Things to Remember; Things to Forget

view from Hillfoot Street Dunoon

So at some point in this blog about my recent hospital stay, I should write something funny about the food. I can’t. It wasn’t funny.

Scotland’s National Health Service is under attack from every angle. Criticisms, some justified, are as copious as rainfall, and for those who have never lived here – it rains nearly every day. My surgeon was skilled, hospital employees were caring and competent, and the facilities were outstanding. No way would I bash the health care system which literally saved my life. Chronic, agonizing pain is a killer. Cauda Equina Syndrome is synonymous with killer pain.

As a title of respect in the UK, surgeons are introduced as “Mr.,” not “Doctor.” So it is with upmost respect that I thank my surgeon, Mr. Bhattathiri,” not only for his skillfulness in surgery, but for his genuine compassion. His name may be spelled with a “B,” but he genuinely put the “care” in caring.

I believe the Bible, including 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “I everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” And I know that I know that I know that, “All things work together for good to those who love the Lord.”

I don’t know why this happened to me. I don’t know why I had to have major back surgery. But I do know that I’ve been blessed by all the years of good health that God has given me. Soon, Cauda Equina Syndrome will be merely a memory.

The food? Not so much.

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Signs…and…No Signs

The first time we looked for our rental house in Dunoon, Scotland—we couldn’t find it. Knowing we are directionally challenged, we figured it was our fault. Later we realized…there were no legible street signs.

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We felt vindicated when friends from the Black Isle came to visit and also became lost. Signs are important. Faced with medical or other emergencies, signs attain life or death importance.

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Signs matter. They matter to me especially since I’ve been a sign painter. For one of the first signs I painted, I bought a dictionary to ensure correct spelling. When the 10 signs were delivered, the customer yelled at me for misspelling his signs. When I explained I had looked the word up in a dictionary, he demanded to see the dictionary, so I handed it to him. He was livid as he thumped the cover: Webster’s English Dictionary. Authorize is spelled authorise in the UK.

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We read the rules on a pool sign recently. I don’t know if you’re allowed to bring glass containers into the pool area—but leave the ducks at home.

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Signs of spring, signs of autumn, signs of approaching storms—not all signs are produced by humans.

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My favorite sign is the Bible, God’s Word. Lack of street signs may result in physical misplacement, but lack of spiritual signs result in miserable, misspent years in this life, and risk of eternal separation from God.

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Jesus promised, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

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No other sign can match that promise.

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Why God Made Dandelions

Before we moved, one neighbor would look at our yard critically and glower if he spotted a dandelion. Me? I love the cheerful yellow flowers and would gladly have a yard full of them. But the Bible instructs to live peacefully, as much as possible, with all people—thus the countless hours digging up the poor dandies by the roots and discarding them.

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Why did God make dandelions? Critics claim that dandelion clumps on athletic fields and golf courses result in poor footing for humans. Critics say they reduce the aesthetic quality of turf grass. Fruit growers claim bees prefer dandelion blooms to fruit tree blossoms and that dandelions entice the bees away resulting in a loss of pollination. Defenders of dandelions make tea and entire meals out of dandelions and tout their health benefits.

Me? I have my own reflection on dandies and why God made them. They are hardy, prolific, cheerful, thrive in almost any climate condition, and are almost impossible to kill. They’re tough! They’re encouraging.

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When we first moved to Dunoon, we found an impossibly steep hill that had to be conquered in order to walk our dog. So impossible did the hill look that I turned back and wasn’t going to attempt it—until I spotted a dandelion growing out of a rock wall. If that flower could conquer that ages-old rock wall…we could conquer the hill. And we did.

Successful people are like dandelions. Tough.

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Bill Gates, the richest person in the world, failed in his first business. Albert Einstein survived a miserable childhood and never spoke until age four. Jim Carey was a homeless high school dropout. Stephen King’s first novel was rejected 30 times—but he never quit writing. Vincent Van Gough only sold one painting in his lifetime—but he kept painting and left behind 900 works of art.

