I've been to the promised land.

DAY 78 -- I've been to the promised land...and I assure you...it is beautiful.

My initial plan was to leave my dad's in time to stop half-way home for lunch with an old friend I'd not seen in several years; however, with the consignment store being closed for the week, there was no need for me to wait around for it to open and we adjusted our plans a bit to have coffee instead of a gut bomb from McHugh's Double Drive-Thru.

As always, it's so great to catch up with old friends. Rachel and I go back almost thirty years and we figured it'd been at least fifteen since we'd seen each other. As I've said many, many times before, old friends are good for the soul.

. . .

After a healthy dose of caffeine from Starbucks, I had some time on my hands and decided to stop at an outlet mall for a new pair of shoes. From there, I still knew I was in no hurry and thought I'd wind my way through some back roads for the last 30 miles of my drive. This took me through downtown Tuscola, IL where something quickly caught my eye.

A Big Bird chair under a sign that says "collectibles." Interesting.

Reaching the door, the lights were on and the sign said open...but the door was locked. A quick peek inside and I knew I had to get in this place. Then I saw the handwritten note on the door: "I'm at the senior center next door. Find me there."

Walking into the adjacent senior center, I approached four older folks enjoying their coffee and their conversation which I can only assume was about corn crops and the potential of this year's local high school football team. As politely as I could, I interrupted their conversation to ask about the store next door.

No one smiled. No one made eye contact. No one spoke. Not until one of the men bellowed: "There's a gentleman here for the store!"

I was clearly out of my element.

A woman emerged from the back with a set of keys in her hands and invited me to follow her next door. As she opened the store, she asked if I'd been here before and what kinds of items I was interested in. Assuming this was just small talk, I answered her questions but realized upon entering the store, I was in for much more than I'd bargained for.


With work to do at the senior center, she left me alone in the store with full freedom to explore. And that's just want I did.

How did I not know this place existed only thirty minutes from my house?!? Apparently it's been in business for fifteen years! This was more than just a collectibles store -- it was something of a cross between collectibles, an overcrowded thrift store, and a museum. While I shimmied down narrow aisles and stepped over boxes and random pieces that had been from other arbitrary locations in the store, it was clear that the place was much more organized than it appeared.

Looking for Dukes of Hazzard items? There was a bin marked "Dukes of Hazzard" complete with a Colorforms set, old McDonalds cups, and action figures.

You like E.T.? Why not browse the E.T. section?

A drawer full of Little People...

Two baskets full of Viewmaster reels and viewers...

Maybe the Incredible Hulk is your thing? There was a section for you, too.

A rack of action figures...

A Vanilla Ice doll...

These pictures don't even begin to do justice to the massive amount of pop culture goodness stacked in this place!

I was in heaven and I wanted one of everything!

Snapping myself back to reality, I did manage to narrow down my shopping to just a few items. Unfortunately, one of those items was located on a ledge above the front door. Stacked between two He-Man boxes and a Fisher Price Little People garage set was the Playskool Holiday Inn -- a set on my short list of items I'd been hoping to find for a long time.

With a step ladder balanced over various boxes, I had just enough room to reach the set by standing on the very top of the ladder (a big no-no among amateur ladder users). Rescuing the Holiday Inn from it's dusty perch, we agreed on a price and into my car it went...

...along with a few Hardy Boys books and a Garfield tin I had when I was a kid.

Needless to say, I will be back to this store again very soon! Until then...expect a band and dancing every Saturday night at the Holiday Inn.

Closed For Remodeling

DAY 77 -- I made a quick trip back home with a car load of odds and ends to drop off at the consignment store. It's quite a deal. We give them our stuff, they price it and sell it taking half the profits for themselves. We get the rest and never once have to hold a garage sale.

Anyway, the consignment store is apparently closed for the week so my dad now had a giant pile of stuff in his garage to drop off when they reopen.

Laziness, Bikes, Tattoos

DAY 76 -- Lazy morning. Afternoon bike ride with the fam.

. . .

Here's Mason.

. . .

99% on board for my first tattoo. Maybe Tuesday. Stay tuned.

Greg Brady and John McCain

DAY 75 -- I thought today would be lazy. I thought I'd sleep in and then get up long enough to get ready for a nap. Then I realized that I go back to work next week and today would likely be my last opportunity for some weekday junking this summer.

Charlotte and I were out of the house by 9:00.

I was outdone today as Charlotte came home the big winner with a huge collection of 39 Clues books. Who am I to argue with a kid who wants to buy books?

Still, I didn't completely strike out myself.

Cars and figures from the old Playskool McDonald's playset, some books, cheap CDs.

The real surprise came when I saw a copy of Growing Up Brady on the shelf -- a book by Barry Williams about his time on the Brady Bunch. I've had a copy of this book for years but for some reason, when I saw this book at the store, I wondered if it was maybe signed by the author.

Not sure why that thought even crossed my mind, but it did and I checked...

...and sure enough.

I had no problem paying 25 cents for a second copy of a book signed by Greg Brady.

. . .

I was disappointed to find that the junk store has changed its tune a bit when it comes to anything that seems slightly valuable. It used to be that all donated items were sold at garage sale prices but now that they've added a "collectible" area to the store, some items I would have otherwise bought aren't worth the asking price.

For example, I was super excited to find four almost-pristine Fisher Price Little People sets in the collectible area today. Ten bucks or less on these and I'm interested. The price tags turned me away immediately though -- 25 bucks each. Those are eBay prices that I ignore on a daily basis.

No thanks, junk store. I'll stick with my nickel-and-dime purchases.

. . .

Leaving the junk store, Charlotte and I went through the McDonald's drive-thru for a drink -- a stop that ended up lasting almost twenty minutes because, as the kid working the window told me, "that car over there just ordered like 17 or 20 sandwiches."

With nothing but time on our hands, I sat back and watched as another young McDonald's worker delivered two sacks of food to the car pulled to the side. I'm guessing there was a problem with the order because the kid at the window encouraged me to watch "as this shit unfolds over at that fucking car."

The driver of the car was coming inside as our own order was finally filled. Unfortunately, I did not see any shit unfold.

. . .

After last night's failed vote to repeal Obamacare, this is currently the greatest thing on the internet.

. . .

I killed my half-growler of Oval IPA tonight.

It was glorious.


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...