December 15, 2017

Woman Rants About Customers Speaking Korean at a Walnut Creek Starbucks ... Can you guess what happened?

Ranting woman at Walnut Creek Starbucks.
Credit:  eastbaytimes.com
When I moved to Walnut Creek in 1994 (I now live in Pleasant Hill, Walnut Creek's next door neighbor), two of the community components I most enjoyed - and still do - are the melting pot of cultures and languages present in area, as well as the area's overriding acceptance of people.  Being exposed to other cultures, languages, food, traditions, and ways of life has greatly enriched and enhanced my life.

So, I was distressed to learn of the now-gone-viral video of a middle-to-elderly aged white woman in a Walnut Creek Starbucks, caught on video berating 2 Starbucks customers who were speaking in Korean.  This woman - identified by Starbucks' baristas as someone who had caused problems for other Starbucks' customers in the past - rattled on how she hated Oriental, and didn't want to hear the Korean language.   You can read more about the episode, and view the video on this East Bay Times article.

But what turned this negative event into a positive were the actions of the 2 Starbucks' baristas who confronted the ranting woman, as well as the response by Mr. Sean Lee, one of the people speaking Korean to whom the woman's rant was directed.

The two Starbuck baristas confronted the ranting woman and  informed her that Starbucks patrons can speak whatever language they like. When the woman refused to leave, Walnut Creek police were called, and escorted the woman out.

Than then there is Mr. Lee, who could have taken a bitter outlook on the unfortunate experience. Instead, he brilliantly turned it into an inspirational learning tool, as he posted on Facebook after posting the ranting video:
“We shouldn’t blindly hate on this woman, and understand that she grew up in an environment that perpetuates ignorance,” Lee said Wednesday. “Instead of spending our energy on name-calling, let’s use it to push for more constructive dialogue and policies in our community, state and nation.”
--- Sean Lee/Facebook posting after woman customer rants about 'hating Oriental and the Korean language' at a Walnut Creek Starbucks.
In the end, I am once again reminded that most people are ... or at least attempt to be ... kind, generous, thoughtful, and good.  Hopefully we can all focus on these qualities in life, and live each day to the fullest.

Mary Rae Fouts

December 14, 2017

California Business Owners : January 1, 2018 Brings Yet More Laws for California Employers

Just when you think operating a business is challenging enough in California, 2018 ushers in more new business-related laws, particularly for businesses with employees.

If you are a California business owner, particularly one with  employees, here’s a peek at  a few of the new laws that may impact your business beginning January 1, 2018.   And I suggest that you prepare for the new regulations now, if you have not already done so.

New Laws for California Employers on January 1, 2018

These new laws don’t replace any current California employment-related laws, but rather add to the web of laws California employers must wade through.  Here’s just a sampling of what’s new for y'all on New Year’s Day 2018.

Cannot Ask for Past Salary History (AB 168)

A California employer cannot ask a prospective employee for his or her salary history, including wage and benefit compensation.  The employer, however, if asked must provide the prospective employee with compensation information for the position being applied for.

Cannot Ask for Criminal History Information Until Employer Extends a “Conditional Job Offer” to the Applicant (AB 1008)

A California employer with 5 or more employees may not ask, on a job application, for information pertaining to a prospective employee’s criminal conviction history.  This information may only be asked and investigated after a prospective employee has received a conditional job offer.  (Although no specific definition is provided, or parameters given, for what constitutes a “conditional job offer”.)

There are a few employer exemptions to this new law, including but not limited to government agencies, justice departments, and stock broker/investment management firms.  This law also does not impact the many state licensing boards, for any of those that have prohibitions on granting a license or certification to individuals with criminal backgrounds.

If the employer than decides to rescind the conditional job due to the prospective employee’s prior criminal conviction history, the employer must follow specific procedures for notifying the prospective employee of this decision. Namely, the employer must notify the declined job applicant of the employer’s decision in writing.  This notification must:
  • State the conviction or convictions relied on for rescinding the conditional employment offer;
  • Include any conviction history report obtained by the employer; 
  • Inform the job applicant of his/her right to respond to the notice before the decision becomes final, and the deadline for the applicant’s response; and
  • Inform the job applicant that the applicant’s response may include evidence challenging the accuracy of the conviction history, as well as information about the applicant’s rehabilitation and any mitigating circumstances.
Got all that?

Parental Leave (SB 63)

With certain exemptions and conditions, California employers with at least 20 employees must allow an employee to take up to 12 weeks of parental leave following the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a new child.  During this 12-week period, the employer is not required to pay the employee’s salary, although the employee may use up accrued vacation or sick leave time during this leave for income.  However, the employer must continue to maintain and pay for the employee’s group health insurance coverage during this leave.

Sexual Harassment Prevention Training:  Gender Identity and Expression, Sexual Orientation (SB 396)

California employees with 50 or more employees must add to the already state-required sexual harassment training curriculum.  The training (required of all supervisory-level employees every 2 years) must now include a component addressing gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation.  Employers must also prominently post a Dept. of Fair Employment and Housing poster outlining transgender rights.  

Wanna be a California business owner with employees now?  And the above are just a few of the new state laws affecting California business owners in 2018. 

I guess I’ll just close with Happy New Year!  And may we all ring in more sometimes-hair-pulling California business bureaucracy together. 

Mary Rae Fouts

December 12, 2017

Geography Quiz: Can you name or point out all of the countries in the continent of North America?

