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Stop Throwing it Out: Jumping Onboard the ‘Food Waste Friday’ Wagon

I love the blog The Frugal Girl. It’s a regular inspiration to me. I subscribe to this blog and it’s listed in my blogroll because I love what she does over there. She has a great regular Friday series called Food Waste Fridays. The point is to see where you’re throwing money away by letting something go bad in your refrigerator. You might be surprised to realize how much food you are tossing out on a regular basis. I know I was! And I’m pretty frugal to begin with. Food waste costs money. If you aren’t careful it can cost a lot of money over time. It has brought me to a new level of awareness on how to prevent losses by making sure I use food before it goes bad. The Frugal Girl has a call-out on her blog for other’s to jump on board with Food Waste awareness and I think it’s a truly worthy one so I’m giving it a shot today.

So how did I do this week?

My successes:

  • I managed to save half a carton of grape tomatoes that were starting to get just a tad wrinkly by tossing them in some olive oil and oven drying them. This is actually a great discovery for me. They turned out to be a fantastic snack to have on hand. My kids loved them and they are a great addition to a salad. If you haven’t tried oven dried grape tomatoes, they are really great.
  • I saved some blueberries and strawberries that had started to look ugly but were actually still smoothie worthy by popping them in a freezer bag for future smoothie creations.
  • I’ve also noticed I’m very close to the use by date on what’s left of a dozen eggs so we’ll be doing some baking today to use them up.

My failures:

  • The last fifth or so of a bottle of Pace Picante Salsa. It had gotten pushed to the back of the fridge because I’ve been making my own salsa lately. It had grown some green fuzzies inside. Pretty gross.
  • A small piece of chicken leftovers that didn’t make it into a sandwich of salad lunch.
  • The last couple of sips of a 7-Up we’d forgotten about since we almost never drink soda.
  • 2 containers of baby yogurt way past their use by date.
  • Half a lemon that didn’t get used and is just not salvageable.

Going forward:

At first glance this morning I thought I’d done pretty well. I thought it was only the small piece of chicken and the last fifth of the battle of salsa. But when I looked closer at my refrigerator contents I was pretty disappointed in myself. What a waste! It may be only a few cents here and there but it adds up. Clearly I need to work at this. Our biggest challenge seems to be things that get pushed to the back of the fridge. We seem generally to do well on using up our produce but not so well on the odd occasional items that we aren’t in the habit of using regularly (like soda or lemons). We need to do better!

Thank you to The Frugal Girl for helping me to be more aware of tossing money in my trash can! I think I’ll be jumping on board her call out every Friday to help keep me in check on reducing and hopefully reducing food waste in our household. It is not budget friendly to throw away food. We’re taking a use it or lose it philosophy with the food in our refrigerator from now on!

Comment Worthy:

So how about you? How aware of your food waste are you? Do you find yourself throwing away food you just didn’t use?

My first Food Waste Friday and not doing so well here. Let's hope next week is better.

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8 Things I Learned Because of a Trip to My Local Farmer’s Market

Once lost and now found-in the big wide world of technology! (Thank you Erica at WordPress! I’m sending you a hug today. You are a rockstar!) Without further ado:

Our local Farmer’s Market in the park may be small compared to those available in big cities or metro areas but after taking my kids there this past weekend I learned and experienced wonderful, simple things that enriched my life. I am most decidedly a Farmer’s Market convert and will be making plenty of space in our budget and our schedule to make this part of our lives as long as the season allows. I consider myself a joyful lifelong learner and I learned some fun things this weekend that I want to share with you today:

1.) You can eat beat greens.

They are really good! I knew I’d read this somewhere before but while buying my lettuce and asking the seller about his beets, another woman was buying from the seller’s wife and explaining that she actually buys the beets more for the greens than the sweet dark red root. My interest was piqued. Anytime I can get more value out of an item without paying any more for it-I’m all for it! How much more budget friendly and frugal is it to use all of the vegetable that you’d previously only used part of? And unless you live under a rock, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how very healthy greens are for your diet, including beet greens. We came home and roasted the beets. We cleaned and chopped the greens for dinner. Guess what? My kids ate them both happily and asked for more! How much more proof do you need than that?

