A very special first Shabbat…WE ARE ONE family

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Our first Shabbat of the summer was spectacular. Our theme for services for this first week of camp was “We are one family.” On Friday night in the Elmore Solomon Chapel, we welcomed new campers and staff into our Blue Star family and reflected on our connectedness not only as a camp community but also as one human family. We came together to pray, sing and share a joyful and peaceful Shabbat spirit that resonated from the Chapel all throughout camp. When we unveiled the names we had added to the memorial board in our camp chapel this summer, I shared the following quote from Buddha with our campers and staff…“To those in whom love dwells, the whole world is but one family.” Our Blue Star family seems to share a unique heart, one that spans generations, wishes the best for all humanity, stays connected to each other and to the spark of magic that we hope each of us finds in ourselves from the time we spend at camp.

Making this first weekend of our 2016 camp season even more special was that we were joined by an illustrious (think: BSC all stars!) group of camp alumni. All former long time campers and staff (most whom have been members of our leadership team in various capacities over the years), this close knit group of camp best friends returned to Blue Star to celebrate the upcoming marriage of two camp sweethearts, Susanna (Susu) Fried and David Cohen. Susu and David actually got engaged the day after camp ended last summer on the black top! Another couple in the group, Allie Weprin and Eric Rosenberg, are also engaged to be married. At Saturday morning services, Eric shared the following “original thoughts,” a Blue Star tradition, at our camp services.

 

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Original Thoughts by Eric Rosenberg

Shabbat shalom

Last night’s service ended with a quote from Buddha. To build upon those thoughts and continue this summers theme of “We are One” I thought it would be appropriate to share these words from another spiritual leader…One Direction – “One band, one dream, one direction.”

I was a camper from 2000 to 2005 and on staff from 2009 to 2011. Many times I stood right here and looked out to a crowd full of faces where I knew nearly everyone, but today I only recognize a few. While part of me misses my own camp days it makes me even happier to know that Blue Star will always continue on with new generations of campers and counselors who will create some of their life’s most meaningful relationships here.

Something people will tell you a lot out there in the real world is that the only constant in life is change. Those people have never been to Blue Star. Here always smells the same, feels the same. The brunch bagels never get softer, Evan and Sosna never leave, and the Blue Star magic doesn’t stop once you turn out of camp.

I came here this weekend with a large group of friends. From youngest to oldest we span 6 Blue Star units. For you Senior 3’s, that means coming back to camp in 2029 and hanging out with a bunch of Pioneer 1’s. While that probably sounds impossible today, Blue Star makes it possible. You may have met someone 6 days ago who will be the best man or maid of honor at your wedding. Your future boss may be at Juniors waterfront right now forgetting who their buddy is.

David and Susu will have gone from awkward Pioneer coeds to having children and grandchildren together. I met my future wife Allie in 2010 as counselors. We were a unit apart for 5 summers as campers and never once crossed paths. Senior Girls – that means the short boy across the aisle with the mismatching socks, who is too nervous to talk to you today, will be someone you spend your entire life with.

As you all grow up and move away from this place – going to different schools, having different experiences, falling out of contact with some camp friends and reconnecting with others you never knew before –  there will always be ONE Blue Star. Blue Star will always continue long after we are all and maybe even this place, is gone. It is a state of mind you can tap into, it’s a foundation for any relationship you’ll have. It will be your family forever.

One camp, one dream, one direction

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Inclusion and Our Approach to Bullying

We Are One: How we practice inclusion at Blue Star…

Co-Authored by Dana and Matt “Fish” Eisenman (of our Leadership Team) 

As we gear up for summer 2016 we are excited about how the 2016 theme guides our daily experience at camp. Our theme, “We are One,” has the potential to help us in attaining an ideal; a harmonious and inclusive summer camp community for all of our campers and staff. We are one cabin, one unit, one camp, one Blue Star, one community and one human family.

