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Four week countdown

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Yes, people, it's four weeks 'til Christmas... for those of us who celebrate it. And for those who live around us and have to put up with the cultural effects of it. emoticon

My personal countdown clock began on Thursday, as I hugged one of my nephews good-bye at the Thanksgiving family gather. He asked, "Christmas eve at your place?" I responded, "Yes." What's weird about this is that I may be the only person there who considers herself Christian.

Back a generation from mine, my mother's sister could never wait 'til Christmas day to open packages, so their tradition was to open the gifts around the tree that night.

In my growing up years, this tradition continued. It involved a soup supper, followed by Dad reading the Christmas story from the Bible, ending with the magi presenting their gifts. We were not well to do, and there were five of us kids, so the gifts we gave were small ones: a candle, a pair of slippers, a new spatula for mom's kitchen. It was usually something a body needed. Nowadays, what were our gifts would be advertised as "stocking stuffers" if they were advertised at all.

The joy of being together was the big deal. This Christmas eve, which was the "real" family Christmas for us, was followed by trips to the two grandmas houses, 60 miles distant, for Christmas breakfast with one grandma, and Christmas dinner with the other, and the car ride home, under the stars, singing in the back seat, led by mom, who could not carry a tune, but it didn't matter.

By the time I moved back here, the venue for Christmas eve had changed to my older sister's home. Mom was gone, Dad was better with going there, rather than trying to host. By this time, my brother was far away, and of the three sisters left in town, two had converted to Judaism. But we still gathered together as a family on Christmas eve, had our soup supper, and my sister would read from the family Bible, ending with the story of the magi, and the phrase "And that's why I give gifts at Christmas".

My "before" picture that I posted here on Spark is from one such gather: www.sparkpeople.com/mypage_photo_gal
lery_enlarge.asp?id=1398236


This is how my Jewish nieces and nephews have learned about the faith of their relatives and the traditions of the family. When my sister acquired a grandchild and started flying out to spend Christmas with that family... well, things changed again. One niece mournfully asked, "What will we do on Christmas eve?" This was last year... at the last minute, I acquiesced, and Christmas eve moved to my house.

Our religiously eclectic family will gather, I will read the Christmas story, and there may be a few small gifts to pass out, but the latest Christmas tradition is the announcing of what charities I have chosen to donate to, in lieu of giving gifts.

In the meantime, my home will start getting its holiday look, and I will fill it with Christmas music. Yesterday as I put up the tree and focused on the memories each ornament held, it was Handel's Messiah. I have gathered about ten or twelve albums over the years, and will change them and light candles and have moments to myself each day, soaking it in.

I choose to spend the next four weeks in the thankful frame of mind we just nurtured with the American Thanksgiving holiday... what a great way to arrange things!

My Spark friends (for whom I am grateful)... a wish for your Holiday season: may you consider yourself among the recipients of gifts, and give to yourself the gift of living in the moment. Soak it in. Love it. There's a reason for the season. Be kind to yourself, physically, mentally and emotionally. We are worth it.

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  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

LINDAJOYWK 11/27/2010 7:13PM

    Barb-you are as always-an inspiration!

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WALKINGANNIE 11/27/2010 4:27PM

    Thanks for sharing your memories of Christmas.

Your new profile photo is awsome - and what a change between Then and Now Barb!!

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REJ7777 11/27/2010 10:59AM

    Many of us have been blessed with many happy childhood memories associated with Christmas. Traditionally, our Christmas get-together was held at my parents' home. Now that they're both in their mid 80's, we rent a hall so that as many of the children, grand-children and great-grand-children as possible can be present. emoticon

"give to yourself the gift of living in the moment" - Thank you, I think I will! emoticon

When I look at that "before" photo of you, the change is absolutely amazing! You don't even look like the same person. emoticon I know you worked hard to get were you are. emoticon

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ANDI571 11/27/2010 10:26AM

    I loved your blog. My daughter has a boyfriend now, and we were discussing changes last night. She never has been one for change and it is hard on her. I told her as she gets her family, she will keep some of our traditions, but needs to tweak her life so she can have her own. It's just the way it works. I know I have made a lot of changes since leaving home 34 years ago.

We also read the Christmas story. It started the year Kel was born. But the 3 of us wait until Christmas evening after everyone has went home, we then head to the movies. We come home, eat a snack, then read the Christmas story before we open gifts. It is such a peaceful time. 29 years ago, I started reading the story, and now Kel does.

Thanks for sharing your story.

