February 2015 - The Surznick Common Room

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Surznick Reads: February 2015

We're so happy that March is here! That means spring is just three short weeks away. Are you excited too? February was especially cold, so it was a great month to snuggle up with a book. Here's what we read this month!

Sarah's Reads!

Feed by M.T. Anderson
From Amazon.com: "For Titus and his friends, it started out like any ordinary trip to the moon - a chance to party during spring break and play with some stupid low-grav at the Ricochet Lounge. But that was before the crazy hacker caused all their feeds to malfunction, sending them to the hospital to lie around with nothing inside their heads for days. And it was before Titus met Violet, a beautiful, brainy teenage girl who has decided to fight the feed and its omnipresent ability to categorize human thoughts and desires. Following in the footsteps of George Orwell, Anthony Burgess, and Kurt Vonnegut Jr., M. T. Anderson has created a not-so-brave new world — and a smart, savage satire that has captivated readers with its view of an imagined future that veers unnervingly close to the here and now."

Nick and his friends read this book several years ago and really enjoyed it, so I thought I would give it a go. I should have known before I started that I wouldn't care for it. I'm just not a fan of dystopian novels. 1984, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451 are some of my least favorite books ever, yet I read Feed anyway. I will say, I didn't dislike this story as much as those others. The characters in Feed are similar to my age and use technology that isn't too far off from what we have today. This made it a little easier to follow along and relate, but still... just not for me. I think the thing I disliked most was the language used by the characters. It was very hard to understand and become accustomed to while reading the story. I will say though, the plot of this novel doesn't seem like a complete impossibility for the future, which is a little unnerving. Overall, I didn't hate it or love it.

My Rating: 3 Stars

Lucky Us by Amy Bloom
From Amazon.com: "Lucky Us is a brilliantly written, deeply moving, fantastically funny novel of love, heartbreak, and luck. Disappointed by their families, Iris, the hopeful star and Eva the sidekick, journey through 1940s America in search of fame and fortune. Iris’s ambitions take the pair across the America of Reinvention in a stolen station wagon, from small-town Ohio to an unexpected and sensuous Hollywood, and to the jazz clubs and golden mansions of Long Island. With their friends in high and low places, Iris and Eva stumble and shine though a landscape of big dreams, scandals, betrayals, and war. Filled with gorgeous writing, memorable characters, and surprising events, Lucky Us is a thrilling and resonant novel about success and failure, good luck and bad, the creation of a family, and the pleasures and inevitable perils of family life, conventional and otherwise. From Brooklyn’s beauty parlors to London’s West End, a group of unforgettable people love, lie, cheat and survive in this story of our fragile, absurd, heroic species."

Did you read that review above? Okay, well my thoughts are basically the complete opposite. This book was just not for me. I found it boring and disjointed with zero memorable characters. This was my book club selection this month and I was relieved to find that I wasn't the only one who felt this way. In my opinion, this story could have benefited from more character development and a more cohesive writing style. The book is comprised of both letters (most of which are never even sent or received) and stream of consciousness narrative (which made it hard to tell who was speaking.) I don't understand any of the characters, I didn't understand or care about anything that was happening to them, and overall I just found the story anticlimactic.

My Rating: 2 Stars

Nick's Reads!

Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk
From Amazon.com: "Penny Harrigan is a low-level associate in a big Manhattan law firm with an apartment in Queens and no love life at all. So it comes as a great shock when she finds herself invited to dinner by one C. Linus Maxwell, a software mega-billionaire and lover of the most gorgeous and accomplished women on earth. After dining at Manhattan's most exclusive restaurant, he whisks Penny off to a hotel suite in Paris, where he proceeds, notebook in hand, to bring her to previously undreamed-of heights of gratification for days on end. What's not to like? This: Penny discovers that she is a test subject for the final development of a line of feminine products to be marketed in a nationwide chain of boutiques called Beautiful You. So potent and effective are these devices that women by the millions line up outside the stores on opening day and then lock themselves in their room with them and stop coming out. Except for batteries. Maxwell's plan for battery-powered world domination must be stopped. But how?"

This book was completely absurd. That being said, I absolutely enjoyed reading it. I've been a big Chuck fan for a while now, and I was excited to receive this book as a gift, as it has been a long time since I've read anything of his. However, at times it felt like he was trying SO hard to live up to the "Chuck" expectation. Going into a book of his, I already expect unique plots, dark and dirty details, and strange characters, but so much of this seemed completely blown out of this world. I don't want to reveal any of my favorite parts or mention any specific plot points, because I think you should read it! Though I only gave it 2 stars, I still highly recommend it.

My Rating: 2 Stars

Sarah & Nick

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Embroidered Food Art

I'll be the first person to admit that our kitchen is ugly. Even worse, it's the kind of ugly that, as renters, we can't really do anything to change (i.e. the cabinet color = the wall color = the countertop color = the floor color. And that color is beige.)

Lately I've had the urge to do anything that can make our kitchen even the tiniest bit cuter, and that's where this project comes in. Ever since making this embroidered heart locket I've been pretty pumped about how easy and inexpensive it can be to make some fun embroidery. Our kitchen doesn't have a ton of wall space, but there's a bit of room for small art, so what better to hang up than some fun food embroidery?!

Here's what I used!
- Embroidery hoops
- Embroidery cloth
- Embroidery floss
- Needle
- Scissors
- Pencil

Here's what I did!
- First I did a free-hand sketch of the pizza and the ice cream cone on my embroidery cloth. If you'd prefer not to free-hand, you could print out photos to trace.
- Insert cloth into embroidery hoop. Using needle and embroidery floss, embroider the pattern, following the pencil outline. I worked from top to bottom, left to right.
- Once finished, knot floss tightly in the back. Ensure that your embroidery is centered in your hoop where you want it. Trim the extra cloth off the back, and you're done!

I made an ice cream cone and pizza slice to start, but I think I might add a cheeseburger too. Is it ironic that I don't actually eat any of these things in their true form? Possibly, but I just can't deny their cuteness.

Sarah & Nick

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Our Office Makeover

I'd say probably 98% of the posts on this blog were written from the comfort of our living room couch. That's not necessarily bad for the blog, but for my personal well-being and productivity (especially with this winter weather), it hasn't been great. I've found that it can be very easy to transition from "working on the blog" to "online window-shopping + watching TV + editing a couple photos on the side." This blog has become our second full-time job, and it definitely deserves to be more than just something we do during commercial breaks of The Mindy Project.

Our apartment has a back room/office that we had been using pretty much as storage for everything we can't find a better place for. We've always kept a lot of crafting supplies in the office, but never actually worked on projects in there. This year, we decided that needs to change and we need to create a dedicated workspace for The Surznick Common Room. We've got this entire apartment, so we should be utilizing it all, right?!

Over the past couple months we have been completely overhauling our office to turn it into a space where we can spend time creating blog content and leave the living room for Netflix binges. We are both so super pleased with this transformation and we're excited to finally share it with you! Ready for some before and after photos? Here we go!

Before (Sorry that it appears as though we just took photos of our junk. This is just actually what this room looked like.)

After (... many, many improvements)

By far my favorite addition to our office is the peg board. It's so bright, colorful, and happy! Seeing all of our paint, yarn, and other supplies makes me feel so inspired to sit down and work on projects. We'll be sharing more details about the peg board in a future post, so stay tuned!

Our L-shaped desk is actually two Ikea Linnmon tables. They're inexpensive, but a great clean space to work on. You may remember our chairs from this post. They were given to us by our landlord (fo free!) and they're pretty amazing. They're not in the greatest shape right now, but once the weather warms up, we plan on giving them a little TLC.

The turquoise and white rug used to be in our living room (you can see our living room tour here), and the Pittsburgh collage map is a DIY that we shared here!

This room has a pretty cool greenhouse window that lets in a lot of light. It has a great shelf for all of our little plants (although they're way too cold in there this time of year.) In the window we hung these little heart cutouts made from book pages we had leftover from our book clutch project.

On the wall opposite the pegboard, we hung these awesome Harry Potter prints that I gave Nick for his birthday last year. I bought them from Etsy, but I think the exact prints may be no longer available. We also hung some of the art that was previously in our bedroom. We're working on a bedroom refresh so we did a little switcheroo with some of the wall art.

Below the Harry Potter prints we hung some cards from our A Beautiful Mess Happy Mail subscription. If you don't know about Happy Mail, you should go check it out! All of the cards are super adorable (doesn't that bearded fella look just like Nick?) and I love displaying them as a reminder to send out snail mail to the awesome people in our lives.

To make our closet doors a little more fun, we added some electrical tape polka dots. We didn't photograph the inside of the closet, but it's a lot more organized in there too. You can see in the Before photos that we have a pretty big loft space above the closet. We store a bunch of stuff up there, from Christmas decorations to guitar cases to beer brewing supplies. It's a great space to have, but kind of an eyesore, so we added a white curtain to hide some of the mess.

Last but not least, we added a couple shelves for some books and our pom pom dandelions. We hung more Happy Mail below the shelves too.

So what do you guys think of the new Surznick Common Room HQ? We are so in love with it! Be sure to let us know what you think!

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Sarah & Nick

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Granola

I am a bit of a peanut butter freak. Or rather, I'm a complete and total peanut butter freak. I think I'd put peanut butter on just about anything if Sarah would let me. (Ok, maybe not everything, but I try to sneak it in where I can.) Luckily for me, while browsing Minimalist Baker, I stumbled across the answer to my peanut butter breakfast prayers: Peanut Butter Chocolate Granola!

Here's what you need:
- 3 cups + 2 tbsp. rolled oats
- 2 tbsp. sugar (we used coconut sugar, but you could use cane sugar or granulated)
- 1/4 cup coconut oil (you could also use grape seed or olive oil)
- 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
- 1/4 cup agave nectar (you could also use maple syrup or honey, if you're into that)
- 1/3 cup vegan chocolate chips (we used Enjoy Life mini chips)

Here's what you do:
- Preheat oven to 340 degrees.
- In a medium bowl, combine your oats and sugar; set aside.

- In a small sauce pan, melt together the peanut butter, coconut oil, and agave.

- Pour the peanut butter mixture over your oats and mix well.

- Spread evenly into two cookie sheets.
- Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. After 10 minutes, stir to make sure they brown evenly. Check every few minutes after that to make sure they're not burning. (The more they brown, the quicker they brown, so keep a close eye on them!)

- After you take the oats out of the oven, allow them to cool completely before adding in your chocolate chips. (The recipe calls for 1/3 cup chocolate chips, but if you're like me, you'll be standing over the bowl secretly adding more and more chips while your girlfriend isn't looking...)

We like to enjoy this in a bowl with some almond milk, or to just munch as a dry snack. It has a fantastic, rich taste that I just absolutely love! Next time we make this, we're definitely doubling it... or tripling it--I can't seem to get enough of the classic peanut butter and chocolate combo!

Sarah & Nick

Monday, February 16, 2015

Marbled Clay Coasters

Ever since making these marbled clay dishes, I've been dreaming up ways to add more marbled clay into my life. How can I not? It's so pretty, versatile, and easy to use. This past weekend (when I refused to leave my house due to sub-zero temperatures) I finally figured out what my next marbled clay project would be - coasters!

You've seen us make coasters before, but I have to say... these went above and beyond my expectations. With a shiny coat of Mod Podge on top, they kind of look like beautiful agate slices. This is definitely a project to keep in my gift idea arsenal too! Okay, let's get to it!

Here's what you need!
- Oven-bake clay in various colors c/o DoreenBeads.com
- Wax paper or non-stick mat (optional)
- Rolling pin
- Knife (optional)
- Cookie sheet
- Dishwasher-safe Mod Podge
- Paint brush
- Felt pads

Here's what you do!
- For each coaster, we used half a packet of clay in 5 different colors (2 and a half packs total). We received our clay from DoreenBeads.com. Clay is typically about $2-3 a pack and DoreenBeads sells a package of 25 colors for $26. It's great deal!
- Stretch your clay into 5-6" long snakes.

- Twist all of your clay snakes together. Fold in half and twist again. Continue until your colors start to blend and you are satisfied with how they've combined.

- Combine the twisted clay into a ball. On wax paper or a non-stick surface, roll out your clay with a rolling pin until clay is about 1/4-1/2" thick. If you don't like the way the colors are marbled, feel free to re-roll into a ball and try again until you're happy with the look (but be careful the colors don't blend too much or it will lose the marble effect.)

- At this point, you can use a knife to cut your clay into a square or any other shape you like. We decided not to have an exact shape or size for our coasters, so I just rolled my clay until it was about 4" in diameter and pretty round.
- Transfer clay to a cookie sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes at 275 degrees. Remove cookie sheet from oven and allow clay to cool completely. The clay may still be a little flexible when removed from the oven, but it will solidify more as it cools.
- Paint the tops of the coasters with 3 coats of Dishwasher-safe Mod Podge, allowing dry time between each coat. If you have a glaze for oven-bake clay, you could use that too. Since Dishwasher-safe Mod Podge is water-safe (and I already had it on hand), I thought it would help the coasters hold up well to drink condensation.

- After the Mod Podge has completely dried, place felt pads on the bottom of the coasters and admire your beautiful work! (Please note, Dishwasher-safe Mod Podge can take 28 days to completely cure, so be careful using these immediately. Your mug/glass may stick until curing is complete.)

Anyone have more suggestions to fulfill my growing marbled clay obsession? Send them my way (along with some warmer weather too!) Hope you're all having a happy Monday!

Sarah & Nick