Thursday, December 13, 2012

Famous Footwear's Christmas Card Challenge

Just in time for the holiday season, Famous Footwear has launched its Voices of Victory campaign. If you simply "like" their Facebook page, you can create a free singing holiday greeting card to share with friends and family AND enter to win a $100 gift card. If you're like me, you can always use a fresh pair of sneakers!

Participants will also add their names to Famous Footwear’s large greeting card to try to break the Guinness World Record for the most contributions to a greeting card.

If the record is broken, Famous Footwear will donate $10,000 to the March of Dimes.

Famous Footwear created the Voices of Victory campaign to help bring families and communities together during the season of giving. Sending out greeting cards is a favorite family pastime, and this is a quick, easy and free way to do so. At the same time, you can help them give back to the March of Dimes.

For details on how to send your singing holiday greeting card, visit Facebook.com/FamousFootwear and click on the Voices of Victory tab. You can create as many singing cards as you’d like, but your greeting will only be added to the Guinness World Record list once. Let me know if you make your card by tweeting it to me (Twitter.com/@amberdobecka). You can also use the hashtag #myvictory

Here is how it works:
  1. Like the Famous Footwear Facebook page
  2. Click on the Voices of Victory tab
  3. Customize and style characters, including wardrobe and Famous Footwear shoes for their singing debut
  4. Choose a festive song and scene
  5. Share with friends and family

In addition to sending the card, participants will also receive a coupon for joining in on the fun and the chance to win a $100 gift card that Famous Footwear will give away each week.  If you want, you can read the official rules.

Remember to let me know if you participate. Tell me in the comments and/or tweet to me! I'll be sending mine out too! :)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Parent's Guide to Coping with Diabetes

Guest post by the team at Nutricia

CC Photo by Lauren Grace Picture Place on Flickr
Diabetes is a condition we usually associate with the older generation who take a large amount of pills and 10 sugars in their coffee, against their doctor’s advice. When we hear of diabetes in a child, it often shocks us. But should it?

Diabetes affects approximately 17 in every 100,000 children under 16 years of age. Most of these (around 90-95 percent) have type 1 diabetes. This is where the body does not produce the insulin that is required to break down sugar in the blood. However, the increase of childhood obesity has seen type 2 diabetes become more prevalent, where it was previously extremely rare in young people.

Is My Child Diabetic?


The causes of it are unclear. Some children are born diabetic, where others develop it later, many in their teens. It is common for children with Down’s syndrome to be diabetic, and occasionally a premature baby may have it too. Fortunately, for the premature infant, the diabetes often resolves itself as their premature organs begin to function properly.

For those who develop it, they may experience symptoms such as fatigue, weight loss, thirst, or regular trips to the toilet. Diagnosis can be confirmed by a blood or urine test.

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes were traditionally treated differently. Children with type 1, previously named IDDM (insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus) are usually treated with insulin, as the body cannot produce it. Type 2 is usually controlled solely by medications which help the body to do what it already does, but more effectively. A controlled diet is essential, and some children may be treated with medical nutritional supplements until their condition is better controlled.

What's a Parent to Do?


The best thing for a parent to do is get organised. Get to know your child’s condition. It may feel like a complete head-bust at first, and rightly so. When we care for ourselves, we may find we are a little forgetful sometimes. If it is only us affected by our decision, it may not matter to us as much, but caring for a diabetic child demands that we are super focussed and know what to do. If diabetes isn’t managed effectively, it can have serious consequences.

Everyone who cares for your child, including family members, childcare, teachers, or nursery staff, should know about their condition. It may help you to sit down one day and prepare a sheet with your child’s routine, do’s and don’ts, and medication doses if it needs to be administered when you aren’t around. This way, the pressure isn’t just on you, and if anything should happen while they are in someone else’s care, they know how to handle it.

Explaining this to a child may be frightening for them, but it is important to be honest with them about things, while keeping it light. Most of them are terrified of needles or injections, as are many adults, so it is very important not to make a big deal of their insulin, but instead to place emphasis on how good they are and how good they will feel if they take their medication properly.

What Should My Child Do?


Children may feel like you control their condition, so give them some of the reins when they are old enough. Let them help you to choose their food, or take them with you to pick up their medication if possible. For those who have a home blood glucose test, teaching them how to test themselves (with supervision) may help too.

It can be frustrating for a diabetic child when they cannot have sweets like their friends. Thankfully, food manufacturers caught on a few years ago and sugar free lollipops and ‘diabetic’ chocolates are now widely marketed. There is no harm in the odd treat (although fruit is better!), but slip a sugary snack in their bag for use in case their sugar drops unexpectedly.

An increasing number of children that have diabetes are also diagnosed with an allergy such as a cows’ milk allergy, this makes it difficult for the child to consume a nutritional diet that is necessary for a healthy growth. However many sugar free nutritional supplements are now available for children that have been diagnosed with a mixture of allergy’s such as cow’s milk allergy and diabetes.

As a parent, making things easy for you is essential. Search online or ask your GP about support groups for parents like yourself. Having a child is a big challenge, but managing a medical condition can be demanding. Don’t be too hard on yourself.  Diabetes is a completely controllable condition that should not scare anyone, and once you are on top of it, your child can have an otherwise normal life.

Nutricia specialize in the delivery of advanced medical nutrition for the very young, the old and the sick. As well as being the largest specialist nutrition company in Europe, Nutricia is the market leader in the UK. They supply high quality feeds, systems and support services to patients and health care professionals. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Heart of Thanksgiving



Last year, I counted 50 Reasons I'm Thankful (After Thanksgiving) — and all still ring true this season. This year, I feel like I've experienced a true growth spurt in my spirituality, and I'm truly thankful for it.

A year and a half into marriage, I'm learning that even though I pray to be a good wife, I need to pray more to be a good woman of God — for me to receive strength, protection, peace and joy from the Lord instead of praying to receive it from my husband.

In my low's, I've been humbled. When I've felt stuck or broken, I've received a new understanding of what it means to truly need God ... to need him because even when I try my best, I really can't do life without him.

This year, as usual, I thank God for my family, good food and a blessed life full of provision. But, this year I also thank God for bringing me through hours of tears and moments of fear. I thank him for revealing the insecurities I had buried deep within my heart and pouring his Gold all over them to fill in my gaps*.

