Monday, January 26, 2015

The Fabulous World of The Grand Budapest Hotel

The husband and I recently watched 
The Grand Budapest Hotel. Have you seen it yet? For me the interest lay not in the plot, but in the absolutely fabulous visual designThe plot was interesting, but nothing remarkable ... it is about a conceirge who, with the help of one of his employees, works to prove his innocence when he is wrongly framed for murder. Pretty simple really. 

The Grand Budapest Hotel is set primarily in the 1930s and is bookended by portions in the 1960s and 1980s - a double flashback. Each time period has its own colour palatte, but since most of the movie is in the 1930s that is what made the biggest impact on me. 

Wes Anderson, the director and writer of The Grand Budapest Hotel, is known for his meticulous attention to detail in his films (reportedly he even specified the hook the stolen painting was to hang from).
Anderson's use of unique composition and distinctive colour choices make you feel like you have entered a self-contained world. A world that is similar to ours, but different - more controlled, more intense, and quirkier.

I was drawn into The Grand Budapest Hotel's world and was completely intrigued by the visual design. It felt somehow familiar. At first I couldn't put my finger on what made it seem so familiar and then I realized that watching The Grand Budapest Hotel felt like I was stepping into some of my favourite blogs. The forced symmetry, the rich saturated colours, the pastels, the monochromatic look, and the moody lighting are all things that anyone familiar with blog photography would recognize.  

Let's have a look.


Most of The Grand Budapest Hotel is shot so you are looking straight at, straight down, or straight up at something. Everything is carefully centred in the middle of the frame - everything from people to buildings to pastries. The style of architecture is classic and symmetrical. It kind of does this symmetrical-loving girl's heart good to see everything lined up and organized like that. Symmetry gives the film a formality (although it is awkwardly formal at times because of the quirky characters and their antics). The rigid symmetry and centering also looks artificial and even a bit child-like which helps reinforce the appearance of this being another world. The symmetry also serves to make you aware of the composition which in turn serves to make you feel like you are looking at another world.

If you have read blogs for any length of time, you will be familiar with the same composition style. Centering the subject and tight symmetrical or semi-symmetrical composition are favourite tools that many bloggers use to take interesting and modern-looking photos of rooms, crafts, travel shots, people, or almost anything really.

Oh Happy Day

SF Girl by Bay

This Heart of Mine

Bright Bazaar

One of the other composition techniques Wes Anderson employs is the use of strong horizontal lines. I found this most evident in distance shots, like the one of Gustave and Zero running through the snow in the upper right in the collage below. Of course, horizontal lines happen naturally when you shoot your pictures at a 90 degree angle, but it is emphasized by having people or vehicles move straight across the scene and often at a distance so they appear almost as silhouettes.

Prior to reading blogs, I had never seen family and wedding photographs taken with the subjects standing stiffly side-by-side facing the camera. Now I see this style frequently and have grown to love its quirky composition. One of my favourite variations of this composition style is the photo below of Gabrielle Blair's family (author of Design Mom). The same strong horizontal lines can also be seen in pictures of food, craft items, or travel photos.

Design Mom

Martha Stewart

Design Mom

The House that Lars Built

Brooklyn Limestone


Wes Anderson is also known for the distinctive colour palettes that he creates for each of his films. In The Grand Budapest Hotel he used cheerful reds and pinks and purples in the hotel scenes. The exterior of the hotel was painted a range of intense pinks, the interior had red walls in the concierge and elevator, blush pink walls in the lobby, red patterned carpets throughout, and the staff wore royal purple uniforms. It is a strong and distinctive colour choice, but it also makes the movie.

I see lots of saturated colours on blogs, although not usually as intense as in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Saturated colours appear more in craft projects, flowers, food, and even fashion photographs, than in interior decorating. Most people decorate with more livable neutral colours, although there are a few bright and beautiful rooms out there in blogland.

Young House Love

Real Simple

Decor Sponge

Bright Bazaar

House and Home


Many of the scenes in The Grand Budapest Hotel, especially ones that involve Agatha and the bake shop have lots of pink, yellow, and blue pastel colours. 

Pastel colours are a favouite in blogland. Pastels are very livable so are used for pretty much everything from food to fashion to flowers to decor.  The tone of pastels can vary though, from more serious greyed pastels to bright and happy pure-toned pastels.

Martha Stewart

Martha Stewart via Home Depot

Style at Home

Real Simple

West Elm


All the outdoor shots were snowy and overcast creating a monochromatic muted feel to them. The shots even appeared to be black-and-white at times.

The monochromatic look is popular in blogland. It is a calm look, often used in interiors and fashion.

Design Mom

Martha Stewart


The lighting in The Grand Budapest Hotel ranges from bright and intense to dark and moody. I found the dark lighting especially interesting. The background in these shots was dark with the light focused on the character's faces giving them the look of an old master painting.

Woman Writing a Letter by Gerrit ter Borch (source)

Portrait of a Man Holding Gloves, Rembrandt (source)
While dark and moody lighting is found in blogland, it seems to be used selectively. I see lots of moody table settings, food photography, flower arrangements, and even sometimes in photographs of people. What I don't see as much are dark and moody homes - for the most part light and bright is where it's at when it comes to decorating.

Style at Home

Real Simple

Making it Lovely

Martha Stewart

Although many of the blogs I admire remind me of Wes Anderson's design style, I have to give a shout out to Will Taylor, the blogger behind Bright Bazaar, because his blog is the one that most distinctly fits this style. I love Will's photography and composition and when I read Bright Bazaar I get something of the same feel as The Grand Budapest Hotel.

If you want to get a taste of what I'm talking about, here's the trailer to The Grand Budapest Hotel.  The movie is a feast for the eyes and especially if you are a blogger. 

I would love to know what other bloggers think? Did you feel like you had fallen down the rabbit hole of the blog world too when you watched The Grand Budapest Hotel?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

How I Lost 10 Pounds and Kept It Off Even Over the Holidays

I've been trying to write this post for a few weeks now and it is proving difficult to pull together. The long and the short of it is that I have put on 5 pounds a year for the past few years and ended up in the overweight range on the BMI and all my clothes were starting to feel tight. It was time for a change.

I don't want to appear braggy in writing about my weight loss, but I also know that in all my 50-something years I have never accomplished what I did this past fall. I've never had a big weight problem, but I also have never been able to lose weight when I needed to or wanted to .. at all ... ever!  As I got older and went through menopause I was gradually putting on weight. I would find I would especially put on weight at Christmastime and I couldn't seem to do anything to lose those pounds afterward. I have tremendous admiration for people who lose weight and keep it off (both parts are equally difficult).

I am, and always have been a stellar super-healthy eater up until about 7:00 at night. Every day I would eat healthy high-fibre cereal with skim milk for breakfast, a sandwich and yogurt and fruit for lunch, and whole-grain pasta or rice with lean meat and lots of veggies for dinner. So what was my problem you ask? Well, my downfall was evenings, weekends, and holidays. I would finish dinner, clean up the kitchen, and sit down at the computer and immediately want some chocolate and then a cookie or two (or more), and then some cereal before bed. It didn't seem like too much to eat, but as I was getting older it was too much. I wasn't able to curb my sweet tooth and limit my snacking and I couldn't lose the weight I had put on. 

Last June, a friend from work and I were both feeling the need to lose weight so we made a pact to eat healthy fruits and vegetables and do lots of walking and swimming all summer. Well come the fall when we were back at work and compared notes, neither of us had lost weight and, in fact, we had both gone up a pound or two. So after a bit of discussion about what to do (like several weeks worth of discussion) we decided to try the Dr. Oz diet, but with modifications. It took a bit of time to get ready to try the new eating plan, both to gear ourselves up psychologically for the changes and to buy some foods we didn't ordinarily purchase so we were ready to begin. By the end of September we both were ready to start the new eating plan. 

For the next 10 weeks we ate the modified Dr. Oz diet during the week and our regular diet on the weekends and we both got down to our desired weight - my friend lost 8 pounds and I lost 10 pounds. 

Dr. Oz 2-week Diet

We decided to only follow the new eating plan on weekdays so that we wouldn't have to worry if we went out to eat at restaurants on the weekends. We also could indulge in chocolate or whatever was our most missed treat on the weekends and have that to look forward to all week. I found this very helpful and motivating as I would often say to myself that I only had to do eat like this for the next few days and then I could have chocolate. I was also concerned about not eating grains or drinking milk for a long period of time as I didn't want my GI system to lose the ability to digest them. So eating whole-grain bread and drinking skim milk on the weekends kept them in my diet. My friend had had lots of joint pain prior to the diet, which dramatically improved when she cut out grains so she is now limiting the amount of gluten she eats and is feeling much better.

Since we ate whatever we wanted (in moderation) on the weekends our weight went up a pound or so, but it came off at the beginning of the workweek when we resumed our new eating plan. Then as the week progressed and we continued to eat the Dr. Oz diet we would lose another pound or so by the end of the week.

One of the realizations I came to after following the new eating plan for awhile was that I had previously been trying to reduce my snacking through willpower alone and would always eventually lose the battle. I was successfully able to lose weight this time because I had a plan of what I could eat and I was never hungry so I was able to maintain the eating plan. It was more a change of habits than trying to exercise willpower alone.

The other key factor that helped me lose weight this time was that I did it with a friend who also wanted to lose some weight. Neither of us had much to lose, but we both had not been successful with anything else we had tried. Having a buddy alongside was key to our motivation and helped in providing tips and ideas to each other. We would check in with each other several times a week by email so that we kept each other accountable.

After about 5 or 6 weeks we both made some changes to the eating plan to increase the amount of calcium and iron we consumed as the diet seemed a bit low in it for long-term eating. Some of the changes included occasionally eating beef and whole-wheat pasta and we both added a glass of skim milk to our dinners. We also took multivitamins and probiotics daily to ensure we got adequate nutrition. 

You can see in the list above what was recommended by Dr. Oz, but we did make changes to the eating plan to suit our lives. Here are a list of the modifications that I made:
1. I always have bran in the morning and really needed to continue eating it. Since milk was not part of the plan, I had my bran with plain greek yogurt. Frankly, the plain greek yogurt and bran tasted awful so after about a month I added half a banana to the mix and that was enough sweetness to get me through.
2. I used hemp hearts in my morning smoothie instead of flax seeds and protein powder.
3. Dr. Oz lists the veggies he recommends (low GI veggies), but I didn't want to make the eating plan difficult to follow, so my motto was - any veg would do! Any vegetable, even one that wasn't low GI, was certainly better than eating a cookie or chocolate or more pasta and they are all full of vitamins and minerals and fibre.
4. I always have an apple after school because I'm so hungry then that I could probably eat your arm if you held it in front of me. So every day I eat an apple and 20 almonds on the way home in the car. This was my routine before starting the new eating plan so it wasn't a change, but apples aren't on the Dr. Oz approved list (fruit is limited to try and keep the intake of sugar low).
5. Dr. Oz recommends not drinking any tea or coffee (only green tea and hot water with lemon in the morning), however his reason was that you associate drinking tea and coffee with having a cookie or muffin so you want to break that habit. However, I don't associate the two and love having a cup of tea in the morning so I skipped the water and lemon and had tea instead.
6. I skipped the detox broth as I couldn't figure out when to drink it and it seemed like a waste of veggies to make a broth and chuck the veggies.
7. I'm always hungry in the evening and overnight so I had some greek yogurt every evening. I added unsweetened applesauce or applesauce-berry-carrot mix to the greek yogurt so it was palatable. I also sometimes added cinnamon to change up the snack.
8. I was open-minded with the flavourings I used to make dinner as I figured you don't use much of them, but they add a lot to the meal. I included things like soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, mustard, and tzatziki (I used it on the chicken burgers and as a salad dressing).
9. I wasn't sure how much 6 ozs of protein was, so I just ate lots of meat, tofu, beans, eggs, and nuts so I wouldn't get hungry, but if you are a huge meat or nut eater you might need to be more accurate.
10. I sometimes used brown rice vermicelli in place of plain brown rice. I checked the ingredient list for vermicelli and it only listed brown rice so I decided it was a good substitute and it added a nice variety to our dinners.

So what exactly did I eat? Well, here's what I eat on a typical workday:

Breakfast: 1/3 cup Bran Buds with 1/3 cup plain greek yogurt and 1/2 banana

Smoothie: 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk, 1/2 banana, 3 rounded tablespoons Hemp Hearts, generous 1/2 cup frozen berries

Lunch: leftovers that included a protein and vegetables or salad with protein (usually a boiled egg and sunflower seeds and walnuts)

Snack: apple and 20 unsalted almonds

Dinner: 1/2 cup brown rice or brown rice vermicelli with protein and vegetables, glass of skim milk

Snack: 1/3 cup plain greek yogurt with small container of unsweetened applesauce or applesauce mix

Apart from losing weight so my clothes fit better (and gaining the confidence to be able to tuck my shirt into my pants or skirt - thankfully, as that seems to be the style now), one of the most surprising benefits was that I lost my sugar cravings. I used to sit down at my desk in the evening and just pine for chocolate. Now I don't even think about it. I can sit through a meeting with a plate of cookies on the table and not be thinking the whole time about eating one. I have read about people losing their craving for sweets and I thought they were crazy and it could never happen to me, but sure enough it did and relatively quickly too. After a few weeks on the new eating plan, I actually found that some things tasted too sweet (I'm talking about you Kit Kat bars) which was a little disconcerting.  

