Category Archives: Mia Giardino Bella (Gardening)

Someone once said that ‘gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes’. How true that is! During spring and autumn, I spend as much time as possible in my garden, often with my little boy, Joey and our dog, Whiskey.

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” ― Maya Angelou

A few days ago, the lamp on my office desk ‘sparked’.  There was a loud popping sound and despite my best efforts to bring it back to life – it was officially gone.  Apparently I’m not GE, I could bring a once good lamp back to life.   My mother gave me that lamp years ago – and well, it was special to me.  However, I must admit, I saw this coming, all the warning signs were there.  First the light would flicker occasionally.  A few weeks later, I had to turn the knob ever so gently to the right…then quickly to the left and back right again, while standing on one foot, facing east, while singing “This Little Light of Mine”, to get it to turn on.  Then, there were my late night working sessions when I would talk to the lamp while performing the above in a desperate attempt to get it to work….

“You know you want to shine, yes you do….come on little light bulb, you damn f@#!ing filament…WORK ALREADY”

Yes, I know, a bit ridiculous – but then us creative, sentimental, sensitive types often are.

So yesterday I set out to purchase a new lamp – I dreaded this outing.  I decided that I  wasn’t going this alone, so I enlisted my daughter to join me on this less than exciting excursion.  Gionna had about as much interest in going with me to buy a lamp as I did in listening to the new Taylor Swift song she played – repeatedly – on the way to the store. We make compromises in life, this was mine – for the decade.  So I did my best to… “Shake It Off”.

There were aisles of lamps at the store – and they were hanging from the ceiling!  This was not going to be easy.  Apparently now when buying a Roseanna Borellilamp, you can mix and match the lamp base to the lamp shade.  Lovely.  I hadn’t taken my Adderall that day – this was going to be a task of monumental proportions.  I walked up and down the aisles twice, surveying my choices – and I was overwhelmed to say the least.  I wanted my old lamp and like a small child who wasn’t getting her way, that’s all I could focus on for a few minutes.

“Christ! Just pick a damn lamp already woman”, I said to myself.

Fifteen minutes later, I had chosen the perfect lamp base.  Ok, we were making progress.  Well, I was anyway.  Gionna was buried in her iPhone – probably live tweeting this entire experience from hell that her mother dragged her to.

“My mother is talking to herself in the store, OMG! #soembarrassed #whyme

I placed the lamp base in the shopping cart and proceeded to search for the perfect lamp shade. Given that my color choices were biscuit, mushroom, oatmeal and cafe au lait, this would be easy.  Except now I was hungry and wanted to go to Starbucks.

“Gionna, let’s go grab coffee and then come back and oh look, they’re having a special on lightbulbs!”  

“Focus mom – you don’t even have a damn lamp shade yet, just forget about the lightbulbs and the last thing you need now is espresso”. Gionna scolded.

I finally found a suitable lampshade, more in love with the price than the color, and my work was done.  Except it wasn’t.  When I brought the lampshade to the shopping cart, I noticed that the tag on the lamp shade had a giant “C” and the tag on the lamp base had a giant “A”. Immediately the song from Sesame Street played in my head….

“C is for cookie, that’s good enough for me
C is for cookie, that’s good enough for me…”

Yeah, I’m a hot mess without Adderall – and I was hungry, I forgot to eat that day.

But I digress…

Right there in middle of the lamp aisle, I figured it out.

“Are you friggin kidding me” – I said louder than I had wanted, prompting an unwanted glare from a young mom.  It seems that you have to match the letter of the lampshade to the same letter as the lamp base. What sadistic, sinister, son of a bitch thought this was a genius marketing idea?!?  I wanted a damn lamp, with all the components already put together – that’s all.  That is not asking too much. I yanked the lamp base out of the cart and searched up and down the aisles looking for a lamp shade with a giant “A” attached to it.  I found such lampshade and of course its color was called “Oyster”.  Holy Mother of Monikers, do they feed the marketing department at whatever company decides these names.  Now I needed a cup of coffee … the bay!

