December 23, 2016

Have Dogs? Try Rice Cake Surprise!

If you have Faithful Canine Companions, you gotta try my wonderful husband Jim's recipe for Rice Cake Surprise.

Update Dec. 30, 2016.  I've edited ... and enhanced ... the video since its original post several days ago, make sure your volume is turned up loud!  Check it out below.  Here is the simple recipe with only 4 ingredients:

Rice Cake Surprise

For each large dog serving:
1/2 salt free rice cake, crumbled
2 plus tablespoons plain whole milk yogurt
1 tablespoon or less cream cheese
1 tablespoon or less Skippy Creamy Peanut Butter

Skippy Peanut Butter is a must.  Not Jif or any other brand.  Sid and Lexi by far prefer Skippy to any brand of peanut butter!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Watch the making of yummy Rice Cake Surprise below.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah Everyone!

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

My this festive Holiday Season bring joy and peace to you, your family, friends, and loved ones.

Mary Rae Fouts

December 21, 2016

Happy First Day of Winter!

Winter Solstice is upon us.  We can now look forward to longer days of sunlight to brighten us all.

And just in case you need a dose of garden happiness to brighten your winter, here are a couple gardening ideas:  strawberries planted in raised beds, and naturalized chamomile.  Easy and oh-so-wonderful in the garden.  Garden strawberries are simply the best, and chamomile makes a lovely cut flower, not to mention wonderful tea.   These photos were taken earlier this year ...

And yes, the chamomile smells as wonderful as it is pretty!

Happy Winter, everyone!

Mary Rae Fouts

December 19, 2016

Electronic Filing (e-file): It was supposed to make taxes easier. But guess what ...

Electronic Filing.

It was suppose to make filing and paying taxes easier.  But has it?

If you use electronic filing to file your federal individual income tax return (Form 1040 or similar form), the IRS is implementing new procedures for validating taxpayer identities.  Taxpayers have a series of hoops to jump through (ok, steps to complete) to complete this process.  Read the IRS News Release to learn more about this upcoming requirement.

And talk about irony.  This new "security" procedure may require taxpayers to order a transcript of their 2015 federal individual income tax return in order to obtain the necessary validation information.  You know, from the Get Transcript division of the IRS, at which 700,000 taxpayer accounts were identified as either cyber-hacked or as attempted cyber-hacked in 2015.

So much for security.

Come to think of it, that ole paper tax return sound pretty darn secure to me today.

Questions about Tax Matters?

Mary Rae Fouts, EA is an Enrolled Agent licensed by the Department of the Treasury.  This license allows Mary to provide tax preparation, planning, and representation services to taxpayers in all 50 states and US territories.  Mary's tax clients typically have complex or technical tax concerns.

For information about Mary's Consulting, Tax, and Expert Witness Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

December 15, 2016

Neiman Marcus: Sales plunge and poor customer loyalty no surprise to this shopper.

Luxury department store Neiman Marcus, aka Needless Markup has reported an 8% sales decline in its most recent quarter, attributed to several issues including lack of customer loyalty.

It's no secret that I enjoy shopping, and consider myself a Nordstrom girl.  Yeck, when Jim and I got married, I told him anywhere we lived must be within 18 miles of a Nordstrom store, so I could get to the store within 30 minutes or so.  No kidding, true story.

Neiman Marcus store
Walnut Creek, California

I was excited when Neiman Marcus came to downtown Walnut Creek.  Heck, it even took a ballot initiative to build the store.  After all that fuss, the store would surely be incredible, right?


I tried shopping at the Walnut Creek Neiman Marcus store six times, a poor shopping experience and terrible customer service each time.  I would not go into that store one more time for all the tea in China.  The merchandise layout is terrible, the various departments and counters are difficult, if not impossible at times, to see and locate in the store.  And memo to NM:  those sparkling hanging butterflies are annoying and tacky.  And customer service?  Terrible.  Most of the time you're either ignored, or you're badgered to purchase an item after you've expressly told the sales professional you absolutely do not like.

