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Friday, July 31, 2015

Listing Large Queens Continues with the 5c and 6c, Another Amazing Chicken Recipe and Joe Pyne

Yesterday was a good day lotting. I managed to get through all the 3c stamps, and most of the 5c stamps. Along the way I made some pleasant suprise discoveries:two of the 5c cent stamps were the rare perf. 12.1 printing, rather than the more common perf. 11.75 x 12. It goes to show that you really cannot classify these stamps accurately unless you work on a large group of them at once, and can compare and contrast them.

Today, I hope to get through the rest of the 5c and all the 6c stamps. I have 9 more 5c stamps and 11 6c stamps, so 20 lots in all. To give you an idea of what these stamps look like, here are some pictures:

If you look at the 6c stamps, you will notice quite a difference between the colours: one is a lighter brown than the others and of the two dark browns, one is a duller brown than the other. This is a point of considerable interest with this issue: there are a number of differnt shade varieties for all the denominations of stamps issued, especially the 15 cent value, which was the only stamp in the set which continued to be used well into 1900, almost 30 years after the rest of the set had been discontinued.

Well its time to share another recipe that I made last night. This time it is sauteed chicken breasts with tomatoes, capers and basil, served with barbecued corn and lime-pepper butter. The chicken uses the same basic method that I outlined in my second post:

You take your chicken breasts, and lightly sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides. Then coat the breasts in flour. Then you heat 1.5 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat until the butter is both fragrant and a nut-brown colour, i.e just before it burns. Then add 1.5 tablespoons of olive oil. This is critical because doing so will prevent the butter from burning by raising the smoking point.

Then add the breasts to the pan tenderloin side down and cook for 4 minutes exactly. Time it if you have to, but don't go over that. Trust me, it will cook thoroughly by the time you are done. Make sure that the oil and butter does not burn. You may have to reduce the heat slightly. I use a gas stove, so my medium-high was about a 5 out of 7 and I turned it down to 4.

When the four minutes is up turn them over and cook for another 4 minutes. Remove them to a plate.

To make the sauce, you will need:

1/3 cup of minced shallots or green onions.
1 tablespoon of minced garlic
1/4 cup of sweet sherry
2 tablespoons of capers
2 cups of seeded and chopped tomatoes (that is about 5-6 tomatoes)
1 tablespoon of finely shredded fresh basil
salt, pepper and sugar to taste.

When you take the chicken breasts out of the pan, spoon off any excess fat, so that you have about 2 tablespoons left in the pan. Then add the shallots or green onion and cook for about a minute over medium heat until soft. Then add the sherry to deglaze the pan and get all the brown bits off the bottom with a wooden spoon. Boil this until almost all the alcohol is gone. Then add the tomatoes, the capers, the garlic and a pinch of salt, pepper and sugar. Cook until all the juice is out of the tomatoes and boil until the sauce is thick. Taste for salt, and sugar balance as you go. The sauce should not taste acidic, but should be a delicate balance of garlic, sweet tomato and salty caper. Spoon this over the chicken.

To make the corn, take unwrapped ears and place them directly on the barbecue on high heat. Roast until the outside of the ear chars lightly and turn and repeat, until the outside is lightly charred all around. Remove them to a plate and leave them wrapped for now while you make the butter sauce. Take about 1/4 cup of salted butter, and melt in a small dish (I do it in the microwave) and then add about 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and squeeze in two cut up limes. Then carefully unwrap the corn and place on the serving plates (it will be steaming hot) and brush the lime-pepper butter on the cobs.


Tonight's recipe is sauteed cucumbers with herbs and sauteed shrimp, and that will bring me to the end of four weeks of experimental menus. Steph and I will then take stock and decide what we liked most, and the best dishes will form the basis for another 2 weeks of meals, and then we will gradually rotate in new recipes to try some new things.

Yesterday, I shared some clips of the comedian Paul Lynde, who was big in the 1970's. Today, I shift gears and instead of a comedian, I give you Joe Pyne, who was a talk show host in the 1960's. He was a one legged war veteran who had his own show in the 1960's where he pulls no punches whatsoever.  He smoked constantly as did almost everybody in the 1960's and used to call his cigarettes "coffin nails". He was right as he died of lung cancer in 1970. People today who are used to seeing toned down language and political correctness would be shocked to watch the following clips:

Watching this, you get a real sense of that pride in the "American Dream" that people still had back then. He is incensed that someone could suggest that Americans should have limits placed on how much wealth they can have, and a million dollars was a fortune in the 1960's. 

In this clip he mocks a 1960's musician who is protesting the slaughter of animals for food - something that would be considered today to be a legitimate thing to protest. But back in the 1960's if you thought that killing animals for food was wrong, people would look at you as if you were from another planet. The studio audience's reaction to Pyne's antics lets you know that a lot of people agreed with him.

As a student of history, I find these clips fascinating. Not because I agree with Mr. Pyne. On the contrary, I think he was awful to his guests. But it is interesting to see just how much we have progressed as a society in terms of how accepting we are now of individual beliefs and differences. It can be easy to forget this, and the today's generation has nothing to compare their circumstances to, which is why viewing clips like this - a TV show from 1966 is so informative.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

I'm Now on Pinterest!!

Tonight I discovered how easy it is to pin my stamp images to Pinterest. So I have created several boards where I am posting images of stamps that I think would be of interest to people who are interested in various topics like architecture, history, art etc. Of course, I have also created a board for what I consider to be the most beautiful Canadian stamps.

To view the boards, click on the following link:

Fantastic Gnocci Recipe, Day 4 of Large Queens and Sales Continue to Pick Up and Paul Lynde

Today is a bit of a mixed bag. I managed to get through the 2c Large Queens yesterday, but the threes, as I had a very lovely facebook conversation with an old classmate in Brazil, and my ex-partners had e-mailed me with a problem they were having, ao I had to respond. Today, I continue with the three cent stamps and hopefully the 5c stamps. 

Last night, I made the best Gnocci I have ever tasted with a gorgonzola sauce that I just had to share. This one is so simple that you can have dinner made in less than 30 min. Generally, Gnocci only takes about 3 min to cook, so it is the sauce that will take the bulk of the time. 

You will need, per 2 portions - for additional portions increase the quantities proportionally:

1 1 pound pack of fresh Gnocci 
300g of fresh gorgonzola cheese, left out of the refrgerator all day
1/3 cup grated parmesan
1/2 cup of milk
3 tablespoons of butter
1/2 cup of heavy cream
2-3 cups fresh chopped spinach (optional)

The main danger with the sauce is that it can sometimes be too salty as I discovered. So it is important to taste it as you are preparing it. If it is too high in salt, add more cream until the salt level is more tolerable. You do want it to be somewhat salty, as the Gnocci is a heavy, bland pasta, so the flavour needs to be strong. The reason for leaving the gorgonzola out for the day is to develop the flavours, as the cold of the refrigerator stunts the flavour of the cheese. 

While you are waiting for the water to boil, take the cheese, the milk and the butter and place in a large saucepan. You are going to toss the pasta in the sauce later, so you want a pot big enough that you can do that in. Turn the leat to low and gradually melt the cheese into the milk and butter, mashing it with the back of a wooden spoon. This takes a while, but eventually you will have a thick sauce with no lumps. Turn it off until you are ready to drain the pasta. 

Then add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until the gnocci rises to the surface, which, as I said, will take about three minutes. Drain. 

