May 23, 2017

Muttville's Chi-Pom-A-Thon: Live near San Francisco and have room for a small senior dog? Check these adorable doggies out!

Muttville Senior Dog Rescue is paws down the best run dog rescue group I have ever encountered.  Wonderful management, superb fund raising, great volunteers, and simply the best care for the senior dogs they rescue in order to find new Forever Loving Homes for them.

And Muttville has, once again, succeeded with their canine lifesaving superhero actions!

Muttville recently took in 18 senior mutts ... yes, 18 ... from a tragic dog hoarding operation in El Dorado County, California.  7 Pomeranians and11 Chihuahuas to be exact.

All super cute, by the way.  And they are ready for adoption today, awaiting their Loving Forever Homes.  Take a look at these cuties ...

Photo credit:  muttville.org

Want to meet them enjoy a human social hour, too?  Stop on by Muttvilles's first ever Chi-Pom-a-Thon and Happy Hour this Friday, May 26 from 2pm - 7pm at their San Francisco rescue headquarters.  Here's what Muttville has to say about the event:
"To celebrate saving EIGHTEEN senior dogs from a hoarding situation of over 40 animals, we're hosting our first every Chi-Pom-a-Thon with a special Yappy Hour adoption event Friday, May 26th from 2PM to 7PM!   We'll have snacks, drinks, and all the Poms and Chihuahuas you could dream of! 
WHERE:  Muttville HQ, 255 Alabama St. in San Francisco
WHEN:  Friday, May 26, 2pm - 7pm
WHY:  Senior dogs, that's why!!!"
Read the entire story about Muttville's incredible life-saving Pom and Chihuahua rescue.

As I am reminded every day by my dogs  Sid and Lexi, an adopted rescue dog provides Unconditional love and Support.  24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  Making every day, well, a good day in spite of anything else that happens.

Mary Rae Fouts

May 22, 2017

Fyre Festival's Founder Billy McFarland: Entrepreneur or Scam Artist Extraordinaire?

You've likely heard of the cancelled Fyre Music Festival planned last month in the Bahamas.  Marketed as a ultraluxurious music festival with A-list performers, the event instead cancelled right as it was supposed to begin.

Mastermind behind the festival?  25-year-old Billy McFarland, known in some social circles as a brazen salesman who could sell underwear to a nudist.

But is Billy McFarland simply a brazen pretty boy salesman, or a criminal Con Artist?

Photo credit:  newyorktimes.com; Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan, via Getty Images

After reading today's New York Time's investigative article about the aborted Fyre Festival and McFarland's .... well, interesting ... deal-making history, I'm presently inclined to believe McFarland is the latter.

McFarland and his company, Fyre Media, are currently defendants in lawsuits from would-be Fyre Festival goers, alleging fraud and breech of contract.  A criminal investigation has also begun, with federal investigators looking into numerous allegations of fraud, including mail, wire, and securities fraud.

Once again I'm reminded of the proverb if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

And perhaps there are more than 2 things (death and taxes) certain in life.  Try 3:  death, taxes, and Con Artists.

Mary Rae Fouts

May 18, 2017

From Beehives to Nuts: Agriculture Theft is Lucrative Criminal Business in California

Think large scale criminal theft is unique to big cities?  Think again.

In California, agriculture theft is a very lucrative criminal business, and can be difficult to prove and prosecute.  Why so difficult?  Tulare (California) County Sherriff Mike Boudreaux pretty much summed up the difficulty when he stated last year:
“I can pull over a car with 20 lbs. of methamphetamine in it and that driver’s going to jail. I pull over 30,000 lbs. of pistachios, I have to prove that those are stolen, otherwise the guy goes on his way.”
Did you know that by value, food and beverage theft is now greater in the United States than theft of electronics?


Take stolen beehives, for instance.  Nearly $1,000,000 of beehives have been stolen throughout Central California over the past 3 years.  Authorities believe they have broken up the beehive theft ring, after hives from numerous beekeepers were found in Fresno, California, literally hiding in plain sight in a vacant lot.

The alleged mastermind, former Sacramento, California bee keeper Pavel Tveretinov, was arrested … and released on $10,000 bail.

Yep, suspected of stealing beehives worth nearly $1,000,000, yet let go on a measly $10,000 bail.  Does anyone think that amount of bail is going to deter Tveretinov from continuing to criminally participate in California’s lucrative agricultural theft rings?  I sure don't.

Oh, and don’t forget nuts.

During 6 months last year, $10,000,000 of almonds, pistachios, cashews, pecans, and walnuts were stolen from Central California nut growers and processors.  Some nuts were recovered, including walnuts still in the storage bins clearly marked “Diamond”.  Yep, the walnut perps were too dumb to remove the stolen walnuts from the processor’s containers.  But, most of the stolen nuts were never recovered.

And California avocados?  Green Gold to criminals.  Avocado growers in San Diego County, home to the majority of California avocado farms, incur thefts of 20,000 to 80,000 avocados each year.  Picked right from the trees at night by criminals.  And many avocado growers are small family farms.

Honeybee swarm in my backyard.
They stayed around for about 18 hours, then left as quickly as they arrived.



The next time you become irritated  about the high cost of food, don’t immediately throw blame on the farmer, middlemen, or your grocery store.  Think about the criminal theft component of food’s cost.  And if you see cheaper-than-can-be-believed prices for food items at a flea market, farmers market, or a roadside vendor, there just might be a reason - as in stolen - the food is so cheap.

Insurance, Tax, or Financial Concerns?

