August 2015 - The Surznick Common Room

Monday, August 31, 2015

Surznick Reads: August 2015

Well here we are again. It's time for our monthly reminder that "we've been so busy, time is flying, and we can't believe tomorrow is already September!" But in all seriousness.... seriously. Wow.

That being said, we did manage to squeeze in a few books this month. (Thank you, 14 hours on a Megabus!) I think the reads this month are really solid, so be sure to read the reviews below and click the links to get yourself a copy, there are some good ones here!

Sarah's Reads!

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant
From "Anita Diamant’s 'vivid, affectionate portrait of American womanhood', follows the life of one woman, Addie Baum, through a period of dramatic change. Addie is The Boston Girl, the spirited daughter of an immigrant Jewish family, born in 1900 to parents who were unprepared for America and its effect on their three daughters. Growing up in the North End of Boston, then a teeming multicultural neighborhood, Addie’s intelligence and curiosity take her to a world her parents can’t imagine - a world of short skirts, movies, celebrity culture, and new opportunities for women. Addie wants to finish high school and dreams of going to college. She wants a career and to find true love. From the one-room tenement apartment she shared with her parents and two sisters, to the library group for girls she joins at a neighborhood settlement house, to her first, disastrous love affair, to finding the love of her life, eighty-five-year-old Addie recounts her adventures with humor and compassion for the na├»ve girl she once was. Written with the same attention to historical detail and emotional resonance that made Diamant’s previous novels bestsellers, The Boston Girl is a moving portrait of one woman’s complicated life in twentieth century America, and a fascinating look at a generation of women finding their places in a changing world."

This was my book club selection for the month and I absolutely loved it. It was such a quick read, I finished it in only a couple of days. The narrator is 85-year-old Addie Baum, recounting stories about her life to her granddaughter in the year 1985. I think what I enjoyed most about this book is that there's really no central conflict. No major climax, nothing too crazy or wild - just a woman sharing stories about growing up as a Jewish girl in Boston during the depression, WWII, surviving the death of siblings, seeing friends moving away, and other events that seem to be just a regular part of life during that time. That being said, something about this book just totally sucks you in. At the end of each chapter, I HAD to keep reading. I just wanted to know more and more and more. Something as seemingly mundane as Addie wearing pants for the first time ever was so exciting and fascinating thanks to Diamant's beautiful and captivating writing. This was my first book by Diamant and it definitely won't be my last. If this book is anywhere on your radar, I recommend picking it up ASAP.

My Rating: 5 Stars

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
From "Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch - 'Scout' - returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise's homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town, and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past—a journey that can only be guided by one's own conscience. Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humor, and effortless precision - a profoundly affecting work of art that is both wonderfully evocative of another era and relevant to our own times. It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context, and new meaning to an American classic."

To be honest, I'm not sure how I felt about this book. I LOVED To Kill a Mockingbird, so I wanted to read this, or felt obligated to read this... maybe a little both. I went into it a little excited, but mostly nervous because of the controversy surrounding it being published, and all of the headlines I read saying that Atticus Finch is now a racist. That was disappointing to find out, and even more disappointing to read. But despite that sad discovery, I still enjoyed the book overall. I love being in Scout Finch's world, experiencing her wild personality and reading stories from the Mockingbird days. I definitely think it's worth reading, but it certainly doesn't leave the mark that To Kill a Mockingbird did.

My Rating: 3 Stars

Nick's Read!

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
From "It is a universally acknowledged truth that high school sucks. But on the first day of his senior year, Greg Gaines thinks he’s figured it out. The answer to the basic existential question: How is it possible to exist in a place that sucks so bad? His strategy: remain at the periphery at all times. Keep an insanely low profile. Make mediocre films with the one person who is even sort of his friend, Earl. This plan works for exactly eight hours. Then Greg’s mom forces him to become friends with a girl who has cancer. This brings about the destruction of Greg’s entire life. Fiercely funny, honest, heart-breaking - this is an unforgettable novel from a bright talent, now also a film that critics are calling 'a touchstone for its generation' and 'an instant classic.'"

Like so many books I've been reading lately, I read this book because I saw (and absolutely loved) the movie. Set in Pittsburgh, funny, and emotional, the film was absolutely fantastic. When I first decided to read the book, a friend of mine told me it was "young adult that seemed just a bit too young." I completely agree. I did enjoy reading this, but for the first half, I was really struggling to allow myself to enjoy it. With every sentence, the narrator is fighting cliches, and with every fight, he seems to dig himself deeper and deeper into those same cliches. About mid-way through the book, I felt much better about the narrator's voice, and this familiarity helped me to realize just how funny he actually is. The tired high school cliches exist because the narrator is a tired high school kid. The story itself is fantastic, and there are plenty of unexpected reactions to very difficult situations. In that regard, the book felt extremely real. Overall, the book is very enjoyable to read. Allow yourself to think back to the awkwardness of high school and you'll love every page.

