September 30, 2016

Dunkin' Donuts Teaming Up With Coca-Cola To Sell Bottled Coffee Drinks

Dunkin' Donuts new bottled cold coffee drinks, bottled and distributed by Coca-Cola, will be available for sale at retail outlets (including Dunkin' Donuts stores) in early 2017.  This new product announcement was made yesterday, which coincidentally just happened to be National Coffee Day.

Dunkin' Donuts currently licenses its brand name to the J.R. Smucker Company for packaged coffee.  Smucker's also owner the Folgers coffee brand.  Dunkin' Donuts coffee is wildly popular, ranking as the 5th best selling coffee brand in the United States, with annual sales of $420 million in 2014-2015.  That's a big Cup of Joe!

I bought a bag of Dunkin' Donuts coffee beans some years ago, didn't care for them.  Thought the coffee had a very weak flavor, as if the beans were, well, really cheap.  You'll never get me away from my morning coffee made with freshly ground light roasted beans from Thanksgiving Coffee Company in Ft. Bragg, California.  But hey, to each their own.

Disclosure:  I own stock in both J.R. Smucker Company and Coca-Cola.

Wonder if we'll ever see Dunkin' Donuts' donuts sold in retail outlets other than their franchised stores?

Have a great weekend, everyone.  And enjoy your coffee, whatever your brand.
      
Mary Rae Fouts

September 28, 2016

Dogs: Just say no to bones for your dogs.

Contrary to some people's belief, bones and dogs do not mix.

Chewing on and eating a bone can result in severe injury or death to the dog.

Please don't give your dog a bone.

One of our doggie friends, Bandit, was recently given a pork sparerib bone to chew on.  He ate a piece of bone.  It became lodged in his intestine and splintered.  2 hours of surgery were required to remove the splintered bone and repair intestinal damage.  Thankfully Bandit survived the harrowing ordeal and is slowly recovering.  But the eaten sparerib bone resulted in vet bills this far of $7000.

Here is an article from veterinarian Dr. Donna Solomon, DVM about the dangers of giving dogs bones to chew on.

As Dr. Solomon states, please don't give a dog a bone.

Mary Rae Fouts

September 27, 2016

Bruce Bochy: Does he have the drive and desire for another season with the Giants?

I'm a baseball fan, and specifically a San Francisco Giants fan.  And fan of any team playing the Los Angeles Dodgers.

I cringed a bit this morning while reading my local newspaper's article on the difficulties Giants' manager Bruce Bochy has experienced this season, and rumors that he may not return in 2017 for health reasons.

Bochy is 61 years old, but he looks as if he as aged a lifetime this season:

Giants' Manager Bruce Bochy in 2016.  He seems to have aged a lifetime this year.
Photo Credit:  m.mlb.com

Does Bochy truly have the heart and desire for another grueling season in 2017?  His frequent tired expression and lack of sparkle in his eyes speaks volumes to me.  Time will tell.

Best wishes for Mr. Bochy's health and personal well being.  And to the Giants ... You aren't out of the Wild Card running yet, but then again, there's always next year.

Go Giants!  

Mary Rae Fouts

September 26, 2016

Orchard Supply Hardware: Succulent Mini Garden Project is Way Too Cute!

Looking for a fun and easy project to add a super-cute array of houseplants to your home?  Try Orchard Supply Hardware's Succulent Mini Garden Project.

Photo Credit:  osh.com

Very easy to make and way too cute, the mini gardens can be placed throughout your home.  (Truth is, the Succulent Mini Gardens are kinda like potato chips:  You likely can't just have one!)  Even if you don't have a green thumb, succulents are easy to grow and require very little care.

The project supplies are available in the garden/nursery area of your local Orchard Supply Hardware store.  If you don't have an OSH nearby, the Succulent Mini Garden Project link above includes photos and easy instructions to make your project come out just right.

Happy Gardening!

