Friday, February 27, 2015

One Year Anniversary in California: My Favorite Things

I simply cannot believe we’ve been in San Ramon for a year. I have absolutely loved every second of it. I think one of the benefits of moving around so much is that when you get to a really wonderful place, you truly appreciate it. Some of my friends were born and raised in California and I really think they must have no clue just how lucky they are. 

Of course, all this wonderfulness comes at a price, and the cost of living in the Bay Area is just as high as prices in New York City. We are fortunate that Jonathan works for a company with great benefits so that helps us to afford to live here comfortably but without that we would be stretching for sure! 

But you get what you pay for, I guess. In our area we have some of the best schools in the state, some of the lowest crime levels around, parks on every corner, and abounding natural beauty. The weather doesn’t stink either. 
I can’t imagine a more idyllic place to have a baby. After spending Forest’s newborn days in wintery Scotland, I very much appreciate that the weather here is baby friendly year round. And being walking distance to two great parks is priceless with an energetic toddler. 

It’s not all roses and sunshine though. Being far from family stinks no matter where you live. In Aberdeen, most of us were in the same boat so we leaned on each other and invested in good babysitters. Here, we are some of the only ones without grandparents/aunts/uncles/cousins nearby which can just feel hard. When Forest had the flu, Jonathan and I were terrified of catching it. 
If all 3 of us were super sick, what would we do without family nearby to help out? It’s scary to think about. Luckily, through the grace of God and Tamiflu, we stayed healthy through that time but it certainly had us doubting our life choices for a week or so. 
But day to day we feel very blessed to live here. Here is just a list of a few of my favorite things: 

1) Proximity and Location. 
One of the things we enjoy most is how many world class travel destinations are within 100 miles of us. Not only do we have the amenities of San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose at our fingertips, but also Napa/Sonoma, Tahoe, Monterey and Mendocino are all pretty accessible as well. 

We also hit up nearby Livermore when we just feel like heading to a local winery. Usually the drive takes 20-30 minutes and we are picnicking in a beautiful wine country. Not too shabby. 

Plus, loads of people want to visit SF and Napa so we get to see them during their stays. 
2) Hiking. 

Jonathan and I (and Forest) love to hike. We got bit hard by the hiking bug in Scotland and were thrilled that the East Bay area and California in general are full of beautiful trails. We invested in a high quality backpack carrier for Forest and he seems to really enjoy our excursions. 
3) Parks. 
You can’t throw a rock in San Ramon without hitting a park. Each of the Tri-Valley towns have major central-park type green spaces but individual neighborhoods are also chock full of playgrounds. We go at least once a day and it’s super easy since all I have to do is stroll ½ a mile (or less) to get there. Plus, I gotta walk the dog anyway so it kills two birds with one stone as I get to tire both baby boys out in one trip. 
4) Weather. 
The summer gets pretty dang hot and dry here but unlike in the South there is usually some relief. Because it’s essentially a desert climate here, the mornings and evenings are usually cool so we time our outdoor activities for those times. Plus, cool fronts still come through in July or August giving us a few days of respite. Also, it’s not too far to drive into the mountains or to the coast which is usually at least 15 degrees cooler than the valley. 
Hiking in Golden Gate Park in July. I'm wearing a fleece and a scarf.
5)Friends! I have such a great group of mom friends who keep Forest and I entertained during the week. I really lucked out in finding a play group right away for babies born in Fall/Winter of 2013 and it’s been so sweet to watch them growing up together. 
I’m also part of a fun book club and have Forest enrolled in a few extra-curriculars that keep us busy. He is at such a fun age and it’s just great fun to have plenty of friends around his age to share it with. 
Ok, that’s about it I guess, but when your location offers you easy-access travel, hiking, parks, good weather and great friends, what more could you possibly ask for?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Missing Scotland: One Year Gone Today

Today marks a year since we left Scotland and moved to Northern California. I don’t think a year has ever flown by so quickly. I’m sure the pace at which Forest is growing and how busy he keeps us has something to do with that, but it just doesn’t seem like it’s been a year. But Timehop doesn’t lie and one year ago today we were boarding a trans-atlantic flight to San Francisco. 

We’ve really enjoyed our time in Cali so far and I think it was as easy as an international move with a newborn could be. But there are definitely things I miss about Scotland and I’ve added it to the long list of places I feel homesick for. Mainly I miss: 

1)The expat community. Aberdeen was the easiest place to make friends of all of our locations. The community there was so welcoming and helpful and Jonathan and I hit it off with new friends immediately. It was a much slower start meeting people in San Ramon, but after a year we are finally feeling like we have a tiny bit of a social life again. I’ve found some Oilfield mommas who I instantly connected with, but also have met some wonderful women through the Iron Horse Mothers Club and just out and about at the park/music class/etc. 

