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Zac

Hey, Zac.

I miss you.

It’s been almost one year since you died. You died. I can’t even believe that those words are real.

I wasn’t ready to speak at your funeral, so I hope you’ll accept this as my way to honor you.

Flash back to fall of 2010… There you were, sixteen-year-old Zac—a smart, funny, kid in my Spanish 3-4 class and slight pain in my ass. It was no secret you were completely sick of being around a bunch of kids who, as you might say, “sucked” at Spanish, so over the next few months I tutored you after school so you could skip the next level. We studied it all—compound tenses, vocabulary, and the dreaded subjunctive.

Zac, let me try to explain the subjunctive to anyone who might be reading this, thinking “huh?” Yes, I’m the freak who chose to include a grammatical lesson in a eulogy. Deal with it.

In Spanish, there are two main “moods” of verbs. One, the indicative, is the most frequently used, representing things that are true, real, and certain. For example:

Zac es increíble… “Zac is amazing”

Tocó tantas vidas… “He touched so many lives”

No tuvo suficiente tiempo… “He didn’t have enough time”.

The other, called subjunctive, which virtually doesn’t exist in English, represents everything else—doubt, uncertainty, hopes, wishes, desires and emotions. It’s how we express what we hope will happen, want to happen, but perhaps might not happen at all.

Cuando te conviertas en médico… “When you become a doctor”

Espero que te acuerdes de mí… “I hope you remember me”

Ojalá que no nos hubieras dejado… “I wish you hadn’t left us.”

It’s also how we express emotions. Joy, happiness, sadness, regret, fear and excitement—it helps us give meaning to this crazy thing called life.

At times I described it to students as a “ghost” form of the verb—it’s there, but it’s not truly there.

And like a ghost, the subjunctive is hands-down the most confusing and daunting concept for students taking Spanish. Unless your name is Zac Bradley. What many students don’t achieve in a lifetime, you mastered in weeks. Even after skipping a year of Spanish, you came in as the most advanced kid in the class.

That year we grew closer, as you dropped by my room almost daily for yet another Spanish conversation—not that you needed any more extra credit.

We talked about everything—from our dreams and frustrations to drugs and white privilege. We challenged each other’s ideas, but you always kept an open mind for your beliefs to evolve. You cared about the truth and defended it with facts and figures, sometimes debating with me for hours until we found a middle ground. With each conversation, your Spanish improved, and our bond strengthened.

One afternoon I heard someone singing in the halls, unaware it could be you. A few seconds later, we crossed paths, both on our way to my classroom. You were clearly in a mood to sing and had decided I was going to give you extra credit for a song—Eres by Café Tacuba. Despite that you had just told me what to do, we quickly made a deal—you’d sing the whole song loud enough for me to hear every word clearly, but I had to sing with you. So I connected my iPod to the dock and you pulled out your lyric sheet—not that you needed it. There we were, a teacher and his student, two friends belting it out, not caring if anyone who walked by thought we were silly.

Eres,

lo que más quiero en este mundo eso eres,

mi pensamiento más profundo también eres,

tan sólo dime lo que es

que aquí me tienes…

The end of that school year, I left my teaching job to be a full-time stay-at-home dad. When you found out, you were clearly pissed at me, but you congratulated and encouraged me nonetheless. On graduation night, you ran up to hug me and said, “Señor, I’m never going to see you again!” I hated the idea that you might be right.

But luckily our friendship continued to grow, and next year, as a senior, you asked me to escort you down the stage at the school’s “Mr. Shadow” pageant—an honor typically reserved for contestants’ parents. When you graduated and went off to Berkeley, we’d Skype about college life and Spanish assignments and even met up each time I visited the Bay Area. I felt in many ways like a parental figure to you—proud and protective, and excited to see the incredible future you had waiting for you. Beyond this, you became “Tío Zac” to my son Ellis, who truly loved you.

