Friday, July 28, 2006

Mrs TBF's playlist's time to try out my playlist. Although TBF and I share a lot of the same musical likes, there is some music he loves that I hate and some music I love that he tolerates. So, I have my own playlist on our shared iPod. I shuffled my playlist, and here are the first 10 songs for those who enjoy competition. I too, will offer a special prize to the reader out there who guesses the most song names and attributes the right artist (which can be tricky sometimes with all those covers out there). Here goes...and remember...NO CHEATING!!!!

1. You came close close but no cigar...

2. I'm gonna love you like no one's loved you...

3. Here while the day is fading...(No one will get this!!!! - special prize to anyone who does)

4. OK Tokyo South America Australia France Germany UK...

5. Was ridin' along side the highway rollin' up the countryside...

6. I feel like I'm pounding on a big door...

7. I can't light no more of your darkness...

8. When I believed in nothing...

9. Hello did you miss me I know I'm hard to resist...

10. In the days when we were swinging from the trees...


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Gardener Is Off-Duty...

As I type, we are having our first rain in Basel in weeks. It's a good soaking rain, and this is good news for me because I am currently in charge of watering two gardens for people who are away on vacation. Add this responsibility onto the watering of our garden, and we're looking at a couple of hours of watering per day.
Now, don't get me wrong. I don't mind helping out my friends. But, wouldn't you know it that the day they all left pretty much coincided with the day the rain stopped and the temperature soared? Bad luck!
But, today's different. Mother nature took care of the gardens today. I just walked up to The Fishbowl to check on the rain. And, of course, you guessed I set one foot out the door, Bruno was standing on his balcony looking directly at me, holding his arms up in the air, and motioning for the rain to keep on comin'. I gave him the thumbs up, looked upward, and realized that there were about ten other people on various balconies looking down at me. I just turned around and went back in think about what I was going to do with all the extra time...IN PRIVATE!
Maybe the gym...maybe some shopping...decisions, DECISIONS!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Bakers Dozen Shuffle...

I'm swiping this one from Dixie Peach. She doesn't even know I exist, but I found her via Dictator Princess (both of them are D.P.s...weird!). Dixie Peach swiped this idea from a bunch of other people. I liked it (music is a MAJOR part of my life...NOT majoring in music in University is THE major regret of my life!), AND, lo and behold, it is now on my blog (...and you thought all my ideas were original. Maybe I'm not as smart as you think...).

Get your playlist together from your iPod, put it on random, and play.
[I used "The Big Finn's Ultimate Workout" playlist. It's what I listen to on my Shuffle when I workout...duh!]

Step 2: Write down the first line from the first 10 songs that play or close to it. [I used the first 13 songs in order to be kind of original. 13 = Baker's Dozen...get it?]

Step 3: Post and let everyone you know
[who reads my blog] guess what song the lines come from.

Step 4: Cross out the songs
[I have no idea how to do that. Could somebody please tell me?] when someone guesses correctly.

Here goes...

1. Tobes of Hades lit by flickering torchlight from "By-Tor and the Snowdog" by Rush, guessed by Mrs. TBF. Could it be that she secretly likes Rush? I was going to exclude Mrs. TBF from the competition, but then I realized that if she won, her gift (I have a gift for her...) would be easy. So, she's allowed to compete. BTW...this song kicks so much ASS that I think I'm going to begin weeping just thinking about it.

2. Anyone can have an opinion

3. Yesterday a morning came, a smile upon my face from "Yours Is No Disgrace" by Yes, guessed by Dixie.Mrs. TBF - ummm...Human Race? I think we need to begin having nightly Yes lyrics study sessions. I have the live version of this song from the album Yessongs on my shuffle. It has probably one of the best live guitar solos I've ever heard. Steve Howe RULES!

4. Nun liebe Kinder gebt fein acht from "Mein Herz Brennt" by Rammstein, guessed by the anonymous C (I can't pull up the link). He/she gets the credit, but if the person is unidentifiable, then Beejum gets credit. Mrs. TBF - nice try. Let me just say that Rammstein back to back with Guns 'n Roses is probably the best workout music tag-team imagineable.

