Thursday, December 20, 2007

Joyeux Noël

We're off to Paris tomorrow, and we won't be back in Basel until Christmas Day.

Until then...

Joyeux Noël to all, and to all, a good night!

I'm Dreaming...

...of an ORANGE Christmas.

Last year, I made the executive decision to throw out all our Christmas lights. They had been through seven Christmases, and I decided that we were beginning to press our luck. Believe me, the last thing I (or ESPECIALLY Mrs. TBF) would want would be for a strand of lights to go out on the tree after the thing was covered in a tangle of lights and ornaments. I decided to eliminate the potential of anything triggering one of my infamous yuletide cussfests (so far, none this year), so I threw out the lights - ALL of 'em.

Zip ahead to this year...

It was when I was unpacking all our decorations that I noticed that we no longer had lights for the tree. An ember of memory from last year was still glowing somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain, and I realized that I was going to have to go out and buy new lights.

You know what? Christmas lights are expensive in Switzerland. A fifty meter (a little over 150') strand cost about CHF 100. That's equivalent to about 90 dollars in the U.S. at today's exchange rate. But don't blink, the way the dollar is going, it'll probably be equal to about $120 by the time the holidays are over!

The main issue, however, wasn't the money. NO! The big question was what kind of lights to buy.

Mrs. TBF grew up with all white lights on her Christmas trees...

I grew up with lights of mixed colors...

Mrs. TBF told me to get whatever I wanted...

I...bought...ORANGE LIGHTS!!!

Orange just happens to be my favorite color.

I like!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Something In Common...

Q: What do Leonid Brezhnev and Mrs. TBF have in common?

A: They were both born on December 19th.

What did I get the woman who wants for nothing? Nothing, of course! However, all is not lost because we will be having a rare weekday lunch together. I'm actually going to take the tram all the way to her office so that we can ride the tram together back to the restaurant. Isn't extra time together one of the best gifts you can share with somebody you love?

Geez, that's a lot of pressure. I'd better go shower and shave!

Riding the tram all the way to Mrs. TBF's office and back into town?



Maybe next year I'll just buy her a new watch or something.


Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep...

I'm not really sure why, but I woke up at 4:30 this morning (after going to bed at 12:15 a.m.), and I felt completely rested. I tried staying in bed until 5:30 to see if I'd fall back to sleep, but nothing doing. Maybe I'm just excited about our upcoming trip to Paris. Who knows?

In complete contrast to this morning, I had the opposite problem last Saturday night/Sunday morning - I couldn't stay awake...

Last weekend was a rare "just the three of us" weekend and Mrs. TBF said she'd cook whatever I wanted for dinner. My Saturday request was Japanese. More specifically, sushi and sukiyaki.

I'm not really sure what she put in that sukiyaki, but almost immediately after dinner (about 9:45), I hauled my bloated belly over to the sofa where I found myself getting verrrrrrry sleepy. I think it was something like 10 p.m. when Mrs. TBF gave up trying to talk to me and just went into our TV room where she watched TV until about midnight. At midnight, she woke me up to tell me that she was going to bed.

I somehow managed to stumble to the bathroom, pee, brush my teeth, go through my entire skincare regimen, and plop in the little thingamajiggy that keeps me from clenching my teeth. At least I think I did all those things - my memory is kind of hazy. I also managed to put moisturizer on my hands AND put on my sleeping gloves. Then, I slept until 10 a.m. That's right...a total of TWELVE HOURS OF SLEEP!!!

Oh, and YES...I wear gloves when I sleep so that my hands are nice and soft when I wake up. The gloves are pink and have little ruffles on the wrists. What about it?

The next night, it was King's turn to have sleep issues...

On Sunday evening, we used (for the first time) a cookbook that was a gift from the Ex-Expatters and made a delicious oxtail and tongue stew. Yeah, the beef tongue looks kind of disgusting, but believe me, it's tastes REALLY good. When we sat down to eat, King would not leave us alone, so I gave him a piece of oxtail and a piece of tongue. It turned out that he liked it so much that he just kept begging for more.

I guess I fed him too much tongue.

Let's just say that King had litter box issues on Sunday night. He'd use his box and then run around the apartment howling. Then, he'd beat up on one of his toys for awhile, carry it around, and howl some more. This went on all night. I'm not kidding, the beast must have woken us up ten times.

So, my sleep recap for those of you keeping score at home:

Saturday night - abnormal

Sunday night - abnormal

Monday night - normal

Tuesday night - abnormal

I've been noticing lately that I often wake up between 4 and 5 a.m., although I normally fall back to sleep after about ten minutes.

Is this a sign of old age?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Strapping On The Weekend Feed Bag!

A quick trip to the grocery store in France this morning resulted in a shopping bag containing (among other things) some oysters, a couple of veal kidneys, and a pig's foot (trotter...or, our British friends call it).

Escargots and bone marrows will soon be coming out of the freezer.

Sushi-grade fish, beef tongue, and an ox tail are currently on the shopping list, and they'll be purchased tomorrow morning.

It's going to be a GREAT eatin' weekend!

Nice To Hear You! Nice To Meat You!

I've begun listening online, once again, to my favorite Chicago radio personality of all-time: Steve Dahl. I think I began listening to him in 1978.

Recently, he switched to a new radio station, AND he switched to the 5:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. (Chicago time) time slot. What that means is that I can now listen to him LIVE here in Switzerland from 12:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday - Friday.

Yesterday, right before the end of his show, I heard him read a commercial for Allen Brothers Steaks. Of course, I think that the gift of meat is one of the best gifts there is, so I just had to go to their website to check it out.


Now that I'm thinking about the gift of meat...

Within our immediate families, we always buy gifts for each other on the 5-year birthdays and anniversaries. Just in case certain relatives are still trying to decide what to buy me for my 45th birthday that took place just over three months ago (yes, I'm sure you didn't forget!), nothing would make me happier than a gift of meat that could be left in your freezer for us all to enjoy on one of my future trips to Chicago. Specifically, the bone-in ribeyes and dry-aged porterhouse steaks, AVAILABLE AT, all look good!

Hint, hint...wink, wink!!!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Actually, He Doesn't Know The Difference...

