Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas 2005!

Christmast Lights!

Note to Mrs. TBF: It's been a long time since I've had to put up outdoor Christmas lights, and I'd be happy if I never had to put any up again as long as I live. But...if I ever end up decorating with outdoor Christmas lights again, DON'T EXPECT CHRISTMAS LIGHTS LIKE THE ONES YOU SAW IN VIENNA DURING CHRISTMAS 2005! Thank you, and Merry Christmas!

Wiener Christkindlmarkt

Vienna has Christmas markets scattered around town. On Friday, we took the subway (called the U-bahn) out to a market at Schönbrunn. It was, to tell you the truth, a little disappointing. There weren't as many stands as I had hoped, and it was just altogether unspectacular. Plus, having walked through Basel's Christmas Market many times, I began to realize that the one in Vienna sold pretty much the same junk I don't really want to buy in Basel either. So, we just walked around the market twice, drank this hot "rocket fuel" drink called Pünsch (a little like Glühwein, but stronger) bought a couple of little trinkets, and then rode the U-bahn back toward our hotel. A big bonus of the excursion ended up being that we came out of the subway, walked in the opposite direction of our hotel, and ended up in an outdoor food market called Nascht.
Nascht has to be the nicest open-air market we've ever seen. It was great walking through it seeing people loading up for their Christmas dinners - fantastic beef roasts, turkey, goose, fish, olives, etc., etc., etc. stretching for hundreds of meters. Why can't they have a place like this in Basel???
Zip ahead to Saturday...Knowing that we'd be gorging on food again in less than ten hours, we thought that it would be wise to get some exercise. We grabbed a quick lunch by the cathedral, picked up a few odds and ends at a couple of stores, and then made our way toward the Christmas market by the city hall (rathaus). Ok...OK!!!! So we stopped at Demel and had a couple of pieces of cake and some Viennese coffee....BIG DEAL!!! We eventually made it to the market, and I'll say that this one ended up being quite enjoyable. A lot of the stuff they were selling there was absolute junk, but there was some good stuff too. Mrs. TBF even found some pumpkinseed oil soap (she is, afterall, a pumpkin junkie!).
Along with all the stuff being sold at the booths, there was also a wide assortment of food for sale - with the word "food" being used very loosely in this instance. Sure, it's something you chew and swallow, but whether or not it contains any nourishment whatsoever is another matter. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the healthiest food, Christmas market food would have to come in at about a -3. Case in point...

At one point, while walking around the market, I suddenly had an out-of-body experience and found myself floating above what appeared to be a lifeform looking something like TBF ordering a "Toast-Langos" at a food stand. I had no control over what this lifeform was doing, so I just observed him giving a lady 3 Euros and then waiting while she threw what appeared to be a long piece of batter dipped cheese wrapped in salami into a vat of oil. After about a minute in the oil, the lady took the monster and brushed it with melted garlic butter. YUMMMMMMY! I watched the TBF-like lifeform gobble up the Langos in less than a minute. A little while later, the Langos was talkin' back!
God knows I'd never eat something like that. Weight Watchers allows me 26 points per day, and I'd have to say that this fine piece of culinaria has to clock in somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 points!

From The "What Were They Thinking?" File...

I took this picture at Stephansplatz in the heart of Vienna. On one side, you have the beautiful, old Stephansdom cathedral. On the other side, an ultra modern building. How's that for urban planning?

Biff and Muffy Go To The Opera...

We went to see Falstaff at the Vienna Opera House on Friday night. We felt very posh hobnobbing with Vienna's High Society. I even wore a jacket and tie for the second night in a row - I think that's a new European record for TBF!
In hindsight, we're glad we went to the opera. Sure, it's expensive. But, it's one of those things that should be checked out at least once in a lifetime. I think Mrs. TBF liked it better than I did - it must be the Italian connection. I didn't hate it, but I thought it could have been about two hours shorter than the three hour marathon it turned out to be. That's a long time to be watching something that's being sung in Italian. I couldn't really follow the plotline, but hey...what the heck! All in all, I have to say that the costumes, stage design, and opera house itself were pretty darn impressive. And, I'm pretty impressed with the fact that I managed to stick it out for three hours considering my usual thirty second attention span.

