The Pocket Change Investor #39
The Secrets to Getting Ahead - Even if You Have a Pile of Credit Card Bills, Hefty Mortgage Payments, Loans Out on a Clunker or Two, and a Bad Case of the "I'm Tired of Living Payday to Payday" Blues.
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Welcome to Issue #39!


It’s taken a coupla blue moons to get this to you, and it’s all my fault! I'm so sorry. I've been on a long, strange, cyber-trip. Beginning in March of '04. I became very deeply involved in freecycling – using the Internet and email to find new homes for that "stuff" we all have hanging around, just collecting dust, be it a stationary bicycle, a box of LPs, or clothes that’ll never fit again.

The idea’s right up our alley – freecyclers get to live better on less while they keep things out of the landfills and build closer ties with their neighbors. Unfortunately, it got to the point where it took over my life – even my family and gardening time. I became the head moderator and “Mother Hen” of The Freecycle Network (TFN), and worked very closely with the founder. In the process, I helped turn a good idea into an online cult, where many volunteer group leaders, who put in hundreds of hours, were used and hurt. I’ll always feel terrible about that.

Never in a million years would I have thought anything like that could happen to me. Fortunately, our family, friends, and colleagues were extremely supportive and quite productive in the interim. I’ve gotten great solace from a terrific jazz CD, A Fine Line, by bass player/son-in-law Dan Gagliardi and pianist, Bill Vitek. (Click on the name of the CD for three mp3 samples.)

What Dan says about the Fine Line name serves as a really good reminder for me and everyone else about the importance of balance in life:

“I was thinking about how much I wanted to play and how much time I needed for my family and how much time I needed for teaching and research and all the rest of that stuff I love to do, like cooking. It’s all about controlling your boundaries. The boundary is a fine line. A fine line is also a play on words, because in music, the melody is called the lines. So a fine line is a nice melody.”

He lost me on the music part, but it’s a great CD!

This issue highlights a wonderful book: HOPE (Lone Star Publications, 2005, $14.95), written by Adam Eisenson, a fourth grade teacher, Marc’s son, and dad to our two adorable red-headed grandsons, who you can't miss in the latest photo of all nine of them in their Thanksgiving finery. (Aren't they adorable?!)

HOPE, which is for kids in grades 2-5, tells the story of two young girls whose lives intersect in a fourth grade classroom. One is comfortably middle class and the other is homeless. While the story is fictional, the lessons it teaches about empathy and hope are not.

Adam has also contributed a great article to this issue, “Weekend Dad's Top Ten Places to Go and Things to Do - Without Breaking the Bank or Rotting Their Teeth,” which is based on his experiences with his two sons during the five or so years he worked weekdays and his wife worked weekends so she could be home with the boys, full-time, during the week.

Our most important contribution to this issue is ”The New Medicare Drug Plan: Pick a Number Between One & Forty.” Starting on January 1, 2006, folks on Medicare can save a lot of money on their prescriptions – if they choose the right drug plan. But if they don’t sign up, or if they choose a "wrong" plan, they could actually pay more.

It’s complicated, but if you’re comfortable fiddling around online, now is a really great time to think about the seniors in your life who aren’t all that comfy with the Web or spreadsheets. Invest a couple of hours, and you can figure out what drug plan makes the most sense for your mom, uncle, and/or neighbor. Your gift of a little time will save them both money and grief.

This issue also includes: “Little-Known Ways to Protect Your Home,” by our dear friend and co-author, Gerri Detweiler, as well as our favorite chutney recipe and our book picks.

Last but not least, I want to introduce you to someone who can make your 2006 a lot brighter: Curtis Arnold, the founder of, who at one time owed over $40,000 on the plastic monsters in his pocket. He's come a long way since then, putting together a great Web site - as well as a clear methodology for actually rating credit cards. I've been doing some writing for his site, and every time I visit it, I am amazed by the amount of news, info, and advice he makes available ... for free. I'm also enjoying the credit forums on CardRatings. If you have any questions or comments, stop on by and be reminded of what a wonderful place the Web can be!