Mary Rae Fouts

September 23, 2016

Yahoo: Divulges 500 Million Accounts Hacked ... 2 YEARS After It Happened

Do you have a Yahoo account?  It may have been hacked.  Two years ago.  And we're only finding out about it now.

Bad, Yahoo.  Very Bad.
Yahoo reported yesterday that some 500 million Yahoo accounts were hacked in 2014.  That's right, 2 years ago.  And 500 million accounts.  The hackers supposedly stole user names, passwords, email address, and possibly other information.

And why did it take so long for Yahoo to inform the world about this humongous account breach?  No one currently knows, as Yahoo is staying tight lipped and has so far only stated the breach was discovered during a "recent investigation".  If that is true, what amount of security oversight does Yahoo incorporate in its business practices?  Apparently very little, if it took  Yahoo 2 years to discover that 500 million user accounts were hacked.

Glad I don't have a Yahoo account.  But if you do, here is what you should consider doing to protect your personal information.

Mary Rae Fouts

September 20, 2016

IRS: TIGTA Audit Shows Reports Of Poor Customer Service Are Not Exaggerated

Mark Twain once said, "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."

Unfortunately, reports of poor Customer Service at the IRS are not.

You've likely heard reports of poor customer service from both walk-in IRS assistance centers and IRS call centers:  long wait times, rude service, and wrong answers.  If you've questioned the validity of the statistics, I suggest you do no longer.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration ("TIGTA") recently released the results of an audit they performed, in which they examined front-line IRS customer service.  The audit specifically centered on front-line employees' use of the Contact Analytics software tool, introduced from October 2011 through December 2014.  This tool was supposed .... supposed ... to not only improve IRS customer services, but also reduce the cost of providing such services to taxpayers.

What could go wrong with that, you ask?

Plenty.

TIGTA's audit found out that 71% of the front-line IRA customer service agents examined during the audit lacked sufficient training and knowledge of the Contact Analytics software tool to use it correctly.  That's right:  71%.  You can read the audit report here.

And that's simply appalling.  What a waste of taxpayer money.

I'm not holding my breath for the day I'll be able to say, in Mark Twain fashion, that "the reports of poor customer service from front-line employees at the Internal Revenue Service are greatly exaggerated."  Are you?

Questions about Tax Matters?

I am an Enrolled Agent licensed by the Department of the Treasury which allows me to provide tax services to taxpayers in all 50 states and US territories.  I provide tax services to individual income, business, estate, and trust clients.  Please contact me if you have questions about tax preparation, tax planning, or taxpayer representation (audit and collection) matters.

For information about my nationwide Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

September 19, 2016

Sid the Dog's Slider Birthday Dinner ... Yum!

As I posted earlier, our Husky-mix Sid celebrated his 5th Birthday on Friday, September 16.  We had a special Slider Birthday Dinner, and a yummy decorated Birthday Cake.

I made the sliders with Grass Fed Ground Beef.  The patties were topped with a bit of freshly-chopped garden basil and sweet Hungarian paprika, baked in the oven until medium done, then topped with Swiss Cheese.  Served on fresh bakery buns with Dijon mustard and olive oil mayonnaise.  The humans had butter lettuce, bread and butter pickles, bacon, and chips on the side.

The sliders were beyond delicious, Lunardi's Grass Fed Ground Beef is simply the best, the only ground beef I use when cooking.

We all had a wonderful Birthday Dinner, humans and dogs alike.  Sid's photos are a bit blurry, he was so excited he wouldn't stop whining and jumping up and down.  Wish you could have joined us!


Sid's 5th Birthday Sliders

Sid's 5th Birthday Slider Dinner:  Chopped Grass Fed Ground Beef Sliders, steamed organic brown basmati rice, organic pumpkin, and whole milk plain yogurt.  Sid was so excited he could not contain himself!
Chow-mix Lexi got the same dinner, just a smaller portion.
No surprise, both dogs ate the Sliders first.

