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“Sherlock” fans, beware! January 31, 2014

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In a report worthy of “The Onion,” we read that Tumblr’s new Terms of Service agreement specifically prohibited users from pretending to be Benedict Cumberbatch, the star of the hit BBC series “Sherlock.” We don’t know if that’s because a majority of Tumblr users are pretending to be Benedict Cumberbatch, or because the Tumblr people pulled his name out of the hat as an example because he’s the male shooting-star equivalent of Jennifer Lawrence. (And why not use her?) Heck, Luddites that we are, we don’t even know what Tumblr is.

But whatever it is, if you use it, beware. Apparently it’s okay to pretend to be Martin Freeman (who plays Sherlock’s faithful sidekick, Dr. Watson), or Mark Gatiss, who plays Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft, or, say, the actors who play Irene Adler, Mrs. Hudson, Inspector Lestrade, or Professor Moriarty (“the Napoleon of Crime”). But Benedict Cumberbatch? Don’t even think about it! Unless, we suppose, you want to pretend to be Smaug…


Sherlock or Super Bowl? January 30, 2014

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Our friend Rob was asking our friend Ben how many people we planned to invite to our Super Bowl party this Sunday. “None,” I replied. “Silence Dogood and I will be watching the last episode of season 3 of ‘Sherlock’, the BBC series starring Benedict Cumberbatch. The only super bowl we’re likely to be seeing will be filled with popcorn or nachos.”

At first, Rob, a rabid sports fan, looked completely taken aback. Then he began laughing. “I can picture it now: You invite 19 enthusiasts over to watch the Super Bowl. It’s the end of the fourth quarter, and the game is tied 21-21. Suddenly, it’s 10 o’clock, and Silence, grabbing the remote, announces, “It’s time for ‘Sherlock'” and presses the button. Do you know what would happen then?!”

“Of course I do.” Our friend Ben, having known Silence well for many years, is no fool. “Silence would boot all the football fanatics into the icy street and settle down in front of the TV. After, of course, making sure we had our popcorn or nachos and some wine, and asking me to make the fire up. To add insult to injury, while she was throwing the football fans into the street, she would probably tell them that they could catch the last few seconds on their smartphones and to have a nice night!”

“Oh. I guess I’ll plan on spending Sunday night with some guys I know,” Rob said. “We’ll have hot dogs, chili, wings and beer in front of the game, and maybe even pizza.”

“What, no guacamole? Silence makes great guac, and it goes really well with her nachos and fresh salsa.”

“Uh, maybe I can bring some storebought guac and chips to the Super Bowl gathering just in case.” Rob paused for thought. “Er, Ben, want to come with me? I’m sure Silence wouldn’t really mind.”

“Any other time, Rob,” I lied, a die-hard Sherlock Holmes fanatic who loves brilliantly solved mysteries (as opposed to murders) far more than sports. “Silence says the final episode shows Sherlock with a girlfriend. This I have to see!” I refrained from noting that Silence has already pre-ordered season 3 on Amazon, so we’ll presumably be able to see it as often as we want. But not as soon as Sunday, when the game—Sherlock’s, not the Super Bowl’s—is finally afoot.

Like “Chopped”? How about “Cropped”? January 29, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I love interacting with cooking competitions like “Chopped” and “Iron Chef America” on the rare occasions when our friend Ben and I are on the road and able to stay in a hotel. (We don’t get any of the cable channels at home.) I say “interacting” because I carry on a vivid commentary throughout the shows, critiquing the judges’ bad calls and the competitors’ bad choices, cheering them on when they get something right. As someone who loves cooking, it’s a great interactive experience for me, and I totally understand why these cooking shows are so popular.

But as a passionate gardener, I also lament the absence of comparable gardening shows. There was a time when programmers assumed gardening shows would be as popular as cooking shows, but they were wrong. Why? For the same reason how-to cooking shows, in the mode of Julia Child’s iconic “The French Chef,” have disappeared: The internet made sure that there were tons of other ways to find out how to cook things. Shows like Emeril Lagasse’s, immortalized in the movie “Last Holiday,” gave way to competitions.