Here's a fun geography quiz for you to try ...
Here is a map of the world.  Can you point out or name all of the countries in the continent of North America?  I could not!  😞

The print is small, so you might want to get a larger map on the Internet to better see country names.  But other than that, no cheatin' on the Internet! 😃 

Credit:  mapsoftheworld.com

I'll be back in a few days with the answer.   Plus I'll tell you what I missed in my answer.

Mary Rae Fouts

December 11, 2017

Crossword Puzzles: Yes Virginia, more than one letter can appear in a square! It's called a rebus.

Ah, Crossword Puzzles!  The sometimes calming, sometimes hair-pulling-out experience.

But for me ... and avid crossword player ... always fun!

And hey, to make your Crossword Life more perplexing, get this:

Yes, more than one letter can appear in a square.

It's called a rebus.

A rebus sometimes appears in the grandam of all crossword puzzles, the New York Times Crossword Puzzle, usually in the Thursday or Sunday puzzle.  Any rebus entries remain constant in the puzzle.

And you don't get a warning or hint that the rebus appears ... sorry!

Here's and example of a rebus crossword in a New York Times Mini Crossword Puzzle, where the word "car" is the rebus:



And to add to your rebus frustration, a rebus entry is not limited to a word.  According to New York Times Crossword Columnist Deb Amlen (how cool of a career is that?!):
"A rebus can be a letter, number or symbol that represents a word, but in many crosswords, the rebus will be a word or group of letters that need to be written inside a single square."
But wait, there's more!  The crossword rebus does not have to be the same word throughout the crossword puzzle. Rebuses can appear made of entirely different words long as the rebuses relate to the them of the puzzle.  Crazy, huh?  And for me, the multi-rebus crossword puzzles are the most difficult to solve.

To learn more about puzzle rebuses, visit this New York Times Wordplay column.  Visit Ms. Almen's Wordplay page (which is the New York Times crossword column) for detailed information and insight into New York Times crossword puzzles, as well as crossword player comments.  Always an interesting and fun read.

Now sharpen your pencil and get to puzzlin'!

Mary Rae Fouts

December 8, 2017

Business Tax Returns: More Hoops to Jump Through in 2018

Business Tax Returns ... Prepare for increased tax preparation time in 2018.  And get ready to fork over more personal and business-related information to the IRS.

Yes, the IRS thinks it does not posses enough of your personal and business information for tax purposes.  So, beginning in 2018, the IRS will require yet more information about businesses and business owners, including drivers licenses numbers from business owners with sole proprietor and partnership structure businesses.

Why?  Ostensibly to help prevent identify theft, and to help identify a "suspicious" business tax return.  However, as an Enrolled Agent licensed by the United States Department of the Treasury, I have not a clue as to what the IRS is targeting as "suspicious", because the IRS fails to disclose what would trigger a business tax return to be deemed "suspicious".

Doesn't the IRS already have enough information about tax payers without needing yet more?  One would think so.

According to the recent IRS News Bulletin IR-207-198 (read the entire bulletin here),  here's what tax professionals and their business tax clients are in for in 2018:
"For 2018, these “know your customer” procedures are being put in place that include the following questions:
  • The name and SSN of the company executive authorized to sign the corporate tax return. Is this person authorized to sign the return?
  • Payment history – Were estimated tax payments made? If yes, when were they made, how were they made, and how much was paid?
  • Parent company information – Is there a parent company? If yes, who?
  • Additional information based on deductions claimed
  • Filing history – Has the business filed Form(s) 940, 941 or other business-related tax forms?
Sole proprietorships that file Schedule C and partnerships filing Schedule K-1 with Form 1040 also will be asked to provide additional information items, such as a driver’s license number. Providing this information will help the IRS and states identify suspicious business-related returns."
One thing's for certain:  There is never a dull moment in tax land!

Tax Concerns?  

As a federally licensed Enrolled Agent, I provide tax preparation, tax planning, and taxpayer representation services to clients with technical or complex tax concerns.  For more information visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

December 4, 2017

Truffle the dog experiences snow for the first time. Reaction? Pure joy!

Truffle the dog
credit: standard.co.uk
And since we're on the topic of dogs, let's talk about Truffle.
Truffle is a cocker spaniel who resides in York, England, and just experienced snow for the first time.  Truffle's reaction?  Well let's say that Truffle may think snow is one of the best things ever!

Check out Truffle's snowfall reaction in the video below ... And prepare to smile!  😁

Enjoy your week and make everyday great!   


Mary Rae Fouts

December 1, 2017

Sorry Cats! Vanderbilt study proves dogs are, in fact, smarter than you!

This just in from Vanderbilt University ...

Vanderbilt study proves dogs are smarter than cats!

Sorry, kitties!

But then again, we dog lovers (myself included)
already knew that!

Lexi and Sid settle in for an afternoon snooze on a gorgeous November day.
I think they kinda like one another!  💕💙💚💕

Learn more about these findings by clicking on Vanderbilt University's fun and interesting video post below, which also includes some really cute raccoon and other animal antics.  The video will make you smile, for sure.  Woof!  Woof! 



  Mary Rae Fouts

November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's 5:00 AM Thanksgiving morning.

Do you know where your Thanksgiving Turkey is?

I do!

My Thanksgiving Turkey ready to go into the oven to slow roast.

Mine is ready to go into the oven to slow roast at 300℉ for about 40 minutes a pound; will be fall-off-the bone tender.  An 18-pound all natural Willie Bird Turkey raised locally in Sonoma County.  Stuffed with a potpourri of fresh herbs (with the exception of the fresh cilantro, all from my gardens), whole allspice, onion, celery, 3 fresh whole macho nacho peppers from my gardens, sliced citrus, melted butter, salt, pepper, and smoked paprika.  Water to coat bottom of pan; cover pan with foil.  The turkey's au jus will make wonderful gravy, no thickening or other adjustments needed.

