Monthly Archives: September 2013

Back When I Had a Magnum Opus

flashback friday

I was a columnist for the local paper in high school.

Sound impressive?

It was a county paper.

It was a weekly, county paper.

It was a weekly, county paper with a small circulation.

It was a weekly, county paper for a county so far up in the northeast corner of North Dakota, people thought we lived in Canada.  Some of my friends could spit on Canada from their property.

But, I loved people, writing, and driving all around the county, so it was a great job for me.  I marveled when I was handed a paycheck, because I would have worked for free.  But, since it kept me in Mountain Dew and jeans, I always cashed it.

After writing a few articles, my editor asked me to write a column. A weekly column.  I hardly knew what one was, let alone what to write about.  He mumbled “just write something” and walked away.  He came back with a camera, hollered, “Hey, Melly!” and snapped a picture  with my mouth open as I was hovering wordless over my IBM Selectric.  A few minutes later, with still nothing brilliant on my page, he returned and asked for the name of my column.

Name? It needs a name?  Name. Parents had nine months to pick out a name for their babies, I had less than nine minutes.  If I couldn’t come up with an answer quickly,   he would return with his wooden ruler and make my desk his drum and the entire office his stage. 

I truly think he believed his ruler could tap the pace for my brain waves, that the faster he tapped, the faster I typed.  It wasn’t his ruler, it was my youth.  Remember those days when brilliant thoughts poured from your….um brain… and…um…onto ….um….um….what was I saying?

Yea, the name.  Eleven  years of teachers answering all my questions with “Look it up!” I did what any smart student would do, I grabbed the dictionary off my desk. I opened to the “M” section to make an alliteration and mumbled through the words until I got to the “Ma” section. I didn’t love the title or the picture, but I had a column to write and couldn’t fuss over the particulars.

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I had no idea the amount of taunting in the high school hallways I would endure from those split-second decisions, but telling myself to ignore torment dished out by classmates that couldn’t read my column kept inner turmoil to a minimum. Coping strategy was crucial for high school, wasn’t it?

I also had no idea the picture of me in braces  and “I really wore that to work?” would haunt me for decades.

Melindas first Magnum Opus

A cold Mountain Dew later, I had my first column.  It went straight to the typesetter without any corrections or editing, which I now recall with the clichéd chagrin.  It’s always awkward reading early writings, especially early teenage writing, but I’m struck with the irony.

I was young and ignorant, and had much to learn on the fly.

The Magnum Opus wasn’t the writing I produced, it was what writing for the newspaper produced in me.

Put the Grammar Girl in Your Writing Toolbox

 

Many writers were weirdos in high school, the kids who got their high underlining the noun once and the verb twice. I hated dissecting stuff, (Sorry, Dad, you probably figured out I wasn’t really sick that day you dissected frogs in your Biology class) but enjoyed tearing apart a sentence and diagraming it.  I didn’t even ask why we had to learn it.  I did it just because I could.

We weirdos also did our homework in study hall, duh, so we could read for hours at home.  We even liked helping others with their homework.  We also were slightly obsessive about grades.  If we received an A-, we didn’t see the “A” we saw the “-“.

Now the stakes are higher.  We aren’t writing for a tired teacher with too many papers to grade, so will skim ours and give us an “A”, we’re writing in public.  We’re writing blog posts, social media blurbs, articles and books.  Those grammar rules so articulately spittled by my teachers in high school  slowly decayed into blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah in my brain.

I’m forgetting. It’s easier to restructure my sentences than try to use a semi-colon.  What if I use it incorrectly?  Would it effect my blog stats or ruin the affect of my social media presence if I used affect/effect incorrectly?  Answer me now, are you dying to get to the comment section to correct me?

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I know some of my readers hang on the edge of their seats, bite their nails to the quick, writhe in agony, and pace the floor waiting for another Cool Tool to inspire their writing and make them geniuser, or would that be more genius?

Today, I introduce my new BFF, a girl who made being smart totally cool.  She critiques my writing, reminds me to use visuals , and smiles at me all the time.  We’re just like thisFingers crossed. Yep, there’s nothing better than a BFF, even when you’ve been out of high school for, well, a few decades. 

 

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So, here is my secret grammar weapon Cool Tool, Mignon Fogarty, The Grammar Girl.

