Living With Kids: Anna Keep

September 3, 2013

By Gabrielle.

There are a few moments in this tour when my heart aches for Anna. She currently lives in the home she and her former husband built and dreamed of living in for their family’s future. As we all know, though, some of the most beautiful plans are the ones that change into other plans altogether. Still beautiful, just maybe unexpectedly so. The marriage is no longer, but the boys and home Anna and her ex built together are still thriving. And so, I can happily tell you, is Anna.

I didn’t know her circumstances during our correspondence — homeowners and I email a lot back and forth throughout this process! — but I always thought of her as so upbeat and positive in her words and decoration. I had no idea of what she may have endured emotionally to get to this point. Her honest answers were probably difficult for her to write, but I believe she made herself write them to remind herself (and us, too) that lessons are everywhere, just waiting to be learned. The hard way, the easy way, and all the ways in between. I love this tour so much, and thank Anna from the bottom of my heart for giving us so much of her own. Friends, please meet Anna.

Q: Please tell us about everyone who lives here!

A: I share my home with my two freckled boys: Ross, aged ten, and Ben, aged eight. Plus, at last count, nine goldfish, four wild green parrots, and a rotation of hamsters. There is also a puppy dog coming soon! Our housekeeper named Sharlena hails from Zimbabwe, and she and her teenage son, Thami, also share our property in a garden cottage.

Ross is a relatively serious lad with a brilliant memory, strategic thought process, precise habits, tradition of long showers, distaste for sloppy food, and more than a mild addiction to MineCraft. Ben, widely known as Boomie, is my street-smart child. He loves a deal, a discount, an incentive, or prize, and can be persuaded to undertake almost any task for financial reward! His favorite foods are sushi and curry, preferably on the same plate! Whilst Ross has been afflicted with his fair share of strange diseases and ailments, one once life-threatening and inordinately stressful, Ben is accident-prone yet remains free from any broken bones or stitches to date. Ben is desperate to bungee jump and shark cage dive. Ross and I? Not so much!

I am Anna, lover of the quirky and clever, be it unique product and packaging, eclectic interiors, pretty gardens, or beautiful prose. I am also a lover of structure, organization, and symmetry! I dislike the pointy ends of bananas, love the names of paint colors, and am in awe of the practically and emotionally courageous in this world. I am (very recently) divorced and after a slow year, with many secret tears shed and too many hours to count spent curled on the sofa, I have finally emerged from the darkness and can look at my future with some sunshine again. I work as a brand and communications consultant, I consult as interior designer to various friends with a glass of wine and a chat as payment, and am working hard to get my small business, Tickled Blue, off the ground, retailing personalized smart phone covers.

Q: How did this house turn into your home?

A: My former husband and I built this home from scratch and completed it six years ago. The house took about year to build and we invested emotionally and financially in it as a long-term family home. When we began the project, my boys were little more than toddlers. We rented a house (the first of three we lived in that year) about 25 minutes from this property. The project was stressful. Our boys were very young, and we were both working full time. My mother and sister were diagnosed with breast cancer four weeks apart from each other during that year, too. The tribulations of the time were huge and they took their toll on us as a couple.

Despite it, I have loved this home. Really loved it. Its layout really works for us with our family living area consisting of a telly room, work hub, and kitchen in one, and then a more separate adult’s sitting area and dining room. The kids are lucky enough to have a bedroom each upstairs, as well a dedicated playroom. Our telly room opens completely via sliding doors onto a large terrace (one of my favorite spaces in the house), and the children can run freely from this shared space into the garden and utilize the swing, trampoline, and swimming pool at will. Despite the breakdown of my marriage whilst living here, there are many good memories associated with it. Its walls have seen happiness.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: Johannesburg, also known as Joburg, Joeys, Jozi, eGoli, or the City of Gold due to our gold mining heritage, is the business and cultural hub of South Africa. (Even with those credentials we are not South Africa’s capital city. Pretoria, with its iconic purple bloomed Jacaranda trees, and Cape Town with its even more iconic and truly awesome Table Mountain, share that honor.) Johannesburg is the economic powerhouse of southern Africa and is a sprawling metropolis probably best known for its crime statistics! These stats are not fictionalized; we have issues, but it does not affect most of our everyday lives or constrain us from enjoying this vibrant city fully. We remain alert and attuned to the dodgy parts of town as most anyone would do in a big city. We do have high walls and alarm systems in our homes, but I have never personally felt under threat from crime, nor have any members of my close family.