The New Lamp

The New Lamp

Back home with my purchase, I went into my office and saw my old lamp.  I knew it wasn’t going to sell on eBay, but I just couldn’t toss it out either.  I moved it from my desk to the office floor, and later that night, from the floor to the garage.  I often dispose of inanimate objects in stages – it’s a process – yes, even the disposal of lamps.  Love me, love my quirks.

My new lamp took its place on my desk and quite honestly, I don’t like it.  But it works and serves its purpose, and I suppose in time, I will grow to like it.  Whatever.  I was still left with what to do with the lamp my mother gave me.  And that’s where things take an interesting turn.

If you have read even half of this blog in the past few years, then you know I enjoy gardening. It’s my therapy and if I can’t spend at least one hour a day in my garden, I feel a little lost.  So today, while watering my plants and just sort of putzing around – I kept passing the lamp that had now taken up residence near the garage door that led outside.  I knew the next stage of the process was the garbage can and I wasn’t ready for that.  I started fiddling with the lamp, taking it apart, removing the cord – and then it hit me.  I was going to use the base of this lamp and turn it into a planter.  This must be what Sir Issac Newton felt like when he discovered gravity!  I felt a surge of creativity and energy surge through me and I couldn’t get started fast enough.  I was rather proud of myself for figuring out a way to save this lamp from the depths of some dumpster – it would now be with me forever, just in a different form.  As I cut and painted and planted, I couldn’t stop smiling – this was turning out even better than I was imagining it in my mind’s eye.  And my imagination is rather wild and exciting.

I’ll let you be the judge…


“To be creative means to be in love with life. You can be creative only if you love life enough that you want to enhance its beauty, you want to bring a little more music to it, a little more poetry to it, a little more dance to it.”


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A Garden Just For Joey

A little over a year ago, I wrote about the day my little guy discovered pinwheels.   At that time I had already designed and begun building a garden for Joey, but it was after that afternoon in the doctor’s office that I realized pinwheels would play a very big part in his garden.

So, each time I had a few extra dollars, I would buy a pinwheel and store it away until I was ready to add them to Joey’s garden.  During the Roseanna Borellicreative process, the garden took on a life of its own and while the first phase is complete, it’s far from finished.  See, I don’t know what Joey’s next discovery will be.  Joey has the rare talent and ability to see the ‘new’ in the simplest of things.  To find unexpected joy and excitement in things that may seem mundane and ordinary to us.  I do know this, whatever Joey discovers and falls in love with next, I will find a way to make it a part of his garden so he can enjoy it as often as he wants.

“A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in–what more could he ask? A few flowers at his feet and above him the stars.” 

~Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

Here’s a video of the making of Joey’s Garden…

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Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not. ~Pablo Picasso

“Measure twice – cut once.”

That simple saying has been my mantra for the past couple months.  I haven’t necessarily applied it as often as I should, but that’s because my mantra for so many years was borrowed from Albert Einstein, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”  Lord knows I love to try new things and I almost always refuse to read or ask for directions.  I believe learning from your own mistakes is the best way to learn, maybe not the easiest – but there’s never a dull moment!

My ‘anything new’ of late has been carpentry.  Yes, you read that right, carpentry.  This stiletto wearing, perfect nail polish, big hair diva borrowed a power saw a few months ago and now I’ve morphed into Tim from “Tool Time” – but with boobs and I’m much easier on the eyes.  It began when my backyard gate fell apart – literally fell off the hinges, giving my dogs, Stella & Vinny, their first taste of freedom.  That freedom resulted in me chasing them through my neighborhood at 6:00 a.m. with no makeup, wearing pajamas with little martini glasses on them, a severe case of bed-head yelling…..  “STELL-AHHHHH”!

Vinny is only eight weeks old, and while he likes to do everything Stella does, his little legs were no match for mine.  Ok, that’s not entirely true. Vinny can still be bribed and he returned to me like Baby did to Johnny in Dirty Dancing,  leaping into my arms when he heard me open Roseanna Borellithe package of dog treats. Stella, however, seemed to be channeling the running scenes from Chariots of Fire, (now you have that theme song in your head).  But I digress.

