Welcome to the new, improved Wisconsin Magpie

vintage fan, lunchbox, typography and metal box

newspaper-covered plastic chick in front of a silhouette of the state of WisconsinWelcome to the new, improved Wisconsin Magpie. The blog, that is, not the blogger. Sadly, I am still the same old angst-ridden, out-of-shape, puddle of indecision and self-doubt that I have always been. But the blog is all bright and shiny and new, thanks to a move from an antiquated beginner-level Blogger template to a grown-up WordPress one.

Frankly, I am a little giddy just thinking about all the fancy bells and whistles at my disposal now. As you can see (or you would if you were looking at this on a desktop computer), the new site has a sidebar with widgets and social media links and everything real websites have. And it can categorize my posts and automatically populate them in a drop-down menu at the top of the page. I’m still playing around with the categories. I realize “Wisconsinish” and “Newspapery” might not deserve top-level menu status, so they could get sub-menu-ized in the future, but for now, I’m having fun exploring the possibilities and going a little mad with my newfound power. Bwahaha.

It’s like buying a new car. I’ve been kicking the tires on the WordPress template for a while, and it’s really exciting to be able to take it out for a spin and show it off. Plus it’s got that new-website smell. Mmmm.

Anyhoo, take a look around. Click on the links. Check out my new About page. Follow me on social media. And let me know what you think — unless you hate it, in which case, as always, you can just keep your stupid opinions to yourself.

Polish your shoes. It’s good for the soul.

Here’s a little post on something I don’t do often enough: polishing my shoes.

In our throw-away world, we tend to just toss things out once they start getting battered and worn. But a little polish can make your old shoes look new again and actually preserve the leather. Plus, shoe polishing is good for the soul.

Here’s the “before” of the first pair of shoes I decided to polish up. They weren’t in terrible shape, but the leather was scuffed and tired looking.

I had brown (on the left) and tan (on the right) shoe polish on hand. I decided the brown was a better match.

Polishing shoes isn’t rocket science. You just rub a little onto a soft, lint-free rag and then rub it onto your shoe.

Brown polish looks almost black when you first apply it, but it lightens up as you work it into the leather.

In the photo above, the shoe on the left has been polished, the shoe on the right hasn’t. It’s a pretty noticeable difference.

After you give the polish a couple minutes to dry, you buff it with a clean cloth or soft brush, and here’s what the finished shoes looked like.

These shoes have been more or less abandoned in the back of my closet for years. Now I’m excited to wear them again.

Here’s the second pair of shoes I had that needed a little polishing up. Again I used the brown polish.

Same process as before. The shoe on the left is “before” polish; the shoe on the right is “after.”

The shoes looked like new once I had them both polished and buffed.

Here’s the third pair I was hoping to salvage with a little polish: a pair of vintage Mary Janes that get a lot of wear — and look like it.

They were in such bad shape, I thought I’d start with a little leather lotion before applying polish.

The shoe in the front has had leather lotion applied. The shoe in the back hasn’t. The lotion helped soften and restore the leather, but the shoes definitely needed polish too.

Above, the shoe on the left has had polish applied. The shoe on the right hasn’t. Huge difference, right? Polish won’t remove the cracks, but it sure helps to disguise them and give the leather a smoother look and feel.

Now my favorite shoes are all ready to wear again.”

So long, summer

I know the calendar said summer ended a month ago, but in my mind, it’s not over until the last vegetable has been harvested and the ground is regularly freezing at night.

fern with pumpkins
I try to stretch out the season as long as possible by covering the plants in my garden and bringing the potted ones into the house overnight when those first freezes are forecast. But once we get into mid-October, it becomes a losing battle, and I have to admit defeat.

Swedish ivy

A lot of my green plants still looked gorgeous when I carried them in for the long winter earlier this week, so I snapped a few pictures … because I knew they were going to start turning brown and dropping leaves the second they crossed the threshold into the house.

Swedish ivy
This Swedish ivy is two years old. It spent last winter in my living room, dying a slow death. There was almost nothing left of it by spring. Once it got warm enough that I set it back outside, it exploded back to life.

lipstick plant

This is a lipstick plant. It’s supposed to be a houseplant, but I set in on a shady spot on my front porch over the summer, and it loved it.

lipstick plant
It never ceases to amaze me how quickly plants grow outside.