Sid:  "So Daddy, you mean Lexi and I really really really get Sliders for my Birthday Dinner?!"
Daddy:  "Of course, Sid.  Happy Birthday!"


Sid:  "Sliders!  I get Sliders!  Yum!"

Thanks for a great 5th Birthday, Sid! 

Mary Rae Fouts

September 17, 2016

Sid the Dog's 5th Birthday Cake

Yesterday was our Husky-mix Sid's 5th Birthday.  All of us, humans and canines alike, had a great day.  Here is Sid's birthday cake, I'll post about his special Slider Birthday Dinner later.

Sid whispering to Lexi:  "Hey, Sis!  Mommy got a Birthday Cake for my 5th Birthday today!"
"And we get a special Slider Birthday Dinner, too.  Sweet!"


Sid's 5th Birthday Cake, made by the bakery at my favorite grocer Lunardi's Market in Walnut Creek.  Is this a wonderfully-decorated cake for a dog's birthday, or what?!  Family-owned Lunardi's is simply the best, including their bakery and catering/deli departments.


  The cake is oh-so-delicious, a 2-layer white cake with vanilla buttercream frosting and chocolate buttercream filling.  Sid and his fur sister Chow-mix Lexi shared a small piece.  It's a birthday day, after all!


Thanks for a great 5th Birthday day, Sid!

Mary Rae Fouts

September 16, 2016

Happy Birthday Sid!

Happy Birthday to my Faithful Canine Companion, Husky-mix Sid!!

Sid turns 5 years old today.

Later this month we'll celebrate Sid Day, which marks the 2nd anniversary of Sid's adoption from the Contra Costa Amimal Services shelter in Pinole, California.  Sid was found as a stray in Richmond, California, and never claimed by his owner.

Sid is a goofy, happy, spectacular dog.  A wonderful Canine Companion to us humans and his very bonded fur sister, Chow-mix Lexi.

We're having a special Birthday Dinner today, Sliders (yum!) and a decorated birthday cake.  I'll post pics later.


Thanks for choosing us for your Forever Home, Sid!
Happy 5th Birthday Big Boy! 

Mary Rae Fouts

September 15, 2016

Estimated Tax Payments Due Today!

Individual Income Estimated Tax Payments Due Today!

If you pay federal and state individual income taxes via estimated tax payments, your 3rd estimated tax payment(s) for 2016 are due today, September 15.  Don't forget!


Questions about Tax Matters?

I am an Enrolled Agent licensed by the Department of the Treasury which allows me to provide tax services to taxpayers in all 50 states and US territories.  I provide tax services to individual income, business, estate, and trust clients.  Please contact me if you have questions about tax preparation, tax planning, or taxpayer representation (audit and collection) matters.

For information about my nationwide Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

September 14, 2016

Autumn has arrived early this year in Pleasant Hill. And I love it!

The calendar may say Autumn doesn't officially arrive until September 22, but Autumn truly has arrived early in Pleasant Hill, California.

And I love it!

Crisp nights make for great sleeping.  Wonderful sweater-wearing weather.  Cool mornings turn into warm, sunny afternoons.

Leaves are starting to drop from deciduous trees.  My garden vegetables are growing in grand glory, including autumn pumpkins and winter squash.

Lexi says:  "I love the Autumn weather and the crunch of the fallen Maple Tree leaves make under my stubby paws, Mommy!"


Organically grown heirloom Sweet Meat (Winter) Squash and heirloom Sugar Pie Pumpkins are thriving in the garden.
Watered with recycled water.
And so pretty, too.  

Homemade, no-recipe slow simmer "stoups" provide the hearty comfort food just perfect for dinner and lunch "re runs" (our word for left overs).

Just-picked organically-grown garden vegetables and herbs for the stoup:  Thai Basil, Sweet Italian Basil, Flat Leaf and Curly Leaf Parley, Maui Onions, Green Beans, Red Bell Peppers, and a Red Habanero Pepper.