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MNTWINSGAL 11/27/2010 10:13AM

    It's great to step back from the commercialism and remember the reason for the season. Thanks for the timely reminder.

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LJCANNON 11/27/2010 10:10AM

    I grew up with 'Stocking Stuffer' Gifts too, and most of the time, that is what we still give.
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SWEETMAGNOLIA2 11/27/2010 9:47AM

    Enjoyed reading about your family's traditions in transition over the years. All are family oriented with meaning. Wishing you a wonderful Christmas season this year, dear ONEKIDSMOM. emoticonAnd yes, the good advice is taken to heart.

Comment edited on: 11/27/2010 9:48:09 AM

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JUST_TRI_IT 11/27/2010 9:36AM

    What a peaceful blog... filled with hope and lessons about the gifts of value. THank you emoticon

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CONCHA77 11/27/2010 9:35AM

    Great Blog and Great Advice. emoticon

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FITAT50 11/27/2010 8:57AM

    I really enjoyed reading your Christmas Eve tradition and how it has evolved over the years as families change.

I thankfully accept your "gift" may you have a blessed Holiday!
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RAYLINSTEPHENS 11/27/2010 8:36AM

    Wow - I followed your link - we could have been twins!!

It is sad, I never understood as I was growing up, Christmas has become commercialized.

We no longer exchange gifts unless they are "token" "stocking-stuffer" gifts.

Great blog, thank you very much!

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MSLZZY 11/27/2010 8:12AM

    emoticon emoticon emoticon

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Done with my personal version of NaNoWriMo

Friday, November 26, 2010

I felt it appropriate to end the mystery on Thanksgiving Day... it's almost the end of the National Novel Writing Month, and I'm afraid the mystery got far beyond the "outline" of a genre I originally envisioned. But yes, Annie, it was therapeutic to write it.

Where I left it, aside from the epilogue reflection, was more than seven years ago. In fact, all three versions of "my search for health and fitness" were written to cover different periods of a life-line.

There are lessons we all learn from living over the decades. One fresh reminder this morning is that this isn't about the number on the scale. I nibbled too many leftovers last night, fully conscious that I was doing so, and owning the decision... and this morning I'm feeling bloated and not hungry yet, despite the number on the scale.

Perhaps this is yet another lesson... this is what maintenance is all about: yeah, behaving badly at times, but recognizing it right away and getting back to the healthy habits again. Today is a day to put my own advice into practice: treat myself gently, and move on!

Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving day and move into a healthy and happy season.

  
  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

WALKINGANNIE 11/26/2010 2:25PM

    I'm just back from a family visit where internet access was very limited so I've read the last few of your blogs back to back. I'm glad that the process was therapeutic and feel that I know you much better now.

Thank you for sharing your experiences so openly and for writing about them with such sensitivity. Ultimately you have worked hard to find solutions that work well for you. The events that you have described have made you who you are today - a resilient survivor with compassion and empathy.

Hope you had a good Thanksgiving.

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PATRISNA 11/26/2010 1:59PM

    I am not quite to the maintenance point of my journey, but I agree with your point about recognizing problem days. We constantly need to keep working on our healthy habits.

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REJ7777 11/26/2010 1:27PM

    "... this is what maintenance is all about: yeah, behaving badly at times, but recognizing it right away and getting back to the healthy habits again."

That's very much the balance that I'm trying to learn on my journey to goal this time, so that afterwards, I can succeed at maintenance.

I agree, be gentle with yourself and move on. emoticon

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LJCANNON 11/26/2010 9:31AM

    Congratulations on finishing your Writing!! And with a few days to spare.
Maintenance is definitely a Challenge, but it is worth it!!
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MSLZZY 11/26/2010 8:32AM

    Great advice-thank you! HUGS!

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The mystery: Chapter 13 - Salvador's miracle

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Chapter 13:

Salvador Son slept through that fateful Saturday morning. His parents had argued before. Sleeping for 16 hours at a stretch, their arguments were just part of the background noise. But this time, when he awoke, the world was different.

Salvador knew a few basic things: he knew his body hurt, but he'd been observing the effects of the various treatments they had tried. He knew that while he had some very low times when he had wondered whether it was worth going on, he had found reasons that made living worth it. He knew that his mother had struggled with and made a difficult choice: no, two. He felt it was time for him to start making some choices, too. He couldn't stay in that basement forever. And he knew that he did NOT want to live his life the way his father did.