I can’t remember the name of this plant, but I’ve had it for about five years. Every spring when I set it out on the deck it grows like crazy. I used to let the vines trail down over the edge of a plant stand, but there’s so much weight on the bottom now, I started setting it on a table, so the vines are supported.

asparagus fern

I’ve had this asparagus fern for a couple years. Some of you might remember from this post that it was in sad shape when I first brought it up from the basement in the spring.

cat with asparagus fern

Here it is then, in all its glory. Calvin didn’t mind that the plant was half-dead. He turned his back on the healthy, organic cat grass I had grown for him and started noshing away on the poor sickly asparagus fern.

cat with asparagus fern
So it was no surprise that as soon as I carried the now-healthy plant into the house the other day and set it on the dining room floor, he immediately walked over to investigate — and started chowing down.


I also dug up a few plants that were in the ground — like these tiny succulents — in hopes that they would survive the winter indoors.

butter crock as planter
I had picked up this butter crock at a thrift store a few weeks ago, thinking it would be the perfect size to plant the succulents in.

gravel provides drainage for plant
Because there are no holes in the bottom, I put a thin layer of gravel on the bottom to provide some drainage. 

succulents in butter crock
I filled the pot with cactus potting soil and put the tallest plant in the back.

succulents in butter crock
Then I potted up the rest of the plants.

succulents in butter crock

Aren’t they sweet?

fern on porch with pumpkins

Of all my plants, I think this fern is my favorite — mostly because I’ve never been able to keep one of these alive all summer before. Here’s hoping that it survives the winter for me, too…

Anybody out there?

Hello, Blog!

I’ve missed you. Sorry I neglected you for so long, but it couldn’t be helped.

In the past month and a half, I’ve changed jobs, taken a night class and finally, after seven productive years together, had to watch my vintage 2008 Windows Vista PC die a slow, painful, lingering death.

The old girl had been sluggish for quite a while, and I knew the end was near for the past year or two, but the frugal farm girl in me was in no hurry to spend money on a new computer if I could stretch another few months out of the old one. (And frankly, “computer shopping” ranks right up there with “visiting the dentist” on my list of my Least Favorite Things To Do.)

When my mouse started getting wonky — making me click and click and click again — I decided it was a sign.

I did some research and picked out my new Dream Computer: a nice shiny new iMac. But before I had a chance to go to the store to buy it, I got the new job — which required me to work lots of hours. And I had already committed to a six-week, three-hour Wednesday night class at a community college 45-minutes away. And the class had homework. Lots of homework.

So buying the computer — and blogging — got pushed way down my priority list — until I updated my phone’s operating system a few weeks ago. The new operating system required me to update the old computer to the latest version of iTunes. But the latest version of iTunes refused to work with Windows Vista –which meant the blog photos that were on my phone were trapped there, making it impossible to write any posts even if I did find time.

I finally gave in and drove to the Apple Store to buy the new computer on a Sunday morning a couple weeks ago when my son was home to help me pick it out and set it up. You know what else happened on a Sunday morning a couple weeks ago? Apple released the newest version of its iPhone. So, yeah, it was just me and my son and a couple hundred rabid iPhone shoppers in the store that day.

Anyhoo, long story short: I finally have a functioning computer, with the newest version of iTunes on it, which my phone can communicate with. My photos have been released from purgatory. My night class is over. And (hopefully) I am over the hump at the new job and things will start to go a little smoother on the work front.

All of which means: I am finally back to blogging, if there is anybody out there still reading anymore.


Creating a gallery wall

It’s taken about three weeks, but I finally have art up on the wall in my upstairs hallway.

Here’s what the hallway looked like before. It’s right at the top of our stairs, and I always felt like it would be perfect for a gallery wall but I just never got around to making a plan and following through with it. (I blogged about my ragtag art collection waiting to be hung — while I procrastinated — here.)

The largest piece I wanted to hang was this 30″ x 25″ oil painting of a church. There was already a hanger screwed into (roughly) the center of the wall from a previous (very pell-mell, unplanned and unbalanced) grouping of art, so that’s where the church went. I figured I’d build out from there.

I made newspaper templates out of all of the other pieces I had and taped them up around the church. I just kept moving the templates around and swapping out one for another until I was satisfied with how the wall looked. Eventually I found a grouping I liked. Mostly.

What I didn’t like was the light switch. It drove me crazy. I couldn’t cover it because we use it all the time, but it felt like it was in the way no matter how I arranged things.

My husband, who is much braver about drilling holes into old plaster walls than I am, helped me hang everything when I finally had the arrangement figured out.

I was hoping once the art was up the light switch would just blend into the background. Unfortunately, I think the switch bothered me even more then. The whole grouping seemed unbalanced because of the switch.

So I put a frame around it. Up close, it looks a little weird.