And after 3 1/2 hours of slow simmering, here is the delish stoup!
Served with toppings:  cubed Swiss cheese, corn chips, oyster soup crackers; and dinner bread with butter on the side.  Yum!

What's not to like?  Happy Autumn,  everyone!

Mary Rae Fouts

September 13, 2016

Look what Mother Nature brought: Summertime SNOW in California!

For those of you who think California is simply Hollywood celebrities and beaches, think again.

California is a vast land of diverse terrain and micro-climates.  Home to high tech Silicon Valley.  The birthplace of Rice-A-Roni.  The largest agricultural state in the US.

And the home of Summertime Snow!

Take a look at photos from California's Sierra Mountains this morning ... SNOW!  And to think the first day of Autumn doesn't officially arrive until September 22.  Seems Mother Nature has different plans.

Here is the Kirkwood Mountain ski resort:

Photo Credit:  National Weather Service Sacramento's Twitter Feed

And the Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort:

Photo Credit:  National Weather Service Sacramento's Twitter Feed

We definitely are experiencing Autumn weather in Pleasant Hill where I live (East San Francisco Bay).  My backyard weather station hit a low of 48.5 degrees early this morning.  I so love Autumn!

Here's hoping Mother Nature provides lots of California snow over the next 6 months.  Our drought-stricken state desperately needs it.

Mary Rae Fouts

September 12, 2016

Driscoll's: If you like berries, here's the latest from Driscoll's, the king of berry growers.

Got Berries?

Driscoll's does!

Family-owned Driscoll's, based in Watsonville, California, has been growing berries since the late 1800's.  That's a LOT of berries!  Very interesting article in the New York Times about Driscoll's marketing and social media outreach directly targeting the consumer, and the company's research and berry growing efforts to bring exclusive berries to the consumer.

I purchase Driscoll's raspberries and blackberries at my local Lunardi's Market.  Don't purchase their strawberries, as I grow my own.


Organically Grown Strawberries from my own Gardens

I love to garden, and grow organic flowers, roses, strawberries, herbs, vegetables, and fruit and nut trees year round.  Gardening keeps me grounded in life, I thrive knowing that my gardens will always be here for nurturing and tending.  I so appreciate the many facets of gardening:   the work involved; the bountiful roses, flowers, and produce; and the ongoing challenges of Mother Nature.

Workers hand picking Driscoll's berries
Photo Credit:  New York Times

And speaking of work, what most impacted me in this article was the photo of workers hand picking berries.  Yes, hand picking; Driscoll's berries are not machine harvested.  How many people actually think about where their food comes from, how it is processed, how animals and workers are treated?

The next time you purchase Driscoll's berries, please don't forget about the workers who picked them for you.

Mary Rae Fouts

September 11, 2016

Hillary Clinton: Leaves 9/11 Event Early, Now Diagnosed with Pneumonia

Renewed questions about Hillary Clinton's health is not what her campaign needs right now.


Update:  The NY Times is reporting that Mrs. Clinton has been diagnosed with pneumonia.  Interesting, a pneumonia vaccine is recommended for (among other people), all adults age 65 and older.  If Mrs. Clinton was prudent, why didn't she get the vaccine, or did she and it didn't work, or is this some other form of pneumonia?

Many, many questions here.  I do hope Mrs. Clinton takes time to take care of herself, and her health.  The American People deserve that much.

Original post earlier today:
Photo Credit:  Eric Thayer for the New York Times

As reported by the New York Times, Mrs. Clinton left a 9/11 Ceremony this morning, "struggling to steady herself and then stumbling as she stepped off a curb" and into her van while being physically assisted by Secret Service agents.

A campaign spokesperson later said Mrs. Clinton felt "overheated".

Here is a link to the Times' article and a video of Mrs. Clinton stumbling and requiring assistance to walk today.

Today's event follows Mrs. Clinton's foot-in-the-mouth stumbled in which she stated that "half" of Trump supporters fit into a "basket of deplorables". 