Actually, she’s not really my BFF, we’re only Facebook friends. 

Well, not exactly Facebook friends, because she didn’t like me back, but I  liked her.  But, I’m pretty sure if we’d ever had study hall or English class together we’d be BFF,  even though I’m old enough to be her teacher.

She combines English Teacher and Social Media to take the pain out of learning to whom we could affect with our improper language and punctuation, usage and not make the mistakes our English teachers warned us of.

(Click on graphic to find article.)

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Doesn’t your heart pound in admiration and envy when you hear someone correctly use whom?  Now I can speak English betterer!

She covers word usage like gray/grey, affect/effect and lay/lie. Since my husband once told me he needs a wench on the front of his Jeep, I sent him her advice on using wench/winch.

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The one we wish everybody would read, the tutorial on apostrophes and plurals.

Seriously, peoples, get those apostrophe’s  and plurales straight!

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Endless worksheets didn’t eliminate the need to review those simple punctuation rules.

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If  you’re a Word Nerd, her articles about the origination of words are worth losing sleep over. (Note to self – Check her website to see if we can end a sentence with a preposition yet.)

She defines Ghost Words as “words that weren’t real to begin with—they came about because of an error or misunderstanding—but they made it into the dictionary anyway.”

And since I’ve outgrown that high school obsession of not sharing my friends, you can be Grammar Girl’s BFF, too.  Find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and YouTube.

 

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And since we’ve outgrown passing notes, you can sign up for her newsletter.

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If you keep up with the modern generation, check out her podcasts.  Now my daughter has a brilliant substitute teacher for her homeschool English course.

If you miss homework, buy her books.

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Make sure you add the Grammar Girl to your Cool Tools Toolbox. She’s your grammar’s BFF.

Decked Out Like A Princess

Poor Princess Kate.

She went shopping after the baby was born and it was news. Wait, everything she does is news in England.

I went shopping last  week and nobody cared, except for the kids at home that were waiting for the toilet paper.

 

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I found this on the GLAM blog and was very impressed with the identification and price information. Even if I could see the clothing labels, I wouldn’t know what they meant.  I don’t speak fashion.  But, I’m confident her Saks isn’t the same as my “all you can fit in a sack for $3” at the thrift store.

Princess Kate spent $480.40 for one outfit, not including undergarments because, thankfully, the paparazzi couldn’t get that close.

The only thing I’ve ever worn that cost that much is the scar on my neck from an expensive total thyroidectomy.

My mom raised six kids and had a passion to make sure we were always clean and stylish, even if our clothes weren’t expensive or new to us.  An excellent seamstress with an amazing ability to create or re-create anything, she sewed, shopped, altered and mended her six kids through adulthood.

We always looked nice, accept when someone loudly exerted their free will and Mom allowed them bear the consequences of what they wore in public. Like the time one sister fussed until Mom brought her to the grocery store wearing one cowboy boot, one sandal, a dress over a pair of holey-kneed jeans (when holes weren’t in style) and uncombed hair.   But I won’t tell you which sister because she hated being the baby of the family and being teased. But I will tell you, she never dressed like that again.

Once Mom bought bright t-shirt material covered with the flags of the world on clearance and made matching t-shirts for the kids for vacation.  We were walking around feeling pretty spiffy when we overheard someone say to their friend, “Wow, those people must be rich.”

One of our favorite pastimes was dressing up for an event, then calculating the cost of each outfit, just like they did for the Princess.   It was rarely over a few dollars.  The most expensive item was usually our unders, but maybe I shouldn’t mention unmentionables on a Christian blog.

My Mom was a woman before her times.  She upcycled, recycled, crafted and created, but never gathered a following because the Internet wasn’t invented yet.  If digital photo editing and Pinterest were available in the 70’s, a post about getting presentable for Grandma Geneva’s visit in 1973 would look something like the following: 

Brainard Kids with Gramma 73

1.  Joel – Decked out in jeans from J.C. Penney’s for $2.99 and crew-necked  t-shirt from Salvation Army for $.29 = $3.28.

2.  Melinda – Modeling a white polyester bodysuit and purple polyester pants created by her mother.  Size 24 purple pants  Salvation Army $.10 (remade for size 8slim) + plastic buckle from button jar + $.29 for snaps + $.49 for a yard of white polyester = $.88.