My Rating: 4 Stars

September is a really exciting month for us (Sarah's birthday!) and we can't wait for it to get here tomorrow! Have a great week!

Sarah & Nick

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Washington, DC

Sarah: Shoes / Shorts (no longer available, top version) / Tank,  Nick: Shoes / Shorts (cutoffs) / Shirt
Cheap Megabus tickets and our willingness to sit through what some would call excruciating bus trips have really opened up our weekend get away possibilities. Next in the Surznick series of 24-48 hour adventures is our mini-trip to Washington, DC!

Now, Sarah and I have both been to DC before, so we weren't too set on seeing all of the typical sites. When we first arrived, we figured we'd get the big ones out of the way right off the bat. We walked to the Capitol, down the National Mall to the Washington Monument, and over to The White House. Quite frankly, you don't need someone to tell you to visit these types of things in DC, you already know what they are and where to find them. I'm much more interested in the "regular" parts of a city - bars, restaurants, neighborhoods, etc.

If you watched the Who is Surznick? video, you know that I'm definitely a bit of an architecture geek. I know absolutely nothing about it, but looking at buildings and drooling over how they look is definitely one of my favorite past times. When we're in a new city, my favorite thing to do is just wander around and take in the all the buildings. To me, it is one of the best ways to see how I feel about a particular place or neighborhood. Of course, because of how short this trip was, we were only able to see a tiny glimpse of it, but much of what we saw was pretty awesome. There is certainly no shortage of beautiful buildings and cute neighborhoods in DC!

With the typical sites seen and some preliminary exploring out of the way, it was time to get some grub in our bellies. We got so many awesome food recommendations from friends, and it was hard to choose, but we decided on Right Proper Brewing Company. (Something about the word "brewing" in the name of a restaurant tends to sell me pretty quickly.) Stellar vegetarian friendly food, great beer served in wine glasses, awesome atmosphere, and a dessert special to celebrate Kristen Wiig's birthday? We definitely made the right choice for our first meal in DC.

After supper, it was time to hurry over to Sixth & I synagogue to see the show that brought us to DC in the first place, Gilmore Guys! If you're a fan of Gilmore Girls like Sarah and I are, you absolutely MUST listen to the Gilmore Guys podcast. We've been a fan for some time now, and when we saw that they were doing a tour of live shows, we knew we had to go. It was an absolutely hilarious time. If we did nothing else on our trip but see this show and head back home, it still would have been well worth it. 

Day 2 started off early with breakfast, coffee (duh) at Bakers and Baristas, strapping on our backpacks, and hitting the pavement to cram as much exploring in as we could before our bus pulls out at 4:05 PM. 

Over morning coffee, Sarah and I quickly decided that we were going to do our last few hours in DC right and bar hop until our time was up. We were able to hit a couple (or five) and here's what we discovered:

1. District Chophouse and Brewery is a very nice place, where the bartenders are in suits and "proper attire" is required. All beer is brewed in house and is pretty good, but if you have on cutoff jean shorts and a backpack, maybe skip this one until you're ready for a nice night out!

2. Penn Social is absolutely huge. Part craft beer house, part night club, part arcade, part sports bar, this place has everything. Luckily for us, the fact that we were the only ones in the entire place at 1:00 PM, and the manager is a huge Steelers fan meant that we drank in that bar FO FREE!

3. RFD Washington has an insane beer list and great specials. We were lucky to find a place to enjoy some dirt cheap Dogfish Head 90 Minutes.

4. Fado Irish Pub is dark, cool, and quiet. They're usually showing soccer or rugby, but if you're nice enough, they'll begrudgingly put on the Steelers pre-season game for a couple of out-of-towners.

5. We had time for one last stop before the bus leaves, and thanks to a friend's recommendation, we spent our last hour in DC enjoying some out of this world Ramen at Daikaya.

And just like that, after a whirlwind 28 hours, it was time to board the bus and head back to good old Pittsburgh. We had an absolute blast in DC, and I'm already eager to get back down there and explore some more! 

Sarah & Nick

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Thursday Shoesday

Shoes / Dress / Sunglasses

So normally Charlotte Russe does "Tuesday Shoesday", but today for some reason ALL the shoes are $20 or less (!!!) I thought it would be a total disservice if I did not share this exciting news with you all, so I compiled some favorites below. Click each photo to go to the site! Happy shopping!

xo, Sarah

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Rug Love

Rug / Shoes (Similar)
Until we lived in an apartment with almost exclusively hardwood floors, we were never really area rug people. But now we are total converts and I don't think we'll ever go back to being non-rug people again. I LOVE the rugs in our apartment and I realized we haven't showed them on the blog very much. In addition, Holl & Lane (the magazine I contribute to) is recruiting readers to share their favorite rugs on Instagram with #HollandLaneRugs and seeing all of these pretty photos is giving me major area rug fever!