5. Oh baby's no secret that the stars are falling from the sky

6. Why does it feel like night today?

7. Today tomorrow seems so far away

8. In pitch dark I go walking in your landscape from "There There" by Radiohead, guessed by Dixie. She's starting to pull away from the pack. Radiohead opened with this song when Mrs. TBF and I saw them at the Montreaux Jazz Festival a couple of years back. That was probably the best concert I ever saw (followed closely by Yes on September 24, 1978 and Rush on December 15, 1978). At one point during the concert, I actually said to Mrs. TBF that "...I hope they finish soon...because I don't know how much more of this I can take!" Take my advice...GO SEE RADIOHEAD LIVE!

9. Say, where you gonna go? [Nobody will get this one!]

10. All this time we're talking and sharing our rational view

11. Birdie in the hand, for life's rich from "Begin the Begin" by R.E.M., guessed by Mrs. TBF. Kirk gets an "almost but no cigar", and Dixie guessed a bit too late. R.E.M. is one of THE great American bands - who else could come up with the lyric "...Miles Standish proud." (also in this song)? They had one success after another during the late 80s and 90s. Then, their drummer quit the band after a blood clot (?) in his brain nearly killed him (in Switzerland, of all places). After the drummer quit, the band has put out a couple of "kinda lame" CDs. I guess the drummer was the magic.

12. You can tell by the way she walks that she's my girl from "Supergirl by Reamonn, guessed by Dixie. This is a Basel1 Radio mainstay, and I copied it from one of those Superhits of 2000 compilation CDs. I'm pretty sure this was only a hit in Europe, so I doubt if anybody in America has ever heard before. Who knows? Maybe I'm wrong. I think it's a great pop tune.

13. Jump back/what's that sound? from "Panama" by Van Halen, guessed by Sal. This is probably my favorite Van Halen song from the David Lee Roth era. DLR or Sammy Hagar? I like them both, but I think, for me at least, the scale tips toward the Van Halen fronted by DLR.

Make your guesses and put them in the comments. AND no ruining the fun by going to a lyrics website...or Google-ing the lyrics...ya ASS! MAYBE there'll be a special prize (...just ask Dictator Princess and Ms. Mac....they've received special prizes in the past!) for the person who gets the most right answers (WITHOUT CHEATING!!!!!!).

Dixie is in the lead...Mrs. TBF is a close second...six songs's still a wide open race!

Good luck, and....ROCK ON!

(Damn...that was a lot of work!)


Got a problem here people!

Part of The Fishbowl was planted in what I would call a "prairie-style" planting. It's the area of The Fishbowl that is only partially viewable by our Swiss neighbors, so it's where I go for a pee when I'm up there and don't feel like haulin' my Big Finn butt downstairs ( God...did I just write that on my blog for all the world to see?). Now, I have nothing against native plantings - I actually like them. However, one thing that's essential when you have a prairie-style planting is that you actually maintain it so that it doesn't become a tangled mess of overgrown weeds. This is a rental property - it wasn't maintained by the previous residents...let's just leave it at that.

I gave weedplatz a chance last summer, and decided that it just wasn't cutting it. So, this past spring I decided to take a portion of this area and turn it into a little herb/vegetable garden. I bought landscape fabric to keep the weeds down, a few timbers for edging, and a shite-load of heavy-ass bags of stones and garden soil. All this stuff was transferred from the Jeep, through two sets of doors, into the elevator, and up the half-spiral staircase that leads to The Fishbowl...DAMN, that was hard work! And, in case you're wondering - NO, I didn't ask permission from the landlord. If I've found out one thing in my nearly forty-four years of learning, it's that it's much easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission. I'll worry about the landlord someday when we move. If you ask me, my efforts resulted in a decent little garden. We have a bunch of herbs, some Swiss chard, and some zucchini and squash.

Therein lies the problem. Not the herbs - they've been very useful for pesto and salads. Not the Swiss chard - a very underrated vegetable, if you ask me, that we've been adding to salads and eating steamed. The PROBLEM is with the zucchini and patty-pan squash that I planted. I planted two hills of each...and we've been eating it for every meal since what feels like the beginning of time! Seriously, we've had zucchini or squash (or both) for the last week or so...AND THIS IS WHAT WE HAVE IN THE FRIDGE!!! Plus, there are more of these little buggers forming as we speak. They're relentless!
My's 7:50 p.m....I need to go make some dinner...with zucchini, of course...
Maybe I should have asked the landlord for permission. I'm 99.9% certain he would have said no, and we wouldn't be having this problem now, would we?
So much for nearly 44 years of learning.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Impromptu "Fishbowl" Friday...