The morning after the big split, Salvador came out of Helen's basement and announced, "Mom, get your coat, we're going to go join a gym." He then proceeded to select a personal trainer. He was following through on the advice of Dr. Special!

Helen had to drive him to the gym, and that didn't hurt HER stress levels a bit. While he met with his personal trainer, she worked out herself. Working out gave her the motivation to also eat healthy. Helen had a couple of follow up appointments with Betty Balance to discuss what had happened, and she bubbled a bit: Salvador was indeed doing what Betty had said. He was figuring it out for himself.

Betty and Helen bid one another "good-bye". There wasn't much more Betty could do for Helen. Not that Helen didn't still have things to work through, but she had already made two major changes in her life, and had learned some skills to deal with what was to come.

Over the next year, working with that personal trainer, Salvador lost weight and became fit. The following Summer, he tackled learning to drive and got his license. Then his GED. He signed up at a community college and chose to study psychology. He joked with his mom that he chose that field because both his parents were "crazy".

How healthy did Salvador become? Healthy enough to reject the initial diagnosis: you don't get "better" from what they had labeled him. There were no signs of that any more. Healthy enough to pass the Army physical fitness test before going to basic training.

Looking back, Helen saw the whole thing as a miracle. She saw the hand of God working even when she was angry with God. She saw that God had worked in Salvador's life even when he said he didn't believe. Her heart was full of gratitude.

Even the epilogue for Harried Husband (now ex-husband) has some bright spots: once Salvador Son got some of his training behind him, he was able to talk his dad into getting some help. That story is still unfolding.

What about the mystery we started with? Was it ever solved? Who were the evil antagonists who were stealing Helen's health? Were they stopped forever, and jailed? Did they reform and stop punishing Helen?

Well, they still inhabit Helen's life... but there's a new voice in the mix: Helen herself has found an identity separate from Carrie Careerwoman, separate from Polly Perfectionist, separate from Debbie Denial. Helen has become more astute about recognizing the difference between her own thoughts and these so-called friends. She weighs what they say... and makes her own choices. She owns her decisions.

And that's about as good as it gets.

- the end -

  
  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

PENNYAN45 11/28/2010 7:39AM

    I've been busy with Thanksgiving guests and events - and did not get to read this final chapter until just now. It's good to see the mystery resolved --and with a happy ending. Thanks for sharing the story.

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PATRISNA 11/26/2010 1:51PM

    Thank you Barb. This was a great story and I loved the ending. I hope you had a wonderful holiday.

Hugs,
Pat

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REJ7777 11/25/2010 3:02PM

    How very appropriate that this last chapter is published on Thanksgiving Day!

I believe that God is at work in our lives, both when we see it and when we don't. I'm so glad that things have worked out as they have for both you and Salvador Son!

I was listening to a CD by Stephen Covey on the Habits of Highly Effective People. He was talking about making deposits in people's emotional bank accounts. He said one of the best deposits we can make is to "see" things from the other person's perspective. If we don't understand another person's perspective, we might make a withdrawl while intending to make a deposit! (I think he's the one who says that we don't see the world as it is, but as we are.) You did an excellent job of communicating this story from the perspective of the three main characters!

I often wonder about my worldview, and the things I'm SURE of. I think about different people and how I see them. And I wonder. We would indeed have a lot to talk about if we could have a coffee, or take a walk, together!

Happy Thanksgiving, my friend! emoticon

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MNTWINSGAL 11/25/2010 9:40AM

    I have enjoyed each installment, Barb. And because I'm a Barbara Brightside, I love happy endings!

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MSLZZY 11/25/2010 6:59AM

    Such rich detail and such a moving story! I am truly blessed to know you and I admire your honesty and dedication. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving! HUGS!

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The mystery: Chapter 12 - A Harried Reaction

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Chapter 12:

"What is she thinking?" Harried Husband exploded, crumpling up the letter from Helen Heroine. In it, she had suggested that he wasn't welcome in the house in Hometown until he got some therapy himself. Then maybe they could go to couples counseling together!

This had to be the fault of that Betty Balance person! She was poisoning Helen's mind against him. He had to get Helen back in line... he was losing her.

Even before this latest event, Helen had been changing, and it unsettled Harried. He hadn't been happy when she started that whole weight loss thing ten years ago, but he liked her new shape. He was just disappointed that she had never done it for him! It was some thing about having to do it for herself, or it wouldn't work?

