Thursday, August 31, 2006

Amalfi: We're Sorry...

...but somebody has to have this view from their bedroom first thing in the morning.

No...we're not on our honeymoon

But don't we look like we are??? This year, TBF and I will celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary yet I think we are asked almost every time we go on vacation if we're on our honeymoon. I'd like to think it's because we have so much fun together, hold hands a lot and look a lot younger than we really are. I hope we get asked that question for the next 19+ years to come.
I like this picture of us...especially TBF, who looks great in his Italian outfit - I think.

Amalfi: Italian Style...

I bought these clothes in Siena earlier this year. If you'll remember, it was part of this crazy hour I spent in a clothing store where a guy who had to be the Italian "salesman of the year" just kept saying " more thing..." to me, and I just kept buying.

I had seen the pants in the store window. I liked them, and I decided to go in on the slight chance that they might have my size. They did, and the saleman "Mistered" me into buying the pink sweater AND the yellow (Mrs. TBF says they're "mustard") suede shoes. I wasn't sure about this particular ensemble, but Mrs. TBF and "her people" talked me into buying it (along with a bunch of other things).

I've worn, but I've never been photographed wearing, the entire outfit. Last night, before going to dinner, Mrs. TBF talked me into letting her take a picture of me "in the style of Etro". Pay no attention to the fruit plate - I had had two martinis on our balcony just before the picture was taken.

I like the clothes, but I think they'd look a lot cooler on an Italian. In my opinion, I look like a Canadian-Finn who lives in Switzerland trying to pull off Italian style.

What do YOU think?


Our trip to Amalfi was without incident. The flight departed and landed pretty much on time, one of our suitcases was the first one out on the conveyor (the second one came out twenty minutes later...), the driver was waiting with his little sign, the 1:20 transfer to our hotel up and down mostly switchback roads was completed without any head-on collisions, and we arrived at our hotel at a little before 14:30. I think we would have made it faster, but we had to have the slowest, and most cautious driver that Italy has ever known. Well, I guess, better safe than sorry.

We heard a lot of "welcome-a back"s from the hotel staff - which is always nice. I told Mrs. TBF that I find it pretty amazing that they remember (or, at least, pretend to remember) us, which prompted her to say: "They don't remember US...they remember YOU!"

We checked into our room, arranged for a technician to come up and fix our non-functioning phone and "complimentary" (after paying a zillion Euros per night) internet connnection, changed into our non-travel clothes, and made a bee-line for the "complimentary" hotel shuttle bus to Amalfi. On the way out, I "greased" the concierge so that he'd be sure to take "super-primo" care of us, and then I greased the shuttle bus driver for no reason other than to grease, and, a few minutes later, we were in the center of Amalfi.

Amalfi is great! It has a nice cathedral, a plethora of shops where one can buy all things Italian, and numerous gelati stands. We walked up to one of the stands, and I decided to try a flavor of gelati that I thought I wouldn't like. Huh? Why would anybody willingly try something that they might not like?

Well, here's the answer to that question: It's part of my ongoing efforts to recreate myself? For example, I announced to Mrs. TBF a couple of months ago that I am going back to my Canadian roots, and I will from now on pronounce "again" as "a-gane" instead of "a-gen" and "been" as "bean" instead of "ben". But, that's for a future blog entry...

Getting back to gelati...

Yesterday, my announcement of "reinvention" to Mrs. TBF was that I am now going to try to move away from always ordering the same things. Normally, I would go for straciatella. However, I decided to go for the cherry flavored (amarena) gelati. Don't get me wrong - I love raw cherries. However, I tend to hate (or think I WILL hate) anything that has cherries which have been ("bean") processed in any way such as baking, etc. So, I ordered the cherry gelati, and....I LOVED IT!!!!

Ahhhh fungu! Now that I've discovered I like cherry gelati, I'll have to order a different flavor next time. Maybe pistachio? I love plain old pistachios, but I hate the flavor (same with almonds) when they've "bean" processed in any way (liquor, etc.).

It's not easy being me!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

And, We're Off!

Tomorrow morning at 8:30 a.m., a taxi will whisk us away from our apartment to Basel Airport for a 10:40 a.m. EasyJet flight to Naples. If all goes as planned, a driver will be waiting for us at Naples Airport holding a sign with our last name on it, and then he/she will drive us to our hotel in Amalfi. I'm not really sure when we'll arrive at our hotel. I'm guessing, barring any delays, that we should be at the hotel by 2 p.m.

That's right...we're going back to Amalfi - to the same hotel we stayed at last year. Oh, and by the way, make no mistake about it that Mrs. TBF has been getting an earful about the fact that this year's score (so far) is: Italy - 2, Finland - 0. Since Rome is booked for Christmas, and no trips to Finland currently appear on the agenda, it seems as if the 2006 score is going to end up being: Italy - 3, Finland - 0. I'll have to do something about that next year.

Unlike our blogging buddy Sal, I have absolutely no qualms about letting would-be burglars know that we'll be away for ten nights. Go ahead...rob us...what do I care? That's what home insurance is for. Plus, I wouldn't mind some new crap anyway. Just don't hurt King...that's all I'm asking.

I called the hotel this morning. The conversation went something like this:

Hotel: Bongiorno!

TBF: BON - JORNO! I'll be arriving tomorrow afternoon, and I was wondering if I could ask you a question.

Hotel: Yes-a. What-a is-a your-a name-a please-a?


Hotel: Yes-a. I see that you are-a a repeat guest-a. You are a Leaders Club-a member-a, and you have-a a private transfer-a, and you will be arriving in-a the early afternoon-a.

TBF: Ummmmm...yeah. Well...I guess you know more than I do... Ummm....before I pack all my cigar smoking still allowed by the swimming pool [Italy has adopted strict smoking laws...bastards!!!]?

Hotel: Yes-a. There is-a no problem-a smoking in the open air-a. Have a pleasant journey!