Marc Eisenson joins me in wishing you the happiest of holidays and a healthy New Year!

Nancy Castleman

Marc and I first heard about freecycling in March 2004, when some 39,000 people were using local Yahoo! groups to find new homes for things they no longer wanted. We thought it was a fantastic idea, and since there wasn't a group in our region, we immediately set one up, so it'd be easy for people to get rid of "stuff" - be it a ceiling fan, hand-me-downs, or exercise equipment -- and to ask for things someone else might have just lying around - say, a fax machine, paperbacks or a bird cage.

I soon dropped everything, and began working on the cause way more than full-time. Marc and Linda had to pick up on everything else around here, as I was online all the time (about 15 hours a day, seven days a week), feverishly trying to help The Freecycle Network (TFN) cope with its tremendous growth and all the problems that went along with it, many of which were due to something I now know is called “founder’s syndrome."

By the summer of '04, I was a head honcho, known as TFN's "Mother Hen." Much of it was exciting and fun, but as I look back on it, I feel as though I inadvertently helped turn a good idea into an online cult, where many key volunteers who put in hundreds of hours were used and hurt behind the scenes. I'll always feel terrible about that.

By the time I quit, in August of 2005, there were around 1.7 million freecyclers participating in over 2,000 groups, and TFN, which all along had been a media darling, was coming under increasing criticism - particularly from others who had been leaders of the cause.

Many former-TFN groups are coalescing on sites that make it easy to find nearby groups, but have fewer organizational problems, for example, Sharing is Giving, FreeSharing, and Recycle Central.

Although I'm not ready to write more about my cyber-trip addiction now (I assume I will at some point), I am happy to report that our local Hudson Valley group is going strong. There are great places to turn to if you're curious about went on behind the scenes - for example, a blog on BusinessWeek's site (of all places) and the Wikipedia.

You Gotta Have Hope

Hurricanes, earthquakes, the tsunami, the war in Iraq, terrorist attacks worldwide ... to say it’s been a pretty rough year would be an understatement.

It’s not easy to feel hopeful these days, especially when we think of the legacy that we’re leaving for future generations - a polluted planet permeated by racism, poverty, and official ineptitude to the extent that we all witnessed - and continue to witness in New Orleans.

Some of the problems I'm in the most despair about are the ones that we can solve, if we really try. For example, in this day and age, why should anyone be hungry or homeless - when so many of us are too fat and living lives of such comfort? But what can any of us do?Adam, has been inspired to actually do something. He is calling attention to the plight of the homeless in his new book, HOPE (Lone Star Publications, 2005, $14.95). This book, which is geared to children in grades 2-5, gives me hope!

The New Kid at School
Moving from street to shelter to street, Hope finds herself shuffled from school to school. Shy, scared, too poor to dress the way her classmates do, and desperate to keep her misfortune a secret, Hope becomes the object of cruel jokes – until one classmate uncovers the truth.

Unfortunately, by then, Hope’s off to another shelter and another school, leaving behind a classroom full of newly sympathetic children, determined never to judge another child by outward appearances.

While the story is fictional, the lessons it teaches about the 1.35 million children in the US who experience homelessness in the course of a typical year - pre-Katrina, Rita, and Wilma - are not. Kids who read this story immediately connect with the injustice, empathize with Hope, and want to do something to help! No wonder HOPE makes me hopeful!

In the same way that Adam's first book, The Peanut Butter and Jelly Game (which we published in 1996), delivers an important message about thrifty financial values ... in the guise of a fun-to-read picture book, HOPE shares an important message about understanding and compassion. And the glimpse the book gives into the life of a homeless child is made all the more poignant by the wonderful illustrations of Alayna Paquette.

In keeping with the effort to raise awareness and compassion, Lone Star Publications will be donating 10% of proceeds from HOPE book sales to the National Coalition for the Homeless.

