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.

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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!