Here are two great simple easy recipes for using fresh beets:

How to roast fresh beets

Beet Greens

(You can also just use the a little bacon and salt and pepper to taste. That’s even more simple and really good too!)

2.) Hens don’t lay eggs in really hot weather. 

Apparently hens don’t like extreme heat or cold. We generally don’t have to worry about extreme cold here (though last winter was a record year freeze!). Where we live heat is a way of life. I had no idea the hens weren’t big fans of it either! (I’m very pale and redheaded so I am perpetually slathered in sunscreen and wearing a hat. People often say to me “You aren’t from here are you?”)

3.) Too much rain leads to fatter, more swollen zucchini.

But it should still make pretty wonderful zucchini bread. I was hoping to make a loaf of it today to show you but my kiddo was zonked and off to dreamland early. I don’t have the heart to cut into the zucchini he’s been carting around the house like a prize from the fair for the last two days without him. I’ll have to update you on how the zucchini bread comes out. In the meantime I’ll share my zucchini recipe of choice:

Zucchini Bread (I’ve been known to add in toasted walnuts on occasion!)

4.) How pleasant our community can truly be. 

We don’t have many shopping options here other than the big Walmart. I’ve found most people are in a terrible mood in the long line they have to stand in after battling through the store in the first place for all they need. It is a pleasant change of pace to not have to stand in long lines while your child asks for the chips and candy neatly lined up at his eye level while you make your way to the conveyor belt that rolls your items up to checkout. I’ve been known to chat up just about anyone and have made a friend or two in my local Walmart. But it is nowhere near the gratifying experience of talking to someone about the work and care they’ve put into their product or their art. There is a warmth and twinkle in their eye that can’t be found on the shelf at a store. It was real community. The  way it’s meant to be. It makes me want to go back. It makes me want to make a better effort to know my neighbors just a little more than the pleasant perfunctory wave as we come and go. Maybe on my next visit to the Farmer’s Market I’ll buy more zucchini and bake loaves of bread for my neighbors. Nothing liked homemade baked goods to open the door to neighborly friendships!

5.) Just how enthusiastic children will get when they are so involved with the experience of their food.

My oldest son came home talking a mile a minute and wanted to make everything right away. He was inspired and excited. It was so fun to see him so amped up over vegetables! My children are good eaters. I rarely have to “make” them eat their vegetables or fruits. They understand the importance of healthy foods. Our trip took my sons understanding to a whole new level. He helped me roast the beets and cut up the beet greens and has declared a new love for both. He carried the giant zucchini around so much that I finally had to explain that we needed to put it in the refrigerator till we were ready to make the bread. He inspected the sunflowers we bought and decided he needed to know how many types of sunflowers exist (we bought one bloom each of the four different varieties offered). He inspected the leaves, the bud that had not opened and the petals. He was fascinated by the pollen that he found on the table beneath the large blooms. He wanted to know more about how bees use pollen because he already know that bees like pollen. So we Youtube’d bees and watched them busily go about their task at a big sunflower (a happy coincidence, by the way) and this turned into a discussion about how the honey is then made. Which produced a lovely drawing that he has plans to color tomorrow. He gave me permission to share his work in progress with you. There is a photo of it at the bottom of this post.

6.) That you can keep lettuce fresh in a mason jar. 

Now. To be honest, I didn’t learn this at the Farmer’s Market but my trip inspired the search that led me to this little gem. There were such amazing greens available at my Farmer’s Market that I came straight home and searched the internet to find ways of preserving any future bounty of greens and lettuces I might bring home. I stumbled across an irresistible website about making salad in a jar. What an unusual concept! I was so fascinated I had to share her blog with you! She also happens to have great instructions for making Greek style yogurt at home. I haven’t tried it yet but it’s on my short list!  Check out this excellent blog Salad in a Jar. Even if you don’t go to a Farmer’s Market anytime soon-she’s got some great food stuff going on and I really enjoy her writing too!

7.) I learned just how processed even our fresh foods are from the grocery store. 

While it took a little more work to get the dirt off of what we brought home there was no denying how fresh and local it was. It was worth the extra elbow grease.

8.) That while it wasn’t a big budget saver, it didn’t break the bank either. 

We had a great experience and brought home some great produce. I learned a lot. My kids learned a lot. And most of all, it was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday morning. We’ll be heading back again this weekend, I assure you.