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And then came the phone call I will never forget. After Thomas told me you had died, I went into the bathroom to tell my husband Simon, who was bathing Ellis. There I saw my beautiful little toddler splashing in the tub, and at that moment my shock and sadness were joined by a jolt of fear. What if my own amazing son doesn’t get to live a full life? So much potential. Such an amazing human being. Gone. Over the next days and weeks I’d find myself zoning out, trying to breath deeply. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

I sang along to Eres again to honor you and heard the lyrics in a new light.

Aquí estoy a tu lado, 

y espero aquí sentado hasta el final,

No te has imaginado, 

lo que por ti he esperado pues eres…

….lo que yo amo en este mundo eso eres…

Cada minuto en lo que pienso eso eres…

Lo que más cuido en este mundo eso eres…..

 

Here I am by your side

I sit and wait here until the end

You have never imagined

What I have hoped for you, yes….

You are… what I love in this world,

You are… what I think of every moment

You are… what I hold so close to me in this world, you are…

But every time I’d get upset, I imagined you saying in a frustrated voice, “Dude, just don’t be sad. Seriously, It’s a f*cking waste of time.”

There you go again, telling me what to do, Zac. But in many ways, you’re right.

If I were still teaching, I’d be discussing the Day of the Dead right now, showing my students images of skeletons and skulls dancing among flowers, reminding us how beautiful and fleeting life can be. Back when you were my student we celebrated this bittersweet holiday, recognizing our own mortality and promising to enjoy every moment of life with those that we love. You kept your promise, and your exuberant life ended just hours before the Day of the Dead, 2014.

You always enjoyed life, whether you were laughing, singing, doing something slightly stupid, challenging an adult or giving someone a huge hug or smile. Thank you for teaching me to truly live. I’m never going to see you again, and I’ve accepted that. I think.

I once heard someone say, “A life doesn’t have to be long to be meaningful.” If there’s anyone this applies to, it’s you.

I’d like to think you’re out there somewhere, watching us and laughing, playing the role of the subjunctive—that challenging and fascinating thing that we just can’t explain or understand easily. You’re here—but not here—helping us make sense of our hopes, wishes, doubts and confusion, and our passions and emotions in life. You already know this, but I always loved the subjunctive, even though it was sometimes a pain in my ass.

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So to close, here’s a link to Eres by Café Tacuba, the song we sang five years ago in my classroom. “Eres” means “You are”—in the most real, true and certain way. And, Zac, you are, you were and you always will be—special to me. I made sure to include the lyrics in the video. Not that you need them.

3 Year Old Haikus

In honor of my amazing son on his third birthday

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Under the blanket

Together on the sofa

Hiding from tigers

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The age of “por que?”

Endless curiosity

Learning more and more

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Skinny arms and legs

His belly like a balloon

Big brown eyes and hair

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Front facing carseat

So much more interaction

Papa! Look at that!

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We shout with delight

With every bridge and tunnel

Along the freeway

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No taking pictures!

Sick of the paparazzi

He’ll thank me someday

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Tortilla maker

My helper in the kitchen

He’s truly a chef

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Mi tortillero

Mi mejor asistente

Mi futuro chef

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He must be my son

If sampling all our spices

Brings him that much joy

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He looked so concerned

And gathered his toys and food

For children in need

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Animal crackers

To get him to try to swim

Now he’s like a fish

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Long, lean and agile

He powers through the water

This kid’s built to swim

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Downward dog and plank

Superman and tabletop

I in alignment!

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Gummy vitamins…

“I no eat my gummies day”

Ellis, that’s not true

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An amazing host

He’ll offer you a pillow

And share all his toys

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How can anyone

Hear one song so many times?

And still love it so?

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I drive poquito?

Every time we get back home

Highlight of his day

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During a meltdown

Nothing will satisfy him

Toddler life is tough

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Potty training… Oy!

But in the end, he rocked it

Only took two days

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I niño grande!

I pipí en orinal

I wash my manos

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Right next to the dogs

He sits and stays for a treat

Of frozen green beans

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Rocky and Sunny

Put up with so much from him

He really loves them

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First year of preschool

Friends, learning, and non-stop fun

Absolute success

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“Don’t wash my pelo”

Yet he can spend hours swimming

With eyes wide open

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His broccoli speaks

In its own deep, funny voice

Before getting chomped

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Starts with a timer

The bedtime routine won’t fail

Five books and three songs

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Before bed each night

Left cheek, right cheek, and forehead

He gives three kisses

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He’s such a happy guy

Not a care in the whole world

Just as it should be

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Somersaults and hops

He’s a bouncing kangaroo

Giggling all the while

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With him as my son

Each day is a miracle

Thank you, God. Thank you.

