Sunday, April 20, 2008

In Praise of TBF

Hello, and yes, I know...I haven't written in a while. For those of you who are regular readers, you probably know that I've been a bit busy lately with work, and TBF has written about my obsessive behaviors. But, as is usually the case when he goes away to visit family and friends in Chicago, I take on a second job ...the housework and taking care of King...the beast! Actually, perhaps that's two additional jobs.

So, I must sing the praises of TBF. How the heck does he do it... that is keep the apartment so clean??? Between my hair and King's fur it's a full time job. Both of us seem to shed quite a lot and need to be vacuumed up after frequently! Then there's all the recycling and composting and taking out of the garbage! I actually had to make a list of things to do so I wouldn't forget. I'm happy to report that I have also used the washing machine and the dryer successfully this weekend, and I remember twice to pull the chain on the cuckoo clock !!! I remembered to get the mail too! Very proud of myself indeed. But, let's not get carried away now.

I have 4 more days to go before he comes home and takes over. I'm sure there will be something I messed up on or forgot to do. As much as I miss TBF, it's probably good that he goes away from time to time so I can appreciate him even more, keep some of those dormant housework skills semi-active, and give him a break from it all...particularly the ungrateful, complaining beast King!!! Thank God I don't have to do any banking while he's that would make my brain explode!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Where The Hell Am I?

There was an earthquake in Southern Illinois early this morning, and it was felt in Chicagoland. I think it measured something like 5.2 or 5.4 on the Richter scale.

I slept through it. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

I saw the traffic report on TV this morning, and they kept talking about the Reagan Expressway. Where the heck is that???

Also, a wild cougar was shot by animal control/police the other day...WITHIN THE CITY LIMITS OF CHICAGO!!!

What the hell is going on around here?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

It's 8:30 a.m., and...

...I've already been awake for FIVE HOURS!!!

Yes, I woke up at 3:30 a.m. I realized that falling back to sleep was futile, so I just read until Jo Mama got up.

Isn't jet lag a wonderful thing?

The flight over The Pond went well. I'm happy to report that I was not seated next to a completely insane person like I have been on past trips. We arrived in Chicago exactly on time, I was not hassled by immigration, and my checked bag (empty suitcase for bringing stuff back) made it too.

Nothing too exciting yet. Last night: a nice Reuben sandwich for dinner. This morning: a free cup of coffee at Starbucks (coupon in yesterday's paper), and a quick stop at Dunkin' Donuts for a box of 50 Munchkins for the nieces and nephew so that they'd all go to school completely jacked-up on sugar.

Later this morning, after picking up my rental car, I'll be going to the post office to mail our tax returns - one day late. I guess I didn't feel like standing in line at the post office yesterday afternoon with all the last minute filers. Actually, the return is not late since we have an extension until October 15th. However, the extra taxes we have to pay (a little over $100) were supposed to be paid by yesterday.

Dear Uncle Sam: Let me know if you want me to pay the interest on the amount we owe. What would that come out to? Something like...oh...2 cents?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Next Stop Chi Town...

I'll be up bright and early tomorrow morning for my 6:45 flight to London. I fly British Airways (with whom Mrs. TBF is very angry at the moment) to London, and then I connect to a flight on American Airlines to Chicago; used the rest of Mrs. TBF's Aadvantage miles.

This is the first time in a long time that I haven't flown British Airways overseas, and while I usually enjoy my American Airlines experience, I'm not looking forward to having to switch terminals at Heathrow. But hey...the ticket was free, so why complain?

I'm completely packed, the taxi has been ordered for 5:15 a.m., my transfer from O'Hare to my sister's house in the suburbs has been arranged, and I've given Mrs. TBF a refresher course on how to use the washing machine (...I'm not kidding!). So, everything is good to go.

I always look forward to going to Chicago, but I'm really looking forward to this trip because...

I'll be going to Wrigley Field this Friday to see the Cubs battle the Pirates. Our friend Dave called last week to see if I'd be interested in sitting in the first row, right behind the Cubs' dugout.


I have to admit that I looked at the Cubs' roster, and...I only recognize the names of three players. When the heck did they get rid of Ernie Banks and Billy Williams???


If you happen to be watching the Cubs on TV this Friday, look for the big bald guy sitting behind the home dugout. I'll try to remember to wave.

Friday, April 11, 2008

She Can't Stop Working!!!

...almost forgot about this one.

