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  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

September 21, 2017

Le Creuset Soup Pot: A Must Have If You Love To Cook!

I love to cook and bake.  Le Creuset is one of my favorite brands, across their entire line.  Not cheap, but their quality is unsurpassed and their pieces are both gorgeous and charming, as well a superbly designed.   Truly pieces that will last a lifetime.

One must have Le Creuset cookware item (hint hint, it is on sale here at Le Creuset's website!) is their 3 1/2 quart Soup Pot.  It's called a Soup Pot, but it is a very versatile cookware pot and not just for soup.  I love the even heat distribution from the enameled cast iron.  The sloped sides allow for efficient stirring.  The pot transports easily from stove top to table.  Plus it's down right gorgeous.  And clean up is a breeze.

Here's a photo from the Le Creuset website.  I have this exact Soup Pot in the cerise (red) color.  Plus the Shrimp Pasta dish shown in the Soup Pot is on my "to make" list.  You can get the recipe on the Le Creuset website.

Photo credit:  lecreuset.com

Happy cooking!
 
Mary Rae Fouts

September 20, 2017

Toys 'R' Us Bankruptcy: Once again, history repeats itself with private equity firm ownership.

Did competition in the toy industry drive Toys 'R' Us into Chapter 11 bankruptcy, or was the main culprit something else?

Sure, toy industry competition play a part.  But I think the main culprit was something else.

And that something else is private equity firm ownership.

Contrary to some people's belief that Toys 'R' Us is a publicly-traded company, it is privately held by an investment group consisting of private equity firms.  Toy 'R' Us was a publicly traded company from 1978 through 2005, when an investment group (Bain Capital Partners LLC, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., and real estate investment firm Vornado Realty Trust) took the company private by purchasing it for $6.6 billion.

Notice the purchase participation of a real estate investment firm?  Much of Toys 'R' Us' acquisition was based not on the chain's store operations and sales, but rather on the value of the company's real estate.

What has happened to Toys 'R' Us since then?  Not a lot of good.

Since Monday's Chapter 11 (reorganization) bankruptcy, the company has been very careful with its selection of words to explain its actions.  It has stated it "expects" to continue honoring warranties, return policies, and gift cards.  Expects?  Expects is not a very comforting word for those on the other end of a bankruptcy proceeding, including the company's 60,000 plus employees.

And about those employees, they have previously been given the middle finger by Toys 'R' Us' private equity owners.  Heck, 2 years ago, 67 New Jersey based Toys 'R' Us employees, skilled employees who worked primarily in the company's accounting division, were fired and replaced by imported workers from India using H-1B Visas.  To add to the indignity of being fired, the New Jersey based Toys 'R' Us accountants  were forced to train their Indian replacements before being shown the door.  Read about this crass stick-it-to-loyal-employees move in this New York Times article.

And I concur with analysts who have deep concerns about the future viability of Toys 'R' Us.  The company is drowning in a whopping $5 billion in acquisition-related debt.  Much of this debt obligation was due payable this year, which likely helped triggered the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.  Then, of course, there is the hyper online and brick and mortar competition in the toy industry.  With that combination of factors, I just don't see Toys 'R' us staying away from a future Chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcy.

Toy manufactures seem to concur, too.  They are demanding cash payment up front ... cash, baby, cash ... before shipping any toys to Toys 'R' Us.  This demand recently required Toys 'R' Us to secure $1 billion in financing for pre-payment of toy orders.  And with the upcoming holiday season, this prepayment demand debt is only going to get worse.

Is the Toys 'R' Us situation unique?  Nope.  Similar situation happened to the former San Francisco Bay Area based clothing chain Mervyn's.  Mervyn's was taken private when it was acquired by a group of private investment firms including Sun Capital Partners, Cerberus Capital Management, and real estate investment firm Lubert-Adler Management.  But you see, the investment group didn't purchase Mervyn's based on the company's store operations and sales, but rather for the value of Mervyn's real estate portfolio.

Yep, for the value of the Mervyn's buildings.  Notice the similarity to the Toys 'R' Us privatization?

And what happened?  You guessed it.  A mere 4 years later, Mervyn's filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, followed by full liquidation through a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Mervyn's.  Toys 'R' Us.  Equity firm ownership.  Value of company's real estate.  Sounding familiar?