For it's in our darkest times that we're able to see God's light the most, even when it's just a small glimpse of hope. Whatever you're going through today or later on in life, rest assured that no matter how things appear on the surface, we all experience grief, sorrow and brokenness. It's a part of being human. And it's more reason to be thankful — today on Thanksgiving and forevermore.

How do you celebrate Thanksgiving in your heart and in everyday life?

*Read an inspiring article on letting God fill your gaps by Christian blogger and writer Chris Kratzer over in FaithVillage.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

How to Stay Trim During the Holidays

With Thanksgiving around the corner, the mere thought of another feasting holiday like Christmas might weigh you down. Doesn't it seem like Santa always leaves a few too many gifts (in the form of cookies, candies and second helpings) behind — even after the New Year?

CC Photo by dotpolka on Flickr
If you follow a few pointers on healthy living, the holiday season doesn’t have to totally shatter your diet or fitness routine.

Let Yourself Eat ... A Lot


These holiday get-togethers usually center around a meal — or if your family's like mine, the whole day is one big grazing-feast. Either way, these meals can turn into all-day events. In this case, don’t try to starve yourself after your one meal. You’ll end up breaking down and binging on a big slice of pecan pie. Instead, try to keep snacking on raw veggies such as carrots, broccoli, celery, and bell peppers. 

Rather than allowing yourself to eat one big meal, indulge a little more than normal. Just continue to make healthier choices.

Bring a Dish You Can Brag About


Food is often the true centerpiece during the months of November and December. However, food shouldn’t be something you dread when you’re getting ready to celebrate with your friends and family. There are strategies for maintaining that summertime body in this sweet and savory season.

Volunteer to bring a side dish or two, and prepare them the healthy way. The more food you prepare yourself, the more options you will have to choose from at the family dinner table. Make sure there will be a vegetable dish. With a plate of greens, you can fill yourself up before plowing into the traditional treats.

Peachy-Keen Cobbler
But don’t assume that your grandma’s famous green bean casserole is a healthy platter. Casseroles and even salads are often soaked in butter and oil. You can be sure you know what you’re eating if you bring a similar yet healthier dish. Other guests won’t even tell the difference.

Want to bring a healthy dessert you can really pig out on? Try my low-fat, low-sugar Peachy-Keen Cobbler (email me for a free, fun recipe card). Here's another one I want to try:

Holiday Harvest Kale Salad (from Hungry-Girl.com)


1/6th of recipe (about 1 1/4 cups): 102 calories, 2g fat, 126mg sodium, 20g carbs, 2.5g fiber, 9.5g sugars, 3g protein -- PointsPlus® value 3* (Makes 6 servings)

Still skeptical of the kale craze? This insanely tasty, light 'n fruity flavor-fest will win over even the most die-hard doubters out there!

Ingredients:

  • 8 cups chopped kale leaves 
  • One 10.5-oz. can mandarin orange segments packed in juice, drained
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1/4 cup sweetened dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup light raspberry (or other fruity) vinaigrette
  • Holiday Harvest Kale Salad | Hungry-Girl.com
  • Optional seasoning: salt

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, and toss to mix.
  2. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  3. Mix well, and enjoy!

Choose from the Other Dishes Carefully


The main course is usually some kind of meat. Whatever it is, steer clear of the red meat or fried chicken, and pile your plate with lean, white turkey. Full of protein and very low in fat, all white turkey is a great choice for the Christmas meal.

Pumpkin Pie Bars | SarahFit.com
Don’t dwell too much on what you should eat and what you should not eat. If your mind is consumed with matters of food then food is all you will think about. Feel free to indulge in your own healthier, leaner dishes that you make and share with your family. It will be the best gift you get all Christmas!

I'll be indulging in Sarah Dussault's low-fat pumpkin pie bars. Watch the video how to make them in FaithVillage.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Pinterest Keeps Me Motivated

One of my favorite things to look for on Pinterest is either a new quote or inspirational photo that pumps me up for my next workout. However, in absolutely no way do I condone comparing yourself to the some of the sleezy and unrealistic photos of body builders and sometimes surprisingly unhealthy fitness models. That's why it's extremely important to establish boundaries for yourself and to not get too caught up in appearance, but focus on total body health.

Any way, here are some of my most recent fitness finds on Pinterest. I just love them!

Pinned by Lexie Badali
When I shared my story on comparing my body to other pretty girls' bodies, I had to think deeper about why I'm passionate about healthy living — food, fitness and faith. Do I sometimes slip back into that mode of comparing myself to others? Yes, all the time. The difference is now I can take those thoughts captive and remember that God loves me no matter what I look like. Sure, he wants me to have the desires of my heart (which include a lean body and healthy spirit), and sure, he wants me to take care of the gift he so graciously gives us. Our bodies. 

When you work hard, you learn to appreciate the results you get from eating right and exercising your butt off. And you stop looking at everyone else's body and start thanking God for your own.

Pinned by Katy Fink
This one really perks up my day. Sometimes, I have rockin' workouts where I feel like I could go all day. Other times, I'm like, "What happened? Why am I wheezing after 15 minutes?"

Remember that as long as you get a good sweat in, you're better off than the majority of America. 

Pinned by Jen Chesnut
Yep. This is why I like to work out with my husband. It's always nice to catch your hubby checking out your bum when you're doing squats on the bosu across the gym. I'm pretty sure the idea to line the walls of every gym with full mirrors came from a man ....

Pinned by Jen Chesnut
Do you ever have those days where you just can't stop sweating? It's especially bad in the summer months. This reminds me that the more I sweat, the more my body is purging toxins. The fat cells are crying, but my body is crying tears of joy.

Pinned by Jen Chesnut
If anyone knows where to buy this tank, please let me know. More than anything, you must keep your body as a whole strong — physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. 

And to make sure we're all motivated to have rockin' bodies for the right reasons, I'll leave you with this Bible verse.
"But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do." (Galatians 5: 16-17, ESV)
What do you like on Pinterest to stay motivated? How else do you stay motivated?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Yoga, Breathing & Meditation

I recently learned how much my body appreciates my new exercise supplement: PiYo. For years, I resisted yoga or anything close to it. Honestly, I thought it was for sissies. 