I had to laugh after lugging home and unloading King's weekly haul of grub. On the bag from Qualipet is an advertisement for organic cat food. Under the picture it states that "...cats know the difference".

Can you believe it? ORGANIC FOOD...FOR A CAT???? I'm officially filing this one in the now-I've-seen-almost-everything file.

Seeing that King spent two minutes "grooming" his butt in front of us last night while we were trying to watch TV (very distracting!), I highly doubt that he is the slightest bit worried about whether his food is organic or not.

Our Sunsets Are Safe!

Earlier this year, a small, old apartment building was torn down right by our apartment building. Then, a couple of cranes (the Swiss "national bird") appeared right in line with where the sun sets for a good part of the year.

Seeing that there are a couple of tall apartment buildings sandwiching the construction site, I began to become concerned that another tall building was going to be built, thus blocking the only remaining view of sunsets from our balcony.

This morning, I walked up right next to the construction site for a closer look, and I'm happy to report that the building has been capped and will go no higher.

We will be enjoying many beautiful sunsets from the comfort of our balcony (and rooftop) for the weeks, months, and years (?) to come. Now, I just have to go out an buy a chainsaw...


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Pretty In Pink?

The blogosphere will be happy to know that our whirlpool - that we never use because it emits a nasty smell when you turn it on - has been repaired. Correct that: we use the tub, but we never turn on the jets.

Interesting stuff, huh? Read on, unless you have something better (highly likely) to do.

I received a call totally out of the blue last Friday at 5:15 p.m. from some guy speaking Swiss-German. I told him I couldn't really understand him too well, but I managed to pick out the word's Duscholux (the brand name of our whirlpool), the name of the company that owns/manages our apartment building, service, and termin (appointment). Before I knew it, I had an appointment to have our whirlpool repaired (even though I hadn't requested a repair) on Tuesday at 1:00 p.m.

Of course, I ended up having to go through this long, drawn-out ordeal yesterday when I called the management company's office to make sure that they had actually requested the repair and that I wasn't just going to be letting some psycho off the street into the apartment. After waiting several hours for the office to "investigate" I called back and found out that it was, indeed, an authorized repair. It turns out that there have been some problems with the whirlpools in the apartments that have them, and the landlord has decided to have them all looked at whether the tenants have complained or not.

Let's zip ahead to this afternoon at precisely the stroke of 1 p.m. when my door buzzer rang. I heard the word Duscholux over the intercom, and a bunch of other Swiss-German words, so I figured that it had to be the repair dude. Well, it was either him or a Jehovah's Witness who wanted to use our bathtub. I went downstairs, saw a guy in the front lobby wearing a uniform and carrying a toolbox, let him in, and brought him upstairs in the elevator.

About an hour later, I had a new button on the edge of the tub, detailed verbal instructions (that I didn't really understand) explaining how our new button works and what it's supposed to do, and a bunch of dust and repair residue that had to be vacuumed up. The repairman told me that the whirlpool was as good as new and that I should give it a try (I had told him that we never use it).

Now...if only he could do something about the hideous pink tile!

Another Typical Weekend...

...of shopping, cooking, eating, and visiting with friends.


I wanted to buy a dress shirt, so we took the bus into Basel on Saturday morning to do a little shopping. We walked into a store, and we came out of the store a little while later with my dress shirt AND...a winter coat for Mrs. TBF.

How the heck did that happen?

Mrs. TBF tried on the coat a couple of weeks back, but she thought it was too expensive. Just when I was about to pay for my shirt, Mrs. TBF showed up at the counter with the coat and MADE AN OFFER!!! I couldn't beleive it!!! She was actually negotiating on price with a store manager in Switzerland. And you know what? The guy dropped the price! SIGNIFICANTLY!!! Then our friend Di, whom we met at the shop, said the words that sealed the purchase.

"...that coat is TIMELESS!"

With those words (and the "new" price) the deal was sealed. Mrs. TBF had her new coat that she said she'll " able to wear until I'm 100 years old". Does that mean that she'll never have to buy another winter coat again? I'm not holding out hope for that.


Dave and Jane came over for dinner on Saturday evening. It was kind of a birthday dinner for Dave because we never bought him a birthday gift back in September. We just couldn't come up with any good ideas, so we just decided to make him a nice dinner; oyster casserole on toast points for a pre-dinner snack, stuffed eggs and beet ravioli for a starter, mussel soup for the soup course, and cote de boeuf (rib steak) with mushrooms and mashed potatoes on the side for the main course. As if that wasn't heavy enough, we had Ben and Jerry's ice cream for dessert. Oink!


We went up to the Alsace (more specifically, Riquewihr) with John and Rammy. The main reason was to go enjoy lunch at a restaurant that J & R have been to before, but we got there a little early and walked around the insanely crowded Christmas market to kill some time before our reservation.

John and I were enjoying a small sandwich and a beer, ummmm...twenty minutes before eating lunch, when John suddenly said: "Hey...that's your friend from America walking over there! I forgot his name, know...the one who ate at our house earlier this year!" I think I accused John of being drunk on one sip of his tiny beer, but then I realized he was right.

Tom and Sylvia - from Connecticut - were walking not ten yards away from us. Of course, I had to sneak up behind them and give them grief for having come all the way to Europe without calling us. But...I'll give 'em a break this time because Tom was here on business and hardly had any free time. I don't blame him for wanting to spend time just with Sylvia. But...

What are the odds of just running into friends from overseas while walking through a crowded Christmas market in France? It reminds me of the time when we were in Rome, and walked out the front door of our hotel just as people we know from Basel were crossing right in front of us on the sidewalk. Or...the times we've run into people we know at various airports around Europe.


So, after saying goodbye to Tom and Sylvia, the four of us ended up having a very nice Menu Hiver for lunch at the restaurant. Afterwards, we shopped a little bit at the market (crazy looking Santa decoration and some smoked meat), stopped for a quick tasting at a winery, and then made our way back to Basel.

And if that wasn't enough eating for one weekend, I even ate a "snack" of leftovers on Sunday evening while watching football. Gain three pounds during the weekend, and lose it during the week.

...the story of my life!

