Living With Kids: Sophie McCurley

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.

–-

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.

38 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Sophie McCurley”

  1. Sophie! What a lovely story, lovely home, and such genuine words. I love the colorful quilt on your bed–can you share the source? Such an anthro vibe :) I love the careful simplicity of your home; I’m striving to be more minimalist in our approach to living. Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Thank you Nora! The coverlet is a Mexican Otomi textile I found at a vintage store near our home. I’ve seen them on ebay and Etsy, too. :)

      1. Sophie —

        I also adore that coverlet — and I am a fellow Phoenician (Arcadia area and loving it)! Could you give the scoop on which store? And maybe a few other stores you like? We’re in the process of simplifying as well and your style is inspiring.

  2. I feel the same way about dinner! For the first few years I struggled with making dinner (I love to cook) but my son refused to eat most of what I made. He likes it simple, protein with raw veggies and rice. I always joke that he eats better then most adults. When I learned to simplify things got easier. I always felt guilty that he wasn’t eating exotic spices or that he didn’t like hummus. Very sweet home!

    1. Thank you Megan! I’m sure your son does eat better than most adults! My girls love eating raw fruits and vegetables too and I’m always thinking I should be eating what they’re eating. ;)

  3. Lovely! We have cabin fever too though different seasons, living in a tiny house north of Buffalo ny. There is so much snow one can take in a winter. Haha. Funny thing is that we sometimes( too rarely) escape to Phoenix in the winter and daydream about relocating but always conclude ‘nah, we need a little snow ( a little not 6′ at once!) and milder summers.’
    Lovely lovely tour.

  4. This is so lovely! Phoenix gets such a bad rap, but it’s such a wonderful city in so many ways, and Sophie’s captured them so well (we only live about 10 minutes away from her, by the sound of it!). I appreciate hearing from someone who loves this place that we live!

    1. Thank you Angela! I would love to know what your favorite places are here! There are so many new developments it’s hard keeping up with all of them. Glad to hear you love the city too. Xx

  5. I love the simple style of this home. It reminds me of our first home which we now rent out. I live a couple hours south in Tucson and also love the desert and our state. There is such a variety of landscapes here and they are all beautiful. Thanks for a lovely tour!

    1. Thank you Kathleen! I have family and dear friends that live in Oro Valley and it always surprises me how refreshed I feel after visiting them. The Tucson desert is so much more lush than ours – it’s beautiful! And the Catalina mountains are just spectacular. Xx

  6. Pancakes and bacon is our go-to when I don’t feel like cooking or I’ve forgotten to take the meat out of the freezer to thaw. The kids love it!

    1. We love breakfast for dinner Rachael! Nigella Lawson has a really wonderful and easy pancake recipe if you’re ever in search of trying a new one. I think it’s called, “American Pancakes”. :)

  7. Oh my goodness! This house reminds me a lot of my own. Tiny old house. You’re much better at keeping it decluttered than I am, but I do try!!! We love it here and the charm is incredible. Love these small house posts!

  8. I enjoyed reading this story! I totally relate to Sophie’s meal battles!!!

    I love cooking and eating healthy, lots of vegetables and funky nuts and seeds and grains and such. Exotic, wholesome, organic and local if possible. And when it gets to baking, I LOVE experimenting. I LIVE for funky recipes. Haha. My husband, on the other hand, loves the very simple basics, like Pillsbury chocolate chip cookies, lasagna, spaghetti. Our kids are split, one takes after him, one takes after me. I too have recently discovered the joy and simplicity of a non-gourmet meal. We are a huge fan of scrambled eggs and buttered toast for dinner. It just simplifies things so much.

    I also loved the Waldorf school, and would totally jump head-first into it if the option were available for my children. Glad your family can take advantage and enjoy it. :)

    1. Thank you Sabijo! Yes, mealtime drama nearly did me in. I’m glad your family has discovered they love scrambled eggs and toast for dinner!

      As for Waldorf, we feel so blessed to be where we are. It is a truly magical place!

