I'm writing this column at the end of December, after boarding Amtrak for my first cross-country train trip. As big rail fans for many years, my husband Tim and I have travelled by train from Cleveland to Chicago, Boston to Washington D.C., and overnight from Cleveland to New York, but this nearly weeklong rail excursion is a dream trip come true.

Following a wonderful Christmas holiday with family in Oakland, Calif., we started our journey along the East Bay, travelling north on the "Coast Starlight" through the Sacramento Valley and along the Coast Range before stopping overnight in Portland, Ore.

The next afternoon we boarded the famous "Empire Builder," which often parallels the Lewis & Clark Trail, nearly touching the Canadian border through the Cascades and Rocky Mountains (Washington, Idaho) and the upper Great Plains (Montana, North Dakota) before veering southeast through Minnesota, Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

In Chicago, we changed trains at dinnertime on New Year's Eve and welcomed 2017 just about the time we crossed the Indiana border into Ohio.

Raising our glasses in a toast, we wish all the readers of the "Around Aurora" column a Happy New Year with good health, loads of luck and love in the coming months. May all your dreams come true in '17.

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Back home in Aurora, we look forward to a January full of activities designed to get us out and about, and which we can brave the weather to enjoy.

The fun starts this weekend with the first of several events focusing on the wise, winged creatures of the night: Owls.

Moebius Nature Center has created programs for all ages to explore the mysterious birds that "have fascinated us for centuries, with their silent flight, night vision, exceptional hearing, and sharp talons," according to the Center's website.

"Athena the Goddess of Wisdom was so impressed with the owl that she made him her favorite among feathered friends. They were thought to have a magical inner light that gave them their night vision and were protected."

The center invites families with young children to the first of a two-part owls program Jan. 7 at 11 a.m, which will feature a short film, creative session and a snack.

Part two of the "Owl Prowl for Children" begins Jan. 13 at 7 p.m. with a brief slide show and a night-time hike to look and listen for real owls in the nearby woods all followed by a snack and hot chocolate.

Adults and families with older children can join the Owl Prowl on Jan. 14 at 7 p.m., also preceded by an instructional video and followed by hot chocolate.

Everyone is encouraged to dress for the outdoors, wearing weather-appropriate clothing, and register in advance at www.mymnc.org or by calling (330) 562-2592.

Please remember that snacks and supplies are limited, especially for children's craft sessions. So be sure to let the center know you're coming so the little ones won't be disappointed.

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Auroran Tari Lynn Bergoine plays the role of Grace, the caf owner who provides a warm haven to the snow-stranded passengers, in Aurora Community Theatre's production of "Bus Stop" opening Jan. 27.

So appropriate for the season, ACT will perform "Bus Stop" by William Inge at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays from Jan. 27 to Feb. 18.

The play tells the story of what happens when an interstate bus, brought to a halt by a howling snowstorm, pulls up to a cheerful roadside diner where the passengers: a slightly seedy nightclub singer, a belligerent cowhand, a pompous middle-aged professor, plus their harried bus driver realize they will be marooned until morning with the wary caf owner and a dewy-eyed waitress.

Craig Joseph directs the show that the New York Times calls: " an uproarious comedy that never strays from the truth." Tickets are available at 330-562-1818 or online, anytime, including seat selection, at auroracommunitytheatre.com

We welcome your Aurora news. Contact Christine Patronik-Holder at 440-554-4913 or cph@cphcommunications.com.