DAY 74 -- We booked a hotel room on the fly last night and I guarantee you one thing -- I got my money's worth out of the free breakfast this morning.

There was a girl in line behind me whose expression turned to horror as I dumped gravy over my entire plate.

Why you worried about it, fool? These my fries!

. . .

Five or six hundred miles later, our final stretch of driving concluded and our vacation came to an end as we hit our driveway with smiles on our faces.

We're tired. But we're home.

I'm guessing tomorrow will involve naps all around as I look towards the final days of my summer break.

Niagara Falls

DAY 73 -- Amy and I woke the kids up early because they'd wanted to see a sun rise over Lake Champlain all week. While the low clouds kept us from a full sunrise experience, it was still a great start to the morning as we departed our temporary house in Plattsburgh.

. . .

After almost seven hours on the road, we arrived at our on-the-way-home-stop of Niagara Falls. Since I was a kid, when I think Niagara Falls, I think Woody Woodpecker.


Sure, it's a giant waterfall. But it's a giant waterfall we've always wanted to see.

We stayed in the area an hour or so before moving on towards Pennsylvania and Ohio where we set up camp for the night.

Now I'm sitting on the floor of a hotel room.

Typing in the dark.

While a purring cat plays on the noise machine app of my daughter's iPod.

. . .

Home tomorrow...

Poke-O-Moonshine, Beers, Pear Pizza, Beers

DAY 72 -- "Let's climb a mountain," she said.

"I did it on a fourth grade field trip," she said.

"We'll be back in time for lunch," she said.

More on that in a minute.

. . .

Our last day in the Plattsburgh area started with a lazy morning around the house while Amy and Anna went back to the cemetery with a scrub brush to clean her brother's grave stone. The stone had become a bit weathered and they did a terrific job of revitalizing the marker remembering Tommy.

. . .

Our plan was to visit Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain -- a climb Amy claims she completed as part of a fourth grade field trip. Arriving around 11am, we were led to believe we'd be back to the house for a "late lunch."

We met a family from Burlington, VT that was starting the hike at the same time we were. Based on the gear they were packing, one of two things were clear -- either they were way over prepared for the climb, or we weren't getting back in time for lunch.

Ninety minutes, 1.2 miles, 1,280 feet of elevation later (at an average incline of about 35%) and a humidity/sweat-soaked sweatshirt later, we reached the summit.

Here's what I'll say about Poke-O-Moonshine -- it was more than we were expecting, but I couldn't have been prouder of our kids. Between our two families, we have five kids ranging in age from almost four to nine and every one of them made it all the way to the top. Anna was a bit questionable after she declared herself finished half-way up but soon reconsidered and plowed through to the end.

She told me some great jokes while we tried to decide whether or not she wanted to continue.

Man, I love her laugh.

Anyway, this climb was simply beautiful.

. . .

Back at the house by around 2:30, we ate a REALLY late lunch of anything we could get our wet and muddy hands on. All of this while Amy cleaned herself up for a visit from one of her favorite teachers she had been in touch with. Coincidentally, her fourth grade teacher who supposedly climbed Poke-O-Moonshine with a bunch of 9-year-olds. :)

. . .

It was time to reward ourselves while tackling a few of the places we'd been putting off all week. The first stop was Oval Craft Brewing -- a brewery located in the old fire house on the former Plattsburgh military base.

This. Place. Was. Fantastic.

They had board games to occupy the kiddos while the mommies and daddies sampled the seven beers they had on tap.

No kidding. Every one of the beers on this board was fantastic. I left with a half-growler of Star Gazer.

. . .

Dinner time.

Livingood's Restaurant and Brewery in Peru.

Another flight to sample. This time with a pizza that was so good I wanted to smash it all over my face. The Champlain -- pear, pine nuts, spinach, and bacon.

Seriously, I would be open to the idea of wearing this pizza to church it was so perfect.

Amy went after a poutine variation that was enough to make me break out in a cold sweat -- sweet potato fries with jalapenos and BBQ pork. Holy jeez.