The Fishbowl is my name for our rooftop garden. Why? Because this tall building, with its nine floors worth of apartments at, or above, our rooftop garden level, is located directly across the Birsig River from our building. And let me tell you...we are being watched. I know it for a fact. Let me share...
One time I was walking to the tram, and a man (who I came to find out is named Bruno, and lives in the apartment on the lower right hand side of the picture just below the yellow umbrella) was out walking his dog. He stopped me, and spoke to me in German. The conversation went something like this:

Bruno: Excuse're the person who lives in the building next to the river with the nice rooftop garden. Do you speak German.

TBF: (pointing to myself) Me? Ummm...yeah...a little.

Bruno: do speak German. Good! I've heard you speaking English with your wife and friends. I mean...I just want to tell you that my wife and, we're not spying on you [those were his exact words...but in German], mind you...just love what you've done with the garden. Plus, we love the fact that you use it so often to relax and entertain guests. The flowers, the plants, the garden furniture...fantastic!

TBF: (suddenly realizing that during the summer months I spend 90% percent of my time up there in a bathing suit without a shirt) Oh my god...I'm sorry...I just realized that I spend all my time up there mostly naked. You see, it's totally acceptible in North America to walk around your yard without a shirt...I didn't think anybody was...

Bruno:'re relaxing when you're up there...we're not spying on you, mind you! And, you do so much grilling...on both your balcony and your rooftop garden. The food smells great!

TBF: Um...yeah. People from North America grill a lot!

Bruno: You even grill in the middle of winter...amazing!

This conversation went on for a while. He shared some of his life story (retired to Crete, returned to Switzerland due to health problems, etc.), I shared some of mine, and then, quite frankly, my brain began to hurt from having to make small talk in German. Later that evening, I relayed the story to Mrs. TBF, and she found it all rather amusing.
I'm pretty sure it wasn't too much later...maybe even the next weekend (this all took place last summer), that Mrs. TBF and I were sitting up on the rooftop. We were both reading magazines when suddenly Mrs. TBF said to me (in that way of speaking where one mumbles while barely moving the lips): "There's a lady on the second from the top floor of the tall building waving at us." Sure enough, I looked up, and there WAS a lady standing on her balcony waving down at us. We both waved back, and then realized that we were like two fish in a fishbowl. Or, kind of like two little pets going about our lives to the amusement, and under the watchful eyes, of our Swiss neighbors. Thus, the name "The Fishbowl" was coined.
Unlike last year, the weather this summer in Basel has been FAN-TASTIC! It's been that sunny, barely a cloud in the sky, hot but not humid, breezy kind of weather. If every summer was like this, I'd say that we would probably live here the rest of our lives (it's amazing what sunny weather does for one's mood...). It would more than offset the dreary, drizzly, grey, drab weather that makes up most of the months from November through April that make wish to be anywhere but here (that's why we travel so much during those months!)! So, zip ahead to this past Friday.
We've decided to start hosting Impromptu Fishbowl Fridays. Meaning: we monitor the weather during the week, and if it looks like it's going to be nice on Friday night - we'll invite a few people over for a get-together. I'll light up the grill, everybody contributes to the food and drink, and our Swiss neighbors look down from their balconies to see what the crazy foreigners are doing (Dear Swiss: It's called...FUN! Try it sometimes!).

I grilled some pork roast (Mrs. TBF made a rub of freshly chopped herbs from the garden and wrapped it in bacon...awesome, but I still have to work on her interpretation of "impromptu"!) and some pork chops, Andy and Di brought some dessert and wine, and John, Rammy, and Olli also brought some wine when they stopped by at around 10:00 p.m. while on their way from the airport after returning from a trip to Spain (how's that for partying dedication?).
I think I.F.F. was a big success, and it will continue as long as the weather continues to cooperate. The forecast for this Friday, as of today, is for a 20% chance of rain.
Expect a call...