    1. Thank you Emily! Your ‘Arizona’ category on your blog is spot on! You seem to be checking off all of the great things to do here. If you ever need recommendations, let me know! Glad you’re loving it so much. Xx

  9. What a great home! As a Texas resident, we too get a little cabin fever in the summer heat – like you, Sophie, we wouldn’t trade our central location for more space (though we can be tempted by late August, when we are seriously flagging!)

    Phoenix is a great city – nice to see it getting such a lovely review from a lifelong resident! Cheers!

  10. Hi, I love your kids beds.. where are they from? And I am SO impressed at how organized and decluttered you are. With THREE kids. Amazing.

  11. I recently let go of getting my older son to school on time. It was causing me so much stress, and no one besides me seemed to care much (he’s usually there within 5 minutes of the official start, and his class starts off having breakfast together, which he prefers to eat at home). I know eventually he’ll need to learn how to get to school on time, but 2nd grade isn’t going to be it! I love it when we can just let go of the things that stress us out that aren’t actually that important in the big scheme of things. I think I’ve pretty much already let go of that in the dinner category though – I’m not sure my expectations can go much lower there ;) Lovely home. Good de-cluttering inspiration!

  12. I LOVED this home! So clean and uncluttered and cheerful- three things I strive (and often fail!) for my home! That bookshelf in your girls’ room is the most perfect perfect color! I need it! Did you buy it somewhere or pain it yourself?

  13. I was greatly surprised to find that I have several unexpected things in common with you and your family. I really enjoyed reading your story as a fellow Arizonan, I live in Tucson. As a single mother of a 2 1/2 year old who lives in a one bedroom house I can relate to the feeling of claustrophobia during the summer and trying to find space inside our small rental house. Thank you for sharing your love of your home town, it’s true that almost no one has a kind word for Phoenix and it’s nice to hear a different perspective. I know the area you live in and you are lucky to be able to walk to those wonderful spots downtown. I am sure you already know that the library lets you ‘check-out’ passes to the museum? Thanks again for telling your story of living life simply and finding joy in the small things in life.

  14. Thank you, Sophie, for showing your beautiful home and telling us about your lovely family. I enjoyed seeing a rented house that is as modest in size as ours. My two kids will soon have to share a bedroom as well (once I get my daughter to sleep through the night…) and your girls’ bedroom is very inspiring to me – and I love how you turn those sleepless nights into a fond memory! I also love your idea of dates with each single child.
    We also live close to the city center and the constant rumble of cars is our melody by day and night. It might not be as peaceful as in the suburbs but once our kids are older, they will be able to go everywhere by bicycle, bus and subway. There is a great mix of people in our street, young and old, kids and retirees – I prefer that to the rather homogenous suburbs we have here in Germany.
    Thank you also for reminding me to keep things simple – kids don’t want or need lots of stuff, they just want to play and relax and have fun.
    What a wonderful home tour and interview – my best wishes to you and your family.

  15. I just had to come comment because of all the similarities to my family that I found in your post! We live in Phoenix too, and my kids are about the same age as yours: 6, 3, and 10 months. (1 girl, 2 boys) :-) We live quite north of you, though, where the 17 and 101 cross, so we’re in more of the suburban wasteland part. I would love to live in the downtown area, but alas, work, family, and our rental situation don’t allow it. :-( Sounds like you’re around the Encanto area? I love those houses. We do take the light rail down to the art museum, Burton Barr, or the science center every couple months. We love the Japanese Friendship Garden too. And we, too, will be found at swimming lessons all summer long, at the city pool! :-) Thanks for sharing your lovely home.

  16. Kate the Great

    I love the valance in your bathroom. I’m not a fan of white, white, white, but the flow of that fabric is just stunning. Tell us about it– did you make it yourself? Did you buy it, and if so, where? Was it a gift or did it come with the house?

  17. I think this is my favorite tour. Maybe because I’m in a 2/1 rental in Tucson, so I was reading it carefully for inspiration. Three cheers for quaint simplicity!

  18. I love the floors and the colorful bedspread!
    I also have a Zosia- she’s 13. So you and your daughter have the same name- in different languages!!

  19. Fabulous inspiration! Our family of 6 is moving to England this week to a 1200 square foot rental so I am so glad for this beautiful timely home tour. Love the white and love the basket collection. I have the same loves. Best wishes in Phoenix!

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