Places to Go (Vacation) - South Haven, MI - Kids' Corner & The Beach - The First Stop On Our Michigan Roadtrip


As I mentioned on Monday, during our trip to visit my mom we spent a few days at my aunt and uncle's cottage in South Haven, MI. For most people, this sort of family gathering probably happens everyday. But for us, it was sort of a big deal, as my mom and her sister had been estranged for the past 30-some years.

The reconciliation occurred when my aunt and her daughters attended my father's funeral in February. I met my cousins for the first time that day (Yay! I have cousins! Smart, beautiful, funny cousins!!). I'm not really sure why my mom and my aunt stopped talking, my mom has never said anything bad about her sister, just that their relationship didn't work (a large age gap, a mom who died when they were young, an evil stepmother - that sort of stuff).

Now my aunt and uncle are back in our lives. And the kids and I had a blast hanging out with them and getting to know them (odd that last time I saw my uncle I was the same age as F is now). As we pulled into the driveway, we immediately spotted a large homemade sign welcoming the kids. F squealed "look mom, there's my name! It says my name!" Across from the sign, a large baby pool with floaties waited for the kids to dive in. Plus my aunt prepared hot dogs, mac and cheese, graham crackers, tons of fruit and all the other delicacies that children (especially my children) love. At night we went to a HUGE maze-like playground called Kids' Corner where the kids explored for hours. Then the next day we blueberry picked and visited the beach. So much fun.

Odd, how as I get older every moment seems so precious as life seems so short. 30 years go by and all of a sudden you have cousins and an aunt and uncle - who welcome you into the family with hand-made signs.

Kids' Corner playground had all these maze-like, kid-sized entries and exists. At first I worried that T would get lost or scared in all the little passageways, but he seemed to love having a toddler-sized space to explore. Often ten or so minutes would go by when I couldn't see him at all, until, finally I'd spot a little hand peaking over the wood and waving, "Hi mama!"

And, of course, lots of mazes = lots of shadows = really fun picture taking for me.


South Haven has a beautiful beach, with a playground and everything, which was nice because T DOES NOT like sand (hence the swing picture). The waves were pretty high, with a bunch of kite surfers in the water, who we couldn't stop watching jump through through the waves. We walked all the way to the lighthouse, but T kept saying "mama, I don't like this" every time a wave crashed into the pier.


Things to Make - Blueberry Snack Cake


We picked a lot of blueberries. As a reward for our hard work, we made blueberry snack cake for dessert. And it was quite yummy, if I do say so myself.

We used this recipe from Taste of Home magazine (which can also work with frozen blueberries).

Any other suggestions for great blueberry recipes? I'd love to hear them!!



Things to Do - Blueberry Picking


While visiting my mom in Chicago, we spent a few days in South Haven, MI at my aunt and uncle's cottage (more on this on Wednesday) where we picked blueberries at Stephenson Farms. T seemed to love the blueberries most of everyone and, despite the fact that he ate a TON off the vine, he still put a lot in his pail. Some days he really does work hard, I think the Elmo shirt inspires him (or "Melmo irt!" "my Melmo irt!").



*3 minutes inside the head of a two year old. Funny and probably true.

*Gorgeous family photos.

*I love this house.



Things to Do - Celebrate My 1 Year Blogoversary!!


I started this blog one year ago today and, truthfully, the whole thing has been much more time consuming than I originally planned. So lately I've been trying to scale back a little bit, some weeks I only post two or three times and Things To Read has become monthly to bimonthly instead of weekly. But, for me, scaling back is hard. This space has become our family scrapbook, so if I don't post something I'm scared I'll lose the memory. Which seems silly but continues to be a problem for me in the digital age - a need to preserve the moment makes it hard to live in the moment. Does anyone else every feel that way? Living in the moment is something I've always struggled with and I find it gets harder as I age ("what about the dishes?" "such a mess! i just cleaned that!" etc.) so I'm trying to adventure without the camera sometimes, play more (unphotographed) games of blocks with T, watch the girls create amazing imaginary worlds ( P always saying "F, just pretend I'm the princess today. okay? and you're the servant. just pretend"), sit and listen. And sometimes respond.