The next time you hear from us, we'll be in Italy. Today's high in Basel was something like 13˚C/56˚F. I'm expecting a little more warmth in Italy. The laptop and camera are already packed, so expect some updates.


Saturday, August 26, 2006


Iams has, for whatever reason (at least in Switzerland), decided that their cat food will from now on come in little "pouches" rather than in cans. As far as the packaging is concerned - I have no objections. Bringing the smelly, empty cans down to the recycling bin is not on the top of my list of favorite things to do, and the thought of just squeezing King's food out into a bowl and throwing out the little pouch was kind of appealing to me. problem with packaging.

The problem is that Iams decided to also change the food. The first time I squeezed out the food, I noticed that Iams had changed from a finely mashed up, soft consistency to a new "soft nugget" format. I immediately sensed a potential problem due to the fact that King is missing a bunch of his teeth (give him a break...he's 18 years old), and I mashed up the nuggets (which weren't as soft as they could have been) as best I could with a fork and set down the bowl of food for "his majesty" on his little IKEA plastic placemat. King took a sniff, ate a little, and he walked away. I just figured he wasn't hungry, didn't give it a second thought, and I went off to the gym.

A few hours later, I walked in the front door of our apartment to find King standing about three feet in front of me. He gave me a vitriolic look, and produced a noise that I could only attempt to describe in writing as: "SCHKRAAAAAAAAAAAAAANNNXXXXXXX"! I walked toward the kitchen with King in hot, screeching pursuit to find that most of his "new" food was scattered all over the floor around his bowl. REEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE-JECTED!!!! I quickly filled his bowl with his old formula, canned Iams and watched as he inhaled the nasty sludge.

At first, only the "Ocean Fish" flavor came in the new pouch packaging. However, a couple of days ago when I went to Qualipet to restock King's supply of Iams cans, I noticed that there are now only pouches and no more cans at all. I had to think fast. I bought a few cans of Hill's Science Plan food and hoped for the best.

As it turned out, I opened the Science Plan can to find the food to be a very soft "mousse-like" consistency. I set it down in the "royal" eating area, and King inhaled it. Catastrophe averted!

King is now a Science Plan cat and will no longer be eating mass quantities of Iams. Iams is owned by Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG). If you own any P & G stock - NOW might be a good time to sell!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Fliday Frashback: Rock And Rock...

I bought some of these little storage containers yesterday. They're called Lock and Lock, and they're filling a need in my endless pursuit of an organizational panacea.

From the website, I saw that Lock And Lock is a Korean product. This got me to wondering if Koreans call it "Rock and Rock". I mean, what's with that "R" and "L" mixup anyway? Koreans...mixing up the "R" and the "L"... Plesto, we have oul Fliday Frashback!

For some reason, I have this strange history with Korean people. I'm not really sure why, but there is some kind of "Korean magnet" inside of me that pulls Korean people from far and wide. Oh, and by the way, this magnet only seems to work in the U.S. because I don't know even one Korean person in Europe.

It all began with our Chicagoland dry cleaner - Soo. Soo was born in Korea, but she actually moved to Chicago when she was very young. I'd joke around with her when I'd pick up and drop off the dry cleaning, and she was good about taking a joke and giving it right back.

TBF: "Hey Soo...You say you're Korean. How come you don't mix up your Rs and Ls.

Soo: "Because I learned to speak English at an early age. Wourd you rike me to speak rike a Kolean."

TBF: "Naaah. It's the only way I can tell you apart from all the other Koreans who work here!"

At this point, I'd grab my clothes off the hook, and run out to the car with Soo in hot pursuit trying to hit me with a rint lorrel...I mean, lint roller. Don't believe me? Ask Mrs. TBF...she witnessed this banter many times.

One day, as I walked into Soo's place, I noticed that everybody in the back yelled something in unison. It was kind of like when Norm walked into Cheers and everybody would simultaneously yell "NORM!". I asked Soo what they were yelling, and she told me that they were yelling "GUMBO!". Now, it's possible this means something like farkwad or assmunch, but Soo insisted that it was a term of endearment that meant something like "happy, big person". I asked Soo how to say a greeting in Korean (long since forgotten), and from then on I would reciprocate with this greeting and a deep bow. They loved it, AND I loved the "Gumbo"recognition after a long day of pretending I was working hard. This exchange ended up going on for years. But, my Korean journey, at that point, was just beginning.

I worked for many years as an account manager in the transportation industry. My last sales territory, right before retiring and moving to Switzerland, was the area right around O'Hare Airport in Chicago - probably one of the most dense distribution areas in the world. It was a good territory. I liked the fact that I could call on manufacturers, distributors, warehouses, etc., etc.

One day, I decided to make a cold call, and I walked into an office with Korea posters all over the wall. I said my Korean greeting, bowed deeply, looked up, and saw three Korean men standing there with their mouths wide open. "You speak Kolean?", one of the men asked. "Only what you just heard" was my response - a beautiful business relationship had been forged. Little did I know what I was in for...

I got to know Mr. Kim (what a surprise...a Korean named Kim!) well. So well, in fact, that soon every Korean freight forwarder in my territory was calling me. I became an expert at understanding the Korean accent. Seriously, it got to the point that the phone at my desk would ring, I would see that it was an internal call, and the conversation would go something like this:

TBF: "Yes?"

Office clerk: "Hey, [TBF]...this Asian guy is on the phone and I can't understand one word he's saying. Could you speak with him and find out what he needs? Actually, he might be wanting to speak with you...I'm not sure..."

TBF: "Sure. No problem put him through. (click) Hello, this is [TBF], how can I help you?"

Korean customer: " [TBF]?"

TBF: "Yes I am. What can I do for you?"

Korean customer: "My name is Kim. Mistel Kim say I should spreak with you... We cullentry use a L & R [Honest to God...there was a competitor called R & L and the Korean guys called it L & R] and Mistel Kim say you bettel and give me good plice..."

And so it went...on and on...