Ah, history.  Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Mary Rae Fouts

September 19, 2017

Cats Ring Bells for Treats Video - Hilarious!

Photo Credit:
John Thompson on youtube.com
Ok, admittedly I am a dog person.  But ... my good friend Gina sent me this hilarious video (posted below) I just have to share.  Are these hat wearing, bell ringing cats adorable - and hilarious - or what?!

I mentioned to my husband that perhaps I should try training our food obsessed Husky-Malamute mix Sid this ring-a-bell-get-a-treat trick.  Jim laughed and said Sid would never stop ringing the bell!  🔔

Enjoy for a smile and a laugh.



Mary Rae Fouts

September 18, 2017

Gambell, Alaska: A Boxed Cake Mix = Love to Remote Alaskan Villagers

Read for some love?  Food love, that is.

Wonderful heartwarming story in today's New York Times highlighting the importance of both homemade food and local traditions.   More precisely, now a boxed cake mix brings happiness to Alaska's remote villages.  Read the article and its many insightful comments here.

Photo credit:  newyorktimes.com

Take a moment to think of some of your fondest life memories.  Many of them will evoke food, whether it be Grandmother's apple pie or Aunt Mae's hamburger and noodle casserole. 

I love to cook and bake.  Always have.  Always will.  I am an avid sourdough baker, and frequently share my sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls.  Weeks after sharing, I continue to receive thankful comments of appreciation; of how much the bread or rolls meant to the recipient.

A recent sourdough bread bake.
All sourdough starter, no active or dried yeast.
This is my Regular Sourdough Bread.
I also bake Cinnamon Swirl Sourdough Bread and Sourdough Cheese Bread.

Slice of my Regular Sourdough Bread.
Just the right amount of holes for great sandwiches and toast.
Made with 89% unbleached bread flour and 11% whole wheat flour.
Also raw unfiltered honey and other good stuff.
So good!

And remember the slower times in life when families actually ate together at the dinner table, with no smart phones in sight?  (Secret:  that is exactly what happens at my home!)  And dinner was home cooked and not picked up fast food?  (Secret #2:  once again, that is exactly what happens at my home!)

Oh, and the highly-demanded Rum Cake made by Tanana, Alaska resident and grocery store owner Cynthia Erickson?  You can get the recipe in the article above.  And boy, does it sound delish!

Food = Love.  💖

Mary Rae Fouts

September 15, 2017

BART: Six Robbery Victims Sue BART Alleging Inadequate Precautions to Prevent Crime

BART, the San Francisco Bay Area's rail-based public transportation system.   It's no secret that crime has increased throughout the BART system, and that BART management is, to put it mildly, FUBAR.  Heck, following a fatal shooting on a BART train in last year, it was revealed that most of the security camera on the BART trains were nothing more than fake, non-working cameras with blinking lights.

And just how much has crime increased on BART? Lots.  As in mega lots.  The San Jose Mercury News reported in July (read the article here) that there was a 41% increase in violent crimes for the first five months of 2017 compared with the same time period in 2016. Property crimes are also up 14 percent.

Makes you feel all safe and snugly on BART, doesn't it?

But, while I sympathize with the robbery victims and feel that BART management and its Board of Directors are the definition of incompetent, I don't see this lawsuit going anywhere.   Why?
The Supreme Court has already ruled that police do not have a constitutional duty to protect someone (Castle Rock v. Gonzales, 2005).  How is the plantiffs' attorney going to argue away that pesky little fact?
On a side note, don't people bear personal responsibility for being aware of their surroundings, and keeping valuables safe?  One of the items stolen during one of the robberies was a duffel bag that, according to one of the plaintiffs, contained a 6-generation family heirloom.  Which begs the question:
Where's the wisdom of someone transporting a precious 6-generation family heirloom inside a duffel bag, while taking public transportation at night?
Read about the lawsuit (and readers' numerous comments) in this East Bay Times article.

Mary Rae Fouts

September 14, 2017

Baby Destiny Knight: Single Black Women and Babies, Yet Another Sobering Statistic

Destiny Knight. I read about this baby's birth in today's local newspaper.  The article spoke about a baby named Destiny, born at home during Hurricane Irma.

