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    A Dance with Hummingbirds: A Gift from the Other Side

    From Helen Deines and Berkeley Square Press

    A Dance With Hummingbirds Book Cover

    Helen Deines novel, A Dance with Hummingbirds: A Gift from the Other Side was a pleasure to read. It starts out with Regina, a social worker for the elderly who has recently lost her husband Elliott. She has gone back to work and is trying to readjust to her life as a widow. Along with her cat, Maggie, she is getting through the days as they come, when she hears a whistle. Not just any whistle. It is the tune that had been a constant in her life for the 30 years she was married to Elliott.
     
    [quote type=”center”]She hears a whistle. Not just any whistle. It is the tune that had been a constant in her life for the 30 years she was married to Elliott.[/quote]

    How is Regina hearing her dead husband whistle? When other strange things start happening, such as a garage door opening and closing on its own and a pair of dance shoes mysteriously appearing in her closet, Regina isn’t sure if she is really being contacted from beyond by her husband or if she is going crazy!

    With the help of one of her elderly clients named Mrs. Staples, and a few co workers, Regina ends up on a journey that she never could have imagined. She learns more about herself and her relationships, and she is able to have one final adventure with Elliott.

    I loved the characters and the storyline, although a few things missed the mark for me. The basis of the book was Regina’s husband coming back for unfinished business. That business was that they had never danced together. I couldn’t understand why this was so important when it was revealed that neither of them had danced over the many years of their marriage, and Regina didn’t even know how to dance. I also felt as if things were not brought to a good conclusion. You never get closure on exactly how the elderly neighbor and her daughter reconciled or how and why the goddess Brigit fit into Regina’s story.
     
    [quote type=”center”]This is a beautiful love story that is filled with humor and lots of heart![/quote]

    Overall this is a beautiful love story that is filled with humor and lots of heart! I think it just need more details and information to make everything come together in the end!

    A Dance with Hummingbirds: A Gift from the Other Side is available in Paperback or for the Kindle from Amazon.

    [box type=”info”]This post contains an affiliate link. You can read more about our official disclosure policy here. A review copy of A Dance with Hummingbirds: A Gift From The Other Side was provided to The Mommy Gamers by Berkeley Square Press.[/box]

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    Marsha Mellow Goes Missing: An Unofficial Story for Shopkins Collectors

    from Kenley Shay and Sky Pony Press

    Marsha Mellow Goes MissingMost parents who have been in a toy store in the last year are familiar with Shopkins, the tiny grocery-themed collectibles that fly off of shelves whenever a new shipment comes in. Their popularity has sparked hundreds of millions of views of Shopkins fan videos online, and an official cartoon series set to release in 2016. So, needless to say, they’re kind of a big deal.

    Marsha Mellow Goes Missing is the first novel in a series of unofficial Shopkins stories from publisher Sky Pony Press, known for their exceedingly popular unofficial series for Minecrafters. Written by Kenley Shay, this adventure follows nine-year-old Maggie and her friends of the Shopkins Kids Club on a camping adventure where, as the title suggests, a Shopkin goes missing: the ultra-rare blinged-out Marsha Mellow. As Maggie searches desperately for her most prized possession, accusations fly and friendships are put in jeopardy. But when her little brother Max goes missing, Maggie starts to learn the importance of her relationships with friends and family, and that maybe she hasn’t been acting like the greatest sister or friend.
     
    [quote type=”center”]Kids who read this story will learn about the bonding power that exists when we are passionate about something, and the importance of inclusion.[/quote] 
    This middle grade novel is perfect for independent readers ages 7-12 and could certainly be read by an adult to younger Shopkins enthusiasts. Kids who read this story will learn about the bonding power that exists when we are passionate about something, and the importance of inclusion. We all know that fandom can be a means of bringing people together or tearing them apart. This novel shows both sides of that, settling on the lesson that bringing more people in just makes things a lot more fun.

    Shay, a Shopkins enthusiast herself, captures the excitement of these adorable collectibles while handling very age-appropriate lessons for young readers, about caring for your belongings, relationships with family and friends, and knowing when it is time to apologize when you’ve done something wrong. The writing is both captivating and easy to understand, and the balance between the intensity of fandom and the accessibility of narrative is perfection. Shopkins lovers and those unfamiliar with the brand would both find much to love about this book.

