March 27, 2018

Smart Kitchens: Not popular with home cooks and bakers. My response? Duh!!!!

Smart Kitchens.


A "Smart Refrigerator" in a "Smart Kitchen"
Photo credit:  youtube.com
The so-called Smart Kitchens are not popular with home cooks and bakers.  As pointed out in this recent New York Times article, while the Tech Industry (unsuccessfully) continues its attempt to push the latest and greatest "smart" appliances and kitchen gadgets onto people, the cooking and baking public so far is generally saying no.

My response?  One word:



People who actually cook and bake in their home kitchens - including avid (!!) home cooks and bakers like me - are interested in appliances that are functional, will last for an expected amount of time, and ... god forbid ... actually work.

Take my range (or stove, if you wish), for example.  Unlike some people who maybe use their oven a couple times a month - or even a few times a year - I use my oven nearly every day, and regularly for multiple food items in a day.  My stove top gas burners are used every day.  I am an avid cook and baker, including using my oven to bake homemade sourdough bread and many other baked and slow-roasted goodies.  My range is a  30"Frigidaire Professional Series, gas convection large dimension oven, and has old-fashioned knobs for controlling both burners and the oven.  The bottom drawer is not some fancy warming drawer, but rather a small storage area for items like cookie sheets and cooling racks.  The only electronically controlled items on the range are the 2 timers, plus a digital clock.

And guess what?  My bad boy workhorse oven works!  Like a charm.

My Workhorse Frigidaire Professional Series Range

Memo to the Tech Industry:  Your Smart Kitchen appliances will never pass muster with a serious home cook or baker.  Why?  Many reasons.  (1) The first thing to die will be the electronics, which likely will happen sooner than later.  (2)  How many electronic panels on the front edge of a stove top will live through having simmering pasta sauce or soup spilled on them?  Zilcho.  (3)  These Smart Appliance frequently do not work as well as the simply designed stove such as mine.  (4)  The Smart Appliances, or should I saw the EXPENSIVE Smart Appliances, will be obsolete in a cycles that is perhaps faster than the life of an Apple I Phone.

And lastly, when is the last time you walked into a professional kitchen of a high end restaurant and saw a bunch of Smart Appliances such as electronically-loaded "Smart Ranges" and "Smart Refrigerators"?  Answer:  never.

Keep on cooking and baking, everyone, but don't get sucked up into spending and arm and a leg for a Smart Kitchen that, well, isn't such a smart purchase after all.  Put in a so-called Smart Kitchen for show if you wish.  Just don't waste money on appliances and gadgets that will be here today, but will become obsolete in not much longer than a New York Minute.

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  And yes, she loves to cook and bake!  For more information visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

March 23, 2018

Wear a winter coat and ski mask in cold weather near a Danville, CA school? Cops get called and school goes on lockdown!

Danville, California Diablo View Middle School Goes on Lockdown.


Why?  For no other reason than the appearance of people wearing winter outerwear.


Seems as if some peoples' fears of daily life - and society in general - have now really ... reeaaally ... gone off the deep end.

In cold weather this morning, 2 people were spotted near Diablo Vista Park and Diablo Valley Middle School in nearby Danville, California.  They were taking a walk (you know, the activity many people perform in public park areas), dressed in warm winter clothing consisting of heavy jackets and ski masks.

And what happened?

Cops were called.  And the middle school went on lockdown.

Yes, lockdown.  All over warm winter clothing.  (Read the East Bay Times article here.)

Turns out the 2 people were elderly residents out for a walk, dressed warm to ward off the chill of the cold morning weather.

What fears are schools instilling in our children if the sight of people dressed in winter clothing - in cold weather - initiates lockdown procedures at the school?

What's next?  Are the police going to profile every person dressed in warm winter clothing near a school?  Or perhaps the mere sight of such people will initiate ongoing lockdown procedures at schools?  Of maybe ... just maybe ... we'll all have to have a permit before purchasing winter outerwear.

Furthermore, I cannot begin to imagine the bewilderment of the 2 senior citizens, being questioned by Danville Police as to why they were wearing warm winter clothing ... in cold morning weather.