It was really scary leaving Aberdeen where we had such a cocoon of support around us and our baby, but the move to California wasn’t nearly as difficult as I feared. I know that if we went back to Aberdeen today, the social landscape would be totally different. 
This picture was taken at my baby shower in September 2013 and now only 5 of these ladies still live in Aberdeen. Yikes!
Still, one of my best girls, Jillian, is still there and I can’t believe it’s been over 365 days since I’ve seen her face. Waaaaaaaaaaah! 
I miss hiking groups and bachelor nights and mahjong and my book club girls too. When we left Aberdeen I was still sort of coming out of my ‘I just had a baby’ hibernation, so I kind of feel like the last 3-4 months in Aberdeen were a blur and I wish I could have had more presence of mind to really take it all in and hug everyone a bit tighter and maybe play one more game of mahjong. 

2) Tea. I miss going into any store and having a great selection of tea to choose from. I’m sure I could find a motherload in San Francisco but we just don’t make it into the city much and when we do, tracking down tea isn’t the top priority. I miss the assumption that every member of the population drinks tea and therefore you can find good quality stuff everywhere you go. 

3)The light. I was going to say the landscape but I find the East Bay to be actually pretty competitive with Scotland in terms of beauty. But what makes Scotland so unique is its northern location which just makes the sun and sky seem almost surreal in its beauty. 
I also miss the changing weather sometimes, just to watch the rain rolling in over the hills followed just as quickly by brilliant sunshine and more rainbows than you can count. It’s just magical. 


I know, I know, Northern Cali is dotted with redwood forests and yes they are pretty impressive but the ones we’ve been to just don’t compare with the tranquility found in the forests of in northeastern Scotland. While visiting Fort Bragg we were able to scope out some more isolated trails which were reminiscent of our hikes in Scotland, but for the most part we just don’t have that sort of easy access like we did in Aberdeen. 
Yesterday at Starbucks I struck up a conversation with the barista about Forest and she remarked that he had an unusual name and asked if there were any significance behind it. When I told her we named him mostly for the forests in Northeast Scotland she exclaimed ‘I studied in Aberdeen, and yes the forests there are so beautiful!’. 
5)The air. Ah the fresh air in Scotland. It’s so crisp and clean and invigorating. Imagine the most delicious, refreshing water you’ve ever had and that is what every breath you breathe feels like in Scotland. I swear it is more energizing then the best cuppa tea in the world.
Ok folks, later I will gush all about what we’ve grown to love here in Cali over the past year but that is quite a long list so I will save it for another day. Cheers!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Photo Challenge: White Balance

Hiya folks. Still haven’t gotten around to taking my camera to the doctor but have it on the agenda for today. Hopefully they will get the focus issue sorted asap. Still, my 50 mm seems to be the least affected so I took some time to experiment with white balance over the weekend.  You can shoot in manual with your white balance on Auto which is what I’ve done up til now. On the blog series I’m working through, 31 days to a better photo, the author works through each of the different white balance settings and how they can help bring out or help mute different colors in your photo depending on which sort of lighting you’re shooting in. 

So there is Auto which allows your camera to be the judge for which white balance you need. 
See the slight fuzziness of this photo? Gotta get this fixed!
There is incandescent which is for shooting indoors under regular light bulbs. This setting helps to cool down the yellow tones that can be present when shooting in artificial light. 

There is Flourescent which adds warm tones to the usual cool colors present when shooting in fluorescent lighting. 
There is a Direct Sunlight setting which can add a few more red tones to balance out the greens that are usually pretty vibrant when shooting in full sun. 
There is Flash which tries to add warmth to balance out the cooler blue colors that come when shooting with a flash. 
There is also a Cloudy white balance setting which adds in yellows and reds to warm up a photo in low sunlight. To me cloudy and flash look pretty similar.
The Shade white balance setting is also similar in adding warmth to lower lighting situations. 

You can also create a custom white balance which the blog series walks you through. This allows you to set the perfect balance for whatever light you are shooting in. Setting custom WB requires some additional equipment (expodisk) which I don’t own at this point, but now that I understand how important white balance is in capturing the colors and tone that you want, I will surely be investing in learning to create custom WB for certain settings. Check out My3boybarian’s post on setting custom white balance for pretty straight forward instructions. 

Here are just a few more sh.ots I took for fun while experimenting with different white balance settings. 
Shade WB setting

Fluorescent WB

Fluorescent WB

Flash WB

Flash WB

Flash WB

Auto WB

Auto WB

Auto WB

I'll hopefully get my camera fixed up soon so I can keep on learning stuff. I'm having so much fun!