I’m a pretty resourceful gal, but carpentry has never been my thing.  I looked into having someone build and install a gate for me, but quickly realized that unless I won the lottery, this was going to be something I had to figure out on my own.  And that’s exactly what I did.  A quick internet search revealed more than enough ideas to get me started and after numerous trips to Home Depot, I was ready to do this.  Using a circular saw, hand saw, power drill, crow bar, galvanized screws and the occasional swear word – I designed, built and installed a gate all by myself and I have to admit, I’m pretty impressed.  In the end, there were minimal casualties:  one broken nail, two broken toes (I advice against trying to install a gate in the rain) and my “Joe’s Italian Restaurant” shirt now has extra venting after getting caught on a nail – multiple times.  And that folks, is how my love affair  with building things and power tools began.  I’m not sure my friend will ever see his power sawRoseanna Borelli again because, well, I’m in love.

With my gate now complete, I desperately needed a new project.  A few months ago I built a sensory toy for Joey that he could stay in his wheelchair and play with.  This idea was inspired by those toys babies play with before they can walk.  The ones that are shaped like arches and the baby lies on the floor and reaches up for all the toys hanging from it.  Joey loved those when he was younger but now he needed something stronger and age appropriate.  Of course, I could have purchased one for hundreds of dollars – anything labeled special needs automatically quadruples in price, but since that wasn’t an option, I decided to build one myself.  Joey loves to reach for things and is learning cause and effect and I was having a difficult time finding toys that entertained him and held his attention.  So with some PVC pipe, nails and wood – my creation came to life – but that only took a few hours and I needed something that would keep me busy for a few days or even weeks.

10339515_10204194494086897_5055388606809298266_oWhile sorting through Joey’s toy chest one afternoon, I came across a pin wheel that my friend in Louisiana had sent him and I was reminded of a project I had dreamed about over a year ago.  You may remember me writing about the day my little guy discovered pinwheels.

I wanted to somehow build Joey a garden full of pinwheels and that’s exactly what my next project would be.  During the past year, any time I had a few extra dollars I would buy Joey a pinwheel and I now had about ten, along with other little things I thought would make him smile and be visually stimulating for his sensory garden.  Using wood from a previous project gone bad, some borrowed power tools and paint from Gionna’s many science projects, I began constructing Joey’s garden.  I didn’t exactly have a plan, things like this seem to come to fruition as I go, taking on a life of their own and that’s exactly what happened.  Some nights I could hardly sleep, I would wake up with a new idea and couldn’t wait for daylight to make it real.  And quite often, I didn’t wait.  Thank God I have neighbors that are heavy sleepers.

Having built several flower beds for my garden over the past three years, that was something I could now do in less than an hour.  So, first I built a basic flower bed and added soil.  From there, I added posts to hang things from, used bright-colored paints and tried to build thisRoseanna Borelli through the eyes of my little boy – what would he find exciting, what would make him smile and reach out in wonder.  That’s all that mattered to me, his smile and happiness. I can’t afford to take Joey on vacations, he will never play sports like other little boys or do many of the childhood things that I wish he could, but I can build him his own little ‘park’ – that I can do.  I have to admit, I felt like a child watching this all come together.  As I ‘planted’ the pinwheels in his garden a few days ago, the perfect breeze blew through and all the pinwheels were set in motion.  I’m not sure why, my but eyes filled with tears, those happy ones that us moms get from time to time.  From the moment I first thought of creating this garden for Joey to its completion a few days ago, took a little over a year – but I think sometimes the things that mean the most to us, and hopefully others, can’t be rushed.  And like so many other things in life, this will be a work in progress.  I would love to add to it as time goes on and Joey’s interests change or he learns new skills.  I want to somehow incorporate water into this area – Joey loves to feel water on his hands and toes.  Maybe even wire his new sensory garden for sound and lights!  I want to use up every inch of remaining dirt in my garden for Joey.  The possibilities are endless and that’s what I love about creating something like this – it’s constantly evolving.

Roseanna BorelliTen years ago, I would never have believed that I would pick up a power saw and know how to operate it, and then actually enjoy it.  Don’t be too impressed though, I had to watch quite a few “You Tube” videos before I knew what I was doing and even then, I said many prayers to St. Joseph, the Patron Saint of Carpenters. I also would never imagine that I would build gates and flower beds and sensory play areas filled with pinwheels.  But ten years ago, God chose me to take care and love the most amazing little boy and He knew I would need to be able to do those things.  And I thank God that He did.  However, I do believe that he puts an extra team of guardian angels in charge of watching over me anytime I pick up that power saw.