Bethany Hamilton had her arm bitten off by a shark when she was 13. She was back on her surfboard one month later, and two years later she won first in the Explorer Woman’s Division of the NSSA National Championships. Oprah Winfrey was repeatedly molested as a child and gave birth at age 14 to a son who died shortly after. Her net worth today—$ 2.9 billion.

Tough. As tough and successful as dandlelions.

I like that! I like dandelions!

blog dandlions necessary pride & tenacity

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One Person CAN Make a Difference

Think one person can’t make a difference? Think you can’t make a difference? Think again.

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More than a thousand years ago, an Irish holy man named Fintan Munnu started one of the first Christian communities in western Scotland. His chapel gave the present historic village of Kilmun its name. Over the centuries, a place of worship has always graced the hillside where Fintan Munnu—one man—walked, prayed, worshiped, and built a life of service to God.

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An American, James Piers Patrick, bought an estate on the Cowal Peninsula of Scotland close to Dunoon and planted an avenue of Giant Sequoia trees in 1863. The enormous awe-inspiring trees—now 148-feet high—continue centuries later to draw visitors to Benmore Botanic Garden. One person who made a difference.

James Duncan—one man—bought the 120-acre estate in 1870, planted more than six million trees and added paths through the forested hillside. One person.

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Henry Younger took over the estate in 1889 and added exotic shrubs and trees before gifting the estate to the nation.

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“Wild Horse Annie” Velma Bronn Johnston successfully campaigned to stop the eradication of wild horses and free roaming burros from U.S. government land. Legislation to protect wild horses and burros was passed in 1971 after Velma engaged school children around the United States to join the campaign to save the animals and stop the rampant cruelty and slaughter that was desecrating herds.

Wild Horse Annie died in 1977, and wild horses need prayers and protectors again. You can, we can make a difference again.

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There are likely thousands of other examples of one person who made a difference…but I just happen to have pictures for these!

Whoever you are and wherever you are…you CAN make a difference.

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Broken Dreams

Before we moved from Fortrose to Dunoon, Scotland, I made a brief foray into the land of Broken Dreams when I discovered a tarp-covered boat growing in a plot of brambles and tall weeds. Someone had dreamed of adventuring aboard that boat. It had once been a prized possession, as evidenced by the green tarp that had been lovingly gathered around the earth-bound boat for so long that one of the seats had broken through its protective covering. What shattered those watery dreams? Illness? Lack of time? Lack of money? New interests? Whatever the reason, the forgotten boat slips into oblivion in the land of Broken Dreams.

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It seems as if we have forgotten Paul’s wise advice in the Bible: “And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.” (I Timothy 6:7)

Moving took us on a journey to the land of Broken Dreams. We had to condense 35 years of my husband’s ministry career from a seven-room house to a three-room house. Before the moving van arrived, we had already gifted furniture, books, clothes, and cool “things” to a Christian charity. When we got to the three-room house, we had to get rid of more so we could fit.

How many things do we need for survival and how much is space-wasting clutter? Folks who live in RVs, barges, boats, and tents (Yes, some folks live in tents, as per Miz Mike #3 mystery-romance-suspense “Bridge to Xanadu.) have a ready answer for what is vital to keep and what to toss. Space constraints point wobbly accusations at space raiders—things that we simply couldn’t live without when we first got them—and then realize we didn’t need after all.

Allow me to vent briefly. I get angry when people here in the UK talk about “wasteful Americans.” I have never lived anywhere in the US that didn’t have “fix-it” shops, that didn’t sell vacuum cleaner parts, or where folks didn’t continue driving their vehicles until long after they passed the 100,000-mile mark. Here, cars are shiny new. It’s hard to find an old one. No fix-it shops. Everything is tossed out when it breaks. It’s impossible to change the belt on a vacuum cleaner. They are solid molded plastic and don’t come apart. Folks are expected to throw them out and buy a new one when the belt breaks. Leftover food? “Health and safety” warns against it.

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Not that my husband is wasteful. We eat everything. And I’ve lost track of what hubby brought with us to the new house and then discarded, including a huge ball of used rubber bands. He still has his set of “Word Studies in the Greek New Testament,” and enough history books from different countries to start his own library.

We found a rubber band outside on the ground yesterday. I picked in up and started to toss it in the garbage. He grabbed it out of my hand and said earnestly, “We should keep this. We might need it.”