Regarding the picture above, I took it about two and a half years ago at Burke Lake, when F was 3. She used to dress like that all the time, everywhere we went, which seems absurd now but at the time we just went with it. Plus it made tantrum control easy ("if you don't behave I'll take your princess dress away"). Eventually her princess garment became so frayed and dirty I had to sneakily throw it away in the middle of the night (don't worry, by this time she had MANY more). Anyways, when I found this old photo in my digital files, it reminded me of how glad I am that I now write this blog. How quickly life with children changes. How easy it is to forget.

Ugh, such a conundrum - life vs. memory. But we do our best. At least that's the plan. Thanks to everyone for reading!! I love your comments and encouragement - especially the anonymous posters on DC Urban Moms, who have said such lovely things. Have a great weekend everyone! As always, I'll be back next week!


*This kid's video interview on the DC earthquake made me laugh out loud.


*What did you do today?

*Tim Barber. Yay! (more here).

*Thank you, Miss Moss for posting my dream wardrobe.

*The DC area is one of the best places in the US to find dinosaur fossils, thus this dinosaur camp sounds pretty awesome.

*Have you seen The Glow? Gorgeous photos of fashionable moms and kids. I feel so uncool.

*Ikea's Share Space. Such a good idea.


Things to Read - Summer Reading, Part II - Keith Richards, Henrietta Lacks, and Cholera

Here's what I've been reading this summer, what about you? Any good suggestions?

Love in the Time of Cholera (Vintage International)

I first read Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera (Vintage International) during college. I remember thinking it incredibly romantic - the book tells the story of two people who fall in love as teenagers and then break up. The girl goes on to marry someone else and spend most of her life with him, while the boy devotes his ENTIRE life to someday winning back her love - but I forgot pretty much everything else about it. When I first read the novel, I loved the idea of magical realism, and Marquez, and love stories, so I'm sure this colored my view. Rereading it as an adult I found myself more introspective as I thought about how my idea of love has changed. This time around I found the boy's devotion a little creepy and weird, plus his disregard for the feelings of a certain young lover in his life made me not like him much (actually he kind of repulsed me). Instead, I found myself more enchanted by the married couple and the ins and outs of their relationship, a great portrait of how difficult marriage can be, how complicated yet magical at times. I still found the novel beautifully told and a joy to read but this time around I didn't believe in it as a love story, which I think, ultimately, was Marquez's real point. What about everyone else?


I'm not a die-hard Rolling Stones fan, which isn't to say that I don't like them. In high school I couldn't stop listening to Exile on Main Street, if only because I wanted to understand the inspiration behind Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville (I never did figure out the connection between the two albums). Anyways, I probably would have skipped reading Keith Richards' autobiography, but when The New Yorker summarized the book as "an entertaining, rambling monologue, a slurry romp through the life of a man who knew every pleasure, denied himself nothing, and never paid the price" I decided to check it out. And, for a few days, I sort of felt like I was shooting heroin while dancing on a chandelier. I also discovered the secret to playing blues guitar and dealt with bullies at school. I don't quite know why, but the book really makes you feel like you're THERE, touring with the Stones, which was quite fun, drug addiction and all.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks died of cancer in the 1950s. Her fame resides in the fact that her cells (otherwise known as Hela cells), taken without her consent, have revolutionized medicine due to their ability to survive and multiply in culture. This book integrates Lacks' story and the story of her offspring, with the history of cell culture. As boring as that sounds, the book's author, Rebecca Skloot, does a brilliant job of interweaving all the science and narratives and making them all come alive. In particular, through a series of interviews and interactions with Lacks' descendents, Skloot paints a depressing account of race in America and modern day life for the poor. And, regarding the science part, the book asks the reader to question whether we should have rights to our own tissue. As of now, anytime you have a culture done (like a pap smear or a biopsy) those cells are considered garbage and doctors can use them how they wish without your consent. So a doctor can get rich off your waste. Is this okay? I'm still not sure. And I guess the answer depends on whether you view the goal of "science" as helping people or making money. The book made me realize that the answer is trickier than I once thought.

Book Suggestions from Around the Web:

*For more summer reading suggestions from me, check out my previous post post here.

*New York magazine has a great fall preview of soon-to-be released books (I'm very excited for 1Q84).