I looked online and found several of the articles about similar at-home births.  But the Baby Destiny story (read it here) stood out as yet another example of sobering statistics regarding single black women and babies.

There's nothing racist about this discussion.
Statistics are statistics.
  And these statistics are disturbing ones at that.

Photo credit:  sun-sentinel.com

Destiny's mother, Tatyanna Watkins, is black, and a young woman at 23-years-old.  She's also single, too; the photo shows Ms. Watkins with Destiny and her boyfriend.  And this is not her first child.  She has 2 other children, in addition to new baby Destiny.

That's right:  A black single mom, 23-years of age, with 3 children already.  

And as for the statistics?  Unfortunately, Tatyanna Watkins fits right in with the current single mother statistics in the United States  (Source for the following statistics:  https://singlemotherguide.com/single-mother-statistics/).  Take a look at these sobering facts:
  • Black women are more likely to have children outside of marriage than other racial or ethnic groups.  As of 2013, about 72% of births to black women were to single black women.

  • Nearly two in five (39.9%) of Black female-headed families lived in poverty in 2013.

  • Children born to young unmarried mothers are most likely to grow up in a single-parent household. More than two thirds for these families end up on welfare.

Pretty disheartening, huh?  And so the cycle of poverty, welfare, and young single mothers with multiple children continues.  And will do so until people decide they want to change.

Mary Rae Fouts

September 13, 2017

Hurricane Irma: Is reliance on electric vehicles really the best for the future?

Are electric cars and trucks really the future for transportation of people and freight?

Well, perhaps not, given the lesson being learned from Hurricane Irma.

As of today, approximately 15 million people in Florida are without electricity, in addition to an unknown number in the remaining states visited by Irma's wrath.

15 million people.  And restoration of electrical power is expected to take untold weeks in Florida.

Not days without electricity.  Weeks.  Months, maybe?  And it's not just about not having the lights on.  Not just about lacking air conditioning.

It's also about electric plug-in vehicles.

Much is said about gasoline shortages in Florida, and people waiting in line for up to 90 minutes to fill up vehicles with gasoline.

Granted, the wait in line is an inconvenience, but gasoline is available. People have transportation, trucks can deliver desperately needed food, water, and supplies.

But wait a minute, there' s a catch.  That catch is, of course,  that the vehicles are gasoline or diesel powered.  100% electric plug-in vehicles are dead and of no use until the power comes back on.  Which could be weeks or longer.

No electrical power.  No electric vehicle.

Some may say:  Well, what about using generators?  My answer to that is two fold.  (1) It simply is not practical for every electric vehicle owner to have a generator; and (2) generators require gasoline to run.  So you'll need to use your electric car to get to the gas station for gasoline.  An impossible task to do if your electric vehicle is dead.

Don't get me wrong, I do believe that electric vehicles have a place in our lives for both personal and freight transportation.   But to the special interest groups and electric vehicle manufacturers who are pushing for future  100% (or thereabouts) electric vehicle reliance, I say:  Take a step back and look at realities.  We will have more natural events and other perils that create extended electrical power outages, at times in large, highly populated areas.  How prudent is it to place 100% (or thereabouts) reliance on an electric plug-in vehicle for transportation when the vehicle cannot run during these times; times when transportation of people, food, water, and supplies is desperately needed?

In my opinion, not very prudent at all.

Mary Rae Fouts

September 12, 2017

Nordstrom Local: Nordstrom's inane new store concept = this year's New Coke.

Has Nordstrom just created this year's New Coke?  You know, this year's epic product and marketing failure?

I think so.

New Coke, meet Nordstom Local.  Yes, another ill thought sales and epically inane marketing concept.  Thought up by Shea Jensen, Nordstrom senior vice president of customer experience, who appears to think Nordstrom customers now equate Nordstrom with having beer and getting a manicure.

No disrespect to Planters Peanuts, but this Nordstrom Local idea is just plain nuts!  Heck, it's nuttier than Aunt Bee's whisky-laced fruitcake.


And to think Shea Jensen actually gets paid to develop and implement this hair brained scheme.  And gets paid by Nordstrom, the company who presumably places customer service and customer satisfaction first, yet now thinks customers will receive world-class service and satisfaction by shopping in a "store" with no merchandise!