I didn’t say a word.

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Mysteries

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I love mysteries. That’s why I write them.

One of my recent blogs showcased a mystery about the “angel bus.” I was in downtown Inverness waiting for a city bus that never came. The overhead sign kept promising the bus would arrive—but it never did. It was freezing with sleety rain and my fingers were numb and throbbing even inside gloves. Finally an old white bus with no city markings and no lettering at all limped to a stop in front of me and the door opened. When I asked the driver if the bus went to the retail park, he said, “If that’s where you want to go.” I got on the bus. It was empty. Momentarily, I thought I had been kidnapped, but quickly dismissed that idea. I’m too poor to garner a ransom. The old bus deposited me at my location. I’ve been back to Inverness several times since then. I have never seen that bus again. To me, it will always be an angel bus.

Now the mystery of the angel glove—or more aptly—the glove that an angel returned. This close to Christmas, with extra services and visiting, the last thing a pastor has time (or money) to do is rush into the city to buy a pair of new gloves, yet one of Alan’s gloves was missing. We hunted for it in the house. We crawled around on our hands and knees searching the car. We walked the cement slab path between the car and the house several times. We looked under the rosebushes. No glove.

Yesterday, after several days of vainly pursuing said lost glove and trying to figure out a good time to go into town to buy a new pair before the forecast winter weather mix hit—we found the missing glove. In plain sight. I was returning from handing out Christmas cards and cookies when I spotted the lost glove right beside the cement slab path where we had searched so diligently. We use that path several times a day.

Doubters will claim that neither Alan or I are getting any younger and that at our age, the eyes can fail. Doubters will claim that it’s a busy time of year and we were just too rushed to look as conscientiously for the lost glove as we thought we had. If doubters are happy walking around under their weight of normalcy, that’s fine. But I love mysteries! I love solving mysteries. My solution to this mystery is that the glove was indeed lost. Alan had accidentally dropped it somewhere between our house and Inverness. God realized our low ebb of money and energy—and He sent an angel to bring it back to us.

God loves His human creations so much that He intervenes in their daily lives to bring them joy. He sent Jesus to us as a gift for eternity and the angels sang over His birth with joy. Our Christmas glove brings us joy. I have my angel bus—Alan has his angel glove.

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My Version of Hell

Most have probably heard the Biblical description of hell: a place where the fire is not quenched and the worm never dies.

My version of hell is a bit different. Cold.

I like to inject humor into the things I write, both my books and my blog. But, honestly, I just don’t find cold or being cold funny.

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Cold was funny when we were kids. My siblings and I would throw lemon drops across the frozen pond and watch our Great Danes slip, slide, and skate across the ice to snatch the candy. We laughed like maniacs as the poor long-legged beasts sprawled time and again on the ice. But now…that seems cruel, not funny. What if the ice had broken and the dogs had drowned? What if they had broken their legs or sustained permanent soft tissue damage? Of course, we were out there slipping, sliding and falling right along with them.

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Seriously, how can one find humor in something like cold that can kill you? I remember the time we walked two miles to a neighbor’s house to get two adorable puppies with the idea that our parents would let us keep them once we had them. Wrong. They were the cutest bundles of fluffy brown and white that we had ever seen. We sneaked them past our house and stashed them temporarily in our neighbor’s barn. That meant walking through ice and snow several times a day to feed them, because it was an unusually cold winter. We all suffered frostbite. To this day, my fingers become numb and burn after only a short time in the cold—even when I’m wearing gloves, and my toes are not far behind. It was humiliating to be forced to return the puppies to their owner and admit that our parents would not let us keep them. We cried the two miles from our house to their house to take the precious pups back home. Yet what I remember being even more painful…was the cold.

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Another cold-induced misery I remember is when, as an adult, I went on a church outing in northern Nevada so Luke could have the joy of picking out his own Christmas tree. He had the proper coat and boots for the occasion, and although he got cold like the rest of us, I don’t remember him suffering. As a single parent, I had only been able to outfit one of us with water-proof boots. So while he tromped around in the snow with the other children, engaging in snow battles and building a snow fort while searching for the perfect tree, I walked around in tennis shoes. I think it was the next day before I could feel my toes again.