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I’m so entitled, I shouldn’t even have to title this.

This piece is entirely satirical and in no way reflects my feelings about the Phoenix Zoo. In fact, the Phoenix Zoo is an awesome place, and I have had nothing but great experiences there. I highly recommend purchasing a yearly membership–you will be happy you did! Unless you’re a miserable, horrible person like the asshole that wrote this…

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Dear Phoenix Zoo,

Last week my family and I visited your zoo with a free pass from the library, and I am writing to express my immense disappointment. #wtfphoenixzoo

Thanks to your inconsiderate orangutans who repeatedly ignored my requests to approach the glass for a family selfie, my Instagram followers missed out on their hourly peek into what it’s like to have a perfect life. I hope you’re happy.

Please be more thoughtful in planning your animals’ nap schedule. The mountain lion slept through my children generously throwing popcorn at it, and the ocelot didn’t even twitch when I repeatedly slammed my jogging stroller against its glass enclosure.

Your concession stands and snack bars are grossly unprepared for my family’s dietary needs. Have you never heard of chia seed pudding?

Since the “Mexican gray wolves” completely ignored my daughter’s perfectly executed howling, I suspect that one or more of the following is true: A. They only speak Mexican or B. They’re just a pack of inbred huskies. Or maybe they’re deaf. No matter what, I’m going to destroy them on social media. #deportthemexicanwolves

I was sneezed on by a man who had come from the Africa trail. Now I probably have Ebola, malaria and probably sickle cell anemia. Where are your safeguards against this?

I performed a flawless Zumba-inspired rendition of Hakuna Matata for the meerkats but received no response. They’re probably depressed since you ignorantly segregated them from their best friends, the warthogs.

It was windy and I got a leaf in my eye.

I just can’t with your giftshop. Your selection of “personalized name plates” was PATHETIC. What are my kids Quinlyn, Jaxxsin and, Xoeigh going to do? And speaking of little Jaxxsin, is a simple ivory chew toy too much to ask for? Good GOD. Clearly you have access to ivory but are too greedy to share. #wtfphoenixzoo

Your zoo is simply too big. My children all fell asleep in the stroller after an hour and missed out on seeing all the animals. I, however, was not provided a stroller and stroller-pusher so that I could nap. I’m pretty sure that’s ageism, by the way.

I’ll have you know that being a full time mom is the hardest job in the world. But clearly you don’t know anything about working hard, since your zoo is a complete JOKE.

Given the abuses my family endured at your zoo, I expect you will compensate us handsomely for our pain and suffering. I expect a complementary premium zoo membership in the mail by the end of the week.

Cordially,

Angelic Brownstain

A taxpaying US citizen

P.S. The giant tortoise was unreasonably slow. I think you drugged him.

My Celebration of India at Preschool Cultural Day

When I signed up to represent India at Ellis’s preschool’s cultural day, the teacher and artist in me were instantly unleashed. The project consumed my mind for weeks, and today, many hours later, it finally came to fruition.

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Everything is made by hand. I did the Taj Mahal with watercolor and pen, the people are pen and colored pencil, and I carved the stamp out of a rubber block.

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I put my Taj Mahal on a cloud-print poster board for maximum effect.

 

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I hadn’t used colored pencils since high school. It was fun. 🙂

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Thanks, Mom for having so many wonderful art supplies!

In true Indian style, people could smell our table from across the room. We had a display of 13 fresh Indian spices on the table while chicken tikka masala bubbled away in a crock pot, which was such a hit I gave out the recipe many times (thanks Aarti)! We also had a crunchy and salty fried lentil snack called dal, which people loved.