“God gave the seed, but he wants the fruits back. Pick the seeds up.Plant the best ones. He promised the rain. It will be a bumper harvest!”  ~Israelmore Ayivor


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Sweet Tea, Storms & Savoir-Faire

Old Italian Woman GardeningAlmost two years ago I decided I wanted a vegetable garden.  I was tired of growing tomatoes in large pots on my deck.  I’m Italian/Sicilian and we’re supposed to grow our own veggies and make homemade pasta sauce – and I do, but now I wanted to do that on a larger scale.  And I wanted to one day be the proverbial little old Italian lady in the neighborhood that spent all day in her garden and was always up to something, albeit in stilettos and a sundress!

With my flower garden just about complete I began researching how to build a vegetable bed.  I didn’t like any of the ideas I saw and the ones I did like were far too expensive.  So, like many times before in my life, I set out to do it ‘my way’.   I went to the lumber store and let my imagination run wild.  I asked two employees for some help and explained to them what I wanted to do.  One gentleman was very eager to assist me and began giving me quite detailed instructions on how to build a vegetable bed that I’m certain would have resembled the Taj Mahal.  Another employee suggested I just visit the produce section at Wal-mart.   Somewhat discouraged, I thanked them for their time and decided I was going to have to do this completely on my own.  As I was leaving, I saw a large pile of wood outside that I thought would be perfect for my project.  They were landscape timbers and because they were ‘less than perfect’ they were marked down in price.  Now, I am a master in the fine art of negotiating, I actually enjoy it quite a bit. I’m also a single mom on a budget tighter than bark on a tree, so I was going to have to really work my magic to get the 15 landscape timbers I needed for my vegetable bed for less than $1 each.   I think it was Lord Chandos that once said, “Flattery is the infantry of negotiation.”  And I would have to agree.

Before I put my negotiation skills into high gear, I made a quick trip to McDonald’s.  I had a gift card that someone had given me and I used it to buy three large sweet teas.  If you aren’t from the south, Sweet Tea is considered the “house wine” of the south and many will argue it is the only way to drinkSouthern Sweet Tea tea.  I’m a California girl, but I have to agree, there is no other way to drink tea. None.   So, with my latest acquisition in hand, I returned to the lumber store and went up to the three gentleman working outside.  Before I continue, let me add that if you approach three men working outside in July, in Alabama where we have humidity higher than a 1950’s beehive hairdo and you are bringing them sweet tea with ice, you could ask them to do just about anything and they will say ‘yes’.    I gave them their drinks and explained that I needed 15 landscape timbers.  They showed me the ones that were in perfect condition but I explained that I wanted the ‘misfits’ – the ones no one else wanted.  One of the guys laughed and commented that he had seen me in here before, and how I always head to the back of the store where the almost dead plants are.  He wanted to know why I did that.  I explained to him that as long as there is still a sign of life, then they deserve a chance.  I suppose it’s a little silly, but it makes me sad to see all those plants sitting on racks about to be tossed away because they aren’t as pretty as some of the other ones.  And I enjoy bringing them back to life, often in as little as a week. I also see it as a challenge and I most certainly love a challenge.   If you have seen pictures of my garden in my previous blog posts, I want you to know that all those flowers, every single one, were almost on their last legs when I planted them – yes, even the roses.  I have bought plants that were originally priced at $15 to $20 for $.75 – and some I have been given for free.  They are now all blooming and beautiful.

The men told me they wouldn’t feel right selling the ‘misfit’ timbers to me because in some way they were damaged.  I told them not to worry about it, that I knew what I was doing (I didn’t) and then I asked them to make me an offer I wouldn’t be able to refuse.  They laughed and asked if I had ever seen “The Godfather”.  I showed them the Italian flag sticker on the back of my truck and jokingly told them I had cement blocks and rope in the back and asked them if we could hurry this along or they would be ‘sleeping with the fishes’.  When all was said and done, I left with twenty not so perfect landscape timbers – total cost: $5.  To this day, they refer to me as the ‘sweet tea lady’ – it’s funny how some friendships are formed in the most unique ways.