Then turn the sauce back on and add the heavy cream. Cook over medium-low heat until it reduces somewhat. Test for salt level and if necessary add more cream. When it is at the a little runnier than the desired consitency and salt level is a little lower than you want, add the spinach if you are using, and mix until wilted, then turn off the heat. Add the pasta and toss until coated, then add the parmesan cheese and toss until melted. The addition of the parmesan will bring the consistency and salt level to what they should be. Then serve and watch jaws drop!

My sense of humor is not that great - I'm not good at coming up with good jokes, and I always manage to laugh at my own jokes and ruin them. So I thought it would be good to share some of my favourite comedians. I personally like the comedians of yesteryear, before political correctness took hold and before profanity became a substitute for good humor. I am a child of the 70's, and one of the comedians I remember very well is Paul Lynde. 

He was famous for being the centre square on a game show called the Hollywood Squares, which ran for well over 15 years around dinnertime 5 nights a week. He was a favourite because every time he was asked a question, he would initially respond with a zinger. Now Paul was gay, but not openly so, because back then it was not socially acceptable. But as you view the following clips, I'm sure you would agree that it is very hard to see how he could be straight. But back then people simply didn't have the exposure to gay culture to be able to recognize someone who was gay. His double entendres were just classic and when you watch the following clips, remember that they aired almost 40 years ago.

Paul doing the weather on a news program in 1978

Two classic zingers from the Hollywood Squares: the fairy versus the pixie and tarzan swings both ways

How much is a pinch?

I hope you find them as funny as I did. Of course, I was much too young to appreciate the humour back when they aired. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Day 3 of Large Queens, and My Dinner with Maxime Herold

Yesterday's goal of the 1 cent Large Queen was accomplished, and as of this morning, I managed to sell one of the stamps I listed! Sure, it was a cheap stamp ($5) but every bit helps, and it is very encouraging to see the stamps selling within a very short time of being listed.

Yesterday's dinner with Maxime was interesting. I learned that she is actually with Ron Brigham as a domestic partner and she was her usual self. Its been almost a decade since I last saw her, and I almost completely forgot. Maxime is a high end dealer - she sells to a very small number of high net worth clients and makes her money on commission. She is not a philatelist like me and isn't really interested in dealing with the less expensive stamps. I myself just love all stamps. I know that I have to specialize, but I get just as much enjoyment from studying and lotting stamps issued in 1979 as I would the stamps of 1879. It was a good dinner - at very least I have established my first contact and lead for material in the trade, and she did say that she may have some Canadian material that she can sell me cheap.

Today the goal is to all my 2 cent and three cent Large Queens. I have 24 two cent stamps and 13 three cent stamps, including three on laid paper. It is a lofty goal, but I think I can do it, as I have already identified all the paper types and varieties on the two cent stamps. I had hoped to complete the entire issue and post two blog articles about the issue by the end of the week. If I complete to the end of the 3 cent today, that leaves the 5c, 6c, 12.5 and 15c, in two days, which I don't think will happen. So I may be working on this well into next week. Oh well it takes as long as it takes.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Day 2 of Large Queens and a Recipe for Chicken and Lentils

This is my second day listing Large Queens. Yesterday I managed to finally learn to distinguish the characteristics of the ten Duckworth paper types used for this issue, and to identify them on all my half-cent blacks (about 20 in all). Finally, I managed to revise all my existing lots to incorporate this information, repriced them and listed the new stamps. I had a better showing of the varieties than I thought I did, although I still do not have most of the plate varieties on that value. Sales yesterday were non-existent, which is not that unexpected given that people are at work and it is the beginning of the week.

So today's goal is to get through the next value, the one cent. This stamp came in two major colours: brown-red and yellow-orange. I have 15 stamps in total, so it shouldn't be too difficult. Only one of these is currently listed. I also have this groove going where I scan the next stamps that I am planning to work on while I am working on the current listings. This works well because the scanner takes a long time to render the images, and it is efficient to fill the time. I also draft my blog posts, while I am working on the stamps so that I don't have to go back over the information. With that in mind, I prepared a post on the various Duckworth paper types. It is about 25% done, and I can complete it as I work on the issue.

This morning I decided to make dinner early, since I am going out to meet a colleague that I have not seen in over 10 years. Maxime and I worked for Gary Lyon back in 2004. Maxime was his partner, and I his employee. After that ended we kind of lost touch, but we connected over Facebook a few months back. She works for Ron Brigham now, who is Canada's leading collector, who has managed to form the most complete collection of Canada ever formed. He decided to form his own auction house to sell it, and has been holding sales for the last two years. Anyway, we are meeting for dinner tonight after having not seen each other since 2004, which is kind of exciting. But I had been planning to make a lentil recipe and decided to go ahead with it anyhow so that Steph would have dinner ready when she gets home tonight.

I never gave lentils much thought. They were always an item in the supermarket that I never saw anyone buy unless they were hippies or dirt poor. However, I was at a cooking class two or three years ago when the instructor had us prepare lentils and they were delicious. The secret to them seems to be to cook them in a very flavourful liquid, or to add very strongly flavoured ingredients to them after they are cooked, as they are in themselves very bland. But they are a very absorbent legume and they provide a nice counterbalance to strong flavours such as chopped olives.

So this recipe calls for turkey drumsticks, though I substituted chicken legs as I couldn't find turkey at my local store. You will need:

3-4 chicken legs or turkey drumsticks
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1.5-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 cups of dry white wine
3 cups of coarsely chopped fresh spinach
1 medium leek, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
1 celery stalk diced
1 cup chopped green stuffed olives cured in brine

Preheat the oven to 350F.

You take the chicken or turkey and lightly season with salt. Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large ovenproof skillet. Brown the pountry on one side over medium-high heat for 10 min, and then turn it over and brown for another 5 min. When done, remove the poultry to a plate and spoon off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pan. Then add the chopped onion and saute until tender, about 3 min. Then return the poultry to the pan and add the wine, 1/2 cup water and the chopped thyme. Bring to a boil and then take off the heat, cover, and place in the oven. If you are using turkey, it will take about an hour and a half, but if you use chicken, 45 min should be fine.

While you are waiting for the poultry to cook, you prepare the lentils. Take the diced vegetables, and saute them in 1 tablespoon of melted butter over medium heat in a large saucepan. The saucepan has to be able to accomodate at least 15 cups, preferably 20 (so a 5 quart saucepan or larger is good). You saute until the carrot, leek and celery are soft, which will be about 5 min. Then you add 3 cups of green or brown lentils and 10 cups of water. Bring to the boil over high heat and then redice the heat, partially covering the pot, and simmer for 30 min until the lentils are tender.

When the lentils are done, drain the liquid. Take the skillet out of the oven and remove the poultry to a platter which you keep warm. Over medim heat, bring the pan juice in the skillet to a simmer and add chopped olives, lemon juice and spinach. Cook until the spinach is just wilted, about 5-6 min. Season with salt and pepper to taste. The mixture should be very salty and have a kick. This is critical because it will be added to the cooked lentils. So if you can palatably eat the sauce on its own, it is probably not strong enough. In this case consider adding more olives, lemon juice or seasonings until it is good, but too strongly flavoured to eat on its own. Add the lentils and then spoon them out onto the plates and add either a chicken leg or turkey drumstick on top and enjoy.

If you are interested to see the half-cent Large Queen stamps that I listed yesterday, click on the follwing link:

Monday, July 27, 2015

Week 3 Ends on a High Note, Week 4 Begins With Listings of the Large Queens and Thai Recipe

My third week has ended on a high note, with customers purchsing over $400 worth of the Cents and Pence issues that I started listing last week. Among them, the 10c black brown Prince Albert sold yesterday for $170 USD against my asking price of $180. Thanks to these sales, my store rent for July is now covered, and I even have $150 or so to spend on new inventory.