Sunday, July 23, 2006

It's been such a long time...

...I really must be bloggin'. Get it - all you Boston fans out there? Yes, I've been quietly commenting on other blogs and not doing any myself. It all started when I had a string of business and pleasure trips from mid-May through 'til the end of June. Well, I'm now recovered. TBF and I have been enjoying the sunny and hot Basel summer. Here's TBF grilling this past Friday evening which was spent on the roof with some friends. Some call the roof the pleasure palace and some call it Vegas. TBF has another name for the roof top. And, I'll let him tell you about it.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Big Time Savings...

July is a big vacation month here in Switzerland. I'd swear that every other household has either taken off for their mountain retreat to spend countless hours hiking and communing with nature, or they've hightailed it to some far-off land to do whatever it is Swiss people do while they're on vacation. As a result of this mass exodus, Basel is pleasantly empty right now.
I guess what is pleasant to me is NOT good for the Swiss grocery chains' business. That is why my grocery store of choice - Coop - puts out a coupon book every July so that the few of us who remain will help ensure that the ever-growing pile of Swiss francs in Coop's bank vault keeps getting bigger and bigger.
Last week, I used my "Bon" which entitled me to five times the normal amount of Superpoints with my Coop Supercard. With the Supercard, you get a point for each Swiss franc you spend, and then you use your points to buy things from a catalog. When I saw this coupon, I decided to go through the apartment and jot down non-perishable things (gotta stock up on toilet paper for Perry and Renee's next visit) that we constantly use onto a shopping list. When the big day came, I went to Coop, filled up the cart until it was heaping, handed the cashier my Bon, and collected 1750 Superpoints on my CHF 350.05 purchase. CHA-CHIIIIING! We're now up to just over 12,000 Superpoints which means that I can purchase a number of items from the catalog. However, nothing's really looking good at this point, so I think I'll just keep saving the points until I can trade them in for something really cool. Past purchases: one of those contraptions that holds five liquor bottles upside down and then pour the perfect shot (it's never been used!), and some really cool walkie-talkies (we've used them about three times!).
Today, I used this week's Bon to save 20% on wine. Let me tell you, 20% savings on wine is friggin' unbelievable in Switzerland. Believe me, I was all over that 20% coupon when I saw it. That's why, I rolled my cart up to the cashier earlier this afternoon with a bag of lettuce, a few fish filets (what the hell kind of fish is Pangasius anyway?), twenty-four bottles of GSM (the everyday wine of choice at Chateau TBF), and my Wein Bon clutched in my sweaty hand! I saved CHF 76.35 (about $60 U.S.). Damn...I should've bought more!
And...the insanity does not end there........NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Next week, there's another Bon for "5x Superpunkte mit Ihrer Coop Supercard auf Ihren Einkauf".
Maybe this evening, Mrs. TBF and I will have a glass of wine or two and start next week's shopping list.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

I Admit It...

...I cheated on Non-Photography Day by taking a few photos. I mean, it's not as if I'm going to get into some kind of trouble...right?
I thought it was a pretty dumb idea to begin with, and my first inclination was that I would take a zillion pictures of myself doing incredibly mundane things, and then post them on my blog every hour or so. After taking pictures of me cleaning King's litter box, washing the toilets, emptying the dishwasher, etc., I decided that that was also a pretty dumb idea.
Instead, the camera came out "naturally" as Mrs. TBF, King, and I sat in the rooftop garden enjoying the beautiful weather. I figured that I've spent many moments "appreciating the essence" of the garden, but I rarely take any pictures of it. So, I decided that Non-Photography Day was as good a day as any to take a couple of pictures of the garden. Dont' worry, I'm not going to bore you with a bunch of pictures of our plants. If you like, you can come over to our apartment and watch the snoozefests that are the videotapes of our vegetable garden from Elhmhurst, Illinois circa 1988. Instead, I think I'll make an effort take more pictures "up there" during the remainder of the summer while BBQing, enjoying it with friends, etc.
The first picture is of Mrs. TBF next to "her" rosebush (yet another crane finds its way into one of my photos!). It's Mrs. TBF's rosebush because I was going to rip it out, and she talked me out of it. The rosebush was scraggly and diseased, and it was in such an awful spot in the garden that I just figured I'd pull it out and plant something else in its place. Instead, I moved a few chairs around, gave the rose a little TLC, and voila! It's now a thriving part of the garden, and Mrs. TBF gets the seat of honor.
The second picture is just a random shot of one of the flower beds. It's kind of hard to see because I took it in the direction of the setting sun without a flash, but the bed currently has a lot of flowering lavender, a butterfly bush, and some foxgloves that self-seeded.
Oh my god...I'm a gardening geek! Who knew?

