Collecting | Easter decorations

I used to go all out decorating for Easter, but, as I’ve gotten older and wiser, I’ve learned to say no to Pepto-Bismol pink plastic baskets and bears in rabbit ears.

I haven’t been able to kick the seasonal decorating habit altogether; but (I like to think) I’m a little more discerning in what I collect and keep.

I have a little flock of oddball sheep that, like a lot of the things that I collect, are not particularly old or valuable, but I absolutely love them.

They all came from thrift stores and garage sales.

I think it’s their quirkiness that appeals to me.

That and the fact that none of them is Pepto-Bismol pink.

I have few rabbits that I’ve rescued from thrift stores that I have a soft spot for, too, including these wooden ones …

… and this metal hoop:


This moss-and-chickenwire-covered pair is a recent new addition…

moss rabbits
… and by “new” I mean “new,” not just “new to me” (which is what I usually mean when I say something is “new.”) My general rule is that I only buy holiday decorations secondhand, mostly because I prefer vintage, but also because I don’t want to spend a lot of money on seasonal items that I’m only going to display for a few weeks a year. So when I break my secondhand rule, it’s on something that I really love.

In addition to my sheep and rabbits, I have a few chickens I set out in the spring.

hen on nest

The green glass ones (above) go in a hutch in my dining room.

My Pot Rooster (below) goes on the stove.

Pot Rooster
I used to leave him out year round, but I’m kind of a messy cook, and after one too many pots boiled over, the back — which was in perfect condition when I bought it — started to look like this:

Pot Rooster

I just bought this little seasoning can at a thrift store recently:

poultry seasoning
It has a plastic top, so it can’t be all that old, but I love the graphics on it.

I also have a few paper mache German eggs with lovely cartoon images on them:

paper mache egg
I bought them from the Pamida store I worked at when I was in college in the late 1980s.

The insides are just as beautiful as the outsides.

paper mache egg
The type says “Made in German Democratic Republic” (which we knew as East Germany back in my college days). The Berlin Wall fell in November of 1989, and Germany was officially reunified the following year. So, even though the eggs were new when I bought them, they have a bit of history to them and would probably be considered “vintage” today.

Also vintage: these cookie cutters, which I framed in a shadowbox and hung on my wall:

chicken and rabbit cookie cutters
I would love to find a lamb and a duck that I could swap out one of the chickens and one of the rabbits with, so the pyramid doesn’t have duplicates. But until I find them, these will do.

Happy Easter from the flock.

Collecting | Miniature watering cans

I have a somewhat crazy fascination/borderline obsession with unusually small things: Model trains, doll houses, hotel soap bars, single-serving boxes of cereal that look EXACTLY like the full-size box (just smaller), puppies, pencil sharpeners shaped like Lilliputian typewriters or cameras, travel-size bottles of shampoo, those little paper umbrellas that bartenders put in your pina coladas. The list goes on…

spring decor

The full-size versions do nothing for me (except for grown-up puppies, of course).

But when something is shrunk down to a tiny percentage of its full-size self, I can’t get enough of it. Case in point: miniature sprinkler cans.

I find them at thrift stores all the time, and I have to say, in my book, they are the best thing since miniature sliced bread.

I think my favorites are the galvanized cans.

spring decor
… but I like the painted ones, too.

This one was just a plain white can when I bought it:

sprinkler can collection
 I decoupaged the bee (crookedly) onto it.

sprinkler can collection
(Even with a crooked bee on it, it’s still worth every penny I paid for it.)

The one below isn’t really a sprinkler can, but it’s close enough.

watering can collection
When I pulled my little collection out of storage this spring, I decided to display them with some vintage seed packets. Unfortunately, I didn’t own any vintage seed packets…

… so I made some. I found an old box of invitation envelopes that were about the right height, and I figured if I cut them in half, they’d be about the right width too.

Once the envelopes were cut in half, I slid one side inside the other…

…and trimmed off the flaps on the back.

The Graphics Fairy provided some fabulous old-time vegetable images that I added my own verbiage to in Photoshop Elements.

I trimmed the images to fit and folded them in thirds around the envelopes.