Before I get into what week 4 will entail, I thought I would share another recipe. This time it is a simple Thai stir fry, kicked up a notch. It is stir fried Chinese cabbage or bok choy with peanut sauce and coconut rice. You will need for this:

1. head of Chinese cabbage, or 1 package of bok choy.
2. 3 cloves minced garlic
3. 1/2 bottle of Thai peanut sauce, or 1 packet that can be made on the stove.
4. 1 can coconut milk
5. 1/4 cup shredded sweetened coconut
6. 1 cup of Jasmine rice

Empty the can of coconut milk into a large measuring cup and add just enough water to bring the amount of liquid up to 2 cups. Add this to a saucepan along with the rice and bring to a boil. When the rice is boiling, turn down the heat and cover for 20-25 min.

While you are waiting for the rice, quickly toast the shredded coconut by placing it in a frying pan over meduim high heat and stirring it constantly. It will turn suddenly, so you can't leave it unattended unless you turn down the heat to low. When it begins to turn brown, take it off the heat and set aside. This shredded coconut will be sprinkled over top of the rice later, when you are ready to serve.

Then cut up the cabbage or the bok choy after making sure that it is fully washed to remove the silt. Heat up 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable in a large skillet and fry the cabbage or bok choy with the minced garlic until the vegetable changes colour. Then add the peanut sauce and heat through. Spoon over the rice and sprinkle the coconut flakes over top. Enjoy!

This week, I am going to concentrate on listing the Large Queen Issue of Canada. This is arguably one of the most popular sets in Canadian philately. When you see the designs, it is not hard to understand why:


I have only shown the half-cent through 2c values, as that is all I have scanned to this point, but there were also 3c, 5c, 6c, 12.5c and 15c denominations as well. The detailed scrollwork and foliate ornamentation, combined with the crisp colours has captivated Canadian collectors for generations. I have what seems like well over 100 Large Queen stamps to list, so given the complexity of this issue, I anticipate that getting all of this up on e-bay will take the entire week. It is worth mentioning that these were the first stamps to be issued after Confederation, and they were also the first stamps to be printed in Canada, by the British American Bank Note Company at Montreal and Ottawa.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The First Newly Listed Stamps Sell, Identifying Your Superpower and Overcoming Self-Doubt

I sold my first stamps from my new listings over the last two days. A total of six stamps - three pence issues and three of the cents issues from 1851-1865 have sold, some within minutes of being listed. Most of them belong to my consignor, and they were stamps that ordinarily are difficult to sell, as their condition was very poor. But they are rare stamps and there is always a collector out there that simply cannot afford to pay for a fine example. This was a very encouraging development, particularly this early in the process.

I wanted to go back now and address the topic that is most critical to the entire process of reclaiming your life, as it is the cornerstone from which everything is built: identifying your superpower.Your superpower is generally something that you are so passionate about, that you can do it better than anybody you know, or you approach it in a way that is simply unique. For example, it could be:

1. That you know the hockey scores for all the major NHL teams for the last 60 years, and you know just about everything there is to know about the players on these teams.

2. That you have a talent for gardening such that you can make anything grow, no matter what the conditions. You have an ability to know exactly how to combine fertilizers and diffferent kinds of soil and space plants in a way that yields results that elude most people.

3. That you are a super nerd who knows everything there is to know about Marvel comics,the Simpsons, Star Trek, Star Wars and other such subjects, including all of the associated collectibles and memorabilia that has been produced and sold over the years. You can go to a garage sale and find that X-wing fighter model that you can sell to a diehard fan for $50, when you paid $1. Or it could be something like model boats, records, coins, hockey cards, depression glass, advertising memorabilia, antiques or any other collectible.

4. You have a passion for fitness and have developed simple workout routines that keep you in shape and that you think others could follow and learn with relative ease.

5. You are a movie buff and have seen thousands of movies. You enjoy critiquing them and comparing one movie to another. When your friends want to see a good movie, they come and ask for your opinion, and you never seem to steer any of them wrong in terms of seeeing something they enjoy.

6. You have a passion for cooking and have been able to develop innovative ways to make nutritious and delicious meals from basic ingredients that are available in any food store.

You may look at the above list and see mostly hobbies. Indeed you have probably not grown up thinking of your ability as a superpower. Well meaning family members, who could not see how your ability could sustain a lifestyle may not have encouraged you to develop it beyond a hobby in your spare time.

One of the main reasons for this in all likelihood, is that 10 years ago the world was a very different place, and the opportunities for people to monetize their superpower simply did not exist, or were not accessable in the way they are today. The internet, and Google, along with social media, have now made it possible for a person to monetize their superpower in one of two basic ways:

1. If your superpower is knowledge of and appreciation for a product, market sites like E-bay, Etsy, Delcame, and Bidstart make it possible for you to source that product cheaply by purchasing at auction and then to re-sell at retail. It is a time tested, basic and very sound way to make a profit. It works because you have in depth knowledge that enables you to know exactly how much you can pay for the product and what you can sell it for. That knowledge doesn't come overnight - it takes years to acquire. But the good news is that you have been acquiring it all along if that product is your passion.

2. If your superpower is that you possess knowledge that can save people time, help them avoid disappointment or otherwise improve their lives in some way, blogs allow you to disseminate that knowledge. If you obtain enough readers, companies will begin advertising on your blog - Google Adsense will sell them the space, and you will get a share of the revenue. We live in an age of information overload - there is simply so much out there that a person who can take a topic and distil all the relevant and most sought after information and locate it in one, easily accessible place, will eventually develop massive readership. The only catch is you have to be disciplined about putting up regular posts and you have to tailor your content to what you think your readers are going to be interested in.

Prior to the internet, and even 10 years ago, if you wanted to buy and sell a product your problem was how to source that product, and then how to find customers. It required a huge upfront investment in print-advertising. If you wanted to disseminate knowledge, you had to write books, which were very expensive to print and publish, so the rejection rates were high.

To illustrate, lets take the above list of superpowers above and see how they could be developed or otherwise turned into careers:

1. The sports buff could write a blog that is highly navigable, where a die hard sports fan could be treated to a different story or tidbit each week about their favouite teams or players. The blogger could also publish a guide of major sporting broadcasts or events happening that week or month, so that the sports fan could plan to attend or watch a game. As readership grows, beer companies and sporting goods companies would begin advertising on it. It could very well be a full time endeavour if the writer set about making it the go to site for the sports fan.

2. There are lots of books explaining plants and how to plant them. Still there are others that give some ideas for gardens. However, there are not very many sources that explain to someone who wants to start from scratch, what the basics are, or how to take their existing yard space and make the most of it, or what the garden is going to cost in terms of time and resources to maintain. A passionate gardener could produce a written blog and Youtube videos to disseminate knowledge about gardening techniques. Again, as readership and viewership grows, makers of gardening products would advertise on the blog.

3. Market sites make sourcing collectibles easy. The only hard part is going through all the listings to sort the wheat from the chaff, and having the discipline to not bid too much. Fortunately there are bid-sniping programs out there that you can subscribe to that will take your bids and then execute them at the last seconds of the auction. The main advantage of this is it takes the emotion out of it. If you ask me what stamps I am currently bidding on, I couldn't tell you. I look at hundreds of listings a day and at any given time I am bidding on 500+ items. I don't care if I buy them or not, because I know that tomorrow there will be another 500 just like them. What I care about is that I don't pay more than I should for them. So going back to the example I gave of the X-wing fighter model, the sites make it possible to profit on a garage-sale type find hundreds of times over, which was not possible before these sites came along.

