September 2016 - The Surznick Common Room

Friday, September 30, 2016

Surznick Reads: September 2016

September is one of my favorite months of the year, so I'm pretty sad to see it go, but equally as excited for all of the wonderful things October brings. This month I finally (finally) read a book and luckily it was one I liked!

Sarah's Reads!

The Girls by Emma Cline
From "Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged - a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence."

When I read the synopsis for this book, all I could think is "Charles Manson + White Oleander + Evan Rachel Wood in Thirteen" and that's almost exactly what this story is. The Girls is told from the perspective of Evie, as she navigates teenage crushes, friendships ending, her family dividing, and ultimately finding ease at "the ranch." After the last book I attempted to read (more on that next month - if I finish it), The Girls was a breath of fresh air. It was simple and easy to follow, with a plot that keeps you interested in reading more. I really liked it, as it's been a long time since I've felt invested in a story, though I do have a couple complaints. A) It felt almost too familiar. As mentioned, I feel like I knew this story before I even cracked the cover. I don't often research books before reading them, but almost think I would have enjoyed this more if I knew that Cline's intent was to write a book based on the Manson murders. I spent much of the story wondering how closely it correlated with reality. B) The ending wasn't very exciting and didn't feel tied together. I wanted to know more. Overall, I can understand why it's a NYT Bestseller that everyone is talking about right now, but I wouldn't hail it as a forever favorite.

My Rating: 4 Stars


This month we also have a little game review to share. We received the game Punderdome from Blogging for Books in exchange for review. Punderdome is a card game created by a father-daughter duo that "will replace Cards Against Humanity at your next party" (

We tested out this game at our last book club meeting, and while the description claims you don't need to be a pun master to master Punderdome, we tended to disagree. To play the game, a judge draws two prompt cards from the deck and reads them to the group. Each player has 90 seconds to create a pun combining the two prompts. Sounds easy enough, but we struggled so much to come up with something on the spot! It took a few rounds to get going, and finally the group had some momentum, but I personally didn't come up with a single funny pun. Either way, we're keeping it on our shelf for future game and book club nights, but I need to practice my puns in the mean time...

Our Rating: 3 Stars

Sarah & Nick

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Home Buying for Beginners (Pt. 1)

Floor champagne the day we closed on our house
We moved into our house about three months ago and now that we've settled in to a new groove, it almost feels like the stress of becoming homeowners didn't even happen. Is that weird? We are so happy and comfortable here in The Surznick Ranch, but we don't want to forget that getting here was quite a journey, especially for two 20-somethings that have never even purchased a new car, let alone a HOUSE.

So now that we've had time to reflect, we thought we would start a series of posts talking about our home buying process. We were total novices and obviously still don't know everything you could need to know about buying a house, but given our reading demographic falls into the same age range as us, we imagine some of you could be in a similar situation.

So Part 1 of our Home Buying for Beginners series: How do you know you're ready to buy a house and how do you prepare?

We're going to go deeper into our story more below, but here are a few steps in a nutshell:
1. Make a pro/con list or think about reasons you would want to buy a house. Talk about it with your partner, friends, and family. Are you ready to take on a larger responsibility? Do you love the area you live in? Are you ready for a space that's truly your own? If it seems like the best decision for you...
2. Save your money, hard. Save, save, save. Check your credit score and take steps to improve it, if necessary. Pinch pennies as much as you can.
3. Start thinking about where you want to live and what you're looking for in a house. Have an idea in mind because once you start looking it will be really helpful to eliminate potential houses.
4. Organize important documents like tax returns, pay stubs, bank statements, etc. You'll need these eventually and having quick access to them will make things way easier.

So how did we know we were ready? Let's take it back to summer 2015 for a second. Nick and I had just signed another year-long lease on our apartment, but were beginning to toss around the idea of buying a house. These were our thoughts:
1. Renting an apartment in the city can be expensive. We checked out some online mortgage calculators and realized that a mortgage on a house would likely be less than our rent.
2. We love Pittsburgh and know this is where we want to plant roots. With no plans of leaving the Burgh anytime soon, we'd rather put money towards something more permanent than an apartment.
3. We were in an uncomfortable situation with our apartment landlord that we were ready to break free from.
4. We were 100% ready for a space that we could renovate, paint, make changes to, etc. Apartment living can be very limiting in what you can do to make it your own.

