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.