January 2014 - The Surznick Common Room

Friday, January 31, 2014

Surznick Reads: January 2014

One question that I love/hate getting asked is, "Can you give me any good book recommendations?" It makes me happy that my friends think to ask me, but I hate that I can NEVER think of anything off the top of my head. Since this happens every so often, I thought it would be a fun idea for Nick and I to write a monthly post about the books we read that month. Hopefully this will help people who want to read more but don't know where to start, or maybe it will at least introduce new books to readers that they may not have heard of before.

In our Hey There, 2014! post I mentioned that every year I set a reading goal for myself. This year that goal is 36 books! I've already picked out 24 books we have on our shelves that I haven't read, plus I joined a book club so I'll read 1 book per month for that. So for me, this is 3 books a month (at least! I'm always looking to surpass my goal.) Nick's goal is to read 12 books total, or 1 per month. (He thinks he's a slow reader, though he's already on his 3rd book this month...)

Before we get started on our January reads, I want to share more about how Nick and I have acquired our (ever growing) library. Nick and I don't have any sort of e-readers, all of our reading is done with actual books. So if we purchased all of our books brand new, it would get rather expensive. Our absolute favorite resource for finding cheap books is thrift stores. We go to Goodwill about every other week and search the shelves for books we want to read/own, and the best part is that they only cost $1! Plus, we're not just picking up any sort of random books that we think sound interesting, we almost always find books that are on our "Want to Read" lists. You'd be surprised at what thrift stores have to offer. Most of the books are relatively new and look as if they've only been read once. If we can't find a book in a thrift store, our next stop is usually Amazon. Half Price Books is a great option too! We pretty much never buy new books unless we have a gift card or something, but we don't mind buying used.

Also, I am obsessed with Goodreads. It's an awesome way to track what you've read, what you're currently reading, and what you want to read. You can also find great book recommendations based on what's on your "shelves", you can review the books you've read, read other reader's reviews, enter giveaway contests, and make reading goals. Plus, you can connect with friends and see what they're reading too. I love that Goodreads is a place I can keep track of everything since my Want to Read list is so extensive. Everyone should go get a Goodreads account!

But now... find a cozy chair and grab a cup of tea... it's the moment you've been waiting for...

Sarah's Reads!

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
From Amazon.com: "The extraordinary #1 New York Times bestseller that will be in movie theaters on November 15, 2013, Markus Zusak's unforgettable story is about the ability of books to feed the soul. It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement. In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger, has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time."

This book was recommended to me by a friend as "one of the best books she has ever read." I got a really nice hard back copy from Nick's dad for Christmas and I started reading it immediately. It's 550+ pages, but I read it in less than a week because it is that good. So captivating. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll have all the feels. It's also narrated by Death, which is unique and shows an interesting perspective. Now I can say that it's one of the best books I have ever read too.

My Rating: 5 Stars

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
From Amazon.com: "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is the best chronicle of drug-soaked, addle-brained, rollicking good times ever committed to the printed page. It is also the tale of a long weekend road trip that has gone down in the annals of American pop culture as one of the strangest journeys ever undertaken. Now this cult classic of gonzo journalism is a major motion picture from Universal, directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro."

Well, I didn't love it but I didn't hate it. Most of the time I wasn't even sure what was happening, but that was probably the idea since it's centered around their drug-fueled escapades. I also just didn't really see the point in the story, but I guess parts of it was humorous to read. After reading some of the reviews on Goodreads, it seems like I'm not the only one who felt this way. Maybe someday I'll give Thompson another try, we'll see!

My Rating: 3 Stars

Little Bee by Chris Cleave
From Amazon.com, "We don't want to tell you too much about this book. It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know something, so we will just say this: It is extremely funny, but the African beach scene is horrific. The story starts there, but the book doesn't. And it's what happens afterward that is most important. Once you have read it, you'll want to tell everyone about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens either. The magic is in how it unfolds."

This was my January book club selection, but it was on my to-read list anyway because it was also recommended to me by my friend who loves The Book Thief (she has good taste!) The Amazon.com blurb above is also what is on the back cover of the book. After reading the back cover, I decided to not even tell Nick what it's about as I was reading it (solidarity, Chris Cleave!). I didn't really know anything about the book before I read it, but it is an incredible story and an excellent read. It's true that the beach scene was awful, and actually many other parts of the book are sad, but there's a lot of funny mixed in too. I really, really liked this and am excited to read another Cleave book that we recently purchased.