3. Allan – Sears Toughskin jeans, probably reinforced with canvas by mother because he was tougher than Toughskin jeans, cool red print pirate-sleeved shirt with extra pointy collars topped with a knitted sweater vest.  Jeans $4.99 + hand-me-down shirt and vest $.00  = $4.99.

4.  Angela – Hand-me-down red corduroy dress accented with eyelet cuffs and collar = $.00.

5.  Laurie – Hand-me-down hot pink mini-dress $.00 + adorned by Mom with braided trim $.30 =$.30.

6.  Lee – After winning the battle to have hair longer than his ears, was proudly wearing a green, tan and rust geometric patterned button-down shirt sewn by Mom with for $.98  +  lint-trapping olive green cords for $3.99 from Tempo Department Store = $4.97.

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Children’s clothing…………………………………………$14.42

A thrifty Mom who dressed you like a princess…..PRICELESS

 

It Was All About the Jeans in 6th Grade

Back in the Olden Days, as my kids call my childhood, I lived on the north side of Helena, Montana, in a neighbor with small ramblers filled with kids, lotsa kids.

In my neighborhood, we were nearly all the same.  We had moms and dads living in our homes.  Our moms sewed and gardened and made homemade cookies. We kids rode bikes, built forts, went swimming at the Municipal Pool,  and played baseball for hours in the old cemetery.

My life changed in 6th grade.  Our elementary school only went up to 5th grade, so we all trudged up Lamborn Ave. to another elementary school on the hill.

It was a newer building, with new playground equipment and unblemished sidewalks without weeds in the cracks. The building didn’t have crumbling stucco painted  institutional light green, but had new bricks with clean mortar.

More than the building was different in this new world. The kids on the hill wore new clothes. They went on vacations with their families. They skied. They had hair styles, not hair cuts, because their moms didn’t cut their hair. They had cool shoes and even cool tube socks.

Suddenly, my world had division -  THEM and US.

In my view, the biggest division came with the jeans. 

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The kids in my old world wore jeans without name, the fancy stitching, or the pocket décor.

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In my new world, the coolest girls wore HASH jeans.  They were $50.  I couldn’t fathom having or spending that much on one pair of jeans. At $.75 per hour, I would have had to babysit for 67 hours for one pair of jeans.  Wasn’t going to happen.

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But a girl could dream how good she’d look in these jeans.

And it wasn’t only what was on the back pockets, it was what was in the front pockets.

I had lint, change and an occasional note from a friend, they had money.  Not change, bills.  When we shopped at Terry’s Convenience Store at lunch time or after school, they could buy  from any shelf in the store, while my friends and I hovered around the bottom shelf of the first aisle with the penny candy and the Ferrara Pan boxes that cost $.10.

On a Fall sunny Saturday, I  walked my little sister up to my new school on the hill and let her play on the playground. Another kid was already there, but he wasn’t in a friend-making mood.  From Terry’s, he had purchased an entire box of ice-cream sandwiches, something we’d rarely had. To keep our  ice-cream loving family of eight satisfied, my mom purchased a big bucket of vanilla and Neapolitan ice-cream weekly. It lasted a lot longer than a box of specialty treats.

He sat on the swing and ate and ate and ate.  My sister and I must have glanced his way more than once, and he knew we were mentally counting the number of ice-cream bars in the box, the number he could reasonably eat, and the number of people on the playground. I expected sharing to be a universal language.

He stood up, pulled out the last two ice-cream sandwiches, held them out towards us with a sick grin, then mashed them between his fingers, smiling the whole time.  I can still see vanilla ice cream and bits of mangled chocolate cookie dripping between his fingers.

I was filled with shame because he had noticed our desire and took joy in crushing our expectation of kindness.

During the year I was also educated on what else those allowances could buy. Another unfaded memory is one of the Snob Knob (the hill with expensive houses)  kids explaining to me what pot was, why they would want to smoke it and how beer tasted.

As the year progressed and I experienced THEM and US morphing together into the 6th grade class, I learned a lot of important life lessons.