I'd take my boot camp, booty-burning, total body conditioning, kill-me-now-because-I'm-about-to-die-I'm-so-tired workouts over that slow stuff all day, every day.

I think my problem had to do with not having the time to figure out what kind of low-impact meditative exercise was best for my body. That and the fact that ever since I graduated college (and stopped Baylor Cheer), my flexibility began to slowly disappear. After researching some new workouts on YouTube, I thought I'd give it another try.


Let's just say that after a few workouts that included these low-impact, stretching, meditative exercises, I've never been more sore. I also learned that it's best for me if I add yoga, Pilates or PiYo to my exercise routine rather than replacing one of my workouts. 

In turn, I wanted to share the benefits that these exercises can bring to your body — especially for those of you who are resistant to it like I was.


Restore Your Insides

"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:2, NIV)
It's especially important to supplement your weight and cardio workouts with some form of yoga or Pilates (or a combination called PiYo), where you focus on breathing, stretching and body position. One of the biggest challenges to yoga is understanding the importance of deep breathing. Slow, deep breaths inhaled and exhaled deliver oxygen to all your different body parts, as well as ridding them of waste and toxins. It's kind've like getting a massage from the inside out.

These breathing exercises strengthen your respiratory system just like high intensity cardio does. More oxygen flows through your blood to your lungs and brain, thus increasing your body's overall functioning. Just like any other exercise principle, it's important to understand you must diversify your workouts to strengthen different muscles and work them in different ways. Slowing down and concentrating on holding a pose while breathing works your mind as much as it works your body.


Relieve Stress and Anxiety

"Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts." (Psalm 123:39, NIV)
As your brain receives oxygen from the deep breathing involved in low impact stretching, yoga and/or PiYo, your nervous system relaxes, often giving you a sense of calm. When your body is relaxed from the inside out, you'll experience stress reduction and even emotional balance. Not only will you improve your physical body's balance, but you'll also experience a mental and emotional (and even spiritual) balance if you want to bad enough.

Meditating (or focusing) on bettering your body, mind and spirit is key. If you can learn to do that, you can reduce body fatigue and pain, while also improving your concentration, focus and attention.


Reinforce Harmony between Your Mind and Body

"Then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind." (Philippians 2:2, NIV)
Although there are many variations of yoga breathing, they usually involve taking a deep breath through your stomach and then chest. Then, you release that breath slow and controlled through your mouth and down to your core. These breaths are much more controlled than the shallow panting breathing we often experience in our cardio/weight workouts.

Learning how to control your breathing whether you're standing up straight or in Reverse Pyramid Pose  can really help improve your self-control. If you can do that, your mind and body will be more at ease. When you're in tune with your body, you can identify how you're feeling. You can express your emotions because you can see truth in your spirit.


YouTube Channels I Subscribe To For Meditative Exercises:


Remember, there are a thousand little things you can do to improve your health. Don't get overwhelmed with how the media portrays being healthy or all the fad diets you "have" to do in order to lose weight and feel good. God created you in His image, perfectly. Get in tune with your body and figure out what you can do with it to glorify Him.

How do you feel about yoga, Pilates and PiYo? What other forms of mediation do you do get your mind and body in tune with God?

Monday, November 12, 2012

I Love My Body (Even Compared to Yours)


This is a guest post on Renee Fisher's blog, Devotional Diva. She blogs about marriage, body image, and inspirational devotionals for young women. Check her website out and find my guest post along with others in her "I Love My Body" series.

CC Photo by Charlotte Astrid on Flickr

Cheerleader. Softball player. National Honor Society. Top 5 percent of class. Homecoming princess. Voted Most Spirited. Prom queen runner-up. All of these phrases described me in high school. Sounds pretty stellar on the surface, right?

Lonely. Insecure. Tired. Disappointed. Scared. Those are words that also described me in high school, despite the fact they were less noticeable. Sure, I had lots of friends and made good grades. What did I have to complain about?

In high school (and still to this day), I struggled with comparing myself to others. It's like the thing inside all of us — the one that tells us to be good and do good — gets out of balance. It fools me into thinking I have to be the best or even more so, be perfect.

Being a cheerleader and athlete, I quickly learned about fitness and nutrition. I learned how to take care of my body. But it seemed like no matter how hard I worked at it, there was always someone skinnier or smarter or friendlier or prettier . . . .

Read more at Devotional Diva >>

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The World is Mine

My grandmother sent me an email today with a very encouraging poem. It rings a common message that we hear all the time: gratefulness. However, I thought it was simple and well-written. Plus, it's timely since Thanksgiving is near. Maybe it can encourage you today to simply be still. Remember that God cares about you and loves you. You are precious.

Today, upon a bus, I saw a very beautiful woman
And wished I were as beautiful.
When suddenly she rose to leave,
I saw her hobble down the aisle.
She had one leg and used a crutch.
But as she passed, she passed a smile.
Oh, God, forgive me when I whine.
I have two legs; the world is mine.

I stopped to buy some candy.
The lad who sold it had such charm.
I talked with him, he seemed so glad.
If I were late, it'd do no harm.
And as I left, he said to me,
"I thank you,
you've been so kind.
It's nice to talk with folks like you.
You see," he said, "I'm blind."
Oh, God, forgive me when I whine.
I have two eyes; the world is mine.

Later while walking down the street,
I saw a child I knew.
He stood and watched the others play,
but he did not know what to do.
I stopped a moment and then I said,
"Why don't you join them dear?"
He looked ahead without a word.
I forgot, he couldn't hear.
Oh, God, forgive me when I whine.
I have two ears; the world is mine.

With feet to take me where I'd go..
With eyes to see the sunset's glow.
With ears to hear what I'd know.
Oh, God, forgive me when I whine.
I've been blessed indeed, the world is mine.

— Author Unknown

Monday, October 22, 2012

Understanding Food Labels

It makes me so happy to see fellow grocery-shoppers stop and examine the labels on products before throwing it in their basket. For those of us trying to be healthy, understanding food labels is essential — especially when companies plant land mines on every aisle with buzz words like "All-Natural" or "Grown Locally."

I tried to think of the most commonly-used labels on items I see in stores and share a little insight on what exactly these labels mean. 