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Oh, and not to forget the time I caught a snake at the pond to see if it was poisonous or harmless. It was venomous. The water moccasin took exception to being caught and bit me. So while the hospital waited for the anti-venom to be flown in from Atlanta, they froze my arm in a tub of ice water. Once they administered the shot, they thawed my arm. To this day I’m not sure whether it hurt worse to have my arm freeze or thaw.

Nope. I do not find snow beautiful, nor do I weather cold climates well. I’m amazed that after five years of almost never being warm, I’m still in Scotland. It is a lovely country with scenic views in every direction…but it is COLD.

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So keep your Biblical version of hell as a place of raging fire and worms feeding off flesh. That’s the way Jesus described it and Jesus is always right. But I will keep my personal version of a place where it never warms up, my teeth are clattering like ice cubes hitting a glass, and every muscle in my body is stretched painfully tight until I feel like I’m shriveling up like an abandoned pumpkin after Thanksgiving. Oh, yes…and there would be fire in my version of hell because my fingers and toes would burn.

Thankfully, I won’t ever go to hell to see what it’s like because I have Jesus in my heart and He promised, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16.

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And, thankfully, readers—you won’t have to go find out for yourselves either. Sometimes the best knowledge and wisdom we possess comes not from sticking our hand in the flame to see if it really burns—but in watching someone else and making the decision not to follow their example.

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Angel Bus

It wasn’t until I wrote about the experience later in the day that I was struck by the thought…had it been an Angel Bus?

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Our rough collie has digestive problems and can only eat prescription dog food. As long as she eats that dog food – and that dog food only – she does well. Because of Angel Joy’s chronic illness, she can tolerate only one type of treat, which most stores don’t stock.

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I took a bus to Inverness, Scotland, and waited at the bus station at the designated stand for the connection needed. It never came. It was cold, rainy, and windy (imagine that in Scotland!), and my fingers and toes were growing numb. I finally asked the driver of another bus if his bus went to the retail center. He told me I would have to walk to the stand in the town center. So I went…and that bus never came. It was announced on the flashing sign and I waited through 30 minutes of changing promises that it was arriving in three minutes, two minutes, etc., but it never arrived.

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Without leaving the stand where the sign promised a bus would arrive imminently, and walking some distance in the rain (it hadn’t been raining when I left home, so I was unprepared) to my bank, I didn’t have enough money for cab fare. But I was so cold and miserable that I decided I would either take a taxi – or just go back home without the treats.

Then an old white bus limped to a stop in front of me. It was not painted or marked like a city bus. It resembled a bus from a third world country, like the one in Walt Disney’s 1964 “The Moon-Spinners,” with Hayley Mills. The door opened. I peeked inside the empty bus and asked, “Does this go to the retail center?”

The driver smiled (a rarity for Scottish bus drivers) and said, “If that’s where you want to go.” So dismissing the idea that I might be kidnapped as writer’s imagination (I don’t make enough with my writing to be worth kidnapping), I climbed aboard the empty bus and arrived at the retail park. When I was ready to leave, there were a plethora of city-marked buses coming to collect passengers and take them back to the main bus station.

 

Had it been an Angel Bus? Hebrews 13:2 advises, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.” And Psalm 91:11 says that God will give His angels charge over us to keep us in all our ways.

Not all angels take a human form. I remember the lovely golden retriever that followed Luke home one day and stayed on our porch all night. The dog tackled a drunk intruder and chased him away…then vanished. We could never find the dog or the dog’s owner to thank them.

I think of two of my high school English teachers as angels. Both encouraged me in my writing, no matter how many misspelled words I had or how messy my handwriting was. Miss Greene’s statement, “Stephanie, I believe I will be reading your books someday and teaching them in my literature classes,” kept me going for years no matter how many rejection slips I got on manuscripts. I wanted to prove Miss Greene’s confidence in me had not been misplaced.

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Was it an Angel Bus? I’ll never know for sure, but I do know it’s important to be angels to other people. Who can we encourage today? Being an angel is as important as entertaining one.