One day, I received one of those "Korean network" phone calls, and it was from a person (Mr. Cho) at a company that I knew had a lot of business. I told Mr. Cho that I had noticed a Korean BBQ restaurant, and that I'd like to go, but I wanted to go with a Korean person because I had no idea what to order..."How about if I buy you some lunch", I asked, "and then you can explain the ins and outs of Korean cuisine?"

The next day, I picked up Mr. Cho and his assistant (Mr. Kim...figures!), and we went out for an excellent Korean BBQ meal. If you've never had Korean BBQ before, I highly recommend the experience. We ate some good food, we talked "some shop", and ended up agreeing to do some business. Unfortunately, I found out the next week that Mr. Cho's office would be moving to a new location that was just outside of my sales territory. So, being the good company man I was (and having too much business to handle anyway), I turned the account over to another rep.

I didn't really hear anything about Mr. Cho's company until about a year later. One day, the rep who now called on Mr. Cho came in and told me that Mr. Cho was getting married and "...get this. He's inviting you and [Mrs. TBF] to the wedding." WHAT?!?!?!?!? I thought my colleague was joking, but about two minutes later my phone rang and it was Mr. Cho (any call from an Asian person was now automatically sent to my phone, or my cellphone when I was out of the office) basically giving me this speech about "...being honoled if you and youl wife wourd attend my wedding." I thanked Mr. Cho and told him that my wife and I would be honored to attend the wedding.

The big day came, and Mrs. TBF and I pulled into the church parking lot for the service and reception. We had no idea what to expect. Just as I was getting out of the car, I heard a familiar voice in the distance. It was Mr. Cho, and he was calling us over to a side door of the church so that we could meet his parents. I gave them my "Korean greeting" (Man...did I get a lot of mileage out of the greeting throughout the 90s!), and introduced Mrs. TBF. Then, they lead us to a pew that was right at the front of the church really close to where the parents of the bride and groom were sitting.

We enjoyed the ceremony very much, and I was surprised to hear that parts of it were done in English. I asked Mr. Cho about this later, and he said that he had asked the minister to do this specifically for us and the very few other non-Korean people who were at the wedding.

After the wedding, we were led to a "table of honor" right in front of the wedding party's table so that we'd have a good view. We were introduced to the officers of Mr. Cho's company (Mr. Kim, Mr. Kim, and Mr. Lee), and then escorted to the buffet table where I loaded my plate down with things I had never seen before in my life. At one point, one of the ladies asked me: "Do you know what you eating???" When I told her no, she and the other ladies just giggled. You know what? Sometimes ignorance is bliss, because it all smelled and tasted great. We enjoyed the food, I introduced Mrs. TBF to a bunch of other Korean customers who were at the wedding, and we ended up having a really nice time.

When the evening finally came to an end, Mrs. TBF and I got into my car. After the car doors closed, the conversation went something like this:

Mrs. TBF: "Wow...that was weird. What was with the special introduction to the parents, the pew of honor, the church service in English, meeting the officers of the company, the reception table of honor...and who were all those other people who knew who you were? How well do you know this guy?"

TBF: "Before this evening, I had met with him three times in my life."

Mrs. TBF: "What??? They were treating you like you were some kind of V.I.P."

TBF: "I know...What can I say? Koreans love me."

Mrs. TBF: "Yeah...apparently!"

It's funny. I haven't really thought about this whole part of my life since moving to Switzerland. Maybe it's the fact that I don't really come into contact with many Asian people. Who knows? But you know what? Maybe I'll look up some of my "Korean fans" when I go to Chicago in November.

Gumbo rikes the V.I.P. tleatment!

Thursday, August 24, 2006


Yes, that's right ...I've been shamed into blogging by The Medium Swede, who claims I do not blog my fair share. So, here I am again, and tonight I have a bit of a rave-out a la TBF. This AM, TBF and I had to get up early to bring the car in for new tires (or tyres if you're a Brit reading this). Now, I didn't have to go with TBF to the car dealer, but I figured I go with him and we'd ride the tram together until he had to get off to go to his gym and then I would stay on and ride the rest of the way to the office. Well, there happens to be a Coop grocery store just down the road from the car dealer and we had to walk by and deposit our PET recycling there. Well, those of you who know me well know that I cannot resist going inside a grocery store - I LOVE TO GROCERY SHOP!!! So, near the PET bins I noticed the wall of juices and decided I "needed" to get a bottle of tomato juice to take to work - clearly a lame excuse to get me into the store, walking around with glazed eyes just taking in all the neatly stocked shelves. TBF, being the smart dude that he is, guided me back to the wall of juice where he pointed out there was only one variety of tomato juice and to grab a bottle and let's go catch the next tram. OK OK...done. Well when I got to the office and opened the bottle I noticed that the sell by date and the consume by date were both EXPIRED!!! Now, I wouldn't be so mad except this is something that happens all the time at Coop! They are not good at disposing of past due items and would rather let their customers (or trusting suckers) buy these goods and consume them anyway. So - moral of this story - and in particular for all you Swiss based bloggers out there - always check the dates before you purchase perishables from Coop.

PS. I drank it anyway...and I'm still alive, but still irritated.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Attention World...An Italian-American Lives Here!!!

Mrs. TBF is Italian-American. For nearly twenty years, I've been telling her that her Italian heritage necessitates garden statuary of some sort. As far as I'm concerned, if one is Italian, a garden statue is not only a birthright, but a birth OBLIGATION! Sure, I bought a little garden buddha a couple of years ago, but that doesn't count.

Last week, I had to go to Coop Bau & Hobby for some odds and ends. While I was there, I noticed that they had a sale (25% off!) on assorted garden statues. There were little Japanese temples, fountainy looking things, various types of little animals, and one particular thing that caught my eye - a bust of David.

I came home and excitedly told Mrs. TBF about my discovery, and, quite honestly, wasn't met with the level of fervor I had anticipated. Nevertheless, I made the "managerial" decision today to return to Bau & Hobby for my...I mean...Mrs. TBF's statue.