Sometimes the task of community building can be challenging, even at camp where our traditions and core values easily lend themselves to creating a cohesive, caring and inclusive community. We know, as part of growing up, our campers and staff can be met with challenges as they navigate various aspects of their social lives in myriad settings. Testing the accepted social boundaries to establish one’s role in the group is a developmentally appropriate behavior, but when bullying becomes part of a group’s dynamic, it can erode the sense of security, well-being, and safety that we hope all campers and staff experience at camp. At Blue Star, we define bullying as repeated unwanted aggressive behavior that involves a power imbalance.  

Empathy is a key component of our approach to resolving these issues at camp. We avoid labeling campers and work to help all campers identify their role in the social world of camp, providing opportunities for them to make their own positive changes.

By employing empathy as a powerful tool for understanding, campers exhibiting bullying behavior are able to see the impact of their words and actions. In the tech-heavy lives of our campers they often do not have the opportunity to see how their behaviors impact others. At camp however, the responses are immediate and personal, and with guidance from a staff member, campers are able to feel the impact of their actions. As the people who are directly responsible for campers’ social-emotional well-being, our camp leadership team and counselors encourage campers to take ownership of their camp experiences by providing guidance as they navigate these social challenges. The real work of camp is to scaffold and support all children in coping with these challenges and learning from the experience to help them discover their best selves.

Our theme also teaches inclusion. Inclusion requires campers to go beyond tolerance and encourages them to learn about others, empathize, and become part of one community. Camp is the ideal place to reflect on and learn from all experiences and return to home and school with a renewed sense of self and the compassion and love of a caring camp community. We are One…

*For more information on bullying, see stopbullying.gov

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Blue Star just keeps getting better and better!

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Happy April to our campers, staff, alums and camp families! With camp just around the corner, we are excited to tell you more about what is “new and exciting” at Blue Star in Summer 2016! You can expect Blue Star to look more beautiful than ever this year as we have been ticking away since the Fall on various capital improvement projects across camp to make this upcoming camp season extra special for our camp community.

Making Blue Star even more beautiful…
Pioneer Boy hill is looking better than ever…with extensive interior and exterior updates, brand new beautiful front porches/decks, interior paneling and some extra love and attention to the general landscape and look of the hill. Globally, more attention has been paid across camp to various natural and landscaped areas, creating a more aesthetic and “villagey” feel in those spaces. Senior Boy hill got a fresh coat of paint and many cabins in our younger camps will be getting new beautifully handcrafted cubbies!

Riding Rings, Tennis & Basketball Courts and renovated spaces for new activity offerings…

We built an incredible new riding arena to support our fabulous Equestrian program and our growing Horseback Skills Camp. Our new arena is situated in a lovely spot where campers can enjoy the surrounding natural beauty of our camp setting. It is the biggest ring we have ever had (200 x 125 feet!) with a special viewing area for camp friends and families to watch their friends at our camp “Equestrian shows.”

Our main tennis courts and outdoor basketball court are both being resurfaced and repainted. They will look clean and fresh for Summer 2016 at camp, not to mention will make for better matches and games for our camp athletics programs!

Perhaps the most exciting news to share is about our new program offerings! Last year, our new Cooking Option was an incredible success…campers loved the space we created for them to learn and hone their culinary skills. Our new Blue Star Dance Option was also an amazing and well-loved addition to our Blue Star Options (“electives”). Campers genuinely enjoyed these new BSC Options, and this year we are continuing to devote our energies to expanding and enhancing our already robust Arts program which includes theater arts, photography, video/film, arts & crafts, pottery, dance, culinary and ancient arts.

This year, we will be creating a separate activity space for a full-scale Fine Arts Option! Our campers that are bourgeoning young visual artists will receive instruction through participation in various projects and instructional sessions led by our highly skilled art specialist, Ambre. We are very excited to have a new fine arts space where campers can explore their creativity, use new mediums and materials and find new ways to express themselves through artistic endeavors.