  • There were nice kids and mean kids from the top and the bottom of the hill.
  • Having money didn’t mean you’d be happy, nor did the lack of money mean you’d be unhappy.
  • How much or how little you spent on your clothing wasn’t as important as how you behaved in your clothing.
  • Anybody could achieve success in academics or athletics.
  • Differences don’t have to divide.  They can just be differences.
  • There were labels you bought and labels you earned, and the latter couldn’t be easily changed.
  • Girls in HASH jeans and girls in Plain Pocket jeans could  be friends.
  • Being content with what you had was easier than longing for the impossible.
  • I saw that families could cause pain. It made me extremely thankful for my big, happy family and being raised with the wealth of love and laughter.

Walking up that hill in my JC Penney jeans into a new world was a great experience, because in 6th grade, my life was changed.

It wasn’t about the jeans, after all.

 

Free Tool to Keep Writing Dynamic

 

Writers are busy people.  We’re busy drinking coffee, avoiding phone calls and trying to recapture the brilliant thoughts of inspiration we had while falling asleep or waking up.

“Writer” isn’t a static title, it’s a dynamic lifestyle.  The gift and talent must be cultivated to grow. If you’re a writer, it may go dormant for a season, but it will never die. 

And since most writers are also avid readers, that time issue comes into play.  There isn’t enough time in the day to write all the stories, blogs and novels swirling around in our heads, nor is there enough time to read all the books stacked on the floor in front of overflowing bookcases and on the nightstand.  And I’m telling you to study the craft of writing?  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.

 

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This week’s Cool Tool will come right to your inbox.  You won’t have to work for it or look for it. You can read it in your pj’s, nobody will ever know. It will be our little secret.

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It pairs very well with coffee. Yes, my desk is always messy.  I used to be a Neat Freak, can you believe it?  Me neither, or would that be either?  I haven’t finished that cup of coffee yet, so the neurons aren’t firing and I’m having a hard time staying on track.

 

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Ready for the Cool Tool that’s free and easy?  Writer’s Digest Newsletter, by Brian A. Klems, Online Editor. He’s smart, he’s funny, he learns me a lot of stuff. Smile  Even grammar. Read other articles here.

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It gets even better. When you follow the link to their website, you find other FREE stuff. Writers like FREE stuff because we don’t make a lot of money. Sure, we dream about buying a lake home, a boat, or paying some bills, but usually only writers we write about make a lot of money.

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The newsletter includes a weekly writing prompt, as well as other resources, workshops and webinars, when you’re ready to financially invest in learning the craft.

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I’ve almost finished my coffee and my blog so I’m almost ready for the day.  Whether you’ve finished your coffee or not, click here to register for this Cool Tool, the Writer’s Digest Newsletter. It will cultivate your gift and keep your writing life dynamic.

 

MOM! What’s for breakfast?

Why is it that kids always wake up earlier and hungrier than their parental units? 

It never seemed right that the most energy buzzed in the people with the least amount of responsibility.

I used to get up early and make a nutritional breakfast for my kids every morning.

Used to.

Somewhere between babies #5 and #6 and three bouts of thyroid cancer, it wasn’t easy anymore.  Yep, the kids had to eat, but it wasn’t going to be homemade waffles, muffins or pancakes.

We ate a lot of cold cereal, instant oatmeal, cold cereal, fresh fruit, cold cereal and whole wheat toast.

Sometimes mommas gotta’ do what mommas gotta’ do.

Of course, getting my kids in the kitchen greatly improved our culinary fare. One of the recipes that got us through many mornings was Baked Oatmeal.

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I blogged about having Kids in the Kitchen a few years ago.  It’s true.  Kids make a mess.  But, if you don’t let them mess up the kitchen, they can’t learn to cook for you.  Simple as that.

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Beka and I wanted to be ready for school this year, so decided to make those cool jars people are always making and pinningimage and giving away for gifts.

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All the dry ingredients were placed in the jar.  We’re “git’ ‘er dun” kinda’ people, not “perfectionist you can pin me now” kinda’ people.  The layers aren’t perfect, the lids don’t match, but hey, Beka finished this quickly.

I also learned the hard way, the more you demand perfection from non-perfectionist people, the less they wanna’ work with you. You can either allow the children to do a project and accept how they do it, or you can do it yourself and have it perfect.

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We  substitute the butter in the original recipe with applesauce, so one small organic (did that impress you?) no-sugar added cup of applesauce is placed on the top of the jar.