I woke up yesterday morning to the sound of the alarm on Mrs. TBF's Blackberry. In my haze, I heard her hit the snooze button, rolled over, spooned her (awwwwww!), and fell back into a deep, DEEP sleep. You know the kind: that great sleep you only get in the eight or nine minutes between snooze alarms.

A short while later, something woke me up.

Click, click, click...tap, tap, tap...




TBF: Are you sending a text message?

Mrs. TBF: No. I'm sending an e-mail to somebody in Japan. It's important, and it's the end of their work day there.

TBF: You're sending an e-mail on your bed...while I'm spooning you...and drooling on your pillow (didn't tell her that part)?

Mrs. TBF: Yeah. It's important!

TBF: You need some serious help!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Guilt-Free Driving...

I'm laughing!

I just reserved a car from Enterprise Rent-A-Car; leaving for Chicago next Tuesday, and I'll be there until the following Wednesday. I've gotta have a car when I'm in Chicago.


So I booked the car I wanted, arranged for the pick-up time, and just when I was about to click on "confirm"...that's when I saw it.


I clicked on the link, and here's what popped up:

Enterprise Rent-A-Car is pleased to offer you the opportunity to benefit the environment by offsetting carbon dioxide emissions generated by a rental vehicle.

For just $1.25 you can offset emissions produced by the average rental. The money will go to TerraPass to fund certified offset projects that work to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

What's more, we will match these customer contributions dollar-for-dollar up to $1 million dollars.

I'm REALLY laughing!

You mean to tell me that I can drive around all week, fighting the Chicago traffic, burning maybe fifteen gallons of gas, and that's all offset by $1.25??? It's that easy???

Who knew?

If it's that easy, then why isn't there a 5¢ or 10¢ per gallon carbon offset applied to every gallon of gas? Ummmm...let me clarify that: a 5¢ or 10¢ per gallon carbon offset applied to every gallon of gas...THAT ACTUALLY GOES TOWARD OFFSETTING CARBON!

No more global warming...

No more climate change...

Our f---ing problems are over, Dude!

I added the $1.25 charge to my rental, and I'm going to be driving around Chicagoland - with the windows rolled down and the air conditioner blasting - feeling pretty damn good about myself.

You know what? It IS easy being green!

There's Always Somebody Else To Blame...

It might as well be Uncle Sam. Besides, he should be used to it by now.

I've been following (with great financial-geek interest) the drama that has been going on at the place where we do our banking here in Switzerland - UBS. While we were in Paris last weekend, I read an article in the April 5-6, 2008 edition of the International Herald Tribune that simultaneously amused me AND ticked me off. The article was called: 'What Went Wrong At UBS? Investors unleash fury at executives, and the U.S.' The article discussed UBS's recent annual meeting that took place at Basel's St. Jakob Hall. Here are some excerpts from the article:

The target of [the UBS shareholders'] anger was not just the UBS chairman, Marcel Ospel, or any of the bank's other top executives, who were arrayed under a giant screen near where goalies usually tend the net. Instead, much of their ire was aimed at the United States itself - specifically, an addiction to high-octane risk-taking, easy credit and dubious financial assumptions that created the domestic mortgage mess is the first place.

"The American El Dorado has become a scene from a Western," declared one Swiss shareholder... UBS was the figurehead of Swiss business. As a good housewife, I know you shouldn't put all you eggs in one basket. A bank is not a casino."

Thomas minder, a local attorney and shareholder advocate, was even more outraged. "What happened here is a scandal," he thundered. "You're responsible for the biggest loss in the history of the Swiss economy. Put an end to the Americanization of the Swiss economy!" At that point, Minder charged the podium, only to be dragged away by security guards. [bold print mine]

After the amusement of my image of a Swiss man being dragged away by security guards at an annual meeting in Basel wore off (Danger in Switzerland! How fun!!!), I kind of began thinking about the whole "blaming America" thing.

For one thing, I sure didn't hear too many Swiss people complaining about "...the Americanization of the Swiss economy" when UBS's stock was at CHF 80 per share, and they were raking in record profits - in part because of their positions in American subprime mortgages. Yes, at one point they were actually paying off - BIG TIME! Hey, but don't worry - nothing but blue skies ahead! Right?


Past returns are no guarantee of future earnings! Have you ever heard that one before? I sure have! Yup, every single quarter when I have a meeting with our investment adviser regarding our investment portfolios. Even though he's been our adviser since 1991, he still says those words to me at some point each and every time we meet. You've never heard that before? Well then, I guess it must be...