Gluten-Free

There seems to be quite the gluten-free craze going on right now, but just because something is gluten-free does not automatically make it healthy. In fact, "gluten-free" only specifies those products that do not contain gluten, which is the protein found in wheat. Past studies showed that people who have Celiac's disease are bothered by gluten. New studies suggest that there may be people who don't have the disease but have an intolerance to gluten as well. When these studies first came out, many lives were transformed by choosing a gluten-free diet, allowing them to have more energy, lose weight and feel better.

But, that doesn't mean going gluten-free is for everyone. Only about 10 percent of the U.S. population has shown some gluten-sensitivity. No matter if you're allergic or not, when choosing gluten-free products, you must still read the other labels. Consider the fat, calorie and sugar content.


Products I Trust:

  • Better 'N Peanut Butter (low-fat and low in calories too)
  • Rice Chex (my favorite is the cinnamon flavor)
  • Red Mill gluten-free oatmeal, raw oats and cereals

Organic

In general, the label "organic" refers to foods that have been grown without pesticides (fruit/veggies) or growth hormones (meats). Organic does not mean healthy. When it comes to weight loss, eating organically doesn't necessarily improve your chances. It's all about calories in being less than calories out. For example, if you eat a giant organic brownie packed with butter and oil, there's no way you could convince me that was a better choice than a FiberOne 90-calorie brownie. However, choosing organic foods and products makes it easier to follow a clean foods lifestyle, keeping your insides and outsides so fresh and so clean, clean.


Products I Trust:

  • Nature's Path organic oatmeal
  • Amy's Organic Chunky Tomato Bisque
  • Organic deli meat by Applegate
  • When I can afford it, I try to buy organic fruit and veggies (especially foods that don't have peeling I remove before eating like apples, salad, berries, etc)

Trans Fat-Free

If there's anything in food you should fear, it's trans fats. Along with saturated fats, trans fatty acids have been linked to heart disease. The biggest problem with trans fats is that it takes very little of them to cause serious health issues.

Studies show we shouldn't even ingest more than 2 grams of trans fats per day! And be careful — just because an item is marked as "trans fat-free," it might not be true. The FDA approves the trans fat-free label on any product that contains 0.5 grams or less in each serving. 

The only sure way to identify trans fats in foods is to read the ingredients list on any product. If you see the word "hydrogenated" anywhere, put that baby back. Hydrogenation refers to the process that the product went through to either gain some shelf life or add flavor. It goes against everything we try to do in "clean eating."


Foods I Do NOT Trust (this way's easier):

  • Any fried foods (unless you do it yourself the healthier way)
  • Stick margarine
  • Microwave popcorn (I know, sad day)

Low-Fat or Fat-Free

For companies to claim their products are any percentage "fat-free," it must first be "low-fat," meaning it can only have 3 grams of fat or less per serving.


Products I Trust:

  • Skinny Cow ice cream treats
  • Cheeses like Kraft cheddar and mozzarella, the store brand cream cheese and cottage cheese, and the Laughing Cow wedges (all good for recipes as well)
  • Campbell's cream of chicken soup comes in 98% fat free (tastes just as good; good in casseroles)
  • Mission flour tortillas (varieties of low-fat, low-carb and fat-free versions)
  • Dannon Light & Fit yogurt (vanilla, blueberry and strawberry)
  • No Pudge fat-free brownie mix (just mix it with yogurt)

Sugar-Free

Ever wondered why sugar-free foods often still taste sweet, and sometimes are even sweeter than the normal stuff? Usually, they contain alternative sweeteners like Sucralose (Splenda), Erythritol (Nutrasweet/Equal), Stevia or sugar alcohols like Xylitol. Sugar alcohols are technically carbohydrates but are not digestible. They are similar to fiber, which is also non-digestible, meaning your body doesn't convert those calories to energy. That's why you'll often find that fiber-full foods are less in calories too. 
I typically opt for the sugar-free versions of foods, but I always check the ingredient label to find what exactly I'm putting into my body. Which "sugar impostor" am I ingesting? I'll also see if this sugar-free version is packing in more fat to make up for the flavor. Overall, it's important to try to keep both sugar and fat low. If you're sensitive to sugar alcohols or you're trying to avoid artificial sweeteners, be careful about choosing sugar-free stuff.


Products I Trust:

  • Nature's Own sugar-free bread or Sara Lee's 45-calorie bread
  • Hershey's sugar-free chocolate syrup
  • Almond Breeze sugar-free vanilla almond milk
  • Red Diamond sugar-free iced tea
  • Jell-O (any flavor) and instant pudding (white chocolate and vanilla)
  • Ice Breakers Sours (like candy)
Are there other labels that confuse you? Let me know in the comments. :)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Peachy-Keen Cobbler

My husband has been begging me to make (or even just buy) peach cobbler since the first official day of fall passed last month. I told him I refuse to watch him stuff his face with the full-fat pre-packaged version, and I also refuse to slave in the kitchen over such a delicacy without being able to savor it myself. That's why I decided to try something on my own. Why not follow a recipe, you ask? Because it's so much more fun to throw things together and see how it turns out, duh!


My final product was actually very satisfying, to my own surprise. My husband and I both cleaned our plates and then passed them off to our dogs to finish the job. Good thing this Peachy-Keen Cobbler is both low-fat and low-sugar.

Peachy-Keen Cobbler


Ingredients

  • 2 15-oz cans of light peaches (no sugar added)
  • 1/2 box sugar-free or low-fat box of yellow cake mix or Angel Food cake mix
  • Some brown sugar
  • Some cinnamon
  • Some nuts (I used a mix of crushed peanuts and pecans)
  • Some sugar alternative (I used store brand Splenda)
  • 4 mini spoonfuls of light or reduced fat butter (I used Country Crock Light)
  • Some raw, unfiltered honey (optional)
Directions
  1. Pour all the peaches with the juice in the bottom of a 9x11 casserole dish or baking pan. Be sure you evenly spread them apart.
  2. Cut them up into smaller pieces (optional).
  3. Sprinkle them with cinnamon and sugar alternative.
  4. Spread 1/2 the box of cake mix over the top of the peaches.
  5. Put a little dollup of light butter in four areas on top of this layer (so that when it melts, it will be evenly distributed).
  6. Sprinkle some brown sugar over the top for an even layer.
  7. Scatter some nuts on the top.
  8. Draw your favorite fall symbol on the top using the honey (optional).
Please let me know if you try this out on your own. Next time, I think I'll try using cherries and almonds, or maybe apples and walnuts. Instead of the cake mix, maybe I'll try some oats and flour. 