I rolled up the shopping cart right next to David (there were two to choose from), and then proceeded to nearly throw my spine out of alignment lifting up the concrete monstrosity! I'm not joking...that behemoth had to weight every bit of 50 kilos/110 lbs. With an "old man" grunt, I managed to lift the brute onto the cart, roll it to the cashier, pay, roll it out into the parking lot, and then grunt another time as I lifted it into the Jeep. Then, when I arrived at home, I had to...lift it out of the Jeep, put it down and lift it up twice so I could go through two sets of doors leading from the garage to the elevator, get it into the elevator, and then carry it up the fifteen or so steps leading up to The Fishbowl.

I found a nice spot for David right by Mrs. TBF's rosebush, and I have to admit that he's a nice addition to The Fishbowl. And, as an added bonus, King seems to have made a new friend. King and David - best friends forever!

I sure hope Mrs. TBF likes David...because there's NO WAY I'm returning him to the store!

Grill Envy (And Other Tidbits)...

This past weekend was a great weekend!

On Friday night, we "babysat" Sam and Alie. Our Christmas gift to Andy and Di last December was a coupon good for "babysitting" services (I use quotation marks because the kids ain't babies no mo') so that they could go out on a date. This past Friday was collection-time.

We ate some fajitas, created some group art, and watched a DVD ("Meet The Fockers"). I was the slightest bit worried about showing them a PG-13 movie - and a couple of times I felt the need to blurt out a loud "LA-LA-LAAAAHHHHHH" so the kids wouldn't hear the sexual references which they totally understand anyway - but I have to say that I think we did a fairly good job of being parental for a few hours. Yup...the kids didn't drink, smoke, or cuss while on our watch which translates to an "A" grade for us as adult authority figures as far as I'm concerned.

Sam and Alie were supposed to stay the night, but plans got changed and Andy and Di ended up picking them up so they could spend the night in their own beds. However, the whole gang ended up returning for breakfast on Saturday morning for Bloody Marys (adults only), pancakes, bacon, eggs Benedict, etc., etc. It was a great way to start the day.

On Saturday evening, we hosted Diagnostic Dave. Since he was a bachelor for the week (Jx was on the way back from a business trip in Kuala Lumpur), we decided that he was in need of a proper gorge-fest. We picked up some nice American steaks at Globus to go along with fried calamari, mashed potatoes, some nice wines... And, the rest, as they say, was history!

On Sunday evening, we went to Mark (a co-member of the Brotherhood of Men With Sugar Mamas) and Lisa's place in Basel. One of the guests - Martin - doesn't really speak English which meant that I was forced to speak some German. This made for an interesting evening. I'd say that I speak a hair more German than Mark, and I'm sure that we were endless entertainment for Martin (and the other guests).

Lisa is a great cook, and she really put out a fine spread. However, the highlight for me was their unbelievable Viking grill that they moved here from the U.S. 1.5 years ago. Lisa told us that when the grill was moved into their apartment (from the street with a special lift) they noticed people in the neighborhood looking out of their windows and pointing. Nothing like creating a "starefest" in Basel (not hard to do!).

We ate American steaks (second night in a row!), drank some mighty fine wines, and had an all-around fun time. However, I couldn't get that damned grill out of my head - neither could Mrs. TBF apparently. She ended up finally coming around and "giving me permission" for a new grill that has at least one side-burner. If you'll remember, I regretted not buying the next-model-up grill moments after setting up Helmut last year. All it took was her seeing Mark and Lisa's grill's side-burners cranking out massive BTUs, and she was sold!

I'm thinking of moving Helmut up to the Fishbowl and buying a new grill for the balcony. Excessive? Maybe!

...but, who cares?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Something else to look forward to...

TBF and I have discussed that time seems to go by faster the older we get and the more we have to look forward to. In less than two weeks we'll be enjoying a beautiful place in the world - the Amalfi Coast in Italy. And, a couple weeks after we return TBF will join me in Stockholm at the end of one of my business trips. Then, TBF's mom and dad are coming for a visit and we plan to go to Prague. Tonight, however, we decided to go back to my FAVORITE place in the whole world - Paris - in November. If you've never been to Paris - GO!!!! A couple of years ago I told TBF I wanted to go to Paris at least once a year for the rest of my life. This year the "at least" applies because we've been once already - in February. I can't wait to go back to my favorite place...but we have some other places to go back to first. Time flies when you're having fun! Ciao, or in this case I should say - Au revoir.


My new favorite hobby?

...monitoring the EuroAirport website so that I can tell where the planes are going to/coming from while I watch them from our balcony taking off/landing at Basel Airport.

I am officially old, and Mrs. TBF is officially embarrassed. comes the Air France flight from Lyon in for a landing...

Don't laugh. At least I've accomplished something today!

What did you accomplish today?

TBF NEWS FLASH: American Aadvantage Outraage Laasts One Daay!

Ok, so I caved...

I suddenly remembered that my parents are going to be flying to Basel from Chicago in mid-October. That got me to thinking: How about booking my flight so that I'm on the same plane with the Ps when they fly back to Chicago? So, that's what I did. We're on the same flights from Basel to London, and London to Chicago. I even went so far as to book the seat right across the aisle from my parents for the London-Chicago flight (aren't I a good son?). Sure, I'll be in coach. But, at least I'll be sitting next to somebody I know (on one side, that is).

While I had Aadvantage on the phone, I also managed to switch my parents' seats for their flight from Chicago to London. They had been assigned the seats right by the lavatories which totally suck. I mean, who likes to have ass in their face for an entire overseas flight (or ever, for that matter)? The smell, the noise, plus the seats don't recline all the way. How did I know all this? SeatGuru, that's how!

I'll arrive in Chicago on October 30th, and I'll leave on November 7th. I'm waitlisted for a Business Class upgrade on the 7th, and I'm keeping my fingers and toes crossed that it comes through. Flying from Europe to North America in Coach isn't bad because I don't need to sleep. Flying back to Europe in Coach totally blows. I'm serious...if I have to fly Coach on the way back to Europe I'll be crabby and jet-lagged for a month. Hopefully, American will come through for me with the upgrade. Believe's for Mrs. TBF's sake...not mine.