Weekend Dad's Top Ten Places to Go & Things to Do
Without Breaking the Bank or Rotting Their Teeth

By Adam Eisenson*

Until quite recently, I've been a "Weekend Dad," like many - but unlike most, it wasn't because I'm divorced. About five years ago, my wife took a weekend job so she'd be able to be with our two sons - full-time - during the week. Then I took over the reins on almost every Saturday and Sunday.

Many people (including some relatives) said it must have been hard being alone with my boys, say, when they were four and five, nearly every weekend, especially with me working all week. It wasn't! Like a growing number of weekend dads (moms and grandparents, too), I can't think of anything more important than spending quality time with my children.

In the process, I've found many wonderful ways for my sons and me to enjoy our time together. Here are my "Top Ten Places to Go and Things to Do Without Breaking the Bank or Rotting Their Teeth," which works for kids of all ages, along with their weekend dads and assorted other relatives:

1. Playgrounds are excellent places for children to use their imaginations, get exercise, and make new friends ... in the fresh air, away from television commercials, and for free.

With so many great playgrounds around, you could pick a different one every week for a good, long time. As a bonus, playgrounds offer parents a great opportunity to use their imaginations, get exercise, and make new friends, too.

2. Camping and hiking are great, inexpensive opportunities to bond with your children - whether you put up a tent, build a fire, cook out, and stick to yourselves - or join in on park programs - about fire safety, animals, birds, and edible wild foods, for example.

If you take a hike, keep it short. You don't want your kids to burn out and "hate" the woods.

3. Museums provide wonderful opportunities to give your children a cultural jump-start, and are bound to fascinate you as well. Since my youngest son was six months old, we've been members of the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, North Carolina. We go almost every weekend, and think of the membership fee as an incredible bargain - as well as a wonderful way to show our support, of course!

Many of the museums near us are free, fun, educational, and hands-on:
       * With its animals, demonstrations, story times, and childrens' room, the Science Museum in Raleigh offers great ways to give children a head start in science.
       * Raleigh's free History Museum has many wonderful exhibits, but my two boys especially love the sports room.
       * Although it's a little further away, the Children's Museum in Greensboro is well worth the ride, especially on Sundays, when it offers a very low admission price.

There are bound to be great museums somewhere near you, too.

4. Feed the ducks. One of my favorite places in the world is the beautiful Duke Gardens where you can take a walk, learn about trees and flowers, enjoy a picnic, and feed the ducks ... which my children love to do. Depending on the day, they usually end up feeding catfish, turtles, geese, and squirrels, as well. The occasional heron joins us at the pond, but she's perfectly happy to fish for herself, and we're perfectly happy to watch.

Except for a minimal parking charge after 12:00 PM on weekends, enjoying Duke Gardens is a free opportunity to get rid of some old bread while you teach your kids about giving to others - plus, it's really fun! There's probably a similar duck pond in your neck of the woods.

5. Enjoy the ride. Making better use of all those car trips is a great way to spend time with children. If you're prepared and relaxed, it's easy to avoid the "Are we there yet?" whine. Sing their favorite songs, practice the alphabet, do simple math puzzles, or just talk. You can show them lakes, rivers, woods, farmland, animals, cars, trains, buses, and neighborhoods with unfamiliar cultures.

Ask them questions! Many of us say we don't have time to sit down and teach our children what we want them to learn, but when we're driving, all we have is time.

6. Fix it. Children love to watch their parents at work, and they love to help with the work even more. If you need to make home, auto, or appliance repairs, let your kids join in. Even the very little ones can help - for example, by passing some of the tools to you.

If you aren't an expert at making repairs, start with a free class at places like Home Depot and Lowes. Bring your children and learn together. I wish my Weekend Dad had taught me how to fix things when I was younger. Think of how much money I could have saved by making more of my own repairs! [Editor's Note: Marc pleads "guilty as charged."]

7. Libraries are free, fun, and educational. Many are open on Saturdays, and some even on Sundays. Think of them as much more than a place to rush in and out of when you want to borrow a book. There are the story times, of course, but they also have videos, DVDs, computers, and even some toys.