Additionally, for our young musicians at camp, we are starting a full on Music Option! Led by our very popular camp DJ, Theo, it will include instruction in guitar, piano and other instrumentation as well as DJ, song writing and performing. A mini “band camp” at Blue Star will surely be a hit for those of our campers that already show an interest in and affinity for music and those that are hoping to explore their musicality at camp this summer!

Our love for camp and dedication to making Blue Star the best it can be is unwavering! We can’t wait for opening day of Summer 2016 and to share the next “best Blue Star summer ever” with all of you…We are One!

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Summer Theme 2016…We are One!

Carpe diem. Here comes the roll out of our Theme for Summer 2016…We are super pumped to share our theme with you earlier than usual this season. Lauren & I are grateful that we were able to spend this past weekend engaged with our Camp Leader team to vision for this coming summer. A foundational part of our good work together is to explore what our summer theme will be and how it connects to our Core Values and Mission. Without further adieu…our summer theme is “We are One” {אנחנו אחד}.

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Building community in an intentional way is one of our three core outcomes for all of our campers every summer. While we encourage each camper to discover their best self, we also are asking them to become engaged members of our community. How do we scaffold community building? Think about concentric circles. Beginning with the innermost circle of One Cabin, we extend outward to a second layer of One Unit. From there we ripple out further with One Camp before finally merging as One Blue Star. Within each of these circles campers find opportunities where they not only feel known, needed, and cared for; moreover, they possess the power to positively shape their communities.

Delving deeper into the meanings of the Hebrew word for “One,” I am struck by a particular use which translates to “One-ity,” reminiscent of the concept of unity. At Blue Star, we are committed to showing and reminding campers how to bridge divides, open our hearts, and welcome others into an inclusive community in which everyone is accepted.

As always, our camp programs and projects will be centered around the concept of “tikkun olam,” of healing the “one world” we all share. Our summer theme for 2016 hopes to inspire a spirit of civic engagement as well as a deeper understanding of the universal “one-ness” that connects all people. Lauren & I hope that our campers will connect to each other and the world around them in ways that honor and highlight inclusiveness, understanding, and open-heartedness.

We are One…“One love, One heart” and one Blue Star family!

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What is the secret ingredient in the BSC Magic?!

Carpe diem. Lauren & I hope this finds everyone feeling good and enjoying the holiday season. We hope you had an extra bright Hanukkah and wish you only the very best for the New Year 2016! As we approach the annual ritual of “winter break,” we wanted to share an article that struck us at our core. Those of us in the Blue Star family (all of you!) reminisce and dream often of that Blue Star “magic.” What we might consider less is what actually makes or helps create that magic. That is, what is the secret ingredient (the special sauce, if you will) in the very center of the magic? The answer is below; just keep reading…

A long-time alum and very special friend of Blue Star, Walter Solomon, passed along the following article to Lauren and me from the website, ejewishphilanthropy.com. In the article, The Secret Ingredient of Summer Camp Magic, writer/educator Benjamin Kramarz explains that the recipe can be found in the concept of liminality. Kramarz defines liminality as the “state of being in transition” floating amorphously between one stage or place and the next, whether of development or more concretely as in school grades. Our good work at Blue Star is focused on harnessing that transitional time and space to create the conditions for personal and communal transformation.

http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/the-secret-ingredient-of-summer-camp-magic/?utm_source=Tues+Oct+13n*&utm_campaign=Tues+Oct+13&utm_medium=email

How does it work? We intentionally build a community every summer that is filled with “good people” who are almost all in a state of transition. Our counselors are trained vigorously to model “how to be” in this unique state of being and guide their campers through it. Layered in is our meticulously designed program structure that rests on two foundational principles: First, we leave plenty of healthy space for unstructured time where campers are allowed to do what they want to do (with adult supervision and within extremely safe physical surroundings); Second, campers are encouraged and supported in choosing their own main activity options (or electives) where they can discover their best selves. To take the learning and growth to the next level, reflection is built in both informally and formally through myriad activities such as cabin circles, rose n’ thorns, and key log ceremonies.