I love reading your thoughts in the comments!


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Peanut Butter Blues?

If you're following a diet or just trying to eat healthy, you're probably aware of the insane amount of fat and calories in peanut butter. The creamy (or crunchy) spread may be loaded with protein and healthy mono-unsaturated fats, but the other kind of fat and sugar still add up. Most dietitians would advise you to limit how much or how often you eat it.

Thankfully, there are some healthy alternatives out there. One of my favorites is called Better'n'Peanut Butter. It comes in regular, chocolate and banana flavors. Personally, I stick to the normal peanut flavor.  With 2 grams of fat and 100 calories in each 2 Tablespoon serving, you're cutting out nearly 85 percent of the fat and calories.

I recently discovered a new alternative, and I'm afraid it might sweep in and become my go-to lunch and/or breakfast and/or anytime I'm hungry choice. It's called PB2 powdered peanut butter. Now, don't turn up your nose just yet. All you do is mix 2 Tablespoons of this powdery substance with 1 Tablespoon of water. It's got 45 calories and 1.5 grams of fat in 2 Tablespoons. As far as I know, that's as low as you're going to get!

I've been able to use these two products just like I'd use regular peanut butter. I can eat it with a spoon (which I do pretty often), on a sandwich, or in a recipe. Here are some of my favorite ways to incorporate this yummy sandwich spread in my diet.

PBB & Chocolate Shake
  • 2 T peanut butter alternative
  • 1/4 C fat-free vanilla yogurt
  • 1/2 banana
  • 2 T Sugar-free chocolate syrup
  • 1 Dash of cinnamon
  • 2-3 Packets of sugar alternative (Stevia or Splenda)
  • 1/2 C of sugar-free vanilla or chocolate almond milk 
  • *1 Scoop Vanilla/Chocolate whey protein mix (if you're using this as a meal replacement)
Directions
  1. Add all ingredients to a blender.
  2. Blend on high until smooth.
  3. Add water if the blender gets hung up or it's too chunky.
Thai-Inspired Peanut Sauce
  • 3-4 T peanut butter alternative
  • 1/2 C soy sauce
  • 1 C water
  • 1 T garlic (or garlic salt)
  • 2-3 T brown sugar
Directions
  1. First of all, remember I don't follow recipes very well, so those numbers up above may be off.
  2. Mix these ingredients in a sauce pan on the stove on low heat.
  3. Add just a little bit of the soy sauce and garlic because you can always add more.
  4. Let the peanut butter melt and simmer. Taste to see the flavor and add different ingredients according to your preference.
  5. Use the sauce over chicken and veggies or as a dressing for an Asian salad.
PBB&H
  • 2 T peanut butter alternative
  • 2 Slices of low-calorie bread (Sara Lee 45 calorie whole wheat)
  • 1 Banana
  • 1 T raw, unfiltered honey
Directions
  1. I think you can figure this one out on your own. ;)
Let me know in the comments if you try these out, or if you come up with other ways to use peanut butter alternatives. I'd also love to know if you've found anything else comparable to Better'n'Peanut Butter or PB2. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Difference Between Cowgirls 'N Angels [Movie Review]

If you have a little girl (or you’ve ever been a little girl), you must sit down and watch Cowgirls ‘N Angels, a heart-warming movie about self-discovery and hope. While I’m inclined to note that girls will probably enjoy the movie more than boys, the entire family can enjoy watching it. Just tell the boys they can pick the next one for family movie night. ;)

Ida (Bailee Moreland), a carefree and often stubborn 12-year old girl, lives with her mom in a rodeo town in Oklahoma. Since her parents split up before Ida knew her father, her mom survives by working long hours in several jobs, Consequently, Ida spends much of her time alone — often getting herself in trouble.

Ida dreams about finding her dad, a rodeo rider, of whom her mother refuses to talk about. Until Ida discovers an old post card in her mom’s closet with his signature, the only thing Ida was sure of about her dad is that he hurt her mother when they separated. Now, she finally has a name for her him: Walker.

Long-time rodeo legend Terrance Parker (James Cromwell) takes a liking to Ida, after catching her steal a ride on one of the rodeo horses late at night. Mr. Parker sees her natural talent for trick-riding and convinces the “Sweethearts of the Rodeo” to allow Ida to join their female rodeo team, seeing it as an opportunity to teach Ida about discipline and hard work. Ida enthusiastically joins, seeing it as an opportunity to search for the father she’s never met.

Through training with the Sweethearts and traveling to other rodeos, Ida faces a few more troubling trials. However, she learns what trust really means as she makes new friends and practices dangerous tricks on her new horse. The other Sweethearts find out about Ida’s father and make it their own mission to help find him.

Cowgirls ‘N Angels combines the action of the rodeo (they do some pretty sweet riding tricks) and the heartfelt drama of mending one’s father wound. Watching this young girl finally meet her father is more than moving. It encourages us as Christ-followers to never stop seeking our Heavenly Father — that if we surrender our stubbornness and self-reliance to him, we can find true happiness. Cowgirls ‘N Angels conveys the redemptive themes of faith, prayer and never giving up.

So grab a box of tissues and saddle up for a ride with the Sweethearts, who believe the only difference between cowgirls and angels is that “angels can’t ride as good.”




Disclosure:  I received a copy of Cowgirls 'N Angels for review purposes. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.

Monday, October 15, 2012

How I Lost 50 Pounds in Less Than 5 Months


Guest Post by Brandon Riney


Ever finding yourself thinking about what it would be like to lose that extra weight you’ve been dying to get rid of? Are you always thinking, “Man I wish I had his/her body” or “Why can’t I look like that?” These questions ran through my mind all throughout my school years, but I just really didn’t know what to do!


One day I stumbled across some websites that claimed they know exactly how to lose those dreadful extra pounds, and I thought to myself, “Why don’t I take some information from each of these guides and put it into my own strategy?” Let’s face it, dieting plans are a pain in the butt, can be very expensive, and some of them don’t even work!