Turkey Tips:

No bread stuffing in the turkey because of the low roasting temperature.  But no one in my family likes bread stuffing, anyway.

If you are slow roasting a turkey 14-pounds and under, allow about 30 minutes per pound, and 1/2 cup melted butter drizzled on turkey.  For larger turkeys, allow about 40 minutes per pound and 3/4 cup melted butter. 

Happy Thanksgiving to all and enjoy your day!

Mary Rae Fouts

November 16, 2017

Sid: My Food Loving Kitchen Helper

My goofy, lovable, food loving Husky-Malamute mix Sid.

He likes to be my "helper" in the kitchen when I am cooking fragrant food.  I trained him (Chow Chow-Pom mix Lexi, too) to stay on their kitchen "Safe Spot" when I'm cooking.  The "Safe Spot" is a long throw rug that is safely away from the hot stove and my sharp knife/chopping counter area.  The training for both dogs was easy with treats.

Now if I could only have as good of luck with Sid's counter surfing.  His best snag?  An entire pound of Angus Beef Oscar Meyer Frankfurters that I had just sliced up for high value treats.  😃

Never a dull moment.  But I would not change that for anything!

My Kitchen Helper Sid on his Kitchen Safe Spot.  God Boy, Sid!

Happy cooking and baking everyone.

Mary Rae Fouts

November 14, 2017

Stove Top Stuffing: Thanksgiving Dinner Stretch Waistband Pants Are All Sold Out! Bummer!

I don't eat Stove Top Stuffing.  In fact, I don't eat any stuffing.  I don't like bread stuffing, and neither does my husband Jim.

But, I gotta give Stove Top Stuffing a big thumbs up for a much needed, light-hearted marketing idea:
Thanksgiving Dinner Pants that resemble a box of Stove Top Stuffing and come with a stretch waist so you can eat all the Stove Top Stuffing you want on Thanksgiving.
No joke.  Is this hilarious, or what?!

And the Limited Edition Pants - priced at $19.95, with free shipping - apparently sold out pretty much immediately!  But you can still download Stove Top Stuffing's free Holiday Card!  You can learn about the pants and download your free Holiday Card by visiting ThanksgivingDinnerPants.com

Screenshot credit:  thanksgivingdinnerpants.com

Just wonder how much they will re-sell for on Ebay?

For more information about this hilarious gourmand-related fashion trend, click on Stove Top Stuffing's Facebook post below. 😋


Thanks for the smile today, Stove Top Stuffing!

Mary Rae Fouts

November 13, 2017

Les Gourmands Bakery in San Francisco: $29 for a loaf of burned bread? Give me a break!

And you thought the price of housing is high in the San Francisco Bay Area?

Try $29 for a loaf of burned bread.

Les Gourmands, a new French bakery in San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood, seems hell bent on starting a new Only-in-California happening:

Burned Brioche Bread.  At $29 A Loaf.
Yes, that's right, 29 buckaroos.  
For one loaf of burned-to-a-charcoal-blackened-top bread.

The owners of the bakery are charging this higher than Holy Hell price ostensibly to fund a paid intership program which teaches people with zilcho baking experience how to become bakers.  Whatever.  But the overriding issue is that I wouldn't pay $2 for the loaf of bread, let alone $29.

The bakery states another reason is the time it takes to make the Brioche Bread; it's a 3 day process.  Ok, then why doesn't the bakery take any care after that laborious 3 day process TO ACTUALLY BAKE THE BREAD CORRECTLY??!!

Here is a loaf of properly-baked Brioche Bread.  The crust has a lovely sheen and is a nice golden brown:

Photo credit:  specialtybakery.net

Then then there is this burned-to-a-carbon-crust loaf of Brioche Bread from Les Gourmands bakery in San Francisco.  Similar photos of this burned bread have appeared on Facebook as well as Twitter feeds:

$29 Brioche Bread from Les Gourmands bakery in San Francisco.
Burned to a Crisp.

Yuck!  I'm an avid ... ok, obsessed ... Sourdough Bread baker; I know a thing or two about bread baking.  I'll just say this:  If that Les Gourmands' Brioche Bread had come out of my oven, after cooling, it would have proceeded directly to one of my compost tumblers.

You can read more about Les Gourmands bakery and their head shaking pricing strategy in this Sacramento Bee article "Pricey or ‘ripoff’?"  Don't know about you, but I'm voting for the latter.

Crazy!

Here's hoping this latest Only-in-California happening doesn't last longer than a New York minute.

Mary Rae Fouts

November 8, 2017

Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing: This sodium-packed condiment is now available by the keg. Just in time for the Holidays!

Do you pay attention to what you eat?  I do.  Food fads and trends come and go, and I typically pay little attention to them.  You'll never see me hanging out in a Boba Tea shop, or eating a bowl of raw fish Poke.

However, this announcement caught my attention today.

Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing
You know, the condiment also known as White Ketchup
And it's now available in a keg.
Yes, a keg.
Just in time for the Holidays!
And you can get yours today for about $50.

The new Keg of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing
And just how big of a Keg-o-Ranch Dressing to you get?  Glad you asked.  It's 9.7 inches tall and 6.3 inches in diameter.  This Keg-o-Ranch, which holds up to 5 liters of the popular White Ketchup condiment (that's 1.32 gallons for the metric-challenged folks 😉 ), is being promoted with great excitement.  "Includes a year supply of Hidden Valley Ranch!"  screams the Keg-o-Ranch's advertising.  Check out this USA Today announcement for more information about the newly-available Keg of Ranch.