Johannesburg houses approximately six million people. We boast 11 official local languages, and are home to our fair share of citizens from northern African countries. Many of them live and work here legally, and even more of them sadly are here escaping economic or political disaster in the their own countries and seeking exile in our lovely land. We are also seeing an increasing number of ex-pat international professionals base themselves here and work in Sub Saharan Africa. This leads to an incredibly vibrant mix of talent all living in close proximity.

My house is situated in the suburbs approximately 25 minutes north of the Johannesburg CBD. My boys attend a boys-only private school about 5 kilometers from home. School begins at 7:15 am, and so I give thanks every day for our proximity! We have chosen to educate our boys in the private system although the local suburban government education is good; I’m grateful for the opportunities that their lovely school affords them, and I feel proud of them daily as they tootle off smartly dressed in their little uniforms. South Africa is a very sporting nation and participation in organized school sport is mandatory in most schools. My boys are in three or four sporting codes each and the school day is long, followed by after school homework, too. It’s a busy week, all round.

We have an incredible – sorry, let me say that again: INCREDIBLE! – climate! Summer temps are between 25 and 35 degrees Celsius, and most of the hotter days end with short, mighty storms which shake the trees and strain the gutters and waterways for a few minutes before passing and leaving us all exhilarated and far cooler. We seldom experience extended pitter-patter rain; our dams are filled by these dramatic storms. Winter is dry, dry, dry, with no rain at all falling between about May and September, which often gives rise to wild fires. Mornings can drop down to zero, but we are usually around the 20 degree mark by midday with overnight temps falling again. It may be of interest to note that even the tip of Africa occasionally gets snow. We experienced our first smattering in over 20 years last August!

Q: How do you think your home expresses the personality of your family?

A: This question made me laugh, as I am hugely attracted to neutral interiors. However, in looking at the photos for this feature, I realized that my home is anything but neutral! I think personally I would like my character to be more serene and calm and neutral, too, but I’m not! I experience life’s highs and lows intensely and I recognize that my home is probably more a mirror of me than I had realized.

We will be moving to a smaller home soon, and my boys are now old enough to have a vote regarding their room decor. Of course, I will be decorating without having to take a partner’s taste into account, so it will be interesting to see how the new space unfolds!

Q: How intentional are you in the design of your home?

A: I am very intentional when choosing fabrics and items for our home. In fact, I could be accused of analysis paralysis around some decisions! The upside to this is that I derive much joy from these carefully chosen pieces. I have a favorite rug and a happy painting and I love our armchairs with space for myself and both cuddly boys. My home really does give me pleasure, and I can happily potter for ages rejigging or placing things.

I hope my home is relaxed, but assuredly nothing about it is random! I am house proud and would prefer to go without than place something that is not just-right. I appreciate my boys being careful and respectful about their treatment of our home, but it is very much a family environment and I’m sanguine about the inevitable accidents that do happen. When we move to our new home, deciding which furniture pieces to let go will honestly be painful for me.

Q: What would you say are the top three features that make your house your favorite place to be?

A: Despite having largely designed the house, my top three features are interestingly not about its structure but about how we live in it. I love that the kitchen is open-plan to the boys’ homework/computer area so that we can all be together doing our chores. And I love its light. The main living areas are all north facing and catch the moving sun until mid afternoon, so there is always a patch of warmth. I totally love the large full length (one way!) window in my shower. We planted a majestic Silver Birch tree just outside it, and over the years I’ve so enjoyed seeing it lengthen and strengthen and herald each season. Right now, the spring leaf buds are visible. Yay!

I am a wannabe DIYer. I swoon with marvel at the efforts of others on blogs or Pinterest, but have no practical handy skills of my own! Luckily I have built up a great and trusty network of upholsterers and painters so I ease my feelings of DIY inadequacies with pleasure that I am a providing an income for others.

Q: Which memories have you made in this home that you’re hoping your sons takes with him into their own families?

A: Given my recent divorce, this question hurts badly. And worries me. I wonder what my children will remember of being here. I agonize over what their recent lessons will teach them about their own goals for their family futures. It is the activities we have enjoyed here together and the love that these shared times have built that we will take to our next home though…and the home after that, and maybe even the one after that. I hope they take those feelings of constancy with them, and not necessarily memories of these specific four walls.