Hey American Aadvantage...sorry about what I said yesterday. You guys KICK AASS!!!

In Less Than Two Weeks...

...we will be returning to Amalfi...and just in the nick of time too since we're almost out of Amalfi Limoncello.

This year, we're going to skip staying in Capri (although we may take a daytrip there), and instead we'll be staying the whole time at the same Amalfi hotel we stayed at last year. Hopefully, the weather will be nice (can't be much worse than it has been here), and we'll manage to get our tans back.

Gee...I wonder if my buddy will be staying at our hotel again this year. Maybe I'll have to give him a call to find out.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

It Could Be Worse... could be trying to learn Finnish.

I enjoy reading the challenges my fellow ex-pat bloggers encounter during the journey called "learning German" or "learning French". But let me tell you, it could be worse. Don't believe me?

German: 4 grammatical cases

Finnish: 15 grammatical cases

German classes were tough. French classes, in my opinion, were even tougher. Man, am I glad that I will NEVER, EVER have to struggle through Finnish classes!

Hey Aadvantage...Kiss My Aass!!!

I just finished speaking with the American Airlines Aadvantage department. Since I usually head to Chicago sometime between October 15th and December 15th, I figured I'd better get on the stick and book my ticket. Of course, being the travel diva I am, I wanted to buy a coach ticket and then use some of my Aadvantage miles (50,000) to upgrade to business class. Even though I end up paying more for a qualifying coach seat than I would for an internet-rate coach seat in order to upgrade, I never really balk at the price because it's always worth it to me to pay a few hundred extra dollars for the added comfort and pampering that BC brings.

However, it appears that the times they are a changin'! Secondly, here's what the Aadvantage department quoted me for a round-trip flight from Basel to Chicago:

828.63 Euros/$1,060 U.S. (including a 20 Euro service charge...which, BTW, really frosts my aass!!) + 50,000 Aadvantage miles to upgrade my coach seat to business class PLUS a $500 U.S. "co-pay" for using the miles.

Ummm...Excuse me? Co-pay? I explained that I wanted to just use miles like I did earlier this year without the co-pay. Nope, nada, not happening. There is now a co-pay of $250 per leg which means my "free" upgrade using miles now costs me $500 more than it did earlier this year bringing the total of my ticket to just over $1,500 U.S. It's not bad for a BC ticket, but I'm not sure if I'm willing to fork over an extra 500 bucks at this time just out of principle. Maybe I'll just start going to the U.S. once per year and stay for two weeks (sorry Mrs. TBF) instead of going 2-3 times per year for one week at a time.

Obviously, it's a matter of supply and demand. The demand is there (I couldn't get my first choice of dates), so they can raise the prices. Yes, I understand why they can do it, but it doesn't mean that I like it. I mean, what's the point of having miles if you have to spend so much extra money to use them?

I currently have the ticket on hold until Saturday, and I'm going to take the next couple of days to figure out my options. Right now, I'm kind of thinking of waiting until early next year to see if the prices go down. Afterall, who wants to fly to Chicago in January or February? Maybe I'll even fly coach...

OK...let's not be gettin' crazy here!!

Updated later:
I've decided to put off the trip until early 2007. Mrs. TBF was as outraged as I was about the co-pay. The planes are generally much less crowded in January and February. I think I'll take my chances with flying coach on the way to the U.S. (hoping that I can find a seat with nobody seated next to me), and then just upgrade on the return to Europe. I only need to enter the U.S. once every 365 days to keep my Green Card valid, so don't actually have to go back to the U.S. until April, 2007.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Plus Ça Change, Plus C'est La Même Chose...

We had GREAT weather in July...and then came August, and everything changed. The weather has been so crappy over the past ten days that I decided to put my energies toward an indoor activity that is near and dear to my heart: organization.

Organizing things is definitely on my short list of favorite things to do to pass the time. Seriously...I can spend hours rearranging shelves in order to arrive at perfect organizational harmony. Feng Shui of me! Oh, and by the way, are there any Chinese readers out there who can verify that it is really pronounced "fung shway"? I was once corrected by a really stuck-up interior designer (and...if you ask me...interior designers are a dime a dozen and there's no justification for being stuck up...), and I'd love to be able to come back in the future with a ", actually, my Chinese friend says it is, in fact, really pronounced 'feng shweee'. Put that in the wooden bowl of green apples you put on every coffee table, AND CRAM IT!!!!!"

Now...where was I?

Oh yeah...I've been spending the past couple of days throwing stuff out, buying storage containers, combining two cabinet shelves worth of stuff into one, shredding old financial records, moving things from one shelf to another, hauling crap down to the storage unit, reorganizing the storage unit, etc., etc., etc. And, I'm having a blast! I have everything so compartmentalized into storage containers that I honestly think that someday in the future when it's time to move again that the movers will be able to pack up our house in a couple of hours.

I feel like my work is almost done. However, there is one large obstacle which stands between me and organizational nirvana - Dominique's crate/kennel.

For those of you who don't know, Dominique was our Dalmation who left us for Doggy Heaven (sniff!) about 17 months ago. This is the crate we used to fly Dominique from Chicago to Switzerland nearly six years ago. It's been sitting in our storage unit (with the exception of being borrowed by Diagnostic Dave for a short time) taking up A LOT of space pretty much since we moved to our current apartment over 18 months ago. This thing is HUGE! I mean, I'd fit inside of it for god's sake. It's taking up my valuable storage unit floor space, and it's time for the crate to find a new home.

So, to my local readers, if you know of anybody who could use a FREE, like brand new, dog kennel that is large enough for a St. Bernard or Great Dane (...I went a little overboard six years ago!), let me know.

I sense peace and harmony just around the corner. Hummmmmmmmmmmmmmm.......