Places to Go (Vacation) - Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center in the Summer (Willow Springs, IL)


I've written about Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center previously, when we visited my parents over Thanksgiving (click here for the post), but this place really shines in the summer, with wildflowers surrounding all the trails and lily pads blossoming in the lakes.

During our visit, we saw a huge bullfrog just chilling on a rock, he sat so still that F insisted he must be a statue until he finally budged a little. We also witnessed a water snake slithering through the shallow rocks (check out the picture in black and white above).

The girls could have spent hours running through the trails, but T was not in the best of moods so we couldn't explore as much as we would have liked. Luckily, we know we'll be back, Grandma wouldn't let us miss it.



Things to Make - From the Garden - Cucumber and Tomato Quinoa Salad & Grandma's Zucchini Bread


My mom maintains a pretty extensive garden. As a kid, I didn't exactly love it (more food from the garden = less macaroni and cheese) but as an adult it's WONDERFUL. We didn't even need to grocery shop.

My mom waited until our arrival to pick a lot of the veggies, assuming that the kids would enjoy helping out. But the girls were so busy with the Cabbage Patch Kids they chose not to participate. Luckily T loved helping grandma.


Regarding summer recipes, during the summer I basically live on Cucumber & Tomato Quinoa Salad, which I make similar to tabule but without the parsley. Here's the recipe:

*2 big tomatos
*1 large cucumber
*1 medium onion
*2 cups cooked quinoa (you can also use bulgar wheat or cous cous)
*1 tablespoon garlic salt
*1/3 cup lemon juice
*2 tablespoons olive oil

-Mix everything together and serve. Easy.


And Grandma's Zucchini Bread continues to be the best summer snack ever. Here's the recipe:

*3 eggs
*2 cups sugar
*1 cup vegetable oil
*3 cups flour
*1 teaspoon salt
*1 teaspoon baking soda
*1/4 teaspoon baking powder
*1 teaspoon vanilla
*1 cup chopped walnuts
*2 1/2 cups grated zucchini unpeeled
*1 teaspoon cinnamon
*1/2 teaspoon allspice

Beat eggs until frothy. Add sugar, then oil. Add flour gradually. Mix well. Add remaining ingredients up to zucchini, mix well. Combine zucchini and spices and fold into batter. Spoon into two greased bread pans. Bake at 350 for one hour to one and a quarter hours til done.

For another seasonal recipe (healthy eggplant parm), click here for my past post.
What about everyone else? Any good seasonal recipes to share?



Things to Do - Toy Story (Our Own Version)



A few weeks ago, the kids and I visited my mom in the Chicago suburbs. My mom is sort of a packrat (to put it mildly, click here to see pics of her house) and often I question her need to keep so much stuff around. Sometimes, however, my mom's inability to throw anything away makes me very happy. Years ago she packed up my Cabbage Patch kids (Cybil Lily, Sabrina, and Sam) and Barbies (with various clothes and accessories) and stored them in the attic (sort of like our own, alternate version of Toy Story 3). We finally brought them down and it felt like old friends were back in my life. But more importantly, the girls quickly decided to love Cybil Lily and Sabrina as much as I used to love them. For the rest of our vacation, the dolls traveled everywhere with us (with a huge suitcase full of doll clothes, I kid you not). T took longer to warm up to Sam but finally bonded with him (probably because Sam was the only other male around). How odd that I had two girl and one boy Cabbage Patch Kids and that's also how my adult life worked out.


Okay, so there were A LOT of Barbies in the attic (in case you're wondering, fake "Barbie" leather does not age well), yet I remember each and every one. Every one. Which made me feel guilty because whenever the girls want a new doll I always say "but she looks JUST like all your other dolls." Yet I can still see a HUGE difference between aerobics Barbie and roller-skating Barbie. The hard part involved actually letting the girls play how they wanted to play - I kept saying things like "those outfits don't go together! You're making Barbie sad! Stop making Barbie sad!" Adulthood is hard.


*Philip Kalantziscope - LOVE!!!

*Yay Danielle Evans won the PEN award, apparently I'm not the only one who thinks she rocks (click here for my post about her short story collection).

*KidFriendly DC has a great post on starting your own kids' cooking camp with friends (next summer, is anyone up for doing this with me?)