Cooking shows adapted, but gardening shows didn’t, and so gardening shows died while cooking shows flourished. If, like me, you love gardening, imagine how a gardening competition would go:

First, you have a panel of snooty judges who want to hate everything in the worst way. Then, you get
landscapers and garden designers who are eager to win. But how do you reduce the size of the playing field to that of the display kitchens on “Chopped” or “Iron Chef America”? Yes, they’re big studios, but hardly acres of ground.

Easy: Just take a look at a flower show like the Philadelphia Flower Show. There, competitors build “garden” displays in small, room-sized areas. They add plants, from lawn to flower beds to trees, water features, paths, seating areas, sculpture and other lawn ornaments, lighting, and the like. From sustainable organic vegetable gardens to native bog gardens to wildly imaginative gardens dominated by bizarre sculptures, you can see it all.

So imagine this: A “Chopped”-style competition where the chosen contestants were given the equivalent of the basket of horrific ingredients that the poor “Chopped” chefs must deal with (grotesque combinations such as live sea urchins, cotton candy, peanut butter, and wheat grass), then given an hour to create a stunning garden in, say, a 6-by-12-foot plot. All have the same horrific combination of plants and accessories to work with; all have an assortment of good garden tools and willing assistants; and all have just an hour.

Your landscapers and designers rush around, trying their best to impress the judges by how they put their area together. Some can manage to put the clashing plants and other landscape features together more imaginatively than others. When the hour is up, the judges light into every attempt, then decide on whose effort beat the others. The worst among them would be roundly ridiculed and sent home; the others would face more weeks of challenges.

If you were a passionate gardener, would you watch this show? I think I would, simply because of the way I react to the cooking competitions on the very rare occasions when I can see them. The judges’ verdicts and contestants’ choices draw me in, making me comment, making the show a truly interactive experience. I’d love to enjoy that in a gardening competition as well. You?

‘Til next time,


Animal rights done right. January 28, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. There’s a folk saying, “It’s easier to catch flies with honey than with vinegar.” This isn’t literally true; fruit flies love vinegar. But the meaning of the saying is that it’s easier to win people over to your view by being nice than nasty.

As a lifelong lover of animals and vegetarian for moral reasons, it has long horrified me how the animal-rights groups, PETA being the poster child for this, fail to internalize this lesson. Is throwing blood-colored paint on rich women’s fur coats or harassing Vogue‘s editor, Anna Wintour (the role model for the monster boss in “The Devil Wears Prada”), likely to win them to your side? History suggests that vandalism of any kind, and especially fanatic, intolerant, strident, one-dimensional violence and vandalism, is unlikely to win converts to your cause.

I was relieved to read that Italian animal-rights organizations didn’t make this mistake when two doves released by children at the Vatican in an annual peace ceremony this past Saturday were attacked by a predatory seagull and crow. (Fortunately, the doves only lost a couple of tailfeathers.) Instead of flooding the media with gory photos of animal abuse or suing Pope Francis for cruelty to animals, they mildly suggested that this ritual release of the doves, the symbol of peace, be stopped, since there are now too many predatory birds for the doves to be safe.

I hope Pope Francis heeds their call. The ceremony is full of symbolism and meaning, and I don’t think it should be stopped. But there’s no reason why the children can’t release origami doves to float down to Saint Peter’s Square, unmolested by hungry predators, as symbols of eternal peace.

Honey, not vinegar.

‘Til next time,


A frigid response to the homeless. January 26, 2014

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Silence Dogood here, with a sometimes-graphic post about the plight of the homeless. I’ve been thinking a lot about them the past few months. First, because it was so unnaturally cold all November in our home state of scenic PA. Then, in December, a cartoon that runs in our local Sunday paper, “Jump Start” by Robb Armstrong, addressed the subject in a novel way.

Here’s how it went: The family who’re the “stars” of the strip were leaving church on a Sunday when there was a guest preacher when they see a homeless man huddled under newspapers outside. He speaks to them, and they realize he’s actually their regular preacher. When they ask what he’s doing, he says that he tried to attend his own church disguised as a homeless man and was thrown out. Nobody wanted to sit anywhere near him; he smelled. The family asked if he’d done anything like this before, and he responded in the affirmative, tellingly: “A variety of disguises. Unwelcome types. Stole the idea from God.”