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I didn’t get a photo of my chicken tikka masala today, but here’s a photo of the sauce before I put the chicken in it. I must say, it was divine.  I served many people seconds and thirds. 😀

Thanks to my new friend Jodi, we were able to give people bindis to wear! They looked beautiful on the kids and women, especially the many beautiful Latina women who work at the school. Some (like me) wore smiley face bindis! 😀

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Real bindis from India! Check out the gorgeous sari underneath and the awesome wood stamp, all from my friend Jodi.

The kids got really into smelling and touching the spices, and many will likely have turmeric stains on their clothes and fingers for a long time. Sorry parents!

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She was literally wiping turmeric on her dress as I took this photo.

The kids also loved the animals. I saw many kids petting the tigers, and one kid event tried to swipe the elephant. Maybe he was offended I had displayed an African elephant instead the Asian variety.

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The spices got more and more messy as the day went on. I smiled as I saw a toddler blow a cloud of turmeric across the table. Lots of fun smelling and touching such wonderful spices!

The kids went from table to table with their little passport, collecting stamps and stickers along the way. There were also areas for face painting (the flag of your choice), a dress up corner, and even dance performances from around the world.

There were lots of really awesome country displays at the festival. Twenty countries were represented, and each country host put a lot of love and effort into it. It was so cool to see people’s creativity applied in so many different ways and to be in such a celebration of different cultures. Oh, and the food wasn’t bad either! Spanish olives and almonds, Manchego cheese, ceviche, arepas, guacamole and chips, bread salad, Irish “gur”cake, a sweet sesame dumpling from Korea, an awesome rice dish from Ghana, plantain chips, the list goes on and on…

For me, the best part was meeting the school community and having them love the food and appreciate all the hard work. Every last drop of chicken tikka masala was eaten, and not a grain of rice was wasted.

And yeah, I’m pretty proud of myself. 🙂 Now what country should I do next year?

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We had to appreciate the incredible beauty of the Indian spices before throwing them (and the millions of kid germs) away.

 

Peach Blueberry Custard Pie

There’s really no dessert better than pie. I’m somewhat of a pie aficionado, thanks to my mom, who made it often and always encouraged us to eat the leftovers for breakfast.  Apple, banana cream, pumpkin, chocolate pecan…I love them all.  Yet among the highest castes of the “pierarchy” is this recipe—peach blueberry custard.

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Several summers ago, my mom, Simon and I were brainstorming dessert ideas, and pie was on our mind as usual. By some divine inspiration, we decided to combine two of my mom’s recipes: peach blueberry pie and peach custard pie. And now, years later, as we recreate that magical recipe every summer, we sometimes catch ourselves wondering what life was like before peach blueberry custard pie.

Peaches and blueberries: two of the best summer fruits.

Peaches and blueberries: two of the best summer fruits.

What I love about this pie is the combination of flavors and textures of the fruit, custard and crust. This recipe showcases the ultimate summer fruits—peaches and blueberries—with a deliciously simple, old-fashioned egg custard. Serve it hot or cold with some whipped cream and you’ve got perfection on your plate.

 

Recipe: Peach Blueberry Custard Pie

Ingredients:

  • 1 unbaked pie crust (homemade is best) Crust recipe: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Butter-Pie-Crust-236477/

Fruit filling:

  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 ½ cups fresh peaches or nectarines, peeled and chopped (or leave the skin on the nectarines)

For the custard:

  • 2/3 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons butter (softened)
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour

Note: I always double the custard recipe when using a large pie dish (like I did this time)

 Instructions:

Make the pie crust according to recipe instructions.  Press the dough into a pie pan, fold under any excess dough, and press with your fingers and thumb to make a decorative edge. Put it back in the fridge for another half hour to rest.

Freshly rolled out all pie crust, previously chilled in disk form in the fridge for two hours

Freshly rolled out all pie crust, previously chilled in disk form in the fridge for two hours

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Crust placed over pie dish with edges folded under

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I used a simple technique with the knuckle of my right index finger and the tips of my left thumb and index finger to make this decorative edge. Remember to let the crust chill in the fridge for at least thirty minutes after this to avoid it from shrinking when baked.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Pull out the crust from the fridge, poke it with a fork several times on the bottom and sides (not the decorative edge) and bake for about 12 minutes, or until slightly golden. You can put some pie weights to keep it from puffing up, but since it’s not going to get very baked, any bubbles will probably shrink once you take it out. The point of this step is to ensure that once the pie is ready, the bottom crust is nice and baked. I’m not a fan of doughy-bottomed pies.