Though I do hope that they remember that every home needs a swing. Every home.

Q: What has surprised you the most about being a mom?

A: It does not get easier as they get older! It just gets different. Children have such varied interests and challenges at each stage of their little lives, and how each of my children approaches these challenges is particular. So the guidance which is appropriate for my eldest son is not necessarily as valid for my little guy. I have also been surprised by how little I actually I know! My boys and I have a running list of topics we need to Google as the Mom-ipedia is lacking.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your sons? What do you already miss? Any regrets?

A: Having young babies is taxing. Mine were born close in age, both were very premature, and I felt a very heavy weight of responsibility for their care and nurture. The toddler years were superb. I loved the playdough-sand-art-pebble-collection-treasure hunt years. I loved the squishy hands and wet lips and and rolly thighs.

Now my boys are older and I feel a little of that earlier weight again. The responsibility of exposing them to life, widening their horizons, equipping them for sensible life choices, and the rush from one commitment to the next is beating me right now. I regret that, even whilst I live it. But, answering this question and seeing the answer type itself before me has galvanized me to do differently. I will take simple back.

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A:  Actually, this one is not about what I wish someone else had told me, but what I wish I had learnt for myself years ago: I am not great at some things. And, I am great at some things. Averaged out, that means that I AM GOOD ENOUGH. I am a good mom, I am a good sister, I am a good friend, I am a good worker. I was a good wife. I will be okay.

–-

Thank you again, Anna. You may never know how your raw answers and bittersweet musings may have helped a reader today. And I can’t wait to see the happy stamp you put on your next family home. Please keep in touch and send us snaps as soon as you settle.

Friends, have you ever had a big plan that dominated your life and your foreseeable future, only to have it completely change in front of your eyes? How did you handle it? Your stories always help someone in need.

P.S. — Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here. And if you’d like to share your own home with us, just send me a note! It’s a lot of fun…I promise!

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monday: best of last week | The Misadventures of Kelly and Kelly
September 9, 2013 at 6:01 am

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jennifer September 3, 2013 at 10:54 am

Wow, I loved this piece. I would so love to see their new house when they are settled in!

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2 anna September 4, 2013 at 11:04 am

Hi Jennifer, we are settled, almost! What a crazy world that my boys and I moved last Friday, only a few days before this piece about ‘old house’ went online. I have unpacked every box, but rather dumped their contents into cupboards so phase two will be creating behind the scenes order!

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3 Lizelle September 3, 2013 at 11:15 am

Lovely space! :)

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4 Fiona September 3, 2013 at 11:18 am

Love seeing South African homes featured, having just spent some weeks there (my home country) this summer I am still paging through the House & Garden magazines I brought back and deeming of giving my American home a South African makeover. But the best thing about this feature is the only positive things that were said about Johannesburg and no dwelling on the security and high walls that are all to common. Good luck with your move.

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5 anna September 4, 2013 at 11:07 am

We heart Jozi! It’s flawed, but it’s home. I was surprised when looking at my pics how much African influence my home actually does have, and wondered what you would add to your US of A, home to make it more R of SA? xx

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6 Viorica September 3, 2013 at 11:28 am

Thank you to Anna for opening her beautiful house and her heart to us with such amazingly honest answers!

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7 Stacy September 3, 2013 at 11:54 am

Before I started reading, I was thinking with envy of all the “Living With Kids” posts I’ve read here and how all the ladies seem to have it all together, I’m one of those who very obviously doesn’t, you can tell that the moment you drive up…but even messy, our home is our castle, full of love and fun. Reading this one was a gentle reminder that the “lives” we see here are not the full picture, real maybe for a time, but that no one’s lot is perfect or easy and while a kudos should go out to those mom’s who’ve got it together, we never really know what they are going through behind the scenes…Good Luck Anna…I hope your next home helps to continue your revitalization. Thank you Gabrielle for showing us these snapshots of others Home Sweet Home and I hope you continue to feel better and more rested as well.

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8 Anna September 4, 2013 at 1:32 pm

Thanks Stacy. I appreciate your observations. Most everyone has their trials, and those who haven’t likely miss some great learning opportunities. I’ve had A LOT of learning opportunities this past year! xx

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9 Emily September 3, 2013 at 11:54 am

One of my favorite features to date. What a beautiful home and an even more beautiful story! Sending prayers and happy thoughts your way, Anna!