Friday, December 07, 2007

I Want, I Want, I WANT...!

I found out last night that Rammy was going to be making the 45 minute drive to the Carrefour in Mulhouse (France) this morning so that she could buy some turkey giblets for her Christmas gravy, so I invited myself to come along for the ride in order to keep Rammy company, buy a few things myself, and...silently chuckle to myself while watching Rammy driving her little Audi TT with her seat pulled up all the way forward with her little body (all 4'11" of her) pressed against the steering wheel so that her feet can reach the peddles.

Oh...I know what you're saying: Those must be some damn good giblets if somebody is willing to drive 45 minutes in order to get 'em. And my response would be: NO!

The reason why Rammy is driving 45 minutes into France to buy turkey giblets for gravy is because after living here for seven years (Rammy - 14 years), we have yet to find any source for turkey giblets in Switzerland.

Yes, you can buy a whole turkey in Switzerland. However, they don't come with the giblets!

I've even asked for them when I've ordered a turkey at the butcher, and the butcher just tells me "Nein!". "But...I'll pay for them," I plead. "Nein!" I'm not sure what really happens to them all, but I'm kind of thinking that they all end up in France because they sure have a lot of them at Carrefour. Hearts, gizards, livers...whatever you need.

Along with the giblets, the Carrefour in Mulhouse also has a bunch of wild birds flying around the store. Yes, I'm talking about REAL, LIVE BIRDS. When you walk into the store, you hear them chirping. Then, you look up in the rafters and see them sitting there. Occasionally, one will just fly by you as if it's flying from one tree to another. Obviously, the Carrefour employees leave a window open at night or something because there are literally dozens, maybe hundreds, of these wild birds flying around the store.

Ummmmm....isn't this...oh, I don't know...some kind of health code violation? I mean, I saw bird shit on the floor!! Normally, animal crap doesn't bother me. I did, after all, always have to clean up after our dog and I do clean pounds and pounds of it out of King's litter box every week. But I have to say that bird shit by food that I'm going to consume kind of makes me...CRINGE! Am I being overly sensitive about this? Amazingly, Rammy, who's fairly picky about things, doesn't seem to be the slightest bit bothered by the birds.


To tell you the truth, it kind of freaks me out to the point of not wanting to shop there. there I did, because Rammy needed giblets and I went along as a passenger on the "Giblet Express".

What do we have to do to get some turkey giblets in this country, for god's sake?

And for that matter, Carrefour also has Doritos (we don't!) and Smoky Bacon, Jalapeño, and other assorted flavors of Pringles that we don't have here in Switzerland.

What's up with THAT?

The selection at the Swiss grocery stores has gotten much better in the time that we've lived here, and Rammy tells me that it's light years ahead of where things were when she moved here 14 years ago. However, there are still a lot of things that are available at Carrefour that we can't get here.

I want turkey giblets, Doritos, and Smoky Bacon/Jalapeño Pringles at my local Coop NOW!

...minus the bird shit, of course!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

You Didn't Think I'd Forget...

...did you?

Today, Finland celebrates 90 years of independence.


Raise your Lapin Kulta (or any other Finnish beer you happen to have handy) along with me for a toast. Let me hear ya, loud and clear...


NOTE: The reason why my head is turned at that weird angle is because I'm hiding a GIGANTIC pimple that erupted on the left side of my neck.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Prediction For 2008...

Of the CDs I purchased in 2007, the three I have listened to the most have been:

Wilco - Sky Blue Sky

Linkin Park - Minutes To Midnight

Rush - Snakes and Arrows

Plus, I still can't get that song out of my head.

With the new year fast approaching, I don't think I'm really going out on a limb here if I predict right now that the new Radiohead CD - In Rainbows - will be my our most listened to CD of 2008. Yeah...I know...I could have already downloaded it off of their website...thanks for the info, but I just feel that Radiohead are worthy of an actual CD purchase so I have something to look at while listening to the CD while lying on my bed in my fuzzy slippers.

In Rainbows comes out in January. In the meantime, their new video (Jigsaw Falling Into Place) will have to suffice. Helmet cams ROCK!!!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Fattening Up Fat Sal in Basel...

Fatten up Fat Sal became our mantra after Fat Sal announced to Mrs. TBF upon arriving at our apartment that he was on mission to put a little fat onto his nearly fat-free frame. The challenge was set...

I met Sal at the airport at around 9:30 p.m. on Friday evening, and we took a taxi home. After a leisurely martini, and a Sal-getting-to-know-King session, we all sat down to a late-night cheese fondue dinner. Not any cheese fondue dinner, but a ONE KILO (2.2 lbs.) of cheese fondue dinner. Unbelievably, "we" (mostly me)!!!! We continued talking and drinking wine into the night; finally making it to bed around 2:30 a.m.

On Saturday morning, we went into town to meet up with Canadian-Swiss and Orange-X. We took the bus, and Sal experienced Swiss precision first-hand when we had to switch buses at one point during the journey. Our bus stopped, we stepped out as the next bus was pulling behind the first bus, and we hopped on. Yes, Sal was amazed! We jumped off the second bus at Spalentor and wandered down the the streets of Basel toward Marktplatz. Of course, we first needed a little "fattening-up" snack (about 45 minutes before eating lunch), so we stopped for a sausage at the Eiche sausage stand.

After our snack, the three of us made our way down the "clean and safe" streets of Basel to Zum Braunen Mutz to meet up with C.S. and O.X., and to stuff Sal with a few hundred calories worth of rösti. After lunch, Mrs. TBF went back home to begin preparing Sal's next caloric intake, and the four remaining bloggers set off on a small walking tour of Basel.

We set off through Marktplatz, up the hill toward the Munster, and then took the ferry across the Rhein (pretty much the reverse of my standard walking tour). It was at this point that I felt that Sal was burning too many calories, so the four of us stopped in at Fischerstube for a beer. Well, at least Sal and I had beer. Of course, C.S. and O.X. had to be troublemakers by ordering a panaché and rum & Coke respectively. Who drinks panaché and rum & Coke at a microbrewery for god's sake? Jeez!

