By Gabrielle.

I am a big fan of families who not only make a smaller space work, but actually thrive in it. (I think I’ve told you this before!) There’s often so much more to living with kids than the house itself, right? Spacious, cozy, or somewhere in between, much of the goodness comes from what’s outside the front door.

And the way Sophie describes it, Phoenix has a lot to offer (I spent half of last week in Phoenix, and I agree!). Like the weather. For those who live in a cold climate, Phoenicians’ winters are definitely enviable. It’s the summers that keep families inside and hiding from the 110 degree heat! And it’s then that the smallness gets to Sophie. How does she deal? I’ll let her tell you! Welcome, Sophie!

Hi, everyone! My name is Sophie. I’m married to a totally awesome guy named Mike, and together we have three daughters: Ava, Perla, and Zosia.

Mike and I are both native Phoenicians, which seems to be mind-boggling to many people here. Lots of natives leave, while many non-natives relocate here. I used to be one of the people who couldn’t wait to leave, but over the years I’ve come to develop a true love for our city and state. Anyway, we were both born in the same hospital, which we now live a block away from. Sometimes I feel silly admitting that, but the hospital itself is somewhat of a landmark with some unique architecture, so it’s fun looking out our dining room window and seeing the place where we both started. We also live half a mile from the high school I attended. Another one of those things I’m not sure I should admit or not! Ha!

Phoenix often gets a really bad rap for being nothing more than a suburban wasteland, and that can’t be farther from the truth. While, yes, a large majority of the city is indeed suburban, the area in which we live is rich with cultural diversity. We live in a historic neighborhood in the downtown central area, where local businesses reign and true community exists. Our neighbors are some of the friendliest, kindest, most generous people you will ever meet. The market up the street knows us by name and treats my girls to lollipops every time we’re in.

We’re a three block walk from award-winning dining, a ten minute walk to our famous local library, the Phoenix Art Museum, several wonderful playgrounds, and our favorite neighborhood cafe. Just a few blocks from us is a glass studio that hosts live glass blowing performances during downtown’s First Friday Art Walk. Ten minutes on a bike will land you at the Children’s Museum, Symphony Hall, the Science Center, Chase Field Ballpark, or Saturday’s open air Farmer’s Market. We can see Piestewa Peak from our living room, watch airplanes flying into the airport, and can walk across the street to the public pool. It is truly a dream.

There’s just so much this city has to offer. And beyond the city are all of the other wonderful things Arizona has to offer. Surrounding us is the breathtakingly beautiful desert, with its blooming cactus, stunning sunsets, and late-summer monsoons. Mountains that offer the perfect day hike. Two hours north you’re in the forest, with much cooler temperatures and snow in the winter. And just beyond that is the Grand Canyon! There’s just so much beauty in our state it’s hard not to fall in love with it.

Although Mike and I were born in the same hospital, our paths didn’t cross until many years later when we worked together as baristas in the same cafe. It was an almost instantaneous connection; we were married less than 18 months later! We’ve been married seven years, over the course of which I’ve realized we make a pretty perfect match. Mike is level-headed and slow to speak, whereas I’m more hot tempered and I definitely speak too quickly. He loves coming home from work and taking over so that I can have a break. I fold the laundry, he puts it away. We make each other laugh every day. The mutual balance we’ve achieved is something I’ve really become so thankful for in our marriage.

Mike works his dream job for a small, super cool company that hosts luxury automobile launch events, where his workdays are filled with researching and writing about new cars, the occasional traveling, and of course lots of fun test driving. I stay home with our girls, and when I have an extra minute during nap time or after bedtime I’m working on my bonnet business, Booboos’ Bonnets, which I started last summer.

Our oldest daughter, Ava, is six years old and my mini-me. She is adventurous, strong willed, incredibly kind and compassionate, and the best big sister. She can also be a bit timid, and she prefers to observe before jumping into any new situation. She has wild blond hair that’s always in her face, and she insists on wearing only dresses and skirts. She is at that age where she craves independence, so little by little I’ve been letting her branch out; she’ll ride ahead a bit on our bike ride through the park, she’ll go get her own water at our favorite cafe, or she’ll make her own breakfast of peanut butter toast in the morning. Ava attends kindergarten at a Waldorf school, which has been incredibly rewarding for her and for our family.