It's important for your children to learn how to do research, and there's no better place to start than at the library. Why not spend some quality time at one, helping your kids find our more about their current passions - whales, dinosaurs, or trains, anyone? While you're there, don't forget to sign your children up for their own library cards.

8. Playtime is prime time for learning about following directions and being a good sport. And with so many games and activities for them to choose from, you'll have plenty of opportunities to help your kids with the decision making process. Would your child prefer to play a game, dress up, have a tea party, or play with matchbox cars?

Children need to be taught to think of the pros and cons of the choices they make. A simple, "Why do you want to play with your cars?" will help focus them on making their own decisions.

Getting down on the floor to play their choice of games will bond you to your children, while reacquainting you with that often elusive inner child of your own! But remember that children also need to have some alone time - to use their imaginations and to learn how to be self sufficient. They also benefit from playing with friends and siblings, on their own ... but with you nearby to intervene as needed in squabbles and when the kids' rough-housing gets fool-hardy.

9. Take a pretend trip. World travel is a great but very expensive way to learn about other cultures. But it's easy to show your children that there's life outside your own town. For example, you can research a port of call, make believe you're there, draw pictures of what it looks like, watch movies centered there, and so on. Then pack a lunch that would be traditional in your pretend destination, and have yourselves a picnic.

Let your children lead some treks to their own make-believe places. Pretending is one area where kids are the experts. With their imaginations as your magic carpet, all barriers disappear, and all people are your neighbors.

We often play this game when I take my kids on an adventure to the nearby airport, where they love to watch planes take off and land. Before 9/11, we would go to the terminal's top floor. Now we watch the comings and goings from a park at the airport.

10. Work up a sweat. Exercise is vital for healthy minds and bodies. Yours and theirs! And with so many activities and sports to choose from, there's something for everyone, throughout the year. Is there anything better than playing catch with your child? Throw a frisbee back and forth, play tag, or have races. Ride bikes together, take walks, or build a snowman.

If you're an avid golfer, take your children and teach them. But beware! They'll pose a real competitive challenge sooner than you think. Whatever physical activities you choose, sports are a great way to teach rules, good sportsmanship, and the ability to maintain focus.

One to Grow On
Don't think of the time you spend with your child as "time served," or as an extra chore. "Weekend dads" are crucial in their children's lives. Think of your undivided time with them as an amazing opportunity that will be gone before you know it. When that distant but fast approaching time arrives and your children leave the nest, you want them to be independent, have open minds, and know how to make decisions. Your weekend words and actions can get them off to a great start, with values that will be shared with generations yet to come.

*Adam is an author of stories for children, a freelance writer on parenting issues, and a teacher. His most recent book, HOPE, is discussed and reviewed in this issue.

The New Medicare Drug Plan:
Pick a Number Between One & Forty

What could they have been thinking in Washington, when Congress crafted and the President signed the new Medicare Prescription Drug Plan (aka Medicare Part D)? If it turns out that they were on drugs, we won't be surprised.

The promise - that Medicare would pay about half the drug costs for seniors - is certainly a step in the right direction, but the program couldn't be more confusing and complicated. Still, seniors who can navigate the Part D maze can save a substantial sum, not just in 2006, but for the rest of their lives. Yet many aren't 'Net savvy, which we think you really need to be, to make the most of the program.

Be the Solution!
If you're reading this, chances are, you or someone else in your family can help loved ones figure out which of the 40 or more available plans makes the most sense for them.

Our favorite octogenarian, who we'll call Rose, is sharp as a tack but asked for our help because she’s not ‘Net and spreadsheet savvy. So they don't need to ask, volunteer now to help navigate Medicare's drug plans for your mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, aunts, uncles, etc.! The sooner you do it, the more they'll save.

Like many seniors, Rose had no drug coverage - but she swallows about $3,600 worth of pills a year. The new drug plan can save her money - but if she makes a bad choice, her annual drug costs could easily increase by thousands of dollars. This is no joke!

Based on where she lives, Rose can choose between a mere 46 separate Medicare drug plans, plus some HMO-type options. With the least expensive plan available to her, she would pay just over $1,000 a year for her insurance premium plus her drugs. On the other hand, the most expensive plan would drain more than $4,500 from her nest egg – almost $1,000 more than she’s currently paying, without drug coverage!