Of course, these situations may not apply to you, but it's helpful to think about the criteria that would make you want to buy a house in order to decide if the timing is right.

So what did we do next? Well, never having done this before and all... the next thing we did was reach out to our bank for a loan pre-approval. Which wasn't necessarily bad, but the bank came back and told us, "Hey, great credit scores, guys! But... where's all the money you've been saving?"

Well, we hadn't been. It seems kind of silly to us now that we didn't think about that first, but even if you have great credit and will make all of your mortgage payments on time, you need cash money in the bank to buy a house. Like, a lot of it.

I don't think it's uncommon for people our age to not consciously save for the future. We don't feel embarrassed about not saving for a house from the minute we started working. But that meant we had to save a LOT for the next 6-8 months if we wanted to move within a year.

Time to prepare. From August 2015 to March 2016, this is what we did.
1. Saved, saved, saved. We set aside money from every paycheck and cut down on shopping, going out to eat, etc.
2. Determined our wish list house criteria (neighborhood, number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms, driveway, garage, yard, single-family, townhouse, old house, new house, etc.) We ranked them in order of most to least important so we knew what "flaws" we were willing to look past.
3. Researched loan types. We decided we were going to eventually pursue an FHA loan over a conventional loan, which helped us better determine how much money we should save.

So finally after many months, we were ready to start looking for our dream home! More on that in a future post...

If you've made it this far - bravo! Talking about buying a house was a lot wordier than I expected, but I hope you've found this post helpful!

Is there anything in particular you'd like us to talk about in this series? We'd love to share what you guys want to hear! Keep us posted.

Sarah & Nick

Friday, September 23, 2016

What's Nick Wearing? + Giveaway!

I love taking outfit photos for Sarah. She's always wearing these awesome, fun outfits and I'm always so grateful that she makes us look so good. It also serves as a good reminder that I need to step up my game. In the past, I had been a pretty sloppy dresser. Growing up not caring about my clothing has had it's ups and downs... cut offs and Walmart T's will only get you so far in life... 

For the past two years or so, I've been slowly honing in on my own personal style. I like solids, simple patterns, classic fits, and classic looks. Basically, I like to look nice and very rarely do I take anything that could be considered a "risk." The outfit featured in this post is pretty standard for what you'd find me wearing 99% of the time. Skinny chinos, Vans, a slim fit button up, simple ball cap, and a watch. It's a look that I haven't tired of yet. I feel put together, comfortable, casual, smart, and versatile. It's great for work (teaching), happy hours, weekend errands, emergency Instagram photo shoots, pizza runs, kitten parties, etc.  

H&M Hat (found in store, similar)
Forever 21 Shirt (exact sold out, similar)
Warby Parker Glasses (see more about our Warbys here)


P.S. Want to update your style too? Enter below to win a gift card to Nordstrom!

Giveaway organized by Oh My Gosh Beck!

Rules: Use the Rafflecopter form to enter daily. Giveaway ends 10/13 and is open worldwide. Winner will be notified via email.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Southern Tier Birthday Weekend

Sunday was my 27th birthday (!) and this year I really wanted our annual trip to Southern Tier Brewery to coincide with a birthday weekend away with our closest Pittsburgh friends! Friday night 10 of us packed up our cars and headed north to Bemus Point, NY for a weekend in a cabin near Lake Chautauqua.

Our cabin, affectionately named the Lilly Pad, had it's own pond, boats, treehouse, woods, and a fluffy kitty named Tiger. We used Airbib to find it and I think we all really enjoyed our stay, despite our joking references to Cabin in the Woods and guessing who would be the first to go... (no worries, we all made it home safe!) By the way, if you're new to Airbib, you can use our referral link for $35 off your first stay!

Our main objective was to visit Southern Tier, the brewery that Nick and I visit every fall to get our fill of Pumking and Warlock. We spent much of the day at the brewery, took a quick trip to the new Southern Tier Distillery, and then returned to the cabin and went to sleep after one too many birthday beers.

Hope you enjoyed some photos from our weekend getaway. Thank you to my wonderful group of friends that spent the weekend with me as I celebrated getting one year older - love you all!