Classy, Hillary.  Really classy.

Well, at least one thing's for certain.  Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are grand masters at insulting vast assemblages of people.

And so the twists and turns continue in the 2016 Presidential election campaign continue.  Reality TV couldn't have scripted a more eyebrow raising .... and at times, both mind numbing and jaw dropping ... election.  What's next?

(As stated in prior posts related to the 2016 Presidential election, I am not supporting either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton for president.)

September 9, 2016

Wells Fargo Fined $185,000,000 to Settle Claims Employees Opened Unauthorized Client Accounts

Do you check your bank and credit card statements?

Banking and Financial Services Giant Wells Fargo has been fined a whopping $185 million to settle claims that its employees opened up "unauthorized" banking and credit card accounts for customers in order to meet sales quotas.

In plainer English, Wells Fargo employees ... not the actual customers ... opened up additional customer bank and credit card accounts without the consent and knowledge of the customers.  Often times money from existing banking accounts was moved to the new banking accounts.

And this practice went on for five ... FIVE ... years.  Over 2 million unauthorized accounts were allegedly opened.  2 MILLION.  What does that tell you about mighty Wells Fargo's operation and employee oversight?

Some 5,300 employees, including those from rank-and-file positions up through management, were fired due to their participation in these actions.

If you have financial dealings with Wells Fargo, how safe do you feel now?  And one can only wonder:  In what other financial institutions has or is this practice happening?

Financial Planning Concerns?
Looking for an Expert Witness for Financial Planning-related Arbitration or Litigation?  

I am an  a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER TM professional with 28 years of financial services experience, and hold a number of additional professional licenses.   Please contact me if you have questions about financial planning matters.  Fee-only professional services.

For information about my nationwide Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

September 8, 2016

Adults Face Assault and Battery Charges in Sausalito, CA Fish and Chips Free-For-All

Photo Credit:  californiabeaches.com
Good Lord, what is wrong with some people?!

A family (6 or so adults and a child) entered the Fish and Chips of Sausalito restaurant Saturday night about 7:50 PM. They were told they could order, but would need to take the food to-go, as the restaurant was closing.

And what did the family do?  Some of the adults proceeded to vandalize the restaurant and assaulted restaurant employees, including throwing objects and spitting on employees.

This behavior in front of a child.  What a bunch of losers.

September 7, 2016

Pine Meadows Golf Course Development Flap: Developer's Lawsuit Thrown Out

Photo Credit:  Unknown
If you've followed the sometimes goofier-than-fiction flap related to the proposed residential development of the former Pine Meadows Golf Course in nearby Martinez, California, here's the latest development.  (I've followed this regional issue, but have no opinion on the matter.)

Some months ago, the Developer and one of the former Golf Course owners sued development opponents for statements made about the development.  As was no surprise to me, a judge has thrown out the lawsuit, classifying the opponents' statements as protected speech about a public issue.

Duh.

I gotta laugh at a quote from the Developer's losing attorney in a local newspaper article about the suit's dismissal:
“We disagree strongly with the court’s decision,” Dana Tsubota, an attorney for DeNova Homes, said in an email Tuesday. “As Americans, we strongly defend an individual’s right to express their opinions on issues, but stretching the truth and telling boldfaced lies to the public, as Mr. Platt has done, is never right or ethical under any circumstances.” 
Dana, you may not think the behavior was right.  You may not think it was ethical.  But that certainly does not mean the behavior was illegal.

Duh again.

But it is a sad nod to the state of politics when the judge's ruling mentions that "The courts have noted that misrepresentations are ‘condoned’ in the political arena."

One of the many reasons so many people are uninterested in civic and political issues.  Can't say I blame them.

Update:  After posting, I was able to obtain a copy of the court order dismissing the suit.  The judge did award attorney fees to the defendants.  So the Developer and former Golf Course owner are responsible for the defendant's (or defendants') attorney fees.