Mary Rae Fouts, EA, CFP assists nationwide clients that have complex or technical insurance, tax, and financial concerns, including concerns related to insurance coverage for liability and theft risks.  For more information about Mary's fee-only Consulting, Tax, and Expert Witness Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

May 16, 2017

EB-5 Investor Visa: Green Cards and United States Residency For Sale

Once again, Money talks.  This time with the United States' EB-5 Investor Visa program.

Money, money, money, money ... Money money!

Live outside the United States and got an extra $500,000 laying around?  It's your lucky day!  You and approximately 9,999 similar people can buy your own coveted U.S. Green Card and gain legal residency in the United States.

$$ Yep, Green Cards For Sale. $$

What you gotta do?  Well, just take that $500,000 and invest it in a business in the United States.  Then show that your investment will create or "preserve" 10 full-time jobs.  Heck, you don't even have to prove that you created or preserved the jobs, you only have to submit a business plan that states 10 jobs will be created or preserved by your cash investment.  And then you'll get your EB-5 Visa (also called the Investor's Visa) Green Card and legal residency in the United States.

The country supplying the largest percentage of EB-5 Investor Visa holders?  You guessed it - China!  According to various statistics, Chinese nationals hold between 75% and 85% of EB-5 Investor Visas.

And gosh, don't you love that loosey goosey 'preserve a job' language?  Only something a politician would write.

And golly gee, we all know how 100% accurate and a for-sure-thing business plans are.  If it's a plan on paper, it must be realistic and for certain to come true, right?  </sarcasm off>

What gets me riled up is that with all of the hand wringing and complaining going on about the&nbsp H-1B Specialty Occupation (Professionals) Visa program taking away American jobs, and the agricultural industry's push to expand the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Workers Visa program, how much do you hear about this controversial EB-5 Investor Visa program?  Nothing.  I didn't even know the program even existed until I read about it today.

There are not enough H-2A Visas to supply much-needed migrant farm workers,
but if you've got money, $500,000 to be exact, welcome to America!!!

But oh, what the heck, huh?  Who needs fruits and vegetables, anyway, right?!

Another example of politics at its finest.

Mary Rae Fouts

May 15, 2017

Clothes Dryer Fires: When did you last inspect your clothes dryer vent?


I've posted before about residential fire safety and the importance of adequate fire insurance.  As I remind my insurance clients, fire safety is so very important in the home, including adequate fire extinguishers in visible locations, working smoke detectors, smart living practices (such as not leaving a pan of hot oil and French fries unattended on a stove), and emergency exit route plans.

But one thing I've yet to talk about on this blog is your clothes dryer.

When is the last time you checked your clothes dryer vent for lint buildup?  Or have you ever checked your clothes dryer vent for lint buildup?

If its been a while, or if you've never checked it (Don't worry, I won't tell anyone!), one piece of advice:

Check your clothes dryer and dryer vent for lint buildup.
Now.

Clean out any lint buildup in your inside dryer vent, outside dryer exhaust vent , and inside the dryer itself.  Before doing so, be sure to unplug the electrical plugin, and turn off gas if you have a gas dryer.   Also, pop off the bottom panel (you may need to use the claw of a hammer to get if off), and clean out any residual lint on the bottom of the dryer.

Clogged Dryer Vent
Photo credit:  windychimney.com

Clogged Outside Dryer Exhaust Vent
Photo credit:  DFW Dryer Vent Cleaners
Why?  Dryer lint is highly flammable.  When trapped in a dryer vent or outside dryer exhaust vent, the decreased airflow and buildup of heat can pose a very dangerous fire hazard.

Just how dangerous are lint-clogged dryers, dryer vents, and outside dryer exhaust vents?  According to this publication, Clothes Dryer Fires in Residential Buildings (2008-2010) by the U.S. Fire Administration National Fire Data Center, approximately 2900 clothes dryer fires occur in residential buildings in the United States each year.  Based on data during the 2-year time frame, clothes dryer fires annually cause an estimated 5 deaths, 100 injuries, and many millions of dollars in property damage.

And the leading cause of clothes dryer fires?  A lint clogged dryer vent.

Residential fire safety can be easily and safely implemented with simple procedures and plans, including routine clothes dryer maintenance.  Stay safe, everyone.

Tax, Insurance, or Financial Concerns?

Mary Rae Fouts, EA, CFP assists nationwide clients that have complex or technical tax, insurance, and financial concerns.  For more information about Mary's fee-only Tax, Consulting, and Expert Witness Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

May 12, 2017

Betty Reid Soskin: National Park Service Ranger and American Treasure

Betty Reid Soskin.
National Park Service Ranger and American Treasure.
Right in my own back yard.

Look up the definition of "inspiration" in the dictionary, and one of the definitions will surely be - or at least should be -  "Betty Reid Soskin".

Betty is this country's oldest Park Ranger.  Working for the National Park Service at the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California, Betty hosts talks about race and social change during her life.

Oh, and did I mention Betty is 95-years-young?
How's that for a lifetime of experiences?
And yes, still working as a Park Ranger.
And she maintains a might fine blog, too!

Betty Reid Soskin
Photo credit:  Sierra Club
Check out Betty's blog, "Cbreaux Speaks".  And learn about her upcoming honorary doctorate degree from Mills College.

Too bad the East Bay Times newspaper buried the honorary doctorate story back in the paper's 2nd section on page B2.   Very poor, nearly shameful article placement, in my opinion.  This good-news, inspirational story deserved placement above the fold on the paper's first page A1.  Just sayin'.

In spite of media and special interest group fueled negativity today, there truly is lots of good news, and good people, around.

Focus on the good, and have a great day!

Mary Rae Fouts

May 9, 2017

American Apparel: Made in the USA. Or not? It's the price, baby, the price.