Monday, July 17, 2006

Don't Forget...

Today is Non-Photography Day. I, The Big Finn, hereby swear to not take any photos unless absolutely necessary. Please join me in pausing throughout the day in order to totally absorb what life has to offer...without the camera.
I thank you, and, more importantly, Becca thanks you.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Who Knew?

After over 15.5 years of loyal service on King's staff (Dogs have owners, but cats have a staff!), we found out last night that he LOVES melon. For some reason, King started begging next to Mrs. TBF as she was eating half a melon, and she decided to let him try it. He snarfed it up in no time. So she gave him more...and more...and more. He couldn't get enough of it. We decided to stop giving it to him, and he just started licking the tile so as to lap up any remaining melon juice.
In a show of appreciation, he decided to torment us all night by running around the house "talking" to us. This morning, at some ungodly hour, he charged into our bedroom, jumped on the bed, and began "howling" at us. What a FREAK!
We thought the sudden melon-love was a fluke, so we decided to see if he'd eat more this morning as we ate the other half for breakfast. He chowed down the melon, chowed down his regular cat food, and then begged for more.
He's over eighteen years old.

La Guillotine Will Claim Her Bloody Prize..

Here's wishing one and all a very happy Bastille Day. Please don't make the mistake that I made a few years ago when I decided to pick July 14th as a day to drive to France for a little dropping off of dry cleaning at 5 à Sec and a little grocery shopping at Géant - they, along with everything else, were closed.
As I crossed the border into France at St. Louis, I noticed French flags flying from every streetlight. That's something nice..., I thought to myself. It was only about 8:30 a.m., and the streets were practically deserted. As I pulled up to 5 à Sec, I was excited to see that there were a bunch of empty parking spots on the street right in front of the store. Wow! I've never scored one of those before!, I thought - still clueless as to what was going on. I parked the Jeep, walked up to the store, pulled on the door, and...locked. That's when I noticed that the lights were off and nobody was inside. That's strange... That's when I decided to pull my head out of my arse, and take a look around. It was at that point that I noticed that every single store was closed and there was not one car parked on the street. Regardless, I still drove to Géant to see if by chance they would be open until noon on Bastille Day - NON!
So, having learned from past experience, I will remain in Switzerland today. Of course, I'll have to play Bastille Day by Rush every hour or so to celebrate the day. Of course, I have the studio version and several live versions.
Mrs. TBF loves July 14th...