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10 Vera September 3, 2013 at 11:56 am

I loved this piece. Thank you, Anna, for your honesty and beautiful photos! Looking forward to seeing your new home. Tickled Blue is a great name by the way. :)

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11 Susie September 3, 2013 at 12:42 pm

what a beautiful home! and Anna, I think your boys are very luck to have such a smart and present mom. Best of luck with your new home, I know it will be wonderful!

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12 Azra September 3, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Beautiful place. Anna, you are sweet, smart and more than a good. All the best.

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13 Rea September 3, 2013 at 1:23 pm

heartbreaking but full of lessons. this home is certainly one of a kind!

REAlity Bites</a

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14 Kelly September 3, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Much, much thanks for sharing your story with truth, strength, and vulnerability. I’m sure your new home will be filled with beauty and love as well. And that’s what it’s all about isn’t it?

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15 Kirsty September 3, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Anna! I’m only half way through reading, waiting in line to pick up my boys from school, and I just had to leave a comment immediately. It’s so wonderful to read this and see your home. I lived in Joburg for the first 15 years of my life and am now in Wisconsin. But my grandparents and best friend are still there. This one was extra special for me and I LOVE how you introduced everyone to so many details of our beautiful country.
xx Kirsty

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16 mary September 3, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Anna, thank you for sharing in such an authentic way. Your home and life is beautiful! Thank you for sharing, it means a lot. I’m also a single mother and wonder how the memories will adhere without the years to compound their weight. But as mothers….we all love our children and do the best we can.
Hope & Peace,
Mary

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17 Amanda September 3, 2013 at 3:28 pm

I just KNEW this was a South African house right from the first photo! Maybe it’s the light, the beautiful entrance, the streaming sun, the colours – I’m not sure. I loved seeing this and hearing your story Anna. Although I obviously don’t know you (although I am a South African – so who knows?!), it seems your home is a real reflection of you, your boys and your journey. And I totally agree with the comment above about your boys being lucky to have such a brave and authentic mom. Much love and best wishes.

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18 Megan September 3, 2013 at 3:36 pm

What a beautiful home, and a brilliantly written piece. I found myself wanting to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee and a great chat with Anna…preferably in her gorgeous home so I could fully appreciate, but my home would work well, too!

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19 Julie September 3, 2013 at 5:08 pm

I too decided this house must be a South African one right from the start–clearly we South Africans feel the connection. It has been 15 years since I have last seen Joburg and you have made me long for home. Best of luck, Anna.

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20 lisa thomson September 3, 2013 at 5:43 pm

What a beautiful home and family Anna has! Interestingly, my ex and I built our dream home only to split 10 months later. The memories I thought we would make there just didn’t materialize. Sometimes big plans distract us from our reality. We think they will change it or fix it but big plans rarely fix what is wrong. The key is to adapt or change the plan altogether as difficult as that is. I wrote about this in my Wine Diaries blog titled “Broken Dream Home”. Thanks for sharing your beautiful home, Anna.

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21 Courtney K September 3, 2013 at 6:48 pm

I love how raw and vulnerable this tour was- that takes a strength I hope we all can find. Thank you so much for sharing!

I also can’t get the image of showering among the trees. What a beautiful way to start or end a day.

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22 Caroline September 3, 2013 at 6:59 pm

What a lovely piece about home, family, heartache & South Africa.

I am blessed to live in the US with an American born husband & child, I after living here for 13 years became an American too….but my heart longs for South Africa, the place I was born, the place my parents, sisters, grandparents etc were born & the place that I’ve just come back from, after burying my father.

Thank you

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23 Jillian L September 3, 2013 at 7:08 pm

Anna! Thank you so much for your honesty and words. It was an honor to read them and see your reflections about your home. I have to mention, I think you would love reading Glennon Melton- momastery.com and her new book Carry On, Warrior. You as well, Gabrielle. So much raw honesty and wisdom there. Thank you both for this!

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24 Karen September 3, 2013 at 9:02 pm

Loved this home but more than that your honest words. So funny that I felt it was South African before you said it as well- something about the light. I was blessed to travel to your beautiful country years ago (we were mainly in the Pretoria area but got to venture out further for a safari adventure) and it forever left a mark on my heart. My favorite answer of yours was the last one about being enough- I’m just now learning this and I wish so bad I had known it all along. Thanks so much for sharing your heart and your home!