Then I just had to run a few beads of glue along the seams and voila: five (almost) vintage seed packets:

Another small project done.

sprinkler can collection


Crafting | Decoupaged chicks

Mod Podge

I don’t decorate much for Easter these days. Primarily because most of my Easter decorations look something like this:

I admit I have a huge soft spot for kitschy flocked holiday decorations (which is why I own these chicks in the first place). But I don’t do pastels anymore. And most Easter decorations are some baby-soft shade of pink, purple or, like my little chicks, yellow.

Instead of leaving the chicks languishing in a box on a closet shelf again this spring, I decided I’d give them a makeover and then set them out on display. Step one in the makeover: Tear off the faux velvet covering…

… which left me with three naked, slightly scary looking plastic chicks. I grabbed a stack of old newspapers and a container of Mod Podge to proceed with the makeover when The Boss showed up.

I swear that cat has a sixth sense. He can be on the other side of the house — or the other side of the planet — but the minute I set a bowl of cereal or an open container of Mod Podge in front of me — BOOM — there he is. Blocking me from eating/decoupaging and shedding his fur all over my breakfast/project.

I  decoupaged the chicks in three parts: the wings and tails first, then the breast area and finally the head, using different parts of the newspaper as I went along.

When I started, I thought this was going to be a quick little project. But, as usual, I’d drastically underestimated the amount of time and detail work involved…

… and I forgot to factor in the additional time involved in removing each of the individual cat hairs that kept appearing in my Mod Podge.

I debated whether the chicks should have eyes or not. But they looked a little freaky being eyeless. So I popped the original plastic eyes back in initially.

After I was done with all of the decoupage, I scrounged around the house looking for other alternatives to use for eyes and found some old brads that were the right size. I thought the brads gave them a more vintage industrial look that matched their new personalities better than the plastic eyes.

Then I painted all of the beaks orange to match their feet.

Mod Podge
After a few touchups and a light coat of watered down white paint over everything, the chicks were done.

I dug out some dried moss and glass jars and started playing around with ways to display the chicks.

Mod Podge
Does anybody else see Dumb Donald from “Fat Albert” when they look at the chick above?

Mod Podge

Anyhoo, I liked how they looked under glass.

Mod Podge
And look who showed up again while I was taking pictures of the completed project:

I think he was disappointed to see there was no open container of Mod Podge anymore, so he quickly stalked off.

Mod Podge


Collecting | Wooden cutting boards

Old wooden cutting boards are the Rodney Dangerfields of the thrift store. They get no respect.

They’re generally sitting on the back of a bottom shelf somewhere with a pile of mismatched Corelle and frayed wicker plate holders on top of them. And if you go to the trouble of digging one out, it’s probably priced at a quarter or 50 cents.

Most shoppers don’t even bother to look at them. Because who wants a nasty old dried-out, scarred-up wooden cutting board?

Um. I do.

Personally, I think old cutting boards are beautiful, even if they are gouged up from years of use. In fact, especially if they are gouged up from years of use. Scratches and scars add character.

I never set out to collect cutting boards. But I kept seeing them on the bottom shelves, under the stacks of Corelle. And something about the simple beauty of their clean lines and rounded edges spoke to me. So I bought one, and then another, and pretty soon I decided that whenever I found a sad case for a dollar or less, I’d give it a home. So that’s what I do now.

I always wash my “new” cutting boards in hot, soapy water (with a little bit of bleach added) to clean and sanitize them. Then I rub them down with mineral oil.

Usually the mineral oil — which is non-toxic/food-safe (and dirt cheap) — soaks into the old, dried-out wood immediately.

Most of my cutting boards are a simple, no-nonsense style with a handle at the top. But a few have fancy inlaid wood designs. Probably somebody’s high school shop class project, cast off to the thrift store when Mom decided she didn’t want it any more.

And I have a couple of small pieces that are technically trivets, not cutting boards.

Just look at the intricate designs.

I think they’re absolutely gorgeous.

The bulk of my rescued cutting boards resides on top of my refrigerator …

… inside an old wire basket…

wood cutting boards

… which is another thing I didn’t set out to collect but seem to have acquired quite a few of over the years.

Collecting | Glass jars and bottles

I do NOT collect glass jars or bottles.

Really. I don’t. If you asked me what I collect, I could easily name 20 things off the top of my head, and glass would not be on the list.

