Treasures from Ladysmith

In March I found a dresser that checked all the boxes for a killer UsedVic deal. Terrible, poorly-lit photograph that didn't show what the item looked like; ungrammatical copy; located up island in Ladysmith. The dresser itself was a teak 9-drawer midcentury modern piece with wooden drawer pulls and those conical legs that are so hip right now. I talked the seller down a bit on the price, and drove there on a Saturday afternoon to pick it up.

In the ad it said "Easy to paint to match your decor." I was, therefore, expecting to refinish it. A 7-year-old child answered the door in Ladysmith, and ran to get her mom. The mom, coughing violently, led me to the guest suite under the house. "We're moving," she said. "The tenants already left, so we're storing a lot of stuff down here. You might have to move some of it out of the way."

She unlocked the door and let me in first. The suite had a bit of a smell to it. Almost like… livestock? After a few minutes it came to me – the mouse cages at PetSmart. It smelled exactly like that. I began stacking dining room chairs on top of each other so I could get past them to where the dresser was. The woman watched without moving. Finally I uncovered the dresser, and got to see just how bad the damage was.

There were actual mouse droppings on the top, possibly bird droppings as well. A child with felt pens had drawn a couple of flowers, and someone had dropped a red-hot nail on the corner, leaving a deep burn. Beside the nail burn was a mysterious, dark, splotchy stain.

For all that, the drawers moved smoothly and the veneer was in decent condition. The price was starting to seem a little high for the amount of work I had to do, though. I tried to talk her down a little more.

"It's easy enough to paint," she said. God save me from people who think it's okay to paint over gorgeous teak veneer. "If it's not for you, it's not for you. It's all good." She started to turn for the door.

I groaned internally – I didn't want to drive back from Ladysmith with an empty car. "No, no. I want it. Can you help me lift it out of here?"

"I hurt my back, I can't lift."

Okay. I started removing drawers and carried them out to the car first. With all the drawers out, she was willing to help lift the cabinet. With the seats down and the passenger seat pushed all the way forward, I was able to stuff the 6-foot length of it almost all the way into my hatchback. The hatch came short of closing by only about 6 inches. I loaded the drawers in around it and used two bungees to hold the dresser down, and two more to secure the hatch.

Everything fits!

"You really know what you're doing!" the woman exclaimed.

"Sure," I said agreeably. That's not true, but I'll take praise when I can get it. I paid her and headed home. In Mill Bay I paused at the start of a cloudburst to cover the end of the dresser with a tarp, waited out the worst of the rain, and continued home.

The dresser stood in the basement for about a week before I got a chance to really look at it. 9 drawers, they all need to be stripped and refinished. The top would take a lot of sanding. But most annoyingly, the drawer pulls and feet were painted brown… and there was no way to know what was under that paint. Oh well. I set to stripping.

The first coat of stripper.

After a week or so of using half of my lunch break to apply toxic chemicals, scrape them off, and sand vigorously, most of the damage was off. The felt pen and animal droppings came off easy enough – the nail burn I gave up on – the weird dark splotch yielded to sanding. The paint was covering blond beech, which took tung oil beautifully and added an elegant contrast to the expanse of dark teak.

The drawers, sanded but unfinished. The paint came off the handles easily.

The following week was busy. There were hikes that needed hiking, and a weekend trip to Saltspring to meet some baby goats on Easter.

Enolla, a very nice goat.
Enolla, a very nice goat.

When I got back to it, there was another week of lunch breaks where I applied tung oil and sanded some more. This thing has a lot of surface area. The drawer faces cleaned up well, but the top surface was scarred and battered, and needed extra attention.

Finally I put the drawers in, and winced. I thought that the drawer faces were flush with the edge of the cabinet. They were not. They were countersunk about an inch, and the inside surface was not veneered, only painted. I had absolutely ruined the paint job with finish stripper. I hoped that sanding the damage down would be enough and the drawers would cover it, but no. So I scraped off a paint chip and called to find out how much paint would to cost.

At this point, I thought that I was not much of a businessman. There's a limit to how much this type of furniture can sell for – after all, there are other teak dressers for sale, just as nice as this one. So far I've paid almost half of what I could reasonably expect to sell it for to the woman in Ladysmith. I drove out there to get it, I restocked tung oil and finish stripper, I've spent two weeks of lunches working on it, and now I have to buy paint. Maybe I can sell it for $400? $600 would be pushing it.

But I got this far, I was committed to it. I did a good job and put my best work in, because why bother living if you're not going to try a little? It'll be accounted as a learning experience. And it does look very fine.

There was a time when you couldn’t sell high end used furniture outside of Victoria. People from up island would bring the treasures of estate and garage sales to Victoria for consignment or auction. It happens less frequently these days as those who know what they have can sell their goods online via Used.ca or Craigslist for just as much or more than they would make from the shops.

So the shops in Victoria don’t have quite the same cheap supply of goods as they once did. Demand remains strong, with condos rising like mushrooms and a net gain of 25,000 or so in population over the last five years. Danish Modern style is very popular for condos. You can find gorgeous pieces that have a relatively small footprint and handle stairs and elevators well.

This presents an opportunity to go to the source – Denmark itself. Although the 1960’s are over and no longer producing vintage stuff, the bulk of what remains is still in Denmark, in old people’s houses.

I've bought my plane ticket for the trip to Denmark in July, booked my container, figured out taxes and insurance, and I'm hoping with all my fingers crossed that I can find enough stuff in decent condition to satisfy Victoria's appetite, as well as Victoria's price ranges. 