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25 Kholisa September 4, 2013 at 4:28 am

Yay for South Africa! So happy to see a South African feature after years of reading and loving this blog! Love you house Anna, beautifully decorated and full of love!

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26 Sara September 4, 2013 at 6:42 am

Thank you for this beautiful tour, but most of all, Anna, thank you for your honesty and courage in sharing your experience. I’m typing this with tears streaming down my face, as after a heartbreaking year of betrayal, pain, and uncertainty, my husband and I are planning a “controlled separation.” I have no idea what the future holds, and your words of hope are brave and inspiring. Thank you.

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27 LaNell September 4, 2013 at 7:13 am

Anna should add writer to her list of talents. I was left wanting more with the conclusion of this interview. I can’t remember when I have enjoyed reading a blog post more. Beautiful imagery Anna.

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28 Sarah B. September 4, 2013 at 7:13 am

I would love to know where pillow in 10th photo down (brown and white) was purchased. Lovely home and brave story. Best wishes to you going forward.

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29 Anna September 4, 2013 at 1:18 pm

Hi Sarah, I had the cushion made up in a fabric from local house called the Silk and Cotton Company. The range is called Sofia. For other local South African fabrics designs see http://www.lulafabrics.co.za or http://www.designteamfabrics.co.za or http://www.skinnylaminx.com. Enjoy the browse! Anna xx

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30 Sarah B. September 4, 2013 at 5:30 pm

Thank YOU for responding. Looking forward to checking out the links (funny, I sent my sister a link to skinnylaminx some months ago – love her things – and she promptly bought some pillows – the other two, though, are new to me).

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31 anna September 4, 2013 at 11:01 am

Wow, what a community of great women read Gabby’s blog and so many with a connection to beautiful, sunny South Africa. I was very anxious about sharing my story in such a public forum, but am so bolstered by the wonderful kind responses. Thank you, everyone. Especially you Gabby, for this ‘out of my comfort zone is where wonderful happens’ experience! xx

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32 Niina September 4, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Thank you, thank you Anna! Can’t stop the tears from falling, it’s just how beautiful and touching this was. Your sons are so fortunate to have you as a mother. Wishing you all the best in the future.

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33 Maria G. September 4, 2013 at 2:13 pm

I think that this is the most unusual house I have ever seen. The décor is very romantic and well planned. I think that children feel very cozy in this house. Especially I liked such details as inscriptions on the wall and on the napkin. They are so cute! And also I should admit that there is an ideal order in the house.

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34 Sally Roberts September 4, 2013 at 2:18 pm

Hello Ladies!
I am Anna’s Sister. I am so darned proud of her. I think this writing experience has been incredibly cathartic for her. Amongst all the great talents she has,she is has been an amazing sister. I have needed a huge amount of support of late, a brain tumor and resulting surgery. While dealing with the breakdown of her marriage, the disappointment of leaving her beloved home, managing the emotions of her darling boys through all the change, she has been there for me every step of the way. Literally holding my hand, accompanying me to doctors appointments and encouraging me practically and emotionally every step of the way. I am well now and determined to support and encourage her on this new journey she is starting.

Anna, take note of the wonderful compliments in these posts, draw strength from them. Believe in yourself. You are talented in so many ways. Listen. I love you xxx

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35 Anna (another one) September 5, 2013 at 6:27 pm

What a kind sister you are. Your words and confidence brought tears to my eyes.

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36 Bethany September 4, 2013 at 5:54 pm

Dear Anna,

Your spirit of courage and perseverance, love and kindness is so beautiful. I know that whatever comes in your family’s future, your boys will remember YOU from this home, and that is the most precious thing they can take with them. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Time will mend and heal, but even the parts that don’t ever fully mend and heal are still a beautiful part of your story.

Praying that the Lord Jesus will pour a special balm into your soul during this season of adjustment.

Keep your chin up!

Love from afar,

Bethany

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37 Liz September 5, 2013 at 6:37 am

Ah, you can’t miss the beautiful South African light anywhere – the minute I saw that first pic I thought ‘this is a South African home’!

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38 Martha September 7, 2013 at 11:18 pm

beautiful home, beautiful words! thanks for sharing all of this, anna.

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