I am not one of those crazy people at the flea market buying up every piece of brown glass out there …

… or going gaga over all the green bottles for sale.

Yet somehow my house is full of glass.

I can’t explain it.

I’m really not even sure where most of the jars and bottles came from anymore.

The only glass bottles I ever purposely sought out to buy were the old apothecary-style ones that Bath & Body Works used to sell. I absolutely loved those bottles. (Still do.)

I rarely used any of the lotions or potions inside them. (What exactly does one do with pillow mist anyway?)

Honestly, Bath & Body Works could have sold rat poison in those bottles and I still would have bought them. At any price.

Thankfully (for my bank account), Bath & Body updated that line a while back, so the current bottles are a different style and shape (and I think some of them are even — shudder — plastic).

As for the rest of my non-collection? All I can say is that the pieces were accumulated so gradually and so by happenstance over the past 20+ years, I hardly even noticed the trend.

I would just pick up a jar here and a bottle there as I was out and about and would stumble upon a piece that spoke to me, usually something vintage or vintage-style and usually for just a few dollars (at most) at a garage sale or thrift store.

And then when I’d get my new old piece of glass home I’d realize, “This apothecary jar matches that one.”  Or, “This bottle is the same color as that vase.” So I’d group things together.

But they are most definitely NOT a collection.

They are just a group of objects that I have accumulated that happen to share similar characteristics.

(And just to be clear: I AM one of those crazy people at the flea market. Just NOT one of those crazy people at the flea market stalking the glass bottles and jars. I’m stalking the 20 or so other things that I actually collect.)

Mexico: A tourist’s tales of tequila, temples and tableaus

Hola amigos.

I would like to apologize to all of my loyal readers for my absence from the interwebs recently. (Hopefully you both found something else to read during my hiatus.)The reason I was MIA here: I took a trip South of the Border last week. (And by “South of the Border,” I mean “Mexico.” Not “Illinois.”)

Riviera Maya Mexico
I have wanted to go to Mexico since I was 16 years old and my high school Spanish class went there without me. (I would curse them all en espanol right now, if only I could remember how.)

Technically I did venture into Mexico one time when I was in college, but that was an accident, so it doesn’t count. I was driving in Laredo, Texas, and was looking for the mall there when I missed a turn and ended up in a lane of cars that was crossing the border whether I wanted to or not. Turns out it was easy to get into Mexico back then (1989 — no passports needed); getting back out proved to be a little more difficult, but that’s another story.

Riviera Maya Mexico

On this trip, I crossed the border — on purpose — with my husband, our travel agent and 157 other sun-starved Wisconsinites. We stayed at the Iberostar Paraiso Lindo resort in Riviera Maya, which was lovely.

Riviera Maya Mexico
It was 80 degrees and sunny everyday. And the views were breathtaking.

Riviera Maya Mexico
But the wifi was terrible. You had to be in the lobby to get any internet access at all. And even there, it moved at a crawl.

Riviera Maya Mexico
I trekked down to the lobby to check email most mornings and found myself suffering from 1999 dial-up flashbacks as I waited for web pages to load. It was awful.

Try as I might, there was just no way I could write blog posts under those conditions. I’m sure you’ll all understand the hardships I was facing and take pity on me.

Riviera Maya Mexico

I don’t know if I’ll ever recover from the trauma. But in the interest of science, I would be willing to go back again next winter to judge if there are any improvements in web connection speeds over the course of the year. Because I’m selfless that way and just want to do my part to make the world a better place.

Riviera Maya Mexico

In the meantime, let me fill you in on a little of what I was doing last week when I wasn’t blogging. Mostly, I was hanging out at some of the spots pictured above. But we did get off the Iberostar campus a few times. We went ATV-ing in the jungle and speed boating in the Caribbean one day. Jim’s idea. I am more of a coffee-shop-and-museum kind of girl, but I make a point of doing at least one thing that scares the Starbucks out of me when we are on vacation.

Don’t worry: Guides gave our group a five-minute tutorial on boat operation/maritime law before they strapped us into life vests and turned us loose into the Caribbean riptides. I’m sure we were all (more or less) perfectly safe. As far as I know, everyone who went out to sea in our group made it back alive. (Although I did notice when we were docking at the end of the day that one guy forgot where “neutral” was and rammed into the boat in front of him.)