Food for thought there. And then the arrival of the polar vortex, with its heavy snows and minus-zero temperatures, which seems to have lasted for a month and shows no signs of diminishing, put the plight of the homeless in the paper, given the very real risk of their freezing to death. Shelters were listed, with the days and hours they were open and whether they accepted men or women and children and whether they provided food, as though the homeless were buying and reading newspapers.

Then this past weekend, local columnist Bill White of The Morning Call ran a column that really frosted my flakes. He said the mayor of a nearby town had released a statement condemning a church for daring to house the homeless on piles of blankets in their basement (they also run a heavily attended soup kitchen) when the homeless should be going to facilities with actual beds. The statement also blamed the homeless for not getting themselves to the “approved” shelters.

It’s all too clear that the mayor in question lives in a comfy house with a functioning car, and can’t even begin to conceive of what it would be like to be without transportation. I’m acutely aware of this issue because Our Friend Ben and I live a good 20-30 minutes from anything resembling civilization, such as a grocery store. Our country setting is idyllic, but without a car, we’d be dead.

Now consider the plight of the homeless, with no transportation, no money to even take public transport, no concept of where the nearest shelter might be, when it might be open, whether it would reject them for being the wrong gender. How are they supposed to get to a shelter, even if they knew where it was? And some of the shelters are only open from late night to very early morning, when public transport wouldn’t be available.

Thinking about all this vividly brought to mind my most memorable encounter with a homeless person, maybe 15 or 20 years ago in New York City, where convenient public restrooms—or any public restrooms—had been done away with for fear of crime. I was visiting a friend in her apartment, and an elderly homeless woman had taken up residence in the entryway to the apartment building. When my friend and I went out to take in the sights, the woman, who smelled as bad as the comic strip had implied, roused herself, went out with us, squatted, and urinated on the sidewalk. A horrified passerby rushed up to her and shouted, “You can’t do that!!!” The poor woman very reasonably asked, “What am I supposed to do?”

What indeed. What would you do if you desperately needed to go to the bathroom and there was no bathroom to go to? What would you do if you were freezing to death and had no way to get yourself to a warm and welcoming place? Bill White’s column noted that to get into shelters at all, many homeless people had to provide identification and proof that they were homeless and unemployed. Yet most homeless people have no identification or papers of any kind.

And now, shelters that don’t require such police-verified IDs, like the church in the article, are being blasted by officials like the mayor. Instead, he should be so ashamed of himself for his CYA attitude—Hey, if a homeless person dies from cold exposure, it’s his own fault, not ours! He’s only homeless because he’s a worthless bum to begin with!—and be donating funds to churches like this to keep their shelters and soup kitchens running.

Those of us who have roofs over our heads should pity these people, not condemn them. Yes, we might feel that tremor of fear of “the other” if we encounter them on the street, begging, or the fear of what life could hold for us if we see one pushing an obviously stolen grocery cart containing all her posessions or huddling under cardboard and newspapers over a heating grate like the pastor in the cartoon. But this is a matter of life and death with the desperate cold upon us. If ever there was a time to ask “What would Jesus do?” this is it.

‘Til next time,


Vegetarians, vegans: Beware grey hair! January 24, 2014

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Fifty shades of vegan/vegetarian grey?!

Silence Dogood here. I was reading an article about why hair turns grey when I read the most startling comment from a doctor, who said in the most matter-of-fact way that, basically, everyone knew that vitamin B12 deficiency was a major cause of greying hair. (Which, of course, is actually a matter of hair losing pigment and turning white rather than actually turning grey; it’s the remaining dark hairs that give the perception of grey.)

Well, this was a shock, since certainly I’d never heard that a B12 deficiency would make your hair turn grey. And who’s at highest risk for this deficiency? Vegetarians and vegans, of course, since B12 is normally derived from animal sources. So folks, take your B12 supplements and let’s hope you can avoid chemical hair dyes or premature greying. Yow!