     
    [quote type=”center”]We all know that fandom can be a means of bringing people together or tearing them apart. This novel shows both sides of that, settling on the lesson that bringing more people in just makes things a lot more fun.[/quote] 
    My daughter (who is eight and is also, coincidentally, named Maggie) and I have been into Shopkins for several months now and this novel has only fueled our mutual excitement for the toys. She can’t stop talking about how much she wants a Marsha Mellow of her own! She found an ultra-rare Shopkin over the weekend and was so excited because it made her feel just a little bit closer to these characters.

    While reading through the book, my daughter and I split reading duty so we could include my son who is four. Their relationship often mirrors that of the characters Maggie and Max in the text, and reading through their struggles and triumphs has brought my children even closer. As a parent, I was relieved to discover that the story was so appealing and entertaining that I wanted to find out what happened next as much as my kids did!

    We had such a lovely time reading through this story, and I would say that it is a must-read for Shopkins kids and families. I look forward to getting my hands on more books to come in this series, as well as check out the unofficial stories for Minecrafters published by Sky Pony Press. These books are a genius way to blend fandom for toys and games with literature and get kids truly excited about reading!

    Marsha Mellow Goes Missing is on sale now from a variety of retailers (including Amazon.com) in both paperback ($7.99) and Kindle ($4.99) format.

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    Late to the Game – Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead

    TELLLLLL

    Last month, I had the transcendent experience of playing Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead, Season 1. As a busy single mom, it’s really difficult to find time to play games. I generally tend to not get my hands on even the best games until at least a year or two after they’ve released. Fortunately, my incredibly busy schedule also tends to minimize my time reading about games, and thus I  miss most spoilers. And, though I usually end up kicking myself for not having played the good ones sooner, it’s a fun experience when my friends get excited about my play-throughs like they’re vicariously experiencing their “first time” all over again. That, and I have a propensity for geeking out about things.

    llll

    I’ve been waiting for a game like this to come along since I started gaming. I became intoxicated by the power of choice in games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age: Origins, but typically my complaints would be “Man, I wish there was more talking/relationship building and less fighting”. I even brought this game up in my philosophy class today (yes, I interrupted the professor to talk about games, someone high-fived me) when we were talking about ethical thought experiments; because this game is essentially a series of said experiments which all tie-in to one another, and where not only is there no clear “good” answer, but you’re essentially punished for every decision you make.

    I know that might make it sound like a very unfulfilling gaming experience, but I assure you it is quite the opposite. The emotional ride that this game will take you on is absolutely unlike any other I’ve experienced. There’s a reason why people everywhere fell in love with this game, even with it’s lack of the action/battle-fueled pwnfest archetype.

    If you’re looking for a game that’s going to make you feel something, this is at the top of my list of recommendations.  With a gold star next to it.  And a button that releases confetti and plays “Celebration” by Kool & The Gang.

    GIRLLLL

    I don’t intend to turn this into an official “review”, because by this point there are a million and a half of those plastered all over the internet written by people much more knowledgeable and articulate than me. But I will say this: when it comes to story and character development, the power of player choice and emotional experience, this game has no rival — nothing even comes close. It’s a living, breathing comic book, just waiting for you to read it and write it for yourself.

    Play it. It will change you.

    (And then talk to me about it so I can geek out about it all over again.)

    The Bully’s Bully: Book One

    BullysBully-8x5-720x480

    As husband to a dedicated wife gamer and father to two gaming daughters (aged 9 and 14), I find myself in a relatively rare role. My wife, Brandee, is part of a well-known all-female group called the PMS Clan, and as a gamer myself, we understand the benefits gaming offers and have championed our daughters’ interests in the same hobby.

    ffa31a2f4a915614274f9b5006d8c118_large As a male in an all-female household, however, there are challenges, of course, some of which center on gaming. One of my key challenges is dealing with bullying in gaming, which has run rampant since the last generation of consoles, when online multiplayer became widespread. Unfortunately, games such as Call of Duty, Gears of War, and Halo—all games my enthusiast wife enjoys immensely—are dominated by insecure fellow gamers who use their headsets and mics to abuse in the most extreme and hurtful ways: racial-, sexual-, and gender-specific insults and are flung around mindlessly, quite literally during almost every gameplay session. It’s a frustrating issue that won’t go away.

    So, even though these games promote multiplayer approaches, we usually opt for local sessions so our daughters can focus on gaming at its most fun—as a collaborative, joyful experience that introduces them to new worlds. Some of those worlds are undoubtedly violent, but we’ve helped our daughters distinguish fictional violence from real-world conflicts, and they understand that they are merely “playing.” Indeed, while my daughters are avid gamers, Brandee (aka PMS Dangerdoll) and I refuse our daughters access to online gaming unless the environment is strictly controlled, in which they play with friends we’ve come to trust and who amplify the experience into one productively competitive or cooperative.

    Communication with mature gamers is part of the fun of gaming nowadays, and while we could remove the headset altogether or mute it, we shouldn’t have to, as many games now rely on strategic communication.

    Unfortunately, we have little control over real-life bullies. Phoenix, my youngest daughter, was victim to two bullies in as many years, 0b9371e9846f4e0f5a86b84d8181b334_largeand she’s still in elementary school. Although Brandee and I handled these situations as civilly as we could, we were of course very upset. Luckily, the situation with the first bully, a girl, was handled amicably. We learned that the second bully, a boy, caused a far more hostile situation for Phoenix. Because he had threatened and intimated her by ensuring her that he’d make her life worse if she told, coaxing the situation from our youngest was an emotional ordeal.

    Our initial reaction was to approach the bully ourselves. But, we knew we couldn’t do that. So, when we calmed down and thought about ways to deal with the situation, this Kickstarter project, a graphic novel entitled The Bully’s Bully, came to be.

    The project is also a webcomic that began in January of 2013 and is released online for free every Monday and Wednesday. The story centers on a girl who can literally feel the agony, desperation, and pain that real-life bullies cause others. As an empathic soul, the child decides to do something about the problem. I won’t give away anymore of the narrative, as it has twists and turns and a few surprises I’d like readers to discover on their own.

    Because we are all parents, and because we will likely have to deal with bullying in some context during our children’s lives, I hope you’ll find it worthy to donate to the vision of The Bully’s Bully to help me compile the comics into a paper-bound book. This story has the potential to help children and parents alike and to approach this wearying subject in positive, original, and productive ways.

    *To support this Kickstarter visit:
    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1531461998/the-bullys-bully-a-graphic-novel

     

    A New Perspective on the Console War

    console-war-ps4-vs-xbox-one

    The internet is a buzz with smack talk about how Sony obliterated Microsoft and that the Xbox One is doomed. This type of banter isn’t new to me. This will be the third console generation to happen while I’ve worked in the game industry, and the talk happens every time, but that doesn’t make it any less irritating or short-sighted.

    Let’s a take step back in history, shall we? This E3 is actually very similar to the E3 following the last console reveals/launches, with the players in different places. Sony, the then market leader, announced an outlandish price for the PS3. Do you remember what it was? $599. That’s right! More expensive than any of this upcoming generation’s consoles will be. During this same time, everyone pretty much considered Nintendo down for the count, because the “gamers” weren’t that interested in what the Wii had to offer. Microsoft was riding high coming out of that of E3. Having already launched the 360, they were able to focus on the games. Now that we’re at the end of that generation, let’s take a look at how it all played out.

    At the start of 2013, worldwide sales of the Wii were close to 100 million. Xbox 360 and PS3 have garnered 77 and 70 million respectively. In the end, Nintendo kicked everyone’s butt because they appealed to a broader audience, and Sony’s ridiculous launch price didn’t put them THAT far behind in the long run.

    Now, we have Microsoft at the highest price point, Sony making competitive pricing decisions, and Nintendo has already launched the Wii U. Microsoft is trying to broaden its audience by releasing a system that does more than just games. Sony is releasing a system targeted squarely at “hardcore gamers,” and Nintendo is revealing its heavy hitting software for the Wii U.