Nordstrom Local
A "Store" with no merchandise.
But you can belly up to the bar an get a manicure.
Regretfully, I am not kidding.

What's Nordstrom Local?  Glad you asked!  It's Nordstrom's new small concept store (about 3000 sq ft) that, well, isn't truly a store BECAUSE IT WON'T HAVE ANY MERCHANDISE.  But you can come to the "store" - I'm going to call it a non-store, because that's what it is - and step up to the non-store's bar for a beer while getting your nails done at the same time.

And golly gee, there will also be a personal stylist to help you at the new Nordstrom non-store.   Help with what, I have not a clue, as the non-store WON'T HAVE ANY MERCHANDISE to require such help.   And for a 2nd golly gee, the non-store is promising same day local delivery of purchases made by 2 PM.  No clue as to just what purchases this delivery refers to (unless it is a bottle of wine from the bar, or a bottle of nail polish from your manicure) BECAUSE THE NON-STORE WON'T HAVE ANY MERCHANDISE on stock to sell, therefore nothing to deliver.

Could this concept get any dumber?  You can read more about this wacky non-store concept here.

I am a decades-long Nordstrom customer and generally a fan of all-things Nordstrom.  Heck, when I got married, our home location was mandated by the requirement that it be no more than 17 miles from a Nordstrom, so I could drive to the store in a half hour or so.  (I actually live less than 4 miles from the Walnut Creek, CA Nordstrom store, and have for some 23 years.)  But this non-store creation is so profoundly inane that I truly thought this Nordstrom Local non-store concept was a fake news plant when I first read about it yesterday.

Nordstom, it's real simple:  just say no.

(Note: edited for some typos.  My bad.  Not good to type in a rant, I guess.  Or at least not in a Nordstrom rant.  MRF)

Mary Rae Fouts

September 11, 2017

Bretagne: Remembering Bretagne, the Last Surviving 9/11 Search and Rescue Dog

Bretagne.  The pushy Golden Retriever puppy who eventually became the oldest surviving 9/11 Search and Rescue Dog.

On the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks today, I thought about Bretagne (pronounced "Brittany") this morning.  With her Mom and handler Denise Corliss, then 2-year old Bretagne searched for survivors in the 9/11 rubble, working 12-hour shifts.  During this time, Bretagne also served as a defacto Therapy Dog, offering comfort and solace to human First Responders.

Bretagne and Mom/handler Denise Corliss at 9/11
Photo credit:  Denise Corliss

Bretagne had just graduated from search and rescue training; 9/11 was her first deployment.  She continued to work as a Search and Rescue Dog for 7 more years until retiring at the age of 9.  But her public service didn't stop there.  Bretagne continued to be active in the community, including volunteering as a Reading Assistance Dog at local elementary schools.  Good Dog!

And Bretagne shared one trait with my Faithful Canine Companion, Husky-Malamute mix Sid:  Food is the favorite thing for both dogs!  Read about Bretagne's love of food and goofy treat antics here.

Food-obsessed Bretagne at age 16 1/2
Hey, it's always time for a treat, right?
Photo credit:  Denise Corliss

Bretagne peacefully passed away shortly before her 17th birthday.   Read a heartwarming tribute to Bretagne here.  She was the oldest surviving 9/11 Search and Rescue Dog.

Like all good dogs, Bretagne will always remain in our hearts.  Always with us in spirit, and never forgotten.

Mary Rae Fouts

September 8, 2017

Harvey and Irma Schluter: Couple Married 75 Years Shares Names with Devastating Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

As the Tina Turner song goes, "What's love got to do with it?"  For Harvey and Irma, plenty.

I'm not talking about Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, but rather Harvey and Irma Schluter.  Yep, the Schluters.  The Spokane, Washington couple who has been married for 75 years.  Irma is 93-years young, Harvey is 104-years young.   But take a look at this picture from their 75th wedding anniversary in March.  Do they beam happiness and love, or what?!  💖💖💗💗

Photo credit:  newyorktimes.com

And ironically, this glorious couple just happens to share names with devastating hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  What is the chance of that?  1 in untold millions, likely.