Art from my 5 year old. Inspired by our trip to the Farmer's Market and the pollen from our sunflowers.

This Little Piggy Went to Market-The Farmer’s Market, That Is!

This past Saturday morning, my boys and I were up and out the door early. We had a morning date planned. We were headed to the local donut shop for a treat of donuts and milk for them while the donuts were still fresh and a big steaming cup of coffee for me. Of course they got the rainbow sprinkles (what kid can resist rainbow sprinkles on anything?).  How I love a $3 date with my boys!

Then we headed down the road to check out our town’s Farmer’s Market in the park. Last year we moved to a town of about 30,000 (which includes the outlier areas) so it’s definitely no metropolis. We actually are the largest town for about 75 miles in any given direction (over 200 if you go north!). We’d been given advice to get to the Farmer’s Market early since their aren’t a ton of vendors and, at the very least, to be there when they are allowed to start selling. We pulled in right on time. I was amazed at the number of vehicles amassed in the parking area near the little park. The boys were excited. My oldest was practically bouncing up and down to be able to buy food from real live farmers (he, of course, doesn’t remember trips to Farmer’s Markets we’d made when he was younger and we lived in another town that was chock full of them and I think he was thinking along the lines of Old MacDonald). My littlest was just happy to be outside on an already hot desert morning in his new shoes toddling along and fascinated by his own feet and the gravel beneath them. On occasion he would look up and grin big and wave a frantic toddler style hello to the cars still driving in or the people  around us heading to the same destination we were. We made our way to the small grouping of vendors set up beneath the blessing of shade from old, full trees and assessed where we should start. There were maybe ten vendors in all, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a lovely offering considering the arid environment we live in. I spotted a man selling beautiful, enormous heads of lettuce and a lovely selection of beets and headed in his direction. The lettuce was so pretty that I didn’t bother asking what kind. It was $1.50 for the head and far larger and more healthy looking than the plants offered in our grocery store for about the same price. I pointed and said “I’ll take that one please! And tell me more about your beets.” He had two varieties and explained the benefits and drawbacks of both. I let my five year old choose the bunch he wanted and in the bag they went. I happily exchanged my money for the produce and headed to the next vendor. I went on to buy a swiss chard, the biggest zucchini squash I’ve ever seen which has an excellent future as zucchini bread, fresh sage, a small bunch of sunflowers and purple bell peppers. I would have bought a dozen fresh eggs but a friendly woman managed to zip them out from under me while I was happily chatting with the seller who was telling me that the squash I was buying from her was so big because of recent rains but that they were still excellent and agreed with me on my assessment that it would make good zucchini bread. I had some eggs left at home, so the seller, the lady who actually got the fresh hen eggs and I laughed about my poor timing and agreed we’d try again Wednesday evening for fresh eggs. The seller went on to apologize that she had no more eggs on hand and told me how her hens slow down considerably when it is hot. My children were at my feet picking grass and watching the exchange keenly. Suddenly my son exclaimed “Hey Mom! There’s a kid pulling a kid!” and we all turned in time to see a little boy leading a young and defiant goat on a rope. We laughed. We had our bag full of produce and took one more pass through to look at the offerings of handmade aprons, pottery, and blown glass.

When we got in the car to head home the whole car smelled of sage which transported me almost instantly to my childhood and the smell of summer and the creeks and rivers near where I grew up. Both my children were content in their car seats. My five year old asked where the real farmers were. I told him that the people selling us what we just bought were the real farmers. He smiled. He said, “Really? They looked like regular people.” I said, “They are.” He said, “Mom, someday when we have a farm can we have a goat so I can be a kid pulling a kid?” I smiled. I said, “If we someday have a farm, sure.”