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Since I can never find my tape, why yes, I have blogged about that, thank you for asking, you can read that blog here,so my son, who just got his drivers license and will go anywhere if I hand him the car keys, drove to three different stores looking for blue tape.

I have just enough residual OCD that this look was really, really bothering me.

Yes, I know the jars will be in the cupboard.  I know nobody will see them. But, they were buggin’ me.

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I had these….

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leftover from these quart milk bottles I’d decorated for our writers conference last May. The decorative fabric was slipped off and put in a scrap drawer.  The bottles are being decorated anew for an October wedding.

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Slipped them over the top, added the tag with the wet ingredients to add and we were dun.

D.U.N. dun.

We make a smaller batch now that so many kids have flown the coop, so this recipe fills an 8×8 pan.

Beka’s Baked Oatmeal

Place the following in the jar:

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups oatmeal (we use quick or old fashioned

Tape to the top:

  • 1 – 4ounce unsweetened applesauce

Wet ingredients to add:

  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 eggs

Bake 350° for 30 minutes in a greased 8×8 pan.  You may add any combination of nuts, fresh fruit,  or dried fruit to this. 

I love putting almonds and dried cranberries in one corner just for me.  The kids think it is yucky, so I let them eat theirs plain.  You can serve it in a bowl with milk or on a plate as a piece of breakfast cake.  Yea, tell ‘em it’s cake for breakfast.  It can also be topped with warmed applesauce as frosting. 

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Baked Oatmeal.

It’s what’s for breakfast.

 

 

National Geographic Cool Tool

Between traveling and  mourning, I’ve taken some time off from blogging.  Now, I’m having a hard time getting back into routine.

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My Cool Tools are  easy-peasy and free ways to improve your writing.  Today’s tool is almost free, it cost me a quarter. In today’s day and age, a quarter is almost free, so I’m gunna’ show ya’ what I’m enjoying.

 

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These gold-covered magazines that fill shelves at thrift store are my secret research weapon.  In fact, some thrift stores won’t even take them anymore.  Their loss.  They’re one of my favorite ways to learn  history.  I get all the words and the pictures I need from a reliable source, all in one package somebody else didn’t want.

Of course, like the rest of the plugged-in world, I love the internet and can waste hours researching.  Sometimes I end up researching things I didn’t even know existed, or things I didn’t know I needed to know, and things I didn’t know I was interested in until I got lost on a mouse-clicking bunny trail. I have been known to forget to look at what I intentionally started researching…

Anyhoo, my current WIP (work in progress) takes place in Rome, so I’ve been catching up on history.  I had to make a special trip to the thrift store that has stacks of these golden beauties.  YEA!

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A beautiful marble bust of Augustus, with a succinct explanation of Pax Romana.

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How can you describe where your characters are walking, shopping and bathing,  unless you have an accurate map of the city and the buildings from that time period?

 

Roman Woman bust 
Of course, women’s fashion is always crucial to the story of any time period.  Oh my, now I have to figure out how they made those Medusa like ringlet curls without an electric curling iron.

 

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The December 1953 issues featured the archeology of Jericho, the oldest known city at the time of publication. It supplied some valuable information on how people lived during early Bible times, and although this timeline shows it was several hundred years before the founding of Rome and the eventual conquering by Rome, it still gave me a feel for the climate and the terrain.  Bunny trails don’t happen only when researching online!

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You know how you can’t always trust Internet sources?   No need to research the resource, you know National Geographic is reliable.

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Click on the page to read it fully.  Paragraph 9 states:

“Our expedition hoped to illustrate the Bible’s account with confirmation of the town’s destruction by the Israelites.  Literary evidence points to a date somewhere between 1400 and 1250 B.C. for the collapse of the wall before the Israelite assault.

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You may click to enlarge the pic, but the text reads as follows:

“At least 35 centuries old when Joshua conquered Jericho, these sculptured heads were found beneath a Neolithic ruin in the oldest known walled town.”

Not if Joshua conquered Jericho, but when. They state it as a fact. This made me love my old National Geographics even more!

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National Geographic has always been known for their talented photographers. Arab women at Elisha’s Fountain.

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I especially love the old ads. 

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Who doesn’t love the old Coca-Cola Christmas ads from the back cover?

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So, there ya’ go.  National Geographic is today’s Cool Tool that will make your research golden.