A lady asked us if we'd like her to take our picture and I said yes. Unfortunately, I forgot to change the setting on the camera which is too bad because it would have been a nice picture of us.
After the opera, we walked across the street and had a nice dinner at a place called Korso bei der Oper. Since we didn't sit down to dinner until after 10:30 p.m., we were happy that it ended up not turning into the four-hour marathon from the night before. We enjoyed our meal, and we were equally entertained by the six Russians seated at the table right next to ours. It seemed that their goal was to see how many truffles they could consume in one dinner. I'm guessing that the waiter ended up with carpal tunnel syndrome from shaving truffles onto appetizers, main courses, etc.
What's with all the Russian tourists? I've noticed that a lot of things I've read in Vienna are written in German, English, Russian, and Japanese. Da!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Clean Those Plates!

As if we hadn't had enough to eat the night before, we decided to waddle over to Figlmüller at the crack of noon for some of their famous Wienerschnitzel. We ordered the Wienerschnitzel with a side order of "field potato salad" (it tasted like German potato salad to me). Here we are with pieces of meat resembling sewer hole covers.

I'm proud to say that I managed to clean my plates. Mrs. TBF did a respectable job of completing about half of her meal. Normally, I would finish off Mrs. TBF's food, but I was absolutely stuffed. Here's how the table looked when we were done eating just before being rolled out the door.

Fortunately for us, we managed to walk several miles around Vienna taking in the sights. That means that we probably worked off about 10% of the calories that we consumed at lunch.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Best of the Best!

Last night, we ate at a restaurant called Steirereck, and we decided that it was, without a doubt, our best restaurant meal of the year. We've eaten at some mighty fine restaurants this year. The restaurants that we ate at during our trip to Burgundy in the spring come to mind. Also, a nice group dinner we had at Gundeldingerhof in Basel is right up there (the steak tartare with broccoli mousse is probably the best dish I ate all!). But, last night's dinner was a true work of art.
We opted for the six-course dinner with a different wine to go with each course. This was similar to what we opted for at Charlie Trotter's when we were in Chicago this fall. Unlike that dinner, which was kind of a disappointment, I just can't really find the words to express what we experienced last night. And, it cost WAY less than that meal cost us at Charlie Trotter's. In my opinion, Charlie Trotter needs to go back to his kitchen and re-evaluate his menu AND his cost structure - you just aren't getting your money's worth at his restaurant! But enough about C.T....

We arrived at Steirereck at 8:00 p.m., and we didn't leave until midnight! That's fairly typical in Europe - no "turning the tables" here! Rather than blather on and on, suffice it say that we enjoyed our dining out "event" very, VERY much. A little foie gras here, some venison there, a little calf's head and octopus on that side of the table over there, a little Alpen ox in front of you right there, ...Mrs. TBF enjoying a selection of cheeses from the cheese table with sixty or so cheeses, ...and on and on and on.....!

Ok,'s the point where you should stop reading because you'll hate the picture that's coming up next...

Here's a picture of me enjoying the very manly dessert selection of a Romeo and Juliet No. 2 cigar with some 25 year old rum. See? It was very hard work. I even had to take off my jacket!
To the good life!

Guten Morgen und Grüss Gott from Vienna!

A very bleary eyed TBF answered the door of his and Mrs. TBF's junior suite (thanks for the upgrade Leaders Club!) this morning at the unGodly hour of 9:00 a.m. sharp! Oh yeah...I guess we did order a pot of coffee for between 9:00 and 9:30. I guess I was just hoping for a little closer to 9:30. A couple of cups of strong coffee was just the right antidote for the previous night's gluttony at Steirereck...but more about that incredible dinner a little later...

With a couple of cups o'joe in her, Mrs. TBF decided it was time to check out how her other traveling companion, Mr. Blackberry, was doing (it might actually be Ms. Blackberry...I haven't mustered up the nerve to check yet). Fortunately, the Blackberry was only out for a few minutes. I now realize that I was duped...(or, ich bin duped as I like to say). Mrs. TBF told me that she wasn't bringing her laptop along on this trip. I kind of rubbed my eyes incredulously when she told me this, followed by a "What did you do with my wife?" comment. But now, I realize that the Blackberry is pretty much just a smaller version of the laptop, and it means that Mrs. TBF will probably still work more hours on this mini-vacation (per usual) than I did during a normal work week back in my days of indentured servitude.