Rug (Similar) / Shoes
Area rugs can have a huge impact on a room, but unfortunately some can also make a pretty big dent in your wallet. The three rugs we have in our apartment (pictured throughout this post) were all around $100, which is especially budget-friendly for 5x7" rugs! If you search hard enough and look for sales and deals, you can find some pretty great ones out there! I've found Urban Outfitters to be a great source for moderately priced but gorgeous rugs. Below I've rounded up some favorites for under $250!

one / two / three / four

Aren't they all just so pretty? Which is your favorite? I think I like two, three, and five the best! In addition to UO, Target and Rugs USA are other great sources for rugs that won't break the bank!

Rug / Shoes (exact sold out, similar)
Thanks for letting me share! Remember, you have until the end of the month to share your favorite rugs on Instagram with #HollandLaneRugs!

Sarah & Nick

Monday, August 24, 2015

Chickpea Salad Sandwich

When Sarah and I first decided to cut meat out of our diet, and eventually tried to eat only a plant based diet, one online food blogger quickly became our guru for delicious meal ideas: Minimalist Baker. It's been over a year now since we've cut out meat, so we've gotten pretty good at coming up with recipes or finding ideas all around us to change to fit our needs. However, its always nice to know that Minimalist Baker is still available for us when we need her!

This awesome Chickpea Salad Sandwich is a recipe adapted from MB's Chickpea Sunflower Sandwich and I absolutely love it. I'm not great at describing what things taste like once flavors combine, but there is just something so satisfying about the sweetness of this mixed with the savory flavors and the dill. Eating it cold right out of the refrigerator reminds me of summer foods like egg salad or potato salad, which is a huge nostalgic plus. But above all else, this recipe is soooo easy. 

We doubled the recipe from the original to get the amounts below. When I think of a cold salad spread for a sandwich, one of the first things that comes to mind is leftovers.

Here's what you need: 
- 2 15.5 oz. cans chickpeas
- 1/2 cup roasted sunflower seeds, unsalted
- 6 tbsp. vegan mayo (we use Veganaise)
- 1 tsp. dijon or spicy mustard
- 2 tbsp. maple syrup or agave
- 1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp. dried dill (or 4 tbsp. chopped fresh dill)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Bread (you know, for making it into a sandwich...)
- Any toppings you may want

Here's what you do: (3 steps!)
- Place the chickpeas in a large bowl and mash with a fork. They don't need to all be mashed, some whole chickpeas are fine.
- Mix everything else in.
- Put it on your bread (toasted, if you want), top it, devour it.

So so good. I'm particularly glad we doubled the original recipe, because in my opinion, it gets even better after a night in the refrigerator.

I hope you get a chance to try this delicious Chickpea Salad. Please be sure to let us know if you do!

Sarah & Nick

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

10 Easy Afternoon DIY Projects

The best kind of DIY projects are the ones that are quick, easy, and provide almost instant satisfaction. Since Nick and I both work full-time jobs, almost all of our blog work happens on weekend afternoons, so projects that aren't super time consuming are the ones we cling to most. In the past couple years we've made a LOT of projects that take us only one afternoon to complete from start to finish, so today we're rounding up some of the best ones for you!

1. Heart-Felt Sweatshirt - Before we know it that fall weather is going to be rolling in (I CAN'T WAIT) and this sweatshirt with heart-shaped elbow patches is perfect!

Felt / Sweatshirt / Embroidery Floss / Needles / Scissors

2.  DIY Studded Pillows - We love our throw pillows around here and these studded ones are so cute on our futon!

Pillow Case / Studs / Pillow Insert

3. Hand Stamped Metal Tags - Perfect for your indoor herb garden!

Stamping Blanks / Alphabet Set / Hammer

4. Pom Pom Dandelions - So maybe you don't have an indoor herb garden (or a green thumb). These pom pom dandelions require no watering and they're insanely cute!

Yarn / Floral Wire / Vase

5. Marbled Clay Coasters - Pretty and functional? These marbled clay coasters are a win-win.

Clay / Rolling Pin / Mod Podge

6. Easy DIY Chain Bracelets - I still can't believe how simple these are to make. I love them and wear them all the time!

Chain / Jump Rings / Hair Ties / Pliers

7. Ping Pong Ball Lights - The most popular DIY on the blog only requires two items to make! (Okay, plus an Xacto knife, but you get the idea.)

Ping Pong Balls / Christmas Lights / Xacto Knife

8. Pom-Pom Tree - The main ingredient for this project comes right from your back yard! Just pick up some pom poms and make these pom pom trees!

Pom Poms

9. Vinyl Record Bowls - Even better than two items? This one requires ONE (and an oven!) Vinyl records are super cheap at the thrift store and they melt into the coolest bowls!

via (Find some records in a thrift store!)

10. Marbled Necklace Hooks - Our most recent DIY is another marbled clay project. We love these simple but beautiful marbled necklace hooks!

Clay / Rolling Pin / Xacto Knife / Hooks / Nails

We hope you'll give one (or a bunch) of these easy afternoon DIY projects a try! Leave us a comment telling us which is your favorite!

Sarah & Nick