My Rating: 5 Stars

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
From Amazon.com, "Mary Shelley's timeless gothic novel presents the epic battle between man and monster at its greatest literary pitch. In trying to create life, the young student Victor Frankenstein unleashes forces beyond his control, setting into motion a long and tragic chain of events that brings Victor to the very brink of madness. How he tries to destroy his creation, as it destroys everything Victor loves, is a powerful story of love, friendship, scientific hubris, and horror."

Nope. I understand that this is a literary classic and all but it was just 100% not my flavor. Every time I sat down to read this, it felt like I read about 20 pages when it was actually only 3. My mind wandered so much and I just couldn't grasp any interest in the story. I found myself thinking about one bajillion different things while I was reading other than this book. This review on Goodreads should tell you everything you need to know.

My Rating: 1 Star

Nick's Reads!

Chronicles Volume One by Bob Dylan
From Amazon.com, "'I'd come from a long ways off and had started a long ways down. But now destiny was about to manifest itself. I felt like it was looking right at me and nobody else.' So writes Bob Dylan in Chronicles: Volume One, his remarkable book exploring critical junctures in his life and career. Through Dylan's eyes and open mind, we see Greenwich Village, circa 1961, when he first arrives in Manhattan. Dylan's New York is a magical city of possibilities -- smoky, nightlong parties; literary awakenings; transient loves and unbreakable friendships. Elegiac observations are punctuated by jabs of memories, penetrating and tough. With the book's side trips to New Orleans, Woodstock, Minnesota and points west, Chronicles: Volume One is an intimate and intensely personal recollection of extraordinary times."

I had no idea Dylan would be this inspiring. Folk music in the 1960s has always been an interest of mine, but even if it isn't one of yours, this book is still a fantastic read. The way Dylan perceived the world around him, and the ideas that crept through his mind are wildly interesting and inspiring. I've never been so motivated to pursue a passion of mine as I was when reading this book. I would recommend this book to anyone.

My Rating: 5 Stars

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
Do I really need to review this? It's Harry Potter, for crying out loud! Practically perfect cover to cover. I will say, though, that this particular book had an extremely interesting plot, that had a nice steady, slow reveal. The book allowed me to make my own discoveries regarding the plot while keeping me on my toes, which made it extremely enjoyable to read. Even though it is already number six in the series, it is perhaps one of my favorite Harry Potter books to date. I am so excited, and very sad to be approaching the end of the series (finally), and this book sets up the finale so perfectly that I cannot wait to jump right back in to the world of Harry Potter.

My Rating: 5 Stars

So what do you guys think? Have you read any of these books? We love a good book discussion, so if you have thoughts/comments/opinions about any of these, let us know! We're already reading our February books and I can't wait to share those. Check back in four weeks!

Sarah & Nick

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Mini Chicken Pot Pies

Okay, before we get to the fun stuff, we have some news to share. We finally made a Facebook page! Some of you may have already seen it and liked it, so if you did, thank you very much! We'll be sharing all of our posts there, so feel free to like the page if you want to stay connected to the blog! This is also a great place for you to comment and let us know if you have any suggestions or recommendations for future posts. We want to post what you want to see, so share away! You can also find our Facebook link over in the right sidebar where we've added some little icons so you can follow us (Sarah) on other social media too.

Alrighty, now that we've talked business... let's talk delicious food. After graduating college and moving out to be on our own, cooking and eating proper, "home-style" meals seemed to be the part of our lives that had the biggest disconnect with the world we came from. Sarah and I were both raised in very "meat and potatoes" types of households, meaning that our meals were hearty, nutritional, fairly large, and focused around a meat. Classic comfort foods such as roast beef and mashed potatoes, or chicken pot pies have never really been my brand of comfort food (I tend to lean toward corn dogs and pizza... healthy, I know.)

When striving to connect our smaller, more strictly budgeted lives to that of the lives we grew up with, we have to make some changes and some substitutions to the foods we all know and love. One of our best examples of this is: Mini Chicken Pot Pies! Cooking a full-on chicken pot pie seems like a pretty daunting task, so this mini version seems to more accurately fit our lifestyle and resources, yet is still super fantastic and delicious.