Now just how is that Keg of Ranch Dressing going to stay fresh for a year after the keg is tapped (so to speak)?  Well, the keg purportedly has a "special" inside coating ... of undisclosed FDA-allowed "special" materials ... that promises to "keep the ranch tasting fresh".

Yep, keep "tasting fresh".  No guarantee that the Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing will actually remain fresh by health standards, only that it will keep on "tasting fresh" for a year of Ranch-on-everything-including-your-pizza-and-pancakes enjoyment.

And as for the fine ingredients in Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing?  Want to guess what the top 2 ingredients are?

Buttermilk?  No.
Regular milk?  No.
Answer:  Soybean oil and water.  Suprised?

Salt, MSG, and Fat Lovers Unite!

And while you're enjoying the keg's year supply of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing, you'll also enjoy a substantial amount of your daily suggested sodium intake.  You see, a mere 2-tablespoon serving of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing (And who in the heck thinks a typical serving is only 2 tablespoons?) is packed with enough salt and MSG (yes, MSG) to deliver a whopping 328 mg of sodium, or 13% of recommended daily sodium intake based on a 2200 calorie-a-day diet.  And as for the fat content, that's even more of a hit on your daily food intake.  The same 2-tablespoon serving of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing provides 15 grams of fat, or 23% of recommended daily intake for a 2200 calorie-a-day diet.

Not what I'd care to consume, but to each his own.

But what would Clark Griswold think?!



So, Ranch Lovers, get your keg of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing while you can!  And heck, for your Holiday shopping list, this Keg-o-Ranch may just be better than Clark Griswold's Jelly of the Month Club for those people on your list who seem to have everything.

I won't be joining you, but for those who love their Hidden Valley Ranch Salad Dressing, I'll just close with:  "Happy Ranching!"  

Mary Rae Fouts

November 7, 2017

The secret to consistent baking results? Simple! An inexpensive digital kitchen scale.

King Arthur Flour's post on Facebook today about the virtues of weighing ingredients when baking really rang home with me.

When I started baking with sourdough, I converted my baking to baking by weight rather than volume.  I still use volume for any ingredient under 1 teaspoon, but everything else is weighed.  I keep a handy conversion list in my baking/cooking journal for use with new recipes.  Digital kitchen scales are inexpensive and easy to use.  Here's mine with a recent batch of just-mixed-up Multi-Grain Sourdough Cheese Bread dough.



The end result when baking with weighed ingredients?  Much more consistent results with all of my baked goods.  It's easy, too.  Try it!

Read more about this baking tip, including a volume to weight conversion chart, by clicking on King Arthur Flours' Facebook post below.  Happy baking everyone!



Mary Rae Fouts

November 2, 2017

Tesla: A Massive $619 Million Quarterly Loss Isn't The Company's Only Bad News

Tesla.  Wouldn't want to be ya.
  • Massive quarterly loss of $619 million big ones.  Check.

  • Continued production problems.  Check.

  • A wee bit of a backlog order problem:  435,000 Model 3 vehicles are on back order.  At its current Model 3 production rate - 260 whole Model 3 vehicles were produced in the 3rd quarter of this year - Tesla will require more than 418 years to fulfill current Model 3 orders. And that time frame doesn't take into account the 1800 additional Model 3 orders, give or take, Tesla is currently receiving.  Each day.

  • Yet new "promises" about future weekly production units.  Check.
Ok, so what else could possibly go wrong?

Well, you know that $7500 federal tax credit for purchasing an electric automobile ... that tax credit that helps drive electric vehicle sales?  Well, it's scheduled to be eliminated - immediately - if the House version of the tax reform act making its way through Congress is passed.

Learn more by reading this Reuters article.

Mary Rae Fouts

November 1, 2017

José Andrés: Michelin-starred chef leads island-wide effort to feed Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria. So much for FEMA!

When Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, leaving the entire island devastated, flooded, and without power, what did Michelin-starred chef José Andrés do?

He flew to the island and used his non-profit World Central Kitchen to organize food and meal preparation and delivery efforts at venues across the entire islands: rice, stews, paella, sandwiches, and such, using whatever food and equipment was available.

One of the food relief venues consisted of a large sandwich making operation.  Just how large, you might ask?  At one venue, up to 500 volunteers worked daily, making up to 30,000 sandwiches a day.  At one point the entire island of Puerto Rico was sold out of sliced cheese, because World Central Kitchen had bought it all for its sandwich-making operation.

World Central Kitchen's Puerto Rico Sandwich-Making Operation
Photo Credit:  nytimes.com

And what part did FEMA play in World Central Kitchen's massive - and very successful - food relief efforts?  Not much, although FEMA officials had the balls to criticized Mr. Andrés and his efforts, saying  World Central Kitchen 'lacked the experience needed to organize a mass emergency feeding operation.'

Riiiight.  Way to go once again, FEMA.  Criticize private relief efforts when they are successful and don't fit in with your bureaucratic and bloated, have 100 meetings to discuss how to make a sandwich, operational blue print.

Read today's article about chef José Andrés food relief efforts (its in today's Food Section of the New York Times) by clicking on the Facebook post below.

And I'm once again reminded that you cannot count on the government to come and save you after a disaster.  Gotta be able to sustain yourself.

Oh, and by the way ... See the photo on the Facebook post below?  That is chef José Andrés  himself, walking through flood waters to deliver dinner to a 91-year-old veteran.

Amazing what people can accomplish when we work together.


Mary Rae Fouts

October 31, 2017

Butter shortage in France?! Say it isn't so!