Here's another picture of Mrs. TBF taken with her other traveling companion, Mr. Cellphone (pretty sure it is a "he"), taken yesterday afternoon at the Mozart Cafe in the heart of Vienna. I have to give Mrs. TBF credit...she conducted her bidness in a very discreet manner while I enjoyed my Tafelspitz und leberknödel Suppe (liver dumpling soup). I'll add this picture to my rather large photo collection called "Mrs. TBF Doing Business While on Vacation". It's a rather large collection including pictures of Mrs. TBF using her cellphone or laptop in Hawaii, Helsinki, Paris, et al.
Here's today's strategy: the safe in our room is controlled by my credit card. So, maybe I'll throw Mr./Ms. Blackberry and Mr. Cellphone into the safe, lock the door, and then help Mrs. TBF get over her separation anxiety by taking her on a nice walking tour of Vienna.
Sounds like a plan to me!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Official 2005 Christmas Portrait...

Three tries, and this was the best we could do. Sure...Mrs. TBF's face is partially hidden, and King isn't looking at the camera...but, who cares? Here we are in all our holiday glory during the holidays of 2005.
Tomorrow morning we will be leaving for Vienna. Unlike my trip to Chicago, I WILL be taking the laptop to Vienna. So, I'm planning on doing some blog updates between bites of Sachertort and sips of Viennese coffee.
King opted to stay behind, so he's going to be in the capable hands of our ex-neighbor Gill (...that's Jill in American English). This will be our first Christmas away from home and not at a relative's wish us luck!
Auf wiedersehen bis Wien!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A Few Birthday Pictures...

The main reason why I went to Chicago was to celebrate my dad's 70th birthday. My parents always stay at my sister's house while heading down to their place in Florida for the winter (and back up to Canada in the spring), so I time my trips for when they'll be in Chicago. Normally my parents head down south in November, but this year they delayed their trek by a couple of weeks so we could time it with my dad's big day.
I stayed (as usual) at my mother-in-law's (Jo) house. My options were pretty much to stay at Jo's house, OR stay at Diana's house with Diana, Colm, Colm's mom Nelly (visiting from Ireland), my parents, and four kids. I figured that after spending the days at Diana's house that Jo's house would offer a nice tranquil setting and a good night's sleep (more about Jo later...).
Since my dad's birthday fell on a weekday, we just had a nice prime rib roast dinner (look at all the beautiful growth-hormone-injected U.S. beef!) and some birthday cake at the house on his actual birthday.

On Saturday (now it was my sister's birthday), the whole gang piled into a car and a minivan and headed for a smokehouse grill named Gridley's for a double-birthday celebration. The food and service were great, and we had a really nice time. The highlight of the evening for me??? It was definitely when my five-year-old nephew Finn gobbled up the ice cream sundae that came with his Kid's Menu meal, hid the empty bowl on his lap under the table, and then asked the waiter when he was going to get his ice cream kid!!!

House of Mirrors...

The house that my sister and brother-in-law just moved into has one of the weirdest living rooms I've ever seen - the entire living room ceiling is covered in mirrors. Here are a couple of pictures (a self-portrait of me and Diana, and a view of the room taken from the back toward the front of the house).
When she first told me about it, I kind of adopted a wait-and-see attitude. The first time I saw it I kind of thought "...hmmmmmm...I don't know about this". Then, after being there for a week it kind of grew on me. One problem is that it appears that the mirrors are actually glued to the ceiling which makes removing them one big, messy, and dangerous job.
What do you think???

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Very, Very Strange!

I've been catching up on a bunch of International Herald Tribunes that piled up while I was in Chicago. In the Wednesday, December 14, 2005 issue there was a half-page ad calling for a "...resolution to rebuild Geneva [because it] violates Natural Law and does not promote health, happiness, and prosperity to the extent expected from proper architecture. Instead, it offers misfortune and problems to its citizens." At the bottom of the ad it reads "...For details, please visit our website:"
Geneva hasn't done a good enough job promoting prosperity??? Apparently all Geneva has to do to become even richer is to rebuild all their roads so that they " north-south in order to provide auspicious east entrances to every building."
At first I thought it was some kind of joke, but I think these people are absolutely 100% serious. This ad/website may qualify for the strangest thing I've read or seen all year! Wow!!!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

I Wish I Hadn't Seen That!