Those annoying hanging butterflies at Walnut Creek's Neiman Marcus store
Photo Credit: Google Map Local Guide Raul Silvera

Plus I've never forgotten the rumor that floated around, near the time Neiman Marcus opened in Walnut Creek, that a NM executive (allegedly impostering a Nordstrom employee) had allegedly gotten into the Walnut Creek Nordstrom women's shoe department storage area to see what shoes were in stock.

Given that Neiman Marcus just experienced its fifth straight quarter of declining sales, clearly I'm not the only shopper who has had poor experiences at NM.

Mary Rae Fouts

December 12, 2016

Sid and the Vacuum Cleaner ... Not a match made in Heaven!

Husky-mix Sid and the vacuum cleaner.  Or should I say, the evil vacuum cleaner!

Sid was none too pleased to see the vacuum cleaner come out yesterday.  Check out the video below, and make sure your volume is turned up.   (Sorry for a misspelling on one of the captions, but I'm too busy to fix it now.)

Never a dull moment with my Faithful Canine Companions!

Mary Rae Fouts

December 9, 2016

Meet Lilou the Therapy Pig!

Another only-in-California moment.

Meet lovely Lilou the Pig.  The Therapy Pig, that is.

San Francisco International Airport already has trained therapy pets that roam the airport comforting airport travelers and employees, 365 days a year.  The airport has dogs, cats, even rabbits.  And now a cuter than cute Juliana-breed pig, Lilou.

That's right.  Lilou, a trained Therapy Pig.

Lilou is a good-sized girl with lovely manicured "nails" (typically painted bright red), and the cutest outfits and accessories you could imagine.

Photo Courtesy San Francisco International Airport
Check out the photos on Lilou's Instagram account.  Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Lilou works 1 day a month at SFO, in addition to providing animal therapy services at other locations.  But gosh darn, the airport will not disclose Lilou's schedule, as they want to keep her appearances a surprise.  Lilou enjoys greeting airport travelers and employees, getting petted, and eating treats.

You can learn more about Lilou's arrival at SFO here and here.

Happy Holidays, Lilou!

Mary Rae Fouts

December 8, 2016

Tax Scams: Don't Become a Victim

Tax Scams and IRS Impersonator Scams abound.  Don't become a victim.

A year ago I posted about the prevalence of IRS Impersonator Scams, and how not to become a victim.  Its worth addressing the topic again, as new Tax Scams are seemingly forever popping up.

Don't Become a Tax Scam Victim

The IRS just released a very informative summary of current tax scams targeting taxpayers, human resources personnel, and tax professionals.  Protect yourself.  Among other things, the IRS will never:
(1)  Call to demand immediate tax payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. 
(2)  Initiate taxpayer contact by email, phone, or text message to demand tax payments.  Taxpayers who have taxes due are first notified by mail.
(3)  Threaten to immediately have you arrested for not paying taxes.
Don't fall victim to these scams.  For more information, read today's IRS tax scam update here.

Questions about Tax Matters?

Mary Rae Fouts, EA is an Enrolled Agent licensed by the Department of the Treasury.  This license allows Mary to provide tax preparation, planning, and representation services to taxpayers in all 50 states and US territories.

For information about Mary's Consulting, Tax, and Expert Witness Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

December 7, 2016

Sunny Cool Autumn Afternoons: Time for a Canine Snooze!

Autumn is my favorite time of year.  Also seems to agree with my Faithful Canine Companions Husky-mix Sid and Chow-mix Lexi.

Here are Sid and Lexi enjoying a late November afternoon backyard snooze.  Sunshine with cool temperatures, their favorite weather.  Just perfect for an outside nap.

I guess they kinda like it here.  :)

Yet another lesson learned from my canine companions:  slow your life down and be kind to yourself.  Even if the kindness is a simple afternoon nap!

Mary Rae Fouts

December 6, 2016

Don't Worry, Have Fun and Be Happy!

So many important things I have learned in life, I have learned from my dogs.  My Faithful Canine Companions

Take my fur ball Chow-mix Lexi this morning.  After a long morning walk, she was happy and playful.  Not a care in the world as she gleefully played with a toy on the backyard patio.

And Husky-mix Sid?  He was more interested in munching on grass and listening for squirrels.