But from a distance, the frame actually camouflages the switch…

… and the wall looks much more balanced. I have couple other ideas for camouflaging the switch that I’m going to play around with, but for now, I’m happy with it the way it is. (And my husband and son are happy not to be tripping over frames and newspapers and tools and hardware anymore.)

gallery wall

In addition to the art, I put an old shadow box (which I blogged about here) in the grouping.

gallery wall

The shadow box had been hanging above my desk in the master bedroom, but it fit perfectly below the capitol painting. And it’s one of my favorite things, so why not show it off out here instead of hiding it away in the bedroom, right?

I have one more piece to add to the wall yet, so stay tuned for a follow-up post.

The art of procrastination

I had the day off of work last Friday and just one thing I wanted to accomplish: (finally) hang some art on the empty wall in our upstairs hallway.

oil painting

All of the photos in this post are of thrift store paintings, kids’ art and mementos of our travels that I’ve collected and (sadly) stored in closets or propped in corners (with vague plans to hang somewhere at sometime).

flowers in vase
So Friday was the day I was finally going to get everything hung.

oil painting
First thing in the morning, I rounded up all the scattered paintings and drawings to see what I had and what would fit on the empty wall.

painting of flowers

Then I checked my email. Just to make sure I didn’t have anything pressing to attend to before I got bogged down with the work of hanging the art.

still life

My friends at Netflix had sent me a (third) reminder that the credit card associated with my account was close to expiring and asking me to update my user information with a new card number.

That seemed pressing. So I opened Netflix and looked for a tab to click on to update my account information. I couldn’t find one. What I did find was a recommendation to watch “The Borgias,” the soapy Showtime drama set in Renaissance-era Rome.

 fish painting

I’ve had that show on my “To Watch” list for almost as long as I’ve had hanging art in my upstairs hallway on my “To Do” list. And since I had the whole day off with nothing to do but hang art, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to watch one episode — just to see if it was any good — before getting to work.

painting of Wisconsin capitol
Eight hours later…

… my hallway wall was still empty…

pencil sketch of barn
… and my credit card information still needed updating.

oil painting of church
But I’d watched the entire first season of “The Borgias.”

So at least I was able to cross that off of my list.


Life off the Grid

Some of you may have heard the town I live in — Columbus, Wisconsin — was hit hard by a storm early Monday morning. Thankfully, there were no tornadoes, no deaths and no injuries. Just straight line winds that the National Weather Service estimated blew through here at 90 to 110 mph. I don’t mean to diminish the storm because it was scary and it left a lot of damage — mostly to trees and power lines — but in the grand scheme of things, it certainly could have been much worse.

For our family, the hardest part was living without electricity for 36 hours afterward. We’re back on the grid now, so the story has a happy ending, but there were definitely  a few bumps along the way. Here’s a condensed diary of what happened, starting at approximately 3:30 a.m. Monday:

3:30(ish) a.m.: I am startled awake by a flash of lightning, the rumble of thunder, the rattling of my bedroom windows and a strange — and very annoying — bleating from my cell phone. I do what any rational person does when awakened at 3:30 a.m.: I roll over and go back to sleep. My husband, who I always say can sleep through anything, proves me right, once again.

3:35(ish) a.m.: Our 20-year-old son, home from college for the summer, hearing the same annoying bleating from his cell phone, correctly identifies the noise as a tornado warning and gets out of bed to wake up his parents and tell us to take cover in the basement.

The power is out at this point, so I am forced to grope in the dark for clean pants, a matching shirt and shoes. (If our house is blown to Kingdom Come, I want to make sure I am appropriately dressed when my body is found.)

3:40(ish) a.m. The power comes back on. Weather reports indicate we are under not only a tornado warning, but also a flash flood warning. The three of us head downstairs to find the flooding has already begun, at least in our old stone basement. We long jump across the standing water in the center and take refuge along the still-dry perimeter.

3:45(ish) a.m.: My husband heads back upstairs to check the weather report on TV and find a functioning flashlight so he is prepared in the event that we lose power again. I hear him in the kitchen, alternately cursing DirecTV — their signal has a tendency to cut out during 100 mph windstorms — and me — for using the last of his AA batteries (he has no proof) and not buying new ones (apparently “battery buying” is a specialized skill that only I possess in our household).

4:00(ish) a.m.: The tornado warning is over. My son and I emerge from our basement bunker. My husband heads outside to check on the state of his precious trees under the dim light of his cell phone.

trees down

4:15 (ish) a.m.: I am sound asleep when my husband comes back to bed to report that various trees might be down. Or they might not be. Evidently it’s hard to make out shapes in the dark with only an iPhone to light your way.