I went out to lunch with my dad while I was in Chicago last week, and afterwards we went to the Home Depot that's located in Lake Zurich. Wouldn't you know it that they'd build a Home Depot less than ten minutes from my old house right after I moved? My dad needed to buy a gas valve or something like that (I was a little jet lagged...I can't remember exactly...). While we were walking through the store, something caught my eye - it was the Weber gas grill model that I bought in Germany this past spring. "How much did you pay for it?", my dad asked. I paid the U.S. equivalent of $941.68 for this thing in May, and here it was for sale at Home Depot for $449 (plus tax). Damn!!! I did NOT need to see that!

If that wasn't bad enough, the next model up was right next to it and it was only $499. Do I look disgusted, or what? I don't remember if I blogged about this or not, but I started kicking myself for not buying the better model about two minutes after setting up my grill on the balcony. It has a side burner that you can use for boiling pots of water (...corn on the cob, pasta, etc.) or for a wok when you don't feel like heating up the whole house stir-frying during the summer. Double-damn!!! I DEFININITELY did not need to see that!

Useless TBF Trivia

I don't why, but during my flight home from Chicago I began wondering what percentage of my life I've lived in Switzerland. So, today I went to to find out.
As of today, I've spent just over 12% of my life as a Swiss resident (1,896 out of 15,799 days). Ok...I've told you - now you can just forget about it.

Let the Chicago Pictures Begin!

My trip to Chicago went like clockwork. The flights were on time, I had no unusual security hassles, and I even ran into my friend Dr. John at the Swiss Lounge at Basel Airport. We both enjoyed a cappucino, and then he was off to Hamburg and I was off to Brussels.
I flew on Swiss from Basel to Brussels, and then I boarded an American Airlines flight from Brussels to Chicago. I used 90,000 AA miles to book a round-trip business class ticket, and as I waited for the plane to take off I noticed that business class seemed to be totally full except for the seat right next to mine. "It's my lucky day!", I thought...until I saw an elderly lady with a cane walking down the aisle just before the airplane door closed. Now, I don't know about you, but I'm one of those people who prefer to not have to speak to the passenger who is seated next to me....
Betty is from Ft. Worth, TX, she worked for American Airlines for 33 years, she has diverticulitis, she was visiting friends in Brussels, she has been having trouble with her legs and now needs somebody to cart her around in a wheelchair throughout the airport, she is 74 years old, she can't believe that AA now has plastic forks and knives in business class, her husband died a few years ago,....and on and on for the better part of 9+ hours.
Nothing worked for me. I'd put my ear buds in and listen to my iPod and stare out the window - she'd tap my shoulder and share other unsolicited details of her life.
The meal service was especially fun. We were served warm nuts with our drinks. "Ummm...should you be eating nuts if you have diverticulitis?", I thought. "I can eat cashews...they don't bother my diverticulitis", she said as if reading my mind.
There was one point after dinner when I figured it was a lost cause, and I actually decided to initiate conversation. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em...right? As I stared out the window, I said something like "it sure is clear outside...". Dead silence. I glanced over, and Betty began snoring. I decided to follow her lead. I closed my eyes. Just when I was beginning to doze off, Betty decided to go to the bathroom. I can only say that Betty getting out of her seat was akin to a cowboy riding a bucking bronco at a rodeo. Those few moments of sleep would be the only ones I'd get during the whole flight.
When we arrived at O'Hare, I wished her well and got the hell out of there before I ended up having to carry her carry-on bag for her. She was a nice lady...but I'd had my fill of Betty and it was time to move on.
My parents picked me up at the airport and we went directly to Nordstrom. It had to be my first stop. Because I've lost all this weight, none of my clothes fit me any more. I bought some trousers, casual pants, and a wool overcoat. Plus, I had a sportcoat altered. We stopped for a late lunch at Ruby Tuesday, and then we drove to my sister's house.

My sister (Diana) and her family just moved to a bigger house a few weeks ago. Mrs. TBF and I had driven by the house when we were in Chicago six weeks ago, but this was my first time inside the house. Nice house. It needs a little updating (the previous people were big wallpaper fans!), but overall it was in move-in condition. It certainly gives the family room to stretch out a bit, and it also gives more room for the kids to use Uncle TBF as their own private monkey bars.
Here I am, shortly after arriving, with Kiera, Fiona, and Finn.