4. Fitness and cooking  knowledge could be disseminated online in the same way as #1 and #2 above, but there would be more emphasis on Youtube to illustrate technique. Again, there are lots of sources that will tell you how to do a particular exercise, or cook a certain dish. But there are not a lot that will tell you how to design a workout routine that is optimal for your body type, weight, age and overall health, as well as giving practical advice on nutritiuon, or how to design an entire month of menus that are well balanced and can be made in reasonable time within a particular food budget.

5. The movie buff could design a website that allows a person, couple or group of friends to reliably pick a good movie to see depending on what their individual tastes were, who their favourite actors/actresses are, favourite genre etc. The quality of the site would depend on developing algorithims that allow the selection of a movie that would not be disappointing to the viewer. In short, it saves people time and money.

So I would encourage you to start thinking about what makes you passionate, and do it without that voice in your head that says "yeah but I can't make a living at this", for even if there is no immediate opportunity now, that does not mean that there won't be changes in society that create the opportunity later.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Tasty Recipe for Rice, the Stamps Posted For Sale Yesterday and Good Old Phil

Today's post is a bit of a mixed bag, as yesterday, I did not do much lotting, as Steph worked from home and it was her turn to use the computer. So I went for a supplies run and opted to sort purchases and cost them instead.

But before I get into what I posted for sale, I want to share with you an idea for rice that is very tasty: Paella Valencia. It is a spanish rice dish that is cooked over the stove in a very large open skillet, about 16 inches wide. You need a very large skillet, or the ingredients will not all fit. It uses surprisingly few herbs and spices, yet is very tasty. You will need:

1.5lb chicken legs, thighs, etc.
1 large tomato, seeded and chopped
1 medium onion , finely chopped
4.5 cups of hot chicken broth.
1 cup of cooked grean beans (I use canned, that have been well rinsed)
1 cup of white kidney beans (canned but well rinsed)
1 cup of broad beans (canned but well rinsed)
1 pound of long grain rice (about 2.25 cups)
1 teaspoon of fresh rosemary leaves
salt to taste

You take the chicken and using a cleaver, chop it up into bite sized pieces. Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat and brown the chicken in batches. When the chicken is done, remove to a plate and set aside. Spoon off all but 1 tablespoon of the pan juices and turn the heat down to low. Add the onion and tomato and cook over low heat for 30 minutes stiring occasionally. The purpose of this step is to really bring out the flavour of the onion and tomato using the pan juices.

After 30 min have passed. Add the chicken and the stock. Simmer for another 10 minutes.

Then add all the beans, the rice, the rosemary and a bit of salt. Turn the heat up to medium high and cook for 25-30 minutes, checking the rice for absorption of the liquid and taking care to ensure that the rice does not burn. However, some brown crust on the bottom of the pan is desirable. If the stock is absorbing or boiling away too quickly, simply add more from a can or carton kept on hand. When the rice is done let stand 5-10 min.

This is not a quick meal - it will take about an hour and a half with all the prep. But the good news is you can do other things during most of that time, just checking on it as it cooks.

Now for the highlights of what I have listed and am planning to list today:

The 1859 first printing of the 10c Cents issue in black brown. The stamp has a tear at the bottom, but is still a very rare stamp in any condition. 

An unused example of the 2c claret Cents issue from 1864.

The mint 5c red Nesbitt envelope from 1860.

The 10c brown Prince Albert from 1861- a  particularly nice example!

The mint 10c dark brown Nesbitt Envelope from 1860

The 12.5c green Queen Victoria from 1859. 

The 17c dark blue Jacques Cartier from 1864

Finally, I heard that everybody's favourite curmudgeon royal Prince Philip is back in the news with one of his famous gaffes. Honestly, I don't think the royals will be the same once he is gone, and he is 94 now. I don't think he means to come off as an jerk - people forget that he comes from a family of very uptight people. His candour, if we can call it that is probably a survival mechanism. So what did he say this time? Well I can't remember where he was, but he was meeting a receiving line of women and he greeted them with the line "Who do you sponge off of?" - really in this age of women working as much as men. Mind you he wouldn't have any experience with that as he comes from a different time. Then at another event he was posing for a picture with a group of people when he got frustrated with  the photographer and said apparently "just take the @ukin# picture!".

Some of his other famous ones over the years:

"So how do you keep the locals off the booze long enough for them to pass the test?" - said to a Scottish driving instructor while touring a driving school in Scotland.

"If it has legs and is not a chair; if it has wings and is not an airplane and if it swims and is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it. Better not stay here too long or you will go slitty eyed." - said to a group of British exchange students while visiting Beijing in 1986. 

"2,500 killed and wounded? Nawww it can't be that many. I would know - I went to school with General Dyer's son." - Said to a group of Indian politicians while touring the monument to the Amritsar massacre. This was the key event in India that crystallized support for Ghandi, in which the British opened fire on a peaceful protest. 

Oh Phil, the world will be a more politically correct, but less interesting place when you leave us. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

I Have Revived my Sister Blog: Canadian Philately!

I got into a real groove while scanning the Cents issues in preparation for lotting. Normally, there is a lot of wasted time while I wait for the scanner to complete its pass and I edit the images. However, I realized yesterday that I could work on some blog posts about the stamps as I was doing the scanning. It is perfect: I can produce my social media content at the same time as I am preparing the material for lotting. It saves time and efficiency as the details are fresh in my mind.

Check out the three posts at the following link:

I also have a Nigerian stamps blog, which I haven't posted to in a while. But all that will change once I start working on Nigeria:

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The First Stamps are Listed in My E-Bay Store Yesterday and an Idea for a Healthy Primarily Vegetable Based Dinner

It has been almost 3 years since I listed anything new in my e-bay store. Needless to say, E-bay has made changes to its listing format, some of which are quite nifty. However, my lotting skills have gone rusty and took me a few hours to figure out my scanner and E-bay's format. Nevertheless I did manage to list the following items:

The first stamp of Canada issued April 27, 1851.
Yours for $480. 

The 1853 printing of the same stamp in brown red. Cheaper at $250. 

The pride of my inventory: the 1851 6d Prince Albert. 
A stunning example and yours for a mere $3,750. 

The 1857 1/2d Rose. 
Used for newspapers. A bit grubby, but scarce and only $210.

A beautiful stampless letter sent from Hamilton, ON to Caledonia ON in 1858.
Fantastic strike of the fancy "3"indicating the postage due from the recipient. 
Yours for $125. 

So Steph and I opted try a primarily vegetarian meal, although not quite vegetarian in the strict sense, but a departure from the meat-starch-vegetable meal:

1. Parslied carrots
2. Warm leeks vinagrette
3. Baked stuffed onions with ground sausage or turkey.

We used ground turkey, as we are attempting to wean ourselves off pork. 

The onions are the most involved dish, so they should be started first. Take four very large yellow or white onions and slit the skin vertically using a paring knife and then peel them. Don't cut off either end though. Then place them in a large pot of boiling water. You can prepare the other ingredients for the other dishes while waiting for the water to boil. 

For the carrots, peel and slice 6 large carrots into rounds and place them in a pot of salted water, bit don't boil them just yet, as they won't take more than 10-15 min. For the seasonings, squeeze 1 lemon wedge into a small dish and set aside. In another small dish combine 1 teaspoon of paprika, and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Then chop 2 tablespoons of fresh parsley and set aside. Finally chop 1 large shallot and fry it in 2 tablespoons butter. Once the shallot is soft, set the pan aside, as you will add the cooked carrots later, with all the seasonings. You are then done with the carrots until it is time to boil them. 