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Bucket List

Making “bucket lists” is trendy. I don’t have a bucket list.

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Since I was in the fifth grade my enduring dream has been to write books. I write books. I’m happy.

I would love to make money writing books – enough money that I could keep writing more books. But several of my books have made the Amazon Best Seller’s List (albeit briefly), so I’m happy.

It would be great to visit my hometown of Bandera, Texas, “Cowboy Capital of the World,” and say howdy to my friends. Needless to say, I’d love to visit all my family members. Family is more fulfilling than writing books.

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It would be fantastic to take a Christian cruise to warmer climes. I can’t think of anything more enjoyable than spending days eating food you don’t have to cook, swimming, working out at a gym, and relaxing in the sun – except writing books.

There are fascinating places in the world to visit with strange and exotic landscapes and animals. But I’ve traveled to many of those places already through reading books. I’ve researched and written some of them into my books. I’m happy.

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Our rough collie Angel Joy had a one-item bucket list. She wanted to meet a cat and sniff it to see what it was. Our friendly birds outside let her sniff their feathers, but cats have always run. Finally, a cat not only let her sniff – it followed her across the parking lot and tried to jump into the car with her. She’s happy.

If I had a bucket list, one animal I always wanted to meet was a hedgehog. I got to meet one the other night. It let me crawl around on the ground and take its picture and touch its stiff bristles. I’m happy. I wrote a hedgehog into “Bridge to Brigadoon,” which is set here in Scotland. It was fabulous to meet one in person – so to speak.

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The apostle Paul said in Philippians 4:11, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” Paul lived for Jesus even after being beaten and stoned for his faith, and after having survived shipwrecks. He knew the secret: “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” I don’t think Paul had a bucket list. He lived each day fully engaged – and he was a writer. He was happy.

Bucket lists are cool. They really are.

But, I have my books. I’m happy.

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Directions Are Overrated

Directions are not all they’re cracked up to be. Send me into the country. Tell me to take a left past the first cottonwood tree after the low water crossing, follow the fence to the third gap, turn right and stay straight until I see a crooked fence post, turn left at the old tire and go along side the pond until I see a shed on the hill, then turn right at the sheep pen—and I can find it every time. But send me into a city building with rooms on both sides of the corridor and I need an escort to get out again. On city streets, I have been known to turn into a gas station, fill the tank, then pull out and drive the wrong way for miles before I snap to the mistake.

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Directions like east, west, north, and south are the worst. We learned in school that north is in front of us, south is behind us, east is to the right, and west is to the left. Try using that information to navigate. You are always headed north unless you walk backwards or crab walk to one side or the other.

The Highlands of Scotland may not be the worst place in the world to find destinations—but it’s close. The roads aren’t marked. Alan says directional signs were purposefully removed to confuse German paratroopers in the war. Folks, the war is over.

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Additionally, signs are small; street signs are erected so high up on buildings that they are above eye level; they are faded almost beyond legibility, and road signs are in both Gaelic and English making them too crowded to read. And roundabouts. The map may tell you to take the B999351 at the next roundabout. Four roads spin off in four different directions and not one of them is marked.

When I first arrived here five years ago, Alan and I headed to a memorial service. We never got there, in spite of following lines of cars on a one-lane road in two different directions and stopping to ask two different people out walking their dogs how to get there. It’s a good thing Alan wasn’t preaching—five years later, we still haven’t found the place.

Oh…and the death blow, “You can’t miss it.” Perhaps no one else can miss it. But I can. Trust me.

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Yesterday we embarked on a trip the map said would take 29 minutes. Two hours later, we arrived at our destination. Today, we headed out on a 30-minute trip and made it home again within three hours. The road was not marked, so we took it to the end in both directions. Nor were there any numbers on buildings. Nor did the building we were searching for have a sign. So while Alan and I are both directionally-challenged…sometimes it’s not our fault that we get lost.

We have learned to enjoy the scenery while lost. We may be the first folks, for example, to know that the leaves are already turning.

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I’m so thankful the directions God gives in the Bible are easily understood. Even a directionally-challenged person can understand, “Do not covet, Do not steal, Do not commit adultery…love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul.

Can’t miss it.

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