Here's what you need:
- 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1 lb. chicken cut into bite size pieces (or shredded)
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 3/4 cup chicken broth
- 1 cup frozen peas and carrots (or mixed veggies)
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. pepper
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 1/2 cup Bisquick
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 eggs

Here's what you do:
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees and coat a 12 cup muffin tin with cooking spray.
- In a large pan over medium heat, combine oil, chicken, and onion until chicken is cooked and onion starts to soften. (We used shredded chicken that was already cooked, so we just cooked the onions/warmed up the chicken for 5-10 minutes.)
- Add chicken broth and veggies. Simmer and stir occasionally until almost all of the broth has been absorbed. Turn off heat and cool for 5 minutes.

- Meanwhile, mix together Bisquick, milk, and eggs in a bowl. Spoon 1 tablespoon of the mixture into each cup of your muffin tin.

- Mix cheddar cheese, salt, and pepper into chicken and veggies. Evenly spoon chicken into the 12 muffin cups. Top each cup with 1-2 more tablespoons of Bisquick mixture until empty.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes and serve!

We snagged the original recipe here, but made just a couple teensy changes (the original link has the nutritional information!) By now, you may be realizing that for some reason or another, we seem to have a thing for "mini" foods, or foods prepared in muffin tins... (see Mini Reese's Cup Cheesecakes, or Couscous Pizza Bites). I have no idea why this is, but it's okay with us!

Sarah & Nick

Monday, January 27, 2014

DIY Magazine Collage Map

Happy Monday everybody! It's supposed to get suuuuper cold tonight in Pittsburgh (again). I'm really hoping that tomorrow I can have another "It's too cold to go outside so stay at home!" day, like I was fortunate enough to have a couple of weeks ago. It doesn't seem likely but I'm crossing my fingers!

So speaking of Pittsburgh... I recently saw this pin of a Pittsburgh map print from Jazzberry Blue's Etsy shop. I think it is so cool. We love maps and we love where we live, so I brainstormed a little bit and came up with a fun idea to make our own Pittsburgh map art!

In addition to being inspired by the Etsy print, I also thought of a vase that I decorated a few months ago. We brought home two clear vases from Nick's sister's wedding last summer and I decided to spruce one up with some torn up magazine pieces and Mod Podge. I thought it would be awesome to try the same thing with the map idea. Turns out it worked great and I seriously love it.

First of all, I guess I should say that I don't know how well this project will translate with other cities. A map of Pittsburgh is so distinct because of the three rivers, but if you get creative I'm sure you can come up with a totally awesome way to make this work for any city/state/country/etc!

Here's what you need!
- Plain canvas
- Pencil
- Magazine pages
- Mod Podge
- Paintbrush

Here's what you do!
- First look up a map of your choice and sketch it onto your canvas. You could print out the map and trace it onto the canvas too if you'd like. I decided to just go for it and sketch it by hand. There were a couple lines that I thought didn't look quite right so I just erased and redrew them. You can't see any eraser marks on the canvas at all.

- Flip through magazines until you find pages with colors or pictures you like. I decided to go with a few different colors to make it more fun. You could also pick pages or articles that mean something to you. The bottom left of our map is an ad for Girls and the main land of Pittsburgh is from a Lena Dunham article (Surznick LOVES us some Hannah and Shosh.) The top of our map is a picture of Bob Dylan. So for us we kind of got the best of both worlds - pages about things we love and pretty colors too. Our canvas was 16x20" and I used probably 5-6 pages total.
- Rip your magazine pages into small pieces. Mine were about dime-sized, but some bigger and some smaller. I only did one page at a time so that all of the pieces from a single magazine page would stay in the same area of the map.

- Paint some Mod Podge onto your canvas in a small area and attach your magazine pieces, slightly overlapping one another. Once I covered about a 4x4" area, I put a coat of Mod Podge on top of the completed area to seal it. Repeat this process until your canvas is covered in your pattern. I decided to leave the rivers white and not make any changes to the plain canvas. I also decided to extend the map onto the sides of the canvas and cover those with magazine pieces too. I think this makes it look a little cleaner and finished.

- Once your canvas is covered, seal the entire thing with another coat of Mod Podge. Then let it dry and hang it up!

This isn't a super quick project like some of the others we've posted, but well worth it in my opinion. Our canvas took me about 7-8 hours total, but I simultaneously watched the pre-red carpet show, the red carpet, and the Grammys, so it wasn't entirely bad (except Taylor Swift's dancing).

I love the way this turned out. If you look at the map from far away it actually kind of looks like it was painted, which is pretty cool too. We gave ours a home on the mantle in our dining room so our Burgh love can be showcased loud and proud.

Have a great week and stay warm!

Sarah & Nick

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Buffalo Chicken Quinoa Casserole

One of my favorite places to find new recipes is from the blogs I love to read. We recently found this recipe for Buffalo Chicken Quinoa Casserole on Oh So Lovely Vintage and knew we had to try it. It was super delicious and I know we'll definitely be making it again.

We didn't follow their recipe exactly, but here's what we used!
- 1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
- 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
- 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 1/2 cup hot sauce
- 1 lb. chicken, cooked and shredded
- 5 pieces of bacon, chopped (we used turkey bacon)
- chopped green onions
- salt and pepper to taste

Here's what you do!
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9x13" casserole dish.
- Cook and shred your chicken. We used boneless, skinless chicken breasts that we boiled for about 20-25 minutes. While you shred your chicken, cook the quinoa according to package directions.

- Mix together the shredded chicken, hot sauce, and salt and pepper.
- Once your quinoa is cooked, let cool for about 5-10 minutes and then stir in Greek yogurt. (The Oh So Lovely recipe didn't mix the quinoa and yogurt together, however I thought this would be simpler than trying to layer yogurt on top of quinoa.)

- In the casserole dish, layer the quinoa/Greek yogurt mix and the chicken. (Honestly, we could only do one layer of each. The Oh So Lovely recipe does two, but I don't know how because we definitely didn't have enough for two layers.)

- Sprinkle with blue cheese and cheddar cheese and bake for 15-20 minutes until cheese is melted. While the casserole is baking, cook bacon and chop bacon and green onions.

- Remove casserole from oven, top with bacon pieces and green onions and broil for 3-5 minutes.
- Serve as is or with an extra dollop of Greek yogurt!

This was super yummy. Nick and I are kind of new to the whole quinoa thing, so I love finding new recipes that make me enjoy quinoa (the first time we made it our entire house smelled like dirt and we were miserable). I also love that this recipe uses Greek yogurt and turkey bacon! Delicious without being too entirely terrible for you.

Well we're off to see the Pittsburgh Symphony (how classy of us!) Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Sarah & Nick

Thursday, January 23, 2014

DIY Wire Goodnight Sign

Now that Nick and I have almost finished decorating our living room, we want to work on filling up the plain walls of our bedroom. We've started this a little bit, but the wall behind our bed looked pretty bare, which I attribute to us not having a headboard for our bed. A headboard was not a priority for me when I graduated from college (I was lucky that I could afford a bed frame and mattress!) Last year I decided I really wanted to find an old headboard to paint or fix up but figured I would wait until we were settled in Pittsburgh.

Well, now we're here but we have a problem. The wall that our bed is on is a narrow wall that juts out from the main wall of the bedroom (please see the photos if you don't understand my terrible explanation). Our bed is wider than this wall, so a headboard would stick out on both sides and also block our nightstands from reach (what a bummer). So we've decided against a headboard for now and just want to decorate the wall to give it more life. We've already hung our DIY Triangle Wall Art above the bed, but I think it needs a little more.

I really liked the idea of some sort of nighttime/sleeping related words above the bed, like in A Beautiful Mess's Sleepover Headboard. (I know, I know... we've already established the no headboard thing.) So my next idea was to make something using leftover floral wire from the hat hook in our entryway (that we made following these instructions on The Band Wife blog!) And ta da! Now we have a yarn-wrapped Goodnight sign above our bed.

Here's what you need!
- Floral Wire
- Electrical tape
- Yarn
- Scissors
- Hot glue gun
- Pliers (if necessary)
- Nails and/or string for hanging

Here's what you do!
- Bend your floral wire into any word you choose. Unless you want to, you don't really need to follow a template (I didn't use one!) Floral wire is really easy to bend, so you can do it by hand. Sometimes if it gets kinks in it, you may need pliers to straighten it out. I also used pliers to pinch together the parts where I was doubling up the wire.

- Once I had my general design laid out, I used electrical tape to wrap around the parts where the wire was doubled up, as seen above. I figured this would a) make it tighter and more study, and b) make it easier to wrap the yarn around.

- Next I cut a piece of yarn and hot glued the end to the end of my wire. I figured the easiest approach to wrapping the yarn would be to do it in pieces instead of trying to work a yarn ball through the wire. Then you just wrap and glue and wrap and glue and continue until you're finished! Also, it's okay if your wire bends while you're wrapping your yarn. Mine bent a lot without really trying, so I just put everything back into place once I was done.
- Lastly, just hang it up! We used three little nails to secure ours to the wall.

I think this was a fun addition to our bedroom and I love that this is completely customizable. You could make a sign for anywhere in your house, with or without wrapping it in yarn. I personally love the look of the bare wire in our hat hook, but for this project I wanted to try something different and I'm happy with the results! The yarn helps hide imperfections in the wire, like kinks where it was bent too much, or the black paint chipping, and obviously it hides the electrical tape where we held it together.

Do you have any other great projects in mind using floral wire? What would you make your sign say? Be sure to share with us in the comments! We'd love to hear your ideas!

Sarah & Nick

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Living Room Tour

Nick and I have been blogging our lives with you for about 3 months now. We've shared a lot of individual projects that make up our home, but we realized that we haven't really given you a "tour" of any of the rooms. So today we're excited to give a little bit more background about our apartment and show our living room!

When Nick and I decided that we were moving to Pittsburgh, we wanted to make sure that we moved into an apartment we loved so that we wouldn’t have to move again in a year. Let’s face it, moving sucks. It’s seriously the worst. I’ve lived in 9 different places in the past 6 years (2 different houses in Lancaster, 4 different apartments at IUP, and 3 different apartments since graduating). That’s too much moving.

We fell in love with our apartment the moment we saw it on Craigslist. After seeing it in person, it was official - there was nowhere else we wanted to live. Our living room and dining room both have gorgeous hardwood floors, high ceilings, and (closed up) fireplaces. The living room also has huge floor-to-ceiling built-in bookshelves. Our living room and dining room can be used as one big open space, or we can close the pocket doors between them in order to have two separate rooms. It’s perfect.

The one bad thing about renting is that you can be pretty limited in how you decorate your space. In our apartment, we’re not allowed to paint the walls, which is pretty standard renting policy. So until we can afford to buy a house that we're allowed to paint any color we want, we have to settle for finding alternative ways to decorate. So today we’re going to take you on a tour of our living room to share some of the ways we’ve been able to make the apartment “ours,” while still managing to keep our security deposit intact.

Our tour begins with this turquoise and orange print that was the whole inspiration behind our living room color scheme. The print was created by Scott Avett, of The Avett Brothers. When we saw TAB on New Year's Eve 2012, they were selling these limited edition prints for the concert and I had to have it.

Our most important decorating guideline is to fill our home with things that we love, not just things to take up space. Music is a huge part of our lives. In addition to the obvious (Nick being a music teacher), we go to a LOT of concerts and our home is filled with artwork and albums from bands we love. I've been keeping the tickets from every concert I've gone to since 2004 (can you believe that was a decade ago!?). We keep all of these in a ticket stub diary in our living room so that we can flip through it and relive the memories from some of our favorite concerts. (By the way, does that chair look familiar?)

We also love to fill our home with things that we've made or things that we've picked up at a thrift store and can make our own. We love our $5 ladder turned blanket rack and our homemade mail holder created from a 99 cent Boston vinyl.

This lamp used to look like this, but I love the look of a capiz shell lamp, so I cut out lots and lots of wax paper circles to create this faux capiz lamp shade and spray painted the body of the lamp to match our living room.

We're still working on filling up the bookshelves, but for now we keep them stocked with games, photos, fun books, and other trinkets we love.

Top to Bottom: 1 / 2 / 3/ 4 / 5

The bookshelves are a lot deeper than we thought they would be, so in order to keep our movies from getting pushed back into the dark abyss, we use tension rods to keep them close to the front.

You may recognize some items on our mantle from our Wine Bottle Lights post and our Skull Bookends post. Like we said above, you have to display the things you love. So in our case, this means good 'ol HP.

And now we've reached the final corner of our living room, where you'll find two more projects that we've shared on the blog - our TV stand and the magazine strip wall art

I'm sure our living room will constantly change and evolve as we do, but right now my favorite thing about it is that we are surrounded by things we've made and things we love. This is where we spend the most time, so it's important that this room makes us happy. Our style may not be for everyone, but it's us and that's all that matters.

As we sit here and look around the room, almost everything was either thrifted, given to us, or homemade. Since the whole reason we started this blog was to share how we've built our lives on a budget, we hope that this post will give you some ideas for how to make the most of your living space with your available resources.

If you have questions about anything you see in our living room, let us know and we'd be happy to share more!

Sarah & Nick