Rose was thinking about signing up for an AARP plan. Many folks think AARP’s only concern is the welfare of retirees, so it'd design the best, most cost effective plans. Many seniors will punt by signing up for an AARP Part D option, which you might think is better than nothing. In Rose's case, choosing AARP's plan would be a very costly mistake – as of this writing. (See below.)

There’s No One Size Fits All
Unfortunately, no one plan is going to be best for everyone – or even everyone who has, say, high blood pressure and lives in Cleveland. There are way too many variables. For example, in Rose’s area, monthly premiums vary from about $4 a month to $80 a month or more. Deductibles range from $0 to $250, and the co-pays vary by company and by drug.

Most important: Each plan contains its own “formulary” - a list of drugs that are covered, some in limited quantities. If your specific meds aren’t on the list, you won’t be insured for them. If your drugs are on the list, you’ll need to keep your fingers crossed that they won’t be removed, which the insurers can do after giving notice.

Finally, and lest we forget, no one has a crystal ball, and can predict what medications someone will be on, say, some 5 months from now. Still, having a Medicare Drug Plan can certainly be way better than no drug plan ... if you choose carefully.

Doughnut Holes May Be Dangerous to Your (Financial) Health
In general, once their out of pocket expenses reach $2,251, seniors will pay the full cost of all drugs - until their total out of pocket cost reaches $3,600. Fortunately for those with pricey prescriptions, some plans will fill the hole. In any case, once that $3,600 is reached, catastrophic coverage kicks in, and about 95% of drug costs are covered (with some exceptions).

However, to further complicate matters, “Medicare advantage” plans (i.e., HMOs), some “Medigap” plans, and some private insurance plans (e.g., through a former employer) include drug coverage – often, better coverage than is available through the Medicare drug plans. So it's important to ask about these options. Also, there are new subsidies for those who are entitled.

Punch a Few Keys for Someone You Love
While choosing between the drug plans would confuse most mere mortals, the same government that dreamt this all up, does offer something of a helping hand in the guise of a Web site - But if the eligible folks we know are any indication, they'll still need help sorting through the options. The only way to make sure your loved ones benefit as much as possible from Medicare Part D is to invest a little time and help them figure it out.

The sooner you do it, the more they’ll save. Folks who sign up by December 31, 2005, will start benefiting from the Medicare Drug Plan on January 1, 2006. Folks who don’t sign up by May 15, 2006 will face a monthly penalty - plus they will have lost the benefit of drug coverage for the first half of 2006. After that, the next sign up period is between November 15, 2006 and December 31, 2006, with coverage beginning January 1, 2007.

Chances are, during the next couple of weeks, you will either see or speak to all the people in your life who may be eligible for Medicare’s Drug Plan. It won’t take much of your time to help them look at their alternatives. And just think, you'll be the Holiday Hero who saved them a bundle.

To find out which plan is best, you'll need a list of all their meds, including doses and monthly quantities, plus the name of their preferred pharmacies, some time, and a bit of patience for the process. Go to, where you can plug in the info and compare the alternatives.

While you can call 800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227) and give the list of prescription medications to someone who will talk you through the options and answer your questions ... we think this is too complicated for a phone call. It’s best if a computer savvy family member or friend takes on the project, calling the 800 number with specific questions, only. The couple of times we called with specific questions, we promptly received helpful answers, but a friend who called about something more general got conflicting information.

When we went to Medicare’s site to help Rose look at her alternatives, it seemed pretty easy to plug in the drugs and dosages she currently uses and the drug store she patronizes. (You can also put in mail-order suppliers.) But the answers we came up with were surprising. The AARP plan, which has no deductible, would leave her with an annual drug cost of almost $2,500, while Humana's standard el cheapo plan, even after paying the $250 deductible, would save her $1,450 a year!

Seemed pretty straight-forward, and we were pleased with ourselves ... until we double-checked, a few days later. This time, came up with very different figures.

