January 2016 - The Surznick Common Room

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Surznick Reads: January 2016

Surznick Reads: January 2016 Books

The first month of 2016 is in the books! And speaking of books, we read quite a few this month. But first, here are our reading goals for the year.

Sarah: 24 books (hopefully this year I will reach this goal!)
Nick: 12 books

Sarah's Reads!

Surznick Reads: January 2016 Books

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
From Amazon.com: "Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel. In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge."

I've heard so many great things about this book and it certainly did not disappoint. I never thought stories about WWII would appeal to me, but after reading The Book Thief (review here) and now this, maybe I'm discovering a new favorite. This story is told from the perspectives of Marie-Laure and Werner, starting from a very young age. We know that their stories come together, but I didn't anticipate how exactly they would. This story was beautifully written and Doerr does such a great job of painting a picture of Saint-Malo (which I now REALLY want to visit.) Some parts of the story were slower than others, but there were many times I couldn't wait to find out what was going to happen. One of the most appealing parts of this book for me is that the chapters were very short (1-2 pages.) I do a lot of reading on the bus to/from work, and it's often hard to finish a chapter. I loved how easy it was find a good stopping point, but also how easy it was to keep reading because "the next chapter is a short one!" Overall, I highly recommend.

My Rating: 5 Stars

Surznick Reads: January 2016 Books

Room by Emma Donoghue
From Amazon.com: "To five-year-old-Jack, Room is the world... It's where he was born, it's where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits. Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it's the prison where she has been held for seven years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in this eleven-by-eleven-foot space. But with Jack's curiosity building alongside her own desperation, she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer. Room is a tale at once shocking, riveting, exhilarating - a story of unconquerable love in harrowing circumstances, and of the diamond-hard bond between a mother and her child."

Room has been sitting on our bookshelf for years and I don't know what took me so long to read it. I had heard such great things about the movie and really wanted to make sure I read the book and saw the movie before "awards season." Luckily I have accomplished both! Let me start with the book: it's good, but not my favorite. I don't think I'd read it again. I struggled a bit at the beginning with Jack as the narrator. Reading the thoughts of a 5 year old that has never seen the outside of a 11x11' room was difficult. I also got a bit bored with life in Room. Spoiler alert? (I don't think it is, but I'd rather be safe than sorry.) They finally get out of Room about midway through the story, and that's where I really started enjoying it more. But the real gem is the movie. Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay were both absolutely fantastic. If you're going to partake in one or the other, I'd pick the movie. Although I do recommend you read the book too (this is a book review after all!)

My Rating: 4 Stars

Surznick Reads: January 2016 Books

A Beautiful Mess: Happy Handmade Home by Elsie Larson & Emma Chapman
From Amazon.com: "Step inside the world of Elsie and Emma, the sisters behind the d├ęcor blog A Beautiful Mess. With tiny budgets and a crafty, can-do attitude, they overhauled each room in their first homes with DIY projects using family photos, vibrant fabrics, flea-market finds, and affordable furniture. Now, you can learn how to paint, craft, and decorate your way to a happy, bright space with distinct personality. In the same upbeat spirit and modern style found on their blog, you’ll find fresh, all-new projects... Packed with bonus styling tips from hanging the perfect gallery wall to making mismatched furniture work, Happy Handmade Home is design inspiration for personalizing your own space."

While I typically love and want to imitate anything and everything A Beautiful Mess creates (just look at our blog archives), this book just didn't quite do it for me. I bookmarked a couple of things that I want to try down the road, but many of the tutorials just seemed too homemade for me, if that makes sense. I'm clearly all for DIY, so maybe my tastes have just changed as I think about styling a house someday (hopefully soon!) and I want to make DIY projects that look like they could be purchased. Of course, the photography in this book is beautiful and the book itself was aesthetically pleasing, but it didn't serve for as much inspiration as I thought it would.

My Rating: 3 Stars

Nick's Reads!

Surznick Reads: January 2016 Books

The Martian by Andy Weir
From Amazon.com: "Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive - and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old 'human error' are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills - and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit - he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?"

The Martian is easily one of the best books I've read in a very long time. The details and science in this book are really what drive the plot and amp up the excitement and suspense factor to the max. Every time Mark found himself in another seemingly impossible to overcome predicament, I simply could not wait to see how he came up with a way out of it. As the reader, I loved being inside the mind of such a brilliant (and seriously funny) guy as he fights for survival on Mars.