*Where Children Sleep Around the World. Wow this is depressing.


Places to Go - Car Camping at Cunningham Falls State Park, Part II - hiking and swimming


As I mentioned yesterday, a few weeks ago our family went car camping at Cunningham Falls State Park. During out visit, we hiked (only 0.5 miles) to the waterfall, which seemed more like a water trickle (I guess it's late in the season for rushing rapids). Rocks and boulders surround the waterfall area, which the kids loved climbing on (though I worried I'd twist my ankle).

We also went swimming in Hunting Creek Lake, which has a small beach area. The water was brownish and sort of dirty but the kids loved it. Plus the water was shallow, so they could explore further out (and a lifeguard sat on duty).

By Sunday afternoon, we were exhausted. So we packed up the minivan and headed home (the park is about 1.5 hours from Arlington), bathing suits still on.




Places to Go - Car Camping at Cunningham Falls State Park, Houck Area Campground (Thurmont, MD)


In my 20s, I camped and backpacked a lot. Seems like almost every summer weekend my friends and I packed up the Jeep and headed somewhere or other; living in CO really does give one a great appreciation of the outdoors. I planned on continuing such excursions throughout my 30s, but I worked at a law firm (often on weekends) and then the babies came and all of a sudden my sleeping bag was crammed into a corner of the attic, unused for years. When the girls were little (3 and 2) we tried camping at Assateague Island, but P wouldn't sleep (she kept waking up every hour to "go see the stars" - cute, but exhausting) and the wild horses figured out how to open the latch of our cooler (nothing beats awakening to random strangers laughing outside your tent and saying "I bet they don't even know yet"). After that Dan proclaimed "no camping til they're older." And FINALLY they're older (well at least two out of three are). So we planned a camping excursion with good friends and their children. As far as car camping with children goes, Cunningham Falls State Park has a lot going for it - clean bathrooms (with showers), lots of families, even small cabins if you reserve early enough (we didn't). The sites were small, but adequate. And the kids all loved exploring the outdoors (oddly while playing Star Wars), sleeping under the stars, and roasting smores. As for me and Dan, returning to ground sleeping proved difficult and somewhat painful (our poor backs). But the stars, WOW, it's amazing how many of them there really are. Amazing.

If you're interested in visiting, Cunningham Falls also has a lake for swimming and a short hike (0.5 miles) leads to a large waterfall (more on this tomorrow). Unfortunately, neither the lake nor the trails are accessible from the campground, but the drive to them is pretty short.

P's all about the tattoos lately. Just a phase? Time will tell. I think she kind of looks bad-ass with them.

drive cars
*The girls spent the morning at a build a bear birthday party, where they made pink dogs (Pinky and Pinkalicious), who (of course) HAD to come camping with us.
*All the older kids are taking tae kwan do, so we witnessed a lot of kicking. A lot.
*T's obsessed with driving the mini-van. Obsessed.

*Dan loves T's "Jungle Buddies" shirt, primarily because all of the animals featured (a lion, a zebra, and giraffe ) neither live in the jungle nor are they buddies. Good job Carters, way to do your research.
*It took T hours to fall asleep, so I walked him around the campground in his stroller. And he cuddled the lantern like a baby, until, eventually, I saw his head drop to the side.

f find
I love when they act as "nature explorers", the more acorns the better.


Things to Make - A Photo Book

(I tried to style the photos, but ended up with weird shots with shadows. Yet another skill I need to work on.)

People often ask me what I do with ALL the pictures I take (and there are A LOT of them). First of all, I organize and categorize them through Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 (I also do most of my editing through Lightroom). And, once a year, I make a photobook through Blurb of the best pictures from the preceding year, divided by season. Prior to starting this blog, I used to make photobooks of all my pictures, but now I only publish the best (about 110 photos in all), which (for me) serves as a great opportunity to be my own critic and editor.

Remember those grateful lists I make every month? I compile them at the book's end, sorting by category (best books, best movies, best food, etc.) plus a "best moments" category separated by month. I find it a wonderful summary of the past year, and I love going back and seeing what we did two or three years ago.