It is unlike any other schooling we’ve experienced. Academics are introduced slowly starting in the first grade, so the main focus of kindergarten lies heavily in teaching life skills and nurturing the creative side of the brain. The school is essentially on a farm, where there are animals, a pond, and a huge, beautiful garden. The children take comfort in structure and routine, so their day to day activities differ ever so slightly while largely remaining the same. They’ll play outside, help make bread, set their table with real dishes and glass where they share a healthy snack together (like millet and quinoa, oatmeal, and Stone Stoup), wash their own dishes after snack, engage in inside play with open-ended, imaginative toys, sing songs, help in the garden or chicken coop, finger knit, watercolor, or go for nature walks. The children can climb trees outside, dig in the mud with real shovels, and use real knives to chop their own vegetables for Stone Soup. There are no desks in the kindergarten rooms, but just one large table where they all sit together. There are no grades or point systems. It is a truly freeing, safe space for Ava to just be a child.

Our second daughter, Perla, will be four next month. Her birthday falls the day after my younger brother’s and it’s been so fun finding how similar their goofy personalities are. Perla is our little firecracker. She’s sensitive, incredibly sweet, endlessly hilarious, and surprisingly witty for an almost-four-year-old. She’s always preferred wearing the same two or three favorite pieces of clothing until they’re completely worn out, or wearing nothing at all, which means I’ve basically stopped buying her clothes. She and Ava get along fantastically, which makes me so happy. I always wanted a sister, so I’m ecstatic my girls have each other.

And lastly, our third daughter, Zosia (pronounced zoh-shah), is ten months old. Sweet Zosia made her timely appearance on her due date, which was shocking because our first two were both one to two weeks late. I remember getting coffee that morning and the barista exclaimed, “Oh my gosh! You look ready to pop!” to which I replied, “Oh no, I still have at least a week!” Little did I know I’d have a baby in my arms eight hours later. Zosia is likely our last baby, so I’ve been making a conscious effort to slow down and treasure every moment of her baby-ness. She’s on the move now though, so literally slowing down has been difficult!

Mike and I moved seven times in the first five years of our marriage. A completely irrational number if you ask me! I’m somewhat of a real estate and interior design nut though, so I had fun with it when we were younger. While it ultimately taught us more about who we are as a family and what we want in a house, at this point you couldn’t pay me to move into another rental. Partly because we just love ours so much and because yes, moving is the worst!

We’ve lived in our current home for just over two years now (the longest anywhere) and happily call it home. We are incredibly lucky to be here, a feeling that I think has fostered an attachment to this home unlike any of our previous houses. The neighborhood we live in is wonderfully unique. I’ve lived here on and off since I was a child, spending summers here with my father to ultimately moving my own family here. Our last house was a block from our current one, and after ten months of being there we received news our landlord was putting it up for sale. We were devastated, and frantically began searching for a new house in our neighborhood. The market was just coming back up then and rentals were incredibly sparse, many of them leasing within hours. I searched for weeks and weeks with no luck and I started feeling hopeless we’d get to stay in the neighborhood we loved so much.

Then one day we noticed a private rental sign had gone up at a house down the street from us. The house was unassuming, its exterior had been redone, and from the outside it didn’t have the historic feel most homes in our neighborhood possess. But I called the number anyway because we were desperate. We toured the house a couple of days later and instantly fell in love with it. The owner claims it to be her retirement home so she’s kept it in immaculate condition, updating it with modern amenities while keeping the home’s historic integrity in place.

It’s a small 1929 built historic 2/1 bungalow that’s just under 1000 square feet, but its coved ceilings and floor plan makes it feel much bigger than it is. Bad kitchen tile aside, we immediately filled out an application. Upon turning it in, the owner thanked us and said she had other applicants and would let us know who she chose in a few days. The anticipation nearly killed me. Never had we been in a situation where we weren’t approved for a rental on the spot. Add that to the fact I hadn’t found literally anything else in weeks and we were running dangerously low on time in our current house…I was a complete mess.