We have written previously about transition. Transition, or change more broadly, is super difficult for many of us (for me personally). You will be reading this during a transitional time of winter break, between school semesters, and as we shift from one year to the next. The beauty and strength of the Blue Star experience anchors in embracing the in-between state(s) and harnessing their awesome growth potential.

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Guest Blog by Cal Rocks – Outdoor Adventure Skills Camp!

calCal grew up in the Peak District, a hub for adventure activity in northern central England. He began climbing at age 14 through his school and was hooked! His early career in the outdoor industry began at the local outdoor center, coaching the youth climbing club. He then went on to gain more experience within the Outdoor Education realm and in a broader spectrum of activities. Cal has a B.A. in Outdoor Adventure Management from the University of Derby in England. He first joined the Blue Star staff in 2012 and became an AMGA certified Single Pitch Instructor and a certified Wilderness Responder, trainings completed as part of his preparation as a staff member through the Blue Star Training Institute. Cal has been the Director of our Rock Climbing Program for three seasons and is also the Director of our Outdoor Adventure Program. Cal took a lead role in developing and leading our Outdoor Adventure Skills Camp, which we re-introduced in Summer 2015. Here are his thoughts on Outdoor Adventure Skills Camp.

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“The wonderful things in life are the things you do, not the things you have.” These are the words of prolific mountaineer Reinhold Messner. Themes of the outdoors and adventure often lend themselves to inspire philosophy. I believe this is not simply down to the beauty and grandeur of adventurous environments, but the way in which we interact with those environments. Feeling small amongst the trees, yet achieving something big. It is in these environments where we can take the skills we have and use them to do something truly wonderful.

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We have now had time to reflect on Blue Star’s Outdoor Adventure Skills Camp. What an experience! The week was full of activities that encouraged our campers to seek the challenges of our incredible Western North Carolina landscape. They honed skills in rock climbing, kayaking, and mountain biking, then used these skills not just to achieve goals but to appreciate the outdoors in a unique way. They embraced the choice to take more testing paths through nature’s playground.

Adventure sports provide moments that accelerate personal development, and the outdoors provide an environment that nurtures well-being and mindfulness. When combined you have a super fuel for self-discovery. If you stand at the foot of a climb and look to the summit there is always a little voice that asks, “Can I do that? Am I strong enough in mind and body?” These are big questions. When you can say “yes” to these questions and complete your journey, you gain a little self-esteem and confidence. When you say “no”, but continue to carve a path towards completing that journey, you create a factory for self- esteem and confidence. Through mountain, river, and trail we encouraged our campers to not just take on a challenge but complete it and seek another. This is a cycle that allows for exponential personal growth. Our campers grew in skill, confidence, and awareness of their natural surroundings. They would finish each day with a full tank of self-esteem, but humbled by their future goals; climbing a steeper line, running a stronger rapid, riding a faster trail. It was inspiring to see the outdoors simultaneously inspire and educate our campers.

Aside from the skills learned, the goals achieved and knowledge gained there is one more element that rooted the success of this camp. Happiness. As we spent the final evening watching a slide show of the weeks’ adventures with our campers, revisiting the memories of mountains climbed, rivers paddled and trails ridden, I saw nothing but glowing smiles on every face. A simple but honest indicator of happiness. And in the happiness of our campers we all see success.

To learn more about Outdoor Adventure Skills Camp, click here!

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Here’s to a new season!

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Carpe diem. With the month of September coming to a close and the High Holidays behind us, Lauren & I wish everyone a meaningful and beautiful New Year! In the cycle of our year, marked by the zenith of summer, this quieter time period lends itself naturally to both reflecting on the recent summer past and dreaming big about the future. For reflection we spend time pouring over parent, camper, and staff surveys in an effort to gain more clarity around how we can be better. All the while we re-set our short and long terms goals for the upcoming and future summers, consider our evolving vision, and imagine how we can do our part in healing the planet. In this “big picture” context we want to share three of the Conservation Generation projects our campers participated in this past summer.