It was getting dark by this point, and it was time to head back to the apartment. By the time we arrived, Mrs. TBF was in the midst of a cooking frenzy, and Sal was feeling a bit tired from lack of sleep and extra calorie consumption. Sal relaxed for a bit, I did a quick vacuuming and recycled before the 8:00 p.m. curfew (Sal: "WHAT?!?!? 8:00 p.m. curfew?!?!??!?"), and then the guests began showing up.

C.S., O.X., Andy, Di, Rammy, John, and kids arrived around 7:00 p.m., and we all sat down to a nice Italian dinner that Mrs. TBF had prepared. We ate and drank, once again, until the early-morning hours; finally going to sleep sometime between 2:30 and 3:00 a.m.

The next morning, we got up around 11:00 a.m. Well, at least Mrs. TBF and I did. Sal got up at something like 7:00 a.m. (probably woken up by King's howling), and didn't go back to sleep. At around noon, Mrs. TBF made one last-ditch effort of pumping calories into Sal with omelettes and bacon.

So, let's see now...

Sal ate snacks, cheese fondue, sausage, rösti, Italian food, an omelette and bacon, drank wine, beer, and a martini. And...when he left? I think he had maybe...MAYBE...gained about one ounce!!!!

What will it take to fatten up Fat Sal?

We said our goodbyes to Fat "Euro" Sal on Sunday afternoon as he got onto the airport bus at the train station. The next time we see him, he'll be Fat "American" Sal. Let's see what happens when he returns to Chicago. I'm sure we'll be checking up on him there in the not-too-distant future for a B.M.I. check.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Winter Advice...

With all this blustery weather we've been having here in Basel for the past twenty-four hours, it appears that winter is upon us. I guess there's no better time than the present for a little winter tobogganing advice from Geddy Lee of Rush.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Gray Skies Ahead...

I'm not saying that we've had an illegal (to people residing outside of the U.K. and Ireland) Sky satellite subscription for the past seven years or anything, but people who look a lot like us received a letter in the mail today from a person who handles their Sky satellite subscription. Here's what (I've been told) are the contents of that letter (paraphrased):

Dear Customer,

In the last few weeks Sky has implemented a huge crackdown on viewers outside the UK. This has resulted in thousands of European viewers having their cards turned off. Most of their dealers who were supplying the foreign market have had their licences revoked and a lot have gone out of business...

This casts a big shadow over our receiving new viewing cards if Sky change them next Spring as is widely rumoured. It is possible that all may go well, but I think that is highly unlikely.

To ensure that you continue viewing and recive your new card when it is sent out, you will need to find a friend in the UK who will let you use their address, and inform Sky that you have moved....

We (OK, you got's really us!) don't really have any friends in the U.K. (at least nobody pops into my his head) who could let us use their address. And, that's just as well because...I DON'T REALLY CARE! Although I did just go turn on our TV to see if we were still receiving Sky. We are!

Sure, Mrs. TBF would miss her food channels, and I'd miss the music video channels (to keep up with what the kids are listening to these days), my occasional fix of The Simpsons (I could just buy the DVDs), and whatever other shows we occasionally watch. But we really don't watch that much TV (probably less than one hour per week during the summer), and I don't really think I'd miss it that much. Plus, we could just plow the monthly CHF 90 (about USD 80) into other things.

Wait a second...would that mean no NFL football on Sundays and Mondays during the winter?!?!?!?


Guess Who's Coming To Dinner...

Can't guess? Here's a hint.
I guess I should start cleaning the guest room.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Minä Haluan Lanttulaatikko, Nyt!!!!

I saw that Géant had rutabagas a couple of weeks ago. Rutabagas are pretty rare around here, so I snapped them up immediately. That night, I showed them to Mrs. TBF and asked her if she'd make me some Finnish rutabaga casserole (lanttulaatikko). "Sure...I'd be happy to make lon-too-lah-tee-ko for you..." (I love when she says Finnish words!) was her response, and I figured it was a done deal.

That was ten days ago, and I guess we (Who we?) kind of forgot about them. The rutabagas are still in the fridge, and the Finnish Cook Book by Beatrice Ojakangas is still sitting on the table. I guess I'll just have to do it myself because...

...I'm a Finn, and Finns need their occasional fix of lanttulaatikko.

Updated later:

Canadian Swiss wants to know about the ingredients, so I thought I'd just post the whole recipe. It's very easy, and you can use either rutabagas (Swedes) or turnips. It's also VERY Finnish due to the fact that it contains three of the major Finnish food groups: cream, eggs, and butter! We normally ate this casserole at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter when I was growing up.

Take 2 medium rutabagas, peeled and diced (about 6 cups), and boil them in salted water to cover until soft (about 20 minutes). Drain and mash.

Soak 1/4 cup fine bread crumbs in 1/4 cup cream, stir in 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1 teaspoon salt, and two beaten eggs. Combine this "Finnish cocktail" with the mashed rutabagas.

Turn the slop into a buttered 2.5-quart casserole, dot the top with 2-3 tablespoons of butter, and bake in a moderate oven (350˚F/175˚C) for 1 hour or until lightly browned on top.

My mom's tip: Turn the heat down in the oven when it's done (to keep it warm) and let the casserole just sit in the oven until you're ready to eat. Oh...I don't know...another hour or so. The flavors will intensify. Maybe cover it with foil if you think it's drying out.

Another tip: it freezes really well. I made it last night in a foil pan, and it's now frozen solid in the freezer.

Serves 6 - 8 normal people, or 1 - 2 Finns.

Monday, November 26, 2007

An Important Holiday Message From TBF...

Until Further Notice:

The apartment-wide ban on Christmas music has been lifted (as of 12:00 a.m. this past Friday). From now until a TBA date in January, any Christmas music that comes up on the "Shuffle Songs" mode on our iPod will be permitted to play in its entirety. The ban is lifted on all 239 songs/13.7 hours of music on our "Christmas Music" playlist.

PLEASE NOTE: The ban on all "Buddha Bar" compilation CDs and any music by, or featuring, Celine Dion (three were just discovered and have been deleted) remains in effect!

Thank you for your continued compliance.


Friday, November 23, 2007

What, Me Worry?