Forget all of the Donald Trump/Russia hubbub.  (Yawn!)  This is real news ...

Yikes!  A butter shortage in France?!  Click on the Facebook link below to read about this dreadful dairy debacle on today's front page New York Times.

And yes ... it's always butter at my home, for baking, cooking, and table use.  Well, butter and olive oil.  Just say no to dreadful margarine!   


Mary Rae Fouts

October 30, 2017

Matthew Litton: If the F.B.I. Legal Department is up here prosecuting Mr. Litton and his wife Katia, who's running Hell?

Imagine the frustration of being sterile and unable to conceive a child you and your spouse so desperately want.

You obtain medical care and medication to treat your fertility disorder.  Spouse does same for a thyroid condition.

And what happens?   Their employer - in this case, the F.B.I. - fires both individuals (who are F.B.I. agents).  Reason?  Failure to disclose the medication taken for the disorders.

Yep.  Fired.   Both individuals.  For failure to disclose medication to treat fertility and thyroid disorders.

Matthew Litton with one of his daughters.
Photo credit:  nytimes.com

That's just what happened to Matthew and Katia Litton.  And that's flat out WRONG.  And if the witch hunt the Littons have been subject to from the F.B.I. isn't enough to create a life of living in Hell, the Justice Department's Inspector General undertook a separate investigation.  Both Matthew and Katia Litton were eventually arrested, criminally charged with making false statements, and fired from their jobs as F.B.I. agents.

The criminal case fell apart; charges were eventually dropped.  But the Littons have endured a 7-year odyssey in Hell, which includes attempting to get their jobs back.  Last month, an administrative judge agreed that Matthew had been wrongly fired for failing to disclose the drugs he had taken to treat his disorder. The judge ordered that the F.B.I. both reinstate Matthew and pay him part of his back pay, which now totals over $700,000.

And what does the good ol' F.B.I. Legal Team do?  Well, they appeal the decision.  Guess the F.B.I. thinks the Littons haven't been through enough Hell.  Gotta put them through more.  Perhaps for years during the appeals process.

"Hi.  My name is Satan.
I head up the Legal Department at the F.B.I."

And to throw in a bit of irony, during this 7 years of Hell, the Littons successfully had 2 children.  Which flat out proves the fertility medication was both necessary and worked.

Read about the Littons orderal in this New York Tiimes article F.B.I. Agents Faced Arrest and Ruin After Trying to Conceive a Child.  I was left with both an overwhelming sense of rage toward the F.B.I., and a boat load of sympathy for Matthew and Katia Litton.

Oh, and one more thought:  Just who at the F.B.I. has - or had - an axe to grind with Matthew Litton?  Not his boss, as the month Matthew was fired he received an exemplary performance review.  But the Littons' ordeal simply reeks of personal revenge.

If there was ever a reason for our federally-elected politicians to get involved and investigate a matter, the Littons' ordeal is it.  No couple should ever ... ever ... be treated as Matthew and Katia Litton have been treated.

Mary Rae Fouts

October 28, 2017

Obamacare: What happened to the "affordable" part of the Affordable Care Act?

Affordable.

Definition:  af·ford·a·ble (əˈfôrdəb(ə)l)
adjective:  inexpensive; reasonably priced.

2018 open enrollment for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (commonly referred to as "Obamacare") begins on November 1.  If you have health insurance through Obamacare, have you priced your premium cost for 2018?

Get ready for some major sticker shock.  Nationally, Obamacare Gold Plan premiums for 2018 are rising by 16% on average, compared to 2017 premiums.  Lower cost/higher deductible Bronze Plans are increasing by an average of 18%. 

In some states, the premium increase is much higher. Georgia tops the list, with a jaw dropping rate increase of 57% for some plans.   Florida is not far behind at 45%.  In California, the average Obamacare  premium increase is about 12.5%.
Which begs the question:  Is health insurance coverage provided by the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) truly affordable?
I live in California and have a grandfathered high deductible Blue Shield PPO Family Plan that covers both me and my husband.   I recently learned there will be no premium increase in 2018.  My Blue Shield plan has maximum out of pocket costs of $5,200 per person/$10,400 per family.  My monthly premium is $797 ($9564 annually).

A similar Obamacare Plan has total annual costs 43% higher than my grandfathered Blue Shield plan.

That's hardly "affordable".

For comparison purposes, I checked the most similar Blue Shield plan (Bronze 60 PPO) offered for 2018 through Covered California, California’s Obamacare exchange.   The Obamacare plan has 26% higher maximum out of pocket costs than my grandfathered plan:  $6,550 per person/$13,100 per family.  The Obamacare plan also has a 61% higher premium of $1281 per month ($15,372 annually).

Worst case scenario, if we meet our family deductible in 2018, the  total health care cost of our grandfather plan ($9564 annual premium + $10,400 out of pocket) is $19,964.  However, the same worst case scenario total health care cost for the Obamacare plan is $28,472 ($15,372 annual premium + $13,100 out of pocket).  The Obamacare plan’s total cost is $8508 more  – 43% higher - than my grandfathered plan.  That cost difference is simply head shaking.  I do not qualify for a tax subsidy.

I remember when politicians disparaged the grandfathered health insurance plans as being "crappy".  Well, I can tell you one thing:  a lot of people out there would like to have my "crappy" Blue Shield grandfathered health insurnace plan today!

This comparison begs the question:  Is Obamacare truly "affordable" as the name "Affordable Care Act" promises ?  I certainly think not.

Mary Rae Fouts

October 27, 2017

Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls: Who says breakfast has to be boring?

Breakfast is never boring at my home. 