Take a peek at the video below.  If we could all simply live a Dog's Life:

Live in the Moment
Don't Worry, Be Happy!   

Mary Rae Fouts

December 5, 2016

Trendy Words and Phrases: What Annoys you Most?

Trendy words and phrases.  Some have the resultant effect of screeching fingernails on a chalkboard to me.

What is the trendy word or phrase that annoys or annoyed you most? 

Me?  The trendy word that annoys me most is actionable.

Today I received an email newsletter from a Certified Public Accounting organization.  Its tagline included the phrase "actionable intelligence".  Actionable intelligence?!  Took me 2 seconds to hit the unsubscribe button.

Have a great week everyone!

Mary Rae Fouts

December 2, 2016

Zenefits Implosion: Is your insurance agent or advisor properly licensed?

More bad news for the once high-flying human resource services provider Zenefits.

Zenefits has been fined by State Insurance Departments for allowing unlicensed individuals to sell insurance.  The California Department of Insurance recently fined Zenefits an eye-popping $7 million for this illegal act, the Washington Department of Insurance fined the company $100,000.

Also, the Washington Department of Insurance has ordered Zenefits to cease giving its employee benefits software, valued at an annual cost of $29,100 to $45,000, free to clients.  Yep, free.  According to the Washington Department of Insurance, this sales practice violates Washington's law that prohibits giving excessive items or money to individuals or businesses as an inducement to make a sale.  These anti-inducement laws are typical, but vary from state to state as to each law's specific prohibitions.

When working with an insurance professional, always check to make sure the individual is properly licensed.  You can find this information online at your State Insurance Department's website, which typically lists each individual's licensing, any complaints, and also sometimes continuing education records.  The California Department of Insurance license lookup is here.

Insurance or Annuity Concerns?

Visit for information about Mary's Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services.

November 29, 2016

Elder Financial Abuse: Don't Become a Victim

Sadly, Senior Citizens can be targeted by unscrupulous financial advisors and insurance agents. 

 Don't become a victim.

Former insurance agent Steven Branstetter, age 60, of Culver City, California recently pleaded guilty to embezzling $2.25 million from elderly clients over a period of nine years.  The clients thought their money was going into annuity, life insurance, and disability insurance policies, when it was actually going into Branstetter's pockets.

Yep, this went on for nine years before the criminal acts were uncovered.  And Branstetter was not even a licensed insurance agent for part of the time.  Read the California Department of Insurance press release about this crime and see Branstetter's mug shot here.

Annuity, Insurance, or Financial Planning Concerns?

Visit for information about Mary's Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services.

November 28, 2016

Outsourcing and Offshoring Jobs to Other Countries: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Outsourcing and offshoring jobs to other countries is at times a topic of discussion with my insurance, tax, and financial planning clients.  Outsourcing and offshoring to other countries used to be considered by only large companies, including service-orientated duties such as customer service call centers.  However, the concept is now being considered by smaller companies and businesses, including law firms and medical groups that outsource support and billing work to India and the Philippines.  Discussion of this topic has recently gained steam by President-elect Donald Trump's campaign promise to try and keep 2000 Carrier manufacturing jobs in Indiana, rather than moving the jobs to Mexico.

The Good.  The Bad.  And the Ugly.

When I discuss this topic with clients, the reasons are varied.  Sometimes it focuses on what a business client perceives as good, including potentially lower payroll, payroll tax, and employee benefit obligations, and potentially lower liability insurance premiums.  Or the perceived good of lower prices due to cheaper costs of production.  Other discussions focus on the bad, including lost jobs and careers.

But what about the ugly part of outsourcing and offshoring?

The Observer recently published an eye opening article about Fashion and the Garment Industry titled 'Made in America' Versus Offshoring.   Sadly, in the garment industry, 'made in America' rarely exists today, as evidenced by this sobering statistic:
"Until the 1960s, America was still making 95 percent of its clothes. In 2015, only 3 percent was produced in the United States and a staggering 97 percent was outsourced."
A Garment Factory in Bangladesh.
Photo Credit:

Workers at a Bangladesh garment factory give jeans a "distressed" look by spraying them with potassium permanganate, a toxic substance that can damage the human nervous system. Only one of the workers is wearing a protective mask.
 Photo credit: Redman 

The trendy, fast fashion retailer H&M is the largest clothing manufacturer in Bangladesh.  The average monthly wage of the estimated 4 million people who work in Bangladesh's garment sweatshops?  $67 dollars a month, or a bit more than $2 a day.  A DAY.