The furniture restoration business is fun, but maybe not lucrative enough to justify the trouble, at least for me. The importing business, however, could work out. Stay tuned to see what I get up to next.

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Stuffing Large Things Into Small Cars

I've been busy since the last time I checked in. Of my ten ideas for growing the business, I've tried two. Instead of turning my car in for a van, I got a tow hitch installed. And I've tried selling things myself and putting them up for consignment, so I can get a bigger share of the profit. 

When I was in Denmark last year, there were trailers lying around all over the place and most cars had tow hitches. That's how Europeans get away with having such tiny, fuel efficient cars – all of them are expandable by adding a trailer.

Trailers are great, compared to vans or pickup trucks. You can throw any awful thing in them without concern about upholstery or scratching paint. I decided to get one last week when I realized that this table, found in Parksville for an incredible price with matching chairs that didn't even need upholstering, would not fit in my tiny hatchback.

I hit up Kahla for her truck, but she couldn't let me have it that weekend, which is fair enough. I had to come up with something else, and it turns out that you can rent a big covered U-haul trailer for like 20 bucks a day. Compared to the price of renting a truck for the trip up to Parksville – more like $300 – it was an easy choice.

Unfortunately, the trailer hitch guys are hardworking, busy guys who could not drop everything and install my hitch between Thursday when I saw the ad, and Saturday when I could drive up there. I had to wait until the following weekend, and by then the table was sold. Ah! Pain! Suffering! But at least now I have a hitch.

Though I've spent a lot of my life trying to be car-free or at least car-lite, now that I have a reason to own a car, I'm discovering how much more effective it makes me. Even without the hitch, I can deliver awkwardly shaped items to people who live downtown and don't own cars. There's only so much high-end Danish furniture on the island, but there's plenty of cheap drawers and bookshelves, and plenty of people who need them.

Offering free delivery for small items like that has allowed me to flip $20 items and fill in the cashflow gaps while I wait for larger items – like this incredible Frem Røjle table that I refinished – to sell. It's standing on consignment at the Fabulous Find downtown.

Technically I'm down by about $700 at the moment, but I have high hopes for the two dressers that I have in the basement now. One is cheap and small, and I can easily make $40 on it by delivering it. The other is a great big teaky thing that needs refinishing, but it will be a beautiful statement piece once it's done.

I'm sure glad I don't have to make a profit on this yet! But at least this is a cheaper hobby than motorcycles. 

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Ideas for growing

As you may know, I'm working on a side hustle selling Danish furniture. 

I've been "practicing" – buying Danish or midcentury modern style furnishings for cheap up island or online classifieds, running them back to Victoria and/or refinishing, and reselling to local vintage shops. I've yet to make any money, but I'm covering my gas bills at least. There's decent demand this style of furniture here, especially as it tends to be compact and sort of insubstantial, airy – a Danish modern sofa doesn't fill up a small room with a huge, blocky mass.

A Frem Røjle table by Hans Olsen. Beautifully refinished, with tennis balls to keep the feet safe!

It's great for condos, in other words. Have you seen all those towers going up? Once you've put in your down payment, you can't afford new furniture anyway.

I hope to bring a container of stuff from Denmark to Victoria in July, and I'm working on finding my customers for it. July is a long way off though, so I've been thinking about ideas to keep the momentum going while I wait.

A teak bureau with a lock. The light is useful, too bad it's so ugly and broken. It'll sell though.
  1. Get Sylvia to do a lot of upholstery for me. Find other upholsterers and put them all to work.
    • Sylvia bought seven teak chairs off me last week. She reupholsters them in her basement in Fernwood and flips them.
    • Good upholsterers are hard to find in Victoria, I'm told.
  2. Import some new goods. Just a flat instead of a container. Lamps.
    • Expensive! How would I sell them? The used shops I've been working with won't want them.
    • Staging companies, people furnishing offices and airbnbs.
  3. Try to find a big wholesaler near Copenhagen like what Lindsey does. Maybe get more stuff, and faster.
    • Lindsey works at By Design Modern in Vancouver. They import 3 containers per year to their warehouse on Commercial Drive.
    • My guy in Denmark can probably fill up my container, but if I do another run relatively soon, he might not have time to restock.
  4. Sell my car. Get a van. Make it possible to work with bigger stuff, tables and bureaus etc.
    • I really love my car.
    • But, it's just a car. And a van would make this a lot more efficient.
  5. Do runs to the shops in Vancouver.
    • $140 round trip plus gas, so I have to make sure I'm bringing back at least $3-400 profit each time to make it worth the effort.
    • I'll need a van for sure.
  6. Write blog posts about Danish design. I've never been able to focus my writing on anything, but if I can, focusing helps build an audience.
    • I like this idea because it involves something I'm already good at, writing, and it's free, and I don't have to go anywhere.
    • I dislike it for the same reasons; it doesn't challenge me in the areas where I'm still weak, ie. selling stuff.
    • It's a meta-activity. I might generate contacts from my blog but I'll never sell anything.
  7. Get some floor space at Union 22 or the Old Attic and put some stock there.
    • This is actually a good idea. Most difficult part is acquiring some goods and holding onto them for a few days until I can get them to the shops.
  8. Make friends all those people who think they ought to open a new co-working space, and sell them furniture for it.
    • Haven't the faintest idea how I would go about this, except that I know one person who has co-founded a co-working space in the past.
  9. Rent my own shop space. Get the flippers on UsedVic to consign stuff with me.
    • There's probably room for one more shop in Victoria, with all these condos going up.
    • It'll solve the storage problem, anyway.
  10. Go to Monterey and Palm Springs, or just the southern mainland, and hit up their version of UsedVictoria.
    • No idea if stuff is cheaper there – there's probably a few opportunities though.
    • I'll definitely need a van.
Seven teaky chairs with the 1970's all over the seats.
Seven teaky chairs with the 1970's all over the seats.