When I first started my own tactics, I weighed a whopping 200 pounds at the age of 16. When you’re 5’9’’ and weigh that much, that’s not a good sign. So after pondering the dreams of actually becoming fit and the person I wanted to be, I came up with my own little plan:
  • Keep track of how many calories you eat a day. Find out about how many calories are necessary for your body, and eat at least 500 less a day. This does NOT mean you should eat 1 cheeseburger that has 1200 calories and that’s it, which brings me to my next point. 
  • Think of some foods you truly like and that your taste-buds won’t regurgitate upon the very touch of your tongue that are actually HEALTHY for you! This might include tuna fish, grilled chicken, salad, fruit, vegetables, or anything else. If you actually think and research some foods, there are a lot of delicacies out there that you can love to eat and still shred the pounds.
  • All I do is check the nutritional information on every item of food that goes into my stomach, and I keep a mental track of how many calories I consume a day. 
  • Also, try to cut down on foods with high grams of fat, saturated fat, sugars, and all that other stuff that your body doesn’t really need! It’s as simple as that!
  • Another important factor to losing the weight is good exercise. Go for a one mile jog every once in a while, go to the gym at least 3x a week, do whatever cardio workout you can think of! That’s the key – cardio. While lifting weights and building muscle is great, cardio is the #1 way to make the fat vanish.
Believe me, if you keep a simple routine like the one stated above, I guarantee you’ll be looking and feeling better in no time. After four and a half months of healthy habits, I was able to lose 50 pounds! I’ve been able to do things that would’ve killed me due to lack of breath. Trust me, as long as you stick to a healthy dieting plan and keep a routine full of exercising, you will become the person you’ve always dreamed about being.

Brandon Riney is a Junior at Coppell High School. After dropping 50 pounds in less than 5 months, he became very interested in healthy living. Aside from working out and counting calories, Brandon gets excited about computer gaming and fresh pineapple. Consider him guest posting on your site by emailing him.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Piña Colada in Paradise

Since I'm getting ready to go to a wedding in Cancun, Mexico, next week, I thought I'd share one of my new favorite cocktail recipes. It's fat-free and low in sugar and calories — especially for a piña colada!

I found a similar recipe through the Hungry-Girl e-newsletter, but changed it up a little bit because it called for a syrup you could only buy online, and it was expensive.

By the way, if you haven't checked out Hungry-Girl, you are really missing out. She is an ordinary girl who loves health and nutrition (kind've like me), and she recently launched her own food show on The Food Network. She's published several recipe books and is full of healthy eating tidbits and tips.

Ingredients:

  • Canned pineapple (chunks, slices or crushed)
  • Fat-free vanilla frozen yogurt or ice cream
  • Coconut Rum
  • A few ice cubes
  • A cherry or fresh slice of pineapple for garnish

Directions:

  1. I like to take a shot of the rum before starting to make sure it's good ;)
  2. Add all ingredients to a blender
  3. Blend until smooth
  4. Enjoy
It really is that simple. I don't measure anything, so sorry if you were hoping I'd tell you specific amounts. I like to go by trial and error. ;) 

Let me know what you think in the comments, please!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

What to Know When You Plateau

It's a great feeling to see results after hard work in the gym. Whether you lose pounds or inches, or your energy levels have risen, or you're sleeping better, those results are rewarding. Knowing you worked your little booty off sweating, pushing through the pain, and that it's making you stronger — well, that's when it's easy. But what happens when you stop seeing results?

The very same thing can happen in your spiritual life. You've been having your quiet time, uncovering the layers of your flesh and becoming more and more intimate with God, and suddenly, you plateau. What does that mean? How do we move past it?

It happens to everyone.


Know that you're not the only one who plateaus. It's not necessarily something you've done or haven't done that's stopped you in your tracks. When you first begin working out, you can drop weight and get healthier than you were so quickly. You make progress so easily. The plateau happens when you've been doing everything right. Your body adapts to that level of activity and catches up with your mind. You don't gain weight, but you don't lose any either. You don't make any more progress, and it can be very frustrating.

Spiritually plateauing happens to everyone too. That's why the Bible says to renew our mind each and every day. Even doing that, you can still reach a point where you feel bored or stagnant in your relationship with God, and in turn, with others. 

You're ready to move to the next level.


This one's pretty obvious. So you've plateaued, and you've got two options: to slip back, do less work, and get less healthy OR do better and get more healthy. The choice is easy. The problem is how do we do better? 

The good news is that when you realize you've hit a plateau, you can be sure that you're body is ready to go to the next level. Now's the time to really dig deep and explore why you've plateaued.

Physically speaking, is it because you've been doing the same workout routine for months on end? Have you been running and sprinting like an Olympic marathoner but haven't touched a weight in years? Do you need to focus on strength? Endurance? Flexibility? 

Spiritually speaking, these questions can be a bit more tiresome, because our flesh resists change. We resist reflecting on how we may need to dig deeper into our souls and ask those hard questions because that requires us being vulnerable. We live in a world that encourages self-sufficiency, but to get past the plateau, we must ask ourselves: Are we hurt? Are we disappointed? Do we have regrets? Which areas of our life are we not letting God in?

Either way, the only way to do better is to ask these hard questions and make a change.

It's time to change it up.


This part of the journey is just that — a journey. Experiment with different activities for your mind, body and spirit. It's trial and error. After you've asked those questions, sometimes you still don't hear a clear answer.

My only answer is to try something different.

Physically, try swimming. Try yoga. Try group exercise. Make a workout buddy. Go outside. Go inside. Take a week or two off.

Spiritually, make a change too. First of all, wake up. When I've hit a wall spiritually, it's usually when my eyes open to the things I've been ignoring for a long time. Maybe I've been neglecting an area of my life that I really need to pray about or surrender to God. Maybe I've been sweeping some kind of hurt under the rug or stuffing some of my feelings, and this plateau is happening because they don't all fit inside me anymore. They're beginning to overflow. Let me tell you, this plateau can be very overwhelming, but there is hope.

With any plateau, know, more than anything, that you are moving forward. You are growing. You are healing. God is working when you feel like you are not.

