there for reading and handcrafts like embroidery and knitting.

I need to return to those kinds of evenings.

{As an aside, I tremble for the children of today who are handed screens from toddlerhood. Where is the time for long summer afternoons to read and imagine and go outdoors in the fresh air and play? I feel certain it must change the wiring in their brains and be harmful, and science backs this up.}

 It's so easy to get caught up in the latest and greatest, and download apps and spend time on social media. It's fun. But I'm purposefully trying to scale back on those things, for my sleep as well as my sanity.

{Depending on the source you read, it's estimated that Americans check their phones around 80 times per day. One source says that we touch our phones 2,617 times a day. Seriously?! And Instagram is purported to be the worst social media for mental health, being associated with increased depression, anxiety, and sleep issues. (The study was conducted on younger people, but still . . . ) I have to fight the FOMO myself as I know my friends are posting on IG, and I do feel sometimes I'm missing out.}

It's constant, the apps, the social media, the cable news, the steady stream of info (why do we have to watch TV when we're pumping gas or getting our teeth cleaned or eating in a restaurant?!). 

How can we gain any perspective on our world if we are constant receivers of input all the time? How can we possibly have time to sort through it all and make rational, thoughtful conclusions about what's happening?

How can we ever hear that "still, small voice" of God if it's never quiet?

When we were in China, I stopped on a walking trail to observe a Chinese woman patiently working to build up the mud wall along a rice terrace. The scene was such a contrast from the fast-moving, high-energy city of 34 million in Shanghai where we had just been (and where, by the way, everyone is also glued to their iPhones). Her life is hard, and she is poor. But I thought that she may have the better life in some ways than those poor souls rushing through traffic and enclosed in skyscrapers all day long in Shanghai. And I imagine she has time to sit with her family in peace and quiet and that she sleeps very well at night.

{Of course, maybe I'm just being a crank. A teen who was with us on our trip thought Shanghai was the most exciting place in the world!}

All our work these days is mental. That can be more anxiety-inducing than physical labor. Which is a reminder to me that sometimes washing the floor or hanging out laundry or vacuuming the house is more soul-giving and ultimately leads to better sleep than scrolling through Facebook or watching news or researching the latest trends and breakthroughs.

Another thing that causes "muchness" in my life is online shopping. I hardly ever go to a store and love the convenience of comparing items and reading reviews in the comfort of my home. I can literally look at hundreds of dresses (and I have) for a wedding or event. Or spend hours looking for lamps, as I did recently, comparing ones offered on different sites and reading reviews. One site I looked on had over 33,000 floor lamps alone.

{And in my defense, why is it so hard to find a dress that is knee length, covers the upper arms and doesn't reveal cleavage, but is still stylish?!}

The sheer overwhelming number of choices we have is a blessing, but sometimes I think it is a curse. Even deciding on toothpaste can be overwhelming. Whitening? Paste? Gel? Chloride or no? Peppermint? Spearmint? Same goes for yogurt and milk and laundry detergent and . . . 

 I know I'm not the only one dealing with insomnia. Millions of Americans are sleep-deprived or suffer from insomnia, some reports saying one in three. We all need rest.

How do you all cope with insomnia, and with that other problem of "too much?"


Did you know there's a tea farm in Michigan? Me neither. I thought there was only one in the U.S., but when I looked it up, I see there's lots (of farms, that is; there's actually only one tea plantation, the Charleston Tea Plantation).  I found this Hummingbird Nectar Herbal tea in a little store, and was told it was grown in Michigan. Very spendy, as they say, but how could I resist?

It's okay to sit down

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

I haven't been feeling well lately, so I decided to sit out on my deck yesterday afternoon and just have a breather.

I never do this.

Don't ask me why I feel guilty just sitting down and doing nothing in the middle of the day. I need to get over this.

Anyway, I was sitting there in a reclining lawn chair having this argument with myself.

"So-and-so is helping her aged parents today. So-and-so is busy teaching piano. So-and-so is working . . . so-and-so is painting her whole house. All by herself. And here you sit, doing nothing." Blah, blah, blah.

I felt the warm sun on my face. The light breeze caught the wind chimes. I watched a blue jay fly up to the top of a tree and wondered about what kind of nest his little family has. I looked at the flowers on my deck, pink and yellow, and stubbornly cheerful in the face of my dark mood.

I have a choice, I thought. 

I can spend this time feeling guilty, and ruin the little pleasure I have here, or I can embrace it as a gift and enjoy the sun, the flowers, the birds.

The feeling of "I'm not enough," or "I'm not doing enough" is so common. Why is it that when you actually do take time to stop and smell the roses you feel like a slacker?

I shared these feelings with my daughter when we were shopping together last week. She found me a coffee mug that made me laugh out loud.