With a little luck, I'll get five minutes in a row next week to work on one of these ideas. 

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Practicing

Before I gamble a lot of hard-earned money to buy designer furniture, stuff it into a steel box, and ship it from Denmark to Victoria, it wouldn’t hurt to make sure I know the market.

Can I sell this table? This chair? For how much? To whom, in what condition, and how long will it take? You can't run a business without knowing, and you can’t know without doing it.

coffee grinder
It's a coffee grinder!

I want to have my container here in early summer, which leaves some time to learn. And so on a rainy Sunday morning in January, Christina and I spent a day getting educated. Or rather, I got educated, and Christina, who knows everything already, came along for the show.

She met me on the corner outside her house at 8:30am. We went first to the Legion on Gorge Rd. There was a flea market there for 2 bucks entry. We went through the maze in 20 minutes and I found a wooden coffee grinder. Christina said “Cat,” and pointed out a brass cat.

“Cat,” I agreed. We pulled our hoods up and went back to the car. There was a bit of weather that day, so I took the Malahat slow. The conditions were perfect for getting the car into a hydroplane then blowing off the mountain on the next gust of wind. We survived, and drove on toward Chemainus. When we got to Cassidy I said, “Isn’t Chemainus before Nanaimo?” Cassidy is the last town before Nanaimo.

“Oops,” said Christina. The conversation must have been too good. We did a U-turn and headed back.

In Chemainus there’s an antique mall where people rent out floor space to sell their stuff. I found some Pyrex mugs with green polka dots. My phone told me that with the full set, including the punch bowl that comes with them, this design is quite desirable. However, the mugs were selling for seven dollars each, and there was no punch bowl in sight. The seller knew what they had already.

punch mugs with polka dots
I really love the polka dots though.

The thing about Pyrex is that a lot of people are super into it, often the same people who are into Danish modern, and it’s easy to fit a lot in a small hatchback. Also, I kinda really like it myself. I’ve spent more time that I’m comfortable to admit admiring the Pyrex section in Wal-Mart. I was shocked to learn that people collect it.

We poked into one other shop on the high street there, but there was little Danish modern and nothing underpriced.

autumn harvest mixing bowl
This design is Autumn Harvest, circa 1973. People will fight over it if you can find the nesting bowls.

There was a table in Campbell River that I wanted to see, and the owner was going to drive up to Parksville to meet us at 1:00. We still had plenty of time, so we went to the Value Village in Nanaimo. The furniture there was entirely cheap junk, but I found some neat Pyrex as well. Christina pointed out a square blue measuring cup and said it was a neat thing that I could sell. “You sure?” I asked, turning it over.

white mug with measuring stick for scale
The teacher's staffroom mug. They remind me of my childhood.

“Mmhmm,” she said. I didn’t believe her and left it. The following week, when I was trying to sell that day’s finds, she pointed out an identical one in a shop in Victoria. It was selling for triple the price of the one at Value Village. So it goes.

I found some mugs and a bowl I liked and bought them. A few minutes of research on my phone verified that some mugs were worthless, recent, Chinese Wedgwood mugs, not vintage, unique, made in Britain Wedgwood. I left them as well and we continued to Parksville.

generic mug
This is nothing. Absolutely nothing.

We found our sellers hanging out in their truck in a Starbucks parking lot. Christina had been talking shit about the table I wanted to buy all the way here. “It’s ugly,” she said. “In fact, it’s fugly.”

The table was not Danish modern, but a Canadian imitation. It was nowhere close to as elegant as what the masters make, and even though the line it came from had some very collectible pieces in it, this was not one of them. It’s a round end table with a teak top and a vinyl-wrapped column, by RS & Associates of Montreal.

I disagree that it was fugly – however, it wasn’t a statement piece that would make any room come alive. It was just a table. It would fit in somewhere.

A man got out of the truck and took the table out of the backseat. “Did you look up this designer?” he asked. “I’ve seen their tables selling for 3 or 4 thousand online. I even had an offer for $125 for this one last week. Eighty is a real bargain.”

large rs associates table
Some would say it's worth 3k. It's not the one I bought.

“We’ve got some other teak stuff too if you want to look,” called his wife from the front seat. She didn’t get out of the truck, just twisted back between the seats. She showed me a platter – teak, yes, but made in Thailand and nothing interesting about it except the wood.

“So why didn’t you sell the table for $125?” I wondered. I’ve seen the tables he mentioned. They are by the same designer, but they are not the same design.

They answered at the same time, saying a lot of words that included “Victoria” and “long drive”. I couldn’t sort them out.

“How about the Pyrex?” I asked. There were a couple of bowls hiding under her raincoat on the far seat.

friendship pattern pyrex mixing bowl
The Friendship Birds pattern.

“They’re worth forty each, easily,” she said. “This design, the Friendship Birds, is really rare. You want them?”

“Can I have them with the table for eighty?” I asked. I was having a moment of self doubt.

“No way,” she said. “These are really rare. You can sell them for sixty, I bet.”

I squinted at her, but agreed on a price. I don’t know, I liked the birds. Maybe somebody else will too.