Diana had her fourth child in September. When I was in Chicago in October, Sinead pretty much slept all the time and I rarely saw her with her eyes open. Here's Sinead the "conehead" at approximately two months old. Let me tell ya, this kid has a good set of lungs. Plus, she has some major league gas! That must come from my brother-in-law's (Colm) side of the family.
Diana's side of the family doesn't have gas.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I'm Alive and Well...

I'm back in Switzerland after spending a week in cold and snowy Chicago where we were celebrating my dad's 70th birthday. My sister and her family had just moved to a new house, and I found out the night before I left that they didn't have their highspeed internet connection hooked up yet. So, I decided not to bring my laptop with me because: 1) I didn't want the extra weight in my luggage. 2) I didn't want to have to go to a Starbucks to update my blog and check e-mail.
I'll post some pictures a little later. First I have to finish unpacking and then run to the grocery store to pick up a few things for dinner.

STRANGE OBSERVATION FROM THIS TRIP TO THE U.S.: What the hell is with the foamy soap? It seems that soap dispensers no longer dispense regular soap or gel soap. Now, this stream of foam shoots into your hand when you hit the dispenser. My sister had it in her bathroom, I noticed it in restaurant restrooms, the soap at O'Hare was foam...When did soap dispensing technology change...and, WHY?

Monday, December 05, 2005

Let The Journey Begin...

I woke up about an hour ago (about 9:40 p.m. Chicago time), and Mrs. TBF will be driving me to the airport in a couple of minutes. Man, this is going to be a long trip!!!

Half-Assed Weekend Update...

I'm leaving for Chicago tomorrow morning, and I still have to make dinner and pack. So my weekend update will be a little on the short side:

Friday evening: Mrs. TBF and I went to dinner at Charlotte and Alban's apartment. Charlotte is our French teacher. We had a nice relaxing evening, ate some really good food (especially the dessert!), and then walked home because they live less than a ten minute walk from our apartment.
Alban offered to drive us home which resulted in us saying something to the effect of: "What do think we are...Americans?!?!?" We had a lot of champagne, food, and wine in our stomachs, so the walk and fresh air did us good.

Saturday: We ran some errands during the day (the highlight was buying a 50 CHF/less than $40 U.S. DVD player that plays both European and North American DVDs) and also stopped by to see Sam. Sam is Diagnostic Dave and Mrs. Diagnostic Dave's 15 year old black Lab who was attacked the night before by another dog. When we arrived, Sam walked over to us looking for a little cuddle. Then, five minutes later, he was snoring away in his bed. Sam is fine! On the way home from the DxDaves, our car's odometer hit 40,000 miles. We bought the car on October 16, 1999. That means that it took 6 years, 1 month, and 27 days (2,250 days) to go 40,000 miles. How's that for boring Big Finn trivia?

Saturday evening: We went to a wine tasting at Andy and Di's house. The theme this month was Swiss wines. Now, we're not members of this wine club, but the hosts of the party get to invite an "outside" couple, and we were it. You may have read on a previous blog entry that we've gone to a couple of these before. Like I've said before, we're not wine experts by any means, but...the last time we went to one of these things at John and Rammy's house, we came in second place in the wine tasting competition. This time...WE WON!!! We couldn't believe it. Could it be that we know more about wine than we thought? Maybe I'll have to get one of those silver cups that you wear on a chain around your neck. It might look nice with the Tommy Bahama shirts. We got home in the very wee hours of Sunday morning...

Sunday: ...and after waking up at 11:15 a.m., and enjoying a nice breakfast made by Mrs. TBF, we went about decorating the apartment for Christmas. We actually got a big tree this year. Our current apartment is about 35% bigger than our old one, and that little bit of difference meant that we had room for a tree on the floor rather than a table-top tree like we've had the past few years. We were even able to bring out the monster Christmas tree stand which we've never been able to use in Switzerland before. This baby holds two gallons of water and is made of cast iron. I think I remember when we bought the thing about eight years ago that the brochure said it could hold a 600 lb./273 kg. tree! That would be one honkin' tree, let me tell ya!
Mrs. TBF made some homemade gnocchi, a venison sauce to go with it, and then we were absorbed by the furniture in the T.V. room and watched a little NFL. That's about it as far as the weekend goes.
Like I said at the start...I leave for Chicago (connecting in Brussels) from Basel tomorrow morning at 7:15 a.m. I'm bringing the laptop, so the next time I blog will be from the "Windy City"!