Monday, August 14, 2006


...That hurts! I'd like to say that this injury was the result of a valiant diving effort to return a volley ending in a sizzling cross court winner...but it wasn't. It was actually me being a clutz tripping over my own feet while running to return a volley. I ended up scraping/burning my knees on the clay - the left one needing a little first aid that was kindly administered by my oponent - Rammy. I did end up winning that particular game and then because my left knee was dripping blood we thought it would be a good idea to wash out the clay, get some anti-bacterial lotion and apply a band-aid. The prognosis is good though and I'll survive my first tumble on the court since I was a teenager.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Your Search Is Over... have found The Big Finn!

I like to go to Blog Patrol every now and then to see who's looking at the blog. I think Blog Patrol is pretty cool. I can pretty much tell who's looking, which country they're from, which search engine they use, etc. However, my favorite part of Blog Patrol is looking at the keywords that changed people's lives forever by putting them in touch with The Big Finn. maybe it's not quite like that, but I still like looking at the keywords. Here are a few of my favorites from recent days...

feline laxative - Somebody obviously has a cat with a hairball problem.
A Google search for feline laxative turns up a link to this blog entry from August, 2005. King was in the midst of a hairball episode which resulted in me having to go to Dr. Buser's office to pick up some feline laxative. I kind of forgot about the fact that I actually tasted the feline laxative in the car on the way home. It wasn't too bad!

horse meat allergy
- I guess if one has to have an allergy, then this one isn't too bad of an allergy to have.
This Google keyword search brings us all the way back to July, 2004 when Mrs. TBF and I went to the BIS Bank Sports Club for dinner with a group of friends. Andy and I ordered horse meat Stroganoff. Yes, we ate horse meat. However, there's no mention of any allergy.

wearing a bra makes me sweat profusely - Umm...I'm sorry...I'm not really sure how to help you. Ummm....don't wear one?
I can't really tell what this search links to. Perhaps it's a combination of this entry from last August where I talked about the cow in Finland I saw wearing a bra, plus other entries from that month when I'm sure I was probably sweating profusely at some point.

Sauerkraut Saft - Yesterday, somebody in Germany obviously got a craving for some Sauerkraut juice. Those Germans really know how to live, don't they?
We're going back to February, 2005 here when I wrote about coming across sauerkraut juice at the local Coop. I still haven't built up the courage to try it, so the taste remains a great mystery to yours truly. My favorite part of this entry was the urgent comment from somebody named Thimble: " not be afraid to say NO to sauerkraut juice, dood, it's nasty."
...words of wisdom from an anonymous blogging friend...

Auran sinappi and mustard, finnish mustard, Turun sinappi - Ahhh, yes...the Finnish mustard controversy.
Believe it or not, there are a lot of people out there researching Finnish mustard on the internet. These keywords (plus other variations) are BY FAR the most common keywords which link people up to The Big Finn's Big Blog! It goes back to this entry where I talk about the big controversy between the two mustards. Apparently, Turun Sinappi is now owned by Unilever of Sweden which means that many Finns now use Auran Sinappi because it is Finnish owned. Sorry Finns...I like the Turun Sinappi better.

How did YOU find The Big Finn's Big Blog?

Friday, August 11, 2006

Friday Flashback: 9 Months Ago Today...

...TBF boldy went where most son-in-laws dare not go!

Jo, Mrs. TBF's mom, needed a new TV. Her old TV had served her well throughout the years, but it had, over the previous few months, turned into an absolute piece of crap. I'd be watching TV with Jo, the picture would start to shake, Jo would get up, walk over to the TV, whack it a few times, and then it would be good for another five minutes. This ritual would be repeated about five times until the TV would go completely blank. At this point, the TV would have to be turned off. We'd have to go to another room to watch a tiny TV for about an hour, because that's how long it would take until the "big" TV would work again.

I have to admit that the TV ritual (which I had also witnessed during my prior two trips to Chicago) coupled with Jo's obssession with adjusting the thermostat every five to ten minutes, for me at least, was far more entertaining than anything the TV networks could ever come up with.

Eventually, her son (Colon Blow) and I decided that she was beginnning to wear out the carpet, and we finally talked her into getting a new TV. So, one Saturday afternoon, Jo and I went over to the local Best Buy to pick out a new TV. We found a nice TV for $165 with the help of one of the sales clerks. He was very helpful, but I had to step in when Jo decided to lecture the clerk (who was probably about eighteen years old) on the fact that she felt that her TV should have lasted for longer than it did, etc. at which point I pointed out to Jo that the sales clerk was probably in grade school when she had bought her TV and that it wasn't his fault. Realizing that this would be a good time to leave, AND that the TV wouldn't fit into the car, we decided to return the next day with Colon Blow and his trusty SUV.

The next day - December 11, 2005 - we brought the TV to the Jo's house without a hitch. C.B. and I carried it up the stairs, pulled it out of the box, and pulled the old TV out of the cabinet. At this point I saw about three inches of dust where the old TV had been, and I advised Jo that now might be a good time to do that "once per decade" dusting of the TV area. She agreed...

Now, "they" say that if you want to see what your wife will look like when she's old, then all you have to do is take a look at your mother-in-law. Now, I've seen Jo's face about a million times and I think it's safe to say that I think Mrs. TBF won't be too unpleasing to the eyes when she's in her 70s. However, curiosity got the best of me, and I decided (while Jo was dusting) to give her a bit of a "smack" so that I could see what the "booty" was going to feel like when Mrs. TBF is in her 70s. CB was ready with the camera...smack...flash!

Surprise, SURPRISE! That was some pretty firm, aged, USDA Prime, rump roast! I definitely noticed the family resemblance.

The future is lookin' good for TBF!

Mellowing Out In My Old Age...

I just finished adding 500+ songs to the iPod. Some of the songs were added courtesy of borrowed CDs from friends (thanks John and Rammy), and some of the songs were purchased online. We are now up to 7,526 songs, or 22.2 days of music.