That week I restored the table, which involves stripping off the finish with a nasty chemical, sanding, oiling, resanding and reoiling until it was smooth as satin. On Saturday I went around to the shops.

Shirley at Easy Livin’ glanced at a picture of the table on my phone and gave it a hard no. I looked around her shop quickly and saw nothing that looked like my Pyrex.

top of refinished rs associates table

Roshan was keeping the shop at Trig Vintage and told me to come back and talk to Ian, the buyer, tomorrow.

The Fabulous Find is too high end for this table, so I went to Charmaine’s and introduced myself to Charmaine herself for the first time. She agreed to see it and the Pyrex.

Charmaine admired my refinishing job – nice to see that pay off – and agreed on a price for the table. Not much profit for me, but right now I’m just trying stuff. Breaking even is okay.

refinished teak end table by rs associates
I got it so silky smooth.

On Sunday, Christina was free again, so I picked her up and we went back to Trig Vintage. Ian sniffed at the Pyrex and had no interest in the coffee grinder. Roshan was next door looking after the Fabulous Find that day, so we stopped in to say hello and commiserate.

“You could try Country Comfort for the Pyrex,” he said. “I see a lot of that kind of stuff there. And you can send me a picture any time you see something and you’re not sure if it’s worth anything. I worked auctions for 20 years, I know most of it.”

Ian had bummed me out a little, so the encouragement helped. Kahla joined us on the way to Country Comforts, and she and Christina poked around that shop, the one next door, and Charmaine’s across the street while I went through the box of Pyrex with the two women there. The owner liked the coffee grinder well enough to pay me for it. She recommended another shop for the Pyrex, Kay’s Korner in Cook Street Village. Kay wasn’t in that day, so I’ve still got the Pyrex and I’m starting to think, maybe the Pyrex business is not for me.

Next week I try again – instead of working with a hundred dollars, I’m going to try a thousand and see where it gets me.

As we left Cook Street Village Kahla said, “I like this new hobby of yours, Shannon! I’ve never been to any of these places!”

So I broke even and entertained some friends – it’s a good start!

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Burnout?

“I Went Full Nomad and it Almost Broke Me”

I clicked this article cause I relate to the title – I took a remote job and left my home country. Though I wasn’t travelling while I worked, the experience was similar.

This guy asks “So why did going nomad lead to a magnitude 8 burnout?” I was hoping to find out what a “magnitude 8” burnout actually looks like, but I didn’t get it from the article.

I’d just finished a business meeting with a person I consider a role model. After taking a long pause to examine me he simply asked “but seriously, are you ok?”

What made his mentor ask if he was okay? What does low energy mean for this guy? What came between the realization and the recovery?

For me it was burying myself in social media, reading books, and binging pirated TV shows. I had a pattern of beating myself up for not going out and making friends, taking on or finishing projects, or even doing basic tasks like laundry and cooking. When the voice of self-abuse started – usually the moment after my partner left the room, and sometimes even before that – I’d whip out my phone to quieten it. Many days I’d sit at the kitchen table for five or six hours, scrolling feeds and watching shows, waiting for my partner to come home and give me enough motivation to pretend to be human for a while.

I kept thinking, how can I be stressed? All I’m doing is sitting in the kitchen. There’s no stress here. I’m succeeding in my goals, I’m where I want to be.

But I was living in someone else’s house in a country where I had few friends and didn’t speak the language. I had just started a new, remote job which was mentally demanding, and had no one, not even co-workers, to talk to about it.  The man I moved in with was a brand new relationship as well, and we didn’t have time to build a strong foundation before we started piling stuff on top of it. These are like the 5 most stressful things you can do in life, only topped by “death of a parent” or “death of a spouse”.

There was actually one bit in the article that had substance:

The term ‘burn out’ is dangerously misleading. It suggests visible fire and smoke. In reality the Big Bang when you realise the situation you’re in comes much too late. Burning out is like being the proverbial lobster in hot water. As the temperature rises your self-awareness and ability to save yourself erodes.

I stopped stopped doing my two healthiest activities – writing and cycling – except on rare occasions.

I left the relationship, which was healthy, and with an incredibly high-quality human, and went home, though I didn’t want to. Because I couldn’t recognize myself anymore and didn’t know how to get back to myself except by returning to the last place where I felt like a human.

That’s what it looked like for me. It took me way too long to recognize it, and by then it was too late.

“I wasn’t making friends.”

This wasn’t true, I made friends every time I went out, just about. However, I wasn’t very good friends with myself. It sucks to hang out with someone who tells you that you’re awful all the time, and I was hanging out with myself all day. Couldn’t I forgive myself for that?

“I wasn’t taking on or finishing projects.”

My partner and I opened a business together, and it was successful. Even if it hadn’t been successful, it would have been a bloody brilliant try. I made the website and worked on social media. I supported my partner in his heroic efforts. But besides that, I had one very important project – working on learning Danish. That one would take years to finish, but at the beginning I had no business taking on anything else. Couldn’t I forgive myself for that as well?

“I had no one to talk to about it.”

I had one person there who very much wanted to talk to me about it, my partner. I was so afraid of showing him the ugly side of me, but the more I tried to hide it, the more surface area there was to show.

My healthy perspective evaporated in a cloud of self-abuse.

Call this stress, burnout, depression, whatever it is, it’s real, it’s heavy, and it doesn’t go away if you just grit your cheeks, squeeze your ass cheeks together, and wish for it.