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Chaplin In Pictures

Mrs. TBF had to go to Nyon on bidness this past Tuesday. She asked me if I wanted to tag along, so I cleared my busy schedule and joined her. She took an early train directly to Nyon. I, on the other hand, ended up taking a direct train to Lausanne (not too far from Nyon) around noon because I wanted to check out the Chaplin in Pictures exhibit at the Musée de l'Elysée.
I arrived in Lausanne around 2:15 and walked across the street from the train station only to find that the Lausanne Metro was completely shut down for, apparently, a complete rebuilding. The Metro line in Lausanne is pretty interesting. Unlike Metros in most cities which are a complex network of multiple lines, the one in Lausanne is very simple - a straight line up a hill, and a straight line back down the hill. Oh well...I had fortunately had the foresight to print a map of the museum's location, and I decided to hoof it.
The walk to the museum wasn't too long, but I had somehow overlooked the fact that it was FREAKING HOT OUTSIDE. I'm talking blazing sunshine pounding off my chrome dome with temperatures of 33˚C (over 90˚F). It was only about a twenty minute walk, and I'm sure it would have been enjoyable if it had been a nice, crisp autumn day. However, being the mid-afternoon cauldron of hell that was, it turned out to be a fairly unpleasant experience. By the time I made it to the museum (located right by a taunting public swimming pool), sweat was running down my back, my shirt had a big sweat stain right under my chest (I call this "old man sweat" by the way), I was on my second "mopping the brow" handkerchief, and I could feel sweat trickling into my ears under my iPod earphones. In case you're wondering...I took the pit-sniff test, and I'm happy to report that I did not stink!
I slogged up the walkway toward the museum, and I was alarmed to see that the WINDOWS WERE OPEN. NO AIR CONDITIONING??? It's a photography museum for God's sake. Anyway, I stepped inside, found that it was a bit cooler inside than it was outside, paid my 15 Francs, picked up a free exhibit brochure making the claim that "Charlie Chaplin was the 20th century's most popular figure" (ummm...overstating things a bit?) which I used to fan myself, and proceeded into the exhibit with about ten other people all (except, oddly enough, a woman who was at least 50 kilos overweight) with sweat-soaked shirts stuck to their bodies.
The exhibit wasn't great, but it was enjoyable. I was expecting more photographs, but I did enjoy watching the film clips. Plus, the exhibit did touch on the subject of Chaplin's U.S. residency visa not being renewed by the U.S. government due to his "un-American activities", which made me interested in finding out more about him. If you're interested (I'll save you the 15 Francs), here's a pretty good recap of his life. I especially like the part where upon finding out that Chaplin's visa would not be renewed, his wife (an American citizen) immmediately went to the U.S., and liquidated/transferred most of the assets "...leaving the [U.S.] government without a penny for its trouble". I guess they showed 'em!
I left the museum and walked down to the shore of Lac Léman, bought a Coke, took in some of the hazy scenery (I had my camera, but the haziness didn't warrant a picture), and then WALK BACK UP THE HILL to the train station so I could catch a train to Nyon. You know what I found out? It was still hot, and I sweat twice as much going up the hill as I did going down it (What the hell was I thinking?). About halfway up the hill, I stopped in a convenience store and found that I was suddenly standing in beautiful, air-conditioned comfort. I loitered around as much as I could, and then bought my Coke and left when I sensed that the clerk was beginning to target me as a shoplifter.
Eventually, I made it back to train station, and I took the 5:45 train to Nyon so I could meet up with Mrs. TBF...

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

If A Picture Paints A Thousand Words...

...then why the heck can't I take one on 17th July 2006 (that's July 17, 2006 for all us North Americans)?
I took this picture a couple of weeks ago whilst Mrs. TBF and I were walking through London. Apparently, some nutter (a Brighton based photographic artist named Becca) wants us to put our cameras down on that particular day (Ummm...isn't that bad for business?) so we can all find our "...natural creativity with communication" while at the same time "...understanding the inadequacy of the photograph in describing this essence" and other zen rubbish. Oh, just read all about Non-Photography Day for yourself. Go on, then!
Apparently, Becca came up with the idea for this day after "trekking through the Jungle on the Thailand/Burma Border with a group of travellers." Oh yeah? Prove it! What, take your word for it? I don't think so! I bet you wish you had some pictures. Come on...admit it! You do, don't you?
Now that I think about it...
Do you think Becca would be pissed off to find out that I actually took a photo of her(?) "Non-Photography Day" sticker? I mean, COME ON! This is free publicity spreading the word of her cause! If I had just told you about it, you'd probably think me mad. But...if a picture paints a thousand words, then why can't I paint you... Sorry about the double reference to Bread's song "If" - it's truly one of my guilty pleasures to which I'm not ashamed to admit.
Anyway, remember not to take any photos on July 17, 2006. REMEMBER...NO PHOTOS ON JULY 17, 2006!!! The Zen/non-photography police will be out in force!

U.S. Expatriates...Meet Your Enemy!