Par baked crust. Mine puffed up in the middle but deflated once I took it out of the oven and gently pressed it down.

Par baked crust. Mine puffed up in the middle but deflated once I took it out of the oven and gently pressed it down.

Make the custard! Mix all the ingredients using a whisk or mixer until fully incorporated. As I mentioned above, I often double the custard recipe.

You can throw all the custard ingredients in at the same time, just remember it's ideal to use softened butter.

Custard.  Don’t worry about the butter clumping up, as it will melt nicely once it bakes.

Scatter the fruit over the par baked crust.  Whisk up the custard one more time and pour it over the fruit (sometimes the custard separates a little if it sits in a bowl for a bit).

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Purple and yellow are so gorgeous together! They are complementary colors, after all. Use as much fruit as you want! In fact, this pie could have used some more fruit to make the fruit to custard ratio more balanced.

I added a few more pieces of fruit to even things out.

BAKE ME!!!

With steady hands, carefully place the pie back into the oven, still at 400 degrees. Bake for 15 minutes to slightly brown the top of the pie, then lower to 325 degrees and bake for about 35 minutes to an hour. Since the edges of the pie had a head start and will continue to cook more quickly than the custard, you’ll probably have to cover them with aluminum foil to prevent them from burning.

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About halfway there… Notice how I folded pieces of aluminum foil over the edge to prevent the crust from burning.

The pie is ready once the custard doesn’t jiggle when you gently pull at the oven rack.  If the pie is fully baked but the top isn’t browned enough, you can broil it for a a few seconds, but be careful not to burn it! Note that if you double the custard recipe, you’ll need to bake the pie for about an hour.  Cool the pie on a wire rack at least 30 minutes.

YES!!!

YES!!!

Serve your delicious summer pie warm, room temperature or chilled alongside whipped cream or ice cream, or just by itself, and don’t be ashamed if you go for seconds.  If you make it ahead and keep it in the fridge, take it out at least 30 minutes before serving to allow the butter in the crust to soften.

 

Tips:

  • Be sure to use slightly firm peaches or nectarines instead of ripe, juicy ones. If the fruit is too juicy, the pie gets messy and doesn’t set as well. Also, this pie really only works when peaches are in season, as off-season peaches and nectarines have no flavor.
  • I’ve never used frozen blueberries, as I fear the color would bleed and the texture wouldn’t be as nice. Also, the excess water might prevent the custard from setting up. But hey, if you try it out, let me know!
  • This custard can be used with all kinds of fruit. I have made a simple blueberry custard, a peach custard, and even a blackberry custard pie. All are good, but as long as you have access to seasonal ingredients, peach blueberry custard is the way to go!

 

Don’t forget to leave your questions and comments below! And remember to follow, like, share and subscribe!

 

 

 

Reasons Why Phoenix is Awesome

Ever had someone talk crap about your family  all over social media?  That’s how I felt after reading Vice.com’s “article” Reasons Why Phoenix Is the Worst Place Ever. http://www.vice.com/read/reasons-why-phoenix-is-the-worst-place-ever.  After seeing this whiney, nasty piece shared repeatedly on my Facebook feed, I decided to take matters into my own hands to defend the city I love.

Here are a few reasons why Phoenix is freaking awesome.

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Phoenix, Arizona- “the Valley of the Sun.” Photo courtesy of wikimedia commons

It’s sunny almost all the time.

With over 300 days of sunshine per year, Phoenix has earned its nickname of “Valley of the Sun.”  Weather rarely forces us to change our plans, and we can almost always play outside while our friends and family in other regions are bundled up, facing seasonal blues or yet another destructive storm.  We’re really spoiled with sunshine, and I truly believe that our bright and happy weather contributes to an overall better emotional state year-round.

Amazing Mexican food is ALWAYS within reach.

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Perfection.

For Phoenicians, Mexican food is not “ethnic food.” It’s part of who we are, and we can’t get enough of it. To us, Mexican food means Christmas tamales by the dozen, fresh carne asada tacos on homemade tortillas, or bacon-wrapped Sonoran hot dogs with all the toppings. It’s a late night trip to the nearest “-berto’s” for a sweet and icy horchata and a massive $5 burrito, or even a cheese and sour cream covered chimichanga when we’re craving something more gringo. What about some table-side guacamole or some cochinita pibil? Or… OOH! Some green chicken enchiladas?  Or, or… Ok, must stop.  Dang, I’m hungry now.

Phoenix knows how to manage water.

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One of our many canals. Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

Some people claim that Phoenix shouldn’t exist, claiming we are spitting in the face of nature, growing irresponsibly and carelessly depleting our natural resources without any regard for sustainability.  My response? “Gurl, you don’t even KNOW me!”

The reality is Phoenix has been dealing with a dry climate, rapid growth and limited water supplies since the beginning, and we’re much better off than most cities in the southwest. Our city was literally designed around the canals of the Hohokam, a Native American group who harnessed the power of irrigation to turn this arid valley into fruitful cropland and a long-lasting society.

Unlike most other cities in the southwest, Phoenix can count on water from more than one source. We get our liquid of life from the Colorado River, the Salt and Verde River watersheds,  ground water from the city’s wells, and reclaimed water.  In 1980, the State passed a law requiring “water banking” underground for drier times, and Arizona now won’t approve any new development unless there is a 100 year water supply to sustain it.  Are we the “greenest” and most sustainable city in America? No. But we’re not going to dry up any time soon. Check out more at: http://phoenix.gov/waterservices/wrc/yourwater/

Our sky is huge. Our sunsets are legendary.

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Just a typical sunset in one of our many desert preserves. Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

The sky is just bigger out here. Maybe it’s the lack of big trees, or maybe it’s because we’re just closer to heaven. Laugh if you want, but you’ll believe heaven isn’t far away when you see our hot desert sun paint a masterpiece behind silhouettes of saguaros, palm trees and mountainsides.

It’s inexpensive.

The concept of “expensive” is relative, so let’s compare Phoenix with San Diego.  Considering food, gas, housing, transportation, healthcare and utilities, Phoenix’s cost of living is 34% lower than San Diego’s.  But since median income is only 20% less, a decent quality of life is that much more in reach.  Oh, and Phoenix is also cheaper than Seattle, Los Angeles, Denver, Las Vegas, Chicago, Miami, and almost every other large city in the United States. (Source: cost of living calculator at areavibes.com)

The Sonoran desert is a different kind of beautiful.

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Saguaros, palo verde trees and an ocotillo. Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

If you’re looking for a grassy forest with moss-covered rocks and fairies flitting about, Phoenix isn’t the place for you. The Sonoran desert is a land of imposing mountains and vast valleys with life popping up where you least expect it. Beauty comes in shades of sage, brown, gray and black, and spring turns the landscape into a promised land of yellow, green, purple and pink. And with mountain trails all around, there are countless opportunities to appreciate the beauty of the desert.

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Spring flowers on a hedgehog cactus. Photo credit: Ron Niebrugge, http://www.wildnatureimages.com

Camelback Mountain, Photo credit: wikimedia commons

Camelback Mountain, Photo credit: wikimedia commons

We’re really quite progressive, despite what it seems.

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Street art in Phoenix

Our state may have some crazy politicians, but their bizarre antics do not represent how the average Phoenician thinks.  Frankly we are very embarrassed that our politicians have made the world think we’re all racist, homophobic and generally intolerant people.  Don’t get me wrong, we have plenty of those, but generally speaking, Phoenix residents are quite middle-thinking.  Phoenix is a blue splotch in a sea of red voting districts, and as our demographic makeup changes our city is growing more and more centered.

We get to take advantage of our top-notch resorts.

Whether you’re golfing, meeting up for a drink, having a spa day or a full-on “staycation,” our city has some of the best resorts around. And best yet, the drastically reduced summer prices make those luxuries accessible for the masses.