The American economy began marching toward recession, the whole subprime mortgage fiasco reared its ugly head, and the UBS stock price plunged over 50% in less than a year's time. I read about a shareholder who bought the stock at CHF 80 per share, and he sold it several months later at CHF 40 - a 50% loss. "I lost 50% on my investment," he cried. "Hmmmm," I thought, "...he bought a stock right after a company announced record profits and their stock was at an all-time high." Buy high and sell low; interesting investment strategy you have there. Perhaps you didn't read about the looming downturn in the economy, oh, at least every day for the past year or so like I did. No? Yeah, I know...


Is it America's fault that, according to the April 5th 2008 edition of The Economist:

...[UBS] got American mortgage derivatives so spectacularly wrong. Surely UBS's 3,400 risk managers [bold print mine] should have spotted the rocks ahead? The dangers hardly showed as a blip on their elaborate risk charts.

Wait a second. That's...

AMERICA'S fault?????

Things That Make Me Go "Aaaaaaahhhhhhh"...

I wish you could smell our apartment right now.

I bought these lilies about a week ago, and they're still going strong. The fragrance is unbelievable. A blooming lily has got to be, in my opinion, one of the greatest smelling things in the world. However, I guess they're not for everybody. Case in point...

One time, our friend Andy walked into our apartment when we had blooming lilies in a vase, wrinkled up his face, and asked me what was causing that smell of "...burning rubber"!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Frenchifying The Finns...

It was Saturday morning, and we were sitting in the Starbucks right by our hotel on Rue de Berri when...

OK...don't give me any grief! It was convenient, quick, and...hey...we like Starbucks!

Oh...and by the way...

Starbucks is more expensive IN BASEL than it is in Paris!!! Why is that?


I looked out the window, and I saw a familiar logo on the van parked across the street: the logo for a Finnish company called Kone. I looked at it, sipped some coffee, looked at it again...

Something just wasn't right. hit me! The French have added an accent over the "e".

Sacre bleu!!!

Random Photo...

Saturday, April 5, 2008 - 10:40 a.m. Paris

We were on our way to see Sainte-Chapelle. Upon disembarking at the Cité Metro stop, I sensed a good photo-moment.


La Workaholic!

My job as Hausmann, as I see it, is to take care of EVERYTHING so that all Mrs. TBF has to do is work...and relax. Unfortunately, the two often have to mix. But, I guess that's why she gets paid the big bucks.

Especially lately, Mrs. TBF has been working her ass off because of a big "deal-that-I'm-not-at-liberty-to-discuss" that was going down. During Easter weekend, she pretty much had ZERO days off. Sure, she was working from home, and it's not like she was working on "the deal" every minute of the day - I'll give you that. However, it did occupy her thoughts for pretty much every waking minute, and she did spend A LOT of time with the laptop and on the phone with lawyers, colleagues, etc. AND...King didn't help matters any because he felt it necessary to carry his toys around, howling, whenever Mrs. TBF was on the phone doing "bidness". That made it necessary for Mrs. TBF's conference calls to take place in the relative quiet of our home office - with the door closed.

Picture the scene: It's an hour before guests arrive for Easter dinner, the leg of lamb is ready to go in the oven, Mrs. TBF is holed-up in the home office on a conference call, TBF is vacuuming (illegally on a Sunday), and King is howling while carrying his little toys around the apartment.

Why didn't Norman Rockwell paint that one?

So, when we booked our hotel and non-refundable TGV tickets, the "deal-that-I'm-not-at-liberty-to-discuss" didn't exist yet. Seeing how we've become pros at juggling our supposed free-time and Mrs. TBF's work responsibilities, we figured that going to Paris would be no problem at all. And, it wasn't...

Laptop phone charged...GO!

Mrs. TBF handled several calls during the ride from Basel to Paris (even though we found out when we were leaving the train in Paris that she was supposed to go in to the vestibule to use her mobile phone...OOPS!), and then I added a few pictures to my vast collection of Mrs. TBF conducting "bidness" in various cities around the world. Here's a sampling:

Mrs. TBF takes a call while walking down the Champs E'lysées.

Conducting more "bidness" while enjoying a couple of drinks. She was "gettin' LOUD!" during this call, so I made her cover her mouth. It...didn't help.

The moment, at lunch on Saturday, when Mrs. TBF found out that an agreement had been reached, and "the deal" was about to be signed. Just look at that happy face.

Let the relaxation commence!

Weekend Getaway...