A lot of different companies now offer photobook software and I've tried a few of them, but my loyalty lies with blurb. I find their software incredible versatile (if you don't like a template, you can edit it) and user-friendly. They have several options so books range from about $11 for a small, soft cover to over $100 for a large, hardcover on quality paper. My year-in-review book costs about $135 to make, pricey but worth it, the results are always beautiful.




Things to Do - The Baby Pool


We bought the baby pool during a heat wave, about four years ago. It was the only one left on the shelf. Holes formed almost immediately, and the side stopped inflating. Every year we promise ourselves we'll buy a new one, but we always procrastinate until the hottest days arrive and by then most stores have sold out. So we return to our old standby. Plus, I keep thinking the kids will outgrow it soon, but when heat indexes climb above 110, the whole family craves the pool, especially me.

Hope you're all having a good summer!!


*10 Cheap Ways to Beat the Heat - a really great list.

*This may be the best kitchen remodel I've ever seen.

*Favorite Cooks Books for Kids - yay!! I've been looking for good children's cook books for awhile now.

*I LOVE these necklaces.



Things to Do - TV stuff


For the last year or so my kids haven't watched much tv, which seems odd as I'm not one of those moms who is against kids watching tv - i mean seriously have you seen Sid the Science Kid? That show is amazing, I even learn stuff from it. Even Dora in all her irritating explorerness taught my kids a lot about maps and sequences and girls who care about more than boys and lipstick (yay! for at least one solid female role model, unfortunately she's a child).

So why limit tv? Well, two years ago when P's asthma acted up (she was even hospitalized for a few days) she spent A LOT of hours in front of the TV inhaling steroids and other medications through her "breathing machine." So, for a long time, I associated children's tv with my daughter's illness, which wasn't fun. Thus, shortly after P's health returned to normal, when our big LCD TV broke, rather than replace it, we decided on a tv-less main floor (partially inspired by this blog, start from the beginning, it's a fun read). Since I wasn't strong enough to completely remove the boob-tube from our house, we took our OLD tv out of storage ("why isn't it flat, mommy? Something is wrong, tvs are supposed to be flat!") and set up a corner of the basement for tv viewing. At night this has become a lovely kid-free zone for me and Dan, but during the day we rarely use it, as I find it a drag to try to entertain T in the basement while the girls zone out.

The problem with limiting TV watching for kids is that by default you make the TV into something magical (much like McDonalds). Whenever my kids see one show they talk about it for DAYS. DAYS. And they reflect on every scene over and over again. Now that T's old enough to watch tv with the girls (yay! attention span) and P remains healthy, I'm slowly becoming more lenient with tv watching. But when I look ahead, I become uncertain - I see a preteen world of Disney shows where girls need to be popular and pretty and all anyone talks about is boys (and let's not even get started on Teen Mom). Which makes me nervous, maybe that type of branding is just what is ahead, regardless of tv. I know they can't stay young forever. But still the overhyped, simplified, materialistic, Miley Cyrus view of adolescence makes me uncomfortable.

What about everyone else? Maybe I'm overeacting and the preeteen programming isn't that bad? Am I just being a paranoid mom? And if I am please tell me.



Things to Read - All My Friends Are Dead


(Images are all from All My Friends Are Dead).

I found this little book really funny, hopefully you will too. Happy Thursday everyone!!



Places to Go - The Arlington County Fair (Arlington, VA)


So the County Fair is sort of a big deal in our house (to put it lightly). Any time of year whenever you ask P where she would go if she could go ANYWHERE in the world she answers with the fair. I wish I could tell you that our fair was SO MUCH better than all other carnivals, but it really isn't - just the same old cheesy rides that move from state to state and lots of local food vendors. I guess it is somewhat unique in that they fill the auditorium with booths from local businesses and charities and sometimes we like to wander around the AIR-CONDITIONED space and learn about all the cool stuff going on around us (and sometimes not so cool stuff, kudos to my neighbor for telling off the crazy people at Arlington's ex-gay booth). But mostly the fair just symbolizes the end of summer and a sort of community spirit. My favorite part is seeing the kids grow every year - last year they felt so BIG when they braved the toddler roller-coaster (and I use the word "roller-coaster" broadly), making me curious to see what feats this year's fair will bring.

If you're interested, the fair runs Wednesday, August 10 through Sunday, August 14th. Check the website (linked here) for the daily hours. The Star Family Circus (which looks awesome) performs daily.