Perhaps Harvey and Irma's love will shine down on the victims of their namesake hurricanes.  And the Schluter's generosity.  This amazing couple has taken more than 120 children into their home over the past decades.

Read more about Harvey and Irma Schluter in this New York Times article.

Mary Rae Fouts

September 6, 2017

Hurricane Irma heads towards Florida and the Southeastern U.S. Are you prepared for a natural disaster?

When it comes to natural disasters, Mother Nature does not discriminate.  Meet massively powerful Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 Hurricane in the Atlantic, currently heading towards Florida and the Southeastern United States.  While her exact path cannot be known, Irma is by all accounts a life threatening storm capable of catastrophic devastation.

And Irma is one powerfully angry storm, with current sustained winds of 185 mph.

Hurricane Irma's current estimated path
Credit:  weather.com

If you live in an area prone to natural disasters - hurricanes, tornadoes, floods,
or earthquakes - are you currently prepared to survive at least 72 hours
 with no outside assistance, no water or electricity, and no outside access to food?

Prepare now. Otherwise, prepare to wait for hours in line for supplies ... if your can find a store that is stocked with food, water, plywood, and other supplies. Wait time in Southern Florida just to get into stores for supplies is reported to currently be 2-3 hours.  Stores are selling out of some items, including bottled water, as soon as supplies are received.

Nearly depleted bottled water supply at a store in Southern Florida.
Photo credit:  sun-sentinel.com

Be smart.  Plan now now.  Be prepared and be ready.

September 5, 2017

California Robot Tax: California's latest wacky tax target led by San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim

Think California's proposal to tax drinking water (read my recent blog post ) is wacky?  Well, another pending tax proposal may be just as zany.

A tax on robots.  Yep, robots.   Like Stanford Shopping Center's Security Robot K5 I posted about last year.

San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim
Photo credit:  San Francisco Chronicle

While short on details, San Francisco, California Supervisor Jane Kim has launched an initiative to get California's state-elected politicians to enact a state-wide tax on robots.  Now that's a mouthful for a sentence, isn't it?!  Kim supposedly feels the tax is necessary because robots are going to take away too many human jobs.  Not sure just what her "initiative" consists of , and not sure how she believes she can push state politicians to enact this tax when she herself is not a state-elected politician.

Oh, those pesky details.

Imagine ... A politician talking one way while living another way.
No way!!!

I noted interesting behavior by Supervisor Jane Kim when I chose the photo posted above.  That's a photo of her at a San Francisco Board of Supervisor's meeting in February 2016.  In spite of Kim's disdain for robots and automation, she has no qualms about using the technology provided by the laptop in front her her.  Why not tax laptops, Supervisor Kim?  After all, computers automate tasks humans could otherwise do.  And golly gee, Kim also disregards an environmentally friendly lifestyle.  Notice the disposable coffee cup in front of her?  More litter for the landfill!

Just another only-in-California day, and yet one more California tax proposal.


Tax Concerns?

Mary Rae Fouts, EA assists clients who have concerns about tax, insurance, and related financial issues.  For more information about Mary's Tax, Consulting, and Expert Witness Services visit Fouts Financial Group.  She welcomes your call at (510) 421-5457 or email to Mary@FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

September 1, 2017

Homeowners Insurance Consulting: Do you have adequate insurance for your home?

The epic property damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey is a reminder that catastrophic events can .... and unfortunately do ... happen.  Fires, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and earthquakes.  Throw potential property theft into the mix, and the pool of perils grows.  (In insurance terminology, a peril is the cause or a loss.)

  • If you are a homeowner, do you have adequate homeowners insurance coverage?
  • Put another way, when is the last time you reviewed your homeowners insurance policy?
  • Do the contents of your home have adequate insurance coverage?
  • Should you have earthquake or flood insurance?
  • And importantly, are you aware of the exclusions in your policy, creating loss situations that are not covered, or property that is not covered by your insurance?

Concerns about Homeowners Insurance Matters?
Schedule your Comprehensive Policy Review

Mary Rae Fouts, EA  assists clients who have concerns about insurance, tax, and related financial issues, including those related to homeowners insurance coverage matters.  For more information about Mary's Tax, Consulting, and Expert Witness Services visit Fouts Financial Group.  She welcomes your call at (510) 421-5457 or email to Mary@FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts