March 2014 - The Surznick Common Room

Monday, March 31, 2014

Surznick Reads: March 2014

It's that time again! This was a great month of reading for both of us! I can't believe that between concerts, trips, and St. Patrick's Day festivities we were able to squeeze in a bunch of reading too. Here are our March books!

Sarah's Reads!

Everything Matters! by Ron Currie Jr.
From "In this novel rich in character, Junior Thibodeau grows up in rural Maine in a time of Atari, baseball cards, pop Catholicism, and cocaine. He also knows something no one else knows-neither his exalted parents, nor his baseball-savant brother, nor the love of his life (she doesn't believe him anyway): The world will end when he is thirty-six. While Junior searches for meaning in a doomed world, his loved ones tell an all-American family saga of fathers and sons, blinding romance, lost love, and reconciliation-culminating in one final triumph that reconfigures the universe. A tour de force of storytelling, Everything Matters! is a genre-bending potpourri of alternative history, sci-fi, and the great American tale in the tradition of John Irving and Margaret Atwood."

It took me awhile to get interested in this book (I actually finished two other books while also reading this one), but when it was all said and done, I liked it. The story is told from several different perspectives and it spans 36 years, so sometimes it isn't clear how much time has passed between each chapter. This made it a little difficult for me to understand what was going on at first, but once I really got invested in the story, the timeline didn't matter anymore. I'd recommend it!

My Rating: 4 Stars

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
From "Discovered in the attic in which she spent the last years of her life, Anne Frank's remarkable diary has since become a world classic—a powerful reminder of the horrors of war and an eloquent testament to the human spirit. In 1942, with Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, they and another family lived cloistered in the "Secret Annex" of an old office building. Cut off from the outside world, they faced hunger, boredom, the constant cruelties of living in confined quarters, and the ever-present threat of discovery and death..."

I really, really enjoyed reading this book. It was heart wrenching to read at times, knowing the outcome. I was surprised to learn how the families living in the "Secret Annex" led somewhat regular lives (i.e. cooking, cleaning, schooling, etc.) I always visualized it differently in my head and until reading this book and learning about the Frank family, I didn't realize what life in the annex was actually like. It was inspiring to read Anne's diary, which was surprisingly happy given the circumstances. I can't imagine ever being in her situation and still being a happy teenager. I'm sure many of you have already read this, but if you haven't, it's a must-read.

My Rating: 4 Stars

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
From "Famed Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon answers an unexpected summons to appear at the U.S. Capitol Building. His planned lecture is interrupted when a disturbing object—artfully encoded with five symbols—is discovered in the building. Langdon recognizes in the find an ancient invitation into a lost world of esoteric, potentially dangerous wisdom. When his mentor Peter Solomon—a longstanding Mason and beloved philanthropist—is kidnapped, Langdon realizes that the only way to save Solomon is to accept the mystical invitation and plunge headlong into a clandestine world of Masonic secrets, hidden history, and one inconceivable truth..."

I'm a sucker for Robert Langdon. This is the third book in the Robert Langdon series (Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code being the first two) and it is wonderful, as expected. These books are so easy to read, but they HOOK you (... I mean, this book is like 630 pages and I read it in less than a week). Once again Langdon is off on an unexpected adventure that has your mind going crazy trying to figure out what is going to happen next. The story is full of patterns and puzzles and it's so satisfying to get to the end and see how everything worked out. If you haven't read any of these books before, definitely do yourself a favor and read Angels & Demons and I'm sure you'll become just as addicted as I am.

My Rating: 5 Stars

The Aviary by Kathleen O'Dell
From "Twelve-year-old Clara Dooley has spent her whole life in the crumbling Glendoveer mansion, home to a magician's widow, a cage full of exotic birds, and a decades-old mystery. Clara loves old Mrs. Glendoveer, but the birds in the aviary frighten her—they always seem to screech and squall whenever she's near. And then one day, the mynah bird speaks, and a mystery starts to unravel. Clara discovers dark secrets about the family, and about her own past. Somehow the birds in the aviary seem to be at the center of it all, and Clara can't shake the feeling that they are trying to tell her something..."

This was my March book club selection. As I was reading, I wasn't really sure why they chose this for an adult book club. The recommended age range is 8-12 years and it's pretty obvious when reading it (I later found out our club reader picked it because it was free on her Kindle). Don't get me wrong - this book was not bad, it's just not something I would typically read as an adult. There's still a mystery there that triggers some interest and makes you want to know how the story will end. Definitely a good choice for a younger reader!

My Rating: 3 Stars

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
From "Meet Martin, JJ, Jess, and Maureen. Four people who come together on New Year's Eve: a former TV talk show host, a musician, a teenage girl, and a mother. Three are British, one is American. They encounter one another on the roof of Topper's House, a London destination famous as the last stop for those ready to end their lives. In four distinct and riveting first-person voices, Nick Hornby tells a story of four individuals confronting the limits of choice, circumstance, and their own mortality. This is a tale of connections made and missed, punishing regrets, and the grace of second chances. Intense, hilarious, provocative, and moving, A Long Way Down is a novel about suicide that is, surprisingly, full of life."

Dang. I loved this book. I honestly didn't know what it was even about before I sat down to read it. The only reason it made it on my want-to-read list was because I saw it on a Buzzfeed list of "Books to Read Before the Movie Versions Come Out this Year" and I found it at Goodwill for 99 cents. But I'm elated that these circumstances put the book in my hands. Yes, this book is about suicide, but it is not sad. It is hilarious and so incredibly relatable (not in a bad way). I love that the story is told from 4 different perspectives. Each have their own personality and add so much to this story. If you're going to pick any book that I reviewed this month to read, pick this one. You won't regret it. Or, if you'd prefer to just watch the movie, I guess you can do that too. It stars Aaron Paul, so if you're a Breaking Bad fan, that might be a selling point. Moral of the story is that this book is great and I may have found a new favorite author. I just learned that Nick Hornby also wrote An Education, which is one of my favorite movies ever, so... I'm off to read everything else he's ever written. Bye!

My Rating: 5 Stars

Nick's Reads!

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
Again, I'm sure you don't need the Amazon summary for this one. It's HARRY POTTER.

This seven book series is easily one of (if not THE) largest endeavors of my reading career. That being said, it is incredibly bittersweet for it to have ended recently. The books were amazing. I know many people are divided on the Harry Potter subject, and to that, all I can say is: just try them. Read them. They are so popular for a reason. The finale of the series was nothing short of incredible. I loved every minute of all seven books, and it ended flawlessly. Five stars to the book, five stars to the whole series.

My Rating: 5 Stars

The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman
From "Therapist Victoria Vick is contacted by a cryptic, unlikable man who insists his situation is unique and unfathomable. As he slowly reveals himself, Vick becomes convinced that he suffers from a complex set of delusions: Y__, as she refers to him, claims to be a scientist who has stolen cloaking technology from an aborted government project in order to render himself nearly invisible. He says he uses this ability to observe random individuals within their daily lives, usually when they are alone and vulnerable. Unsure of his motives or honesty, Vick becomes obsessed with her patient and the disclosure of his increasingly bizarre and disturbing tales. Over time, it threatens her career, her marriage, and her own identity."

I have read some of Klosterman's non-fiction material in the past, and absolutely loved it. He is hilarious, smart, and incredibly entertaining. The Visible Man, being a work of fiction, was new territory for me, and it was amazing. In my head, I literally declared it my favorite book of all time (until I read the next book on my March list and it was dethroned.) The entire book is in the form of transcripts between therapy patient and therapist. It is a mysterious, hysterical plot that leaves a ton up to the reader's imagination. That, perhaps is why I liked it so much. Even after it ended, (though it had a very satisfying ending) I still had reason to second guess my notions and doubt the validity of the entire story. It really got my brain working, and for that, it is a must-read.

My Rating: 5 Stars

Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut
From "There's been a timequake. And everyone—even you—must live the decade between February 17, 1991 and February 17, 2001 over again. The trick is that we all have to do exactly the same things as we did the first time—minute by minute, hour by hour, year by year, betting on the wrong horse again, marrying the wrong person again. Why? You'll have to ask the old science fiction writer, Kilgore Trout. This was all his idea."

Here we go. Vonnegut, generally regarded as my favorite author, has outdone himself in my eyes. This work, from beginning to end is perfect. I have never laughed so hard at a book, taken so many pictures of the pages to remember the quotes, dog-eared so many chapters, scribbled down so many priceless sayings, etc. I don't always feel that I will re-read a book after I'm finished, but I am 100% certain that this is a book I will read again and again. All the great "Vonnegut-isms" that you can gleam from his other works are all right here. He boils down all of his opinions, views, and theories, and hands them straight to you. For anyone who says they love Vonnegut, this is a must-read. For anyone who is able to read, this is a must-read.

My Rating: 5 Stars

Sarah & Nick

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Pom-pom Tree

First - let's have a little debate. Pom-pom or pom-pon? I have never in my life heard pom-pon, but apparently this is what Nick has always called pom-poms. We were arguing back and forth in the pom-pom aisle at JoAnn's and I of course told him that pom-pons don't exist, but then we Googled it and I had to hang my head in shame because he was right. According to Wikipedia, "Pom-pom is derived from the French word pompon." I hate being wrong. But since both are technically okay, we're going to stick with pom-pom from now on. So here we go!

A few weeks ago, I saw this photo on Pinterest and thought that this pom-pom tree was the cutest thing ever. And not only is it cute, I knew I could make it for practically pennies. We picked up a bag of pom-poms, grabbed a few branches from our backyard, and we were off to work!

Here's what you need!
- Small, colored pom-poms
- Branches of different sizes
- Hot glue gun/sticks
- Vase

Here's what you do! (Do I even need this section...?)
- Hot glue your pom-poms onto your branches and put them in your vase! Done!

I love our little pom-pom tree! We recently got rid of the eye sore that was our bedroom TV, and we put the tree in its place. The fun pop of color is a great addition to our mostly white bedroom.

Have a nice weekend! Come back on Monday to find out how bookworm-y we were in March!

Sarah & Nick

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Painted Mugs

If you're a coffee or tea lover like me, you probably also have a favorite mug to drink said coffee or tea out of. My favorite mug is this one because not only is it awesome, I also painted it myself.

A few years ago, I spotted this adorable DIY painted mug on Pinterest and knew I had to try my hand at making myself a set. (You may recognize that we've also used this pattern here and here. Yes, I love it that much.) This is a perfect, inexpensive DIY project because you only need two things: mugs and paint. A bottle of paint is $2-3 and you can find plain mugs at most dollar or thrift stores for $1 or less, so you really can't go wrong here. We used black Americana Gloss Enamels paint and plain white mugs that we picked up at Salvation Army for 99 cents apiece.

Here's what you do!
- Wash and dry your mugs thoroughly before painting.
- Paint your mug in any pattern you want! I applied my paint directly from the bottle, using the fine tip bottle cap. (Note: I've had this bottle of paint for awhile and if I recall correctly, it didn't have a fine tip bottle cap when I purchased it, so I swapped the cap out with a different bottle of paint I had on hand. JSYK.)

- I painted my mugs pretty slowly, taking a lot of breaks to watch Gilmore Girls. I find that between trying to hold the mug still with one hand and squeeze the paint bottle with the other, my hands start to get shaky if I try to paint too much at once. Slow and steady.
- Once your mugs are painted, let them dry for 48 hours.
- Place your dried mugs in a cold oven, then set the temperature to 325 degrees. Bake for 30 minutes, then turn off the oven and let the mugs cool inside with the oven door open.
- Once your mugs are completely cooled, you're ready to use 'em!

The directions on the paint bottle say that baking your mugs will make them dishwasher safe, however, that's a risk I'm not personally willing to take. I prefer to hand wash my mugs, just in case.

Anyone else have fun with Gloss Enamels paint before? I love it... I've also used it to decorate votives. The possibilities are endless!

Sarah & Nick

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Beef & Blue Cheese Quesadillas

I know we've mentioned before our love of the almighty: blue cheese. These beef and blue cheese quesadillas are very simple and incredibly delicious. They make a perfect, unique meal, with a super quick prep time.

Here's what you need:
- 1 lb. ground beef (or substitute)
- 4 oz. Taco Sauce
- Blue Cheese
- Fresh Baby Spinach
- Flour Tortillas

Here's what you do:
- Brown your beef in a pan, and drain the grease.
- Add 4 oz. taco sauce. (Pretty much add as little or as much as you'd like!)
- Layer the beef, blue cheese and baby spinach onto a tortilla.
- Top with another tortilla and place in your griddle or flat iron grill. (We just use the opposite side of our waffle iron plates.)

And boom! That's it! I love the combination of the blue cheese, (obviously) and the taco sauce. It seems like a strange combination, but it definitely works!

Sarah & Nick

Friday, March 21, 2014

Happy Spring!

Happy spring, ladies and gents! Nick and I took yesterday and today off work to spend a long weekend in Lancaster. I haven't been home since Christmas, so it's really nice to have a bit of a vacation where I can drive over 30 mph and park in parking lots (it's the little things). Not to mention, it's pretty warm here today and I hear it's snowing in Pittsburgh, so we're feeling extra lucky to have a few days out of the city.

Yesterday for the first day of spring we (of course) went to get our free Rita's Italian Ice! The weather was still a little bit chilly and windy for Italian Ice, but it's just one of those things you have to do on March 20th, and it was delicious as usual!

Last night we went to Philadelphia to see The Sound of Animals Fighting! They were incredible, especially since this was their first show in 7 years! This was like a once in a lifetime experience for me. I'm so glad we got to be there.

Today is my mom's birthday! She's the best gal I know and I love that I get to be here to spend her birthday with her. Tonight we're eating pizza, drinking wine, and watching movies!

We also had some time today to do a little thrifting. We snagged some awesome 99 cent books that are on our want-to-read lists. I love going to thrift stores that we don't get to check out regularly!

Now we're just going to relax and play with the kitties. We hope you all have a fun weekend too!

Sarah & Nick

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Homemade Taco Seasoning

Sarah and I love tacos! For the longest time, we would just buy a taco kit or a seasoning packet any time we wanted to make some. They make the process really quick and easy, but we weren't wild about the amount of processing and preservatives/additives that go into a kit like that. We realized that we literally have everything we need to make our own taco seasoning right here in our kitchen. It saves us money, is SUPER easy, and helps cut down on some processed food we could do without. After seeing on Pinterest that other people could do it, we decided, so can we! And, if you've got a pretty standard spice selection on hand in your home, so can you.

Here's what you need:
- 1 tbsp. Chili Powder
- 1/4 tsp. Garlic Powder
- 1/4 tsp. Onion Powder
- 1/4 tsp. Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
- 1/4 tsp. Dried Oregano
- 1/2 tsp. Paprika
- 1 1/2 tsp. Cumin
- 1 tsp. Kosher Salt
- 1 tsp. Black Pepper

Just mix it all together! You can make the batches larger to keep some saved and ready to go for next time, or just throw all this together each time you taco. The amounts above will serve about 1 pound of ground beef (or any meat/meat substitute of your preference). Add 3/4 cups water to your browned beef, add your spices, and simmer until liquid reduces.

That's it! The flavor of this mix is an excellent match to what we'd expect from a store-bought taco seasoning mix, but it is a little on the spicier side, which is okay with us! If we're not in the mood for spice, we just use a little less chili powder. I also feel much better knowing that I can make this at home and cut out some of the nasty processing I'd get with pre-packaged food.

Hope you can get a chance to try this at home. Be sure to let us know what you think!

Sarah & Nick

Monday, March 17, 2014

Dry Shampoo Alternative

Let me start this post with a confession... up until like 1-2 years ago, I didn't know that washing my hair everyday was bad news. I have thin, straight hair that tends to get oily quickly, so washing my hair was part of my daily routine. Then I learned that daily hair washing really isn't that great and it's good to let natural oils stay in your hair for nourishment. I heard about dry shampoo, did a little research here, and decided to give it a go. Just so you all know, I am by no means an expert (or even a novice, really) on anything hair related, so today I'm just going to share my experience with dry shampoo and an alternative that I have come to know and love.

If you're not familiar with dry shampoo, it is a fine powder that is applied to your hair to help soak up oil that can make hair look dirty. For awhile I was using Suave dry shampoo that comes in a spray can. I liked this alright, but it still had some drawbacks for me. First, my hair felt kind of gross when I ran my fingers through it. It felt like there was buildup in my hair, and I did not like that. Second, I was using up a can too quickly (in my opinion) and felt like I was always in need of more.

After getting sick of buying dry shampoo all the time, I attempted using baby powder for a little while. This did not work well for me. I didn't want to smell like a baby all day, and baby powder made too much of a mess when I tried to shake it on. It was difficult to apply in places where I need it most (above my ears) and it was too easy to use waaaay too much. Even when applying it with a brush, it still seemed like it was noticeable in my hair and hard to blend in.

Then I read this post about using white rice flour as a dry shampoo alternative. I've been trying this out for a few months and I love it. I bought a 24 oz. bag and it will last me probably forever. I apply it with a brush, following the instructions in The Beauty Department post linked above. I always apply the flour after washing and blow drying my hair so that it can soak up oils as my scalp produces them. In the past I've tried using dry shampoo when my hair was already oily and it doesn't work as well.

I really like using the white rice flour because it doesn't have a smell, you get a lot for your money, and you have a lot more control over how much you apply and where you apply it (especially if you use a brush, instead of a shaker or spray). Oh yeah, it also works great! It does the job of dry shampoo and it leaves my hair looking and feeling clean for days.

There are a lot of dry shampoo alternatives out there, (i.e. baking soda, corn starch, cocoa powder, etc.) but I'm really pleased that I found one that works for me. Does anyone else have good/bad experiences with dry shampoo? Tried any alternatives? Share with me in the comments!

xo, Sarah

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Irish Car Bomb Jello Shots

In honor of St. Patrick's Day on Monday, we made Irish Car Bomb Jello Shots! We've never made any jello shots before and these were surprisingly easy. We generally followed this recipe, but we cut out some unnecessary steps to simplify the process.

Here's what you need!
- 16 oz. Irish stout
- 3 oz. (1/3 cup) Irish cream
- 3 oz. (1/3 cup) Irish whiskey
- 5 packages of Knox gelatine
- Small cups or a mini muffin tin
- Non-stick spray
- Whipped cream (optional)

Typically Irish Car Bombs are made with Guinness Irish stout, Baileys Irish cream, and Jameson Irish whiskey. We decided to use Guinness, but we opted for cheaper Irish cream and whiskey, so we used Ryan's Irish cream and Bushmills Irish whiskey.

Here's what you do!
- First, prepare your cups or muffin tin (we used small plastic Dixie cups). Spray a paper towel with non-stick spray and wipe the insides of the cups or muffin tin. This will ensure that your jello shots are easy to remove from the cups once solidified.
- In a medium sized sauce pan, slowly pour 12 oz. of stout (you want as minimal head as possible). If you're using bottles of Guinness, note that they are 11.2 oz. It's a tiny difference, but we measured out a full 12 oz. using a second bottle. On top of the stout, pour 4 packets of gelatine and let it sit for 2 minutes.
- After the 2 minutes, heat the stout/gelatine mixture over low-medium heat and stir until gelatine is completely dissolved. Remove pan from heat and stir in the remaining 4 oz. of stout to cool the mixture.
- Spoon the mixture into your cups. We used 24 cups and about 3 spoonfuls in each. Put them on a tray in the refrigerator to solidify. Wait 5-10 minutes before starting the next step so that you give your first layer enough time to solidify.
- In a small sauce pan, pour 3 oz. of irish cream and 3 oz. of whiskey. Stir to combine. Pour 1 packet of gelatine on top and let it sit for 2 minutes.
- After the 2 minutes, heat the mixture over low-medium heat and stir until gelatine is completely dissolved. Remove pan from heat and add an ice cube to cool the mixture.
- Spoon or pour the mixture into your cups on top of your stout layer. We actually poured our mixture from a sauce pan into a liquid measuring cup with a spout and used that to pour into our cups. Once the cups are filled, put them back in the refrigerator to solidify.

Once the jello shots are solidified, you can turn the cups upside down an squeeze them until the jello shots pop out. We decided to spray some whipped cream on ours before eating. YUM.

We hope you all have a fun and safe St. Patty's Day weekend!

Sarah & Nick

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Cloth Napkins - 6 Ways

You may remember from previous posts that Nick and I have been trying to stop purchasing single-use items in an effort to save money and be less wasteful. Our first step was to make these Knitted Swiffer Cloths to use in place of store-bought, single-use cloths and now we're tackling napkins and paper towels. We can go through a LOT of napkins, especially when it's beard-growing (aka messy eating) season for Nick, so we really want to eliminate napkin use and only keep paper towels on hand for cleaning, etc.

We decided to purchase cloth napkins that we can wash and reuse in place of paper napkins. Cloth napkins can be found in a variety of styles, colors, and patterns, but we thought it would be fun to buy plain napkins and decorate them ourselves. We found a pack of 12 sturdy, white cotton napkins from Homegoods for $15.00 (that we got with a gift card!) and we agreed on making 6 different sets.

First we washed and dried all of the napkins before decorating. We used three different mediums for our napkins: fabric paint, Sharpie, and dye.

Fabric Paint

1. We used leftover yellow fabric paint to create kind of an oblong polka dot pattern. I was inspired by the napkins seen here that A Beautiful Mess uses frequently. To make these, all I did was use a paint brush to cover the napkin in dots. So easy!

2. We've had success creating and using our own stamps before (see here!) so we decided to try this again and hand stamp our next set. Nick created this donut shape out of foam sheets that we glued together to create our stamp. We brushed the paint onto the stamp and then pressed it firmly on the napkin.

Notes about fabric paint: We let the napkins dry flat for 24 hours. Because the napkins will be washed over and over, we used our iron to heat set the paint to avoid having it come off in the wash. To do this, we used a medium to high heat setting on the iron and moved it across the wrong (unpainted) side of the napkins. You have to move constantly so you don't scorch the fabric. We always wash our napkins in cold water and have not had any paint removal.


3. I thought it would be fun to create a set of napkins that is completely covered in black, cursive handwriting. From a distance you wouldn't really know what these napkins say, but if you examine them closely, you could actually read every word. Because we're big Harry Potter fans, I decided to write the first few pages of the first book on one napkin and the last few pages of the last book on the other. It's a fun and subtle way to pay tribute to something we love in an unexpected place. But let me tell you... writing on napkins is easier said than done. My hands were cramping terribly from pulling the napkin tight enough to write. Ouch.

4. For this set we went with my go-to pattern that you've already seen here and will see again on another project later this month! We used gold Sharpie, though it looks a little gray instead of gold. I used a ruler to make straight lines down the length of the napkin and then free-handed alternating angled lines in between the straight lines.

Notes about Sharpie: We washed (in cold water) and dried our napkins as usual. Sharpie doesn't really need to be set before washing. They may fade over time, but I have t-shirts that get washed reguarly and still have Sharpie writing on them from 1996, so I'm not too concerned.


5. We used leftover purple dye from our Dip Dyed Pillows to dye a set of solid napkins. With all of the other patterns we were creating, we thought it would be a good idea to have one solid set. We soaked the napkins in our dye/hot water mix until we were pleased with the color. We wanted these to be super dark so they will better hide hard to remove food stains.

6. For our last set, we used orange dye to create somewhat of an ombre set, where two sides are white and the color gets darker as you move into the middle. To do this, we folded each napkin in half and dipped 2/3 of the folded napkin into the dye. After two minutes, we pulled out 1/3 and left the remaining 1/3 in the dye for about 90 more minutes. (Don't worry, we didn't torture our arms by holding the napkins in the dye, we just clipped them to the sides of our bucket!)

Notes about dye: After dyeing the napkins, we rinsed them thoroughly in cold water. For the orange set, we had to be extra careful when rinsing. We left them folded and rinsed from top to bottom so that the orange dye wouldn't bleed up into the white portion. We let the napkins dry overnight and ran them for 1 cycle in the dryer to help set the dye. Again, we always wash them in cold water and have not experienced any issues.

What do you guys think? Any ideas on how you would decorate your napkins? I think I'd like to make some tea towels next...

Sarah & Nick

Monday, March 10, 2014

Crockpot Potato Soup

Most working Americans are no stranger to the almighty crockpot. It is useful, practical, fantastic, and essential. When craving something hot, hearty and satisfying after a long day at work, this Potato Soup is one of our favorite go-to crockpot meals.

Here's what you need:
- 30 oz. bag of frozen, shredded hash browns
- 42 oz. chicken broth (or a 32 oz. container of broth + 10 oz. water)
- 1 can cream of chicken soup
- 1/2 c. chopped onion
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 pkg. cream cheese, NOT fat free (fat free doesn't melt the same as regular)
- Cheddar cheese (optional)
- Bacon bits (optional)

Here's what you do:
- Combine all ingredients in crockpot except cream cheese, cheddar, and bacon.

*Note: Although cumbersome and ugly looking, slow cooker liners are the way to go! We use them every time we use our crockpot. The material never impacts the flavor of our meal, and the super easy clean up is SO worth it (literally takes a second.)

- Cook low 6 - 8 hours.
- 1 hour before serving, stir in cream cheese until melted (stirring about every 15 minutes.)
- Serve and top with cheddar cheese and bacon.

After the cream cheese is added, it gets so creamy and fabulous that I practically can't even stand it. When topped with the cheddar and bacon bits, eating this soup is like eating a loaded baked potato! (But better because it's not dry in the middle.)

Minimal/cheap ingredients combined with almost no prep-work make this a perfect soup for any weekday meal (and it makes enough for leftovers, too!) I hope you get a chance to try this. Be sure to let us know how you like it!

Sarah & Nick

Saturday, March 8, 2014

DIY Studded Pillows

Almost every time we do an awesome project, I say, "This is one of my favorite projects we've done!" But seriously, this is one of my favorite projects we've done. And from start to finish it clocked in at about 1 hour. Not too shabby.

A few months ago when H&M had 50% off their sale items I purchased two little bags of silver and gold studs for about $1 a bag (... in addition to lots of clothes, i.e. my gray heels in the last post!) At the time, I didn't know what I would use the studs for, but I figured having some extra studs lying around is never a bad idea.

Shortly after, I was browsing around Target and I saw this Nate Berkus studded pillow and thought, "Um, this is awesome, and I can 100% recreate this." But I'm all about giving credit where credit is due, so I need to mention that prior to seeing this Nate Berkus pillow... Nick pitched me the idea of making studded pillows and I shot him down. Bad GF award!

We purchased two 16x16" H&M pillow covers (the same ones we used for our Dip Dyed Pillows) in charcoal gray. These pillow covers are regularly $4.95 apiece, but again we used a promo code and got them for $3.46 each! To fill them we used leftover stuffing that we purchased for the dip dyed pillows, so no additional money spent there (yes!)

Here's what you need!
- Plain pillow covers (purchased or homemade)
- Stuffing (we used polyester fiberfill)
- Studs (any shape, size, color, etc.)
- Ruler
- Sharpie or chalk

Here's what you do!
- First, determine the pattern you want to use. We had gold and silver studs in both triangles and squares. We decided to use gold triangles and silver squares on one pillow and silver triangles and gold squares on the other. Our pillows follow the pattern on the Nate Berkus pillow (all studs equal distance apart, alternating between triangles and squares). We didn't have enough studs to take the pattern to the edge of the pillow, so we left a border around the edge of our design (and there are no studs on the back).
- Our pattern is 5x5 studs, so I knew that there would be a stud in the center of the pillow. I measured the pillow (it was actually about 15.5x15.5") and I used a black Sharpie to make a small dot where the center stud would go. Because the color of the pillow covers is so dark, the Sharpie mark is just visible enough to place the stud, but it won't be seen otherwise. If you use lighter colored pillow covers, you may want to use chalk so that it will come off if it's too visible.

- Next, determine how much space you want between each stud. This will vary based on the size of your pillow and how many studs you plan to use. We used 2.5" between each stud, which left a 2.75" border around the edge of our design.
- Using your ruler and the center dot as a guideline, measure the determined distance and place a small dot where the next stud will go. Complete for the remainder of your pattern.

- Once you've made your dots, you're ready to put in your studs! The ones we purchased went through the fabric so easily, I didn't even have to try. Once you push a stud through, fold over the prongs in the back of the stud to keep it in place. Again, very easy. I just did this with my fingers, but be careful because they are a little sharp.

- After you've attached your studs, just stuff the pillow and you're done!

This project was incredibly budget friendly. For the pillow cover, the studs, and the small portion of stuffing we used, each pillow cost us about $6. The Nate Berkus pillow is ON SALE for $19.99 right now (originally $24.99). We also saved money by opting to use stuffing again, as opposed to buying the H&M pillow inserts for $6.95 apiece.

If you're wondering what happened to the dip dyed pillows, we decided we didn't like the purple against the red futon, so we moved them to our living room sofa (where they're a much better fit!) I like the charcoal color on the futon a lot more than the purple.

How do you guys think we did? Share with us in the comments! I seriously love them (so I hope you do too!)

UPDATE: We've entered this project in the Creating with the Stars 2014 contest! Visit East Coast Creative to see some more awesome projects!

Sarah & Nick