For the Philatelically Inclined: Homoerotic Finnish Postage Stamps

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Just hours before I saw that Finland had introduced these unusual and rather groundbreaking postage stamps featuring homoerotic images, I had a playful debate with someone about “the best stamps ever”.

Homoerotic philately in Finland

Homoerotic philately in Finland

Now, sure, I write and talk about stamps a lot – but I am no philatelist. I have never collected or thought about the value of stamps (other than when the price goes up and my postal costs – as a lifelong pen pal type – go up). I have always sought to get the most interesting or visually stimulating stamps because I assume that is the kind of stamps my pen pals (and anyone receiving mail from me) would want to see. Not patriotic row on row of American flags! No. Give me the Johnny Cash or the March on Washington! Or Harvey Milk or… Jimi Hendrix! Give me the Imagine Peace Tower or Eyjafjallajökull! Give me the cutest depictions of animals ever on Swedish Christmas stamps – or even Swedish luminaries (albeit from totally opposite ends of the cultural spectrum – Nobel laureate Tomas Tranströmer and footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic!). Give me heart-shaped French designer Valentine stamps! Just not something boring. So the playful argument ended up with a UK resident telling me he was going to outstamp my stamp prowess (I argued that my Swedish wildlife Christmas motif was the best ever, hands down). He claimed he could outdo it.

But before that could happen, I saw the breaking news – Finland had unleashed these stamps by influential artist Tom of Finland. Well, announced them, anyway. The real release, according to the Finnish post website, is in September.

Not that Finland has bored us too much with stamp design before (quite unlike Scandinavian nation, Norway – almost the world’s most boring stamps in my humble opinion. Bore-wegian stamps!) – they’ve given us Angry Birds, police cars, a whole lot of postal representations of Finnish design (and when it comes to design, is there any better?), an homage to their world-leading education system, Tove Jansson, teddy bears for Valentine’s Day (Teddy feels honored of course), Moomin, ice hockey, loads of nature – and that is just in the current lineup.

Postcards from Paradise” – Flesh for Lulu… “I fell under your spell…

Erudite Google Doodles

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In high school I was one of those nerds who enthusiastically volunteered to take part in stuff like Academic Decathlon and Knowledge Bowl. One year we had to study Dian Fossey and her work with the mountain gorillas of Rwanda. My friends and I actually found a plastic toy gorilla on the ground in one of the schools where one of our competitions took place, and we named him “Digit” after one of the gorillas in Fossey’s group at Karisoke Research Center and who figured prominently in the film, Gorillas in the Mist. We took that toy gorilla everywhere (from places near, such as all over the state for our competitions, to places far, such as Japan and Germany) until one of those in our group irresponsibly lost him. I somehow hope he is still traveling and having adventures as we had always hoped for him, wherever he is. (Assigning human traits and adventures to inanimate objects is nothing new to me.)

Google Doodle for Dian Fossey

Google Doodle for Dian Fossey

I was thrilled when I opened Google today and say this creative, evocative Google Doodle on the screen, celebrating Dian Fossey’s 82nd birthday. (She was murdered in 1985.) Lately the Doodles have been fabulous – with one recently marking the 123rd birthday of Zora Neale Hurston, the difficult writer who was a star of the Harlem Renaissance movement and whose work, particularly the seminal Their Eyes Were Watching God, is a staple of American high school and college reading lists.

The same can be said for the recent Google Doodle of French writer Simone de Beauvoir. Much cooler than my words can convey.

I don’t know if these semi-obscure Google Doodles raise awareness or not – but I love that they exist and maybe make a few people dig into things they would not otherwise have been exposed to.

Ends of Friends & an Open Letter to E(xile)

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[you fit into me]
“you fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye”
Margaret Atwood

I am like most other people in that I can be petty. I am also keenly aware that a blog is a highly self-indulgent activity. I want to chronicle my thoughts, my life, my frustrations – I just happen to make it public. My concerns are not monumental or particularly profound. My problems are largely luxury problems. I openly recognize and cop to that. This forum does not need to be something more – I write what I know.

Lately, the ache of losing friendship has come up again and again for me. Friendship has always been a bigger struggle and a larger emotional stumbling block for me than, for example, romantic entanglements. Romantic relationships are more cut and dry somehow. The only time one was really difficult was when it was starkly clear that “romance” should never have been a part of it. The guy in question was one of the best friends I ever had. And having had a lot of friends come and go, it always bore tremendous weight when someone “got” me in the way that a true friend did. He was one of those friends.