Say you want to purchase a shirt, and you have the opportunity to choose between (1) a shirt made in the United States, or (2) a shirt made overseas, mostly likely in a country such as Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, or India.  The same shirt with different manufacturing locations.

What shirt would you choose?  American made, or foreign made?

But wait a minute before you jump on the Made in America bandwagon.  There's a catch:

The made in the USA shirt costs 25% more
than the foreign made shirt.

Would you still purchase the American made shirt?

Well, we're about to find out.  

Canadian company Gildan Activewear Inc. acquired Los Angeles-based American Apparel in bankruptcy proceedings earlier this year.  This represented the 2nd bankruptcy for American Apparel, a company that previously prided itself on manufacturing all of its clothing in a 7-story factory in Los Angeles, where the company was also headquartered.  Yep, truly American made.

Clearly the all-American-made business strategy didn't work too well for American Apparel.

And Gildan Activewear is setting out to change that.

What's in store for American Apparel?  Well, first off, no stores, only an online presence.  Secondly, no more all-American-made, with a twist:  Consumers are going to have the option of choosing between a made in the USA item and a foreign made item, for the same item.   But then your wallet comes into consideration, as the American made items are expected to cost about 25% more than their foreign made counterparts.  According to Gildan Activewear's Chief Executive Officer Glenn Chamandy:
“There are consumers that really want ‘made in USA,’ so we’re going to cater to those consumers.  But there are consumers that didn’t want to pay the actual price but they love the brand, so now they can also buy the brand.”
Read more about American Apparel's new sales strategy here.

Gotta admit this is an eyebrow raising business strategy.  My hunch as to consumers' choices?   I think the majority of shoppers ... the vast majority ... will choose price over manufacturing location, and pick the cheaper foreign made product.  People may chant made in the USA, but let's face it:  for many people, the wallet speaks.

Tax, Insurance, or Financial Concerns?

Mary Rae Fouts, EA, CFP assists nationwide clients that have complex or technical tax, insurance, and financial concerns.  For more information about Mary's fee-only Tax, Consulting, and Expert Witness Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

May 8, 2017

Multigrain Honey Sourdough Bread Recipe

I confess, I have become a sourdough baking fanatic.  All sourdough (wild yeast).  No active yeast!  With a vigorous sourdough starter, including active yeast in a recipe is not ... repeat, not ... necessary.  I will post about making a sourdough starter soon.  In the meantime, here is yesterday's bake:  2 delectable loaves of Multigrain Honey Sourdough Bread.

Easy to make with a vigorous sourdough starter, and beyond delicious.  Your home will smell wonderful, too!   Happy Baking!


Multigrain Honey Sourdough Bread
Recipe by Mary Rae Fouts

A tender loaf bread with a texture between traditional sourdough bread and a tender dinner roll.  The crust bakes to a nice golden brown, but it is not hard.  Easy to make, you can play with the recipe to make it your own.  All sourdough, no active yeast.  Mix up dough and bake in the same day.  Nice oven spring for a sourdough sandwich loaf, too.

Note:  as of 05/18/2017, I have retired my whole wheat sourdough starter, and will use my unbleached white bread flour starter for all sourdough cooking and baking from now on.  It was just too much to maintain 2 starters, with all of the baking and cooking that I do on top of everything else, and my bread flour starter is my favorite.  Plus, multi grain recipes work out great with the bread flour starter, and I am not one to be brainwashed into thinking that a baked good must be 100% whole grain to be nutritious.  I will continue to post recipes, so keep checking back.  Happy Baking!  Mary Fouts

Recipe below makes 1 loaf in a  9” X 5” or 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" pan.  I usually make 2 or more loaves at time.
Oven temperature:  375* F convection oven (400* F regular oven).

Ingredients

501 grams whole wheat sourdough starter (100% hydration), fed and vigorous/bubbly
(Variation:  for White Honey Sourdough Bread, substitute white sourdough starter made with unbleached bread flour for the whole wheat starter.)
127 grams lukewarm bottled spring water
330 grams white unbleached bread flour
10 grams kosher salt
22 grams raw honey
Optional:  nuts or seeds such as sliced almonds, raw sunflower chips, or pistachios to mix in with bread dough when kneading.
Optional:  topping of your choice to sprinkle on unbaked loaf, such as a dried herb blend, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, or poppy seeds.

Directions

Combine ingredients.  Knead until flour is incorporated and dough is smooth and soft.  If using nuts or seeds, work  them into dough when kneading.  Dough will be a bit sticky at first, but will firm up with gluten development during kneading.  If kneading by hand as I do, use a lightly oiled work surface and lightly oiled hands.  I use either olive oil or avocado oil.  Hand kneading will take 10 to 12 minutes.

If you hand knead, oil will be incorporated into the dough when kneading; that is why there is no oil in the recipe.  However, if you use a bread mixer or bread machine to knead, add a bit of oil to the dough when kneading.

1st Dough Rise:  Place dough in lightly oiled bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Let rise for 90 minutes at warm room temperature; dough will be puffy.  Or, place dough in refrigerator and let rise overnight, or for 10 hours or so.  See Baking Note #9 below if doing 1st Dough Rise in the refrigerator.

2nd Dough Rise:  Using a lightly oiled work surface, deflate dough, smooth dough flat to release air bubbles, and form into a loaf.  Use enough tension in loaf forming so that loaf is firm.  Place loaf in lightly oiled loaf pan.  If using topping, sprinkle topping on loaf.  Let rise at warm room temp (uncovered) until dough crests about 1 inch above pan.  This will likely take 90 to 110 minutes (longer if you did 1st Dough Rise in the refrigerator).  Time will vary depending on room temp, so monitor dough.