The New York Times recently published a photo expose article on offshore call centers.  These workers in India and the Philippines are better paid and typically have better working conditions than found in the Bangladesh garment sweatshops.  Yet problems exist.  Take a look at this call center for the cosmetic giant L'Oreal ... don't ask me what the ladder is for.  Emergency fire exit, perhaps?

A L'Oreal call center in India.
Photo credit:

The effects of outsourcing and offshoring jobs from the United States is multi-dimensional.  While price for a good or service is always a consideration, hopefully businesses and people will consider all the effects when given the choice of purchasing a product or service that is truly from the United States, rather than outsourced or offshored to another country.

Insurance, Financial Planning, or Tax Concerns?

Visit for information about Mary's Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services.

November 22, 2016

Office Closed for Thanksgiving Holiday

The office is presently closed for the Thanksgiving Holiday.  I will address phone call messages and emails next week.

Have a Very Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Mary Rae Fouts

November 21, 2016

Medicare Part B Premiums: An Unpleasant Double Whammy in 2017.

If you are a Medicare recipient, you may be in for an unpleasant double whammy in 2017.

Almost no cost of living increase in Social Security Payments (0.3%); and
For about 1/3 of all Medicare recipients, a 10% increase in Medicare Part B (medical insurance) premiums.

But that's not the worst of it.  The Part B premium increase would have been a mind-numbing 22% if the government had not dipped into financial reserves to hold down increase.  Read an informative Forbes article about this issue here.

And one more thing:  In 2017, Medicare Part B premiums will top $10,000 for some high income couples.  Yep, $10,000.  And that's just for Part B insurance.

Continued out-of-control premium increases, combined by dipping into reserves to artificially decrease the premium increases, is not sustainable.  Costs simply must come under control.

Mary Rae Fouts

Thanksgiving: Bask in the Celebrations of 15 Diverse Families

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite Holidays and times of the year.

I love cool autumn weather.  
Falling leaves.
Cashmere sweaters.
Delicious comfort food.
My slow roast turkey for Thanksgiving Dinner.

The New York Times' Food section recently had what I consider its best article ever:  An expose of 15 diverse families across the United States, and how they celebrate Thanksgiving.  The families generously share recipes for their favorite Thanksgiving Dinner dishes, some passed down through generations.  I plan on making most of the recipes over the next couple of months!

Thanksgiving Celebrations
Photo Credit:

You can read this heartwarming article here.  This online version includes wonderful videos.  You'll once again be assured that most people are, in fact, generous, kind, and thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Mary Rae Fouts

November 17, 2016

Husky Dogs: Boy, Can They Sing!

Huskies.  The joy of having one as your Faithful Canine Companion, including our Husky-mix Sid.

Joy?  Ya, for instance, a Husky's coat shedding like a hurricane of fur twice a year, lots of energy, as well as lots of love to give.  A very high small prey drive.  And, well, the ability to talk Husky style.

Sid lovin' the beach at at recent trip to beautiful Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.

Looks like this puppy Husky will be excellent at it.  "Talking", that is.  As is Sid.  Take a look at this video, and turn up the volume.  Sid approves!

Have a great rest of the week everyone; think happy and live in the moment.  Just as dogs do. 😊

Mary Rae Fouts

November 14, 2016

Carmel: A World-Class Getaway for Humans and Canines Alike

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California in gorgeous November weather.

In my next life, I hope to return as a dog in Carmel.
With a permanent residence at Doris Day's Cypress Inn.

Doris Day's Cypress Inn.
The most dog friendly Inn in Carmel.  Luxury for humans and canines alike.
Photo credit:

Sid loved the beach!
He even jumped head first into a wave.

Lexi loved the beach, too!

Weeeeeee!  Sid and Lexi run on the beach on a gorgeous November morning.