On another day, we took a bus trip to a few historic sites on the Yucatan, including Hubiku, a “cenote” or sinkhole with a natural spring in it that the ancient Mayans considered a sacred place.

Mexican sinkhole with a natural spring

Visitors are allowed to swim in the spring water. But, frankly, as it was in an underground cave, which was a bit dank and musty (the smell reminded me of the dirt-floor cellar in the old farmhouse that I grew up in), we passed on the swimming.

Mexican sinkhole with a natural spring in it

After not swimming, we toured a small tequila museum, where they gave out free samples. (We did not pass on those.)

Mexico tequila museum

I tried the chocolate-flavored tequila. And then the cherry. And the mango. And then the chocolate again.

tequila museum
Then we had lunch at a Mexican restaurant and watched people dance with trays and bottles on their heads, which is actually more entertaining than it sounds. (Especially after four shots of tequila.)

After lunch, we got back on our bus, where our tour guides passed out more tequila to us while we rode to the famous Leaning Temple of Chichen Itza.

Mayan ruins

No, wait. I think it was the photographer who was tipsy there, not the temple. Here’s a better angle:

Mayan ruins

The temple is called El Castillo or the Temple of Kukulkan. It’s the centerpiece of the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza. Tourists were allowed to climb the steps to the top until eight years ago, when the powers that be finally decided it was causing too much wear and tear on the ancient stone.

Mayan ruins

Just looking at the ruins was awe-inspiring. Chichen Itza is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and it’s the first one I’ve seen in person. (If I continue at my current pace, I should be able to cross all seven off of my bucket list by the time I am 336.)

Mayan ruins
A woman in our tour group had an apple with her that she shared with one of the locals who was also spending the day at the historic site.

Mayan ruins
The apple soon attracted the attention of several others who had been lounging nearby.

Mayan ruins
Vendors lined up tables full of souvenirs flea-market style in between the ruins (and the iguanas).  A lot of the items were handmade, and everything was cheap: $1 for most of the smaller trinkets, $5 for T-shirts.

Mayan ruins

I would have loved to have spent more time looking at the crafts, but my traveling companion was cursed with a bout of Montezuma’s Revenge by the end of the tour and was in no condition to stand in the hot sun while I picked out tchotchkes.

He felt better after we got back on the air-conditioned bus. But judging by the blurry finger he appears to be preparing to raise, I think he was a little annoyed with me for waving the camera in his face all day.

After Chichen Itza, we stopped briefly in the city of Valladolid to see an old Spanish church. Then we were on our way back “home” to Riviera Maya.

En route, we got to see a whole different side of Mexico: lots of cinder block buildings, narrow streets, corrugated tin (or straw) roofs and small stores and restaurants.

And Coca Cola signs everywhere. (Mmm. Mexican Coke. So much better than the corn-syrupy swill the company sells up here in the States.)

As you may have noticed, I took lots of pictures on our trip.

Riviera Maya Mexico

It couldn’t be helped. Everywhere I looked, there was something begging to be photographed.

Riviera Maya Iberostar Paraiso Lindo

Like the adorable little coatis. (We called them Mexican raccoons.) They are wild animals, but have obviously adapted to living amongst the tourists at a luxury hotel.

Riviera Maya

They were very friendly. Especially if you had french fries.

Iberostar Paraiso Lindo
On our last night at the resort, we took a picture from the balcony in our room.

Then we went out to dinner, and afterward, we took a moonlit walk down to the beach, where we came upon this happy little tableau:

beach wedding
How romantic is that?

beach wedding

It reminds me of an image from a Pottery Barn catalog. (If Pottery Barn ran poorly lit, slightly out-of-focus iPhone snapshots.)

Memories | My mom, the family filmmaker

Hollywood’s got nothing on my mom.

The 25 8-millimeter films above are all Joyce Friese productions, shot on an old Kodak Brownie movie camera between 1963 and 1973.

Isn’t she cute? Mom didn’t own the movie camera yet (in fact, she wasn’t even a mom yet) when the above photo was taken (I believe in my Grandma and Grandpa Harmsen’s kitchen). She would have only been 19 years old and married to my dad for just over a year in 1956.