That was almost two years ago.  Those timbers sat in the side of my yard through countless rain storms and through many of my life’s storms, just waiting to be put to use.  And last week their time had arrived.  Armed with a hammer and some very large nails, I set out to build my vegetable bed.  I had planted some vegetables from seed earlier in the year and they were more than ready to be put into the ground.  I learned very quickly that hammering nails the size of cigars into wood takes a lot of muscle.  My project was going to be a little more labor intensive than I thought.  From start to finish, it took me three days to complete and as much as I hate to admit it, the last part of my Roseanna Borellivegetable bed was completed by a few neighborhood kids that I have known since they were five years old.  On their way home from school, they heard me ‘talking’ quite loudly to one of the nails that refused to go in straight and  they came over, while laughing, to see what was going on.  Before I knew it, the negotiation tables had been turned.  They said if I made them baked ziti for dinner, they would finish the vegetable bed and mow my lawn, front and back.  I’m no fool, I knew I was coming out on the sweet end of this deal, so I agreed, of course, letting them think they were the winners in this negotiation.

My vegetable bed is now complete and I can’t wait to construct a second one very soon.  I’ve planted three varieties of cherry tomatoes, some red bell peppers and of course, lots of herbs. There is even a climbing rose-bush as the back drop.  At the request of the boys that helped, I’ve also planted spinach and the second bed will have watermelons.  I think that’s what I’ve enjoyed most about this project, how it got the kids involved.  They feel a sense of accomplishment in having helped me that day and I’ve seen them walk past the vegetable bed on their way home from school to see how the plants are doing.  You just can’t get that kind of feeling from a video game.

I know not everyone enjoys gardening, but everyone needs to have that one thing that they can just lose themselves in.  For me, gardening is like playing – I’m a child again.  I am curious, creative, messy, I try new things knowing that if it doesn’t work out, it’s really no big deal.  Why do we lose that as adults?  We need to tap into our inner child every chance we get, I don’t care how old you are.  Two days ago it was pouring rain and I was sad because I wanted to be outside in my garden.  And then I realized, so what if it’s raining, I’m not sugar, I won’t melt.  So out I went in the rain and walked around my garden in bare feet getting soaking wet – and I loved it.   I picked some roses, checked on my newly planted vegetables and even purposely stepped in some puddles – itPlaying in the Rain was fun – the silly kind of fun that I don’t think adults participate in nearly enough.  But I do, every chance I get.  One of my favorite quotes by Maya Angelou, and one that holds quite a bit of truth, is this, “I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.”  Now, all of you know how I handle a rainy day.  When I arrived in Italy years ago and a day before my luggage did, I used that as an opportunity to put my limited knowledge of the Italian language to use and set out on the streets of Rome to find all the things I would need for the next 24 hours.  I did this alone – my first time in another country and I didn’t know a soul.  It was the most empowering and liberating experience I’ve ever felt and I loved every second of it.  And tangled Christmas lights, let’s just say that I rival Clark Griswold in that department and that’s definitely another story for another day.  Maybe a rainy day after I’m done splashing in the puddles.



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The greatest gift of the garden is the restoration of the five senses. ~H. Rion

There are not many things I’d rather do than spend time writing and workingGarden Path in my garden.  I use the term ‘working’ loosely, as I hardly consider anytime spent in my garden as work.   After being a mom, chauffeur, laundress, ATM and severe negotiator (I have a teenager), if I can make time in my day for a little gardening and writing, than life is good.  I once read a quote by H.E. Bates that went something like this…

Gardens… should be like lovely, well-shaped girls: all curves, secret corners, unexpected deviations, seductive surprises and then still more curves.” 

What a perfect analogy of a garden.  I keep that in my mind every time I’m outside and get the urge to change things up a bit in mine.  Paths are often given new turns, usually as the result of flowers popping up in the most unexpected of places – one of the many things I love about my garden.