Reads Sarah's review here.

My Rating: 5 Stars

Surznick Reads: January 2016 Books

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
From Amazon.com: "Though he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski's ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow, irrational rules, its own way of life, and its own way of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell. Jacob was there because his luck had run out - orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on this locomotive ship of fools. It was the early part of the Great Depression, and everyone in this third-rate circus was lucky to have any job at all... Surprising, poignant, and funny, Water for Elephants is that rare novel with a story so engrossing, one is reluctant to put it down; with characters so engaging, they continue to live long after the last page has been turned; with a world built of wonder, a world so real, one starts to breathe its air."

I realize I'm late to the party with this book, but who cares. Many years have passed since I've seen the film adaptation, and I knew it was time I finally give this book a go. It did not disappoint! I burned right through this book, always invested in the plot and the characters. Funny, smart, sad, emotional, exciting, joyous, and frustrating, this book has it all. I think the only reason I held back from a 5 star rating is simply because I knew how it was going to go. Seeing the movie sort of removed some of the mystery and intrigue for me. Seriously a great book, though.

My Rating: 4 Stars

Thanks for reading! We hope you have a fabulous February.

Sarah & Nick

Friday, January 29, 2016

10 Art Prints We Love

10 Art Prints You Need in Your Home Right Now
via (no longer available)
Though I think Nick and I have done a pretty good job at making our apartment feel like home, the one area where we're lacking is art. I long for the days where we have white walls and I can hang some beautiful art prints in crisp white frames. It's going to be lovely.

We do have a few prints and photos on our walls here and there, but most we already owned and weren't intentionally purchased for any one space. Someday (hopefully sooner rather than later) we'll buy the perfect pieces that will make a space feel just right.

Below are ten art prints on our wish list that we want to add to our home someday It's hard to narrow down ten, but we hope you like our picks from around the web!

10 Art Prints You Need in Your Home Right Now

1 & 2. Margot and Richie Tenenbaum - I've wanted these prints ever since Nick and I were Margot and Richie for Halloween a couple years ago.

10 Art Prints You Need in Your Home Right Now

3. Book Map - This print has over 600 book titles made into a street map #librarygoals.
4. Repeat Print - The realest print there is.

10 Art Prints You Need in Your Home Right Now

5. Should I Wash My Hair Today? Flowchart - It's been around for awhile, but it's a goodie (and very fitting for my life.)
6. Call Me Old Fashioned - Need this above our bar cart.

10 Art Prints You Need in Your Home Right Now

7. Pittsburgh Neighborhood Map - I love a good Pittsburgh map and this one is no exception.
8. Moon Phases Poster - Ever since making our moon phase clock, I've been itching to get this poster.

9 & 10. Foods of The Office & Foods of Parks and Rec - There's more where these came from (literally.) Basically I just want an entire kitchen gallery wall of the foods from my favorite shows.

Of course there's about a bajillion amazing prints out there, but these are on our most wanted list right now. What are some of your favorite prints?

Sarah & Nick

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Chicago Pizza Tour

Visiting Chicago soon? Here's your guide to a weekend Deep Dish Pizza Tour!

If there is one thing in the world I know about, it's pizza. If there is another thing in this world I know about, it's eating pizza. Generally speaking, I really don't discriminate one type of pizza against any other - my go-to is just plain ol', plain ol' cheese pizza. Nothing fancy and nothing extra. That being said, there is one fancy type of pizza that others just simply can't stack up to: Chicago Deep Dish Pizza. (Have I said pizza enough yet?)

On our most recent stint in Chicago, Sarah and I had the pleasure of sampling 4 different pizza places in just 2.5 days. Our original plan was to make it to 6 places, but the sheer volume of pizza you get in a deep dish pie is completely bonkers, so with leftovers factored in, we made it to 4. We hope you enjoy a little recap of our Chicago Pizza Tour!

Visiting Chicago soon? Here's your guide to a weekend Deep Dish Pizza Tour!

First up was the ever-famous Giordano's. This pizza was completely insane. The amount of cheese on here is one thing, but the crust?! Woah. It was directly because of this crust that we had leftovers. Less like a pizza crust and more like a thick, fluffy, chewy biscuit, it really wasn't my favorite. I don't like anything to stand in the way of me eating more pizza, and the heaviness of this crust definitely stood in my way. However, with the amount of cheese on this pizza, they could have served it on a saltine crust and I would have been happy. All in all, this was my second favorite pizza of the trip.