Compost…boom! This simple phrase became the centerpiece of our environmental sustainability efforts this summer. All of our campers learned about, cheered on, and practiced composting in their dining halls. Our composting campaign absolutely made a difference on the amount of waste we contributed to our local landfill and added real value to our Farm & Barn organic gardening program. At the same time the Pioneer and Senior Girls even made up a song and dance to garner more excitement and awareness toward composting. Click below to check it out! Sometimes all it takes is collective energy to ignite direct action. We invite and encourage you to engage in this broader effort at home this school year in whatever way(s) makes sense for you.

 

cd07b186-ddac-4228-8eef-39944875560fMoreover, we partnered informally with a non-profit in Israel, The Ecological Greenhouse, whose mission is to be “a meeting place for youth from the various populations and sectors of Israeli society…by cooperating and engaging in shared challenges and projects these children and teens get to know one another and manage to find common ground.” We raised funds to help support the Ecological Greenhouse of Israel’s mission through our “Pop, Rock and Roll Run” first session! Thank you campers and staff for running, cheering, handing out water and showing your Blue Star spirit for the run!

Our campers and staff also constructed our own Blue Star greenhouse, made primarily 2d282cfb-ec77-483e-89db-2b18f1f0e3ae 58ddf2a5-28f2-4cc1-956c-d910a7d8fbc0out of recycled bottles, to draw attention to the good work we all can do with a concerted effort and communal commitment. The beauty of our greenhouse is that we will be able to grow plants, flowers, and vegetables in it year round that future campers will be able to enjoy. Nature’s cycle continues from summer to summer.

Finally, we led an inter-camp community effort with four other WNC camps to have our own uniquely designed rain barrels displayed on Main Street in Hendersonville. An outcropping of our 6th annual CampStock program, this past summer’s symbolic totem project was implemented in conjunction with the Mayor’s office. Not only did our campers raise awareness of water conservation via these prominently displayed rain barrels, but they also modeled how to build community with our sister and brother camps. It was sweet to engage fellow nearby camps in the spirit and good work of Conservation Generation…we’re all in this together! Be sure to thank your Blue Star campers for doing their part to help heal the world this summer. Shine on!

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Shining on at Blue Star…First Session in Review!

 

1ff4b879-745e-4e38-87a9-97c309a04071Carpe diem. What an incredible 1st Session we have had here on Mount Pinnacle! Lauren and I wanted to pause, and take a moment, to offer our reflections on 1st Session. We have been reflecting a lot lately about the power of individual moments. Further, we have been inviting and encouraging our staff to think about the positive impact they can have on each one of our campers in the context of singular meaningful moments. An unofficial mantra among our staff has been “making memorable moments.” What follows are just a few such moments…

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During our final Friday night Shabbat services in the Chapel, we were reminded of how important it is to create the space for our campers to share their original thoughts in front of all of their peers. Each week many campers from Juniors through Teen Village volunteer to compose privately and share publicly what our summer theme means to them AND how they have lived the theme here at Blue Star. When our Juniors shared their original thoughts about “Shining On,” we were so impressed by the depth, creativity, and authenticity of their ideas. And then more Juniors kept being called up to speak by our Living Judaism directors. For the first time in recent memory four separate groups of multiple Junior campers felt compelled to speak their hearts and minds at our services. Shine On!

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Blog pic 4Our amazing activity specialists often go above and beyond to reach and teach our campers, not just technical skills but also life skills. A duo comprised of one returning and one new specialist in our mountain biking program took the initiative in their limited free time to teach one of our younger campers how to ride a bike. This camper had expressed informally wanting to take the bikes options but not knowing how to ride, and these two staff members made it a priority to light the way for him. The staff members did not receive any special accolades nor did they tell everyone about it; they just did it. Now we have one more camper who learned a new technical skill and, more importantly, has had compassion role modeled for him. Shine On!