Pretty soon school kids will be afraid to leave their homes.  Safety is one thing, but hysterical, unsubstantiated fear is quite yet yet another.   Too bad common sense is no longer common.

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  And she happens to own a nice selection of warm winter clothing and outerwear.  For more information visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

March 21, 2018

RM3: Just say NO to the deeply flawed San Francisco Bay Area $3 bridge toll hike measure.

San Francisco Bay Area Proposed $3 Toll Hike.


Just say no to stupid.  And this measure - RM3 - awaiting Bay Area voters at the June polls is really, really stupid.

San Francisco Bay Area voters get to vote on yet another California-government-needs-more-and-more-revenue measure at the June 2018 primary polls.  Regional Measure 3 – otherwise known as RM3 – would hike tolls on state-owned Bay Area bridges by $3.

But in perspective, this $3 toll increase would increase the Bay Bridge toll to $9. 
Wanna guess what the Bay Bridge Toll was when I moved here in 1994?
$1.

Yes.  $1.  So RM3 represents a 900% toll increase from the $1 I paid when I moved here.

Just say NO to Regional Measure 3 (RM3)
It will NOT relief any traffic.
But it WILL relieve weight from your wallet in the form of a $3 bridge toll hike!
Wanna know what’s even worse?  Almost none of the money from SB3 will be spent on Bay Area Bridges.  Ya know, those same bridges that demand the tolls to pay for the measure for which the bridges receive almost no benefit.  (That’s a mouthful, isn’t it?)  Here is a breakdown of where the money from SB3 will – ostensibly – go:




To add more looniness to this discussion, the Editorial Board from the East Bay Times (my supposed local newspaper, although the EBT is generally anything but local for me in reporting anymore) is supporting this wackadoo measure.  Even though the newspaper's own analysis shows that SM3 is "deeply flawed".

Got that?!  (Read the EBT's editorial in support of this admittedly "deeply flawed" measure, and many online comments, here.)

To summarize the EBT Editorial Board's support for SM3, they more-or-less advocate voting for this - as they admit - "deeply flawed" bill because it is an easy way to suck more money out of Bay Area bridge commuters.  (Requires only a simple majority of yes votes to pass, rather than a supermajority.)  The Editorial Board advocates voting on this - as they admit themselves - "deeply flawed" bill simply "[b]ecause we must do something".

Has the EBT Editorial Board lost its collective editorial mind? Apparently so.

Bay Area Public Transportation is Worthless Joke
And Money from SM3 Will Not Force People Out of their Cars and into Public Transportation

And no, increasing bridge tolls will not automatically equate to more people taking public transportation, as the EBT Editorial Board promotes.  Reason?  It's really very simple:  Bay Area public transportation often does not take you where you need to go. It often does not take you where you need to go when you need to go there, or otherwise do so in a timely manner. Take this morning, for instance.  Two BART train stations shut down in SF.  How's that for "reliable" public transportation?

Take this public transportation example from today at 10 AM.   If I need to get to the County Courthouses in Martinez from my Pleasant Hill home (distance = 11.1 miles), the trip by car would take an estimated 19 minutes.  If I solely use public transportation, the same trip would take an estimated 1 hour and 21 minutes to 1 hour and 41 minutes.  The public transit trip (depending on the route) would involve 1 to 1.75 miles of walking, and multiple bus and/or BART rides.  That is simply crazy!

More California Loony Politics!  Will be barrel ever get empty?

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

March 20, 2018

Toys 'R' Us Bankruptcy Moves onto Chapter 7 Liquidation. Once again, history repeats itself with disastrous private equity firm ownership.

Toys 'R' Us Chapter 7 Bankruptcy.


The once-storied American toy store Toys 'R' Us declared Chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcy last week.  Today is the company's first hearing in Bankruptcy Court, where Toys 'R' Us will attempt to defend its bankruptcy plan from a hurricane force list of objections from creditors.  The top three unsecured creditors are reportedly Bank of New York (owed $206.3 million), followed by Mattel (owed $135.6 million), and Hasbro (owed $59 million).

Heck, Toys 'R' Us was even brazen (or dumb) enough to open a brand new store near me in Concord, CA ... in late October 2017, shortly after declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  And the brand new Concord, CA Veranda Mall where the store opened was just as inept to allow a store in Chapter 11 Bankruptcy to move in as a prime tenant.