    If previous E3s have taught us anything, it’s that you can’t really predict what’s going to happen because the consoles and their launch prices have very little to do with the long-term success or failure of the system. It’s all about the games, people! The Wii U is seeing a boost in sales after announcing new games in both the Mario and Zelda franchises, as well as a new Mario Kart and a new Super Smash Bros. These are the games that everyone wants from Nintendo. And while the Wii U has been struggling thus far, the promise of these titles should help sales of the system improve.

    Microsoft is taking a different approach with Xbox One, seeing gaming on the same plane as other media, including television, music and movies and wants to make a device that will appeal to people who would like to have all of their entertainment in one place. But, it’s also taking an aggressive approach in the DRM and required connectivity issues that aren’t sitting well with a lot of gamers. Many gamers have said they feel like Microsoft is “abandoning them.” And while that language feels a bit melodramatic to me, it is partially true. The hardcore gaming audience is no longer the primary focus.

    Sony has pulled no punches. They’re releasing a system focused on games. It will have other media features, but the games are the core. They’re also stressing how open the system will be in terms of DRM and online connectivity. Their approach is pleasing to the hardcore crowd, but it doesn’t seem likely to broaden their audience. In the end, that may not matter, but it’s hard to discount if you look at how the Wii shocked everyone.

    Microsoft and Sony are taking two different approaches. How the world responds to those approaches has yet to be seen. In terms of software, Sony is lacking one important element that Nintendo and Microsoft have nailed down – the blockbuster exclusive that will sell systems. Nintendo has the most going for it in this regard because it has more than one (Mario and Zelda), and their brand recognition surpasses any other gaming franchises. Microsoft has Halo, but it won’t be a launch title. Sony doesn’t have one huge franchise that has crazy sales. Rather, they have a number of popular franchises that sell well, but not as much as Mario or Halo. However that doesn’t mean Sony won’t find its gem this generation.

    So to wrap up, no one, and especially not me, can say with any certainty what will happen this time around. It’s way too early to count anyone out of the game, so let’s ease off the trash talk. I know it plays off the us vs. them team mentality, but this isn’t a football game, folks. A loss of any of these console makers results in less competition, which translates into less innovation. A person who truly loves games should not want anyone to fail.

    In Defense of Games

    Large Arcade Game

    Photo Credit: Giant Video Game by KB35

    Since becoming a mom, I’ve become all too familiar with popular attitudes toward video games. Since I’ve worked in the industry for 10 years, most of my friends and acquaintances were people who played games as well. Unfortunately, very few of those people have kids, and more specifically babies. Because of this and the desperate need for social interaction that involves more than high-pitched baby talk and being vomited on, I’ve entered the world of the Moms’ Groups.

    When meeting these other moms the inevitable question of what I do for work always comes up. “I’m a writer,” I say. “Oh, what do you write about?” they continue. “Video games.” Most of the moms I’ve met think this is totally cool, even if they don’t play games themselves. But then there are the others – the ones who lift their eyebrows and casually decide to talk to someone else, or worse the ones who feel the need to tell you that games are the root of all evil, and that you’re a terrible person and mother for fueling violence into our kids.

    These debates don’t rattle me because I’ve built an arsenal of knowledge to counteract the common misconceptions about games. So, if you ever find yourself needing to defend your hobby, try these myths and facts on for size.

    Myth #1: Games are all violent murder simulators.

    Fact: Despite all of the attention they get, Mature games make up a very small amount of the entire library of games. According to the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, in 2010, only 5 percent of all games made were rated M for Mature. The majority of the games made – 55 percent- were rated E for Everyone. Violent games that involve killing other humans are ALWAYS rated M, meaning they’re intended for games aged 17 or older, just like R-rated movies. While E-rated games may contain a little bit of violence, it’s always of the cartoon variety and is no worse than anything you would see in kids programming on television.

    Myth #2: Games make kids violent.

    Fact: While it’s true that excessive exposure to violence in any form can change the brain in subtle ways, no one is going to suddenly become violent from only playing a game. Other factors play a bigger part, such as psychological disorders and social problems. You can also point back to the first myth. Violent games are not intended to be played by kids. The rating system is in place to make sure parents know what their kids are playing.

    Myth #3: Kids can buy M-rated games despite the rating.