For the leeks, take 12 slender leeks, or if if you can't find slender, 6 larger ones will do. Cut off the leaves and the bottons and rinse thoroughly. Slit lengthwise on one side. For the seasonings, combine in a cup 1/2 cup of chicken stock and 1/2 cup of dry red wine. Then in another cup combine 1/4 cup of chicken stock, 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar and a teaspoon of dijon mustard. 

By now the water should be boiling, so you place the onions in, partially cover with a lid and cook for 15 min or until you can just pierce the onion with a sharp knife, but with some resistance. You don't want the onions to fall apart when you try to core them to stuff them. Butter a caserole dish and set aside while you wait for the onions to boil. While you are waiting for the onions to boil, you can cook and season the ground turkey in a large skillet. Once it is done, turn off the heat because you are eventually going to need to fry this with the onion that is scooped out of the onions and other ingredients to make the stuffing. 

Once the onions are done. Run them under cold water to stop the cooking and cool them to the point that you can handle them. When they are cool enough to handle, cut off the top 1/4 and set aside. Then with a sharp knife, make cuts out from the centre that do not go all the way down and stop at the outer third layer. Then turn the onions over and do a curcular cut around the bottom of the root. Then pushing from the root, push out the cut cores. They should pop right out, leaving a cored onion 3 layers thick. Place these in the casserole dish. Preheat the oven to 375F. Then coarsly chop the onion centres and tops with 1 bunch of washed spinach. Heat the ground turkey back up and add the chopped onion and spinach. Cook until everything is soft. Add 1 teaspoon dried sage and salt and pepper to taste. Then add 1/2 cup of heavy cream. When everything is combined, add t tablesppoons breadcrumbs, and then subsequent tablespoons as needed until the mixture holds its shape with a spoon. 

Then take the mixture off the heat and spoon it into the onion cores, spilling it out over the sides. Any extra stuffing can just be placed in the dish at the base of the onions. Then top each onion with sprinkled breadcrumbs and a small dollop of butter. These go in the oven for 20 minutes. 

While you are waiting for the onions, heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large skillet until very hot but not smoking. Add the sliced leeks and cook for 10 minutes turning occasionally. When the leeks are soft, add the larger cup of chicken stock and red wine, cover and cook for another 10 min. 

While you are waiting for the leeks to cook, boil the carrots. This should take about 10 min. When they are done drain them well and heat the fried shallot back up and add the carrots along with the seasonings you set aside earlier (salt, pepper, paprika, lemon juice and parsley). When everything is heated through the carrots are done. 

When the leeks are soft, transfer them to a serving platter and cover with tin foil to keep warm. The  add to the sauce in the pan the smaller cup containing the stock-vinegar-mustard mixture and heat through. Then transfer to a sauce boat - this is the vinagrette for the leeks and the other vegetables should you wish to use it. 

The onions should now be done and the entire meal can be served. The whole thing takes an hour or so to prepare, maybe 45 min if you tackle it in te order I have written here. I didn't and it took me over an hour. The most expensive part of the meal is the leeks, which will probably cost close to $10, but the rest of the ingredients should cost no more than $5-6. 


On to the perforated pence issue of 1858 and the first cents issue of 1859-1868 today.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Week 3 - Listing of Stamps Begins in Earnest With Canada Queen Victoria

As I enter my third week of stamp dealing, I am finally ready to begin listing the material that I have spent the past two years amassing. on Friday last week I sorted through all of my Canada inventory as well as my two consignments, and picked out all the stamps from Queen Victoria's reign (1851-1901). I was quite astonished to see nearly two stock boxes full of 102 and 107 cards:

This first box covers the issues from 1851-1897. Shown above is a beautiful 1865 cover sent to the head of Upper Canada College, Charles O'Malley. Such beautiful penmanship on the front. This cover, because of the historical significance and the quality of the stamp on it, will retail for $125. 

This box covers 1898-1901, the Canadian provinces prior to 1867, British Columbia prior to 1871 and Newfoundland to 1901. The stamps shown in the foreground are the 6c brown Maple Leaf issue of 1898. They retail for around $150 each. 

It is very exciting indeed to have so much beautiful and desirable material to offer my customers from this period. I had no idea prior to Friday that I had so much of it already. 

For those of you who would like to see my store as it stands now, the link is:

My next post will feature some of these stamps as I list them.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Another Chicken Dinner Recipe to Die For and the Garden is Finally Planted!

So after painstakingly weeding the garden beds last week, I went to get the plants yesterday. The garden centre was closing Wednesday next week, so everything was on sale. Steph and I had decided that despite the fact that the garden is not a full sun garden in some places, that we would try to plant vegetables and herbs. We researched online what would grow in the shadier spots of the garden, and it turns out that the leafier herbs and vegetables will grow in partial shade. It seems that the only vegetables that absolutely require full sun are those that bear actual vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers.

So despite the 40 degree heat with the humidity, we broke up the soil, raked out the dead weeds and added 2 bags to each bed of topsoil and laid out the plants:

In this bed we have. clockwise from the top left corner, Swiss chard, green lettuce, rosemary, violet basil, carrots, a dusty miller (not edible), strawberry mint, dill, tarragon and green basil. It's hard to see them because they are just seedlings right now. 

In this bed we have from top to bottom, tomato plants, English cucumber, rapini, regular cucumber, parsley and thyme (which was already there). This bed usually gets close to full sun, which is why we planed the tomatoes and cucumbers there. 

This brings me to today's chicken meal recipe: Devilled Chicken Breasts and Dee's Corn and Tomato Salad. Both come from my favourite cookbook, the Joy of Cooking. The chicken breasts are marinated in a combination of soy sauce and sherry and then coated in breadcrumbs before being baked in the oven and are served with a Bernaise sauce. The salad is a wonderfully crunchy and fresh tasting salad, the key being to not fully cook the corn, but to just blanch it. 

To make the marinade for the chicken, combine 1/2 cup each of soy sauce and sherry in a bowl and then add 3 tablespoons of dijon mustard, 1/4 cup of vegetable oil and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Place the chicken in a shallow dish and pour the marinade over it. Cover with cling wrap and place in the fridge for 8-12 hours. If you can, turn the chicken every 2-3 hours to ensure that the marinade penetrates the chicken thoroughly. 

When you are half an hour from having to serve dinner or lunch, if you want to have this for lunch, preheat the oven to 375F. Take 1 cup of breadcrumbs (I like Panko, but regular will do) and combine in a bowl with 2 tablespoons melted butter and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Place each chicken breast in the breadcrumbs and coat thoroughly. Place the chicken breasts on a baking sheet and bake uncovered in the oven for 25 minutes or until the chicken is firm and the breadcrumbs browned. 

While this is baking, you can make the salad. Boil a pot of water on the stove, and when it is boiling, carefully drop 6 ears of sweet corn in the water for approximately 2 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. 

While you are waiting for the water to boil, combine the other ingredients in a large salad bowl:

1 large tomato diced
2-3 tablespoons of chopped fresh basil
1 small onion diced
1/4 cup of fresh vinagrette.

To make the vinagrette, mash 1 cove of garlic with two pinches each of salt and pepper to make a paste in a jar. Then squeeze into the jar the juice of 2 lemons. If the lemons are thin skinned and juicy, you should get 1/3 cup of lemon juice. Then use a garlic press to mince an entire shallot into the jar. Add a bit more salt and pepper to taste and then add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. The recipes call for much more oil than this, but I don't like a lot of oil in my dressings so I cut it back considerably. Close the jar and shake vigourously. 