Amazingly, until this week, we didn't have even one Rolling Stones song amongst the 7,000 songs. I figured that Mick and the boys have enough money, so I just borrowed John's copy of "40 Licks" and loaded it into the PowerBook. The same goes for The Kinks: last week - none...this week - 20 "Hit Singles"!

Along with our foray into illegal copying of CDs, we also went the legitimate route and bought some music from the iTunes Music Store. We kind of just keep a running list of songs we want to download, and then when we've built up a list of 10 or so songs, know.
Here's what we purchased:

Gloria; Stabat Mater by Poulenc/Boston Pops Orchestra - I was in concert choir (don't laugh!) my senior year in high school, and we sang the Gloria. I still occasionally serenade Mrs. TBF with selected excerpts, but my memory of the piece is hazy, so I thought I should do a little studying while she's slaving away at work.

Four songs by Boz Scaggs including Lido Shuffle - I'm not sure why it was on the list. I think Lido Shuffle was one of those songs that just popped into one of our heads and we decided we needed some Boz.

Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty - It's just a classic "summer" song as far as I'm concerned, and I've always liked it.

Hocus Pocus by Focus - one of the all-time great classic rock jams! I ABSOLUTELY can not keep from playing air guitar and air drums whenever I hear this song.

Four Christmas songs by Il Divo (had to give up something to Mrs. TBF) - our Christmas playlist is now up to 225 songs.

The next day, I received my online receipt from iTunes and was quite alarmed at what I saw. Now, I kind of consider myself a pretty hard rocking, heavy metal, kind of guy. But, apparently, the fine people at iTunes don't think so. Here were their recommendations in the "Those who bought your selections also bought..." sidebar:

Ancora by Il Divo - Understandable since we just purchased some Il Divo. Sorry guys, we downloaded this one from our neighbors. Il Divo plays a prominent role on Mrs. TBF's "Dinner Music" (overwhelmingly Italian music...TBF not pleased!) playlist.

The Best of Pablo Cruise - Huh?

Little River Band: Greatest Hits - Wha'?

Seals and Crofts' Greatest Hits - Doh!

Oh...MY...GOD!!!!!!! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I'm so embarrassed to have these "artists" on my receipt.

Then again, Summer Breeze by Seals and Croft isn't that bad. I can't believe I just said that...doh!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Puzzle Hypnosis - OVER!

1500 piece Taormina, Sicily puzzle completed...The Big Finn is showered and clean shaven...the house has been cleaned and the laundry is washed and folded...King has been fed (multiple times), sinks into deep coma, and thanks you for your concern...TBF still shaking off last vestige of puzzle hypnosis...Mrs. TBF slightly annoyed that TBF assembled 75% of HER Christmas present without her being present...TBF likes Mrs. TBF's Christmas presents and is thinking of buying her a box of Romeo and Juliet cigars and a collection of single-malt Scotch whiskey for Christmas this year...

TBF still shaking off last vestige of puzzle hypnosis...

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Obsess Much?

The Big Finn will soon be returning to his real life. Please stand by!

He's unshowered and unshaven, the house is a mess, King is hungry...

...Damn that blue sky!!!!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Friday Flashback: Hey Jude...

Hey Jude just came up on the shuffle songs mode of my...ummm...our iPod, and it reminded me of this hilarious recording I first heard on Chicago radio in the 90s.
Apparently, somebody in the sound booth of a Paul McCartney/Wings concert isolated Linda McCartney's mic while she was singing Hey Jude, and recorded it!

I remember EXACTLY where I was when I heard it. I was driving north along Route 53 right by Woodfield Shopping Center on my way home at about 4:15 p.m. (I'm pretty sure it was late summer) from making a sales call (actually, I had just finished a one-hour swim at my health club that was in my sales territory), and this recording made me laugh so hard that I had tears just squirting out of my eyes to the point that I worried that I was going to crash my car. Well...not too was a company car, afterall.

Here's Linda McCartney singing Hey Jude. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 03, 2006


I just saw this article on Google News. U.S. lawmakers, it seems, are now attacking waiters' and waitresses' tips. Apparently, some states require waiters/waitresses to earn minimum wage, some don't, some keep all of the tip money, some don't, blah, blah, blaaahhhhh. It's just another one of those issues that are built up to make it seem like the politicians are really working hard. And, we all know that what they really do is show up for the vote at the last second, ask their aides (who have actually read the bill) how they should vote, and then press either the "yes" or the "no" button. Come on...who are you trying to fool? Politics aside, this started me thinking about tipping, and how I feel about it.
I grew up in the U.S., and this means that I was brought up with tipping - waiters, taxi drivers, Skycaps, delivery men, etc. You name 'em, and I've given 'em a tip.
I consider myself a generous tipper. Since my job (way back when) involved taking customers out for lunch everyday, and dinner several times per month, I wanted to make sure that:

1. I would continue to receive good service during return visits.
2. The chef/food server wouldn't flick a complimentary booger under my steak.