As we conclude this reflection and wind down our 1st session, we will end where we began atop Mount Pinnacle. A long-time camper who had not previously hiked up the mountain really set an intention to reach the top this year, her final year as a camper. With the unconditional support of her camp leader, counselors, and friends, she did it! Stretching beyond her comfort zone not only made her feel really good, but also gives her the self-knowledge that she can accomplish what she sets out to with confidence and resilience. Lauren and I are proud of all of our campers for being their best selves and doing good. Keep shining on…

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Pre-Camp Education Session

Carpe diem. A gentle yet steady breeze. Five hundred shades of green trees behind an emerald lake. Gravel roads lining nature’s paths. These are just a few of the reminders of the sheer natural beauty of these mountains and our safe space at Blue Star. It also makes it easier, even refreshing, to settle in for the summer as Lauren and I transition from our off season to our “playoff” season. With that, our focus pivots fully to getting our incredible staff as prepared as possible for the potentially transformative work they are about to do.

To help us with our staff training preparation over the past couple seasons, we have connected with Dr. Michael Thompson—a psychologist, school/camp consultant, and nationally recognized leader in the field of child development. Below is an article he wrote a few years ago on the positive impact camp counselors can and do have on children’s lives. Our intention here also is to share some of our learning with our parent community as we partner together to create a meaningful experience for our campers.

http://mobile.nytimes.com/blogs/parenting/2012/05/30/why-camp-counselors-can-out-parent-parents/?_r=0&referrer

Some of my takeaways from this article are that parents have the opportunity to allow other adult mentors to enter their children’s lives at summer camp in a much more unique environment for learning than at home. That is, campers are away from their parents and so really can grow to lean on and learn from their counselors. Thompson writes, “College-age students possess a completely different kind of authority than do parents [and they are able to] teach character and community, caring and sacrifice.” Camp counselors are cool, hip, and more like older role models who campers want to emulate. Looking up to them, campers will follow strict guidelines, try on new rituals, and make some selfless choices to be an active participant in their own community.

During staff training, we will remind our counselors and activity specialists of the powerful opportunity they have this summer. Further, we will show them how to channel their role to be fully present with their campers, meeting them where they are at and gently nudging them out of their comfort zones. Let the good work continue! See you all very soon…

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Summer Theme…Shine On!

Carpe diem. Lauren and I are so excited to introduce our theme for summer 2015. Our theme is “Shine On”. The idea connects to our first organizational internal core value to Let your Light shine. It is about giving our campers (and staff) permission to truly be themselves. Let THAT inner light shine and be shared with everyone in our camp community (and out in the larger world). All we ultimately set as an expectation for each camper is to be kind to others. Having a kind and caring heart and thinking of how we can be of service to others is one thing towards which we always can strive. As the Dalai Lama reminds us, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

We grew up at a time where there were growing pressures put on us to be a certain way and follow a prescribed path toward success in life. Now societal pressures have magnified exponentially, and as parents, we already are aware of this. Lauren and I view camp as a sacred and safe space where we can provide a sort of antidote to some of these outside pressures. At camp we invite and encourage all of our campers to find their best selves. We try to create the conditions within which each camper can feel comfortable just being.

How do we create these conditions at Blue Star? We spend a lot of time and energy behind the scenes, with our team, devoted to designing an overall program structure and specific daily programming aimed at just this. For example, our campers are given the opportunity to choose themselves what their primary two “options” (or daily camp activities) will be. In other words, they do not just go with their whole cabin to every activity already pre-selected for them. While that might seem quite simple, it actually provides many of our campers the unique experience of choosing and pursuing what they really want to explore as their main focus (without their parents’ input). This is one example of how we consciously are carrying out a foundational philosophy at Blue Star passed down to Lauren and me from Herman Popkin and directly through Rodger. That is, every child possesses a unique gift(s), and it is our mission to help her/him discover that.

Lauren and I believe that it is such important work to discover what makes each of us truly happy. The process of self-discovery can be illuminating and liberating, even if the change it inspires is subtle. We believe that what is most important about this process is that our campers find happiness. That is what becoming successful in life means to us. When we are truly happy we really do “Shine On”.

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