Sid and Lexi wade in high tide on the Carmel beach.

So much fun!  

Sid was completely out of gas after a morning on the beach.  Good Dog!

Huh.  I think Lexi kinda likes Carmel.  What do you think? 😄

Photo from the Cypress Inn's rooftop camera.
Photo credit:

Carmel ... a little slice of paradise.  Looking forward to our next visit!

Mary Rae Fouts

November 11, 2016

Donald Trump - The Monkey Gets It Right. Again.

Geda the Chinese Monkey.  Correct in his predictions again.

Geda correctly predicted Portugal would win the 2016 European Soccer Championship.  And, you guessed it, Geda correctly picked Donald Trump to win the 2016 United States Presidential Election.

Photo Credit:
Perhaps the egregiously wrong pollsters simply need to employ animals like Geda for election predictions.  Couldn't be any worse than the clearly-do-not-work polling and prediction methods they are using now!

Mary Rae Fouts

November 1, 2016

Ansel Adams Photographs and Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel: Good News in History

From Good News in History, November 1 - Good News Network:

With all the negativity in the current election cycle, let's share some Good News today!

75 years ago today, famed photographer Ansel Adams took what would become one of the most famous photographs in history:  the moon over Hernandez, New Mexico.  Isn't it amazing what black and white photography can capture?

In 1512, Michelangelo’s Vatican Sistine Chapel ceiling paintings were unveiled to the public.  The spectacular paintings cover 12,000 square feet and took 4 years to complete:

Sistine Chapel Paintings

For more Good News and to view Ansel Adam's famous Moon Over Hernandez photograph, click on the Good News Network link above.

Have a Happy Day! 

Mary Rae Fouts

October 28, 2016

Bacon Craze: Even Garfield Is In On It!

The Bacon Craze has hit the comic strips.

Got a nice chuckle at last Sunday's Garfield comic strip and its foray into the seemingly continuous Bacon Craze:


I took the comic strip to one more level, wondering if maple bacon donuts were truly a "thing".

Boy, are they ever.  So popular in some locations, Maple Bacon Donuts even has its own Wikipedia page!

And hey, when you're done with your Maple Bacon Donut, how about making some Bacon Caramel Apples for Halloween?


Neither concoction is something I am interested in trying, but I do have to admire the creativity of today's foodies and recipe creators.

Mary Rae Fouts

October 27, 2016

Meet Sally, the 97-Year-Old Dog Walker

Photo Credit:
Need some inspiration today?  Meet Sally.

Have you heard about Sally, the 97-year-old dog walker?

Yes, 97-years-old.  She'll be 98 in December.  And walks 10 dogs a day for the local animal shelter and neighbors.

What's not to LOVE about that?

Learn more about phenomenal Sally and her story at this BBC video post.

And many more happy walks, Sally!

Mary Rae Fouts

October 26, 2016

Sid the Dog: His goofiness is a cure to election year negativity!

My Husky-mix Sid.

One 67-pound canine goofball of very large paws and lots of fur.

And don't forget those crazy light blue eyes!

It's hard to imagine Sid was found by an animal control officer as a stray, wearing a red collar but no identification or chip.  Never claimed by his owner.  We are so lucky to have found Sid at the county animal shelter in Pinole.  We fell in love at first sight.  Sid came right up to my husband Jim and me as were sitting in the "get acquainted" room at the shelter.  Sid put his head on my leg and looked at me with  "please adopt me" eyes.  Precious.  Sid is a wonderful Canine Companion to Jim and me, and very bonded with his fur sister Chow-mix Lexi.  As Jim says, Sid and Lexi are two unlikely peas in a pod.


Sid is a spectacular dog that puts a smile on our faces each day.  Take a look for yourself ...

Sid is sound asleep in the guest bedroom, chillin' under the ceiling fan.
Comfortable Sid?

Relaxing in the evening and airin' it out with a nap on the Great Room floor.

No, Sid is not in jail.
We keep a hand truck parked on the patio, against the house under our 2nd story veranda.
Sid likes to wedge himself along side it, and rest his chin on the hand cart's bars.
He so looks like he is in jail!
He usually lays his head on the patio after resting on the bar, and goes to sleep.