Bake in a preheated 375* F  convection oven (400* F regular oven) until internal temp in center of loaf (taken with an instant-read digital thermometer) reaches 205⁰ F.  The actual baking time will vary, depending on the amount of seeds or nuts worked into the dough, and the pan size.  Start checking the bread internal temp at about 40 minutes, then keep your own note of how long your loaves take to bake.  Let cool for a few minutes in pan on wire rack, then remove from pan.  When completely cool, store loaf in the refrigerator in a tightly closed plastic bag, or double bag loaf and freeze. 

Who wants a slice?
Baking Notes - Multigrain Honey Sourdough Bread

(1)  The warm room temp referred to in the recipe is about 76* F - 78* F.  To obtain this temperature, I use my oven (no heat) with the oven light turned on.

(2)  Whole wheat starters do not pass the float test.  Your starter is ready to go if it increases in volume by 100% or more (doubles in size) after feeding.  For my whole wheat starter, it reaches this volume 3 hours after feeding, when left at warm room temp.  You can also feed the starter before going to bed, and leave at regular room temperature overnight for use the next day.  My starters typically increase in volume by about 200% (triple in size) with overnight feeding, so be certain your starter jar is large enough to handle the volume, otherwise you may have a spill-over starter mess!

Due to the greater density of whole wheat, whole wheat starters do not have as many bubbles on top of the starter as white flour starters, but they have many bubbles within the starter, which creates its rising power.  

Also, don't worry if your fed starter falls from peak rise before mixing the dough.  The starter will still be ready to go.

(3)  100% hydration sourdough starter means that the starter was made and fed with equal portions, by weight, of flour and bottled spring water.  Always measure your starter, flour, and water by weight to be consistent with proportions.

(4)  When preparing your sourdough starter, make about 20% more than needed for the recipe to be certain you will have enough starter.  The starter can get very sticky, and you typically cannot get everything scraped from the starter container.  Prepare the whole wheat starter by feeding it, using equal parts (by weight, not volume) of starter, whole wheat flour, and bottled spring water.

(5)  Use a digital cooking scale to measure your ingredients.  If the amount of sourdough starter is a bit over, that is fine.

(6)  I use a 14-quart Pyrex bowl to mix up my bread.  One 14-qt bowl is large enough to mix up 2 loaves of bread.

(7)  Water ... very important:  You must use bottled spring water for recipe (and sourdough starter) success.  Many water districts disinfect tap water with chloramine, which cannot be filtered out by a Britta or similar tap water filter.  The chloramine will kill the wild sourdough yeast.   I use Crystal Geyser spring water.

(8)  Dough is a sticky at first when kneading, but it will form into a smooth ball with kneading.  Do not add more flour!  If hand kneading, keep hands and work surface lightly coated with oil to help handle the dough.

(9)  If doing 1st Dough Rise in refrigerator:  If you want to mix up the dough the day before baking, you can place the dough in the refrigerator, and allow it to rise overnight for the 1st Dough Rise.  The dough will rise higher during the cold overnight rise than the shorter warm room temp rise, generally rising to the top of the bowl with a 10 hour refrigerator rise.  If you do a refrigerator rise, the 2nd Dough Rise will take longer, as the dough-formed-loaves will need to come up to room temp before they start to rise.  This will add an extra hour or more onto the loaf rising time.

(10)  Do not over proof (over rise) the dough on the rise in the pans (2nd Dough Rise).  The loaf will continue to rise in the oven's heat; this is the "oven spring" I refer to in the recipe's description.  And yes, I confess to peeking through the oven window to keep track of the oven spring!

(11)  I have found that using the convection bake setting on my oven results in improved overall baking.  The convection fan's circulation of air results in an even temperature throughout the oven, as well as improved heat efficiency.  If you do not have a convection oven, a rule of thumb is to use a regular oven temperature that is 25⁰ F higher than the convection oven temperature.

Mary Rae Fouts

May 4, 2017

Pam Montana: Her life with younger-onset Alzheimer's disease

People often associate Alzheimer’s disease as an “old person’s” disease, yet that is not accurate.  While the disease is most common in people 65 and older, about 200,000 younger people are affected in the United States, some as young as their 40s.

Meet Ms. Pam Montana

And that brings me to Pam Montana, an extroverted 62-year-old former executive at Intel and Danville, California resident.  Who just happens to have younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease.  For which there is currently no cure, not getting better, only progression of the disease.

Pam was diagnosed last July, following an earlier diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment in 2015.  However, Pam had noticed cognitive changes beginning in 2012 (difficulty learning new Intel systems), at the age of 57.  So looking back, signs indicating possible dementia were there.

Photo credit:  eastbaytimes.com
One word:  BRAVE

Rather than morph into isolation, Pam (in her true form) decided to do just the opposite:  become a very public face of the disease, in hopes of reducing stigma attached to dementia while rallying for a cure.

Read today’s article in the East Bay Times about Pam’s journey here.  Follow Pam's blog, “My journey with Alzheimer’s”, here.

 And may we all leave each day in the present,
as every day is truly a gift.

Mary Rae Fouts

May 3, 2017

Wacky Weather. A way of life in the San Francisco Bay Area!

You can’t fool Mother Nature.  Nor can you guess the San Francisco Bay Area’s wacky weather micro climates.

Yep.  Wacky.  Really wacky.

After one of the wettest winters on record, we are experiencing a Spring heat wave for a couple of days.  With the San Francisco Bay Area’s micro climates, depending on where you live, the swing in temperature during hot days can be nothing short of incredible.  This is due to the cooling effect of fog near the coast.  I’m thankful that my Pleasant Hill (East Bay Area) home is positively affected by coastal fog, and the cool night temps and breezes if generally brings to us during hot weather. We call this cooling effect “Northern California Air Conditioning”.

