5 Year Housiversary

I can’t believe it’s been 5 years since I took a leap of faith and became a homeowner! At that time, the only thing at the forefront of my mind was to put down roots so my son could have a neighborhood to grow up in just like every classic tv show. I remember after closing going into a deep depression wondering if I had taken on too much. We went from a 600 sq ft one-bedroom apartment to a 1600 sq ft three-bedroom home of our own in what felt like overnight. Even though I sacrificed and saved in a small apartment for nearly 3 years, nothing prepared me for the anxiety felt on closing day. Is it really over after months of searching through dozens and dozens of houses? Signing the huge stacks of mortgage documents definitely made it all real, but nothing felt better than knowing I was DOING it despite my fears. Let me change that, nothing felt better than knowing I DID it!

5 years later I have zero regrets. My home has hosted countless house parties, backyard cookouts, and Sunday dinners. Our extra bedroom has turned from a game room to an office to a welcoming spot for our exchange student turned Moroccan daughter, and now a place for my kid brother who’s permanently visiting. The joy I have felt in my home has been immeasurable. The best and most rewarding decision ever! With that, here’s to 5 years that went by in a blink of an eye and to many years to come creating unforgettable memories in a home filled with peace, love, laughter, and lots of friends and family!

Decor Tip: Framed Greeting Cards

A quick and easy way to store and display your fav or most precious greeting cards is to FRAME them!

I received this Blue Mountain card, titled Don’t Ever Lose Sight of the Wonderful Person You Are, in 2014 from my former supervisor/mentor. I now keep this card framed with a photo of me in primary school. These are the words I needed to hear as a little girl. These are the words I need to read every day to continue to become a better me.

Turn to your fav magazine for more quick, easy and FREE art! This beautiful African model rocking jumbo gold metal earrings was ripped from the pages of a Harper’s Bazaar magazine. High fashion turned high quality framed art!

Nobody’s Gonna Know

For years I stared at my bland staircase and dreamed of it looking…well anyway other than the way it did. If only I could knock out the wall and expose the staircase, but that takes money and finding someone that knows what they are doing. I didn’t have the funds or patience for either. Right when I thought my options were nonexistent, hope appeared.

One quick, budget friendly way to update a staircase is to paint the handrail. I scrounged up two cans of paint from the garage and somehow a masterpiece was done. Because I literally had this paint for over 5 years, it’s safe to say this was a zero dollar project! Here’s a look at the before.

I originally wanted to paint the entire handrail (split level) black, but the can was mostly empty. I did have, however, an unopened Behr paint and primer in Rich Mahogany that was going to have to do!

Here’s what it looked like after one coat. I was starting to get nervous, but knew I had to trust the process.

After a few coats of Rich Mahogany, I then applied a thin layer of black paint. The results were a beautiful stained wood effect. Nobody’s gonna know that this was a DIY! How would they know?

DIY Kid Furniture Makeover

My son, Art Effect Kid, decided to take matters into his own hands and update his favorite bookcase he’s had since first grade. That typically would spell disaster… but even I was impressed with the final reveal.

Check out Art Effect Kid’s DIY LED bookcase using supplies around the house!

Furniture: Cube Storage Bookcase (found around 5 years ago at a local thrift store for $10)

Supplies: Black Spray Paint (already on hand from previous projects) and White Motion Activated LED Strip Light ($12.99) from Hobby Lobby


The original bookcase was a natural, light wood color. It took approximately 6 spray cans to cover the entire bookcase. Not sure if that sounds excessive, but some spray cans weren’t full because they were previously used in other projects. He didn’t do any sanding or other prep work other than wiping away any obvious dust.

After a few hours, the bookcase was dry and ready to move inside. I recommend leaving the furniture outdoors overnight to make sure the spray paint smell is gone. The Kid was a bit impatient and didn’t want to wait til morning!

The led strips were placed around the top edge on the back of the bookcase. This allowed the light to reflect off the back of the wall. Took 5 minutes top-the back was self adhesive so it was quick and easy to apply!

One pack of LED lights was an exact fit!

One proud tween and his dog! I give this makeover 5 stars!

Elf’n Around

Look who made Santa’s Helper list! Smokey is ready to help build toys and help feed the reindeers!

It’s the little elf hat for me! I love a good find and a cute pet costume…put them both together and DOUBLE SCORE! Doesn’t he look dashing in his Dollar Tree Elf costume? Yup, Dollar Tree! He’s a skinny thing under all that hair/fur so a size Large was a great fit! Stay tuned for his Santa outfit!

Always Giving Thanks

This year has been full of lessons for us all. My prayer is that we will become stronger because of it. I know that I have. I’ve learned to slow down, be in the moment and never, ever take loved ones for granted. The pandemic painted a perfect picture of what can wait and what can‘t. Spending time with family is something I am no longer willing to push to the side. With that, my grateful list on today is short and sweet. I am grateful to be alive, healthy and loved.