Random Links:

*Turn your email into snail mail for free. How cool.

*Crappy laws of parenting top 8 countdown illustrated with crappy pictures. FUNNY!!!

*A truly perfect picture.

*10 Ways to Play in August - full of great ideas.

*pudding cookies and smore cookie bars - both look so yummy.

*The pictures on this blog are beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.



Things to Make - A Homemade Lava Lamp (sort of)


The other day, while perusing the $1 aisle in Target (so wonderful in so many ways), I picked up up a Science Projects workbook, full of fun stuff to do with the kids. Plus, the Artful Parent has posted several easy science experiments, which inspired me. First up - the homemade lava lamp (the word "lamp" being completely extraneous to the description). I figured this would be a great experiment to try with all three kids, as it seemed toddler-friendly. On the upside, T LOVED it. On the downside, he loved it so much that he fought his sisters for the right to shake the "lamp". He fought hard. So it goes.

Here's the scoop:

1. Find an old 2 liter plastic bottle (or a smaller plastic bottle) and remove the wrapping so you can see inside (this is the hard part, I had the girls do it, which took up a good half hour).

2. Fill the bottle up 50% with vegetable oil or olive oil.

3. Use a cup to mix water and liquid food coloring or liquid watercolors (I let the kids pick the color and mix the water). Talk about how the color DISSOLVES in the water, making everything uniform.

4. Funnel or pour the colored water over the oil into the the bottle.

5. Cap the bottle and shake to mix. Talk to your kids about how the oil and water mix.

6. Then let the bottle sit for about an hour and notice how the water separates from the oil. If you're motivated, you can have your kids write scientific notes on how the bottle changes with time.

We kept the bottle around for a few days (I, oddly, found playing with it a great stress reliever) and P liked to shake it and talk about how oil and water don't mix.



*DIY liquid watercolor paint using old dried out markers. Such a good idea. And, as you all know, we use liquid watercolors a lot (click here to see all our past liquid watercolor posts).

*Melted crayon art (how awesome is this picture?)

*DIY paint with water pages (link via Modern Parents, Messy Kids)

*I love these downloadable dot to dot pictures (so cute) from Under the Pecan Tree.

*Made from Milk Cartons - lots of great ideas and inspiration.

*Make a "magic book" out of a sheet of paper.

*This super-detailed tutorial on making crepe paper flowers is wonderful. I want to make them all. But with the kids I'll probably stick with our super-easy tissue paper flowers.



Things to Do - Que Sera Sera


Life has taken a lot of unexpected twists and turns lately, nothing bad, good things really, but a lot of long-buried stuff has been brought to the surface and forced to dry out, so to speak. Reminding me that it's not a good idea to hold grudges, as the future is so tricky, so tough to predict. Do you ever feel that way?

Something happened the other week that I need to remind myself about in TEN YEARS. and I can't figure out how to do this, maybe I need outlook or something, but my old school daily planners don't cover ten years into the future. How odd, in ten years we'll be undertaking driving lessons with F, dealing with P's jealousy over that fact. T will be 12. Who know what I'll be doing.

I went out for drinks the other night with a neighbor whose good friend died in Iraq, where he agreed to consult on setting up school systems, he left behind a wife and two young children. In T's summer camp class one of the toddlers just lost a baby sibling to SIDS. Lately I can't stop thinking about surface shifts, how in just milliseconds "normal" can change forever. I read an article the other day talking about how patients diagnosed with deadly cancers feel this tug overnight, this feeling of "but what do you mean I'm dying? Yesterday I was walking the dog." I suppose we went through that with my dad, but I was too in the moment to reflect on any of it. Until now, I guess.

The other day I told F she was growing up too fast, so she said (as only a 5 year old can), "adults don't like when kids grow up because they know that means they're getting old and their faces will get wrinkly and their backs will hurt more, right mama?" Then P threw in "and they'll probably get cancer too." Then we talked about what we wanted for dinner.

Soule Mama posted this Mary Oliver poem earlier this week, I really like it:
"Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?"
~ Mary Oliver

HAVE A GOOD WEEKEND EVERYONE!! I'll back next week with more normal things to say, do, and make.



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