I think the guy in the article is trying to sell a book or something, but I don’t think it’s for me. Instead, I’ve found help from counsellors, cognitive behavioural therapy, meditation, and a few books that are less scammy than that one. For me this has gone way beyond “yeah, I feel kinda stressed sometimes” and into “I’ve fucked up my life repeatedly and will continue fucking it up until I get industrial strength help.”

But I’m getting there. If this is what burnout looks like for you too, there is a way a out.

Even though these last couple months have been just about the most painful of my life, I’m getting something out of it. The job, the man, the foreign country, and the new language did not make me depressed. They were pressure on a problem I have, but that problem was in me the whole time, bubbling up at different times in my life, for a month or six here and there.

I’ve left jobs, been fired, ended friendships, and moved house because of it. My emotions get out of control and I make an impulsive choice to damage a relationship. Instead of taking time to calm down and communicate, I panic, thrash, push until minor damage becomes permanent (or at least permanent in my eyes). I’ve done it at least six times that I can think of, but this most recent one was by far the worst.

I swear I am not going to repeat this pattern. I’m getting help. I’m doing the exercises. I’m unfucking myself. I can see it working, and I’m going to succeed. The motivation to not hurt people I love anymore is very, very strong. I’m going to count myself among the people I love as well.

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How long does it take to fill up a shipping container?

Here's a thing you can do.

Danish Modern Design is a style of furnishing and interior design that became a part of pop culture in the 60's. I mostly know it from Mad Men and the waiting rooms of high-end chiropractors. It's popular right now in Victoria and has been for about seven years. It's likewise popular in Denmark, the source.

Danes are bonkers about weird-shaped lamps, stuff made of teak, and interesting chairs. They create them and sell them to each other, then will them to their children, who resell them to other Danes. It's a whole world of fascination that I failed to notice in my life before 2017, because I was living in shared houses with degenerates who couldn't be relied on to keep plastic plates and cups in good condition, let alone fine furnishings (I admit, I was as degenerate as the rest of them). I cultivated non-interest to avoid wanting things I couldn't have.

Teak with the original upholstery

However, in the past year I helped open a Danish vintage and retro furniture store, in Denmark no less. I learned how to identify a Bumling lamp and a Bretoia chair, and god help me, started to appreciate them. When I returned home from Denmark, my first acts were to gift my father a Louis Poulsen lamp that I brought home in my carry-on luggage, and refinish my parents' teak dining room table.

Next I started thinking about a business plan that my partner in Denmark suggested to me. You could fill up a container with stuff for relatively cheap in Denmark, ship it here, ideally have every item sold before it came off the boat, and make a little money and a lot of entertainment. 

This idea gave me a fantastic excuse to go to each store in Victoria that buys and sells Danish modern furnishings, or anything remotely similar. I made friends with the owners, showed them a photo album, and tried to gauge whether they could be customers or not. Here's the catalog I showed them.

Easy Livin' is on Mason Street in an old brick warehouse. The owners are a couple who refinish stuff at home in their basement. Their style is middle-high end and they can sell small dressers, dining room tables in the winter, and some ceiling light fixtures. Cheryl didn't think she could use most of what I showed her, as it's too literally Danish, like traditional farmhouse type stuff, as opposed to Danish modern. Good tips, and she recommended me several other places in Victoria as well as Vancouver.

A teak vanity with mirror, one of the items Cheryl liked.

Trig Vintage is also owned by a retired couple who run the place more as a hobby than as a moneymaker. They have more inventory space than some of the other places I looked at, and a big showroom on Fisgard Street. Their style is lower end and more eclectic than Easy Livin', and more closely matches the style in my photo album. I didn't get to talk to the owners themselves, but their employee Roshan was enthusiastic about my plan. He thought I'd be more successful in Vancouver though. 

The Fabulous Find, further down Fisgard Street, is the most high-end of the lot – the owner, Trena, is younger and almost exclusively interested in brand-name designers and expensive pieces. She had a blue table painted with an extraordinary design that I'd call "unique", except that the shop in Denmark has one just like it in red. Nothing in my catalog got her attention, but she wrote me a list of designers she's interested in and told me to send her any other pictures of stuff I come across, and she'd be happy to give me prices.

Charmaine's, on Fort Street, had the most inventory, most variety, and also the most customers of any of the shops I checked. Unfortunately, the owner was busy the day I went there, and I got two jobs and started working more than full time before I had a chance to talk to her.

Arne Jacobsen "Ant" chairs

I also had a long conversation with the owners of The Old Attic in Saanich. Although most of their stuff is on consignment, not really Danish at all, and they don't buy much stock, they had plenty to share. The owner there gave me a long list of stuff she could move easily, a list that included "decanters", "copper lamps", "weird brass stuff", "records, as many as you can give us", and "mailboxes".

On January 3rd I have an appointment in Vancouver, so I'll probably stay for a couple of days and give the shops there the same treatment. Then the question is – how much is this all going to cost, how much money can I hope to make, and do they balance each other out? It's a simple math problem, but there are a lot of variables.

The Arne Jacobsen "Aegte" chir

For instance, what's the tariff? Here's the schedule of customs tariffs, which is rather detailed. Chairs, for example, are taxed at 9.5%. Lamps and lighting fittings are taxed at 7.5%. Wouldn't it be nice if there was a category for just "used furniture"? But it seems more intricate than that. 