Let me introduce you to U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa. Why should you care about Chuck? Well, I'll tell you why - he's the person who is responsible for the fact that you will more than likely be paying THOUSANDS (maybe even TENS OF THOUSANDS) of dollars more in U.S. income taxes beginning this year. Do I have your attention now? Thought so...
If you're a U.S. citizen or Green Card holder working overseas, then you need to read this article from the May 26, 2006 issue of the International Herald Tribune titled U.S. Tax Law Sends Expatriates Reeling. Then, read this one called Americans Abroad See Tough Fight Over Taxes from the June 22, 2006 I.H.T. According to The Economist (June 22, 2006): "Under the new tax law, a married American expatriate with children who pays income tax at a marginal rate of 33% and has company-subsidised housing could see his gross tax burden increase by $40,000, estimates Michael Abdalian, a partner at Ernst & Young. The situation will be especially painful for Americans working in low-tax countries where housing is pricey, such as Hong Kong and Singapore."
I find it ironic that Grassley, the "...powerful chairman of the Senate Finance Committee" who has "...long advocated raising the tax obligations of Americans abroad" ended up adding these new tax rules " the last minute to a $69 billion tax-cut package signed into law in May". According, once again, to the June 22, 2006 issue of The Economist: "...the tax code was buried in the broader tax-cut legislation at the last moment, and thus circumvented debate in Congress. It is only now becoming widely known." The worst part about this tax code, in my opinion, is that the changes have been backdated to the start of this year. Thanks Chuck....FOR NOTHING!!! It's good to see that you're responsible for "...the Republican Congress's first renunciation of its widely trumpeted vow to block any increase in personal income taxes. Workers on foreign assignments [it is estimated that the higher taxes will affect a minimum of 300,000 people] are apparently not thought to be a particularly threatening lot.
According to another Chuck...Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska:

"[American expatriates] are an easy target quite frankly. You don't have lobbyists here, you don't have any law firms to protect your interests. It's not your fault, but that's the way it is."

The good Chuck (Hagel, that is) has lent his support to a proposal by Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, that would "...eliminate taxes earned by Americans working overseas".
I say, it's about time!!! Also in the June 22, 2006 issue of The Economist, in an article titled "The Tithes That Bind", a strong case is made that "...America should scrap its distorted system of taxing those who work abroad...Unlike every other big country in the world (and plenty of small ones), America runs an 'extraterritorial' tax system. In other words, Americans pay American tax on their global income, wherever they live or work, as well as local tax. By contrast, British citizens pay British tax when they are resident in Britain, but need pay only local tax when working abroad. Treaties and numerous complicated credits are meant to ease Americans' pain [and I say, make accounting firms rich!], but the extra cost of sending Americans abroad means that fewer of them will accept, or be offered, a chance to go...America should recognize that encouraging individuals to gain international experience is a boon to the whole economy."
So, here's what you can do...
Go to the American Citizens Abroad website, and click on "Call to repeal new tax law..." Here, you can download a pdf file with the names, phone numbers, and fax numbers of all the senators who voted to raise your taxes. Did your senator vote to raise your taxes? If so, how about sending/faxing him/her a letter (a model letter is provided) which expresses your disappointment.
Or, you can just sit there, do nothing, hope somebody else goes to the trouble of doing something, and then just send off a big, fat check (bigger than last year) to the U.S. Treasury next year.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

H-H-H-H-H-H-How Much?!?!?!?