Personally, I struggle in a plateau because I tend to think of myself as a strong woman, and when I hit this wall, I feel weak. And I hate being weak. I like to take care of other people. It's hard to let God take care of me.

What kind of plateaus have you experienced? I'd love to discuss this more with you in the comments. Thanks in advance!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Low Fat Cake Batter Dip


Can you believe you can actually stay headstrong with your healthy streak and get the full flavor of a delicious birthday cake at the same time? I can't take the credit for coming up with this delicious recipe (if you even call it a recipe). There's 3 ingredients to the dip, people. If I can make this, anybody can. Your 3-year-old can.

I found this fun and guiltless dessert on Pinterest — of course. :) Check out the original blog at Eat Yourself Skinny. The girl's got a lot of healthy recipes.


First, you need some low-fat or fat-free yogurt. I always eat Dannon's Light & Fit yogurt. It comes in vanilla, strawberry, blueberry and plain versions. I chose the vanilla kind, but I bet this dip would be fabulous with one of the other flavors as well. Each tub of yogurt has 4 servings, with each one rounding out at 110 calories and 0 grams of fat. That's pretty darn lean, friends. I used about 2 servings.


Take your box of cake mix and pour 1/2 to 2/3 of the box into a big bowl. I prefer Pillsbury's Funfetti cake mix, but I'm curious as to how the sugar-free vanilla or devil's food cake mix would do. Less calories equals more fun! Stir in the yogurt. Oh, and try not to make a big poof of cake dust like I did.


Stir in your fat-free, lite or sugar-free Cool Whip. Kraft Cool Whip comes in three different healthier versions, so you really don't have an excuse. ;) If you've stored it in the freezer, be sure to let it thaw out before adding it to your bowl. I used about half this size container.


Whip it. Whip it good! Stir it all up until there's no more dry cake dust. Let it chill in the fridge for at least an hour (although, it's pretty darn good right off the spoon at this point). 


Serve your yummy dip with some naturally low-fat cookie/crackers like Stauffer's Animal Crackers. I almost bought the chocolate kind, which they make, and they're still low-fat. I guess I'll just have to make this again, and swap out all different flavored ingredients. :) 

I hope you try this out, and let me know what you think in the comments. Have a fun-fetti time!

Monday, September 10, 2012

10 Simple Changes to Be Healthy

Why must I change, you ask.  Well, of course you don't have to, but you'd be surprised how our everyday decisions affect our health and wellness. The choices we make day-to-day especially affect how we live 10, 20, 30 years from now. And, me? I want to be a rockstar when I'm 70, so I'm getting on it as quick as I can!

My ultimate goal is to help others feel better, look better, keep their priorities in line, save time, prevent stress and be less anxious. Please know I'm trying to walk this walk, myself, just sharing what I learn as I learn it.

Here are 10 relatively easy changes you can make to your lifestyle that will greatly increase your energy, your mood and overall health.



1. Take the road less traveled.

I'm sure you've heard it 100 times, but if you still take the elevator every chance you get, you're missing out. Take the stairs. Walk to lunch. Park a little further away from the entrance. Actually climb the stairs on the escalator. Take a break from your day job and walk around the office. You won't have to spend two hours at the gym because you won't feel like a complete lazy bum.

2. Cut back on the bubbly.

Try to limit your intake of any carbonated beverages. While I get a good craving for a Diet Dr Pepper every now and then, I've seen an outstanding improvement in the way I feel after cutting back on carbonation within the last couple of months. I used to drink 1-2 carbonated beverages a day — whether it was a diet soda or a flavored water. After substituting those choices with iced tea, regular water or flavored water minus the bubbles, I feel less bloated all day. Plus, my thirst is actually quenched.

Try some of my favorites:
  • Minute Maid Lemonade and Peach Juice (Only 15 Calories)
  • Crystal Light (and store-brand) Sugar Free Bottle Mixers (Peach Mango Energy Blend is my fave)
  • White Peach Tea from QuikTrip gas station (I probably get one every other day)
  • Vitamin Water Zero
  • SoBe Water (sugar-free versions)
  • Diet OceanSpray juice (Pomegranate Bluebbery and Cran-Grape are awesome)
3. Stretch throughout the day.

Stretching is probably one of the hardest things for me to actually implement into my daily routine. I'm like, I don't have time for this! But, I have to make time. Do a few "reach-and-pull's" when you wake up. Touch your toes and swing your arms. Get loose before taking on your day.

As you go about your normal schedule, try to stop every couple hours and stretch. A neck roll here, a calf stretch there. You might not feel like Superman after you stretch, but studies show it greatly reduces your risk of injury before and after exercise. And, stretching without exercising still elongates your muscles and improves your flexibility and balance.

4. Read rather than watch before bed.

One of the best decisions my husband ever made for us was choosing not to buy a TV for our bedroom. He says, "The bedroom is only for two things, and one of those things is for sleep."

Both of us value our sleep very much. That being said, we're usually so tired by bedtime, we don't have a problem with falling asleep. However, I know from experience of leaving the TV on in my room in college and when I lived with my parents, I missed out on a lot of good sleep. Research suggests that watching TV or even a lit-up screen like your computer, tablet or smart phone, can prevent you from getting as much rest as you might without it.

Now, I'm a huge fan of a late-night movie, so don't get your panties in a wad. All I'm saying is try not to make it the last activity you do before falling asleep. Whether you read a little in your Bible, a magazine, a good book, or even if you do a few stretches ;) before bed, it will be better for your body and mind than watching TV.

5. Sport some sweet shades.

Who knew swag like sunglasses served a purpose other than making you look like a celebrity? Believe it or not, many people actually wear sunglasses to protect their eyes from the sun — not just to look cool. Know that you can do both. Wearing sunglasses protects your eyes from the harmful UV rays of the sun. They also prevent you from squinting, thus preventing wrinkles. So, when you're out and about, and even exercising outside, don't forget your shades!

6. Lather up with lotion.

All my friends and family know some sweet-smelling body lotion is a safe choice for a gift. Why? Because I love it! A good body lotion keeps your skin soft, smooth and smelling delicious all day. Not only will your skin look better if you use lotion on a daily basis, you'll feel better because you smell better. Confidence is sexy, people.