All told, I spent about $12 at the Farmer’s market. Did I get the variety of produce that is usually available to me at my local grocery store? No. But I did get a good price for a good product. And we got so much more. We got the opportunity to connect: With our community, with our food and with our place in the world. We learned things (like how one of the regular customers is more interested in the beet greens than the beets so she chose her bunch based on the leaves. It inspired me to find a recipe for beet greens to go with dinner that night. And my children loved them).  We weren’t on autopilot. We were present in the moment and it was joyful. It was busy but everyone was friendly, happy, and conversational. There was no long line to wait in. There were no magazines to tempt me or candy at eye level for my children to plead for. Some of the items may have been a little more expensive than what I would have paid in the supermarket, sure. But my money went straight into the pocket of the people doing the hard work and I really love that. I liked looking in their eyes and appreciating their contribution to the world. I liked learning something from them. I liked shaking their hand as I handed them my money and I liked realizing how utterly simple and unprocessed my food was when I brought it home and laid it out on the counter with the dirt still falling off the leaves and roots. Sometimes budget friendly intersects beautifully with bringing an unexpected bounty of experience. When was the last time you saw a kid pulling a kid in your local Walmart? On second thought…maybe I shouldn’t ask that.

If you haven’t checked out your local Farmer’s Market this summer, please do. Go meet the people who grow your food. Sometimes they’ll throw in an extra sunflower for free just because they are kind. Go shake their hands and look them in the eye. Buy cookies or bread from someone who puts their heart into it (unless you make your own like I do, of course).  It’s a glorious experience. Even if you don’t buy much, it’s budget friendly frugal fun.

Join me tomorrow for my list of what we did and some fun new things we learned about what to do with our Farmer’s Market bounty!

Comment Worthy:

Do you go to your local Farmer’s Market? What is your favorite thing about it?

Some of our Farmer's Market bounty: A bag of swiss chard, sage, sunflowers and beet greens (beets were roasting in the oven!).

A very large zucchini with a future in zucchini bread. And pretty sunflowers that make me smile. And the pollen on the tables that keeps shedding but leads to great educational conversations about how flowers and bees work together!

Keeping Mindless Conveniences in Check: Our Mission to Kick the Paper Towel Habit

I realized recently that we are throwing some of our money away. There’s an item that makes it’s way onto our shopping list far more often than I like because we seem to go through it faster and faster. I found myself scratching my head and trying to consider how to stop this small, but irritating loss as I tossed out yet another center cardboard tube left by the paper towel roll. How had we gotten to the point that one roll of paper towels was lasting only 2 days in our house?  We’d developed a bad habit of grabbing paper towels at the slightest need and were mowing through them at an alarming rate. As I mulled this over, upon tossing that recent cardboard tube, I wondered how paper towels even became such a staple in homes today. This is, essentially, a convenience item. What did they use before paper towels? There had to be a way around this. After all, I told myself, I’d figured out how to make my own laundry detergent, and I use cloth diapers and wipes and make my own cleaning spray for my kiddos bottom. There just had to be some way to stop this waste. I did a little research and sure enough, there are plenty of people just as irritated about this wasteful grocery list item as I am. The answer? Rags and dishtowels. Re-use them. Wash them. The challenge was on!

So where to start? First I took a few minutes to assess the paltry collection of dishtowels and washrags I had in my kitchen drawer. Most were in sore shape and, really, I didn’t have nearly as many as I thought I did. Clearly I needed to bulk up my supply if this was going to work. On that next shopping trip I managed to collect some bar-mop style towels in 5 packs as well as packs of inexpensive dish rags for what I usually spend on a big pack of paper towels.  I now had a good solid start to my cloth towel and rag stockpile. During this shopping trip I allowed myself to buy only a 2 pack of paper towels. Like most habits, it’s easier to wean than go cold turkey.  I came home and announced that we were on a mission as a family to wean ourselves from the overuse and waste of paper towels.

Our goal for week 1: To get through seven full days on one single roll of paper towels. When we can achieve this, we’ll graduate our attempts to getting through two whole weeks, and so forth (I’d read about one woman who uses only one roll or so a year! Wow.). So far, we are a week into this experiment. I can’t believe how ingrained my first instinct to reach for a paper towel has become. I’m having to retrain myself to reach for the dishtowel instead.