First of all, let me say that I hope everybody in America had a happy Thanksgiving. I heard reports of many friends and relatives crowding around tables enjoying great food, turkeys being deep-fried in large cauldrons of oil, and at least one adult (not to be mentioned) joining the I-pooped-in-my-pants-as-an-adult club.

Congratulations! You're in fine company!

Now that you've all had your 5,000-calorie Thanksgiving dinners, sliced off more turkey meat for late-night sammitches, and the carcass is simmering away for the turkey soup that you'll be eating at least once a week until Christmas, it's now time to turn our attention to more serious matters.

This was the cover of last week's Economist. The article does not paint a rosy picture (to say the least) of the near future for America's economy. I read words such as: recession, grim, pessimistic, gloomy, housing-busts, $4 per gallon gas by next summer, tricky road ahead...

It's a little bit concerning, isn't it?

Yes, I have to admit that I'm slightly concerned.

But am I worried?


Ya wanna know why?


Too bad, 'cause I'm gonna tell ya anyway!

I learned from the experience of the early 2000s, and I decided that I'm not going to live through the worry of falling, or even the potential of falling, markets again. Yup, that's right! I called my stockbroker-friend the day before Thanksgiving and told him to transfer all the assets of the mutual funds in my retirement account to their corresponding money market accounts. You see, this way I won't have to worry about this stuff during the holidays. I'll be sipping my café au lait with my pinkie held high in the air on Christmas morning in Paris knowing that our retirement money is earning 4% interest in a money market account instead of potentially dropping like a lead weight. Next week, I'll have a "conference call" (Mrs. TBF loves it when I call it that) with our main financial adviser back in Chicago who handles the bulk of our investments; these are much more diversified, and I'm not too worried about them.

Maybe I'll be wrong and the market will go up 10% over the next couple of months. Who knows? But...I don't think I'm going to be wrong about this one. We're just going to wait this one out, try to predict when it's bottoming out, and then jump right back into the wonderful, crazy world of personal investing in the 2000s.

Enjoy that turkey soup!

Revenge Is...


I had to bring King to the vet this morning. Don't worry...nothing serious! He had a blood test right before we went to Japan, and the results necessitated us increasing the dosage of his thyroid medicine. This morning's blood test is just a follow-up to see if his levels are now at normal levels.

King has always been a good patient - although he did hiss a bit when Dr. "Boozer" jabbed him in his front leg to draw some blood. The problem is that he's not very happy when he's in his traveling crate. But even worse yet is when he has to fast for twelve hours before a blood test.

That's bad for him AND for us.

King's appointment was at 8:00 this morning. This meant that we weren't supposed to feed him after 8:00 last night. We cheated a bit, and he finished the last bit of his food at just before 9:00 p.m. As we went to bed, I saw that he was standing in the kitchen next to the empty space where his food bowl should have been, and I figured we were in for a long, LONG night.

It turned out not to be too bad. He tapped my face a couple of times during the night, but I just told him to F-off and covered my face with the duvet. He eventually got the message, and I didn't really have to deal with him again until I got out of bed at 5 a.m.

Why 5 a.m., you ask? Well, that would be because Mrs. TBF had to fly to London for the day, and since I had to reserve a Mobility car to drive King to the vet's office anyway, I told Mrs. TBF I'd drive her to the airport so that she wouldn't have to take a taxi (good husband points for me!!!).

I made the five minute walk to where the Mobility cars are parked, drove it back to our garage, went back up to our apartment, and walked in to find "Starving" King fake-vomiting nothing but spit to try to prove to us what neglectful parents we had been.

Sorry, buddy...another couple of hours to go!

I drove Mrs. TBF to the airport, returned home, then endured constant pestering from King for an hour or so until it was time to load him into his crate and into the car. You have to believe me when I tell you that the drive was absolute HELL! Not only did I have to endure King's howling, but the howling was combined with Savage Garden's Truly Madly Deeply (perhaps the gayest song in the history of recorded music!) playing on the radio. Brrrrrrr! I'm shuddering just thinking about it!

We finally made it to Dr. "Boozers" office. The drawing of blood took a couple of minutes, King hissed, and then we were OUTTA there! I loaded King back into the car for the ride home.

Suddenly, at a red light about thirty seconds from our garage door, I smelled what was probably the worst smell I've ever experienced in my life. I turned around and saw...

...King sitting proudly on one side of his crate next to what was most likely...the longest cat turd in the history of cat turds!!!

King's revenge: total and complete!

I somehow managed to not pass out from the fumes and pulled the car into the garage. Fortunately, I had put a an absorbent doggy-training pad in the bottom of the crate, so I was able to simultaneously hold King, wad up the turd, and dry-heave.

To avoid further vengeance, I fed King immediately after returning to the apartment. He gobbled up all his food in a snap and was snoring away on our bed a couple of minutes after that.

I went back to the garage with a garbage bag in one hand and a spray bottle of room deodorizer in the other.

Friday Flashback: November, 1997 - November, 2007...

...Celebrating ten years of doin' bald proud!

It just dawned on me a couple of days ago that I began shaving my head ten years ago this week. Actually, Mrs. TBF had to shave the back for me the first couple of times because I was afraid of slicing my head open, but I eventually figured it all out.

I remember it like it was just yesterday...

Mrs. TBF and I decided to go to Hawaii for two weeks to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. Although our anniversary is in October, we decided to go over the Thanksgiving holiday (happy belated Thanksgiving, btw...) so that we wouldn't be forced to use as many of our sacred, American vacation days.

Up to this point, beginning in about 1995, I was using electric clippers to cut my own hair to about a 1/8" length. However, I didn't really feel like packing the clippers, so I asked Mrs. TBF if she'd help me shave my head while in Hawai'i. She agreed, and the clippers remained at home. Little did I know that they would NEVER touch my scalp again!!

A few days into our trip, I was getting a little stubbly, so the two of us went at my rather rather ample scalp with the razor for the first time. I think I escaped with maybe one little nick, so not too much blood was drawn. After rinsing off the shaving cream, I ran my palms across the smooth, velvety skin of my scalp, and for the next several days...I couldn't stop touching it. Mrs. TBF would catch me stroking my breakfast, walking out to the beach, in the pool, driving the car, on the plane between islands, etc., etc.