Always on the menu:  Thanksgiving Coffee Company coffee.  Freshly brewed with freshly-ground beans and a bit of ground stick cinnamon.  This morning's Joe was organic light roast Canto de Bolivar beans from Bolivia.

And how about a scrumptious homemade Sourdough Cinnamon Roll to go with that mug of coffee?  Fresh from my kitchen.  All sourdough, no active or dried yeast.

Want one?




Happy Friday, everyone.  And when you bake bread ... or cinnamon rolls, for that matter ... just remember to make it sourdough!

Mary Rae Fouts

October 24, 2017

Sears Stops Selling Whirlpool Appliances: Sears' painful march towards bankruptcy continues.

 I certainly would not call Sears "well".
Would you?
This just in from Sears.

So shutting down its entire Sears Canada operations and stores last month - 12,000 people lost their jobs - just wasn't enough for this beleaguered, nearly dead shell of a company.

Nor was the sale of their entire Craftsman tool line to Stanley Black & Decker in January of this year.

The latest?  It's bye-bye to Whirlpool appliances, and Whirlpool subsidiary appliances including KitchenAid, Jenn-Aire, and Maytag.  And perhaps many Kenmore washer and dryer models, as many are made by ... you guessed it!  None other than good ol' Whirlpool.

Anyone want to wager when Sears' bankruptcy filing will be announced?  I mean, gee, what's left of the company anymore?  Sears:  A sad slogging demise for a once great company.

Mary Rae Fouts

Iditarod Sled Dog Doping: Is any sport clean today?

Nowadays I essentially consider that doping is present throughout most sporting events.

Bicycling and Lance Armstrong.  Check.

Baseball and Steroids.  Check.

Track and Field, Marion Jones, and BALCO.  Check.

But sled dogs and the Iditirod??!!

Yes, apparently so.

And that's beyond sad.

Photo credit:  nytimes.com

Yesterday, Iditarod officials announced that four dogs belonging to four-time champion Dallas Seavey tested postive for the banned narcotic Tramadol, an opiod pain reliever, in this year's race.   And of course, Seavey has taken to social media in an effort to portray himself as the victim, calling the Iditarod drug testing and investigation proceedings "a cancer" on the sport.

So I guess mandating a clean sporting event, and taking steps to enforce such mandate, is now considered an act of vile cancer.

That's downright pathetic.

Fortunately for the event and fans like me, the influential Iditarod Official Finisher Club isn't buying Seavey's narcissistic self-soothing dribble.  According to this article in the New York Times, the Club issued a statement saying:
“It is unacceptable that multiple dogs tested positive for a drug in a single musher’s team and that that information was only recently made public when it was known since shortly after the team finished."
Read more about this downright dirty dog drugging debacle in this Alaska Dispatch News article.

Mary Rae Fouts

October 23, 2017

Wag! Dog Walking: Would you trust your dog to a company that threatens its customers?

Wag!  Dog Walking, coined by Bloomberg as the 'Uber for Dog-Walking', has a pretty head shaking way of treating its human customers.

If you are an unhappy customer, Wag! doesn't just reach out and attempt to resolve the underlying issue.  Oh, no, that's clearly not enough action for Wag! to take.  You see, Wag! has its amped up attorney Mark Warren Moody send an email to the unhappy customer.

A very nasty email.

You see, the email is not simply a cease and desist message, it's a thinly veiled personal threat.

Take a look at the email Wag! attorney Mark Warren Moody sent to Wag! disgruntled customer MaryEllen Humphrey.  Oh, and why was Ms. Humphrey disgruntled?  Well, her beloved dog Buddy was lost ... yes, lost ... while out on a walk with a Wag! dog walker.   Read it out loud for its full effect:
" 'If your retraction and apology to Wag! are not publicly posted to each and every social media platform that you have used to libel Wag! within 24 hours of the time of this email, this office has been authorized to use all available means to bring as swift as possible an end to your lies,'  company attorney Mark Warren Moody wrote."
 -- Source:  "Wag, the ‘Uber for Dog-Walking,’ Is Drawing Uber-Like Scrutiny", BloombergTechnology, Oct. 16, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/yaplhkhy .
So, attorney Moody, what "all available means" are you going to use to silence Ms. Humphrey?  Are you going to send Micky the Wrench Hit Man and maybe have him him put a cap in Ms. Humphrey's head?  After all, that would bring "as swift as possible" end to the predicament, wouldn't it now?

And as this BloombergTechnology article points out, the whole mess around the lost dog Buddy caused another loss for Wag!, in the form of big bucks from big investors who bailed when learning about the lost dog Buddy mess.

And rightly so.  As a proud Mom to two beloved Faithful Canine Companions (Husky-mix Sid and Chow-mix Lexi), I would never, ever consider using Wag! for dog walking.  And if I ever received an email with the wording of attorney Moody's email, I'd have a complaint filed against the attorney with the appropriate State Bar faster than ice cream melts on a hot July afternoon.

Of maybe I should say faster than Sid eats a McDonald's soft serve ice cream cone.

Memo to Wag!:  Perhaps a couple of changes are in order.  Show attorney Mark Warren Moody the door, and get yourself a new Public Relations Firm while you're at it.

Mary Rae Fouts

October 13, 2017

Out of the Office


Please note the Fouts Financial Group office will be closed from Monday, October 16 through Wednesday, November 1. 

Mary Rae Fouts

October 11, 2017

Northern California Wildfires: Helpful Tax Information for Affected Business Owners

Are you are a business owner affected by recent disasters, including the inferno-like wildfires raging in Northern California?  You might find this latest Tax Tip from the IRS - Tips for Business Owners Who Need to Reconstruct Records After a Disaster - helpful.