Can you believe this? Yesterday my backyard weather station recorded a high temperature of 98.9⁰ F at 5:23 PM.  And a low temperature of 55.0⁰ F at 6:33 AM.

That is a temperature swing of 43.9⁰ F … In a single day. Crazy!

My Faithful Canine Companions Sid and Lexi have got this wacky weather issue figured out, as they happily enjoy the backyard’s cool shade and grass this morning.  Good dogs! 

Sid

Lexi
Stay cool and hydrated, everyone!

Mary Rae Fouts

May 1, 2017

School Lunch Bullying Must Stop: Our public school systems are bullying children who cannot pay for lunches.

With so much emphasis placed on anti-bulling rules in public school systems, the school systems themselves appear to be doing plenty of bullying.  Are our public schools not held accountable for their own very public child bullying?  This cruel process must stop.

Are you aware that our public schools regularly engage in public bullying of students who owe a debt for school lunches?  This nation's public schools employ such tactics as grabbing hot lunch trays from students and throwing the food away.  One school in Alabama even resorts to ink-stamping children on the arm with I Need Lunch Money".

Read today's New York Times article "Shaming Children So Parents Will Pay the School Lunch Bill".  And prepare to be enraged.

Yet another shameful example of this nation's broken public school systems.

April 24, 2017

Late in filing tax returns? Here are some steps to take.

Taxes.  Ugh.  If you are late in filing tax returns, here are some corrective steps to take.

And remember, if you have tax refunds due you, you must file the related tax return within 3 years of the tax return's original due date to claim the refunds.

Tax Concerns?

Mary Rae Fouts, EA, CFP provides tax planning, preparation, and representation services for taxpayers with complex or technical tax issues.  Mary's tax clients include individuals, business owners, business entities, trusts, and estates.  As an Enrolled Agent licensed by the United States Department of the Treasury, Mary is allowed to provide tax services in all 50 states and U.S. territories.  For more information about Mary's fee-only Consulting, Tax, and Expert Witness Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

April 20, 2017

A day in the life of a New York Food Vendor: Would you work this hard for $125 a day?

Glad to be back after a recess due to client tax commitments!

Let's start with this documentary article from the New York Times:   "A Day in the Life of Food Vendor".

The article profiles Mr. Kabir Ahmed who immigrated from Bangladesh 23 years ago.  He runs a halal food cart in Manhattan's financial district, along with one business partner and one assistant.  A fascinating read that is part food, part business ... and a lot of hard work.  A lot.  For which Mr. Ahmed makes about $125 a day, after paying expenses and sharing remaining revenue with his business partner and their assistant.

Photo Credit:  newyorktimes.com
Oh, and I cannot wait to try the recipes linked to the article!  They look heavenly.

Mary Rae Fouts

March 27, 2017

Busy! Back after April 18!

Hi all,

Due to an overload of professional and personal obligations for the next few weeks, I'll be away from the blog.  I'll be back after Tax Day rolls around on Tuesday, April 18.

And yes, that is the correct day.   April 15 falls on a weekend, and Monday, April 17 (the next business day) is Emancipation Day in the District of Columbia; it is recognized as a Federal holiday.  So we get a few extra days this year to file and pay up to Uncle Sam.

See you after April 18!

Oh, and by the way ... Does anyone else have a dog who loves celery?  My Husky-mix Sid sure does!

"Celery!  Yummy crunchy good!"

"Ahhhhhh.  I think I will practice my Yoga moves while eating my organic celery!"



Happy Taxes, everyone!

Mary Rae Fouts

March 21, 2017

Gardening - Here's a video peek at what's happening in my gardens!

A new video to share a bit of what's been going on in my gardens, February - March 2017.  And some gardening with dogs Sid and Lexi, too, of course.  😃  Enjoy!


Happy gardening, everyone!

Mary Rae Fouts

March 20, 2017

Meet Laura Pierson, 17-year-old Math Genius

I typically do not use the word genius to describe someone.

But this young lady deserves the title.

Photo Credit:  eastbaytimes.com

Meet 17-year-old Laura Pierson, a student at the College Preparatory School in Oakland, CA.  And Math Whiz ... Math Genius, more accurately .... extraordinaire.

Laura recently placed 6th among 1,749 high school seniors in the prestigious national Regeneron Science Talent Search.  Her entry? A presentation of the use of theoretical algebra to study the representation theory of mathematically symmetric groups.1

Got that?  And Laura won an $80,000 prive for her 6th place finish.  A few more things about this remarkable young lady:
  • She will attend Harvard University next year.
  • Math has been a fun and interesting passion for Laura since she was a young child. She has been a member of the Berkeley Math Circle since 5th grade, and started taking college level ... yes, college level ... math courses in middle school.
  • But Laura is not just about math.  Among other activities, she is active in theater (as both a performer and technician), enjoys dancing, and loves art.
Read more about this incredible young lady and her award in this East Bay Times article.

Oh, and Laura hopes to use her math skills to solve society's problems. And I just bet she finds success.  And inspires many people along the way.

Congratulations, Laura. You go, girl!

Mary Rae Fouts

1Symmetric group. Encyclopedia of Mathematics. URL: http://www.encyclopediaofmath.org/index.php?title=Symmetric_group&oldid=35368

March 16, 2017

Frankenpoultry Lab Grown Chicken Meat: Would you eat it?

Chicken?
Not just any kind of chicken.
Lab grown chicken and duck meat.  
For eatin'.

Meet Frankenchicken!
Photo Credit:  siliconbeat.com
One thing's for certain:  Kentucky Fried Chicken this is not.