The worst of it was that Helen had left the church. When she told him over the phone he didn't want to hear it, in fact he asked her not to tell him if she had, but it slipped out somehow anyway. Helen, the one raised in the faith! If they didn't have that in common, what else was she going to change?

"She can't keep me away! I am her husband!" And he began to make plans for the trip back out. He made vague promises about counseling... he dabbled with visiting some Tibetan monks, but would not go to a traditional therapist. It was, after all, against the faith.

After several promises and timing issues, Harried showed up one night, unannounced, at the house in Hometown. Just let himself in with a key... no phone call ahead to say he'd even left Oldtown. Nine o'clock on a December evening, when Helen was about ready to retire for the night.

It was not a pretty sight... Harried had brought token items: a buddhist prayer bowl, a Tibetan flag, and he tried to tell Helen that they would do their own "do it yourself" counseling... but she couldn't force him to go to therapy. She admitted that he was right about that. By the end of the first weekend with him back in the house, she was in a puddle of tears on her home office floor after one of Harried's "do it yourself" sessions, unable to stop the sobbing.

At this point she knew. Helen knew that she would not be able to live up to what she had told Betty a year ago: "I don't believe in divorce." Helen had two choices: change back or move forward.

Helen talked with Salvador, to kind of warn him what might lay ahead. With the wisdom of his eighteen years Salvador said, "You know, mom, leaving Dad won't solve all your problems." She knew he was right, but the way she interacted with Harried, she also knew, would lead to self-destruction. She just didn't have the strength... and that was a huge disappointment to herself (not to mention her chum Polly Perfectionist)!

Helen dithered over the decision for a few months, making practical plans but leaving herself open to a change of heart... if she could only get through this visit and he would leave again, she'd have breathing room to THINK. What she really wanted was for Harried to do what SHE thought was best for him.

However, Harried really now feared he was losing Helen and was pulling out all his unconsciously manipulative methods that used to work. He didn't leave after six weeks as he used to do!

One morning in April, it came to an end. Helen said "no". Harried exploded in rage, charging her, grabbing her by the neck and backing her up against her kitchen counter. Helen had feared such a reaction, which was why she'd been careful in planning her escape. Things just escalated before she had put it into place.

Helen yelled Salvador's name. Salvador was sleeping in his lower level bedroom. But the name of his son stopped Harried in his tracks. This wasn't really who he was. Helen was so shaken that all she did was collect her purse, get her keys, and tell Harried that she would not return to the house until he was gone. If he did not leave, she would find and place of her own... it was over. This line could NEVER be crossed. And she drove away.

Harried agreed to leave, and despite one last attempt to manipulate Helen by threatening to harm himself... he did. Helen did not sleep well until she got the locks changed.

... to be continued... (Tomorrow: Salvador's miracle)

  
  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

MSLZZY 11/24/2010 7:09PM

    How frightening-not a good way to live!

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REJ7777 11/24/2010 12:42PM

    emoticon emoticon

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PENNYAN45 11/24/2010 11:48AM

    There are times in our lives when tough decisions must be made. Many of us have had to do it ourselves. Certainly, I have.

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LEANJEAN6 11/24/2010 7:40AM

    anxiously awaiting the conclusion here---- Its a cliff hanger!!---*S*

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The mystery: Chapter 11 - Back to the professionals

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Chapter 11:

Salvador Son's request... no, demand... that Helen Heroine be a proper parent brought many things to mind. Greta Guilttrip told Helen she should have taken action long ago. Greta had lots of opinions!

Helen could only deal in the present, despite the weight Greta laid on her. Helen was a "project" person, she treated this no differently than she did her work projects: she threw herself into it with zeal. There was no thought to how much of her own energy and time would be expended.

She asked after the best practice specializing in Salvador's "label" in the city and found one that would treat an adolescent. And Helen then became a student of what the professionals had to tell her and her son.

Helen liked Dr. Special. He didn't pull punches. He frankly told Salvador son that while there was no "cure", Salvador could in fact make himself feel better. He prescribed physical therapy and recommended hiring a personal trainer and getting regular exercise. He handed Helen a referral for a talk therapist, to deal with the adjustment to Salvador's diagnosis.

Helen busily made the appointments for physical therapy and they gave that a try. The appointments were before Helen's already long work day. Helen set something up with the talk therapist, Betty Balance. Therapy, like medical treatment, was against Helen's religion. Helen decided to go to the first meeting alone.

Betty welcomed Helen to her office. Betty had been briefed by Dr. Special on the situation, but asked Helen to give her the description. What Helen ended up blurting out was essentially: "I don't know who needs therapy worse, the mother or the son!" And she went through half a box of tissues.