When choosing lotion, I have a few different kinds I try to keep in my bathroom cabinet.
  • Something basic with SPF in it (Suave is cheap and comes in bulk)
  • Something with aloe, Vitamin E, shea butter and antioxidants (Burt's Bees)
  • Something that just smells good (Can you say Bath & Body Works?)
  • Something sparkly or bronzey — only for women, of course (Victoria's Secret)
By the way, if you want a cheaper version, you can find all of these varieties at your local supermarket.

7. Fix yourself fresh foods.

I've explained what it means to eat clean before, but ultimately, it means to eat mostly raw and unprocessed foods. When shopping, go to the produce first. I find that when I start at the back of the store and wait to get to the produce last, I don't have room (or money) left to get all that I need out of the fresh foods section. If I go there first, I can load up on clean foods and leave less room in my buggy for the stuff in boxes, bags and cans.

Here are some of my favorite clean foods:
  • broccoli
  • baby spinach
  • carrots
  • sweet potatoes
  • baking potatoes
  • tomatoes
  • squash
  • onions
  • hummus*
  • yogurt*
  • berries
  • pineapple
  • oranges
  • apples
  • bananas
  • almonds
  • granola*
  • oats*
  • avocados
  • beans
  • walnuts
  • pecans
  • feta cheese*
  • chicken breast*
  • tuna fish*
*Signifies that it can be purchased organically, low-fat, fat-free or sugar-free, and although it's been slightly processed, it's still a good choice.

8. Pack your lunch.

Now that your fridge and pantry are stocked with healthy foods, eat them. Don't let your fruit rot. Take it to work to eat for lunch. You'll ultimately save time by bringing your lunch to work. Think about how long it takes you to either walk to the restaurant or to your car, drive there, fight traffic, stand in line, scarf it down, and then, drive or walk back, park and come back inside your office. When I bring my own healthy lunch, I have time to write a blog post (like this), read my book, run around town here when the weather's nice (getting my exercise in), call my mom, or my favorite lunchtime activity, take a nap.

9. Close your eyes and pray.

Nothing is more refreshing than getting a good conversation in with God. Taking time out of your day to clear your mind and get away from distractions is healthy by itself. How much more can you get out of doing those things, and then opening up to the Lord in prayer? A lot!

When you pray, worship him for your health. Thank him for your body and giving you the responsibility to take care of it. Honor him by doing just that. Staying in constant conversation with the Lord is vital to staying spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically fit.

10. Bless somebody else every day.

One of my favorite ways to lift my own spirit is to try to lift someone else's. When I went off to college, I had a really hard time breaking away from my family and boyfriend. I used to get depressed and stay in my cave/dorm room until my mom finally got through to me with her words of encouragement.

"When you feel like that, Amber, think about how you can bless someone else. Take your focus off yourself, and think about how you can bring joy to someone else's life," she said.

I've kept that tidbit of wisdom with me from then on. You never know how much a smile can mean to someone. Here are some ideas anyone can easily do to bring a smile to someone else's face:
  • Leave a note on someone's car in the parking lot
  • Open a door for someone and greet them
  • Ask a co-worker if there's anything you could help them with today
  • Extravagantly compliment someone
  • Call a friend who you haven't talked to in a while just to say "hi"
  • Write on someone's Facebook wall just to say you were thinking of them
  • Offer to do a chore you normally don't do for your spouse
  • Buy a little $3-5 gift for your neighbor or someone at your gym or office
  • Pay for someone else's lunch
  • Pay for the car next to you at Sonic or behind you at the drive-through
  • Tweet something nice about one of your followers and tag them in it
I hope these 10 easy lifestyle changes will enhance your mood, health and overall wellness. If you have any questions or suggestions, please let me know in the comments. :)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

When Working Out at Home

This summer I've been gym-membership-free. At first, I cringed at the thought having nothing but my body to work with when trying to get my fitness on. Looking back at the past three months, I've noticed that I've not only maintained my work out routine, I've improved my fitness.

For those of you who don't want to pay for a membership or who want to take a break from the A/C in the gym (don't ask me why you'd voluntarily do this), here's an exercise regimen I created for those days I didn't want to run or ride my bike.



You might try this workout just to change it up a bit. Sometimes, I get in a rut with my workouts. That's when I decide to try something totally different. Remember, whether you're doing these exercises, dancing, walking, running, biking, swimming, skipping, chasing your dogs, or whatever — just get out and get moving.

Note: Each phase of this workout should be repeated before moving on to the next phase. You can also go through each phase once and then start from the top to repeat. Either way, I've found I get a complete workout when I do each phase twice. If you're just beginning to work out, you might go through it one time and see where you are. 

Clarifications:


Speed Skaters: Jump laterally side to side, landing on the outer leg and pulling in the opposite knee. When you're in the air, wave your arms above your head to get your heart rate even higher. You'll probably resemble someone on the side of the road trying to wave a car down for help (or maybe that's just me).

Pliés: Place your feet in a wide stance (wider than your shoulders) and point your toes out. Squat straight down and pulse.

Scissor Lunges: Jump from right lunge to left lunge quickly. Keep your arms straight up, pointing to the ceiling. Only count when your right leg is lunged.

Plank-to-Bridges: (You will probably need a mat or towel or some kind of soft surface.) Begin in a plank position (on your toes and elbows). Be sure to not let your booty sink or stick up in the air. Try to keep your back straight. Push up to your hands one arm at a time. Each time you get to this position, you're in a bridge. Then drop back down to your elbows, one arm at a time. Two positions make one rep.

Burpees: From a standing position, drop your hands down and shoot your feet out to a bridge (beginning of a push-up position). Then, quickly bring your feet back in and jump up. When jumping, shoot your arms up to the sky. This makes one rep.

Mountain Climbers: Start in a bridge position. Alternate bringing in right and left knees to your chest. Only count your right knee when counting reps.

Bird Walks: Begin standing up. Bend down at your core to touch the ground in front of you, while at the same time lifting one leg. Alternate legs each time you bend down. When you come up, keep your arms glued to your ears and tighten your core. (This one is easy to do, but makes your hamstrings super sore!)

Please let me know in the comments if you need more clarification. Hope you have as much fun with this as I do! Also, please share your own work outs and feel free to pin/share this graphic. :) 

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