Happy Birthday Bob Nuenfeldt!!!

Who's Bob Nuenfeldt you ask? Why, he's a guy who lived on Redwood Trail right behind me when I was growing up in Wheeling, Illinois. Really, he only lived there until 7th or 8th grade - then his family moved to California. But for some reason, I remember his birthday every year.
I think I saw him one time after he moved when he came back to visit some friends. But...that was it. He had an older sister named Debbie, and a younger sister named Donna. I wonder whatever happened to him. Maybe he'll do a Google search on his own name and find my blog. You never know.
Bob, I hope you have a happy birthday. Wherever you are.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Dear Jura of Switzerland: Never mind!

I fixed our Jura coffee machine today. I got out the screwdriver, took the top off, poked and prodded, vacuumed the thing out, decalcified parts that aren't really meant to be decalcified, worked. I basically took the thing apart, cleaned it out, and put it back together again. REALLY!!! I should have taken a picture of the machine when it was in pieces on the kitchen counter, but I thought that any sort of distraction might result in me not being able to put the damn thing back together again. The "CLEAN NOW" light has been replaced by the "COFFEE READY" light. What this all means is that the Jura machine has received a stay of execution by sledgehammer...for the time being.
Later in the afternoon, I bumped into a fellow Finlander at the grocery store. I happened to glance down at a lady's shopping cart, and I saw that she was buying about eight cans of Lapin Kulta (a Finnish beer). So I took a chance and blurted out: "Olet ko sinä Suomalainen?" (Are you a Finn?). As it turns out, she was. We had a nice little chat, and I'm proud to say that she told me that my Finnish is better than hers. She's lived in Switzerland for forty-four years, and she said she's forgotten a lot of Finnish because her husband is Swiss and she either speaks German or English all of the time.
I like random encounters with Finns. It's kind of like belonging to a secret club. NOBODY can understand a word we're saying and, as I've said before, I can tell it drives the Swiss people crazy to hear a language that they can't recognize. Haista puskka Sveitsilainen!!!
I ended up going into town a little later to a bookstore to buy a book for my French class. I also stopped at a couple of other stores jabbering away in my broken German the whole time. DAMN!!! Finnish, French, German, English...I'm turning into the freakin' U.N.!!!

Oy Vey!!!

I'm needing some help regarding Hanukkah - specifically as it pertains to the menorah. Maybe there's a Jewish visitor to my blog who can help me out.
My Uncle Cy died a couple of years ago - he was Jewish. I always liked Uncle Cy. He was a character who was larger than life, I always felt that he had a good heart, and he was always really good to me. One of my favorite memories of Uncle Cy was a conversation I overheard him having with Mrs. TBF...

Mrs. TBF: "Cy, do you like basketball?"

Uncle Cy: "Of course I like basketball...I'm Jewish!!!"

As a tribute to Uncle Cy, I decided that I would light a menorah every year during Hanukkah in his memory. The problem is: I don't really know what I'm doing.
Last year, when I was in Chicago, I bought a menorah and Hanukkah candles at (of all places) Pier 1 Imports. I gotta tell ya, I looked all over for the menorah. Finally, a saleslady at Marshall Field's called her friend at Pier 1 who told her that they had them in stock.
I ended up going to the Pier 1 by my sister's house with my sister and mom. Here we were, three Nordic looking people buying stuff for Hanukkah at a Pier 1 in suburban Chicago. It was kind of strange. I'll tell you right now - there aren't many Jews in Finland. Oy vey!! Anyway, I ended up schlepping the stuff back to Switzerland.
After unpacking, I set up the menorah in a place of honor in our dining room, opened the box of blue and white candles, and then realized that I had no idea what to do. I checked out the internet, but I could only find partial answers to my questions. I ended up winging it last year, but this year I want to do it right! So here are my questions...

1. I understand about using the center candle to light the candles that you add daily, and you work backwards always lighting the most recent candle first. But, what's the deal with the blue and white candles? What goes where?

2. Do you burn the candles all the way down each night?

3. I see that Hanukkah is on December 26th this year, but when do I begin lighting the candles...eight days before?

Just for the record, I asked one of Cy's sons last year and he said he didn't really remember and that he'd get back to me. I'm still waiting... Maybe my dad is right and my cousins ARE 51% Finnish.
I'm beginning to schvitz here! HELP!