To finish the salad, turn each ear over into the bowl and holding from the top cut the kernels off the cob with a sharp knife. It should come off eaasily if you have turned the cobs upside down. Repeat with each ear until all the corn is in the bowl. Then toss all the ingredients and taste, adjusting the salt and pepper or vinagrette as needed. 

Just after you have finished this, make the Bernaise sauce. I have not yet learned how to make Bernaise from scratch, so I just use the Knorr or McCormack's packaged sauce. It usually takes about 5 minutes to prepare and uses 1/2 cup butter and 1 cup of milk. 

By the time you are done, the chicken should be ready. This is a really fabulous meal, enjoy!


Friday, July 17, 2015

An Alternative Recipe for Spaghetti

Pasta with tomato sauce can get old real quick. So here is an alternative that I tried this week, that Steph taught me that is delicious: spaghetti with sauteed rapini and anchovies. If you don't like anchovies, or think you won't like them, I would still urge you to try this dish because the anchovies are diced so finely and fried in their own oil, that you probably won't notice them. Their flavour counterbalances the bitterness of rapini perfectly and produces a rich and flavourful "sauce", if you can call it a sauce. It is really more of a coating, but I digress.

To prepare the sauce, mince up 5-6 cloves of garlic and chop one small to medium sized onion fine. Saute this in olive oil over medium heat until the onion is just soft, but do not allow either the onion, or the garlic to burn, as it will taste bitter if you do. When this is done, take it off the heat and set it aside. Then you wash, dry and roughly chop some rapini. I leave the stalks on, as I find that they cook up quite nicely and provide a nice crunchy texture to offset the softness of the pasta.  Finely chop two cans of anchovies that you have drained and patted dry with paper towels. Saute the rapini in a generous amount of olive oil over medium-high heat until it changes colour. Then add the chopped anchovies and fry for another minute. Add the onions and garlic mixture and saute for another minute to heat through.

When the spaghetti is cooking, reserve a ladleful of the pasta coking water in a small bowl. This water is rich in starch and provides an excellent base for the basic butter sauce that will coat the pasta after you have drained it. Drain the pasta when al dente, and then add the reserved water and 3-4 tablespoons of butter. Toss to coat the pasta and then add the sauteed rapini, anchovy, garlic and onion mixture. Toss to coat and there you have it - a restaurant quality pasta dish for under $10.

Total prep time is less than 20 min. You do the sauce while you are waiting for the water to boil and the pasta to cook. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Writing a Business Plan

As I had stated in a previous post, writing a business plan is a critical first step in taking a business idea that you have and turning it into a successful reality. There are several reasons for this, which include:

1. The ability to explain a concept articulately is indicative of knowledge and understanding.
2. A well developed business plan provides a tool for evaluating the actual results of the business as you implement your key decisions and makes it easier to adapt to the unexpected.
3. Providers of financing will generally require one before they will agree to lend you any money.
4. The process of writing and developing the plan forces an objectivity to the evaluation of the idea that can keep naive optimism in check.

It is often said in academic circles that the ability to teach a subject indicates how well a person has mastered the subject at hand. So it is also with your business concept. If you can explain to someone who knows nothing about your proposed business idea and who does not possess any understanding of your chosen industry/field in a way that convinces them that it would be a good idea to invest their money in your business, then that is a pretty good indication that you have a viable business model and that you are ready to actually go into business for yourself.

Writing the plan forces you to think about all the things that could go wrong, which you mind will have a tendency to minimize or assume away. This is especially true the more excited you are about your idea and the more desperate you are to get started. Responding to these issues on paper and developing strategies to address them, will make you much better prepared to deal with the unexpected, once you have actually started your business. Writing the plan will also force you to identify what actions should take priority over others, something which may not always be obvious at the outset.

Finally, a well written business plan is a must when approaching banks or many private individuals, such as venture capitalists for financing. One of the main reasons why a lot of start-up businesses fail is that they are not sufficiently capitalized to be able to develop enough sales to sustain the salaries and other overhead expenses of the business. In my own case for example, I have to sell enough stamps to provide a profit after re-investment of at least $6,000 per month in order to be able to earn enough after tax to pay for the lifestyle that I described in my earlier post. How much inventory do I need to be able to generate that much each month? A lot more than you would think. Many of my stamps can take up to two years to sell. The right buyer always comes along eventually, but it takes time. So if I have too little inventory on hand, then what winds up happening is that the sales dollars get consumed by the monthly expenses to the point that no inventory growth can occur, and eventually it consumes the capital of the business. As this happens the sales fall and there are continual losses, which require cash to cover. My point is that you likely will need a lot more money to run your business than you think and a good business plan will reveal to you what your true requirements are.

A business plan consists of two components:

1. A written narrative that outlines the concept, explains what the market is, who the competitors are and explains all of the key strategic decisions you are making that will enable your business to maintain a sustainable competitive advantage in the marketplace. In addition, it will present in summary form, the expected financial results of the business.

2. A financial forecast that projects what the expected business results are for a period of time into the future. Usually that period is five years, but it can be longer or shorter. This forecast will include the standard financial statements such as a balance sheet, income statement and cash flow statement. In addition to the financial statements, you have to include all of the hypotheses and assumptions that you have used to develop the numbers contained in the projection. Usually this will mean a detailed section for sales, another one for expenses, another one for employees and salaries and finally another one for financing.

If the second component is very thoroughly done in an excel spreadsheet, then you can make a copy of the spreadsheet and use your actual results to modify the projections in real time as the results emerge. This will enable you to compare to your original forecasts to see how accurate your assumptions have turned out to be. Thus you can see whether or not you are ahead of the game, or behind the game so to speak. In addition, if you maintain these projections, then it will be very easy to apply for additional bank financing as your business expands.

The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) has an excellent template available that you can download for free. You can access it from the following link:

Their template does include both components, although I found the financial projection template to be too simple for my use. However for your purposes, it should be fine, particularly if you are not familiar with financial accounting concepts. It comes with very detailed instructions on how to write the plan and complete the projections. The advantage to using their template is that you can then use it to apply for their small business loan of $50,000. They offer a good interest rate of between 8-9%, which is not bad for what amounts to a completely unsecured line of credit.

It may seem like a daunting task to complete, and it definitely is if you try to do it all in one sitting. What I would suggest instead, is to download it to your laptop, and work on it piecmeal as an idea hits you, or another facet of your plan comes into focus for you. As you do this, you will reach a point where you will feel it slowly coming together. At this point, it would be good to enlist the help of a friend, relative or accountant to look it over and provide some feedback.

Check it out today and give it a go!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Fantastic and Healthy Recipe for a Fish Dinner

Before I get into the topic of preparing a business plan, I wanted to share with you an idea for a fish dinner that is low in fat, tasty and easy to prepare.

I used frozen Basa fillets, though I suspect you could really use just about any kind of fish for this, such as cod, sole, tilapia and so on. The secret is very high heat in the oven - 550F for a very short time - between 8 and 12 minutes. You don't want to overcook the fish, so what I did was time it for 8 minutes and then check it and leave it checking it after each additional minute if not done after 8 min. How to tell if the fish is done? Basically when it flakes easily when gently prodded between the tissues with a fork it is done.