"I'm too pretty to work" (and, yes, that's a stroopwafel on the top of the mug, a traditional Dutch cookie with caramel inside that melts as the steam from the coffee rises).
There's always plenty of work to do, but it really is okay to relax. In the middle of the day even. Remind yourself. You are enough. Bless the Giver of the sun on your face and accept it with gratitude.

Tea in China . . . and at home

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Well, I didn't drink all the tea in China, but I sure made a start.

Our first full day in Beijing we went into a tea shop. I was thrilled my fellow travelers were willing to spend time poking around, looking at all the tea and cups and pots.

It was lovely to smell all the exotic teas. Dried rose bud tea . . .

Lidded tea cups with fitted strainers inside.

We were given a tea demonstration, and able to try a half dozen different kinds of tea, including a jasmine with ginseng, some peurh tea (a type of fermented tea I had discovered in a tea shop in Boulder, Colorado, earlier this year), a fruit tea, and some oolong.

Here, our hostess is holding up a large cake of puerh tea. These teas are similar to fine wines, in that they are dated by age, and the older, the better. Puerh tea is credited with lowering cholesterol, as it contains small amounts of lovastin, a natural statin. 

Puerh is also supposed to help with digestion, weight loss, and even sleep. Although it contains small amounts of caffeine (but less caffeine the older the tea), it doesn't seem to disrupt sleep because it also contains GABA and theanine, shown to reduce stress and aid in the production of melatonin. I'll be drinking this tea for sure. I really like its earthy taste.

We also enjoyed some flowering (or blooming) tea. The bulbs are made by wrapping tea leaves around dried flowers. When you add hot water, the bulb opens, simulating a flower blooming. 

We were told you can get a couple pots out of one bulb, and that Chinese people then leave the opened bulb in the clear glass teapot to display. I bought some of this tea, as well as the jasmine ginseng. I usually think jasmine is too floral, like I'm drinking perfume, but the ginseng seems to cut the too-floral taste.

Several in our group loved this "tea," which was just dried fruits. It produces a very rich, fruity tea that reminded me a little of the Celestial Seasonings zinger teas, only more deeply flavored.

My husband told me to pick out one of these to take home. I picked a yellow one, very traditionally Chinese. I thought the lid was to keep the tea warm, but you tip it to hold the tea leaves away as you drink the tea.

These clay teapots are very popular, and they hold in the heat very well. They also will pick up the flavor of the teas brewed in them over the years, so it is good to dedicate each pot to a different tea.

While we were in Shanghai several of us went to a mall to shop for pearls and silk. We went into a little shop selling tea accoutrements, and were served tea by this sweet girl.

She served us tea in these cute little cups while we looked around and did the obligatory bargaining. Never pay more than half the starting price, I was told. I learned to bargain by gesturing and punching numbers into a hand calculator!

I got a few sets of chopsticks, and then a couple packs of these brightly colored ones.

I had this ice tea out of vending machines several times while we were in China. I was happy to see the English on this bottle, as I would not have been exactly sure if it was even tea.

After Shanghai, we took a bullet train down to Guilin, and stayed at a quaint, homey inn where I ordered chrysanthemum tea. You can see the flowers in the pot.

 In Traditional Chinese medicine, the "chi," or life force, is supposed to be disrupted by ingesting cold food or drinks, but the Chinese sure seem to like ice cream anyway, if the number of Haagen-Dazs shops I saw was any indication. The inn we stayed at offered one or two scoops of ice cream on their menu.

I hurt my chi here.

This is what they consider two scoops of ice cream. Pretty fancy.

I had to dissect how they fixed up this slice of orange. Isn't this clever and beautiful? Peel a slice of orange a little more than halfway down, carefully cut slices into the peel as shown, and then bend the center of the peel back to allow the cut pieces to fan out.

Another evening I got a mug of chrysanthemum tea. Notice all the flower heads floating on top.

I have no idea why one night I got a pot, and why I got a mug here. Language barriers.

I have another post planned on food in China, and one on shopping, if you'll bear with me.


Tea times continue here at home.

A friend brought by this pretty dessert for me in honor of my birthday. I'm drinking tea from my Royal Albert June teacup.

My husband brought me flowers. I had just got home from getting groceries and couldn't help noticing how pretty everything looked together.

On my birthday proper, my daughter took me out for afternoon tea.

I had already started in on these when I realized I hadn't got a picture. The waitress brought me another muffin and scone just so I could get a picture!

Daughter got me a lovely big crystal honey pot and a toast rack. I've always wanted a toast rack, especially after watching all the English period dramas. So elegant. I'm off visiting a friend this week or I'd take a picture of them to share.

I did get a picture of this gift from our youngest who just went to England and Scotland. The Big Ben tin contains English Breakfast tea. The spoon is from Iceland, where he stopped for a layover.

Mr. Beautiful got me an opal necklace.

It was a big birthday this year. As in a big number. (Hmmm . . . I guess they only do get bigger.)

Happy first day of Summer tomorrow.
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