    Fact: According to the Federal Trade Commission, from 2006 to the present, game retailers have a done a better job checking for ID than movie theaters, DVD retailers, and music retailers. It’s much easier for kids to get into an R-rated film, or buy an R-rated DVD or Parental Advisory-labeled CD than it is for them to buy an M-rated game.

    Myth #4: Games have no educational value.

    Fact: First of all, there are tons of games out there whose sole purpose is to educate. Games based on popular kids’ franchises like Dora the Explorer and Sesame Street always have an educational component. But even games that aren’t designed to be educational can help kids in a number of ways. They encourage critical thinking, problem-solving, and can help to develop hand-eye coordination. They can even help your speed and accuracy when making decisions. Check out this Wall Street Journal article for more.

    Myth #5: Playing games makes kids overweight.

    Fact: Obviously, sitting on the couch all day whether you’re playing games, watching TV, or reading a book will have a detrimental effect on your health if you don’t get enough exercise to balance it out. But now, game makers are now actively making an effort to produce games that promote movement. The Wii started the trend, but Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 have followed suit with their Kinect and Move add-ons respectively. Even games that aren’t solely designed to be fitness games can help you get a work out. The Dance Central series is a good example. Games don’t make kids gain weight on their own – a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet are the real culprits.

    Armed with these facts, you can educate other moms about the truth about games. Most of them have simply only believed what they hear on the news, which is often very one-sided. As gamers, we can help the industry get the respect it deserves.

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    Mommy Gaming and Fitness: A Juggling Act

    photo credit: diametrik via photopin cc

    Aside from child rearing, which is not for the faint of heart, I have a very active lifestyle. On a typical day, after my spawn is fast asleep, I’m doing intervals. I switch it up between walking and sprinting through thick forests, snowy mountains, and dark caves. I walk up to monsters ready to attack and sometimes I sprint away from bosses who are out to kill me. I am constantly on the go, never still. Oh except for my actual butt that is planted comfortably on my sofa. Insert large sigh here.

    Society expects two things from the female gamer. We are to be either grotesquely overweight and ugly or stunningly beautiful with gigantic breasts and a tiny waist. Now I will admit, that the latter is probably never going to happen for me but I’d hate to live up to my potential of becoming an ogre. Which means, that I have to find a way to fit in a healthier lifestyle than just sitting on my butt fighting evil, eating junk food, and drinking Arbor Mist*. Hey, Arbor Mist is yummy and its cheapness means I can buy more!

    So how does a Mommy Gamer find the motivation to fit an exercise routine into her already busy life?

    • You could hire a personal trainer. Try to find one that has similar interests to your own if possible. Otherwise, they might look at you a little funny when after the 5th burpee (I’m a low level fitness freak here!) you yell out “Ermagherd! I’m gonna wipe! Healz puleeze!” Look for a trainer with sleep deprived gamer eyes or ask to see their Gamestop card because if they don’t have one, you need to move on because really 10% off of used games IS that important.
    • You could play one of those funky dance games in your own living room! Unless you’re paranoid and believe your 360 is snapping your picture and automatically posting your picture to Facebook for all 867 (5309) of your nearest and dearest friends to see. Because that’s not embarrassing AT ALL. But forget that, you could involve the kids! Because at least then you’d be photobombed by the cutest kids EVER and no one would even notice you.
    • Here’s my favorite. Buy an exercise bike (I was lucky enough to score one for freaking FREE from Freecycle) and play your favorite racing gaming while you pedal. I like to play Mario Cart on the Wii so I can exercise my arms too! Pretend your pedaling is powering your cart and go faster for an extra boost of speed. If Yoshi doesn’t speed up, it’s because you’re not pedaling fast enough! Just don’t stop when the blue shell gets you.
    • You could also earn your gaming time. Set a number of fitness minutes per gaming minutes or say you have to exercise for 30 minutes to be granted gaming time. Just don’t work your arms too much, it’d suck to not be able to play because you did too many bicep curls.
    • Switch from your favorite beverage to water, lots of water. Every time you halt your gaming to pee, again, take a fiver to do some squats or a quick jog around the house. Then chug some more water. If you’re in the middle of a dungeon, tell your party that you’re taking a cig break or walking the dog. Somehow, they will totally forgive you.
    • Make yourself some fancy trophies or achievement badges for your accomplishments  Ooh or high scores! Challenge a gaming friend to beat your best score on your elliptical!

