Food and Family in Phoenix

Our week in Phoenix was mostly rainy and cool but we made the most of it, soaking in the hot tub, picking flowers and fruit from the rental house garden, playing with Elian’s new selfie stick, creating a Spot Speedy game (can you find Speedy the turtle, our trusty traveling companion, in the garden?), and just enjoying time with our Massachusetts-based set of parents and grandparents.

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We cooked, read books, and explored the area (twice, we saw coyotes roaming the neighborhood). And we munched on mouth-watering chocolates from the Trappastine nuns back in Boston.

One day we spent as ASU Sun Devils, walking around campus to visit the bookstore, library and art gallery. We enjoyed the landscaping of palms and citrus trees, which drop an amazing variety of seeds, acorns and fruit, including the oddly large lemon-grapefruit looking pomelo. Despite claims in billboards around the city that it is “#1 in Innovation,” ASU can’t seem to provide lighting and direction to its art gallery, whose entrance is down a dark cement stairway. But, once found, the gallery was interesting, if empty, and we spent a couple of hours looking at photography exhibits. Neither kid will probably ever go to ASU (both say it’s too far from home and we have no connection to Arizona) but this and our other college visits start some fun conversations about college. Elian declared that he will only live in a college dorm if he can bring a dog. “If not,” he said, “I’ll live in a tent!” We all agreed BigTrip is preparing him well for this possibility, and that the tent plan would save money on room and board.

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On Sunday we drove across the freeway to attend Mass in Guadalupe, AZ, a small town that sits between Phoenix and Tempe. Fewer than 5,000 people live in Guadalupe, which was founded in 1900 by Yaqui Indians fleeing Mexico and whose residents now are almost entirely Mexican-American and mostly poor (more than 80 percent of the children at its elementary school, Frank Elementary, qualify for free and reduced meals). Our Lady of Guadalupe is a small, old, Spanish colonial church. Inside is a chipped ceramic statue of Christ, a beautifully tiled mosaic of Mary, and walls still decorated to celebrate the Epiphany, the end of the Christmas season. We found seats in portable pews in the side section among the Mexican-American parishioners who greeted the priest, deacon and one another with hugs and prayers. The service was led by Father Joe, an elderly priest with white hair who read the homily slowly and in Spanish with a heavy Angl0 accent. Surrounding the church, Guadalupe’s streets sit in stark contrast to the paved parkways and rows of adobe-colored homes and manicured rock gardens we returned to on the other side of the bridge.

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Later that night, we ventured into Central Phoenix for dinner. Café Barrio is on 16th Street, a busy road dotted with carnicerias, Dollar Stores, and laundromats. The café doesn’t stand out; its entrance is small and you cannot see the bright murals of Mexican folk art that adorn the sides and back of the restaurant and parking lot. Inside, it is cozy, warm, and crowded with people seated, and waiting to be seated. This is upscale Mexican, not your average burrito or taco to-go, and it is fantastic: pollo poblano, enchiladas Suizas, and roasted jalapenos stuffed with queso de la cabra and avocado, shrimp and chorizo. Eat here, if you get the chance.

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What else happens in a week with family and a house? We got really clean (showers! baths! laundry!), watched some playoffs (poor Skins, if they would only get a new owner and name), and went to the hardware store. Costco was our final errand, a stock-up trip to prepare for our next leg, which takes us back out on our own in southern AZ, where second semester of 3rd and 6th grade must finally begin and the weather will hopefully stay dry.

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About Elena Silva

Out here on the road, trying to make the most of a year in close quarters with my three favorite people...
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