I’m a bit punchy right now, having returned from Michigan and Canada only a few hours ago, as I struggle to meet my “Sharing Mana’o” deadline. So, rather than attempt an eloquent account of my trip, I offer my Top Five list of travel highlights (I’m too tired to count to 10).
No. 5 — Food. Admittedly, this is in the top five of any list I compose.
As a self-appointed cultural culinary ambassador, I considered it my duty to eat as much poutine as possible during our road trip through Ontario. But the Canadian cuisine that excited me most was the variety of snacks and sweets: ketchup-flavored potato chips, icewine candies and, the happiest discovery of all, maple-leaf-shaped nacho cheese Cheetos.
At the Oriental Mart, an Asian grocery superstore in Lansing, Mich., we found an even greater assortment of flavored snacks. Varieties of Lay’s potato chips included Grilled Squid, Black Pepper Ribeye Steak, Cucumber, Kyushu Seaweed, and Numb & Spicy Hot Pot (Cajun-Asian, my daughter-in-law explained). Cheetos also come in a fiery grilled meat flavor; at least, that’s what the illustration on the bag seemed to depict (the words were all written in Korean characters). We bought green tea Hello Panda crackers, strawberry shortcake Kit-Kats and matcha mochi.
My granddaughter Lilly chose a luau theme for her high school graduation party and her main menu request was Spam musubi (my son has raised his girls to appreciate the finer things in life), so we formed a four-generation assembly line, with Jimmy cooking rice and frying Spam, and Mom and I teaching my second granddaughter, Lotus, how to make musubi without a press.
Apparently, Michigan’s equivalent of Spam musubi is the olive burger: basically, a cheeseburger with lots of mayonnaise and green olives. It’s my new favorite foreign food and I intend to campaign for its inclusion on local menus.
No. 4 — Hail. Lilly was pretty stressed out about the predictions of thunderstorms for the day of her (outdoor) party. Fortunately, the weather was pleasantly mild at first, and we had several large tents to shield the food and dining areas. After a couple of hours, the skies darkened and the showers began. It wasn’t long before a torrent of rain was upon us, with drops so large and loud, I didn’t notice when the water turned to ice. Only when the storm ended, as abruptly as it had begun, did I see the grass was littered with marble-sized hailstones. Good thing my youngest granddaughter, Lula, who’d been dancing with me in the rain, had enough sense to drag her grandma into the tent before the hail started.
No. 3 — Michigan State University. Lilly will be attending State, where Jimmy is employed as a cybersecurity guy. He took us on a tour of the sprawling campus, but I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures of his office, due to the classified nature of his job. We did pose for photos with the “Sparty” statue, a Spartan tradition, and we learned the basics of being an MSU ohana member. Go Green. Go White.
No. 2 — Niagara Falls. For years, ever since her first visit to the falls, my mother has told me I needed to see it for myself. As always, she was right. We took the up-close tour, venturing into tunnels behind the falls and observing from a deck alongside the rushing cascade. Placing our hands on the rumbling cavern walls, we were in awe of the sheer power of the flow. But that was mild, compared to the exhilarating boat ride into the “bowl” of Horseshoe Falls.
As the Hornblower approached the largest of Niagara’s waterfalls, a perfect rainbow appeared out of the mist directly in front of us. It was the first of several, including a double arch which seemed close enough to touch. The Hornblower lingered for a few minutes in the midst of the churning whitewater and the relentless spray at the falls’ base. I could barely hear, buried in the thunderous roar, Lilly’s shout, “This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen!” and my own shrieks of joy. Jimmy and I managed to record some footage on our phones, but the resulting videos didn’t come close to capturing the astonishing majesty of Niagara Falls.
No. 1 — Family. Traveling with Mom is always an enjoyable adventure. I’ll have to save her escapades for another column, as I’m running out of space. Ditto for the precious moments spent with my granddaughters and, especially, my son. Each time we visit, it gets harder to say goodbye.
Darn it, I’m getting teary-eyed again. It’s the jet lag, I’m sure.
* Kathy Collins is a radio personality (The Buzz 107.5 FM), storyteller, actress, emcee and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.