When this friend got into a new relationship, I was happy for him. I did not think it necessarily meant our friendship was over. We live in different countries, and our communication was limited in any case both in frequency and in terms of topics. Once the contact was so sporadic and topic-specific (almost always about a film, tv, an inside joke about something we both found funny or, usually, about baby animals – which we both found irresistibly cute), I did not imagine that he, once so stubborn and headstrong, would be with someone who was demanding enough to require him to stop talking to me. I also, without knowing the girlfriend, never imagined that someone who was undoubtedly a lovely person if he (whom I respected and believed would make good choices in this realm) decided to be with her, would be so irrationally jealous.

I have written about this before, and after several eruptions, I told him that, despite how much it hurt to cut off the friendship, knowing that I was losing something, I felt we would all have a more harmonious life if we stopped talking. This mostly happened, but of course insanely cute baby animals or funny things that only we could appreciate would sometimes occur, and he did not resist the temptation to write a few times. I then felt liberated not to resist the temptation to send him a gift. I sent it to his work address just because I did not want to stir up trouble in his home life – at all. (He took the envelope home and started up all the trouble that could have been avoided and triggered the REAL end of the friendship. Whether he secretly liked the drama or was just that thoughtless or wanted a detached way to make me really slam the door forever, I don’t know – maybe I am assigning it all too much meaning anyway.) I did not want to start talking again, I did not want to resume a friendship that was clearly over. I just wanted to make one last gesture that might make him smile and remember me – as his friend – fondly. But it turned into a psychodrama that caused me to lose respect for him, not really want to talk to him anymore at all and conclude that he is not the person I thought he was. Not that I wished him ill will. I just had no more feeling involved at all – the only feeling that had been left was this respect and friendship. But after this episode, he was as good to me as a stranger.

Lately this has disturbed me in some way. He now is a stranger – I have no idea what he is doing but still hope he is very happy. This is completely fine. But a few things came up lately that made me really miss him, despite everything.

For one, I watched the annoying film (although less annoying than I feared, and less annoying than the beginning of the film led me to think it would be), Frances Ha. In it, the main character and her best friend drift apart. Their lives take different paths, and somehow that listless sadness of not being able to turn to the person who had been one’s closest friend made an impression.

Secondly, during the summer, the young wife of one of my friends – and people that he also knew – died. I am sure he saw the news of it because it was all over the Icelandic media. But, as I have said before, there is nothing like sudden, premature and unfair death and its aftermath to make on evaluate who and what is important in life. I did question whether I had too easily let go of a friendship that was so valuable and important without trying hard enough. (I determined otherwise.)

The final, and arguably much more important thing, is that my mom’s friend in Washington state just took custody of two beautiful tiger cubs at her big-cat sanctuary. He and I used to talk incessantly like near-drunk fools about the irresistible cuteness of baby tigers. We lamented that we would never in our whole lives have access to baby tigers to touch and play with them. And here, right in my hands, is the opportunity of a lifetime to go be in the presence of two baby tigers. No one else I know would find this as significant as he would. But I can’t tell him. I am not going to be the one to break the silence because I am the one who asked for it, I enforce it and really don’t want to open communication again. It is just an unusual set of circumstances that would only matter to the two of us.

One of two baby tigers

One of two baby tigers*

So cute I could have a heart attack - baby tigers

So cute I could have a heart attack – baby tigers*

When I think of the girlfriend, it actually makes me sad to think that she hates me as much as she does without knowing me. I won’t go so far as to say I love her given how unreasonable she has been toward me – a total stranger. But if she makes him happy, I love that she is in his life even though it cost me a friend. If I were a lunatic who actually wanted something from him – as some exes do, I grant, I might understand her ire. Maybe it is unreasonable for me to think that friendship was possible.

Sometimes I want to ask her whether she never had a friend who was so important to her – on only a friendly level – that it would be like having her heart ripped out to have that friend removed from her life? I hope for her sake that she has never been through that. But I have – a handful of times. As I wrote, friendship and the loss of it has always been difficult for me – so losing the one friend with whom I could make ridiculous jokes, watch documentaries with about baby animals and joke about everything from a self-important American “journalist”, pretend characters Pedro, Jose and Esteban and “annyong” (and the new episodes of Arrested Development!) and Grizzly Man was really a devastating loss. I did not want him in any other way. I wanted him to be happy and fulfilled. The fact that he found love with someone made me immensely happy for him – and for her. Naturally I wanted him to find that kind of complete happiness somewhere and with someone – and I had no desire for that to be me.