Let's talk about that eatin'.  Would you eat lab grown meat or poultry?  I would not.  Heck, just thinking of Frankenpoultry is enough to make me turn and run ... Fast!

If slow roast chicken - the real thing - was good enough for my Grandma, it is good enough for me.

Oh, and rather ironic that the startup company that developed this Frankenchicken is named Memphis Meats.  Wouldn't the name of Memphis Frankenmeats be more appropriate and honest?

For more info, check out this blog article from the San Jose Mercury News blog techbeat.  At $18,000 a pound, I doubt you'll see this Frankenchicken in your grocer's poultry cases any time soon.

(Note:  original post revised to correct company name.)

Mary Rae Fouts

March 14, 2017

Porto's Bakery and Cafe: How long would you wait in line for Cuban cheese rolls and potato balls?

According to today's California Today column at NewYorkTimes.com, apparently many people would wait.  And wait.  For hours, in fact, at the opening of the new Cuban restaurant Porto's Bakery and Cafe in Buena Park, California.

Porto's Bakery and Cafe features Cuban baked goods and comfort food.  Oh, and Porto's is wildly popular.  Their 3 Southern California locations sell more than 2 million - yep, 2,000,000 - cheese rolls and potato rolls a month.

That's a lot of cheese and potato.  The potato roll is a soft mashed potato ball filled with seasoned ground beef, then fried to a golden brown.  I'm generally not a fan of fried foods, but that does sound like delish comfort food, if I do say so myself.  And all for a budget price of $0.98!  Here's a photo:

Photo credit:  portosbakery.com
Oh, and just how many people waited in line at the opening of Porto's Bakery and Cafe?

1500.  Yep, a line of 1500 people waited hours to get into the restaurant.  Check out the opening day festivities here.

Now if Porto's Bakery and Cafe would only come to Northern California!

Mary Rae Fouts

March 9, 2017

Nike has a new product, and it's not a shoe! Introducing the 'Pro Hijab' for female Muslim athletes.

Gotta tip my hat to Nike for developing much needed sports appeal Muslim women:  a lightweight hijab for athletic training and events.  According to the New York Times (link to the article here, which interestingly appeared in the newspaper's Fashion and Style section, rather than the Sports section.)
"This week, Nike announced that it would release a Pro Hijab for female Muslim athletes in spring 2018. The hijab, which is expected to cost $35, is made of a lightweight, stretchy mesh polyester and will come in gray, black and obsidian. Throughout several stages of development, the product was tested by a group that included Zahra Lari, the first figure skater from the United Arab Emirates to compete internationally; Manal Rostom, a runner and triathlete currently living in Dubai; and Amna Al Haddad, an Olympic weight lifter from the United Arab Emirates."

Here's a peek at what the Pro Hijab looks like:

Photo Credit:  newyorktimes.com
Nike's new hijab will surely be a liberating moment for female Muslim athletes who observe traditional Muslim attire guidelines.  Heck, if nothing else, the Pro Hijab looks like a darn comfortable piece of clothing for casual wear.  I so enjoy the outdoors and gardening, outdoor exercise, and outdoor recreational activities.  I hope more Muslim women will now be able to experience these same joys.

Mary Rae Fouts

March 7, 2017

The Owl Nesting Box has a new occupant. Can you guess what it is?

Hint:  It's not an owl.

Some years ago, we installed an Owl Nesting Box in our backyard, hoping to attract an owl to help with rodent control.  We hear screech owls at night, and have seen them in the neighborhood.  My husband Jim installed the nesting box, 10 feet high on a post set in concrete.

What happened?  Well, we waited ... and finally got an occupant.  Screech Owl?  Barn Owl?

Nope.  A squirrel.  As in a pregnant squirrel.  Followed by a litter of baby squirrels.

And the squirrel occupation and baby squirrels during spring nesting season has repeated itself several time since.  Based on observations yesterday and today, looks like we'll have a mama squirrel occupant again this spring.  She sure is hanging on the roof of the owl box a lot, thoughtfully checking out the vacant digs.

One thing, though ... Hope she understand dogs Sid and Lexi have very high small prey drives.  Lexi has caught 3 backyard squirrels, and proudly brought them to me to show me.  Sid tries, but he lacks the patience that Lexi has, who literally patiently lies in wait for the squirrels.

Here is a photo of a past year's squirrel-occupied owl box.  I'll let you know what happens this spring!


Never a dull moment in my backyard gardens!

Mary Rae Fouts

March 6, 2017

Capital Gains and Losses: Know the rules to avoid a big headache!

Awwwww, good old capital gains and losses.  If you think the tax topic of capital gains is an easy one, think again.

Long term?  Short term?  What rate?  How about capital loss carrybacks?  Or loss carryovers?  And what about the gain on the sale of a home?  And just what is basis, and how in the heck do you calculate the basis of the capital gain or loss item?

And don’t forget … for tax purposes, you can no longer rollover all of the gain from the sale of one personal residence (home) into the purchase of another personal residence.  That law changed way back in the 1990s.  I still get questions from people who are not aware that tax law changed decades ago.

One more kicker:  not all state and local tax regulations regarding the treatment of capital gains and loses conform to federal tax code.  Always be certain to check state and local tax regulations when planning for capital gain and capital loss issues.  For more information about federal tax treatment of capital gains and losses, refer to IRS Tax Topic 409.

Tax Concerns?

Mary Rae Fouts, EA, CFP provides tax planning, preparation, and representation services for taxpayers with complex or technical tax issues, including those involving capital gains and losses.  As an Enrolled Agent licensed by the United States Department of the Treasury, Mary is allowed to provide tax services in all 50 states and U.S. territories.  For more information about Mary's fee-only Consulting, Tax, and Expert Witness Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

March 2, 2017

Smith v City of San Jose: California Supreme Court decision a victory for government transparency

The California Supreme Court got it right today.  As in way right.  As in a victory for the public and government transparency.