The TGV began running between Basel and Paris last year, so we can now be in our favorite European city in as little as 3:15 minutes. And because we can...we did...this past weekend.
We walked out of our apartment at 9:50 a.m., took the 10:01 tram to the Basel train station where we bought some sandwiches and drinks for the trip, left Basel at just after 11:00, and were waiting underground for the Metro to take us from Gare de l'Est to the George V stop at 2:50 p.m. We were in our hotel room a little after 3:15 p.m. That's not bad - 5.5 hours door-to-door!

After getting settled in, we shopped a bit, walked around a bit, and then stopped for a little outdoor libation at one of our favorite little "watering holes" (Chez Francis) which is not too far from the hotel. It was a bit cloudy outside, but still not a bad view...

..wouldn't you say?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Friday Flashback: Coffee Break...

To celebrate the fact that our Nespresso machine continues to operate perfectly despite the fact that the 2-year guarantee expired at midnight on Monday night, I decided that it was appropriate to sit down with a double espresso and go through the photos to find some coffee-related pictures from our past. Here goes...

It was late November, 1999 when this picture was taken - our third vacation to Hawai'i in as many years, and all was well with the world. While driving to South Point on the Big Island, we pulled off the main road for a quick - and rather large - cup of coffee.

When this picture was taken, we had been living in our house (the house we thought we'd live in for the rest of our lives) for 9+ years, and we were in the midst of planning a major renovation. All was well in our personal and professional lives, was good.

A few months earlier, Mrs. TBF's ex-boss had moved to Switzerland to take a job with a major pharmaceutical company, and before leaving Chicago, he extended to us an open invitation to come visit him and his family (probably thinking that we'd never take him up on his offer). One day, during this trip to Hawai'i, Mrs. TBF suggested that we actually take him up on his offer, and she bought a couple of Switzerland travel books. I remember relaxing next to the pool at our hotel, reading about the Basel Fasnacht, and thinking that it might be a good time to go to Basel. Upon arriving home from the trip, Mrs. TBF contacted her ex-boss, and the wheels were in motion; we would be going to Switzerland (as tourists) a few months later.

Skip ahead to March, 2000, and we've just arrived at Zürich Airport. The ex-boss, his father-in-law, Mrs. TBF, and I are cruising down the highway between the airport and Basel. Mind you, we're jet lagged, and we've been in Switzerland for approximately half an hour. Suddenly, the following exchange takes place:

Ex-boss: You know, [Mrs. TBF], there are A LOT of great jobs in Basel. Would you ever consider moving to Switzerland?

Mrs. TBF: I don't know. [TBF], would you ever consider moving to Switzerland?

TBF: Yeah....if I didn't have to work.

Mrs. TBF: Would [TBF] have to work?

Ex-boss: He doesn't HAVE TO work now.

Mrs. TBF: You know what I mean...

About three months later, on June 17, 2000 (if the date on the camera was correct), we were sipping al fresco coffees in Basel's Marktplatz while taking a break from...APARTMENT HUNTING!!! Yes, in three months' time, we had gone from leaving our house in the Chicago suburbs (again...the one we thought we'd live in for the rest of our lives) for a vacation in Switzerland to...putting it up for sale, giving notice on the jobs, and turning our lives completely upside down. Yes, we thought it all through when the ball started rolling. But overall, it was pretty much a spontaneous, crazy act that I still sometimes can not believe we actually did. When we broke the news to our families, they couldn't believe it either. We were probably the least likely candidates to EVER move away from Chicago, let alone to another country...

But move to another country we did! And, I've never regretted it. Sure, I miss family and friends back "home" in Chicago, but I see them fairly often, AND I'm sure we'll be back living there again before too long...I think...I hope...been saying that for four years now. We've seen so much in the past 7.5 years, and I'm glad we've had the opportunity to experience Europe, in the prime of our lives. Living here has changed our values, our outlooks, and...we've enjoyed a lot of damn-good coffee! Oh, for instance, like these fine brews on the Ile de la Cité in Paris this past December. Come to think of it, I could use a cup of that fine Parisian coffee right about...this afternoon.

Shall we, Mrs. TBF?

Thursday, April 03, 2008

It's Time For Another Round Of...

What the hay-ell is that thang????

C'mon, guess!

I dare ya!


I've got coffee on my mind this week, and it got me to thinking about this scene from the movie Moscow On The Hudson.

Robin Williams, having just defected from the Soviet Union, experiences his first trip to an American grocery store. I just love this scene; kind of reminds me of ME when I'm back in Chicago standing in the toothpaste aisle at the grocery store.