Another noteworthy point about this trip is that it was the beginning of the heaviest (in terms of weight) time of my life. When we left for our vacation, I weighed 250 lbs. When we returned, I weighed 270 lbs.! You read that correctly, folks - I GAINED 20 LBS./9 KILOS IN TWO WEEKS!!!

...must have been all those breakfast buffets, luaus, etc.

This picture was taken in the pool of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Maui, and it is one of the first pictures of me with a clean-shaved head. Do you notice something else about the picture? Does my face look, well, a little bit round to you? It should - I was at least 50 lbs. heavier in this picture than I am now.

At the time, I didn't really think I was that overweight. I just thought I was big. Now I look at the picture, and I realize that...I was really fat. Believe me, it's intentional that I posted a picture where you can really only see me from the shoulders up. I think I was probably between 265 and 270 lbs. in the picture. My weight eventually climbed up to 275 lbs. (125 kilos) before I brought it back down to 250 lbs. - where it pretty much stayed (+/- 5 lbs.) until a couple of years ago.

Hawai'i? We'll DEFINITELY go back!

Hair? It'll MOST LIKELY never be back (unless a cure for baldness is discovered).


I need to post these pictures of fat-TBF from time to time to remind me how I once let things get WAY out of control.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanks For Asking...

Because I asked, the one and only Dictator Princess asked me FIVE QUESTIONS. Seeing how much I love to talk about myself, I was only too happy to spend a good chunk of the morning typing away instead of doing the things on my "Things To Do" list. Well, there's always tomorrow!


1. First question is the typical expat question, but I can't resist. So, are you ever, you know, gonna "go back" to Chicagoland? Or back to the States period?

YES! The pull of Chicagoland is strong (especially in me), and we plan on going back...eventually. When? We're not sure, but our standard line is "...two more years" - although now it really seems like it's REALLY going to be about two more years. We've thought about the possibility of relocating to other places after our time in Switzerland is up, but we know that family, friends, and all things Chicago will ultimately draw us back to Chi-town. It's not like I feel I absolutely must move back to Chicago this minute, because I'm in "a good place" right now as far as living in Switzerland goes (I, fortunately, am able to get my Chicago-fix several times per year). However, back-to-Chicago-moving-day will eventually come, and it will definitely be a happy time. Sure, I'll miss my friends here, but there's no reason why I can't make trips to Switzerland to visit them.

2. You are super tall. Did you feel weird in Japan? Have you ever hit your head in a medieval chateau? Do people want to touch your head? Am I being rude? What is the rudest question anyone asked you about being tall?

Gee...that's five questions right there, isn't it?
I didn't feel weird in Japan primarily because I'm used to being stared at in Switzerland (I'm a giant among the "little" Swiss too). As a matter of fact, it seemed to me as if a lot of the Japanese made an attempt not to stare when I was looking, but I'd often feel their stare after I had passed, and I'd take a quick look back to catch them in all their staring glory. The Swiss? They just stare bullets into me all the time, and they don't seem to care that I know they're staring. I often have to shrug my shoulders at them and say "Was?".
I don't think I've ever hit my head in a chateau, but I do recall hitting my head in the catacombs in Paris. Also, I once hit my head so hard on a low ceiling at our dog's kennel (right before leaving for vacation) that I thought I had a concussion (I didn't...I think!), and I once hit my head while going down the stairs at a local liquor store while reading the Vorsicht sign and wondering what it meant (warning me of a low ceiling, that's what)...PLONK! Oh...and I've hit my head on the hand bars on the tram about a zillion times while getting out of my seat....that really smarts!
Yes, people do touch my head fairly often - usually, much to my delight, during the summer when I'm a bit sweaty. They'll touch it, give me the eeeeewww look, and then I'll tell 'em: "That'll teach ya!"
I don't really recall any rude "tall" questions, but I've had people in America who are practically strangers make semi-rude "bald" comments. Something to the effect of a person at Target saying (as I cut through the shampoo aisle): "I bet you don't need to buy anything in this aisle." To which I'll reply: "Oh...not now, but the doctor said my hair will grow back as soon as I'm done with the chemotherapy!"

3. Travel diva question: is there any route in from Switzerland where it is NOT worth it to take business class? See I can think of a train where you are actually better off in second class (one of the Lausanne commuter trains) but I must ask The Expert about planes.

Personally, I don't think it's worth flying business class on intra-Europe flights. The seats are only a little wider than economy, the flights are so short that the extra food isn't really worth it, and the meal is rushed anyway. The only time I fly in business class within Europe is if it's part of an overseas business class flight (i.e. Basel to London in conjunction with London to Chicago). Keep in mind also, that we fly on EasyJet fairly often which has no business class. I actually like EasyJet a lot, but I always try to get an exit row because of the extra legroom. No charge for the tip, but it'll cost you having to give up your exit row seat to me if you see me on an EasyJet flight and there aren't any other exit row seats available.
Also, I ALWAYS ride in First Class on the train. It's not that the seats are really that much better, but more for the fact that it's not as crowded in the First Class car. TBF needs his space!

4. Being "Finnish." You totally look like someone from Finland from a mile away BTW. You grew up in Canada and the States but you speak Finnish and go back there. Do you "feel" Finnish? Do other people look at you (other than your unfortunate stalking incident at the Basel watch show) and their Finland radar automatically goes off?

Yes, I definitely feel Finnish when I go back to Finland. I think speaking the language allows me to enjoy the dry Finnish sense of humor and little plays on words that non-Finnish speakers don't understand (even if you explain it to them in English). When I walk into a store in Helsinki, the sales people automatically begin speaking to me in Finnish. An American person will walk in right after me, and they'll begin speaking in English with him befor even hearing him speak. I guess the Finns just feel the sisu when I walk in the door.
As far as the "Finn-dar" goes, I can't think of any instances other than at the Basel Watch Show. Actually, there have been several times when Mrs. TBF and I have been traveling together, and she'll say, "...those people are DEFINITELY Finns!". I'll say no way, and then I'll get closer only to hear that they're actually speaking Finnish. So, I have to say that Mrs. TBF has a much more accurate "Finn-dar" than I do.