It took every ounce of self control not to beg the owner for her approval. Instead, I called her every other day for the week she was deciding. I left messages stating just how perfect the house would be for our young family, that we would love it as our own home, cherish its historic features, and be careful with its original hardwood floors. That we understood the neighborhood and we belonged here. After not hearing anything for several days, I was feeling defeated and gaining the courage to begin my search again.

Then, one afternoon while driving on the freeway, I get the call. She explains she had one other strong application from a young professional couple that looked excellent on paper. In my head I’m thinking, “They probably make more money, doesn’t have children that will no doubt put wear and tear on the place, etc.” She’s walking me through her reasoning, my stomach is in knots, and all I want to do is scream, “So who is it already?!” Finally, she delivers the good news. She’s chosen us! I started crying. I was so relieved and so excited at the same time.

She said that while the other applicants looked better on paper, she ultimately chose us because her mother, who happened to live on our old block, would watch me and the girls take our daily walks and thought we were “just the sweetest family.” I had no idea! She then went on to say she wanted someone in the house who would no doubt love it and make it their own, but can we please be careful when bathing the children not to get water on the bathroom floors, because they’re original? Of course I happily agreed!

It turns out, I’m kind of a minimalist when it comes to decorating our home. I’ve never been big into hanging onto things, and I’m constantly purging – a skill that’s slowly rubbing off on my husband, to my delight! I’m drawn to bright, natural light, wood tones, clean lines, quirky art, and, lately, cobalt blue. I always have fresh flowers in the house and I’m obsessed with a good basket. Mike jokes I’m not allowed any more baskets, but seriously, there’s nothing a good basket can’t handle. I have them for my knitting and sewing projects, children’s toys, house plants, shoes, our keys, toilet paper in the bathroom…they’re everywhere!

And I know they’re trendy, but my home wouldn’t be the same without my fiddle-leaf fig tree. I randomly found it at a resale shop for $19 a few years ago and it’s been my baby ever since. After having it maybe a year or so its growth nearly stopped so I asked a horticulturist friend of mine what to do and she recommended repotting it. So I put it into a new, larger pot, and it went into shock! All but one leaf fell over the course of just a few days. It was the first houseplant I’d ever owned that didn’t die immediately so I was frantic thinking I killed it. Thankfully that last leaf held on and slowly the tree has started growing again.

I also love a freshly stocked fridge. Nothing makes me happier than unloading a haul of groceries and neatly organizing it in the fridge. It’s the little things.

I think our home works because no area is off limits to my children, and because we keep it tidy and organized. People like to assume that because I have white furniture my children aren’t allowed to touch anything. Um, everything is washable! This is their home as much as it is ours. That’s not to say they don’t have rules, because they do – food at the table only, no shoes on inside, don’t be destructive, etc. – just that they also understand respecting our belongings.

We don’t have a coffee table because we’d rather have more room for the children to play. Our dining table is probably too big for the space, but that’s okay because at any given time it’s covered in someone’s project, whether it be my sewing or the girls’ coloring or Legos. Our entry cabinet houses all of my sewing materials, and you better believe each bed and closet space is fully utilized.

“Everything has a home” is something I’m constantly repeating during clean up time. I’ll admit, comfortably squeezing five people into a 2/1 home has not been easy. On one hand, I absolutely love being close to each other and I love that the small space keeps our belongings to a minimum. On the other hand, it’s difficult being close to each other all of the time. It’s hard for me to let the children go wild inside when our hollow floors amplify every movement and the farthest I can be from any yelling or screaming at any point is maybe twenty feet. Sometimes it’s frustrating to have to wait until the children are asleep at night to watch our shows because they’re too loud or scary – Game of Thrones, anyone?

The true test comes in the summer, though, when temperatures reach upwards of 110 degrees daily and we’re all stuck inside with cabin fever. This is when living feet from the public pool comes in handy! And sometimes when the smallness really gets to me and I find myself wishing for a giant suburban home and my own sewing studio, an indoor swing, and a sectional sofa, I have to remind myself of the reasons we choose to live here. And they far outweigh any small living temporary moments of madness.

Although we rent, I think our home feels permanent because we’ve found exactly how it works for us. My daughter’s beds fit perfectly in their tiny bedroom. We’ve started a backyard garden. We’ve hung art and family photos. Over the two years we’ve been here we’ve had to make adjustments with furniture and flow but I think we’ve finally achieved what works best for us.