Tax Concerns? 

Mary Rae Fouts, EA, CFP® provides tax planning, preparation, and representation services to  nationwide clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information, visit www.FoutsFinancialGroup.com .

Mary Rae Fouts

October 10, 2017

Dianne Feinstein: Re-election Fundraisers More Important Than Assisting Victims of Northern California's Wildfire Infernos

And open letter to California Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Hey there Di,

This is Mary Rae Fouts, one of your constituents from Pleasant Hill, California.  And by the way, someone who votes in every election.


So you just gotta tweet about your decision to run for election again.  On a day with untold suffering from thousands and thousands of people impacted by fire storm infernos in Northern California.

Untold suffering from your constituents, and your campaign consultant states that your re-election events "will be fun".  Really?  Northern California residents by the thousands are losing homes, businesses, and lives.  Fleeing for their lives with flames on either side of the road, embers blowing across the road.  And you're out having "fun"?

You do know about the horrific wildfires burning right now in Northern California, right? 14 or more of them.  Whole neighborhoods lost in Santa Rosa.  The town of Redwood Valley in Mendocino County has been essentially incinerated, with perhaps many people dead from being trapped in their homes.   Unknown death and destruction.

And with these horrific events, you plan to come to California next week for 2 tony fundraisers with mega wealthy donors? How disrespectful to your constituents can you possibly be?

Dear Senator Feinstein:
If you had an ounce of human decency, you would cancel your tony fundraisers and ask your donors to re-direct the contributions they intended for your re-election campaign to disaster relief for the victims of these wildfires.
Not too much to ask now, is it?

Click the Facebook link below for more information about Di's recent announcement.



October 9, 2017

Wildfires Raging in Northern California Wine Country

Utter devastation.  Numerous wildfires are raging in or near Northern California's Wine County, several starting around 10 PM last night.  The wildfires cover Napa, Sonoma, and Yuba counties, which lie north of Contra Costa County where I live. There are currently 14 different wildfires burning; all started since last night.  No cause has been determined, but three fires are clearly suspicious, having started at the same time (around 10 PM) in different location in the Sonoma and Napa Valleys.

Sobering Facts

In only 12 hours, at least 1500 structures have burned, approximately 50,000 acres have burned, 22,000 or so people are under mandatory evacuation orders, and there is zero containment. 

In only 12 hours, these new wildfires - dubbed fire storms - are already considered some of worst in California's history.  And that classification with zero containment.

The fires spread rapidly in the area's rugged terrain covered with trees and heavy vegetation.   Another devastating factor was the presence of strong seasonal Diablo Winds, blowing with gusts of 50 mph or more.  It was very winding at my Pleasant Hill, California home last night; much less so today.  The greater San Francisco Bay area, including Pleasant Hill, is covered in a blanket of smoke from the wildfires to the north.

Currently, firefighters are concentration on saving lives rather than fighting the fire.  Many people are reported missing, one confirmed death.  More reinforcements from throughout the state are expecting to arrive shortly.  Area residents have helped fight the fire, including helping firefighters with hoses, using buckets of water to put out hot spots, and using private water tankers to fight fires and hot spots.

Pretty amazing what good people do in times of emergency.  Working together.

Photo credit:  sfgate.com

Photo credit:  eastbaytimes.com

Get updates on these fires at the Cal Fire Incident Information page. Here are a few of my past posts about fire safety and insurance-related issues:




Stay safe, Everyone.

Mary Rae Fouts

October 6, 2017

Equifax awarded $7.2 contract by IRS. That's flat out wrong.

Equifax.  Ya know, the company who recently allowed hackers to obtain a trove of sensitive identify information from some 145 million people.

But guess what?  Equifax just got a nice reward and pat on the back.  A $7.2 million pat on the back from a new contract with the Internal Revenue Service.

What's good ol' Equifax going to do via this contract?  Glad you asked.  Equifax is going to authenticate taxpayer identify information for the IRS.  Ya know,

THE SAME INFORMATION EQUIFAX ALLOWED HACKERS TO STEAL.
FROM THEIR OWN COMPUTER SYSTEM.
FOR SOME 145 MILLION PEOPLE.

Awarding this contract is wrong.  Flat out wrong.

October 5, 2017

Walmart's Grocery Shopping and Pickup Service: Free for a $30 purchase, but will that last?

As someone who loves to cook and bake, I am following with great interest developments in the grocery and pre-packaged meal industries.  Plus, Amazon's purchase of Whole Paycheck  Whole Foods may well be a game changer among large regional and national grocery chains.

Remember Webvan, the fall-on-its-face complete failure in the online grocery order and delivery service?   Well, some grocers and independent shopping and delivery companies are attempting to bring that grocery service back to the masses.  The typical platform for this online order, shopping, and delivery service is either a delivery charge fee  (such as Safeway uses), or a subscription-based fee (such as  Instacart and Amazon's new Amazon Fresh use).

Here Comes Walmart

But now we've got big old Walmart attempting to place catch-up, and in a big way.  Walmart put its own twist on grocery shopping services two years ago, when it started offering online grocery shopping, picked in-store by a Walmart Personal Shopper.  Your groceries are then made available by pickup at the Walmart store, with the groceries delivered to your vehicle which has a reserved pickup parking space.  This service is currently available in about 1,000 of Walmart’s 4,699 United States stores.

But here's where Walmart's twist comes in.  You know the delivery or subscription fees charged by the other companies for shopped and delivered groceries?  Well, not at Walmart.  Walmart charges nothing for the service, although they do require a $30 minimum order.  Granted, there are differences.  Walmart's gig is not a deliver-to-your-home service, rather a deliver-to-your-car-in-the-parking lot service.  Read more about this service in this New York Times article.