The matter at issue in this case involved government officials and employees use of private electronic devices and accounts while conducting government business.  Smith sued the City of San Jose after he made a public record request for emails, voice messages, and text messages pertaining to a redevelopment agency matter, which were sent through San Jose officials' private electronic devices and accounts.  The City of San Jose refused Smith's request, stating that government business conducted on personal electronic devices or accounts was not public record.  The issues addressed by the California Supreme Court (case #S218006) were:
"This case presents the following issue: Are written communications pertaining to city business, including email and text messages, which (a) are sent or received by public officials and employees on their private electronic devices using their private accounts, (b) are not stored on city servers, and (c) are not directly accessible by the city, "public records" within the meaning of the California Public Records Act?"
Let the sunshine in!

The court unanimously overturned the appellate court ruling today, finding that government business conducted on private electronic devices and accounts is public record, and subject retention and public record requests.  Download today's ruling here.

And may the sun continue to shine onto government transparency.

Mary Rae Fouts

February 28, 2017

Home Energy Federal Tax Credits: Most (but not all) expired on December 31, 2016

If you are planning energy efficient modifications to your home in 2017 and assumed you would get a federal tax credit for your efforts, you may be out of luck.

13 home energy federal tax credits (including those involving energy efficient insulation, roofs, windows, and doors) expired on December 31, 2016.  2 federal tax credits remain (for home solar pv and solar water heating systems) for another 5 years, although the credits begin to decrease after 2019.  It is unknown if the 13 expired credits will be renewed this year, or if the decrease in the remaining 2 credits will be amended.

And it only gets more complicated ...

Additional items of note:

  1. State and local home energy tax credits may not conform to federal tax law.  Be certain to check state and local tax codes to see what energy efficiency tax credits, if any, you are eligible for.

  2. Home energy federal tax credits apply (or applied) only to owner-occupied homes, both existing construction updates and new construction.  Rental homes are not eligible for these credits.

  3. If you lease your home solar system (rather than purchasing it), you are not eligible for any home energy federal tax credit.  (Bet your solar company didn't tell you that, did they?)

  4. But wait, there's more!  What is the definition of "home" for this credit?   Is your home, well, really a home in the eyes of our politicians that enact these laws?  Multi-family housing (more than 3 stories) is treated as a commercial building and is not eligible for the home energy federal tax credit program, but it is eligible for the commercial building tax deduction.  The relevant standards for this commercial buildings tax deduction are located in ASHRAE 90.1-2001.  (ASHRAE stands for the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.)  Apartment buildings are also considered commercial buildings and fall under this statute.  More more information (or perhaps a larger headache), refer to this Energystar.gov page.
Tax, Financial, or Insurance Concerns?

Mary Rae Fouts, EA, CFP assists nationwide clients that have complex or technical concerns involving tax, financial, and insurance matters.  For more information about Mary's fee-only Tax, Consulting, and Expert Witness Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

February 27, 2017

2016 Form W-2 - Still haven't received one from your employer?

If you are employed, your employer is required to give you a Form W-2 with annual wage and withholding information.  Employers are required to send Form W-2s to employees by January 31 of the next year, or the following business day if January 31 falls on a weekend or federal holiday.  2016 Form W-2s should have been sent to employees by January 31, 2017.

Wage and withholding information provided on Form W-2 is necessary for proper completion of annual individual income tax returns.  If you are expecting a 2016 Form W-2 and have not yet received it, here are a few tips from the IRS about what to do now.

Tax Concerns?

Mary Rae Fouts, EA, CFP provides tax planning, preparation, and representation services for taxpayers with complex or technical tax issues.  As an Enrolled Agent licensed by the United States Department of the Treasury, Mary is allowed to provide tax services in all 50 states and U.S. territories.  For more information about Mary's fee-only Consulting, Tax, and Expert Witness Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

February 24, 2017

Coffee Flavor: Can you guess where it primarily comes from?

I have ordered coffee every month from Thanksgiving Coffee Company in Ft. Bragg, California for more years than I can remember.  Probably 20 or so.

Thanksgiving Coffee Company simply makes the best coffee beans ever.  I am a light roast fan; my favorite blends include Save Our Wolves, Good Dog Blend, Peru Miel de Cajamarca, and Boliva Canto de Bolivar.  All of these selections are light roast, fair trade, and certified organic.  I plan to try the Bee Bold light roast soon.

I purchase whole beans, and grind the beans with a bit of cinnamon stick, then make a pot of drip coffee.  I like old fashioned drip coffee better than any other preparation.  Served in a mug with a bit of milk (unsweetened almond milk at home, or 2% milk if on travel).

Coffee Flavor - Where it comes from may surprise you!

I've learned a lot about coffee from Thanksgiving Coffee Company.  Did you know that coffee bean roast color determines 80 percent of a coffee's flavor?    Not the type of coffee bean, not the source location, but the roast color!  I did not, and was amazed to learn that fact.  Not to mention the characteristics of light roast coffee match my general personality!  😊  Learn more about selecting coffee here.

Credit:  thanksgivingcoffeecompany.com
For the best coffee ever (and great customer service!) visit Thanksgiving Coffee Company.

Mary Rae Fouts

February 22, 2017

Unconditional Love: Adopt a shelter dog today!

Dogs at public animal shelters often suffer from public stigma.  Far too many people think all of the animals are there because they have behavior problems, and no one wants them.

Wrong.