And here is Sid just a tad bit excited (notice the paws on the kitchen counter, top right corner) about his Grass Fed Ground Beef Slider Dinner for his 5th Birthday.
Also in his bowl:  brown basmati rice, pumpkin, plain yogurt.  Yum!

And a Happy 5th Birthday Cake, too.

When Sid sleeps, and can really sleep soundly.  As in dead to the world.
Who could resist this face?

Yep, Sid likes to garden.
Here he is thanking his Daddy for doing such a great job rototilling the garden spot.
"Feels just right, Daddy!  Thanks for the new lounging spot!"

Thanks for adopting us Sid and being a Wonderful and Faithful Canine Companion.  We love you.

Mary Rae Fouts

October 25, 2016

Animal Poison Control: ASPCA's Lifesaving 24/7 Service

Do you know what foods,  household products and medications, and plants are potentially toxic to dogs and cats?

The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ("ASPCA") maintains a very informative Animal Poison Control  website that lists plants, foods, and household products that can be toxic to animals, as well as a 24/7 animal poison control telephone hotline - (888) 426-4435 - for animal poisoning emergency assistance.

I've referred to the website many times to check on plants I'm considering adding to my garden.  Keep the emergency number programmed into your phone, I also have it on my refrigerator for ease of reference.  We had to call the hotline once for our late dog Titus, thankfully what he ingested was not poisonous.  The ASPCA people who helped us were calming, knowledgeable, and, well, simply awesome in a stressful situation.

Titus the Dog  (2000 - 2014)
Never Forgotten and Always in our Hearts
Stay safe, everyone!

Mary Rae Fouts

October 24, 2016

Lexi the Dog: Happy 4th Birthday!

We celebrated our Chow-mix Lexi's 4th birthday yesterday.  What a wonderful and loving Faithful Canine Companion she is to me, husband Jim, and her fur brother Husky-mix Sid.  Oh, and an excellent alert watch dog, too.

It is hard to believe Lexi is the same dog we adopted from the Antioch Animal Services Shelter 2 years ago in late October 2014.  Lexi was 1 of 7 dogs seized by Antioch police that August for severe abuse and neglect in a backyard puppy mill, and sadly the only dog to survive.  She had a litter of puppies at the shelter; all died.  We adopted Lexi as soon as she became available.

Although she had several months of recuperation in the shelter during legal proceedings related to her abuse and neglect, Lexi was still very skinny and thin-furred when we adopted her.  Lexi's 2 lower canine teeth were fractured from trying to chew out of the puppy mill cage; we had them surgically removed.

When we adopted Lexi she was, as my husband Jim put it, scared of everything including her shadow.  Lexi clearly had never experienced a loving home and life, every experience was new to her.  Terrified of men, garden hoses, streams of water, towels, anything with a stick-like appearance.  Would only climb 2 steps, didn't know how to get into a car.

Lexi:  A loving, confident, and wonderful Canine Companion

With patience, love, understanding, yummy nutritious food, vet care, and exercise, Lexi has blossomed into the most wonderful, confident dog.  The skinny, thin furred, shaking, tail-between-her-legs dog is no more.  Also, our Husky-mix Sid was essential in teaching Lexi how to be a real dog, providing her with companionship in only the way another dog could do.  Sid and Lexi bonded as if litter mates within 5 days of Lexi's arrival.

Here is Lexi when we adopted her in late October 2014.

Fast forward ... here is Lexi today, 2 years after her adoption, enjoying a lovely autumn day outside while waiting for rain showers to start.

Would you ever think the dogs in the pictures above are the same dogs?!  Lexi's transformation has truly been amazing.

Here is Lexi yesterday on her 4th birthday,  enjoying a lounge in the freshly rototilled soil in a backyard garden spot.

And here is Lexi enjoying her backyard earlier this month.  Yes, she really enjoys spending time in her backyard!

And the very bonded canine pair Sid and Lexi, hanging out in the backyard 2 days ago, listening for squirrels.

Thank you Sid and Lexi for adding so my joy, love, and companionship to my life.

And Happy 4th Birthday, my Princess Lexi.
Mary Rae Fouts