Gino's East
Despite the fact that we arrived at Gino's at 7:30 on a Saturday night, and had to wait 2 hours for a table, THIS was my favorite pizza of the weekend. The crust here was much more like what I would expect on a deep dish pizza, and the sauce was slightly sweet and delicious. Still with tons of cheese, (though not as much as Giordano's) this pizza was fantastic. And on top of that, I saw Elijah Wood eating there at the same time. Any pizza that's good enough for Frodo is good enough for me.

Visiting Chicago soon? Here's your guide to a weekend Deep Dish Pizza Tour!

Blaze Pizza
What we learned about Blaze Pizza: it's a chain, it's not Chicago-based, it's not deep dish, it's cheap, and it's delicious. We stopped at a Blaze Pizza very near our hotel for a late night snack, picked up a cheese pizza, retired back to our hotel room, and commenced watching 'Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.' Blaze Pizza is kind of like the Chipotle of pizza. You pick your crust and all your ingredients, they throw it in a hot oven, and within 5 minutes you're out the door with a pie. This was a perfect late night snack. My only regret is that we didn't each order our own! They're sooo thin that half of a small pie just isn't enough!

Visiting Chicago soon? Here's your guide to a weekend Deep Dish Pizza Tour!

Lou Malnati's
This pizza place was perhaps recommended the most to us by friends and strangers. On our way to catch the train to the airport, we stopped off for one more small pizza to share. Luckily, at this place (unlike the other places) when they say "serves two," they really mean it. I very much liked the crust on this pizza, but admittedly, that was about all I liked. There was virtually no sauce at all. The tastes I got that had a bit of sauce on it were much better, but this was the first pizza of the weekend I felt the need to add parmesan and red pepper flakes to.

And that was it! By no means do I consider myself an expert on Chicago, or even the beautiful art of the deep dish pizza, but I think this was a pretty good start! I know there are MANY more places to explore and pizzas to be eaten. Trust me when I say I intend to do just that!

Visiting Chicago soon? Here's your guide to a weekend Deep Dish Pizza Tour!

Until next time, what are your favorite pizza places? Chicago or otherwise?

Sarah & Nick

Monday, January 25, 2016

Hand Stamped Tea Towels

Some of our favorite DIY projects involve taking something plain, adding a little paint, and turning it into something pretty, like our shower curtain, watercolor pillows, and cloth napkins. Paint is so inexpensive, versatile, and a fun way to add color to your home! This past weekend we stamped some fun tea towels to help brighten up our kitchen.

Hand stamping can be as simple or as involved as you want it to be (I think we opted for somewhere in between.) Stamps can be made using things you already have in your home (like sponges, potatoes, celery, pencil erasers, etc.) or designed from supplies like foam, rubber, or cardboard. We made our stamps by cutting shapes out of foam sheets and gluing them to a foam board base. We're really happy with the results! Want to make your own?

Here's what you need!
- Foam sheets
- Cardboard or foam poster board
- Scissors
- Acrylic paint
- Paintbrush
- Plain cotton tea towels
- Iron

Here's what you do!
- Cut out your stamp design from your foam sheets. Repeat to make at least two copies of your design. Glue the foam sheets on top of each other and then glue to your cardboard base. Allow the glue to dry completely.
- On a drop cloth or protective surface, lay out your plain tea towels (iron first to remove as many wrinkles as possible.) Map out your design with your dry stamp to figure out your placement and spacing.
- In a small dish or palette, squeeze out your paint color(s) of choice and use a paintbrush to apply the paint to your stamp. Carefully but firmly stamp your desired pattern onto your tea towel. Repeat until completed.
- Carefully move your tea towel to a safe place to dry for 24 hours. After the paint has completely dried, heat set the paint with your iron. On medium to high heat, iron your towels on the unpainted side. Be sure to constantly move the iron to avoid scorching the fabric. For future care, wash in cold water and tumble dry low.

Aren't these the cutest? We can't wait to start using them. This DIY follows almost the exact same technique that we used for the cloth napkins that we made two years ago, which by the way have held up incredibly well. We use them every single day and haven't had any paint come off (they're just a liiiittle food stained from regular use.)

Are hand stamped tea towels a project you think you'd try? Which of our stamps do you like best? I'm pretty partial to the kitties... I am a crazy cat lady, after all.