Grocery orders ready for pickup at Walmart.
Photo credit:  newyorktimes.com
Just how sustainable is Walmart's new grocery business model?  Not very, in my opinion.  Walmart's shopping and take-to-your-vehicle grocery service requires (1) employees to shop for the customer, (2) employees to deliver the groceries to the car, (3) an online platform for customer shopping, (4) more employees to maintain and update the online shopping site, and (5) dedicated grocery pickup parking spots, and those take away parking from the rest of the in-store shoppers.

And (1), (2), (3), (4) and (5) are, well, not free.  I can't see Walmart permanently bleeding money on this service, nor do I envision either Walmart management or shareholders allowing this to happen forever.  Something's going to eventually give, either via increased prices in Walmart's grocery products to pay for this service, a shopping/take-to-your-vehicle fee, or a subscription-based fee.

And what happens when Walmart eventually charges a fee, or increases grocery prices to cover this grocery-related service?  Will customers ... who were accustomed to free!  free!  free! ...  continue to use the grocery shopping and deliver-to-your-vehicle service when they now have to shell out money to do so, either via a fee or higher prices?

Some customers will fork over the extra dough for the convenience. But if history is any indication of price- and fee-sensitive people, a large percentage of customers will likely say sayonara. Adios. Goodbye.

And when it gets right down to it, how many people truly want someone to grocery shop for them? Don't people generally want to squeeze the toilet paper, choose their own oranges, check store sales, stare at the ice cream selection for just the right flavor, buy a few impulse items, and pick out their own meat and cheese?  I think yes.  And don't forget the in-store ability to read labels before purchase.  And I think we'll continue to have fallout from grocery stores and other companies that place high wagers on the success of questionable grocery shopping and delivery business models.

Mary Rae Fouts

September 30, 2017

Autumn Leaves: Ever wonder why they change color?

Autumn is, and has always been, my favorite season.  I love the Indian Summer weather, cooler nights, Thanksgiving, cooking and baking autumn-inspired dishes, and autumn gardening.   Fresh apples from California orchards, and juicy autumn Fairtime Peaches from Goldbud Farms in Placerville, California.  These mountain grown peaches are grown in orchards above 3000 feet, and are my favorite fresh peaches.  (Sorry, for these most awesome peaches, you've gotta live in California - within reasonable distance from the orchard - to get 'em!)  Thanksgiving equals Christmas for my favorite holiday.

Oh, and don't forget the beautiful color changing autumn leaves.

Ever wonder why leaves change color?  It's all about the sunlight.  Or rather, the lack thereof.

Learn more in this very interesting article from the Washington Post.

Happy Autumn!

Mary Rae Fouts

September 28, 2017

Seattle: New taxes. Higher minimum wage. What's not to like? Perhaps plenty.

Got taxes?  They've got plenty new ones in Seattle.  And a higher minimum wage, too.

And just how is that all workin' out for the rain-hampered Seattleites ?  Columnist George F. Will has some insight to share on that topic.
Today's brilliantly written op-ed piece from Washington Post columnist George F. Will is a must read for anyone interested in tax and business-related policy and regulations.   Click on the Space Needle photo below to read Mr. Will's column.


Tax Concerns?

Mary Rae Fouts, EA, CFP assists clients throughout the United States who have technical or complex concerns about tax, insurance, and related financial issues.  For more information visit Fouts Financial Group.  She welcomes your call at (510) 421-5457 or email to Mary@FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

September 26, 2017

Canine Unconditional Love: Daddy, are you ever coming home?

My Faithful Canine Companions, how grateful I am to have them in my life.

Husky-Malamute mix Sid.

Chow Chow-Pomeranian mix Lexi.

Sid is a little more of a Daddy's Boy.  Lexi is a little more of a Mommy's Girl.  We adopted Sid and Lexi a month apart, after our late dog Titus passed away in September 2014.  They quickly became a very bonded pair; 2 unlikely peas in a pod.

Last Sunday when my husband Jim was gone, Sid and Lexi seemed to both miss him as they gazed out the window, as if to say:
"Daddy, you've been gone for like 15 minutes.
Are you ever ever coming home?!"






💖💖  Unconditional love is as close as your nearest animal shelter.  Please adopt, don't shop.  💖💖

Mary Rae Fouts

September 25, 2017

Lukas Cavar: College Student Trapped in Cave for 58 Hours After Being Left Behind by Fellow Explorers

Think you're having a bad day? 

Try on Lukas Cavar's recent experience for size.

A student at Indiana University and a member of its Caving Club, Lukas was exploring the nearly 10-mile long Sullivan Cave when he became separated from other explorers, which included Caving Club members and a university employee.  The group itself then separated, and each group thought Lucas was with the other.

And the groups left.  And left Lukas behind in the cave, with the entrance to the cave locked.

Trapped.  With no food and no water.   In a cave.

Photo credit:  http://ikc.caves.org/sullivan-cave

Lukas was rescued some 58 hours later after being reported missing.  Not reported missing by his fellow Caving Club members or the university employee, all of whom still did not realize Lukas was missing.  Lukas was reported missing by his parents.

The University's Caving Club has since issued the following statement:
“We have a series of rigorous protocols in place that are supposed to prevent situations like this, but they are only effective if followed,” it said. “We had a failure in our leadership to closely follow all these safety procedures.”
My response:  "Yeah, do you think??!!"

Read more about Lukas Cavar's terrifying experience in this New York Times article.

Mary Rae Fouts