5. I am obsessed with other people's pets as our apartment layout right now is not conducive to cats. Which is why you and Stacey both get a cat question. Is your cat as strange in real life as he seems on your blog? Have any of your guests heard him "howl" or caught him in the act of doing something weird that you and Mrs TBF are used to by now?

King da cat is definitely one strange beast. He pretty much just sleeps for a large part of the day, so in that respect he's pretty normal. However, he definitely has his quirks. For example: he is now only wanting to drink water out of the "saucers" that catch the water under our houseplants. The water under our jasmine plant seems to be a particular favorite of his. However, Christmas is coming, and soon he'll have all the "sap" water he can handle.
Let's see...what else? Oh yeah...he likes to touch peoples' nipples. That's right! If you sit on our sofa, he'll eventually sit next to you, reach up, and tap your nipple. For whatever reason, he seems to be more fond of mens' nipples.
Oh...and of course, the howling. This is almost always in combination with him carrying one of his many toys around the apartment. We always have to warn overnight guests about him because....well...he's really, REALLY loud, and we worry about them being freaked out. Or, worse yet, having them think it's US making all that noise. So, yes, people have witnessed (audibly) him walking around at night howling. As a matter of fact, this past summer, my mom's cousin from Finland - Jorma - actually heard King howling in the middle of the night, walked out of our guest room to investigate, and then went back to bed when he heard me loud-whispering: "Shut the hell up, ya freak!"

Do you want me to ask you 5+ questions? Just ask in the comments, and I'll try to come up with something. Sometimes TBF just gotta know!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Only 35 Days Until Christmas...

But more importantly...only 200 days 'til HELL!!!

I walked by the train station today and I saw on the big countdown clock that it's only 200 days until Euro 2008 begins in Austria and Switzerland (Basel is one of the host cities!)! That is when about a zillion soccer hooligans will descend on Switzerland. Can't wait...NOT!!!

What makes things worse (in case this is your first time reading this blog), is that the Art Basel 2008 exhibition - which normally causes all the Basel hotels to be sold out - overlaps with Euro 2008 from June 4 - 8. That, my friends, is when Mrs. TBF and yours truly will be heading the hell!!!!

We're thinkin' Scotland.

Are You As Bored...

...with these Japan posts as I am? Thought so.'s the last one!

A good view of Mount Fuji while heading back to Tokyo from Kyoto on the bullet train.

Fish head soup, and me eating the fish eyeball.

A beautiful autumn day in Tokyo.

October 30, 2007 / 6:22 a.m.: the last morning. The bags are packed, our "travel uniforms" are on, we're about to check out, take the shuttle bus to the airport, and make the long flight back to Basel.

Japan posts done! Finally!

What They Don't Want Westerners To Know...

They're going after the easy money in Japan!

Once again, Madonna proves that you can never have too much money! How much did she get paid to advertise these apartments? A million dollars? To have what's probably a stock photo inserted into a billboard ad?

Or...Brad and Cameron advertising SoftBank.

I guess I can't blame them for going after the easy money. Although I still find it funny that they go off to Japan to rake in the money because they know they'd be perceived as being greedy back in the U.S.

However, my favorite of the bunch was the spokesman for Boss Coffee...

I can just imagine the Boss marketing meeting:

Who can we get to represent our product. I know...I know. Let's get somebody who is weather-beaten, has bags under his eyes, and...we'll make him look startled, oh...and like he just came in from a rainstorm. Yes...YES! Tommy Lee Jones! PERFECT!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


We decided to take a day trip from Kyoto to Hiroshima; only a couple of hours away by train. It was a little rainy when we left Kyoto, so we brought our umbrellas. And, naturally, since we committed to carrying our um-ba-rellas-ellas-ellas all day, that meant that the Hiroshima weather was sunny and pleasant. As a matter of fact, the weather probably wasn't too different from how it was just over sixty years ago when Hiroshima was...


It was pretty amazing arriving in a thriving, bustling metropolis that was just ashes and rubble not too long before we were born. From the main train station, we took the tram to the A-Bomb Dome stop, which is close to the Peace Memorial Park and Museum.

I have to say that the museum is done pretty well. I went in feeling that the tone would be somewhat anti-American, but it wasn't at all. It seems that the museum presents things in a well-balanced manner with the goal of bringing understanding to the whole fiasco in hopes of avoiding a repeat...anywhere.

After spending an hour or so in the museum, we walked through the park, took the tram back to the train station, and then we took the train back to Kyoto. All in all, we were in Hiroshima for only a few hours...which was enough.

Overall, Hiroshima didn't impact me the way I thought it would. It all seemed kind of sterile and textbook-like to me. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that none of my relatives ever fought in WWII, I don't know. However, I think it had more of an impact on Mrs. TBF than it did me.

I'm glad we went, but I wouldn't go back.


Going to Kyoto? Allow me to highly recommend a sushi restaurant called Sushiiwa.

Not only is the sushi (including this rather unusual "Kobe beef sushi") and wine/champagne/sake list phenomenal, but the staff is really, REALLY friendly; including the owner who speaks excellent English.

We sat at the sushi bar and ended up sitting next to a Japanese-American doctor visiting from Houston who ordered a special piece of sushi for each of us which was about the size of a slice of bread. He told us it was something that tourists wouldn't know to order, and he wanted us to try it. Wasn't that nice of him?

Jolly Green Giant Lost In Kyoto...

On a drizzly and very humid morning, we took in another "Japanese" garden, and then we set off on something called the Philosophers' Walk.

It soon became obvious that the walk was geared toward little people. Constantly avoiding the low branches caused me to become a little disoriented. As I was the guide, I soon discovered that I was responsible for having gotten us lost.

Then...suddenly...a little voice inside my head said:

...follow the schoolgirls!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Messengers Of The Gods...

Way back when we were in Amalfi, Italy in September 2006, we ended up talking to a Japanese couple who were seated next to us at a restaurant. At some point, we told them that we were planning to go Japan the following year, and they told us that we just HAD to go to Nara. Going pretty much on their advice, we took a day trip to Nara while we were in Kyoto.

