Last year I sort of stumbled onto what has now become one of my very favorite holiday traditions - the Niles Cnyon Train of Lights. It is this beautiful old train that has been restored and is decorated every Christmas season with hundreds of garlands, wreaths, and vintage decor, then set aglow with thousands of twinkle lights, both inside and outside the train. Actually, the train is made up of cars from many different eras. The one we were on was from the 1920s. The oldest car I saw was an open black car, smaller than any of the others, that had a plaque saying it was from the 1830s.
Last year I raved about the train so much that this year we were lucky enough to have three other sets of friends convinced to come along. The Mendas, Fischlis and Schaders all joined us, which was so much fun. We had to communicate beforehand to make sure we got our tickets though, because they literally sell out within a day or two of going on sale. We had other friends who waited a week and then there weren't any days available. It was fun catching up with everybody since they are all in San Jose and we don't get to see them often enough, but it was also fun having friends to explore with and be cheesy with when we wanted to try singing carols (next year we need a couple more families, then I think we will have enough to convince and entire traincar of folks to join in with us). And the girls loved having other kids to play with. Clara was delighted to be reunited with her old toddler time and nursery buddies and I was thrilled to get to hold the new babies, Kai and Eliza. We actually even got a pretty good group shot of everybody without blocking two many faces.
The Mendas - Paul has known Ryan since 2nd grade and Nikki since 6th (I think?) and set them up in high school, which I think they denied for years until Paul found proof in a yearbook signature where one of them mentioned it. Paul was a groomsman at their wedding and now they are the parents of two of the most adorable little kiddos ever.
The Schaders - Lisa was my visiting teaching companion for a couple of years in San Jose and Blake is only a few months older than Clara. Their boys are train-obsessed, so this was the perfect outing for them.
The Fischlis - our former neighbors who lived round the corner and were remodeling at the same time as us. We miss babysitting swapping with them!
And the girls and I were especially glad that Paul could join us this year. Last year because I didn't find out about the train until it was almost too late, the only tickets I could get were for a Friday afternoon and Paul wasn't able to get off work. This year we made sure to book as soon as tickets went on sale (like I literally sat at my computer and clicked refreshed on the day and hour I knew in advance they would be up for grabs, which is apparently how lots of people get them). That's how we got to do the 4:30 p.m. Saturday train. There is also a 7 p.m. train but that's too late for our girls, and besides, you don't get to see as much of the canyon once it gets full dark.
Once we nabbed seats, we went exploring through the food car and the open air cars, all the way to the first-class car (that we can't go into because the tickets are more expensive and seats are reserved as opposed to general seating like we get. It's nice to get there about 45 minutes before departure so that there is lots of time for this before the train gets too crowded and starts moving.
And I hopped off for a bit to take some pictures of the beautiful old cars.
The car below is the one I mentioned earlier that had a plaque saying it was from 1830. It is just outfitted with a few benches for passengers who dress warmly and bring blankets and want to sit out in the cold.
Once the train got moving we went back to our seats and pulled out snacks. I made some pretty excellent chocolate peppermint cookies with a recipe I just found this year. Here is the link if you want to try them. The girls didn't sit in their seats much and we decided that next year we should go for a car at either end of the train instead of the one right next to the food car because that way there will be less foot traffic in the narrow aisles for the kids to impeded, but everybody was pretty understanding about it (since the train was basically all families anyway).
I wish I had more shots of the train going around curves and across bridges, because we loved those parts, but this is one of the only pictures I have from when we went outside to enjoy the fresh (brisk) air and ooh and ahh over the exterior lights that you could see down the length of the train as it went around turns. It's a great tradition and we are looking forward to going again next year.
We did a FHE where we drove around to see some of the local Christmas light displays. One that gets a lot of attention is in Pleasanton and the family who does it opens up their front and back yards for people to walk through. There are tons and tons of lights but they also set up displays with collections of trains, toys, and Christmas scenes. It's pretty nuts but it made me really want to get a bunch of k'nex to play with (do you remember those? the roller coaster and giant ferris wheel made from them kept Clara entranced and we had to pull her away eventually).
But I also loved that next door to Widmer's World their neighbors had this simple nativity set up on their lawn. I love the vintage glowiness of these figures almost as much as the reminder they are of the meaning of Christmas.