Dogs end up in public animal shelters for many reasons:  strays never claimed by owners, owner surrenders, dogs seized due to abuse and neglect.  And yes, some dogs do end up at the shelter due to human aggression, dog aggression, or other animal aggression.  But, dogs will only be made available for adoption if they pass behavior tests and are deemed adoptable by shelter staff.

All of the Beloved Canine Companions ... ok, dogs! ... I've had the privilege to have as family members since moving to California have come from public animal shelters in Martinez, Pinole, and Antioch, California.  They ended up there for various reasons:  (1) found as a stray by animal control and never claimed by human owner, (2) surrendered by owner because owner had no time for the dog, and (3) seized by police for severe abuse and neglect in a backyard puppy mill.

And wonderful dogs all!  Here are our current Faithful Canine Companions, Chow-mix Lexi and Husky-mix Sid, playing on the beach during a recent trip to beautiful Carmel.  They are one very bonded pair!


And, I confess to my dog affinity for Northern Breed Mixes and Herding Breed Mixes.  They will always have the doggie place in my heart.  Guilty as charged!

There are more dog breeds and mixes than just Pit Bulls and Chihuahuas at public animal shelters.  Visit your local shelters and have a look for yourself.  Here are 2 gorgeous northern breed dogs available for adoption today at the Contra Costa Animal Services Shelter in Martinez, California:

Mr. Peanut says:  "May I please go home with you today?"


UPDATE 02/23/2017 - The dog shown below is no longer named Myrna Loy at the shelter.  She has been renamed Minerva.  If calling the shelter about an animal, always identify the animal by the animal ID number that begins with #A, as sometimes the names are not in the computer system, or are entered incorrectly in the computer system.

Also, when visiting animal shelters please note that an animal's kennel location may have changed.  Don't leave if the animal is not in the kennel you suspect; ask someone for assistance.

Myrna Loy (now named Minerva as of 02/23/2017) says:  "May I make my Forever Home with you?  I'm a nicely sized dog and promise to be good!"


So many wonderful animals waiting for their forever homes.
  
Forever unconditional love and companionship.

Visit your local animal shelter today.  You might just find your new Forever Friend!

Mary Rae Fouts

February 21, 2017

Hwy 17 commuters show us that adding a chainsaw to your vehicle's emergency bag is a pretty good idea after all.

Are you prepared in the event of a local or regional emergency?  Well, these Santa Cruz, California area commuters were more than prepared, and willing and able get the job done.  A huge fir tree recently fell over Hwy 17, the main route between Santa Cruz and the San Jose area.

And what happened?  Did commuters and travelers simply wait for Caltrans to show up and clear the road?

Nope.  People got out of their vehicles, equipped with chainsaws, brooms, and good old muscle power, and cleared the tree and highway themselves.

Not that is what I'd call being prepared, ready, and willing.

Read the entire story and view more photos here.  For a quick peek, take a look at Santa Cruz resident Liza Miller's comments, and one of her photos, below.  Pretty amazing, huh?


Photo credit:  Liza Miller, published on eastbaytimes.com
"SANTA CRUZ — High winds knocked down an enormous fir tree near the summit of Highway 17 at approximately 3 p.m. Monday, blocking all four lanes and prompting a massive effort to clear the roadway by stranded travelers.Liza Miller was commuting home to Santa Cruz from work when traffic came to an abrupt stop.

“I was maybe the seventh car back. It took me a while to realize what I was looking at. There was this giant tree across all lanes and people were jumping out of their cars and running up there. I thought a car was trapped, but people had just begun instinctively clearing the highway,” she said."

Be prepared.  

Have emergency exit routes planned from your home in the event of fire.

Have water, food, medicines, and emergency supplies on hand
in the event of an earthquake or other natural disaster.

Review your homeowners, business, renters, and other property insurance coverage
 to be certain you have adequate coverage.


And especially if you live in a wildfire or flood prone area,
have a to-go bag ready and be prepared to evacuate.

Stay safe, everyone! 

Mary Rae Fouts

February 20, 2017

New York Times Crossword Puzzle: Happy 75 Birthday!

I am an avid crossword puzzler.  One of the reasons I subscribe to daily delivery of the New York Times newspaper is for the daily crossword puzzle.

Wow!  An age 13 crossword dynamo has his crossword published in the New York Times!
Photo credit:  newyorktimes.com 

So imagine my surprise to read in yesterday's Sunday paper that the Times' daily crossword puzzle was celebrating its 75th birthday.  I had always assumed the puzzle was much older than that.  While the Times had published a crossword puzzle much earlier in 1913, it delayed daily publication.  Why?  The newspaper's editorial board thought the crossword puzzle was "a sinful waste of time".

How's that for an out-of-touch newspaper editorial board?

Fast forward a bit ... The New York Times was the last major metropolitan newspaper to offer a daily crossword puzzle.  Yep, the final holdout.  It finally did so in 1942 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, to provide a comfortable distraction to war-weary people.

And so the daily New York Times crossword puzzle began.  And has flourished.  Can anyone argue that the New York Times daily crossword puzzle is not the most popular newspaper crossword puzzle?

And another fascination piece of trivia:  In the past 75 years of daily publication, there have only been four different crossword puzzle editors at the New York Times!  Maybe the crossword puzzle editors and the United States Supreme Court Justices had something in common?  (As in lifetime appointments. 😃 )

Read about the history of the New York Times crossword puzzle here and here.  And if you are not already a crossword puzzler, do give this most enjoyable, relaxing, and sometimes hair pulling challenging pastime a chance.  Sharpen a few pencils, poor a cup of coffee or tea, or glass of wine or other favorite beverage, and get to puzzlin'!


Mary Rae Fouts