Sarah & Nick

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Surznick Ranch: Progress Report (II)

Hey, remember we bought a house?! We've shared a few house related posts here and there since closing in June, but not nearly as many as I imagined we would when we first became homeowners. Pre-homeownership, I envisioned us staying up late every night, painting walls, reupholstering chairs, ripping out carpet, and working ourselves to the bone to get our house where we want it to be.

In reality, we leave the house every day at 7 AM and don't get home until 5 PM or later, eat a quick dinner, Nick teaches lessons, and I work on blog content, tidy up the house, and play with the kitties until we crash into bed and do it all over again the next day. We have very much settled into our new routines and at times we've become complacent with our home renovation process.

... But that's okay, right? I'm trying to tell myself that's okay but sometimes it's hard. Note to self: we own this house and aren't going anywhere, so we have plenty of time to turn it into our dream home!

Okay, enough semi-sad talk. Though progress is slow, we still really want to keep you guys informed on some of the small updates we've done since our last progress report, so I did a little house tour over on Snapchat this week. If you aren't following me on Snapchat (please do! @sawissinger), you can also watch it below! For a refresher, you can watch our empty house tour here. Also, if you want to see more video content on the blog, be sure to let us know!

Sources:  Mailbox  /  Pineapple Door Knocker  /  Front Door Paint (Pink Carnation by Glidden)  /  Sofa  /  Pink Kilim Rug  /  Coffee Table (DIY)  /  Living Room Light (sold out)  /  Record Stand (DIY)  /  Record Player (sold out; same in white)  /  Wooden Map Hanger (DIY)  /  Orange Chairs (DIY)  /  Hanging Planters (DIY)  /  Desk (also in white)  /  Music Room Light

What do you think? As you can see in the video, the music room is sooooo close to being done. We're planning a complete and final reveal in the next month (cross your fingers) and we can't wait for you to see! If you have any questions, want more details, close-up shots, etc. comment below or send us an email - we'd love to hear from you!

Have a great weekend - we're headed out of town to celebrate my birthday (eek!)

Sarah & Nick

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Bourbon Root Beer Float

It's no secret at all that Sarah and I are fall and winter people through and through. Summer is fun and all. It's just that it lasts so long (and that's pathetic considering we live in Pittsburgh where summers are considerably shorter than most places!) This summer has been so hot, and even the start of September so far has been way too hot (mid 90s) and I just can't take it.

Nothing quenches your late summer thirst like an icy cold root beer float. And nothing helps me get through a summer that is lasting way too long than a little bourbon and hard root beer to make things a little more interesting. 

Here's what you need:
- 1 bottle root beer (we used hard root beer, but you can use hard or soft)
- 3-4 scoops vanilla ice cream (we used Trader Joe's dairy-free vanilla)
- 1 shot bourbon (we used Wild Turkey 101 because why not?)

Here's what you do:
- Just combine it all into a glass the way you like it! That's it! Add a pretty paper straw if you're feelin' fancy.

I personally like it low on ice cream and heavy on root beer. I like when the ice cream all melts and the drink becomes like a cloudy, creamy, mixed drink. I usually stir it and wait to drink it until I get it all melted. Maybe that's just me? ... Probably. Sarah thinks I'm weird.

Whether you're loving the late summer heat or you're ready for football and pumpkin flavored things, this fizzy frozen treat is an absolute must! Comment below to let us know how you're dealing with the heat!


Sarah & Nick

Friday, September 9, 2016

DIY Pizza & Donut Serving Trays

Our house is the first home Nick and I have shared that has more than one floor. While we eat most of our meals at our kitchen/dining room table, on the weekends we like to hunker down in our basement and enjoy a Netflix binge alongside our pizza (I mean, who doesn't, right?)

It's gotten a little tricky trying to maneuver downstairs with plates of food and drinks, plus scurrying kittens under our feet. We were in desperate need of some serving trays to help us carry everything more easily. When I saw these plain wooden trays from Target for only $7, I thought they were the perfect solution and screaming for an awesome makeover!

We painted the insides of our trays with some of our favorite foods - pizza and donuts! We also got to try out a food-safe resin we've been anxious to use and are super pleased with the results. Want to make your own?