The next week Betty met with Salvador. When Harried came to town for the holidays, Helen and Harried went to talk to Betty Balance together. She was able to see how they interacted.

Harried left again, and Helen went back to see Betty. After these initial meetings, Betty gave Helen her thoughts: "Salvador is a bright kid. He will figure this out. I think the best thing I can do to help him is to help you."

Helen became the patient. Betty would ask a question or two. She would offer some service or information source about Salvador's condition, ideas to help it. But she also put the focus on one single issue: "What are you doing to manage your own stress?"

Helen sat up. Um... the automatic answer was supposed to be prayer, yeah. But seriously, church had become one more thing on her to-do list, and a demanding one at that. Betty did not judge, but commented, "Most people of faith find that helps them."

Helen continued her list of things that helped her manage stress. Helen realized that the list she had to offer was a list of things she USED to do... she wasn't doing ANY of them now! Betty suggested that Helen try to remember what it was like to be six years old, and give herself permission to act that way.

Over the next eight months or so, that's just what Helen did! She started doing things again: taking walks at noon. Getting outside more often. Eating a healthier diet. She rediscovered her public library and started reading things just for fun on her lunch break.

And Salvador? He wanted to drop the physical therapy, and Helen let him. He retreated into the lower level of the house, his own space, and played video games. He still didn't crack a school book. But he looked things up on line and read up on his diagnosed condition.

As Salvador came up with strategies to try (or as Betty would suggest them), Helen supported Salvador's choices. Among them were a chiropractor (tried, didn't help a whole lot) and a scheme to eliminate certain substances from his environment (seemed to help some, but not a whole lot, and hard to implement).

Betty gently probed Helen's feelings about Harried coming and going from her life. Betty helped Helen recognize a whole lot of other emotional elements going on in her life: anger, resentment, and a desire to control Harried's actions. Which of course, those of you healthy folks reading know is just crazy... you can't control the behavior of someone else!

Helen decided to leave the church when she realized two things: that she wasn't following its teachings, and that these things outside its teachings (doctors and therapy) were actually helpful to her! Betty was concerned that leaving this large part of Helen's life behind might cause a problem, but Helen felt free. She spent Sunday mornings walking the dog in a nearby park and felt as close to God as she ever had, maybe more. She worked her way through anger issues with God Himself, with the church, with her dad, with the way she was raised... finally able to admit that anger was there!

Helen felt good and did not want to lose this progress. When Harried started to discuss returning, it frightened Helen. She admitted to herself she wasn't sure she wanted him back. Especially if he didn't make a few changes to handle his own issues. Oh, yes, the desire to control was still there!

... to be continued ...

  
  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

PENNYAN45 11/23/2010 8:51PM

    I think many of us were fortunate enough to have had a Betty Balance in our lives during a difficult time. And thank goodness for her!
She gave us a new lens through which to view ourselves and our relationships.
She enabled us to make some decisions that were good for us. We needed someone to do that for us.

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REJ7777 11/23/2010 2:32PM

    What a treasure a good therapist is, and it looks like you found one! I'm so glad that you found Betty Balance! It sounds like she gave you "permission" to give yourself permission to take care of yourself, and then she helped you to understand what that meant.

That's what happened to me after my heart attack in January. I was working between 35 and 50 hours per week. I was emotionally and mentally exhausted. When people told me I worked too hard, I answered, "What choice do I have?" Anyway, the attack and medication made me unable to concentrate. I would think 5 and write 7. Not too good for a secretary! My doctor even mentionned the possibility of permanent disability. When I first started working part time, I couldn't do much. But as my medication was reduced, and I got fitter, my concentration started to improve. My doctor wrote a prescription saying that I could not work more than 20 hours per week. Currently, I work 20 hours at the office, and 8 hours at home (and that's how it will stay). That's enough income to pay the bills, and enough time to take care of my health! But, I needed someone to give me permission to take care of me! I told my doctor how much it meant to me to have her there in my corner with me.

God provided both you and I with caring, gifted professionnals at very vulnerable and strategic moments in our lives. I can't wait for the next installment to see what happens next. emoticon

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SWEETMAGNOLIA2 11/23/2010 10:49AM

    This is a wonderful blog. It addresses situations many of us are facing or are still healing from.

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PATRISNA 11/23/2010 10:35AM

    This really has been a good blog and as always makes me think. All of the chapters have been great.

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