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Month: October 2022

This is Halloween, this is Halloween

This is Halloween, this is Halloween

I love everything about Halloween. I love the history of Samhain (being pagan-adjacent as I am), I love marking the passing of the seasons, I love the aesthetic (being goth-adjacent as I am), I love the music, the scary tales, I love the costumes and I love Trick-or-Treating – one of the last vestiges of collective neighbourly behaviour. I love that you can enjoy it on so many levels – regardless of your race or religion – and lean into it as much or as little as you’d like to.

We lean in. HARD.

From the first pumpkin spice latte I consume in September to the end of All Souls Day on November 1st, I revel in the creepy, spooky, scary passing of summer into the beginning of winter. October is always full of activities fueled by apple cider and a good dose of the macabre.

Since in Canada Thanksgiving is the second weekend in October, we have been doing short road trips since the pandemic. In 2020 we quarantined and rented a cottage with friends in order to enjoy the last light of summer near a lake. We had lovely bonfires outside, a wood stove inside, and while Mr. Tucker made a Thanksgiving meal, we all played games inside the largest cottage. It was one of those weekends that just comes together perfectly. There were walks in the autumn leaves, I read a book by the lake and the kids just ran around being kids. The pandemic was in full swing at that point and it was good to just pretend that things were normal, even for a few days.

2020 was also the year that we started our 13 Days of Halloween Movies ritual, which we’ve continued until this day. During the month of October we watch 13 Halloween movies – new and old – and the kids give mini reviews which I share on a private Instagram that only has friends I know. My friends have told me that they get a kick out of what the kids say and my hope is that the kids can look back and have a laugh at how they felt about the various movies at the time. We couldn’t Trick-or-Treat in 2020 so instead we bought the kids each a box of candy started new rituals.

In 2021 with vaccines in our arms but still cautious, we ended up buying seasons passes to Canada’s Wonderland in Toronto. We bought them with the friends we traveled to the cottage with the year before because they were good for 1.5 years. That year we went to the Halloween Haunt for a couple of days where we bought the kids Fast Lane passes and set them free to do what they wanted (masked, of course). So again, for a few short hours they could just be kids again. Back at home, we had them over for dinner on the Monday where we ate, drank, and played games again. It was a great weekend.

2021 was also the year we took the kids to a local orchard who does a series of haunted houses and a haunted wagon ride. It was a bit of a hike outside the city and I was unsure if they would enjoy it but they LOVED IT. I was incredibly impressed by the set-up that had everything from the terrifying (jump scares in the houses) to the thematic but unscary (a Ghostbusters-themed car) so really everyone could enjoy it. We still did our 13 Days of Halloween Movies and went to a local pumpkin patch so that we could pick-and-choose our own pumpkins to carve so that was a fun thing we could bring back again. They also did end up Trick-or-Treating last year which gave them back a little bit of normalcy.

Of course now in 2022 we have almost gotten back to normal but we’ve kept all the little rituals: we went to the Halloween Haunt for Thanksgiving weekend, we did another farm with haunted houses and a spooky wagon ride, we went on a Haunted Walk tour with friends downtown, we carved pumpkins, and we finished our last movie from our 13 Days of Halloween movies last night. Sadly, our friends couldn’t make Thanksgiving dinner because they came down with covid but we had a nice meal at home, just us.

Tonight the kids will go Trick-or-Treating as far as their legs will carry them and as long as people’s pumpkins are out. A neighbour always does this amazing haunted house a few streets over so they won’t want to miss that. Then they will crash after their sugar highs and then groggily get up for school tomorrow.

As for me, I stupidly (smartly?) booked a dentist appointment for tomorrow morning. Other than that, All Saints and All Souls Day are always reflective days for me as I wind down from the chaos of the fall season and transition into the winter one. I generally plan a quiet day of writing, reading, and large cups of tea drunk in front of a fire. This is because I am now looking forward to another favourite time of year: Winter Solstice.

When you’re a saver, it’s hard to be a spender

When you’re a saver, it’s hard to be a spender

We have a lovely older couple who live across the street from us and who have lived in this neighbourhood since the 1970s. Our neighbour, let’s call him Bill, is almost 80 and is the caretaker of his developmentally disabled daughter and his wife, who has dementia. Bill is an absolute treasure and unlike so many people his age, he has a positive outlook on life. One of the things he always says is, “I see every day I am here as a gift!” His life isn’t easy but he is grateful for everything he has and he’s a real inspiration to us youngins’.

Bill doesn’t have a cell phone and will often just pop in for a coffee. Today he dropped in and the conversation turned to how expensive everything is with inflation. He laughed because his last pair of “good” shoes were 30 years old and they had fallen apart. He said that the last time he went to buy shoes they had cost him $29.99 and looking at a recent flyer that came in the mail, it looks like now he’ll have to pay $80 for a similar pair.

He then went on to tell us that he had spent his entire life saving money for a good retirement only to discover he couldn’t spend it. “I have enough for all of us to spend and live comfortably for a long time but there is nothing I want to buy,” he said. Bill lives a really good life, too. He doesn’t deny himself, he takes the odd trip with the family, and spends money to maintain his house and yard (with pool). “My wife used to buy all of my clothes but honestly, I haven’t needed to shop much for clothes for years because they have lasted.” Bill isn’t a miser, either. He often buys my children little gifts like backpacks for school, and flower kits you can grow indoors. He’s just discovered that he doesn’t need – or want – to spend money.

The New York Times recently wrote that research suggests that this is common.“As people age, they report less satisfaction from travel, as well as from new cars, clothes and appliances. The decline is strongest in people who say their health is poor. People who say they’re in excellent health say their enjoyment from travel and leisure is actually greater than it was six years earlier. People in excellent health also report more satisfaction from giving financial support, which goes against the notion that those who expect to live a lot longer are worried about running out of money.” I would also say that after years of saving and learning how to get the things you want on a reduced budget that you just continue this even when you retire. Bill is a retired teacher with a pension, his house is paid off, his car is paid off and he has enough for a really good life for the three of them. So his savings keeps growing while his lifestyle stays similar to what it has always been.

This got me thinking about our own budget. We currently save a huge chunk of our income for our house prepayment, retirement, and our children’s education – not including “planned spending” items like buying a new car every 10 years, which is more “saving to spend.” Our life is a really solid middle class life: roof over our heads, food on the table, bills are paid and there is money for extras. We also have a category for leisure and travel that is well-funded. But I do know from my calculations that once our mortgage is paid off next year, we will be able to easily live off of just the money I bring in.

According to research, we’re also in our peak budget years as the kids are t(w)eens. They will also be here for at least 5-7 years (more if they go to post-secondary in the city). That means our expenses are relatively high. We pay for very pricey activities and save a huge amount towards their RESPs – not to mention the basic costs of feeding and clothing them. We are so used to having this money go to them that when (and if!) they leave home, I wonder if we will feel like Bill. Having everything for a good life already, will we want to spend more?

Despite our current moratorium on air travel, we probably would like to travel a bit more in the future (PLS willing!). I suspect that over time we will find ourselves like the people in the above NYT article: unwilling to travel due to disability. We will also find room in our budget to help the kids as they try and build an adult life for themselves. Still, our coffee with Bill reminded me that having spent a long time saving for the future, we probably will find ourselves in the same position: having enough.

Eating out, value and tipping in a post-lockdown world

Eating out, value and tipping in a post-lockdown world

In the early pandemic restaurants pivoted to curbside take-out and delivery and at least here, they also had the option to sell alcohol which was a first for this province. In appreciation for the risk and to support local businesses people became more patient and tipped as they would have had they eaten-in. When restaurants re-opened they came out in droves, happy to get back to some semblance of a normal life. Patios everywhere were packed.

But all wasn’t well. Customers seemed to demand more from overworked staff who were working harder and longer due to staffing shortages while being burdened with ever-changing pandemic rules. So while the mentality was “back to normal” the reality was anything but. Then on top of this, the war in Ukraine started, inflation exploded as supply chains were strained & central banks responded by raising interest rates and suddenly everything got more expensive. Many restaurants plan to raise their prices by 10% to 15% this year.

We weren’t really comfortable eating out except for a handful of times but for Mr. Tucker’s birthday this year we wanted to try for a nice dinner with my stepson and his girlfriend. So we chose a high-end dining “steak and seafood” restaurant in The Market that had good reviews. Now, I spent 10 years working in restaurants, my stepson is a chef and his girlfriend is a server. Knowing the state of the restaurant business in 2022 we brought with us an incredible amount of patience. Still, we were only one of two tables the server had that evening and “disinterested” is the nicest way I could describe her. She took ½ hour to take our drink order, forgot a bunch of things we ordered, only took half of our dessert orders before walking away and came to our table so seldomly that we had to flag down other servers. The food itself was ok but the tasting menu was incredibly lazy: just smaller portions of things that were on the main menu. All the other staff were lovely, which is why I tipped well knowing that they were getting a cut. Still, I regret not tipping less because the service was so abysmal and I shouldn’t have sent the message that that was an ok way to treat customers. On top of this, the entire restaurant was infested with flies. Not just one or two buzzing around – which is expected for the summer – but throngs of them. It was impossible to keep them off your food.

In the end, the meal for 4 people was almost as much as my monthly grocery bill. Now, we love a good meal and I absolutely don’t mind paying for a fine dining experience. We won’t spend money on fast food but we will absolutely pay hundreds of dollars for an excellent meal with the service to match. As is usual for people who have worked in restaurants, we always overtip as well. But we were all just appalled at how absolutely lazy the entire experience was. Clearly, we will never go back there.

After that experience Mr. Tucker and I sat down and discussed how disappointed we were with the meal. We had eaten out at a few other places this year as well and while they were ok experiences we both agreed that they weren’t really worth the money we spent on them. I absolutely feel for businesses that are struggling with soaring costs and post-pandemic staff shortages but this was just such a terrible night out that we made the decision to stop eating out completely. We just don’t want to spend money to have a mediocre time, let alone a terrible time.

Then, the other evening, friends came over to hang out and catch up. We bought a family Shawarma platter for dinner from our amazing local Shawarma shop and it was $50 for enough to feed 6+ people (fatoush salad, potatoes, rice, hummus, toum/garlic sauce, pickled veg, pitas and you can do chicken, beef or a mixture of both – what a deal!). Of course, being a small local business we always tip around 40% because we feel their food is ridiculously underpriced and the service is always fantastic! Sure, tipping isn’t expected here as it’s a take-out counter, but they are so fantastically kind and the food is all made in-house so we like to show our appreciation.

Across the country, the tipping culture debate is heating up, resulting in articles about tip-flation. During the pandemic people were happy to pay a little extra for people who continued to work and serve people under dangerous conditions but now many people feel stuck like they should continue to overtip even though we are assured everything is “back to normal,” now. Combined with the higher costs of eating out, many people are feeling the sticker shock of post-pandemic dining when the basic tipping options on POS terminals are 15% to 30%. On top of that, provinces like Ontario are ending the disparity between the minimum wages of servers/bartenders and other workers leaving some people to eliminate tipping service staff altogether.

The friends who were over for dinner the other night mentioned that when buying dessert they weren’t even given the option to NOT add a tip to their bill at the bakery. The lowest option was 10% and they were made to feel guilty for asking to have an option to pay without a tip. It begs the question: we all agree that servers should get tipped but outside of that, the rules get murky: should we tip someone 20% for opening a beer and passing us a glass when we have to go get it at the bar? For someone who disinterestedly passes us an already boxed-up cake?

This debate didn’t start with the pandemic and it will rage on for a long time, I think. Some people feel that tipping is a requirement in many cases and some people feel that it’s gotten out of control. Why do we tip hairdressers and not housecleaners? Baristas but not the people who bag our groceries? Others argue that a living wage would solve all of the problems but I’m not so sure. I can see why Europeans are rightly confused when they come here: there aren’t even rules to tipping culture! Of course historically when people complained about tipping the usual answer was to say, “well just don’t eat out then.” But unfortunately, the expectations for tipping have seeped through every industry it seems. In my case at the restaurant, I just couldn’t tip less than 20% because I felt badly for all of the staff who were doing a good job and were getting tipped out from our server. It wasn’t even tied to her horrible service, it was the guilt I felt for an overburdened and struggling industry.

In our post-lockdown world we are all grappling with questions about how things used to be, what things should change and how they should change. It will probably be awhile before we get things sorted. I was saying to Mr. Tucker that our entire trip to Toronto in the spring with friends cost less than the meal we had on his birthday. So, for us choosing not to eat out means we can redirect the money we typically allocate instead to small weekend trips over the next year. Trips we will make as a family and get real value out of. When you put it into that perspective, it only makes sense to treat the entire family to a couple of days away rather than blow it all on one meal (we typically get a hotel room with a kitchenette which makes feeding ourselves more cost effective). I do see a future in which we do eat out again – probably around the same time that we do more distance travel – but for now, we’ll stay out of the restaurants and pay down our mortgage instead.