Here's what you need!
- Wooden serving trays
- Acrylic craft paint
- Spray paint (optional)
- Paintbrushes
- Alumilite Clear Cast

Here's what you do!
- Paint your trays with your base colors. We used brown acrylic craft paint on our pizza tray and white spray paint on our donut tray (we had white spray paint on hand and it was easier than brushing!)
- Next, paint your interior tray designs. On our pizza tray we used yellow paint for the cheese, red for the sauce and pepperoni, and then added some peppers, mushrooms, and detailing to the pepperoni with green, brown, white, and black paint. On our donut tray, we used a container lid to lightly trace six donut shapes. We painted the outside donut edges brown and then added pink, purple, blue, and green icing. Once that was dry we added the best part (sprinkles!) in various colors.
- After your paint has completely dried, it's time to seal it with food-safe resin! Follow the instructions in the Alumilite Clear Cast package to prepare your resin (It comes with two bottles that you mix together. One package was the perfect amount for both of our trays.)
- On a flat surface, pour the resin mix in each of your trays. Carefully tilt the trays so the resin reaches all sides and corners. Allow to solidify and cure in a safe, flat space for 3-5 days (dry time varies depending on size and depth.)

Once our resin was fully dried, it was time tray time! Aren't they just so dang cute? Not to mention they are going to be super helpful when Nick serves me breakfast in bed for my birthday next week...

Be sure to let us know what you think! Have you used resin before? How would you paint/decorate your trays?

Sarah & Nick

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Buffalo Tofu Bites with Vegan Ranch

Almost every Friday this summer we went to our favorite local bar for happy hour with friends. With a 1/2 price appetizer special that couldn't be beat, we became addicted to their buffalo tofu bites. Addicted, like several times a week I could eat those bites (but can't necessarily go to happy hour whenever I want.)

We decided to try and create a version at home that would hopefully stack up to our bite size favorites - and I think we nailed it! These buffalo tofu bites are packed with buffalo flavor (but are not too hot) and not full-on deep-fried so they're a bit healthier than the alternative. We paired with them a super simple and delicious homemade vegan ranch. Seriously, I am going to keep this ranch stocked in our fridge from now on - it's so good. Ready to prepare for happy hour at home?!

Here's what you need!
For the Buffalo Tofu Bites:
- 1 16 oz. block extra firm tofu
- 1 cup buffalo sauce (more if necessary)
- 1.5 tbsp. corn starch
- Bowl of flour
- Salt, pepper, and paprika to taste
- Vegetable oil

For the Vegan Ranch (Adapted from
- 1 cup vegan mayonnaise (we used Vegenaise but we love Just Mayo)
- 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp. onion powder
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
- 2 tsp. dried parsley
- 1/8 tsp. dill
- 2 tbsp. almond milk (more or less depending on your desired consistency)

Here's what you do to make the ranch!
- Combine all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and whisk together.
- Chill in refrigerator in a resealable container. We used a mason jar.

Here's what you do to make the tofu bites!
- Press your tofu, removing as much liquid as possible. We wrap our tofu in paper towels and put something heavy on top of it. Change out the paper towels as many times as necessary.
- Preheat your oven to 350° and wipe your baking sheet with vegetable oil.
- Cut your pressed tofu into small, bite-size pieces. We had 30 pieces total.
- In a small bowl, combine flour, salt, pepper, and paprika. In another small bowl, combine buffalo sauce and corn starch.
- Roll a tofu piece in flour mixture, coating all sides. Then transfer to buffalo sauce mixture, coating all sides. Let the liquid drip off and carefully transfer to your oiled baking sheet. Save excess buffalo sauce and cornstarch mixture for later.
- Once all pieces are evenly coated, place in oven and bake about 20 minutes.
- Remove from oven, and transfer to a large frying pan with about 1/8-1/4 inch hot oil. Pan sear/fry the tofu pieces on each side for about 2 minutes, to crisp the breading/sides.
- Remove tofu pieces from the pan and set on a paper towel lined plate to absorb the extra oil. Remove excess oil from pan and wipe clean with a paper towel.
- Return the tofu pieces to the pan on low heat, tossing with the excess buffalo sauce and corn starch mixture from earlier.

Use your ranch to top your tofu bites, or eat them plain. Either way, these little nuggets pack a super flavorful punch, and are surprisingly similar to our happy hour favorites! Considering that was the point, I'd call this recipe super successful. I hope you get to try these at your house too, they'll be a huge money saver - be sure to let us know if you do!

Sarah & Nick