6 a.m. I wake up, make coffee and head outside to see trees are indeed down, not just in our yard but all over the neighborhood. The view from our driveway is pictured below. (There is a street buried under all those branches and power lines.)

trees down

6:30 a.m. My son wakes up and ventures out with his camera to take pictures of the storm damage. He runs into the mayor who tells him ours is the “good part” of town. The damage is much worse in some of the older neighborhoods where there were lots of big, old trees. Power is out throughout much of the city (but not in our neighborhood), and many, if not most, of the streets are impassable because of downed trees, power lines, transformers and poles.

8 a.m. I drive to work, heading north out of my driveway — because the street to the south is blocked — and get on the highway, where I see police cars are posted at the end of all the entrance ramps into the city to keep gawkers out and allow the cleanup to begin.

trees down

10 a.m. Utility crews cut power to our house to pick up the branches and power lines at the end of our block. (Unbeknownst to us at the time, electricity will remain out in our neighborhood for the next 36 hours while utility crews work their way across town, reconnecting service one line at a time.)
power outage
5 p.m. My husband calls me as I’m leaving work with instructions that I should stop and buy two battery-powered camping lanterns — and enough batteries for both — as it appears we might be without power all night.

7 p.m. With no power, I can’t cook. I buy carry-out at Culver’s on the edge of town instead. Apparently this is not a unique problem or solution, as the lines at the restaurant are the longest I have ever seen them.

8 p.m. My husband, son and I gather in the living room, around the glow of our battery-powered lanterns and surf the internet on our respective smartphones, much as I imagine the pioneers did 200 years ago.

8:15 p.m.: We pack the contents of our refrigerator and freezer into three coolers, which our son volunteers to drive up to my mom’s house in Waupun, where she has a spare refrigerator in her garage. After dropping off our perishables, our son heads to his apartment in Milwaukee — he has a 12-month lease, so he’s stuck paying rent on the place, even though he’s not living there over the summer. He spends the night there, thankful for the air conditioning and the working outlets to charge his phone and laptop with.

8:30 p.m. My husband and I deem it too hot to go upstairs to our un-air-conditioned bedroom. We both fall asleep in the living room reading by lantern light.

Tuesday, 6 a.m.: I wake up, fill the coffeepot with water and grounds and flip the switch. Nothing happens. This is truly my lowest moment. I can live without electric lights, air conditioning, refrigeration and TV. But a non-functioning coffeepot is (almost) more than I can bear.

6:05 a.m. I drive to McDonald’s and buy a large black coffee. My will to live is restored.

8 a.m. I drive to work, confident that when I return home at 6 p.m., power to our house will surley have been restored, as well.

6 p.m. I return home to a still power-less house. Sigh. The good news: No power means I can’t cook supper. I drive to Pick ‘n’ Save to buy what our family calls “Chicken in a Bag” (more commonly referred to as “broasted chicken.”)

Columbus, Wisconsin

7 p.m. My husband and I stand on our porch and anxiously watch the eight utility workers and three ladder trucks working on the power lines at the end of our block. We were told the crew started working there at about 3 p.m. A downed pole had to be removed and a new one set in place before the men could even start working on the wiring, so it is a big task and one that we are hopeful, but not entirely certain, they will be able to complete, before dark.

9 p.m. A ladder truck from the Columbus Fire Department rolls into our neighborhood and parks at the end of the block, to shine a light for the utility workers who continue plugging away until…

storm damage

10:49 p.m. Little Mexico (our neighborhood’s nickname) is back on the grid.

Many thanks to the men who worked well into the night to get our power restored. I’ve been told Columbus received mutual aid from Waterloo, Waupun, Sun Prairie, Waunakee, Lake Mills, Oconomowoc, Hartford and Markesan, and possibly others. Clearly, our small utility department couldn’t have done the job alone. And it’s a job that’s still ongoing, as there are other parts of town that are still without power (as of this writing on Wednesday morning).

Linking to: Brag About It

Terrarium plants are growing; cat grass, not so much

As I was watering my terrarium the other day (for the second time ever), I noticed something new.

There are little green shoots coming out of the plant that I call Faux Peas (on the left). It’s GROWING, people! GROWING! As are the other plants in the terrarium, albeit slowly.

For some reason, I thought the terrarium (which I blogged about here) would be a giant bust, and two months later I would be dumping dead plants into the garbage. So this is a happy surprise. Apparently succulents like sitting in a sunny window and being forgotten about, much like my Christmas cactus, which blooms almost constantly.

 Whenever people ask what the secret is to getting my Christmas cactus to bloom, I say, “Christmas cactus? What Christmas cactus?” And then I remember the plant in the corner that I never pay any attention to. So now you all know Lisa’s Secret to Healthy Terrariums and Christmas Cacti: outright neglect.