Oy! Now What to Do?!
The difference might be due to a glitch or two on the Medicare site – and/or to competition between insurers – and of course, we could have easily changed a variable or two without realizing it.

Since everything can change between now and the end of 2005, the best bet might be to enter in the meds and look over the options now, and sign up for the best plan - but don’t think of your choice as final until even closer to the New Year. By then, the glitches are likely to have been worked out and the jockeying amongst insurers will be over, at least for the initial sign-up period. By the way, between now and December 31st, seniors can change their minds about insurers as often as they'd like. (From January 1, 2006 through mid-May, they can change once with no consequences.)

Don't wait until the 31st to take a look. Check now, and then again before month's end. Since we’d be worried that it may be difficult to find someone at Medicare to help with last minute questions ... or that the site would crash on New Year’s Eve day, which is a Saturday ... we'll probably shoot for the 29th of December as the day to help Rose make a final decision. That way she won't miss a day of coverage and she's likely to get the best buy.

Not quite Medicare Eligible?
No worries. “Newbies” have seven months, starting 90 days before they hit the big 65 to figure out which plan to choose. That’s something nice to look forward to, huh?

By Gerri Detweiler*

For many Americans, their home is their main source of wealth at retirement. Most people know safeguarding their home is important, so they purchase insurance and perhaps security alarms. But there are some less well-known ways to protect your largest investment. Here are three of my favorites:

1. Get a CLUE
Picture this: You've paid thousands of dollars for homeowners insurance over the years. So when a storm blows a tree on your garage and causes $1,500 worth of damage, you file a claim. The insurance company sends you a check for $1,000 (you have a $500 deductible) and you assume all is fine. But when you go to sell your home, your new buyer finds she's having trouble getting homeowner insurance coverage - because of your prior claim!

Sound bizarre? Impossible? Think again.

In fact, hundreds of insurance companies tap into a privately run national database, the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE), that allows them to review previous claim information about a property when deciding whether to insure it. As the company's Web site says, "Previous property losses can impact insurance rates and the ability of homebuyers to insure your home."

If you want to see what your file says, you can get a free CLUE Personal Property Report at Choicepoint. (You can also order it toll-free at 866-312-8076.) Toying with the idea of selling your home? Get a copy before you actually put your home up for sale.

Thinking of buying a home? Its CLUE report is as essential as an independent home inspection.

While you're ordering your CLUE report, you may also want to request your homeowner insurance score which is based on information in your credit report. This number will help determine the rate you'll pay for your homeowner's insurance. Of course, if your credit report contains mistakes, your homeowner's insurance score will likely reflect that wrong information.

These days, many experts also recommend that you raise the deductible on your homeowner policy and plan to pay larger claims out of pocket. Since even one claim can make insurance difficult to obtain or very expensive, it's best to hold off until you have major losses. Ask your insurance agent for more information.

2. Line Up a HELOC
If you've worked hard to pay off your home, you may cringe at the thought of borrowing against it ever again. But as former President John F. Kennedy once said, "The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining."

The best time to line up a home equity line of credit (HELOC) is when your financial situation is strong. If you are planning on retiring soon, for example, you may want to get the loan while you're still working.

There are many reasons why you may need to get to the equity in your home. For example, to cover:

       Unexpected medical bills
       Expenses for a loved one having a difficult time
       Costly home repairs or improvements

If you are thinking, "This doesn't apply to me. I'm moving into a brand new condo and have a contract," think again. You could end up embroiled in litigation with the builder, unable to sell the home until the matter is resolved. Unfortunately, that can take years.

Your home may be a major source of your wealth, but if you can't get to that money, it's worthless. Consider getting a home equity line of credit that will be there just in case.

Important: If you'd be likely to tap into the HELOC for frivolous things, don't get one. Unless you are certain that you can manage this debt carefully, resist the temptation.

3. Videotape Your Valuables
If you had a fire, theft, or other home disaster, would you be able to quickly recall the details of everything you own? Probably not. That's why taking an inventory of your property is essential.