‘Til next time,


The food stamp challenge. January 23, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I recently read about something called the Food Stamp Challenge in an article called “7 Foods to Buy When You’re Broke” on U.S. News & World Report. The article explained that more and more people were trying to live on the amount of money they’d get for food from SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly Food Stamps) for a week to see what it would be like to eat on 4 dollars a day.

Mind you, this is $4 a person, which is certainly better than $4 a household (unless you’re a one-person household). But those costs still add up fast, and trying to add variety when you’re restricted to $4 a day can be a challenge. Reading through the list of recommended foods in the article, I disagreed with some because of time constraints and some because they were simply appalling. Others definitely needed help to be edible, and some crucial foods were left out altogether.

So here’s my list of best foods for folks on tight budgets:

* Beans. The article recommended dried beans, which will swell from 2 cups dried to 6 cups cooked. But that’s assuming you’re unemployed and have all day to soak and cook the damned things, as opposed to simply being poor and working three jobs at minimum wage while trying to care for a family. Yes, dried beans are cheaper than canned beans, but watch for sales and buy the canned beans at 59 cents each, it will save you tons of time and they’ll be just as nutritious (full of protein, vitamins and minerals).

* Rice. The article I read recommended brown rice, which is certainly more nourishing than white rice. But there’s a reason why every single culture where rice is a staple food, from Japan and China to India and Pakistan, eats white rather than brown rice: It tastes better. It’s also, ironically, cheaper (you’d think unprocessed brown rice would cost less than processed white rice, but you’d be wrong). I eat brown rice often, but I make sure I make it palatable by adding sauteed onion, scallions (green onion), sauteed mushrooms, sesame oil, chili oil, shoyu (fresh soy) sauce, salt, herbs or spices, or the like.

* Oatmeal. “Old-Fashioned” oats (as opposed to instant) are a nourishing, cheap, delicious, filling breakfast. Like rice, however, in my opinion, you can’t eat them with pleasure unless you add ingredients like skim milk and a sprinkle of cinnamon, at a minimum, which certainly ups the cost. Plain oatmeal, like plain air-popped popcorn, plain potatoes, plain Cheerios, or plain anything else is an abomination. Maybe there are people out there who choke this stuff down plain, but God help them. Go for the toppings, but count the cost.

* Popcorn. Speaking of popcorn, if you need to fill up, a bag is cheap, and 1/2 cup quickly expands to a huge, full bowl. This is filling and cheap, but you’ll need, in my opinion, to cook it in oil and add salt, at the very least, to make it palatable. Or air-pop, as we do, and add a little melted butter to up the fullness and satisfaction factor, and/or some shredded cheese to add protein.

The key with both butter and shredded cheese is to look for sales: half-price sales on butter and shredded cheese (I’ve often found shredded cheese at 2 packages for $4.) This is significant, since you can also buy a jar of salsa on sale and use the cheese and salsa to flavor your beans and rice.

* Lentils and split peas. Lentils and split peas are legumes like beans, with all their protein and health benefits, but unlike beans, dried lentils cook up quickly. You can cook dried lentils in half an hour, and dried split peas in little longer. You can add them to rice in a rice cooker, put them in a slow cooker, or cook them up on the stove. Add sliced onion, carrots, and potatoes for lentil stew, or onion, garlic, tomatoes, and a little chile and curry for dal, a delicious, filling Indian dish that’s a perfect meal with rice, plain Greek yogurt, and a spoon of chutney.

* Whole veggies and greens. Those pre-made salad mixes and pre-chopped veggies and veggie combos are so tempting. Who wants to wrestle with a bunch of kale or collards or a head of cabbage when you could buy ready-chopped kale, collards, and cole slaw mix? Who on earth would want to struggle with a butternut squash or sweet potatoes when you could buy them peeled and ready-cubed? You can find every conceivable combination these days, from sliced mushrooms and asparagus to diced onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, and herbs.