    Maybe you won’t turn into a center folder gamer chick, but with a little creativity, you can totally make fitness fun and fit your gaming in too. Because really, who wants to give up their favorite MMO just to become healthy? We’re just fighting the stereotype here.

    *Disclaimer: We at The Mommy Gamers believe that if you want to drink cheap wine, you should buy it in a box, not have fake Arbor Wine which is merely alcoholic soda that dresses up in a wine bottle.

    How To Slay Xbox Live Bullying Dragons

    Dragon Slayer

    The following is a guest post by Microsoft MVP (Xbox) Nori Fox. Read below to see how you can help prevent kids on Xbox Live from turning into gaming bullies.

    A Tale of Dragons and Flames

    Once upon a time an amazing gaming service called Xbox LIVE came into the world. At its beginning it was the greatest thing that happened to gaming because you could play with anyone…anywhere! It was and is gaming heaven, a never ending stream of competitors for you to try to beat. But as happens to all good things, an evil began to creep in. Abusive gamers, hereafter known as Dragons, had figured out that they could say anything they wanted, no matter how vile, because they could retain their anonymity. I’m sure these Dragons are thinking they aren’t really hurting anyone, they are just venting their rage, spewing flames wherever they go. As adults we know we can boot these gamers from the game, mute them or simply quit and play with our friends. We generally let their flames roll off our backs.

    The Dragons, however, forgot about something. Something they ARE burning badly…the kids. Yes, we know they aren’t supposed to be on LIVE but they are and they always will be. Most Dragons are too old to remember shock value; they forget that bullying hurts even when it’s anonymous and these kids don’t forget easily. So what do the little ones do to cope? They do like they always do…imitate. Children learn by example and the example of these Dragons is loud and clear: Spewing flames is cool.

    I am fully aware that Dragons are one of the most annoying things about live gaming and that Dragon babies are even worse, but my post today is intended to ask you a favor, and it’s a big one: Please don’t abuse these little dragons back, because I really don’t feel it’s their fault. Not completely…

    I realized this one day while on LIVE. There was a particularly annoying little Dragon in my game, spewing flames everywhere. I did my best to ignore it until he singled me out and explained some sexual things he was going to do to me. I should have been offended but he had gotten the terms all wrong…he had no idea what he was talking about! That’s when I realized what was going on. He was simply doing what he’d heard from a big Dragon…and he thought it was cool if he said it too.

    When it comes to big Dragons I have no problem turning them over to the enforcement team. But ever since that day, when it comes to baby Dragons, I take the time to talk to them first. I messaged this young would-be pervert and explained that I KNEW this wasn’t him. I knew he had heard these things from older gamers and that if he wanted to really have fun gaming and to build a great friends list…one that even includes girls…that he needed to stop imitating those big flaming Dragons. I explained that it doesn’t make him look cool at all, because the grown-ups who say those things aren’t seen as being cool either.

    To my surprise his reply was pleasant. He wasn’t happy being mean but he thought he had to be. How sad is that!? He thought that was how we are supposed to behave on LIVE. I realized that It’s on us…the grown-ups…we are to blame, we created these little flaming Dragons. If we don’t want to deal with the flames, from any age Dragon, we need to not be spewing them ourselves. I did tell the little Dragon that he shouldn’t be playing M rated games online but if he insisted on it he should mute himself and just play. From that day forward I have done the same with many a little Dragon, and hopefully have made the gaming realm a better place in some small way or at least kept some little Dragons from growing into big ones.

    The moral of the story is clear and obvious. It’s an old tale told in many ways: “Let peace begin with me”, “If you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all”, “remember the golden rule”, “be excellent to each other”…it’s all true. Kids learn by example and like it or not they ARE on Xbox LIVE and not going anywhere. I know that there is a lot of anger and frustration involved with playing video games so if you feel you can’t handle yourself, MUTE! Because ultimately we’re on LIVE to slay Dragons, not be one.

    photo credit: Ran Yaniv Hartstein via photopin cc

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