– Annyong and off-the-hook, unlimited juice party (bad quality video)

— Timothy Treadwell in near-orgasmic state over bear poop

In truth, I realized that living with him, living in Iceland, I was stunted and unhappy – it was not a good situation when we lived together. I was depressed, and he was no happier than I was – I think he stuck with it as long as he did just because we were friends and because he felt sorry for me.

I grieve often because I lost that easy friendship – I gave it up willingly because she demanded it. I said goodbye to someone I loved (as a friend) and respected – and lost respect for him as a result – but it is stupid because I don’t have any “skin in the game”. I am not interested, I am not competing, I am not a threat. If I am the “immature teenager hiding behind my teddy bear” as she claimed, what is she so worried about? Why would someone like the image she has of me even register on her radar? She is the beloved, chosen one and he loves her – even at the cost of forsaking some friendships – which is perhaps meaningless because, happily for her, he is happy with her. That should be enough to allow her to let go of the petty and immature insecurity that drives her anger.

I offered many times to talk to her, to meet her, to let her be in on the whole thing if it would make her feel better. Maybe I have just never felt passionately enough about someone that that kind of possessiveness felt necessary. But too tight a leash eventually chokes the subject to death.

*Pictures taken from the Wild Felid Advocacy Center Facebook page, where you can go and make a donation to help take care of the big cats in their care.

Torching the tops – broiler in overdrive and creme brulee cupcakes

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In summer 2011, I had one of the only real arguments (in that it was sustained and stupid) of my adult life when a guest at my house yelled at me for not owning a toaster. He attempted to make toast using the broil feature of my oven, only to end up with a couple of slices of fully charred bread. In fairness, the broiler in my oven is temperamental. It seems to do nothing, nothing, nothing, and suddenly, it kicks into high gear, and if you are not watching the oven’s contents closely and carefully, it will turn rapidly into inedible charcoal.

Knowing this about my oven, I ended up with not one, but two, four-slice toasters (I can satisfy a great deal of toast demand now). Otherwise, with other projects, I broil with caution.

When I made lemon meringue cupcakes, I used the broiler and basically did not take my eyes off them as long as they were under the broiler.

When I decided to try out an experiment with crème brûlée baked into a vanilla cupcake, I knew I either needed to go out and buy a culinary torch or try my luck once more with the fussy broiler in the oven. I decided to go with the latter option because, while I could certainly use a culinary torch sooner or later, I do not have an immediate need for one, and if the crème brûlée cupcakes turned out less than stellar, I would not be planning to make them again. While being a full proponent of there being a proper tool for every task, I do not feel compelled to acquire every tool for every task I could possibly do, preferring to limit myself to the tools that will go to the best and most frequent use.

I also knew I had to find out if this would work for me before I invested too much time and effort, so I went with a crème brûlée packaged mix (the horror!). I might try this another time using homemade filling.

Vanilla cupcakes
3/4 cups butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt (if using unsalted butter)
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 3/4 cups flour
1 1/3 cups milk

Two packages of crème brûlée mix

For the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350F/175C. Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Then add the baking soda, baking powder, vanilla and salt. Add the flour and milk in alternating turns with the mixer on low. Beat mixture just until combined/smooth.

Fill cupcake liners in your cupcake pan to about 3/4 full. Bake for about 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The cupcake will just have started to turn a slight golden brown color. Let the cupcakes cool in the pan for about ten minutes before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Crème brûlée cupcake assembly
When cupcakes are cool, use a melon baller or a small knife to scoop out the centers of the cupcakes, leaving an approximately one-inch edge around the border and being careful not to reach the bottom of the cupcake, leaving a small layer of cake on the bottom of the cupcake. Once this is done, you can set the prepared cupcakes aside. (Scooped-out crumbs can be used to make cake pops.)

Crème brûlée
Follow the instructions for your crème brûlée, either on the package or from scratch, depending on your method. When the crème is finished cooking on the stovetop, immediately pour it into the waiting cupcakes until the cavities are full but not overflowing. Let the filled cupcakes sit for an hour to settle, and then refrigerate for another hour until ready to serve.

When ready to serve, sprinkle caramelizing sugar on top of the cupcakes and put under your broiler for three minutes or until the sugar has melted (or use a culinary torch to achieve the same results).

I did not follow these exact directions since I was not going to be serving them directly and unfortunately left these for last to prepare and did not have time to let them sit at room temperature or in the fridge before doing the broiling on top. I plodded ahead with the broiling almost immediately after filling the cupcakes and hoped for the best.

I did not hear any feedback one way or the other about these. I may try them again but will try with my own crème brûlée recipe and may by then have a proper culinary torch.