At first, as we walked along the commercial strip leading away from the train station, I have to admit that I was a little disappointed. It was just a bunch of shops and restaurants, and I was beginning to wonder what the bid deal was. Then, we came across an area of pagodas, temples, shrines, etc. Again, nothing that we hadn't already seen. We decided to slog on. That was when we saw the first...

...messenger of the gods!

That's apparently what the Japanese call the deer that roam around Nara's main temple area. They're all over the place. And let me tell ya, they're aggressive little buggers.

We made the mistake of buying a couple packs of deer "crackers" at one of the many stands selling them. And talk about a deer magnet! Suddenly, we were mobbed by these beasts. Messengers of the gods? HA! More like members of Satan's brood!

Everything was OK for about the first two seconds, but then the mood quickly changed. One of those little buggers bit Mrs. TBF in the butt because he didn't feel he was getting his fair share - I think it was the especially mean looking one with his mouth open in the second picture. And, when I was taking the pictures of Mrs. TBF getting attacked by these fleabags, one of them must have mistaken my crotch for deer feed because he nipped me about two inches away from the family jewels.

Yes, I'm not ashamed to admit that...we threw down our remaining cookies and...RAN...LIKE...SISSIES!!! Once the deer cookies were gone, then the stinkin' critters had absolutely no interest in us whatsoever.

After regaining our composure, we checked out some of the temples. However, they paled in comparison to the pure entertainment of watching from a distance as unsuspecting tourists bought packs of deer cookies, proceeded to be mauled by venison, and ran away shrieking while tossing deer cookies in the air.

Nara, Japan: Good fun, and HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Kobe Beef!

Yeah, I know, another post about eating. What can I say? We like to eat!

We decided to celebrate our anniversary by going out for some Kobe beef at a local teppanyaki grill - unfortunately, the name of which eludes me at this time. Well, whatever it was called, I'd highly recommend it; friendly staff, businessmen dining with what appeared to be high-priced call girls, and awesome, AWESOME food!

Updated later: the name of the restaurant is Mikaku.

First, the chef asked us if garlic was OK. We told him it was, and he grilled up a bunch of surgically-sliced garlic chips for us. Fortunately, both of us were eating the garlic. If it had been just me eating it, Mrs. TBF would probably have made me go sleep in the ice machine room.

Then, we ordered the beef, and the chef sliced off a big slab for us. Next time, I'll warn him that I'm taking the picture because the flash went off right when he was slicing and he kind of looked up with expression on his face. Sorry! I think I almost caused him to slice off his finger.

But no harm done, because (after being weighed to make sure we weren't being cheated) the beautifully marbled hunk o' heaven was sizzling on the grill a few minutes later, and was sliced up on our plates a few minutes after that.

Oh, and the best part for me? The chef didn't waste the fat. He actually cubed it up, fried it up like bacon, and then mixed it with some bean sprouts. The memory of it makes me weep!

Add a Kobe beef chef to the list of things I want if we ever win the lottery!

When we were finally finished with the meal, we walked out to the typical chorus of staff saying stuff to us in Japanese while bowing. Outside of the restaurant, I stopped to take a self-portrait of us...

...with the Kobe glow.

Ice Ice Baby...

One of the many things that makes Japan so great: ICE!!!

I'm talking about ice machines in our hotel and ice sold in bags at convenience stores. I'd go to the ice machine every evening and fill up the ice bucket just because...I could (...and because I wanted to mix us some pre-dinner cocktails). If I hadn't? The turn-down maid would have done it for me...without even having to be asked.

I know...people in North America are scratching their heads. Ice machines? Ice being sold at convenience stores? What's the big deal?

Well, it is a big deal to transplanted North Americans who live in Europe. Ice machines at hotels? Only in the kitchen/bar. Ice sold in stores? Unheard of!

Why is ice such a rare commodity in Europe?


Bamboo Forest...

The sun was beginning to set as we made our way to one of the many Japanese gardens we saw during our two-week stay. After arriving at the garden, we climbed the stairs that were carved out of the hillside through the straight-as-arrow bamboo trees that reached upward to the sky.

The Japanese kids always make a peace sign when they pose for a photo, so I decided to do the same. Then, Mrs. TBF handed the camera back to me so that I could take a picture of her...

...right after she saw the big "man-eating" spider and spider web that was right behind me that I was trying to shield from her view.

The day's walking tour was officially over!

Twenty Years...

I take a lot of self-portraits. But I happen to like this one a lot - taken in Kyoto on our twentieth wedding anniversary.

I look back at pictures from when we got married, and I think we look like kids. It'll be interesting to see how we look twenty years from now when look back at this picture.

On Ko Siellä Yhtään Suomalaisia?

That's Finnish...not Japanese (I'm sure I'm probably butchering the spelling), and it means: Are there any Finns there? That's what my dad would say when I was a kid and we'd drive by a cemetery - he probably still does.

It was a beautiful sunny day in Kyoto, and we decided to do a walking tour that was recommended by one of our books. On the way to an area of temples, we wandered through a cemetery.

Did you ever wonder where the Japanese are buried? On the thousands...almost as far as the eye can see.

Oli ko täällä yhtään Suomalaisia?

Most likely, no.

NOTE TO SELF: Cut back on the bench press.

Anniversary Breakfast...

On the eve of our twentieth wedding anniversary, and still full from our tempura dinner, we decided to order a nice room service breakfast for 8:30 a.m. We had planned a big day of walking/sightseeing, so Mrs. TBF ordered an English breakfast, and I opted for the Japanese breakfast.

At 8:25 a.m. the next morning (five minutes early), a man in a suit showed up at our door, handed me my International Herald Tribune, wheeled in a big table, and laid out quite the spread for us. Then, he asked us if we had everything we needed AND if there way anything at all he could do for us. "No...I think we have everything we need..." I said, and then watched as he bowed before our bathrobe-clad bodies for what seemed like a minute, and then (finally) walked out the door.

Mrs. TBF enjoyed her English breakfast (she shared some of her bacon!), and I enjoyed the multitude of containers of food that made up my breakfast...even though I wasn't really sure what some of the things were.

My question is this: How the heck do Japanese people stay so thin? Come to think of it...

I ate like a pig on this trip, and I managed to only gain about half a kilo (1 lb.).