Now, in the grand scheme of my grocery budget, is changing my paper towel habit going to save me untold riches this year? Probably not. I do realize, there is still a need for paper towels to some degree in our house and that paper towels can, on occasion, be the better choice. But I’d been suckered into a mindless convenience and it was costing us. That bothered me. I’ve found, as with my cloth diaper adventure, I am saved the aggravation of running out completely and needing to make a trip to the store since all I have to do is toss them in the wash. It’ll save me about $10-15 a month (yes we had a REALLY bad habit) which translates to about $120-180 a year in savings. I can even help keep some waste out of the landfill with this new habit which is a nice thought. But really, for me, it’s part of unravelling the real challenge of finding the little habits of convenience that sneak into my life that add up. Are these conveniences really worth the cost? So far, I’m loving the dishtowel and dishrag upgrade to our kitchen. They work much better. I’m finding this is, indeed, a good habit for us to break. It’s good for my grocery budget, and, if you are so inclined, it’s “greener” living. It’s a frugal, budget friendly solution. I have a feeling we won’t be going back.

Making the shift from paper to cloth

Inspiration Thursdays: A Free Tool for You Today

Because Thursday’s child has far to go…

 “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” – Maria Robinson

I’ve got a free “tool” for you today.

It’s a funny thing about budgets and getting debt free. It’s about money, our beliefs about money, and our behavior with money. And I don’t know about the rest of the world, but we Americans seem to have a lot of shame about how much money we make or don’t make. How we manage or don’t manage it. What we know or don’t know about money (which according to some recent surveys I’ve read is pretty paltry but we’re all starting to fix that!). Today, I want to suggest to you that money is a tool. It’s no different than a hammer. Or a wrench. Or a screwdriver. When my husband and I first got married we had a piddling little mix of tools that were mostly old and hand-me-down and housed in a rusty old classic metal red tool box (my favorite, of course, is the little all-in-one hammer-screw driver my grandma gave me years ago and  clearly that suits my rice and beans practical nature!). Over time we’ve added many tools to that rusty old tool box. We keep the box because we love the patina of it and it reminds us of where we came from. We keep the old tools for the same reason. Over time we’ve added new tools as we’ve found needs for them and as we’ve been able to acquire them-some used, some new. They serve us well and we’ve learned to better use our tools along the way.

What if, for just a minute, you stopped letting money define your success and started seeing and using it for what it really is: a tool? How would that change your habits and your approach to it? Would it take some pressure off your shoulders and lighten your heart a little bit? One of my favorite financial “tools” is super budget friendly. It’s FREE. I have developed the habit of downloading a free podcast from Dave Ramsey to listen to while I log miles on my treadmill (when I’m running outside I’m in God’s country and listen to inspiring music instead). But on my treadmill I plug in that podcast and get inspired not so much by Dave but by the people that call in to talk to Dave. I let others successes challenge and inspire me. I let their challenges and failures help me feel that I’m not alone and that if they can get through it so can I. I’ve even been inspired to let out a whoop of joy for other people I’ve never met after hearing their success stories. In that moment I know I can and will get there too. I encourage you to try this tool out to let it inspire you whether you are debt free now and staying on track or still trying to get there. Do it just once. If you don’t like it-it was free-and since we all know just how budget friendly FREE is-it’s worth giving it a shot. Check out Dave Ramsey’s Free One Hour Podcast

Money is a tool. Knowledge is a tool. Inspiration is a tool. Let that give you a fresh start today to work toward your new ending!

If you’ve got some great inspirational tools in your tool box about your money and your budget-I’d love to know about them-comment away!

Frugal and Cheap are Not the Same

Frugality has come a long way recently. It’s become more main stream given the challenges of the economy. Many people are searching for ways to stretch their hard earned dollars to get by. Obviously frugality is nothing new (ask anyone who survived the Great Depression). Given the challenges of current times there has been a resurgence of people embracing all things frugal.

It occurred to me recently, after a conversation with a friend, that a lot of people are a little confused by what frugality really means. Some people think frugality is about being cheap or buying cheap things. Some people cringe at the words and feel deprived by even the thought of them. Some people even feel like they are forms of cruel punishment!