Sarah & Nick

Friday, January 22, 2016

Chicago, IL

Nick and I visited Chicago for the first time about three years ago. We loved the city so much that we actually considered moving there for a little bit, but ultimately we packed up and moved to Pittsburgh (and haven't regretted our decision once!) Chicago is such a great city to visit when we have the chance. This time, the opportunity came in the form of a three day weekend and really cheap plane tickets.

If you're visiting Chicago soon, we hope our 3-day weekend travel guide will help you plan your trip! Here's our Windy City recap (and for more photos, don't forget to follow on Instagram!)

Where We Stayed
We wanted to pick a location that would be within walking distance of most places we wanted to visit, so we spent two nights at the Doubletree Hotel on the Magnificent Mile. The cost per night was surprisingly low for the location and the hotel's rating. We spend very little time in a hotel/Airbnb when we travel, so in terms of meeting our very basic needs, it was perfect! Also, the hotel had an Einstein Bros. Bagels on site, which was great for those -5° mornings.

The Magnificent Mile is basically Chicago's shopping district. There's a TON of stores, plus it's close to many attractions like the John Hancock Center, Millennium Park (home of The Bean), and Navy Pier. There are also great bars and restaurants close by, which was nice for the late nights when we walked home after dinner.

What We Ate
... Pizza, obviously! But you'll get to read all about that in a separate post (did someone say 'Pizza Tour'?) On Saturday morning we arrived pretty early, so our first stop (after coffee) was brunch at The Bongo Room in the South Loop.

Nick and I both ordered the breakfast burrito (spinach flour tortilla filled with guacamole and scrambled eggs, topped with melted jack cheese and ancho chile sour cream, salsa on the side, served with house potatoes... a mouthful, literally.) I think we both agreed that it was good, but not great. The ancho chile sour cream was delicious, but the rest of the meal was a little lacking on flavor. The description just sounded so good that we couldn't help but be a tad disappointed.

Later that evening we met up with a friend for drinks at Enolo Wine Cafe. We picked this spot at random after our first choice (Three Dots and a Dash) had a line to enter. The drinks were a little expensive, but we really enjoyed the calm atmosphere - it was great for catching up with friends and relaxing after a long day. We split a plate of truffle fries and they did not disappoint!

Sunday afternoon we took the train out to Logan Square to meet up with another friend for lunch at Chicago Diner. This vegetarian/vegan restaurant had a mouthwatering menu that made it so hard for me to order that I literally just picked a meal at random. All of our dishes were excellent (I ordered the breakfast combo while Nick and Jordan each ordered the Monte Cristo.) I can't turn down poutine when I see it on a menu, so we shared an order of their vegan poutine plate (waffle fries, Teese creamy cheddar, gravy, and green onions) - sooo good.

For drinks that day we stopped by Revolution Brewing for a beer (their brewpub is next door to Chicago Diner) and then hopped on a bus to Durkin's Bar in Lakeview to watch the Steelers game. Though the Steelers lost (:::sad face for days:::) it was awesome to watch the game at the official Steelers Nation bar of Chicago. EVERYONE had on their black and gold gear, and with IC Light bottle specials, it felt just like watching a game in the Burgh. So fun!

What We Did
Our big "event" of the trip was to visit the 360 Chicago Observatory (formerly the John Hancock Observatory) in the John Hancock tower. The observatory is on the 94th floor (1000 feet high!) and offers 360 views of the city. You're right on Lake Michigan and in the heart of downtown, so the views are truly breathtaking. We purchased "Sun and Stars" tickets so that we could visit once during the day and once at night. I'm not sure I could pick which time of day was better - I loved it all.

On our last visit we went to Skydeck Chicago in the Willis Tower and stood on "The Ledge," so we wanted to try something different this time. At the time, the Willis Tower was the tallest building in the western hemisphere, so you can imagine the crowd that draws in. The 360 Chicago Observatory in the Hancock tower was a lot more mellow and easy to enjoy. We didn't at all feel rushed or pressured to let other people in. We could have sat there all day! (They also have a bar in the observatory so we actually could have sat there all day.)

We also visited Cloud Gate (aka The Bean) in Millennium Park, the Chicago Cultural Center, the Chicago Public Library, and tracked down some colorful street art from Studio DIY's Chicago Wall Crawl (as seen in our last post.)