We have excellent roads and mucho free parking.

Potholes, crumbling asphalt, and hunting for parking are foreign concepts to Arizona natives. Here our road and freeway systems are well planned, well kept, and wide enough to accommodate our growing population. And yeah, free parking is everywhere.

Citrus, citrus, everywhere!

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Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

One of the “Five C’s” of Arizona industry (along with cotton, copper, cattle and climate), citrus trees are everywhere. In cooler months people have so many oranges, lemons, grapefruits or tangerines that they are giving them away by the bagful. And let’s not forget the intoxicating smell of orange blossoms in the spring! It just doesn’t get any better than that.

Summers bring out the “Phoenix” in us.

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Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

Our sweltering summers bring out our resourceful side. When it doesn’t dip below 100 for months, we learn to adapt. We stay inside a lot. We praise God for the gift of air conditioning when we’re not in a pool or cooling off at one of our lakes, water parks, or with frozen treats and occasional trips to cooler places.  After a few months of sacrifice, we’re rejoicing in our gorgeous weather again for another seven months while the rest of the country braces for the dark days.

We’re a short drive away from other worlds.

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West Fork, Oak Creek Canyon. Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

When we need a break from our desert metropolis, we have plenty of options to drive to.  In a matter of a couple of hours we can escape to explore mountains, canyons, forests and amazing rock formations all around the state.  We can take a trip to funky ghost towns, ski resorts, artist communities or even head up to the Grand Canyon if we’re feeling adventurous. San Diego, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles are all within a six hour drive, and we’re particularly fond of margaritas on the beach in Rocky Point, Mexico, only four hours away.

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Aspen trees along a road in Flagstaff. Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

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Skiing at Snow Bowl. Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

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Rocky Point (Puerto Peñasco), Mexico. Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

 

Our plants and animals are the definition of badass.

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A cactus wren chillin’ in a cholla cactus (pronounced choy-ah). Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

From beautiful and to bizarre, delicate to dangerous, desert life is something to be respected and admired. With their spines, blossoms, fangs, feathers, and fur, our flora and fauna are the definition of “hard and soft” and are truly the ultimate survivors. And props to them for not even needing air conditioning or bottled water!

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Hey, Mr. coyote! Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

There’s always something to do (and eat!)

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Day of the Dead celebration at Mesa Arts Center

No matter what you’re into, you can find it here. We have art fairs, culinary festivals, sporting events, biker fests and everything in between. And from the Day of the Dead to Chinese New Year, we celebrate our many cultures with pride.  Proof of a higher power comes in the form of taco festivals, tamale festivals, salsa festivals, and tequila festivals.  HECK yes.  Did I mention we have tons of amazing restaurants?  From Ethiopian fare to chicken and waffles, we’ve got it all.  Oh, and you know, we have some awesome Mexican food…

Our people are everything.

Rock and Roll Marathon

Phoenix’s greatest quality is its people.  We’re a little bit Midwest, a little bit California, a little bit Mexico and a ton of pure awesomeness.  We’re a deliciously fabulous, ever-growing fondue pot of people with a dream to rise above the ashes to do something great in life.  And in a city where natives like me are rare, friends truly become family.  In my 29 years here, I’ve met the most amazing individuals who have filled my life with love and learning, teaching me that the human spirit is something more powerful and beautiful than what I could have imagined.  The sappy cliché “home is where the heart is” normally makes me want to roll my eyes, but that’s honestly how I feel about Phoenix, and I have the people around me to thank.

In summary, Phoenix is freaking awesome.

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“Calle 16” street art in Phoenix near Barrio Cafe.

While I don’t claim it’s perfect, Phoenix is a pretty damn awesome place to call home.  And I think the growing number of Phoenicians would have to agree, it’s far from the “worst place ever.”  When it comes down to it, you could bash any city for its shortcomings, but if you’re stuck complaining all the time, you’re missing out on the truly special and beautiful things right in front of you.

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A view of Phoenix from Camelback Mountain. Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

What awesome things about Phoenix have I forgotten to include? Let me know in the comment box below!