Mary Rae Fouts

2.5 Million Honey Bees Killed in South Carolina After Government Sprays for Mosquitos

I love to garden. I maintain bird, bee, and butterfly friendly plants, including this butterfly bush that is being visited by a honey bee.


So I really shook my head to learn that our government uses a mosquito spray (naled) that, according to the manufacturer's instructions, is "highly toxic to bees exposed to direct treatment on blooming crops or weeds".

Yep, that's right.  Highly toxic.

And what recently happened? 2.5 million ... million ... honey bees killed in South Carolina after naled was sprayed for zika mosquito control.

Of all of the pesticides available today, surely something is available that truly is not toxic to bees.

Once again, government at its finest. Or should I say, lowest.

Mary Rae Fouts

September 2, 2016

Colin Kaepernick: Got To Give Him Credit For Putting His Money Where His Mouth Is

Looks like San Francisco 49er Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is listing to his critics.  (In yesterday's post, I wrote critically about Kaepernick and his decision to not stand for the national anthem.)

Kaepernick announced today that he's, well, putting his money where his mouth is.  He has pledged to donate $1 million to as yet unnamed charitable organizations.  No more is presently known about possible charity choices, although I assume the charities will be associated with addressing racial and/or social justice issues.

Gotta give Colin Kaepernick credit for that.    With his standing in professional sports and his financial means, he has the opportunity to actually help create positive change and to become a roll model for people wishing to address racial and social injustice issues.  I certainly hope Kaepernick seizes this opportunity, and wish him the best of luck.

And speaking about charitable giving ...

Do you have questions about charitable giving in relation to financial planning or tax matters?
   
I am both a Certified Financial PlannerTM  professional and an Enrolled Agent licensed by the United States Department of the Treasury.  Please contact me if you have questions about financial planning or tax matters.  Fee-only professional services.

For information about my nationwide Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

September 1, 2016

Colin Kaepernick: Marcus Thompson II's Absurd Column in Today's East Bay Times Newspaper is Headshaking

Sportswriter Marcus Thompson II's column in today's East Bay Times newspaper about 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is, well, absurd. Particularly in how Thompson lashes out at the public.

Here is the column, titled Colin Kaepernick's hometown of Turlock turns its back on native son.   I'll get back to my thoughts on the title below.  What I found particularly head shaking in the column was this:
Columnist Thompson states "By simply not standing, Kaepernick proved his cause is worthy" and "That people aren't willing to investigate why Kaepernick would go to such lengths, not even in Turlock, only proves he is right."
How absurd. Sitting didn't prove one things except Kaepernick's willful ignorance that respect for the national anthem equates to respect for military veterans, current military personnel, and their families.  If Kaepernick wants to address his "cause", he needs to go out into public, on his own time and dime, and address the issues with people from all viewpoints.

San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick
Photo Credit:  Unknown

And regarding Thompson's scolding people for not "investigating" Kaepernick, which by Thompson's absurd notion somehow "proves" Kaepernick is right:   So, Thompson truly believes every person considering this issue should contact Kaepernick's agent and arrange an in-depth investigative discussion with him before arriving at personal opinions?  Give me a break. Most people are simply trying to live a decent life and pay bills, put food on the table, and take care of themselves and their families; not somehow investigating Kaepernick.

But then again, if Kaepernick would take time to truly "investigate" his "cause" with people from all viewpoints, he might actually make a difference. But that would take time and effort, open communication, and would take time away from Kaepernick's sitting during the national anthem and his twitter use.  And, according to the photo I found, he'd also have less time to get ugly tattoos.

And About Your Column Title ...

And, Mr. Thompson, perhaps you need to rethink the title of your column.  Who turned a back on whom?  Perhaps was it Kaepernick who turned his back on his hometown of Turlock, and not the other way around.

Something tells me Kaepernick won't be a San Francisco 49er much longer.  Will be interesting to see his reception at today's game in San Diego.  Lots of military personnel and families in that area.

Mary Rae Fouts