My garden is constantly evolving – a ‘work in progress’ if you will.  No matter how much it changes, I have always tried to keep an “English Garden” appearance to it.  Currently, I’m working on achieving a  “Mary’s Garden”.  IfIMAG0504 you’re Catholic, you know exactly what this means.  It is a Catholic tradition to acknowledge and honor the unselfish and holy life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the Middle Ages, missionaries and travelers spread stories across Europe about flowers named after Mary during various times of her life. Mary Gardens that featured these flowers became popular there, and later the tradition made its way to America. Around 1932 it is believed that the first Mary Garden in the United States was constructed on the grounds of St. Joseph’s Church in the Woods on Cape Cod.

There isn’t an official list of flowers for a Mary’s Garden, but there are some basic guidelines.  The center focus of the garden is a statue of Our Blessed Lady.  Currently in my garden, St. Francis of Assisi is standing in for Mary.  The garden can be any size and shape.  My garden includes the following flowers in honor of Mary…

  • Roses~ I have 12 rose bushes and I consider them my other ‘babies’.  They are not the “knock-out” roses that any moron can grow.  These are authentic award-winning roses.  At the risk of sounding like a pretentious gardening snob, they are beautiful.  The rose symbolizes Mary as the Queen of Heaven.   Roses and lilies were said to have filled Mary’s empty tomb when it was opened by the Apostles. Roses are also associated with SS. Dorothy and Thérèse of Lisieux, who both send roses from Heaven.  St. Francis once threw himself on the thorns of a rosebush as penance. Since then, the rose bushes in that garden (near the cloister of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Assisi) have no thorns.
  • ImpatientsImpatients~ Our Lady’s Earrings
  • CarnationsLegend says that the carnation bloomed on the night of Jesus’ birth; a sign of Mary’s joy at the Child’s birth.
  • Daisy~ To me,  daisies are such a happy and friendly looking  flower. It is said that when the wise men reached Bethlehem they looked for a further sign to guide them to the new king. King Melchior saw a white and gold flower and knew which building to enter.
  • Rosemary~ I have two rosemary bushes and aside from their origins regarding Mary, this is a wonderful addition to my pasta sauce.  It is believed that Mary hung the linens of the Holy Child on the rosemary bush to dry. Afterwards, the bush carried a sweet aroma.
  • Petunias~ Lady’s Praise
  • Ivy~ Where God Has Walked
  • Snapdragons~  These represent the Baby Jesus’ shoes
  • Marigold~ Early Christians placed marigolds around statues of Mary in place of coins calling them Mary’s gold.
  • Chrysanthemums~  These are also called the All Saint’s Flower – This flower is believed to have been present when Christ was laid in the tomb.

My garden path

There are dozens of other flowers one can plant in their “Mary” garden.  I’ve only listed the ones I have.   There is also a ‘visitor’ that one can hope will spend some time in their Mary Garden.  Once referred to as “Our Lady’s Birds” , they are better known now as  ladybugs.  They are named for Mary when they miraculously came to save crops from aphids. The red color of the ladybug is symbolic of her red cloak, and the seven black spots represent her seven sorrows.  Throughout the world, ladybugs are regarded as  “good luck” and a welcome visitor to any garden.

With no rain in the forecast for the next 36 hours, I’m going to spend some time today in my garden.  I am almost finished constructing my vegetable bed.   It’s the first one I’ve ever built and aside from a sore thumb, a few nails that decided they wanted to be curvy, and one side of the bed being just a touch lop-sided, it doesn’t look half bad.   My neighbor just laughs when he sees me covered in dirt as I tackle my latest project, but being outside is my therapy – my little escape from whatever it is I need a respite from.  That and writing.

Oh, and a little reminder for those of you struggling with your gardens, a prayer or two to St. Fiacre, patron of gardeners, may bring some much-needed divine intervention!

“Many gardeners will agree that hand-weeding is not the terrible drudgery that it is often made out to be. Some people find in it a kind of soothing monotony. It leaves their minds free to develop the plot for their next novel or to perfect the brilliant repartee with which they should have encountered a relative’s latest example of unreasonableness.” ~Christopher Lloyd



~All Photos Were Taken Yesterday In My Garden~



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