After the shock of the healthy terrarium sunk in, I started to think about how other projects that I’ve blogged about have fared. So, here, for your reading enjoyment, is a partial follow-up of previous posts:

The cat grass that I blogged about here is dead and gone. More because of Calvin’s neglect than mine. What’s the point in maintaining a dish of cat grass if your cat has absolutely no interest in it?

As for the half-dead asparagus fern that Calvin preferred over the healthy, organic cat grass …

… it is alive and well. I transplanted it and set it out on my deck (and out of Calvin’s reach) and it has been filling in beautifully.

In other Calvin news, it appears that after a thorough cleaning, my car seats have fully recovered from the ill-fated trip to the vet clinic that I blogged about here. (Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for my leather purse.)

When I got home from the vet’s office, I blotted every drop of cat pee off the seat, ran the Shop Vac over it to suction up any residual dampness, steam cleaned the upholstery, left the window open to allow the air to circulate and then, when everything was dry, I coated the seat in a thick layer of baking soda to absorb any lingering odors.

I drove around with the baking soda on the passenger seat for 24 hours, which led to a few odd looks and awkward explanations, but once I vacuumed it up, the smell seemed to be completely gone.

Remember my cutting board collection that I blogged about here? What I didn’t tell you in that post was that I also owned a pig-shaped cutting board.

I didn’t mention him because he didn’t really fit in with the rest of the collection. He sat on the counter next to my fridge all alone for a couple years.

But then this spring, I found a pig partner for him at a thrift store.

And then a couple weeks ago, I found a third little pig. So apparently I now collect pig cutting boards, too.

As for my patio chair renovation, which I blogged about here, two of the chairs are holding up beautifully. The third, which I had noticed was a touch wobbly as I was painting it, has gone to Patio Chair Heaven.

One of the welds on the base of the chair broke the first time someone sat in it. No one fell to the ground or anything dramatic, thankfully, but the rust had clearly taken too big of a toll on the chair for it to be used any more.

Did you notice the German ivy on the table between my chairs?

You may remember it looking like this when I brought it up from the basement back in April (and blogged about it here).

And one last update: When I blogged about my Valentine’s Day robot here, I asked readers for suggestions for a name.

That was in the early days of my blog, so I didn’t have many readers (or suggestions).
But one person suggested “Rosie,” and that’s what I decided to call her. It’s reminiscent of Rosie the Riveter and …

it’s a good match for her partner, Roger.

Rosie and Roger.

Marrying a new pot to an old plant stand

Please excuse the lack of blog posts in recent weeks. I was sucked into the black hole that is my basement and, much like Kimmy Schmidt and the Indiana Mole Women, have only recently emerged back into the real world.

In my case, my subterranean exile was self-imposed; I was cleaning, sorting, purging and organizing 20 years worth of stuff that had piled up down there.

I started at one end, where my husband built a huge 8-foot-long wall-o-shelves (which I blogged about here), and once I got into the cleaning groove, I just couldn’t stop until I got clear across to the other end.

The good news is: I’m (almost) done. (Just a couple small organizing projects left to deal with down there.) The even better news: I unearthed two decades worth of forgotten treasures and half-completed projects that should provide plenty of fodder for my blog in the coming days/weeks/months.

First up, a vintage green metal plant stand:

I bought the stand, which had a white ceramic pot inside it, at an antique store 10 or 15 years ago. I loved its clean lines and industrial style. Unfortunately, the pot cracked, and then shattered, a few years ago, and the stand got moved down to the basement/dumping ground.

I could never find a replacement pot that was the right size and eventually I gave up looking.

But in the midst of my basement cleaning binge, I happened upon a big white vase that I had bought at a garage sale last summer, thinking at the time that it was the perfect size/shape/color to hold peonies. It hadn’t occurred to me then that it might also be the perfect size/shape/color for my plant stand.

My brain finally made the connection between the two of them yesterday, and I was thrilled to discover the vase was indeed a perfect fit. The vase is much taller than the original pot was, but I actually like the proportions of it better.

I stopped at a greenhouse later in the day to pick up a few plants for my garden, and on a whim, I decided to buy a cute little oregano plant for my new/old plant stand.

Because the vase is taller than it needs to be to hold a potted plant, I placed an upside down plastic cup in the bottom to take up space without adding weight.

Since there are no holes in the vase, I poured a layer of gravel in for drainage.

Then I transplanted the oregano.

I’m not sure what I like best: the plant stand, the plant or the vase. They look like they were meant for each other, don’t they?