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Aaron’s 3rd birthday and a lot of trains!

On December 3rd we had a little birthday party to celebrate Aaron’s third birthday, a day after his birthday to make sure our au pair could join us, and so not to have it on the same day MJ returned from an international work trip. I decided to decorate on Friday night so he’d get to enjoy the decorations on his birthday and through the weekend. He currently enjoys the show Gecko’s Garage, so we went with that as his theme, but it appears there isn’t really official merchandise out there for the show, so we had to DIY a bit, and grabbed some laminated custom cake toppers from Etsy.

For his party, both of our former au pairs joined us as well, and we had a nice little gathering, except that poor little Aaron had a cold. He’s usually very social, and quite the trooper when he’s not feeling well, but I think the mix of being so congested, plus people over, and a lot of excitement got to him. He was inconsolable for most of the evening and spent it snuggled close to me.

I managed to get him calmed down for a few minutes to have a few bites of cake.

We also had a break in crying to open presents, during which he got gifts from his current and former au pairs. They all managed to get him presents he absolutely adores, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at how well they know him, given how much time they spent with him!

The weekend after Aaron’s birthday, and last weekend we were in California for the year, we went on a couple train-related adventures.

Saturday morning was spent at The Great Train Show at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton. It was a mix of vendors selling various new and used model trains, accessories, and train-related things, and some working model trains that various clubs throughout the area brought for attendees to admire. My only goal for the show was to get some scented smoke fluid for our little Union Pacific O-scale train. That was satisfied within minutes of walking into the show, as a vendor near the front had some trains that he was allowing kids to control (thank you!) and I returned the favor by skipping the shopping around and just buying the one I wanted from that booth. There are a lot of scents, but I have the root beer one for the Pennsylvania Railroad train that we keep at the townhouse in Philly and everyone seems to like it, so I didn’t see the need to mess with perfection.

We picked up a bunch of BRIO tracks for the boys, and they each got a couple small train-related toys. Since we have two O-scale train sets (one in California and one in Philly) I picked up a Ben Franklin themed Lionel box car that I plan on bringing to Philly, and Aaron picked out a flat car with a bulldozer strapped to it, both were a steal at $10 each. Aaron’s choice ended up being quite amusing, since it goes well with Adam’s choice: a trio of log cars. He saw a few log cars at various vendor booths, but they were all the wrong scale. We got incredibly lucky when we stopped at a booth with a lot of O-scale cars and happened to ask if they had something similar and that’s when he pulled out the 3-car set! When we got home we hooked the three log cars and the bulldozer to the Union Pacific train and suddenly we’re ready to do some logging in the woods!

I also picked up a little Maine-themed box car, along with a Jewish-themed Mogen David Wine car, which I joked would REALLY make our train a Hanukkah train.

Adam had a ton of fun. MJ whisked him off to visit the model train layouts and with camera in hand, he was able to take a whole bunch of pictures of little trains and scenes.

Aaron struggled a bit because he’s a three year old surrounded by “toys” that he wasn’t allowed to touch. Oops! He was also at the tail end of that cold he had during his birthday party, so I think he wasn’t feeling 100%. I spent much of the show making sure he didn’t touch anything and calming him down when is frustration turned into crying and screaming. I guess I should have anticipated this, but he’s gone through a real maturity spurt these past few months so we were fooled into thinking that will transfer seamlessly into all environments and situations.

On Sunday, I had to go to San Francisco to pick up a pen I had repaired, which we turned into a whole family outing. We took BART into the city, and on the way to our station we got to see a BART car being hauled on a trailer! It may not sound like much, but we’re train geeks and the boys thought the sight of a train car on a truck at the side of a highway entrance ramp was an absolute delight. It was.

Once we got to the city I went to retrieve my pen and MJ took the boys in the stroller around Union Square. When I was finally done, we made our way down to the MUNI Metro and took the new subway line one stop south. That put us close to our old neighborhood where we enjoyed a lovely brunch at Fogo de Chao, which became a much more compelling option lately since we discovered that kids 6 and under eat free.

From there, we hopped back on BART and made our way to Rockridge station where hundreds of fans of BART gathered for Sweaterfest! 4,000 holiday sweaters were produced for sale this year, and they sold out within an hour each time they were offered on the online shop. During the first I managed to snag one for MJ, and after turning on alerts on Twitter I managed to get one for myself in the second offering. Phew! But the festival was to gather fans together for a sweater group photo, raffles, prizes, and merchandise sales which included the last chance to get a sweater if you couldn’t order online. We showed up just in time to get in the group photo, which was later shared across social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram).

I’m glad we went for the experience, but it was PACKED, and a little overwhelming. The hour+ line for the merchandise looped around the whole outdoor space the event was held at, and it wasn’t easy to participate in much of what they had. Still, the boys got their pictures with a BART snowman who was wearing a holiday sweater, we picked up our transit passports and stickers. It’s great to see this level of enthusiasm from so many people, and I take that as a good sign for public transit in the bay area.

At work I’ve been busy completing a few projects before the end of the year, and I saw the release of the Linux on the mainframe YouTube video that we recorded in Raleigh back in October! But leadership gave us the opportunity to take a day off last week to do some volunteer work in our community. I took this opportunity to make plans to meet with the Partimus board and get some much-needed work done, including some financial tasks, website updates, and other administrative things.

Truth is, Partimus took quite a hit with the pandemic, along with the death of a key technical contributor last year and major life changes for 2/3 of the board members. Once I’m able to commit more energy to it, I’d like to do more work to reinvigorate the organization, but I’m incredibly grateful that I could spend what otherwise would have been work time getting the public face of the project in a better, more accurate, state. Plus, it gave me an excuse to finally go to the Oakland Public Library where I made plans to meet with a board member, and I got my library card!

As the week wound down we were packing for a flight on December 16th. We decided to conclude our year visiting family and friends from our townhouse in Philly, where I’m writing this. I’ll be taking a few days off between Christmas and New Years to do some outings, and in general have build some extra flexibility into my schedule. It should be a nice visit, as long as we don’t get sick!