What does a shipping container cost? We priced one at $15,000, shipped, back in March, but I've written to some other companies for quotes. You can apparently buy your own and reuse it if you do this a lot. When you're done, I suppose you could live in it, furniture and all…

And how do you get your stock? If my partner in Denmark is still on board, I can get help with that. He gets his stuff from people who bring it to his premises and sell it to him, from estate sales, and from containerpladsen auctions. Containerpladsen is the dump, in Danish. It's more than just garbage – it's next-level recycling as well. Plastic, metal, compost and paper are separated out. As well, anything that's still useful, like books, bikes, clothing and household items are saved and sold through a little shop located in the center of the dump. Anything valuable is put up for auction on the dump-run website. I love containerpladsen so much I could write a book about them, and maybe I will. But the point is, my Danish guy has got a good eye for craftsmanship and excellent negotiating skills, as well as a 700 sq. meter warehouse for inventory. So it could work.

My dad's Louis Poulsen lamp

I'm not too worried about sharing this killer business idea with you all, because a) ideas are worthless until you put in the work and b) lots of other people are doing this already, which shows that a market does exist. So if you want to try stealing it out from under me, here's the website of the containerplads auction, which is brilliant, and deserves another book: http://www.genbrugsauktion.dk. 

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We Made a Boat

Last night we built a boat. It's a viking burial-at-sea boat, and we're going to use it in the funeral for 2017 on New Year's Eve.

This is a tradition now. It's traditional because I said so, and my friends agreed, and that's how a tradition starts. I think my peers, friends, and people of my generation, with our divorced parents, stepkids, tenuous living conditions and unstable employment, are longing for some traditions.

A job change, housing change or relationship change, though it may be welcome, wanted and long hoped for, can be a huge disruption to your life. It can shatter routines and leave you spinning in circles with no idea what to do next. I and almost all my close friends have gone through one or more of these big changes this year – and last year – and the year before that as well. We just do it, and get on with life as if it was no big deal, but we're all still working through the fallout of things that happened years ago.

Traditions have rules and procedures. The rules and procedures can change, grow, or shrink as needed, but the point is that everyone should know what's expected of them and have a clear path to follow. They bring us together as a community, strengthen and heal us together. And they don't have to be based on holidays that Hallmark invented in the fifties. All that's required is at least one person to keep the ball rolling each year, and a couple others to agree to come push.

The Viking Boat tradition goes like this. Somewhere in the dead week between Christmas and New Year's, we get a pile of cardboard. We meet at someone's house. We make a little boat out of papier-mache. On New Year's Eve, we take it down to the water, put it out to sea, and set it on fire. 

This year the cardboard was bike boxes from North Park. The location was my parent's house. The people there were two old friends, three new friends, my parents, one friend of their's who was there for unrelated reasons, and me. I made each person draw me a picture of what they thought a boat looks like. That way even if the boat doesn't come out quite the way anyone expected, we still get to see their vision. The pictures get burned in the boat as well. 

We painted it with dollar-store acrylic paint and tacked it together with finishing nails my dad found in the garage. It's honestly kinda front-heavy and might not float super good, so we're probably going to build it a little raft.

The Vikings used to burn warriors with all their weapons and wealth around them to go into the next world. I think we're going to burn 2017 with all the things we're ready to let go of. I've got to find something that represents self-pity, excuses and fear. That or a picture of an Oompa Loompa. Anyway, happy new year. Hope it was a good one. 

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The Order Form Controversy

I was impressed with my coworker the other day. At Japan Camera, we sell cameras once in a while, but more often we print out pictures of kids with Santa, family snapshots, calendars and festive mugs. Ben, the boss, shows up for a few hours a day, and Sue is my main coworker. Sue has red hair, the nervous energy of a hamster, and a long DSLR camera that she uses to take amazing pictures of waterfalls and mountains on the weekend. She and I get along well, I think. I like her. But one thing I’ve noticed is she doesn’t listen to me that much. She tends to cut me off in midsentence. On Mondays it doesn’t bother me, on Thursdays it irritates me a little. On Friday, we had a small disagreement. I took a photo of a young Brazilian guy who has been on the road for a while. By the smell, I’d say at least 2 months but not more than 6. He needed a photo for his Canadian visa, but had 10 more countries on his itinerary, so he asked for a digital copy. I took down his info order form. “You don’t need to do that,” Sue called from the backroom. “Do what?” I asked. I’m pretty sure I need to write down his email, she must be talking about something else. “Just write on a scrap of paper, you don’t need a full order form,” she said. “Ok, but I already did… ” I said. Another young guy came in, Chinese and needing a Canadian residency card. He wanted the digital copy as well. I took a scrap out of recycling and asked him to write his email down. He said, “Are you sure you’re going to send me that?” I gave him a pained smile and said, “Yep, I’ll just put it down on an order form so we don’t forget.” I grabbed one. “Don’t do that!” Sue called again. I ignored her and finished what I was doing. After the guy left, I asked, “Could you tell me why it’s so important to use a scrap of random paper instead of an order form?” “You can just tape it to the monitor and do it right away. If you make an order it’ll just get lost.” “That doesn’t make any sense,” I said. I don’t lose orders. “Look, I’ll show you how we do digital prints… ” She called up the picture of the Brazilian guy and started entering the Chinese one’s email address. “If only we had some way of keeping all the information about an order in one place,” I said. “Like, some sort of form, for example.” She ignored me. “Something slightly more professional than scraps of recycling, ” I continued. “You know, you’re told to do something in a certain way – ” She bit off her words and kept working. I pointed to the Brazilian’s picture. “This guy. This email address.” We didn’t talk much for the rest of the day. However, on Saturday morning, Sue flagged me down right away. “Come here,” she said, still ringing up a customer. “Just a second… okay, look at this.” She showed me how you can write a memo next to a line item in the cash register. “Put the email address here. Just get them to write it on a scrap of paper so it’s right, then put it on the receipt. Then they see that we have it, and you can go to the back and email it right away.” I nodded slowly. That was a good alternative to a full order form, I thought – faster as well. “Passport photos are done right away, so you drop whatever else you’re doing and finish the whole thing. Same for the digital copies, because people go straight home to work on their forms. If you put it on that stack,” she indicated a pile of 20 or more waiting orders, “It might get done tonight or tomorrow, and that’s too long. That’s why we don’t write up an order.” I was amazed. Not only that her reasons made sense, but also that she restrained herself from blowing up at me yesterday, even when I saw steam coming out of her ears. She went home, thought about it, came up with the words, and explained it to me calmly. Myself, I was passive aggressive and argumentative. I like to think that self-awareness means that I’m making progress. But anyway, that’s why I was impressed with Sue last week.

(Name used with permission)

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Danish Residency Visas

When I started investigating how to move to Denmark, I gave myself a deadline of 6 months to my date of departure. That’s not because I needed 6 months to get ready, but because that’s how long I thought it would take me to fill out the visa form.

Reading government documents is hard. I can read a novel for hours, but I’ll spend 2 minutes reading the first page of a form over and over again, without comprehension, before I give up out of exhaustion.

I’m writing this out because getting all this information was a huge struggle for me, and I hope someone else can benefit from it.

Working Holiday

I succeeded in applying for the simplest Danish visa you can get. That’s the working holiday. You can have that one if you’re under 35 and can prove you have at least $3500 in your bank account to support yourself during your first months in Denmark. You have to present yourself in person at the Danish/Norwegian embassy in Vancouver and pay around $700 in fees.

The visa application isn’t a simple PDF form. It’s an “internet portal” with a series of webforms that you have to fill out and can save for later, although the saving function is dodgy. You need to have scans of your documents, such as passport, travel insurance, and bank statements, to submit to the form.

With that visa, you can work for 6 months, study for 6 months, and stay for a year total. You can take Danish lessons for free, and they give you a social security number and health insurance card when you arrive. In your first week, you are supposed to report to the commune, basically city hall, and that’s when they sign you up for Danish lessons and the health card.

The health insurance card has the address and telephone number of your personal doctor written on it, and you can make an appointment to see them using their website. You don’t have to pay anything. You do have to have travel health insurance from your own country, though, to meet the visa requirements.

This is the visa that’s simple enough for teenage stoners who want to be baristas in Christiania and get high for a year. If you want to stay longer than that, you need an AR-1 or an FA-1.

AR-1

This is a residency permit you can get if you have a job. It’s good for one year and you can reapply. All you need to apply for it is a signed contract with your employer, stating the details of your employment, including date of hire, length of contract (or whether it’s a permanent job), any other benefits they offer like maternity leave, holiday, company car, etc.

Danish employers don’t need to pay a fee to import you or anything, and there is a JobCenter in each municipality where there are people who are supposed to help you get hired. They’re not much smarter than job center employees anywhere else, but they can help you write a resume, point you to some job boards and sometimes they have hiring fairs.

I applied to ten or twenty jobs and wasn’t hired, so my information is not necessarily the best in this area. But the key things I learned are that 1) if it’s a low skill or “easy” job, generally a Dane will be hired for it because Danes are kind of racist and they all have nephews who need jobs. This is the same everywhere on earth, of course.

However, if you are an engineer, they want you. Electrical, chemical engineers, manufacturing, mechanical, and software engineers are so hot that they’re the subjects of national advertising campaigns. This is true everywhere on earth as well.

If you can’t manage to be an engineer, try being a programmer. Stick to C#, C++, C, and Assembly, and you might get somewhere. Tradesmen are mostly not wanted, but medical techs are.

There are huge employers like Maersk, Danfoss and Lego, and they do hire a lot of people. But if send your application to one of these no one will ever see it. Try finding a company making weird little microcontrollers tucked away in an office park somewhere. You might have better luck there.

In my case, I’m a programmer but I can’t seem to convince employers that I can learn C# on the job. I had a remote job with an American company, and I wasn’t sure whether the immigration people would buy that. However, if you read page 16 of the AR-1 form, you’ll see this section: “16.C Information about the applicant’s salary when seconded to Denmark by a foreign-based company “. 

It seems to imply that your company is requiring you to live in Denmark, which is not the case for remote work. But nothing specific in that section rules out remote work.

It took me many months to gain this information, because I read the forms several times without actually taking the information in. I’m not sure what went wrong with my brain, but I’m back in Canada kicking myself for it.

FA-1

If you can’t get hired but you have a lover that you don’t want to leave, you can use the FA-1 form, which is for Family Reunification. Here are the requirements for that: https://www.nyidanmark.dk/en-GB/You-want-to-apply/Family/Family-reunification/Spouse-or-cohabiting-partner

When you drill down into that list, you’ll find that the requirements are quite lax. For example, you have to have a stronger attachment to Denmark than any other country. This means that you cannot have spent more than 6 months in a country besides Denmark in the past year. So if you spent a year on a working holiday visa, you meet that requirement. If you lived with your partner for that year, you could, for example, take an education for 6 months until you’ve cohabited for 18 months, and you’ll meet the cohabitation requirement. Protip – if your Danish lover asks you to marry him, don’t stall him with bullshit about how “marriage is a social construct” while you try to squint through a crystal ball into the future. Just say yes.

You also have to pass a Danish language test. It’s the A1 test, which is the easiest level they have. Relevant to me personally, “If you are blind, deaf or have some other form of disability that prevents you from taking the exam, you might not need to take the exam.” I’m deaf, and being deaf sure does make it difficult to pass an oral language exam.

The toughest part of this visa is that your Danish partner needs to put up 50,000kr in escrow with the municipality, in case you need social services while you’re there. You can have the money back eventually.

If you can pull it off, I think this is a great way to go. Danes are always travelling the world since they take 6 weeks of vacation every year, and they always spend it outside of Denmark because every other place on earth is cheaper. So you tend to run into them on beaches, hiking trails and in tourist bars, and they’re very easy to fall in love with. Just follow one home.

Good luck – Denmark is a strange place, but it will capture your heart.

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Some books I read this year

I worked remotely this year. It’s interesting. The flexible schedule and workspace is great, but the lack of interaction with your co-workers leaves you questioning yourself and your sanity.

Communication has to be very proactive – you can’t wait for someone to check if you’re having trouble or need something to do, you have to go ask for it. I think this skill is some kind of dark art, and I haven’t gotten it yet.

Most of my non-fiction reading was about “soft skills”. The little things that ease friction between humans and help us enjoy each other more. I always feel that I’m deficient in those skills, so I look for books that might have answers. These are books that had answers – maybe not complete answers, but they brought me a little closer to being human.

Negotiating the Non-Negotiable, Dan Shapiro

Dan Shapiro gets world leaders and diplomats into a room together and makes them play games about peacemaking. You’d think those people would already be good at negotiating as it’s the centre of their jobs, but he still catches them off guard fairly often. He helped peace talks in Ireland and Bosnia in the 90’s, among other things.

His idea is that intractable disagreements come up when people’s identity feels attacked. Swallowing your pride, shaking hands and signing an agreement may be the logical thing to do, but logic isn’t the only master that humans answer to. If you read my previous posts, you’ll see one about identity that I did as an exercise after reading this book.

If you have to give up part of your identity to make peace, you may decide that peace isn’t worth it. By extension, if you can figure out how you’re threatening someone’s values with your seemingly reasonable proposition, you can better understand why they won’t accept it, and maybe find a compromise.

Works Well With Others, Ross McCammon

Ross McCammon is a senior editor at Esquire magazine. His job, aside from editing, is to schmooze and make the right moves in high-stakes social situations.

This book is about all the ways he’s failed to do that in the last ten years. It starts out as practical advice for when you’ve gotten a job you’re not qualified for and have to fit in with people who seem very, very cool, when you are very, very uncool.

Have you ever felt crippled by self-consciousness when deciding what to order during a business lunch? You shouldn’t, because the lunch is for focussing on the person that you’re with. But here’s some guidelines for getting past the mechanical aspects of picking your food, talking to the waiter and reaching for the bill as smoothly as possible so that you can pay attention to what matters. Also, what should you say when you interview Rihanna? Also a good question. In this case, asking about the house she grew up in as a child got her talking.

The advice gets less practical and more funny as the book goes on. I loved the part where Ross talks about a bench in Central Park where he used to hide after turning in an assignment. He had a thought in the back of his mind, “They can’t fire me for it if they can’t find me.”

After ten years, he doesn’t need the bench as much, but still goes back sometimes to remember what it was like.

The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer

Amanda Palmer reminds me of the reason I haven’t written as much this year. Art only works when you’re being really, really honest. As soon as you try to hide yourself, creativity dries up.

Amanda stands on a box wearing a baroque wedding gown and holds a flower out to passersby, and only moves if someone puts money in her hat. It’s the most vulnerable thing she can do – stand in public and beg, with her whole being, “please notice me”.

Rocketships.ca is my email address and goes on every resume I send out. I don’t know how many employers get around to reading my blog. It’s gotten me a couple of interviews, but how many have I scared off? I want to write the really raw, horrifyingly funny stuff, but not end up unemployed because of it. But I know if this blog is ever going to be anything but a minor hobby that a few friends read, I’m going to have to go deep like Amanda does.

The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman

My mom read this book when I was a small kid and has been telling me to check it out ever since. I finally felt the need for it after tearfully explaining to my therapist that I couldn’t figure out how to tell my partner how much I loved him, or get him to believe me when I tried. It’s a book that found me when I was ready to listen.

My love language is Quality Time. The others are Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, Receiving Gifts, and Acts of Service. I have a feeling that the guy is right, and if you can figure out what your partner’s language is, you’ll have a better time.

Boss Life: Surviving My Own Small Business, Paul Downs

Paul Downs makes custom, specialized conference tables in Pennsylvania. Most of his customers find him on Google, and everything they sell is produced in a huge warehouse by a dozen or so woodworkers.

They do beautiful work and fully occupy their market niche. There’s plenty of demand for what they make – so why do they lose money? In 2011, Downs kept a month by month account of what happened.

He fixed their sales process so they’d stop leaking customers. He demoted a shop foreman who had served, resentfully, for over 20 years, and promoted a less experienced guy who wanted the job and cared enough to do it well. He went to the Middle East to look for customers, but found that there were plenty of customers right at home – after he caught and fixed a Google adwords bug that was putting his ads in front of the wrong eyeballs. At the end of the year, he finished with just enough cash to stay in business – he didn’t get to collect a salary, he only paid himself back for loans he’d put into the business.

It’s a story that will put you off the idea of starting your own business, for sure, unless you happen to have the kind of mind that hears about these problems and thinks, “oh, that sounds fun!” I took lots of notes.

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