I forecasted Chapter 7 Liquidation Bankruptcy for Toys 'R' Us last year, after the company declared Chapter 11 Reorganization Bankruptcy; my September 20, 2017 blog post is pasted below.  And I didn't need a crystal ball to forecast the Toys 'R' Us Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, either.
" ... I just don't see Toys 'R' us staying away from a future Chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcy."   -- Mary Rae Fouts; September 20, 2017
What happened?  Well, history simply repeated itself.  Once again, nothing much good happened to public company - in this case, Toys 'R' Us - after it was taken private by a private equity company and a real estate trust.

For background on the all-but-certain-to-happen demise of Toy 'R' Us, read my blog post from September 20, 2017 below.
﹏  ﹏  ﹏  ﹏  ﹏  ﹏  ﹏  ﹏  ﹏  ﹏  ﹏  ﹏


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.

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

March 12, 2018

Sourdough Pizza for Dinner Tonight!

Sourdough Pizza.


Stuffed Crust Sourdough Pizza for dinner tonight.  Just what I needed after not feeling well today.

Pizza baked on Lodge cast iron pizza pan.  Dough made with my stiff sourdough starter (unbleached bread flour and spring water), Caputo Soft Wheat Flour Tipo 00 (first time working with this flour), spring water, local honey, kosher salt, Italian seasoning.  Dough spent 72 hours in the fridge.

Finished pizza included a stuffed crust (Swiss cheese).  Crust par baked at 350*F Convection oven, then topped with Sugo di Pomidoro pizza sauce, bacon, sauteed organic green onion and red bell pepper, fresh organic spinach, dry salami, mozzarella cheese.  Baked until done.

My husband and I both agreed this was the best Sourdough Pizza I've ever made.  The Caputo Soft Wheat Flour is a winner; paired exceptionally well with the nutty Swiss cheese in the stuffed crust.

Want some?  

Finished Sourdough Pizza.

Stuffed Crust Sourdough Pizza before placing in the oven.

Par baked pizza crust before topping.

Bacon and sauteed organic green onion and organic red bell pepper.

The Caputo flour I used.  A winner!

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

March 9, 2018

Amazon's Alexa Goes Down ... How did people survive?

Alexa.


Amazon's Alexa
Last week, Amazon's popular electronic gadget Alexa went down during a widespread Amazon Web Services outage.   Yes, Alexa was silenced; read about the outage here.  I had to laugh about the social media panic-fueled coverage Alexa's outage prompted.  I mean, do some people actually need Alexa (and social media) to even function in life?

Not me.  I'll stick with my paper planner and hand written notes, thank you very much.

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  She does not own an Alexa or any other similar talking device.  For more information visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

March 7, 2018

America's Productivity Problem: Turns out that Bitcoin is just part of the problem.

Bitcoin.


Turns out that people's addiction to Social Media isn't the only reason for problems with America's productivity.

We can blame Bitcoin, too.

This fascinating New York Times article (read it here) looks at the crypto currency Bitcoin and its influence on America's productivity, as well as Bitcoin's enormous use of electricity.  The article also points out another startling statistic:
Roughly 20% of adults in the United States, who are in their prime working years and are not otherwise disabled, are neither working nor actively looking for work. Those people are not included in the published federal unemployment rate.
Just think about that.  If we were to include that 20% segment of the United States adult population, the true unemployment rate would not be 4.1 % (the latest available government published national unemployment rate, as of October 2017), but nearly 25%.

Yes, a true United States federal unemployment rate of nearly 25%.

And to think I grew up with a rotary dialed telephone and a small TV with an attached antenna and manually dialed channel selector.  And we actually walked to school.  Today's younger generations probably wonder how us 50 plus year olds survived!

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

March 5, 2018

Shiva the Husky: This girl knows how to have fun on the agility course!

Shiva the Husky.


Shiva the Husky
She gave how to run a dog agility course a whole new meaning:  Shiva Style!

At the end of a 4-day dog show competition, Shiva took a turn on the agility course.  And in doing so, enjoyed some plain old fun.  Take a look at Shiva's hilarious performance on this video, and be prepared to smile and laugh!  Shiva tackles the agility course as only a husky can do 😊 .