There are many ways to record your possessions, and while a written inventory will certainly suffice, the videotape method is ideal. For starters, it's fast and easy. For another, making a videotape of your home and belongings documents that you actually owned the items. Videotaping also insures that you won't overlook anything in the stress and confusion of a tragedy.

To make a comprehensive video, inventory items by room. Open closet doors and cabinet drawers and remove contents if necessary. On electronic items, film a close-up of the model and serial numbers. If you cannot easily videotape these numbers, read them aloud to establish a verbal record on your videotape. (For example, you might describe an item as: "Magnavox 13 inch television, purchased new in January 2000 for $179. Model number MT1301, serial number 35700965.")

It's very important to keep your videotape where it won't be stolen or damaged. The best place to store it - along with receipts for major items - is a bank safe deposit box. An alternative is to send a copy to a relative for safekeeping and keep the original hidden in a fireproof safe.

Hopefully, you'll never need to use your video inventory, but knowing it's there can provide peace of mind!

* Gerri Detweiler, our co-author on Invest in Yourself and Slash Your Debt, has contributed articles to this newsletter for over a decade. These days, she is the credit expert at, which provides an affordable online service that can help you boost your credit, reduce your debt, and protect your finances.

Green Tomato and Apple Chutney

I thought it'd be nice to share one of our favorite recipes with you, thanks to chef and restaurateur Carole Peck, whose Good News Cafe is in Woodbury, CT.

We love Carole's Green Tomato and Apple Chutney, which we sometimes use as a dip. But the way we most enjoy it is as an addition to stir-frys. As soon as I'm done with this issue, I'm going to make a nice, big batch. In addition to being a yummy taste-treat delight, it's pretty and makes a really nice holiday gift.

Although Carole makes this in the fall, we can extend the season by using some of the heirloom long-keeper tomatoes we grow every year, because they last us well into the winter. It may also be the perfect way to use those things they're selling now in the supermarket and calling tomatoes. If you give it a try, let me know how it works out!

Important: We go lighter on the jalapeño peppers than Carole does!

Green Tomato and Apple Chutney
By Carole Peck         

This is a great combination for autumn, something delicious we can make right now, at the end of the tomato season. I use the green tomatoes that never ripened, and combine them with the sweet, juicy new fruit of the season: apples. This condiment is a great accompaniment to many types of dishes, from grilled fish, meat and fowl to rice, grains and all sorts of fall vegetables, especially the roots.

I prefer to make the green tomato and apple chutney in large quantities because it keeps refrigerated for up to 3 weeks. If properly canned in jars, it will keep indefinitely.

2 Tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
3 large Spanish onions, peeled and thinly sliced
One 8-ounce piece of fresh ginger, or 4 ounces pickled ginger, finely chopped
6 jalapeño peppers, seeded and diced
3 carrots, peeled and julienned
1/4 cup honey
1 Tablespoon each ground cumin and tumeric
2 teaspoons each ground allspice and cinnamon
1 cup rice vinegar (or white vinegar)
1 cup raisins or currants
10 medium green tomatoes, cored
10 medium cooking apples
1 bunch fresh cilantro, cleaned and chopped

Yield: 4 quarts

Before you begin cooking the chutney, cut the tomatoes in half across and squeeze out the seeds. Cut into 1/2 inch pieces and set aside. In another bowl, peel the apples, quarter, remove core and cut each quarter into 4 pieces, sprinkle with small amounts of vinegar and toss - this will prevent them from discoloring. Proceed with the cooking process.

In a large skillet, heat oil over high heat, add onions, ginger, peppers and carrots and cook approximately 5 minutes until vegetables begin to soften. Stir in honey, bring to a boil, add all the dry spices and stir. Pour in vinegar and stir again, let boil 1 minute. Add raisins and let cook 2 minutes to plump. Last, add tomatoes and apples, mix well. Let cook approximately 15 minutes until they are cooked but not mushy.

Remove from heat, add the cilantro and let cool. This is better if it sets a couple of hours to marry all the flavors.


*Many thanks to Carole Peck for permission to reprint this recipe!