To prepare the fish, you rinse it and pat it dry on paper towels. Then you take a cup of panko breadcrumbs and you toast them in a frying pan over high heat. You don't need any oil or butter - just shake the pan and stir. The toasting is key because the fish will cook so quickly that if you try to brown the breadcrumbs on the fish under the broiler, you will likely overcook the fish. Once the breadcrumbs are toasted, place them in a bowl with a tablespoon of melted butter and 1/2 teaspooon of black pepper and 1 teaspoon of salt. Mix them together. You should find almost no clumping of the breadcrumbs. This is because only 1 tablespoon of melted butter was used. You want just enough butter to coat the breadcrumbs and enhance the flavour, without causing them to clump together.

Then you coat the fish fillets in the crumb mixture and place them on a lightly oiled baking tray and place them in the oven. They will bake to perfection, and the coating will give them a delicate flavour that can be enhanced by squeezing fresh lemon juice over them at the table. A very healthy way to cook fish as there is practically no oil and very little salt.

I served the fish with my version of a Greek salad. Unlike most conventional greek salads, which are mostly cucumber, mine is primarily 1 head of Romaine lettuce, torn up into bite sized pieces along with:

1 can of anchovy fillets sliced in half lengthwise.
2. 1 large tomato cut into wedges, or two smaller ones.
3. 1/2 cucumber peeled and sliced.
4. 1/2 cup of crumbled feta cheese.
5. 1/2 cup of sliced black or green olives

For the dressing, mix together in a small bowl:

1. The juice of 2 lemons.
2. 1/2 tsp of pepper
3. 2 minced garlic cloves
4. The oil from the can of anchovies or if you dumped it out, 1 tablespoon olive oil.
5. 1/2 tsp of salt
6. 1/2 tsp of sugar

Pour it over the salad and toss to coat well.

Again, this is a very healthy low calorie alternative to many conventional salads because very little oil is used in the dressing. I am fairly confident that you won't find it to be lacking in any way.

The whole meal takes between 20 min and 30 min to prepare once you have all your ingredients lined up, so it is reasonably quick. The salad can be prepared while the fish is baking.

Try it and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

So What is the Secret? How Does One Plan to Become Self Employed?

My posts so far have all been written to establish the premise that successful self-employment leads to a better quality of life in the long run. I'm not yet sure about the success part, as I have only just begun this journey, but I can tell you what steps I took over the last year to make this dream a reality:

1. I prepared a business plan and had it evaluated by several people including potential investors.
2. I cut back on the trappings of the professional life.
3. Once I knew that my plan was viable I began to invest some money in inventory at low prices.
4. I also saved enough money to cover living expenses for 18 months.
5. I made sure to have my medical check-ups and dental appointments in the period while I still had benefits, so that any imminent work that I might need done could be covered.
6. I paid a lot of my ongoing expenses upfront - like car insurance in order to save money and looked at where I could cut expenses.
7. I informed my partners almost 6 months in advance of my planned departure and approached them with a transition plan so that they would not be left high and dry.
8. I started organizing elements of my business years before this, and leading right up to my last day.

The most important elements of my plan in my opinion were #1, #7 and #8. Why?

For starters, you don't want to leave a position like partner of an accounting firm with a bunch of ill will coming from your clients, your staff and your other partners. If you have been an effective leader in your firm, then you are going to be surprised by how many people are upset to hear that they will be losing you. However, if you do it right, you can leave with all kinds of goodwill and encouragement from these same people. Nothing helps keep your thinking positive in those months leading up to your departure like encouragement from your clients, staff and partners. This is critical, because once you realize that there is no turning back, you are going to experience FEAR. It's not a bad fear - it made me feel very much alive. But I suspect that is because I had positive encouragement from all my clients and staff. I think if I had cultivated ill will by mishandling my departure, then my fear would have had a very different effect on me. The key to handling it properly was giving people lots and lots of notice. I told my partners in January that I would leave at the end of June. Why June? Because in Canadian accounting firms this corresponds to the end of the busiest time. It's very difficult for firms to hire anybody good before the end of June because to leave before then is generally considered to be suicide for your professional reputation.

So no matter what line of work you are currently in, you want to plan your departure date to coincide with the end of your firm's busiest time, when you know they will have time to adapt to your loss and find or train a suitable replacement. In addition to giving lots of time, I let my partners know that they could call on me at any time if they needed me. In return, they have agreed to allow me to continue to attend morning tax seminars and professional development courses, so that I can maintain my good standing with the provincial institute.

My business is buying and selling stamps on e-bay. So before I could even formulate a realistic business plan, I had to understand how e-bay works, and I had to have an established reputation as a seller before I began this business on a full time basis. So what I did five years ago, was open an e-bay store for Canadian stamps. My plan at that time was to trade in my spare time as an alternative to investing in the stock market. I never intended to become full time when I opened the store. Doing so allowed me to gain a thorough understanding of how to sell on e-bay and to build a 100%, 4.9/5 star feedback rating of almost 2,000. The significance of this is that I can now list items with no limits, and Paypal will release my funds with ho holds. Normally if you are just starting out e-bay will severely limit the amount of listings you can place until such time as you demonstrate to them that you can earn the trust of buyers. Also, it can be very difficult to sell an expensive item, say over $50 unless your feedback score is over 1,000. The higher your feedback score, the easier it gets to sell to customers. Gaining this feedback takes time. So the best way to plan for a full time e-bay business, if that is what you decide to do is to start an account right away and just dabble in your spare time.

Working on my business after I told my partners of my upcoming departure was easy because by then both fear and excitement had taken over. The trick here was to not allow it to consume me. Make sure that you make time for you friends and family during this period, and no matter how tempted you are, don't burn the candle at both ends. You want to have enough energy after your last day to start work right away because there are no paid vacations when you are self employed.

The business plan is touted by experts as the most critical step to successfully starting a business and yet nearly everyone either ignores this advice, or their plan is so "back of the napkin" that it has very limited use as a tool to monitor the business. In all my 21 years as an accountant, I had only ever been asked to review a business plan once, and that was because the client needed it to secure financing. I had an advantage in the sense that I am a trained professional accountant, so that formulating the financial calculations was easy for me, and I was able to do a 10 year forecast. If you are not familiar with accounting, then you should invest in the services of a good accountant. You can always write the narrative portion of the plan and give it to your accountant, who can use it to begin formulating the projections. But what is just as critical as formulating the plan, is having other people read it and give you feedback. Because leaving behind a partnership position was such a big deal, my acid test for deciding whether or not to do this, was to show it to prospective investors. If the feedback was positive, at least from an organization like the Business Development Bank of Canada, then I knew that the plan was viable and should be pursued.

One of things that you will notice if you take doing a business plan seriously is that it will force you to justify your assumptions, do your homework, and consider all the potential contingencies. Just doing that will solidify your understanding of your own business model. Also if you have prepared, or your accountant has done a good job of preparing the projections in excel, you can use that as a basis to form new projections as the actual results of your business begin to emerge.

I already talked about cutting back on the trappings of professional life in my other posts, so I won't repeat what I said here, except to say that you want to do this as you are going to have to adjust to not having an income until your business can afford to pay you one, and unless you save a lot of money to last your start-up period, you are going to need to cut back and that is much easier to keep up if you have already been doing it for several months, as opposed to having to go cold-turkey the week after you leave your job.