Who doesn’t love convenience? Who doesn’t love the bright colors and dazzling combinations? But before you grab those packages, check the price against the cost of the whole head of lettuce or onions or sweet potatoes or squash. You might be in for a strong case of sticker shock! Not to mention that whole foods always last longer than pre-cut foods, and are probably fresher in any case, since those savvy grocers know how to maximize sales by chopping up past-prime veggies to add eye appeal while slapping on premium prices. Buy whole asparagus, mushrooms and onions and cut your own.

* Buy the small fruits. Who can eat a whole premium apple these days, anyway? They’re simply too big. And they’re expensive. Instead, buy a bag of smaller apples, which are so much cheaper, and are just the right size for a snack, or even a lunch combined with a couple of slices of (on-sale) cheese and a handful of nuts.

* Buy fresh produce in season. Buy fruits and veggies in season to save big bucks. Corn on the cob, tomatoes, peaches, and watermelon in summer are plentiful and cheap. Find out what’s in season in your area and stock up, but make sure you and your family will eat what you buy.

* Buy frozen foods out of season. Craving corn or strawberries in fall and winter? Your best bet is the frozen food aisle. Frozen fruits and veggies have fewer pesticides and are harvested at peak freshness, so they’re actually better for you (as well as cheaper) than many fresh foods. Just don’t assume that those frozen pizzas, breakfast foods, and branded meals, or for that matter fancy sauced veggie mixes, offer you the same health and price benefits as plain single-veggie or fruit packages.

* Skip the colas, granolas, fried foods, chips, wings, cocktails, and all the rest of it. We know what’s bad for us and what costs money. The problem is, we’re addicted to junk food. But on a Food Stamp diet, we simply can’t afford it.

* Don’t waste food. This should be the ultimate lesson the Food Stamp Challenge offers us: Don’t waste food. As a nation, we waste 40% of our food while so many go hungry. If we buy food we’ll eat and eat food we buy, we could make a real difference. Please, let’s try it.

Naming adopted pets. January 23, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood just saw an article about whether you should rename an adopted animal. We say, of course you should, assuming you don’t like your pet’s original name.

However, if your pet already has a name, we also don’t think you should stray too far from it when you give it its new name. Let’s say your dog’s name was Meatball. Changing it to Farley might seem like a good idea, but Meatball might not have a clue about what you’re calling him. Remember, it’s not his fault his previous owners were idiots; it’s just up to you to come up with a new name you can tolerate that sounds enough like Meatball for your new dog to recognize it.

Dogs, after all, aren’t stupid, unlike their owners who give them stupid names and then abandon them. They’ll quickly come to recognize their names if they sound vaguely familiar and respond to them.

We should know. We chose to adopt a delightful golden retriever whose owner had named her Banjo. We didn’t think a dog should be named for a thing. We’d planned on naming our dog Maggie, but Banjo and Maggie were too far apart. We decided on Annie instead, since it was closer to Banjo. Sure enough, Annie responded to her new name from the moment we took her home.

Meatball? Maybe if he’s a tough-looking guy, or you’re a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, you could call hime Eagle. Just a thought.

Whatever, don’t settle for a name you hate just because the dog or cat’s already been saddled with it. (Precious or Mister or Fella or Fluffy, anyone?) Just try to come up with something that sounds enough like the name for your pet to adjust. After all, they’re already grateful to you for taking them in. Making sure that the new name means them—always addressing them by that name, praising and petting them while using the name—will help them adjust quickly. Don’t settle for Cuddles or Puddles if you want Carruthers.

Beans, pasta, rice. January 22, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. Vegetarians have known since the ’70s that combining beans and grains makes a perfect protein balance, even without meat. Now everyone can get on the bandwagon and enjoy delicious, protein-rich meals without meat. Here are some fabulously flavorful, easy combinations you might want to try:

* Black bean soup and rice. Type “black bean soup” in our search bar at upper right and you’ll find the most luscious black bean soup ever. Serve it over rice and top it with sour cream and cilantro (if desired) for a truly fabulous, filling meal. Enjoy your soup and rice with an arugula-based salad and a citrus-based dessert.

* Refried beans. We like to make refried beans a smorgasbord experience, setting out several kinds of salsas (fresh hot, jarred, and tomatillo-based green), chopped cilantro, chopped green onion (scallion), sour cream, sharp white Cheddar or mixed Mexican blend cheeses, hot sauces, black olives, shredded lettuces, sliced cherry tomatoes, sliced red, yellow, orange, and green bell peppers, diced white and red onions, guacamole, and the like, so we and guests can create their own perfect taco, burrito, or simply create a dish where the beans are served over rice with all the toppings. (Type “refried beans” in our search bar for our favorite homemade recipe.)

* Kidney beans and rice. We like these heated up with salt and a little olive oil and served over rice. Plain, but nice. Add grated “Mexican blend” cheese if you like. To get your greens with this dish, you can choose to sautee kale, spinach and collards with diced sweet onion and mushrooms, or serve up a Caesar-style Romaine-based salad.

* Barbecued beans and pasta. Oh, yes. We love baked beans, barbecued beans, whatever you want to call them. (Bush’s Grillin’ Beans are our favorites.) And we love them served up with creamy pasta—either a quick and simple but thick and rich sauce of sour cream and butter mixed with al dente penne, elbows, or shells, or our all-out favorite, Crock-Pot Mac’n’Cheese. (Type “ultimate mac’n’cheese” in our search bar for the recipe, courtesy of our friend Delilah. Yum!!!) Serve up with coleslaw or a hearty kale salad and you’re set.

* Chili and rice. We’re a little divided about chili: Sometimes we have it over rice, sometimes with cornbread, sometimes over grits. It’s hard to go wrong with a rich, spicy chili. (Type “chili” in our search bar for some of our favorite recipes.) A nice tossed salad helps balance the heartiness of this dish.

* Dal and rice. The Indian version of lentil stew, dal is a luscious lentil- or split-pea-based dish that we like nice and thick, with rice, plain Greek yogurt, and chutney. Dal recipes can be comparatively simple or quite complex (type “dal” in our search bar for our favorites), but the effort is definitely worth it, and the leftovers keep and reheat beautifully for future meals. You can also serve dal as a side with any Indian (not Thai) curry.

* Lentil stew. When we get together for winter meals with friends, lentil stew is the most-requested dish (along with the Crock-Pot mac’n’cheese). This simple, filling, delicious lentil-based dish is extremely easy to put together and reheats well for leftovers, assuming your friends don’t devour it all in one sitting or take the leftovers home for themselves. Type “lentil stew” in the search bar to find the recipe. We like this with cornbread (check out my primo recipe by typing “cornbread” in the search bar), but you could certainly enjoy it with a side of rice or pasta. Broccoli slaw with raisins and slivered almonds makes a great accompaniment.

So, here are a few of our favorite bean- or legume-based dishes. What are yours?

‘Til next time,


If you need it, speak out. January 21, 2014

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We have a dear friend who died because he needed a liver transplant and didn’t speak out. By contrast, we have another friend who got a kidney transplant and became a spokesperson for organ donation, making tons of contacts along the way, including doctors and a local journalist. Our friend even made a 200-mile kayak trip to raise awareness for organ donation, gaining publicity every inch of the way.

What this meant was that, when our friend’s new kidney failed, his journalist friend wrote an article about it in the paper. And another of his friends read it. And when her son died of a drug overdose, she insisted that our friend receive one of his kidneys, not even a month after he’d gone back on dialysis and before he had even made the donation list. Just this morning, we read a followup article about how he was back home and doing well.

We rejoice for our friend, but we also think there’s a lesson here. Today’s media environment is ideal for getting your message out, and if it’s urgent, for prompting a rapid response. We’ve read about people using Facebook and Twitter to get emergency help. Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo could be used to raise awareness for the need for a transplant or money for surgery or long-term care as well as for business startups. Doing something that attracts the attention of local media is also obviously a very smart move.

We wonder if our friend who needed the liver transplant would be alive and thriving today if he’d used social media to get his message out. If you’re in need, of anything from medicine or procedures you can’t afford to an organ transplant, please use every form of social media at your disposal to get your message out. And don’t forget human outreach and connection. It could mean the difference between life and death.