I considered it a necessary evil. I didn't like doing it, but I just did it. But one thing about tipping food servers always bothered me: I don't think it's right that the tip (15% - 20% in the U.S.) is based on the cost of the bill. Here's why...
Let's say I go to a restaurant and order a hamburger platter which costs $10.00. The waitress has kept the meniscus of my water glass heaping, she added a "...that burger looks AWESOME as she plonked down the platter with a smiling grunt, she gave me the "shoulder lean" (guys will know what I'm talking about) right in front of my wife as she reached over me to set the dessert menu in the middle of the table, and then she added the little "Thanks a lot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Candy" with a little smiley face on the bill. She earned the tip, and she's getting $2.00 for that whatever she gets for the rest of the bill.
Now, let's say that everything is exactly the same the next time we go to the same restaurant (well, except for the lean maybe because she overheard Mrs. TBF lecturing me on the way out of the restaurant the last time...). This time, I'm extra hungry, and I order a steak platter that costs $30.00. Now remember...everything she does is exactly the same...she does nothing extra. Does she deserve $6.00 for the same amount of work? No! NO! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! "Sorry...TBF :("
I've debated this with former waitresses and waiters, and they won't admit that I'm right. But, I KNOW that they really KNOW that I'm right. It's just that they've had this crap job before, lived through the disappointment of getting a bad tip, and they feel for the current waitstaff of America. And...I can understand it. But, it's just not right I tell you. However, what's the flipside of this tipping extortion? I'll tell you what it is: Switzerland.
Here in Switzerland, tipping is not expected. If the menu says states that the Wienerschnitzel is 25.50, well, then that's the price...INCLUDING TAX AND TIP!!! When the final bill comes, the practice is to round up the bill so that the waiter/waitress doesn't have to fish through their little purse to give you a bunch of coins. Sure, it's an extra tip, but we're talking rounding up 58.80 to 60.00 - not 15% - 20%!
Sounds good? Well, the downside is that the service at restaurants in Switzerland often SUCKS!!! Sure, some restaurants (usually family owned) have excellent service - and then we'll tip a bit more. But, for the most part, it's common to have a restaurant with 25 tables and two waiters. If you're at a table for six, it's common for three people to get their food served three minutes after the first two, and then the last person gets his/her food two minutes after that. Heaping meniscus on the water glass? Hardly. You have to usually flag down the server if you want more water, wine, etc. Dessert? Flag down the server once again. The check? I've waited for forty minutes after I was done eating before I got the check.
Why is this the case? I'll tell you why. The food servers in Switzerland are salaried. Hence, the restaurants can only afford to hire a couple of servers. The servers are well paid, they have to take care of a lot of tables, they aren't humping for tips, and, therefore, there's no incentive for them to work any harder than they do. Who suffers? The customer, that's who.
Somewhere between the agressive, rushed U.S. system and the "I'm doing you a favor" Swiss system is restaurant nirvana. But, I'll be damned if I can figure out what it is.

Swiss National Day - August 1, 2006

Here are the obligatory fireworks photos from Swiss National Day.
Our neighbors - Corey and Suzanne - were hosting visitors from Chicago, so we had a "tag team" dinner. First, we had appetizers and hamburgers at our place. As we were finishing up the burgers, we heard a couple of loud booms which meant the fireworks were starting at Spiegelfeld - a few hundred meters from our apartment. We scrambled next door in a hurry, enjoyed the up close and personal view of the fireworks (luckily, lasting for only 15 minutes) from their rooftop, and then we went inside for some dessert, vin santo, and coffee.
I especially enjoy the fact that in this picture of Mrs. TBF, the fireworks remind me of the cover of the Rush's CD Vapor Trails. Colon Blow (Mrs. TBF's brother) says the fireworks in this picture of me look like they're coming out of my pants!
Ahhhh...fireworks - Swiss tax money hard at work!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Is It My Imagination...?

...or did July just whizz by? I can't believe it's already August.
For those of you who don't know it, this was a holiday weekend here in Switzerland. Yesterday was Swiss National Day (...kind of like U.S. Independence Day or Canada Day), and it was a FIVE-DAY weekend for Mrs. TBF. That's right...five days off, back to work for three days, and then another weekend is here. Three days of work out of ten...not bad!

There was a threat of rain on Friday night, so we opted not to have a "Fishbowl Friday". Instead, we had Canadian-Swiss and Orange-X over for dinner on the balcony. We did, however, manage to squeeze in drinks and appetizers in The Fishbowl (and snap a photo) before the storm clouds drifted in from the West.
Why does Orange look so serious? Well, it's because I've accused him of always talking and having his mouth open in every picture I've ever taken of him. He ended up concentrating so hard on not having his mouth open that he ended up looking all serious. We'll have to work on that in the future...
We had a really nice dinner on the balcony. One of the highlights for me, believe it or not, was this zucchini carpaccio recipe that Mrs. TBF made from Epicurious. Even though we were on about Day-10 of garden zucchini, I'd have to say that it was a definite repeater!

On Saturday, we went into town, bought a few things, and had a nice dinner for two on the balcony. Ummmm...I guess it was dinner for three if you count King. We picked up some Brazilian steak tartare in town, Mrs. TBF added a bunch of stuff to give it some zip, and we enjoyed it as a nice appetizer. She even put a plate of it out for King. He took a couple of sniffs, licked it a bit, and then walked away. I couldn't believe it! That BEAST eats everything, but he would NOT eat that tartare. And, since he had licked it, there was no way I was putting that stuff back on my plate. What a waste of perfectly good raw meat!

Sunday...since the weather looked promising, we decided to have an Impromptu SUNDAY in The Fishbowl with the Expatters and "the boy Andy" (as we like to call) who ended up coming solo. I grilled up some duck magret (the breast of the duck used to make foie gras) on the Weber. Although I think I grilled it for about a minute too long, it still tasted pretty good. We ended up having great weather, and a fun time, but then Anneliese decided she wanted to go home. I did, however, manage to snap this nice sunset picture using the timer right before the Expatters left.

On Monday evening, we were off to John and Rammy's house. I didn't tell them this, but we ate lamb on Friday night, lamb on Saturday night, guessed it...when we arrived, John plopped a nice big leg of lamb on the Weber. But, no matter...I LOVE lamb - eating lamb three out of every four days is NO problem for The Big Finn!
After a really nice dinner, we walked down the street a bit to a vantage point overlooking Basel. Although I had read on the "This non-American Life" blog that Zurich had opted not to have fireworks due to the dry conditions, Basel had apparently decided to go ahead with theirs. From our vantage point, we had a clear view of the fireworks, BUT without the crowded mass of humanity which was downtown Basel at that point. Am I the only person in the world who doesn't really get that worked up over fireworks? I mean, they're pretty cool for about five minutes...and then they get kind of...boring. Maybe it's just me...
Tuesday...yesterday...was Swiss National Day. But, I'll talk about that a bit later...