The beer was also amazing -- although I was a little disappointed with the IPA. Livingood's happened to be running a pizza-and-a-growler special tonight so who was I to question their weekly schedule. A full growler of their Maple Vanilla Porter is coming with me back to Illinois.

. . .

Having fully celebrated our last day in Plattsburgh, we put the kiddos to bed and scrambled to clean the house and pack. But not before an "art sale" hosted by said kiddos -- works they had compiled this week sold for various amount of Monopoly money.

. . .

Lots of traveling to do tomorrow...

Plattsburgh Junking, Brewing, and Sensory Overload

DAY 71 -- The rain was falling hard by the time we woke up today and it continued for most of the day. After visiting with one of Amy's family friends for the morning, the kids were in desperate need of some down time.

With Amy and her brother settling in at the house, my sister-in-law and I took off for an afternoon of Plattsburgh junking. She hit up a place called the Dress Code for her kind of junking and I ventured down the street for my own kind at a pawn shop full of pop culture toys and video games.

I grabbed a copy of Barnstorming for the Atari -- a game I've bought locally a few times back home but both times came up with a bum cartridge. But it was our trip down the street to the Salvation Army that really paid off.

I was pretty thrilled to come up with a copy of the Cubs World Series collection for three bucks.

I was even more thrilled to find all of these others for the same price.

I'll keep the Cubs set, of course, but with about thirty bucks invested in these others, I should be able ring up one heck of a profit off of this purchase!

. . .

The rain continued to fall and our plans to go bowling with another of Amy's childhood friends were thwarted by the bowling alley's summer hours not starting until 6pm.

This sent us all to an arcade called "Champy's Fun City."

Much like Chuck E. Cheese and other similar establishments, Champy swiped our money fifty cents at a time through games that were hardly worth our time. After an hour in this place with lights flashing and buzzers blaring, sensory overload had taken control and it was time to decompress.

. . .

The Plattsburgh Brewing Company...

Beer at this place -- great.

Food at this place -- meh.

The double IPA and the Ekuanto IPA were fantastic! The nachos tasted like what I used to make in the microwave when I was in high school and I'd slap a Kraft single on some Doritos -- way overcooked and dry.

. . .

One more day in Plattsburgh and then we start the journey home with a few stops on the way...

Ausable Chasm, Date Night, Valcour Brewing Company

DAY 70 -- We've seen a lot of beautiful scenery in New York but today was by far the best as we visited Ausable Chasm -- the Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks. Hiking, rafting, and minimal whining from the kids led to a day filled with awesome views and natural beauty.

To go back to the often-referenced Desiderata: "With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world."

. . .

Amy and I headed out for a date night tonight and hit up a nearby restaurant called the Rusty Anchor. Although they serve mostly seafood dishes, I opted for a maple burger.

The menu offered this burger with bacon, a sweet maple sauce, and "hand cut chips."

After learning that they were out of burgers after a busy weekend, I took one for the team and ordered the same thing with a turkey burger instead.

The bacon on my burger turned out to be Canadian bacon -- which I hate.

The term "hand cut chips" was clearly open to interpretation as well. I know Wavy Lays when I see them.

On a scale of 1-10, I give the Rusty Anchor a D-.

From there we headed to the Valcour Brewing Company for a few drinks. Housed in the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base barracks, this place put off a cool vibe from the start.

Amy and I both sampled a flight of the seven beers they had available but weren't overly impressed. When we've done the same at other breweries, we've typically found that we like most of what we sample. These seven choices, however, left much to be desired.

The Red Bird Ale tasted like cheese and smelled like vomit. The Smoked Porter and Danny Boy Stout were both so overwhelmingly flavored that it was like drinking liquid smoke you'd use to flavor barbecue. The two IPAs were good but Amy's not a huge fan. Magnetic North was easily the best of the bunch.

Still, we plowed through and finished our flights with the exception of the two that left us feeling like we'd just eaten a campfire.

. . .

On the way back to the house, we stopped at Stewart's for a few staples and saw this in the parking lot.

Maybe that beer was better than we thought.