On our last day in town we saw Room at the theater next to our hotel because it was SO cold outside (the movie is incredible, by the way.) Then we enjoyed a few last minute slices of deep dish pizza and hopped on the train to Midway to catch our flight back to the Burgh!

We hope you enjoyed this recap of our trip! Please let us know if you have any questions (about food, things to do, transportation, anything!) and we'll answer them as best as we can. Can't wait to share our Pizza Tour with you next week!

Sarah & Nick

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Camel Coat in Chicago

Even though I think of myself as a notorious over-packer, packing for our recent trip to Chicago was surprisingly easy. When we travel, we spend most of our time walking around, exploring the city. In Chicago, that means walking around in subzero temperatures. I could have worn the same clothes all weekend because all anyone was going to see was my outerwear, so it was the perfect opportunity to wear my new camel coat from Ifchic.

If you haven't heard of Ifchic, let me explain in two simple words: FREE CLOTHES. I discovered Ifchic a few months ago when another blogger posted about the #Ifchic24 coin system. Here's the gist: every day you browse the Ifchic website and collect up to 3 coins valued at $2 each (so $6 a day.)

If you do this every day for a month, you'll end up with a maximum of $180 that you get to use towards a purchase during the #Ifchic24 event. The event runs for 24 hours on the 24th of the month. So if you find something you like for $170, the item itself is FREE (you just pay the $7.95 shipping.)

I've been participating in the #Ifchic24 event for a few months now and I'm obsessed. Collecting my coins has become a seamless part of my morning routine. So far I've "purchased" earrings, an iPad case, a purse, and this camel coat. The only expense I've paid out of pocket is $7.95 shipping each month, plus any cost over $180 (my coat was $200 so I paid $20.)

The coins reset every month on the 24th, so this Sunday is the perfect opportunity to start collecting! By the way, this post is not sponsored in any way by Ifchic, but I just think it's the coolest thing so I had to share.

But back to our trip... Chicago in January is COLD. Like -25 degree wind chill cold. I did not step foot outside without my coat, hat, scarf, gloves, and boots. My camel coat is really warm without being bulky, so I felt really comfortable all weekend. The gray sleeves make it a little more fun and the faux leather details add a bit of edge.

My hat and scarf were last minute purchases from Old Navy. I didn't have a hat or scarf that I thought would be warm enough to wear in Chicago for three days straight, so it was Old Navy to the rescue! In store they're having a huge sale on winter accessories, so I picked these up for almost nothing. Unfortunately I can't find either online, but you may be able to find them in your local store.

This winter outerwear look wouldn't be complete without some Hunter boots. To be honest, I was a little hesitant about taking my Hunter boots with us to Chicago. We carried our luggage (backpacks) with us all day on Saturday and Monday, so I knew if I had my boots with me, they would need to be on my feet. I hadn't worn them for enough extended periods of time to know whether or not my feet would get sore, but ultimately took the plunge and decided to wear them.

Luckily I had ZERO problems in these and I wore them all day, every day for the entire weekend. I've heard some people complain about Hunters not keeping their feet warm, but my toes were nice and toasty with two pairs of socks. By the way, my boots are the Huntress boots. These are a little shorter and wider at the calf than the Original - I love them.

Camel Coat\Ifchic (exact sold out)
Black Jeans\Charlotte Russe (exact)
Gray Jeans\American Eagle (similar)
Pom Pom Hat\Old Navy (similar)
Black & White Scarf\Old Navy (similar)
Hunter Boots\Zappos (exact)

I had a tough time locating all of these items online, so I linked a few similar below. If you have any questions about Ifchic, let me know and I'd be happy to answer them! We'll be back on Friday with a recap of what we did/ate/saw in Chicago AND an Old Navy giveaway! Stay tuned!
xo, Sarah

Monday, January 18, 2016

DIY Moon Phase Clock

Have you checked out Issue 5 of Holl & Lane Magazine yet? In addition to the Food Emoji Shopping Bags we made for the magazine, we also made this fun DIY Moon Phase Clock!

It's a quick, easy, and unique project. Mine found a home in my office at work! Want to make one of your own? Head to Holl & Lane Issue 5 for the full tutorial! Use promo code ISSUE5FRIENDS&FAMILY for 25% off! Or you can purchase a 6 month subscription for only $7.99!

Thanks for reading and have a great week!

Sarah & Nick