Book Corner

In every issue, we recommend and offer books that we think you'll find particularly helpful. They're well written, and full of concrete, timely advice, but often not readily available in bookstores. Not all are the kind you'd want to read, cover to cover, at one sitting. But we think they deserve your attention, nonetheless. Our Good Advice Book Store reviews other important titles - on debt management, personal finance, estate planning, real estate, health, family living, gardening, and so on.

Born to Buy:
The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture

by Juliet Schor

It's a war, and the marketers of "cool" stuff are taking our children prisoner. Their weapons are ubiquitous - TV commercials, magazine ads, movie placements and that old standby, peer pressure. If the kid next door has the latest toy, gadget, cellphone, or piece of designer clothes, your child could soon be "needing" one too. And you can, will, or may already have gone broke in the fight against commercialism. There are things you can do, and Juliet Schor is on your side. Hopefully, her fascinating and frightening book will inspire all of us to combat out-of-control commercialism with good old-fashioned common sense. Born to Buy is Schor's third book, the other two being The Overspent American and The Overworked American. All three are must reads. (In the spirit of full disclosure: I was Julie Schor's camp counselor ... almost 40 years ago. Yikes!)

Call of the Mall:
The Geography of Shopping by the Author of Why We Buy

Recently I mentioned to a new friend that I couldn't remember the last time I was in a mall ... it was certainly more than 5 years ago, and then it was just a convenient place to meet an old friend. The way my new friend looked at me, she must have thought I was either a liar or a space alien. (I'm neither!) While I understand that lots of folks frequent malls on a regular basis, I honestly don't get it. But Paco Underhill surely does. He makes a living by consulting in and about malls throughout the world. In Call of the Mall, he dissects typical malls ... store by store. It was a fascinating journey, one I don't expect to take in person any time soon. There are so many other ways to get what you need, at far lower prices, and so many better ways to spend an afternoon. Hmmmm .... maybe I am from another planet!

Your Credit Score: How to Fix, Improve, and
Protect the 3-Digit Number That Controls Your Financial Future

by Liz Pulliam Weston

Liz Pulliam Weston, LA Times and MSN personal finance columnist, has put together a very informative book on improving your credit score - that three-digit number that can effect the interest rate on your loans and credit cards, and can also be a major factor in determining what you pay for your car and home insurance. Learn what you need to do to dispute errors on your credit reports, how to deal with a credit crisis, how to rebuild your credit score, and how to maintain it once you've rebuilt it. Easy to read and understand, Your Credit Score is filled with great advice - even for people whose credit score is already in good standing.

The Fearless Home Buyer:
Razzi's Rules for Staying in Control of the Deal

by Elizabeth Razzi

If you're thinking about buying a home, The Fearless Home Buyer is a must read. Elizabeth Razzi, best known for her stint as a real estate columnist for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, takes you through the process ... step-by-step ... from deciding whether this is the right time for you to buy, straight through the house hunt, the mortgage maze, and the closing ... even up to the day you move in. Razzi is a real pro. Her advice in this easy-to-read guide is straight-forward, well researched, and complete. Don't even think about buying a house until you've read this book!

Hope ($14.95)

by Adam Eisenson

Even before Katrina, Rita, and Wilma, about 1.35 million children experienced homelessness every year in the USA. Their plight, compared to his family's comfortable middle class life, inspired our favorite fourth grade teacher to write HOPE, which is geared to children in grades 2-5. The glimpse the book gives into the life of a homeless child - including the teasing so many no doubt endure - is made all the more poignant by the wonderful illustrations of Alayna Paquette. HOPE enables kids to see the importance of compassion, education, and action. Adam did a great job with HOPE, and we are so proud of him! The extra bonus is that the publisher, Lone Star Publications will be donating 10% of proceeds from book sales to the National Coalition for the Homeless.

This issue is dedicated to Curtis Arnold, the founder of

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Issue #39 ©2005 Marc Eisenson & Nancy Castleman 
Good Advice Press  PO Box 78  Elizaville, NY 12523