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.