In terms of saving and investment, what you do in this regard will depend completely on what your business plan calls for in terms of start-up capital and lead time for sales generation. My business involves buying wholesale and selling at retail. The mark-ups are very good, but it can take up to two years or more to sell a single item from my stock. Therefore I need a lot of diverse stock if I hope to generate a monthly income that I can live on. Secondly, the profit earned on each sale needs to be high enough that I can draw most of those sales dollars out of the business without sacrificing the ability to grow or maintain the stock at its current levels. Because of this time frame, and because I am planning on offering stamps from countries I have never sold before, I anticipated that it would take 18 months before my business could afford to pay me a salary. So I saved up for 18 months in addition to buying stock in preparation for my full time launch. You may find that you don't need nearly as much time, or that you need more. Dabbling a bit before you formulate your plan will give you better insight into how long it might take to make the business a full time venture.

Finally, my last points about cutting back expenses and paying for monthly expenses upfront are simply about maximizing the effectiveness of your savings pool. Until you start paying yourself a salary, your pool of money is finite and it has to last a period of several months. So if you have an opportunity to pay for an expense now that you know you will have during that period and you can save money by doing so than it make sense to do it.

I will discuss writing a business plan in more detail in my next post.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Quantity of Life Versus Quality of Life

We are often told that there is a trade-off between quantity and quality, and it is indeed one of the main truisms of life. What I have been suggesting in my posts is that life as a self-employed entrepreneur is a higher quality, lower quantity life, at least initially. But why?

In my old career, and I suspect most professional careers, there is an expectation, as one moves up, to give up ever increasing amounts of not just one's time, but one's very mental and emotional presence to the needs of the firm of which the individual is a part. I have never encountered a professional services firm that had finite goals about what it wanted to accomplish in terms of the number of clients serviced, the absolute dollar amount of profit, or the level of efficiency with which the clients were to be served. Instead, a collective greed mentality takes hold where defining such goals takes a back seat to an "as much as possible" mentality. In that kind of environment, it becomes impossible to practice one's chosen profession and place firm boundaries on what one is prepared to give in terms of time and presence. I'll explain what I mean.

When I started in accounting, my responsibilities were very limited. I was expected to work long hours if it was necessary to get the work done, but I was told explicitly what to do, and I was not ultimately held accountable for the results. As long as I did what I was told correctly, I was doing a good job. I was paid $24,000 per year back in 1994. That did not afford me quantity of life by any stretch of the imagination: money was very tight indeed. But in terms of time and emotional and mental presence, except for tax season, I was able to start work at 9 am and leave it behind at 5 pm. Because all my decisions were made for me by my supervisor, there was no real demand placed on my spiritual presence outside work. In other words, once I left the office, I really didn't think much about work.

As I gained 2-3 years of post qualification experience, I became a supervisor and then a manager. My salary went up to $80,000 as a junior manager, and by the time I made partner, I was making $155,000 per year. Now, we are beginning to see quantity of life: I am making more money than is needed to pay for the basic necessities of life. I was in a position to begin adding more and more luxuries to my lifestyle. At $80,000, I would have to pick and choose between a nice car, regularly going out, nice clothes etc. I still didn't really make enough to buy a house unless I was prepared to give up all the extras. But at $155,000 I really didn't have to choose between anything: I could basically have it all - at least within the bounds of what I have come to regard as luxury. However, I was increasingly responsible for not just getting the work done, but was accountable for how it turned out.

As a supervisor, my responsibility was ensuring that my staff turned in a good product for the manager's review. I wasn't yet responsible for the meeting the time budget: that was the manager's job. But I did have to direct the work of my juniors and had to train them as I found mistakes in their work. I had to make decisions for the first time and be responsible for those choices. Soon, I began to reflect on the day on my way home and on my way in to work. As a manager, I was now responsible for scheduling the client work so that it could get done on time, and manage multiple client engagements in such a way that they could all get done with the limited staff we had. If someone booked off sick or had an exam, I had to figure out how to deal with it. I was also responsible for turning in a finished product to the partner within the budget. Now, for the first time in my professional life, my success was no longer just dependent on my own efforts, but those of my staff, over which I had only limited control. This was when I began to experience real stress and I began to actively dwell on work at home during many evenings, much to the dismay of my ex-wife, who frequently complained that I was not present. This was in addition to actually having to roll up my sleeves and step in if something wasn't getting done on time. Many a night, I would take a half finished file home two or three days before the deadline and work until 3am getting it done. This was often necessary when my junior staff simply couldn't handle the responsibility due to their limited experience.

So as I made more money, and had more money to spare, I had less free time, and less free mental and emotional space. I would consider that any time that I spent thinking about work to be the same as actually working. So even though my average work week was 45 hours on the clock, if I factor in the commute, which was an extra 15 hours a week, and the time I spent thinking about work, which was say the first hour after I got home, I was really working a 65 hour week.

By the time I made partner, I was not only responsible for the duties of a manager, since our firm didn't have one, but I was also responsible for managing the overall profitability and growth of the firm.

But what I noticed the most in my past marriage was that the more money we had, the more we spent on the trappings of professional life:

1. Private school for Sequoia,
2. Bi-annual vacations to 5 star resorts and places like Greece, Turkey, Vietnam and London,
3. Complete re-model of the house and a move to a bigger house in the downtown core,
4. Designer furniture,
5. Dinners out several times a week,
6. Brunches out every Sunday.

and the list went on. Yet for all these things, I was not happy, and did not feel that my life had any quality. It felt as if the above trappings were a drug designed to anesthetize the daily pain of living knowing what I really wanted to do but not being able to do it.

Then a series of life changing events occurred that brought everything into sharp focus. In December 2012, just before Christmas, my ex-wife began complaining bitterly about my work schedule and began to pull away. It became clear from her actions that she did not love me anymore, but she didn't know how to deal with it. Devastated, I agreed to move out of the house in mid January 2013. It became clear in the subsequent weeks that there was no saving the marriage. I agreed to give up the house and most of the furniture so that I could keep my Nigerian stamp collection. I walked away from well over $150,000 to avoid a long and grueling battle with my ex. Just two weeks after I moved out, I met Steph at a Craft Beer Lover's meetup. She was actually there as the DD for a friend, as she does not drink at all. We hit it off instantly, talking about James Bond films, the Kinsey Scale and philately.

Over the coming months, as Steph and I dated, I would begin to take an interest in the simple things again. I met her family and found some of the warmest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Steph had a simple upbringing in a small town just outside Toronto. Her family was of modest means, so she simply wasn't accustomed to the trappings I spoke of above. Instead, she took pleasure in simple things like:

1. Going for walks in nature.
2. Road trips - we did one to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia after less than 6 months dating.
3. Making meals together.
4. Watching movies cuddled up on the sofa.
5. Having Sunday dinners with her family.
6. Going to cheap plays.
7. Reading books together.

Thanks to her, I discovered again the pleasures of a simple life, free from all the trappings of professional life, with their accompanying demands.

Am I suggesting by all this that it is folly to be a professional? Not at all! If you can find meaning and fulfillment going to an office for your entire working life, then all the more power to you. For me, it was not sustainable, largely due to my autism because I can't handle having to constantly interact with large numbers of people every day. As a matter of fact, I am indebted to my profession because once I gave up the trappings and started saving my money, I had enough saved up to be able to start my business and  have a year of savings to fall back on. Another thing that being a partner did was it allowed me to develop relationships that I could never have hoped to develop otherwise. Finally, it gave me an excellent grounding in financial concepts, which is essential to the success of a startup business.

So I believe that being a professional is an excellent use of your time when you are young - in your 20's and 30's. But I think by the time you reach your mid 40's, if you have a passion that lies outside your profession, then I believe you owe it to yourself to arrange your affairs to make your dream a reality.

In the next few posts, I will talk about how I did this over the past year.