It was important for me to show my gratitude this year in an extravagant way. It may seem silly to go about a lot of fuss for a party of three (myself, son and brother), but life is too short. I’m no longer waiting for that special moment to bring out the “good dishes” or wear that “special outfit”. Everyday should be a fancy occasion.
I may have gone a bit overboard with decorating the backyard patio!

Moroccan Connections

On August 4, 2017, my family and I welcomed an exchange student from Casablanca, Morocco into our home!

Arriving in America marked Zineb’s first trip out of the country without family and friends. Neither of us knew what to expect. In the first few days we learned about each other. As time passed, we learned from each other.

Here’s our story…

May 2017– Within days of filling out a host family application, I was told there was a possible match. We were swept in the world wind of meeting other exchange host families and parents and undergoing the screening process, all while frantically removing the piled junk in our spare bedroom that we had been using for storage.
Although, we knew Zineb was our match, we couldn’t contact her for at least a month until she received official notice and approval in her home country. Oh, the anticipation!

July 2017– We received official notification of Zineb’s arrival date and we placed our very first call! I actually dialed the number in Morocco not even thinking about international call fees. We eventually figured out that talking through social media was…well much more practical! One more month and she will be here!

August 2017– I knew there was no turning back as my son and I stood at the airport with welcome signs and balloons in our hand, searching the sea of faces for Zineb. It took for-ev-errr but there she was! Suddenly it hit me…I have a teenager! What do you do with those?! I would soon find out!

Zineb shared gifts she brought from her home-a boys Moroccan outfit for my son and a traditional Moroccan dress/Kaftan for me with matching shoes. So cute watching her get settled in!


October 2017– The first month was rough! From juggling early morning drop offs and afterschool pickups, to buying halal foods and cooking dinner every night, to explaining things I’ve never thought to explain before! Although Zineb speaks nearly-perfect English and has quickly adapted to our culture, I know the transition is difficult for her. Through all the excitement, I can still see the sadness from missing her family and friends.

November 2017– Zineb turns 16! We celebrated with a huge “Sweet Sixteen” party! Every day gets a bit easier…

My cousin visited for Thanksgiving and we cooked a feast! Zineb made Moroccan treats from scratch. As we all sat around the table and shared our blessings, I felt whole – as if Z’ was part of our family all along.

December 2017– This month marks Zineb’s very first Christmas. I never laughed so hard from trying to explain Christmas traditions, like why we leave out milk and cookies for Santa. I wasn’t laughing however when Zineb opened a UPS package of presents for under the Christmas tree (spoiler alert!). I’m quite sure my son had something to do with reassuring her it was okay to open them!

This month also marks our first family trip! We went sledding on the dunes at White Sands National Monument, an incredible experience. The sand really does look like snow. Then, we spent the night in El Paso, TX ( one hour drive away) and visited the shops and sights near the Mexico border the next morning. Driving back on Christmas Eve with hidden presents to wrap (what the kids hadn’t opened already) made for a very long night! Yet, nothing compared to watching my son and Zineb’s excitement on Christmas morning.

January 2018– I never imagined I would feel so fulfilled as a host mom. Since her arrival, Zineb has been patient with us as she shared her culture and traditions. We are still learning to be mindful of her prayer times and respectful of the foods she can not eat. This month also marks the halfway/mid year point.

February 2018– Viva Las Vegas! When your best friend is moving to Las Vegas, NV and invites your family along you DO it! Although much of our time was spent unpacking boxes than shopping and sightseeing, we had a ton of fun!

March 2018– Denver here we come! This time it was all work for me, having to attend a conference. I managed to skip a few sessions to explore downtown Denver with the kids. We made the most of the trip spending nearly 4 hours in IKEA and visiting my cousin and his family in Colorado Springs.

Spring Break– Zineb travelled to California to visit a fellow Moroccan exchange student living there with his host mom. So glad to have the support of other host families near and far!


April 2018– Prom anyone?!? Oh the reminders of a having an instant teenager! It was an all-day affair from hair appointments to doing her makeup. Zineb was absolutely stunning! I was a bit nervous as any mom would be on prom night. All’s well that ends well.

May 2018– Where did the time go? Last day of school is May 23rd. The exchange program’s pre-return orientation is May 26th. Everyone is a bit somber, trying not to think about the inevitable. My grandmother visiting us is a great distraction. Zineb told me she reminder her of her own grandmother-a gift to us all.

June 2018- 10 months gone-just. like. that. We survived something new and unfamiliar, yet we became so close that it was hard to let go. Zineb from Morocco had become “Z” my Moroccan daughter. I felt relieved (that I survived with minimal damage) and sad (because her presence felt so organic) at the same time.

On June 5th, we were back in the same airport, with the same signs. This time, or hearts and smiles were different. They both grew.

Today, Zineb is 17 and on track to graduate high school in Morocco by 2020. She plans on returning to the US to pursue college.

Zineb came to study in the U.S. through the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study (YES) Abroad Program, hosted through AFS.

To learn more about YES, go to https://exchanges.state.gov/us/program/kennedy-lugar-youth-exchange-study-yes-abroad

If interested in becoming a host parent, please visit https://www.afsusa.org