But bear with me a bit here as I don my homeschool mom glasses to take a closer look at these words (I do this on occasion so please don’t let it put you off!). Words are pretty powerful stuff. So let’s take a closer look at the actual word FRUGAL as it appears in the Merriam Webster Dictionary  and to round out our definitions and for the sake of thoroughness I’m adding the definition, from the same source, of the word ECONOMY:

Definition: Frugal: characterized by or reflecting economy in the use of resources

Origin: Frugal: Middle French or Latin; Middle French, from Latin frugalis virtuous, frugal, from frug-, frux fruit, value; akin to Latinfrui to enjoy

Definition: Economy: 1. archaic : the management of household or private affairs and especially expenses 2. a : thrifty and efficient use of material resources : frugality in expenditures; also : an instance or a means of

Now let’s take a look at the word CHEAP (again from the same source for consistencies’ sake):

Definition: Cheap:adj. 1 a : purchasable below the going price or the real value b:charging or obtainable at a low price <a good cheap hotel> <cheap tickets>c : depreciated in value (as by currency inflation) <cheap dollars: gained or done with little effort <a cheap victory> <talk ischeap>.3a : of inferior quality or worth :tawdry, sleazy  <cheapworkmanship>b : contemptible because of lack of any fine, lofty, or redeeming qualities <feeling cheap>c :stingy <my cheap uncle>

Looking at what these words actually mean, it becomes pretty clear that frugality is about how we use our actual resources (our income, our time, our skills, etc.). Economy is about management and efficiency. It is about how we choose to use what we have to make it most cost effective to our situation. There is nothing coarse or detrimental in the definitions of these words. They are positive words. Constructive words. But when you look at the word cheap you find some not so pleasant or constructive things in the definition. No wonder cheap seems to be a word most of us don’t want to closely associate with!

Unfortunately frugal and cheap have been, far too often, put on the same playing field when, really, they aren’t  even in the same ballpark! I think because words have power it can hold us back from some positive changes in our lives. We are a frugal family. And frugality and economy are about making wise choices with our resources not necessarily about the cheapest item we can get (though don’t get me wrong-I love a darn good bargain!!). But because frugality is about choices and resources our frugality will likely look different from yours. Our resources and needs and wants are probably different from yours! Frugality is mindset and an approach. Frugality is not the same as cheap.

So do yourself a favor and kick the word “cheap” to the curb where it belongs. Be frugal. Be cost effective. Be bargain happy. Be economical. Be resourceful. Be thrifty. Be wise. Be Rice and Beans. But you don’t need to be “cheap.”

Simple Ways to Remember and Inexpensive Ways to Have Fun-Part 2

So, now that you’ve armed yourself with some simple ways to work remembrance into your Memorial Day (from Part 1 of this post), what about the rest of your holiday weekend?. You don’t have to go far to have a fun, budget friendly, fabulous time. If you haven’t already got something on your weekend agenda here are some fun and inexpensive ways to spend this Memorial Day weekend:

  • Get some water pistols and have a water battle in your backyard (with or without the kiddos!).
  • Take a picnic (breakfast, lunch or dinner!) to a great nearby park.
  • Check out your local Rails to Trails and go on a hike. If you have a bike, bike the trail instead!
  • Have a red, white and blue barbecue in your backyard by eating red, white and blue food.
  • Have a water balloon battle.
  • Put the sprinklers on and run through them (or just enjoy watching your kids do it).
  • Go to your local farmers market.
  • Pretend you are a tourist in your hometown and go see any museums or sites you haven’t seen or even revisit the ones you have.
  • Check out any local community festivities that are going on for Memorial Day weekend.
  • Put out your lawn chairs and watch a great sunset. If you have kids ask them to describe the colors they are seeing to you. Kids have such fantastic descriptions of stuff like this.
  • If you have a laptop or portable dvd player, head out to your backyard for a homemade “drive-in” style movie night. Lay out on a blanket and bring the popcorn out.
  • Lay out in the backyard on a blanket and watch the stars come out one by one.
  • Find a local little league game to see.
  • Check into anything going on with the local VFW.
  • Go for a bike ride in your neighborhood.
  • Read that novel you’ve been hearing such great things about (you can probably borrow it free at the local library!)
  • Go camping in your own backyard. It’s a thrifty camping experience and you avoid the crowds. Bonus points if you have an outdoor fire pit so you can make s’mores and sing camp songs.
  • Blow lot of bubbles with your kids in the yard.
  • Go out for a frugal ice cream cone at McDonald’s for $1 (my husband and I did this even before we had kids and enjoyed the frugal silliness of it!).
Have a fun, fantastic, safe, “remember-ful” Memorial Day weekend!
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