I have often heard people remark that when they go off sugar and eat healthier they have so much more energy. I wouldn't say I noticed a huge difference apart from how I felt after parent-teacher interviews in the fall. I am usually very tired on the day after parent-teacher interviews, but this past fall I sailed through the next day as if I had had a regular work day the day before, instead of an extended day. 

I seem to be able to tolerate being slightly hungry now, whereas before I would get the shakes and a headache and ... well "hangry" (you know ... so hungry you easily get angry). I also seem to be able to eat sweets with moderation now. I think both of these factors helped me keep the weight under control over the holidays.

Surprisingly, I only gained one pound over the holidays. I had given up trying to stick to the new eating plan over Christmas and New Year's and wasn't weighing myself every morning as was my habit. So I was very surprised to find out I had only gained one pound when I weighed myself when I went back to work in January.The new eating habits were difficult to stick with when everyone was around, without the structure of work, and with all the special foods that Christmas brings. However, this year I had far fewer cravings than before and was able to eat in moderation. I also continued to have the smoothie every morning throughout the holidays so I wasn't very hungry during the day. 

I'm still working out the kinks in a long-term version of this eating plan and trying to incorporate more exercise into life. The husband and I got Fitbits for Christmas to track our activity (or lack thereof) and hopefully improve our fitness habits. 

So there you have my grand eating adventure of 2014. It's definitely not that I have all the answers, but I thought I would share my experience in the hope that someone finds it useful. I love reading other people's success stories as I find them very inspiring and I hope mine is motivating for someone reading this. Let me know if you have any questions and I'll do my best to answer them.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

New Food #1

One of my New Year's resolutions was to do something new every month. I thought I would try and make that even more specific and try a new food every month. I do like to eat, so I figure this goal is a good fit. 

When I was at the green grocers the other day I saw some endive and thought that would be my first food to try. My only exposure to endives are in the movie Emelie. Do you remember how the shop assistant carefully selects and even listens to each endive before deciding on which ones to give Emelie. It was so endearing.

A little research revealed what a quirky vegetable endive is. It is part of the daisy and chicory family and can be eaten cooked or raw. Endive is a complicated vegetable to grow as it involves a two-step process. First the seeds are grown into a leafy plant with a deep tap root. Then the greens are cut off and the roots dug up and put into storage where they become dormant. Then the root is put in a cold, dark, humid environment and the endive is grown (the pale green and white colouring made sense when I read that). Endive are chock full of vitamins, potassium, and fibre.

I modified a simple recipe so I could fully appreciate the taste of the endive. Here's how I cooked them:

2 endive
1 small apple
1 tablespoon butter or oil
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup water
salt and pepper

1. trim the stem end and slice 2 endive in half lengthwise 
2. place thin peeled apple slices between the layers of leaves 
3. place in frying pan cut side down with 1 tablespoon butter or oil and cook for 6 minutes
4. gently turn the endive over, add 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, add 1/4 cup water, season with salt and pepper, cover, and cook for 12-15 minutes
5. uncover and cook until the liquid has evaporated

I liked the endive better the second day when I took it to work for lunch. It does have a slightly bitter taste which the apple helps to offset. I would make it again, but it wasn't a love-at-first-bite kind of food.

Have you tried endive? What was your verdict? Do you like to try new foods?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Winter Sideboard and Mantel

After the whirlwind that is Christmas all I want is to create simple sideboard and mantel arrangements that will see me through until the spring. Something calm and easy on the eyes, but still pretty.

I added some colour to the sideboard by embracing the warm side of the palette - red, pink, and orange. I was inspired by the fresh colours in the plates that I re-hung on the wall ... after not being able to find them for TWO YEARS.  Yep, two years ago I took them down to hang up the Christmas plates and very carefully put them away so they wouldn't get broken. When I went to put them back up, I couldn't find them anywhere and it has taken all this time for them to reappear.  Welcome back fruit plates.

I like that I can change out the flowers when needed to any red, pink, orange, or even white flowers or maybe even add a potted plant (which is a good thing because shortly after I took these photos the hydrangeas wilted and only half of them recovered). The carved oranges are fully dried now - with the more orangey ones being from the Christmas craft party this year and the more brownish ones being from the craft party last year. They are honestly the easiest hit of natural colour ever. I went wild with the tablecloth just because I love how cheery the colours are. And I couldn't figure out any other place to put the red tissue paper flower I made for the husband's birthday so I hung it from the top of the mirror.

The mantel is still very neutral with a collection of white stoneware across the middle and warm browns on either side with the bracket fungus and the brown pot holding the plant on the other side. That plant has been alive through two summers in the garden and this is its second winter indoors.  I love how it looks like a bonsai.

Do you change up your mantel and sideboard. It's one of my favourite ways to decorate our home.