About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  She is the proud human Mom to Faithful Canine Companions Husky-Malamute mix Sid and Chow Chow-Pomeranian mix Lexi.  For more information visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

March 4, 2018

Tax Returns: Yes Virginia, you can still file a paper individual income tax return.

Tax Time!


As an Enrolled Agent licensed by the United States Department of the Treasury, it's Tax Time all 12 months of the year in my tax preparation, planning, consulting, and representation practice.

But for many people, Tax Time is the first of the year before mid-April, when individual taxpayers file their individual income tax returns.

And speaking of that, while the Internal Revenue Service and State Taxing Authorities aggressively  promotes electronic filing of individual income tax returns and electronic payment of individual income tax payments, electronic transmission is not legally required.  An individual income tax payer can still file a paper return, and pay taxes (including estimated tax payments) via US mail and a check.

For more information about various ways individual income tax returns can be prepared and submitted to the IRS, visit this recent IRS bulletin.

About Mary Rae Fouts,EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  She is an Enrolled Agent licensed by the United States Department of the Treasury, which allows her to provide tax services in all 50 states and U.S. territories.  For more information visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

March 3, 2018

Date Dinner! Be good to yourself.

Date Dinner.


Something a bit extra special for dinner.  Doesn't have to be complicated.  A fun and be kind to your spouse ... and be kind to yourself ... event.

Ribeye Steak with a Polynesian Glaze, prepared in my oven with my Le Creuset Grill Skillet.  Best steak ever!

A simple salad:  little gem lettuce, local brie cheese, organic radish, dressing.  Husband Jim also had bacon on his salad.

Prawn cocktail with fresh cooked prawns, lemon garnish, and tequila lime cocktail sauce.

Homemade sourdough rolls.

Homemade brownies I baked earlier this week were available for dessert, but we were both too full to have any.

Enjoy life!










About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  And if you haven't noticed, she loves to cook and bake!  For more information visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

March 2, 2018

Tax Scams: Don't become a victim.

Tax Scams.


Unfortunately, tax scams abound:  IRS impersonators, identity theft to obtain bogus tax refunds, and similar bad stuff.

Don't become a victim.  Click here to read the latest from the IRS on current tax scams, including a scam targeting individuals who are getting refunds from early filed 2017 tax returns.

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  She is an Enrolled Agent licensed by the United States Department of the Treasury.  For more information visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

March 1, 2018

Pet Food: Do you know what you are feeding your dog?

Dog Food Recalls.


Recalls of commercially sold pet food are unfortunately common.  (See the latest pet food recalls and withdrawals at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website.)  A frequent reason is due to the presence of salmonella bacteria, commonly referred to as food poisoning.  Other recall reasons include the presence of a drug, such as this recall due to the presence of pentobarbital (a drug used to sedate and euthanize animals) recently found in Gravy Train canned dog food.

As a proud human Mom to Beloved Canine Companions Husky-Malamute mix Sid and Chow Chow-Pomeranian mix Lexi, you may wonder if I worry about tainted dog food for them.  Answer is simple:  no.  You see, Sid and Lexi don't eat commercially sold dog food.  I cook nutritious meals for them using human food, same as I did for our late dog Titus.

Doing so is easy; the ingredients can be prepared ahead in bulk and stored in the freezer or refrigerator.  Sid and Lexi's twice daily meals consist of roast chicken or roast turkey, brown rice, hard boiled egg, pumpkin, another vegetable or two, and plain yogurt.  I use organic ingredients whenever possible.  Here is a recent meal that includes roast chicken and peas and carrots.  Yum!

A recent breakfast meal for Sid.
Lexi gets the same food; smaller portions.

I sometimes also include beef with the poultry (Lexi really really loves beef, particularly steak!)  The other cooked vegetables Sid and Lexi enjoy include broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, and mixed vegetables.

Include your pets in your meal preparation and planning.  They will thank you for it!

Lexi and Sid enjoy a beautiful Winter day on Feb. 24, 2018.
As you can see, they are a very bonded canine couple!

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  She is the proud human Mom to Faithful Canine Companions Sid and Lexi.  For more information visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts