After the optimism of last year’s summary, the dominant theme of this year was disillusionment and stress.
Start with the good
There were two resoundingly positive events in 2016: a blissful week on a beach on the Peloponnesus, and moving house to Melissochori.
The beach holiday hung off the side of a festival organised by friends of ours in Patras. They had already spent a couple of weeks free-camping on a beach, and after the festival we joined them for a few short days. We had the beach almost entirely to ourselves, and spent a good deal of the time naked. The boys had a wonderful time (Yannos ate a lot of sand), and I had the spectacular experience of seeing a sea turtle laying her eggs in the sand. (From the second day we saw turtle tracks every morning, and on the last night before we left we took turns walking the beach looking for movement: at three in the morning we took our patrol a bit further along the beach and got lucky.)
In August we packed up in Sykies and moved to Melissochori, slightly North of Thessaloniki. So far the move has been extremely good for us: we see trees instead of cement out our windows, we have a tiny back yard with grass for the boys to play in, and (most importantly) we’re just down the road from some dear friends who we hardly saw when we lived in Sykies. Even better, when Manu starts preschool next September he’ll be taught by those same friends: no matter what else happens, we’ll do our best to stay here until Manu and Yannos move on from their classroom.
On the positive theme, the boys are growing and becoming more capable. Just yesterday we discovered that Manu (3.5) is a natural talent at bumper cars; Yannos has started talking; and every now and then they play together happily without needing our intervention to keep the peace, which is a delight to see.
The less good: the saga of the internet
There is one teeny tiny difficulty with the house we’re renting in Melissochori: it has no internet, and no immediate chance of getting it. This came as something of a surprise to us, since we had done our due diligence before moving in: the owner’s internet speed was not great but would allow me to work, and we had made an application with the phone company to move our account to the new address. There were various complications: the package we had in Sykies was unavailable in Melissochori (VDSL hasn’t arrived there yet), then there was a gap of a few weeks because the company’s record-keeping system was not updated when the administrative regions of Thessaloniki were adjusted recently, which meant our application spent some time being ignored in a completely different village before somebody noticed the mistake. But eventually we got the message: your application has been received, now you just need to wait and at some point a technician will call you to make an appointment for the installation. So we waited… and waited… and waited. (In the meantime I worked from the living-room of those convenient friends just around the corner.) After some weeks of waiting (with the occasional gentle enquiry, met with a shrug and an admonition to patience), we happened to mention the situation to a neighbour, who looked at us in shock: why on earth hadn’t we kept the owner’s phone line? Didn’t we realise that there were no lines available at all in this area?
Further inquiries with OTE, somewhat less gentle, turned up the true situation: because of a lack of network capacity, for the particular street we are renting on there are no new phone lines to be had. (In the meantime the owner’s previous line had been returned and reassigned, of course.) One of our two adjacent neighbours has been waiting more than a year for a phone line.
So for now, I’m working using internet shared from the neighbour who does have internet, and occasionally from our friends’ living-room when I need a more reliable download speed. This is somewhat workable but intensely frustrating, so it looks like we’ll probably end up paying extra for a satellite dish. Besides the annoyance, I’m still absolutely flabbergasted that with all our earlier inquiries, nobody at OTE was willing to tell us the situation until we pressed for it: they would have perfectly happily left us waiting for the technician forever. (I somehow hope this means someone at OTE is ashamed of the situation, but realistically I doubt it.)
More less good: taxes
Another unexpected blow landed just as our idyllic beach holiday was ended: under the new tax laws we’re shifting to paying our income tax in advance, meaning that just this once we paid a double dose: all of 2016’s tax plus a 75% advance on 2017’s. In theory we’re not paying more tax: when we exit the year-in-advance system (either because the law changes or because we reach pension age) we’ll get a rebate and everything will balance out. And if you believe that I’ve got a bridge you might be interested in buying. In the meantime our savings dropped by 20% or so, and are actually lower than they were three years ago (“saving: you’re doing it wrong”).
Even more less good: health scares and babysitting
Just to keep us on our toes, this year Olga’s mum had a health scare (which came to nothing immediately life-threatening, to everyone’s great relief) which has left her unable to help much with the boys (especially now we’ve moved: Melissochori is much less accessible from Katerini than Sykies was). We have to be very careful that Manu doesn’t bring her any respiratory illnesses from his kindergarten, which has made the winter holiday season much less comfortable than we’re used to: we had to cut short the Christmas Katerini visit, and we’re keeping him home now so we can be sure he doesn’t pick anything else up before our next attempt.
More generally, between my work, Olga’s work, and the ages that Manu and Yannos have reached, we’re finding it very difficult to take time for ourselves. I read rather a lot last year, but it’s all snatched in the cracks and corners around other things: in the last few minutes before falling asleep, or on my phone while waiting for my coffee to boil, or whatever: time that isn’ very useful for anything more structured, such as music practise, writing, or similar. Presumably as the boys get bigger we’ll pass out of this phase, but for the moment it’s a bit of a trial.
Of the three optimistic work-related headings of last year, two have fallen through. EP left Minddistrict mid-year: we still hang out, but for the moment I’m the lone iOS developer at work. (Ahem. We’re hiring.) And we’re stopping holacracy, which leaves me intensely conflicted: on the one hand I still have an idealistic vision of what it could offer, while on the other hand the half-hearted implementation we managed clearly wasn’t doing what it was designed to do. I had a lot emotionally invested in the system, and seeing it fail has made me very unhappy at times during the year. I haven’t learned my lesson at all though: I’m now scrum master for the team I work in, and I’m pouring my idealism into that instead. (Unlike with holacracy, we seem to be seeing immediate tangible benefits, and the effort seems to be appreciated by the organisation as a whole. In one sense I have, after all, learned a lesson: I’m more cautious about forecasting Great Things Coming Real Soon Now.)
My predictions about GTD and meditation got caught up in the slow holacracy crash. The few months I spent GTDing were wonderful, but I fell off the weekly-review wagon and haven’t managed to get back on yet: without that regular review the whole system doesn’t function at all. I do intend to give it another try, but we know about good intentions don’t we?
Thankfully, at least one aspect of my work has stayed completely positive: working with Swift is a joy, and I’ve made enormous progress as an iOS dev in the last year. My next major challenge is to learn what I can from the open-sourcing of the Kickstarter app: I have a hunch that their techniques might let me take another major leap forward in the not-too-distant future.
What I worried about
Holacracy. The rise of fascism. Manu’s tantrums and my own temper.
Last year’s plans
Nope nope nope. My budgeting app still isn’t finished, and won’t be any time soon. I drive a little, but take every opportunity to avoid driving any more. I did swap out Wordpress on this blog (but haven’t yet replaced the rest of the site). And as I mentioned above, my GTD broke and I haven’t fixed it yet, and I never started on meditation.
Let’s finish with something positive
Living in the country is wonderful! We can walk around our neighbourhood with the kids and not be constantly herding them on the sidewalk. There’s even a bloke who walks a donkey past our house every week or two, carrying loads of firewood or sacks of grain. We’re looking forward very much to when it warms up, and the boys can start playing outside without having to layer up first.
I’ve picked up an old dream, and started woodcarving. To be precise: I am about 2/3 through my first piece, which I started in the summer, carved from a piece of oak firewood: that, too, is making progress in tiny spurts, in the cracks between other events. (I have to be outside to work on it, which is trickier in winter.) Tiny achievement though it is, this gives me great pleasure.
And some extremely tentative predictions
2017 will bring a visit from my mother, which we look forward to very much. We’ll try to get back to that beach on the Peloponnesus. Manu will start preschool in September. I’m going to pick up GTD again at some point, and I might just end up trying meditation after all, if nothing knocks me flat before I get to it. I’m also thinking about whether I can use the cracks and stolen moments for something more productive than reading: no conclusions yet, but maybe I come up with something. And everything will start getting easier as the boys get just a little bit older.