I think what really helps is that no space is off limits. (Maybe I should change this because I can’t get a minute alone to use the bathroom!) We don’t have too much stuff and we try to keep the clutter to a minimum. The children are allowed to bring toys, puzzles, and books into the living areas so long as they’re put back in their homes at night. We keep their art supplies in the dining room, where they also have a designated wall to tape their artwork. During the cooler months we spend as much time as we possibly can outside, tending to the garden, jumping on the trampoline, taking walks around the city, dining on the patio. Mike and I try to take each of the girls out on little dates when time allows. It’s amazing how their personalities change during one on one time. It truly benefits all of us when we can get away separately.

One of the things I do to help preserve my sanity is regularly attend 6:00 a.m. barre classes. I get my exercise in first thing in the morning and I come home feeling energized and refreshed and ready to tackle the day.

I really hope my children remember the love in our home. I hope they remember the sounds of the creaking floors, the helicopters flying overhead, and the city buses rattling down the street. I hope they remember walking to the pool for swim lessons all summer long. I hope they remember helping set the table for dinner and singing the blessing. I hope they remember riding their scooters while watching the sunset on our nightly walks. I hope my older children forget the sleepless nights they’ve had sharing a room with each other and their baby sister. I hope they forget my sleep-deprived mean mommy state that happens more often than I care to admit.

I wasn’t aware just how much I would love watching their young personalities blossom and bloom. They are each so incredibly different, that every time I think I have them figured out they surprise me with something new. I’ve learned just how intelligent, understanding, and insightful children are. Much more than most give credit.

My own children have taught me more about life than I ever thought possible: it’s okay to make mistakes, it’s okay to ask for help, always forgive, be silly! Don’t let any one thing ruin your day. Simple ideas that adults tend to overcomplicate. Children just want to laugh and have fun. And who doesn’t love having fun?

Looking back, I wish someone had told me not to stress over dinner. Growing up, my mother had a hot, home cooked meal for us every single night. This is something I seriously took for granted as a child. Dinner is hard! I don’t know how my mom did it. No matter how much meal planning and grocery shopping I did, I always dreaded dinner prep. I love cooking, and I believe myself to be pretty good at it, but cooking for five with very different tastes in food is a challenge in itself. Mike is a vegetarian and my girls eat opposites. It’s difficult not feeling defeated when you’ve spent time and energy preparing something you think will appease everyone only to find out your three-year-old suddenly hates every single thing on the plate.

Up until just a few months ago, this is a concept I constantly battled. I felt guilty for not having a nutritious, colorful, delicious meal ready for my family at 5:30 every evening. I would cry when one of my children refused to eat what I put in front of them. My grocery lists were long, with endless ingredients for a single recipe that required an hour’s worth of chopping, blending, sautéing, and roasting. I started to loathe cooking. I don’t know exactly when it hit me, but one day I realized the world won’t end if I feed my children peanut butter and jelly for dinner every once in a while. Or if we have bean burritos twice in one week! (To my credit, the beans are homemade!) Or if I serve steamed broccoli and rice.

But once that hit me, it was like a ton of bricks had been lifted off of me and I could breathe easy again. Dinner was stressing me out way more than I imagined and I just let it all go. I still cook more complex meals, just not as often. And I don’t take it personally when my children don’t eat what I’ve served them. There is a season for everything in life. Right now, fancy dinners just aren’t in season for me, and that’s okay.

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Thank you, Sophie! I smiled when you admitted to feeling silly about living in the same town your entire life, with a clear view of precisely where you began. That doesn’t sound silly at all. In fact, it sounds quite lovely, especially when it’s apparent that you adore your city so, so much. (It would be an entirely different thing if you abhorred Phoenix, wouldn’t it? Phrew for loving the place you live!)

Funny, too, is how refreshing life gets when you remove that which causes you unnecessary stress. I love that you’ve learned to not be hard on yourself about what’s being served! At our house, my default is breakfast-for-dinner when I’m out of menu ideas. What about you? What do you serve when you’re not up for preparing a big meal and don’t want to eat out?

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.