In the never-ending amazement of how much things cost in Switzerland...
I just picked up two queen-size duvets at the dry cleaners. Total price for cleaning: 119 CHF ($97 U.S., 76 Euros). I bought the duvets at IKEA, and I'm beginning to think that the cost of dry cleaning cost nearly as much as the original cost of the duvets. However, they won't fit into our little, Swissy washing machine.... So, what's one to do? Now that I gave it about two seconds thought...I think I'll just donate them to charity in the future and go buy new ones.
I brought the duvets to the dry cleaners last week because I noticed that they had a sale on for duvets - 39 CHF instead of 59 CHF. I thought was a pretty good reduction, so I thought "...what the heck?". I lugged those massive duvets to the cleaner, plunked them down on the counter, and the dry-cleaning lady announced "...hundertneunzehn" (119) instead of achtundsiebzig (78). "Aber, habe ich gedackt dass jetzt ein Aktion ist..." I retorted in my broken German. As it turned out, the special price on duvets was only for down-filled duvets ( that's what daunen means.). I challenged her by saying that I think it's easier to clean a synthetic duvet rather than a down-filled duvet, and she came back with the fact that down-filled duvets can be washed, and synthetic duvets must be dry cleaned in order to avoid shrinkage. Who knew? I also argued that since the two duvets snap together (it's actually a four-season duvet), that technically they should count as one duvet. She wasn't buying it, I definitely felt I was pressing my luck, and I turned to exit the store with my tail between my legs.
So, this morning I picked up the duvets while dropping off some other dry cleaning which furter emptied the money clip (one pair of my trousers + two of Mrs. TBF's dresses = 50.40 CHF/$41 U.S.), and the dry cleaning lady reminded me that they'll have to be picked up before July 17th because they'll be shut down from July 17th to August 5th for vacation.
I didn't ask her where she's going on vacation, but I'm sure it's someplace like the French Riviera, or Tahiti, or some other really expensive place that's being funded by nuts like me who are willing to shell out ridiculous sums of money for something that costs "nothing" in America. Or, maybe she's taking the 119 CHF and buying a round-trip airline ticket to London on easyJet - that's about how much it costs.
Maybe the next time the duvet needs cleaning, I'll do what a friend of ours did - throw it in the bathtub half-filled with water, chuck in a little laundry detergent, and stomp on the duvet like I'm making some wine.
Shrinkage be damned!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Travel Advisory: Basel, Switzerland

We had perfect weather this past weekend in Basel - not a cloud in the sky, breezy, not too humid, and temperatures pushing over 30˚C. Other than going to John and Rammy's house for a BBQ on Saturday evening, and a quick walk to the berry stand to buy some cherries on Sunday afternoon, we pretty much spent most of the weekend up on the rooftop garden soaking up the sun. However, with the good, there always has to be some bad.
What could possibly spoil such a great time of year, you ask? Body odor (B.O. Boris Orloff, etc.) - that's what! I've written about it before, but I'm going to have to write about it again right now. Here it is: A lot of people in Basel STINK! I'm not talkin' a hint of body odor, I'm talkin' full-on, eye-watering, nosehair-singeing STANK!
I walked Mrs. TBF to the bus this morning, and I'm not kidding, I smelled B.O. emanating from various people about five times during the five minute walk. Mrs. TBF told me later that the bus ride wasn't too bad (it's mildly air conditioned), but the odor upon entering the tram after transfering was HORRID! So, that's my travel advisory for Basel - ride the tram at your own risk. Unless, of course, you don't mind sitting on a hot tram with a bunch of STANKY people!
How is it possible that people can have so much B.O. so early in the morning? I mean, really, is it that hard to rid yourself of body odor? Here are some tips from TBF for reducing your body odor:

1. Take a shower or bath every single day during the hot weather. If you're trying to conserve water, just get your body wet, turn the water off, lather up WITH SOAP, then rinse off. You'll hardly use any water at all, and you'll feel refreshed - BELIEVE ME!

2. Dry off, and then apply some DEODORANT! Deodorant is not very expensive. If you're opposed to the chemicals in deodorant or anti-perspirant, then use a deodorant stone like I do. They're completely natural, you can buy them at health food stores, they're not too expensive, and they last for about a year.

3. If you've sweat so much that your shirt is soaked, don't hang it up to let it dry so that you can wear it again the next day. WASH IT! If you only have access to a washing machine once per week or once every two weeks (common in Switzerland) - TOO BAD! Wash it in your sink or your bathtub with a little laundry detergent. This phenomenon is actually not limited to the hot weather. I experience it year round at the gym. I see people working out in clothes that I know they wore the day before, and I CAN SMELL THE B.O. AS THEY'RE WALKING INTO THE GYM! This means that they're letting their workout clothes dry and working out in the same clothes without washing them - GROSS!

I find it hard to believe that these people can't tell that they stink, but in case they are unable to smell themselves, here's what I'm proposing: Pull the culprit(s) off to the side (don't make a big deal about it), and tell them in a nice, but firm, way that everybody in the bus/tram/office/restaurant/football stadium/city finds their body odor offensive, and they need to do something about it...NOW! Believe me, the person(s) might be a little startled, but I can almost guarantee you that they will be thankful that somebody took the time to bring it to their attention.
People, we're living in a society here!