I think my sister has Mom’s Brownie still camera (from the picture) today; but the movie camera no longer exists. The manual that came with it, though, was packed away in the same cardboard box that Mom stored the family movies in.

It’s a treat to page through (even though it’s not in the best of shape).

It’s filled with lots of photos and diagrams explaining how to use the camera.

It even offers instructions on how to take a movie selfie.

Judging by the dates on the film boxes, it seems Mom was at her most prolific in the early to mid ’60s. (She also gave birth to four kids between 1959 and 1966, so it’s probably understandable that her filmmaking trailed off a bit over the years.)

For the most part, the films are pretty standard family movie fare, featuring highlights of birthdays and baptisms, holidays and hay-making.

The production values are a bit lacking, and there is no sound. The early ones are in black and white. But they’re a piece of our family history, and I am so glad Mom documented the important events in our lives.

When we’d have family movie nights when I was a kid, we’d sometimes watch the films forward and backward (because they had to be rewound back onto the original reel anyway). My brothers and sister and I thought it was the funniest thing in the world to watch the movies of Dad and Grandpa Friese mowing and baling hay in reverse.

Most of the films are on small reels, but a couple are on larger ones that can hold up to 400 feet of film (which takes about half an hour to watch).

Mom used a splicer to cut out the parts of the films that didn’t turn out and also to combine a number of the smaller reels onto one larger one, so we wouldn’t have to constantly be changing reels when we watched the movies.

The splicer is still with us, in the box with the movies, and in like-new condition.

Also in the box were a few of these “You’re the Director” pamphlets that the Kodak lab must have included when they sent back the processed film.

Even though my mom was the filmmaker in the family, my dad’s name appears on the “customer” line on the form that was attached to each box when the film was sent out to be developed.

Mom always bought film at Stoffel’s Drug Store on Main Street in Waupun. The movie camera and projector that we used to view the films came from Stoffel’s, too.

I don’t remember Stoffel’s, but I found this postcard of Main Street in Waupun, in what I’m guessing was the 1960s, judging by the cars. (There’s no date on the postcard.) The Stoeffel Drug Store sign is hanging on the south side of Main Street in the building that Radio Shack is in today.

My parents also bought their first Polaroid camera from Stoffel’s, and the clerk who waited on them took a picture of my dad and my sister in the store to show them the miracles of the Polaroid Land Camera. (You snapped a picture, pulled it out of the camera, waited 60 seconds and then peeled the paper off and, voila: instant photo.) I believe that picture still exists somewhere in the Friese family archives, but I looked high and low through my mom’s house last weekend and couldn’t find it. I would have loved to have included it in this post, because in addition to featuring Dad in his cool horn-rimmed glasses, the photo offered a glimpse of the inside of the store back in the day.

Mom gave the old projector to my son recently, and he has it displayed in his movie-themed apartment (which I blogged about here).

Unfortunately we haven’t watched the movies in a long time because the bulb in the projector is burnt out. But I have been scouring eBay for replacement bulbs in between writing this post, and it looks like there are a few out there. So hopefully we can revisit some of Mom’s best work (like “Summer of ’69” and “Lisa’s Baptism”) again soon.

Humor | What’s in a (blog) name?

Dear Readers,

If you ended up here after typing “Wisconsin Magpie” into a search engine in hopes of finding information about an elusive ornithological species — and now you’re wondering why you’re up to your binoculars in stories about a woman buying other people’s detritus and building toy robots in her basement — I apologize.

Allow me to explain.

But first, let me say, this is NOT a Wisconsin Magpie:

It’s just a pretty picture of a bird to break up the text.

Wisconsin Magpie is the name I gave to this blog after months of painstaking research, hours of quiet contemplation and a few too many glasses of merlot. (Mostly the merlot.)

Setting aside the merlot (carefully, so it doesn’t spill), I would like to point out that my naming options were limited. By the time I started this blog, all of the really great domain names — Funky JunkChronically VintageShanty-2-ChicRemodelaholicDesign Sponge — were already taken.

Most of the really awful blog names (which I won’t list here because we Midwesterners are too gosh darn polite to talk smack like that) were also taken.

Incidentally, this is not a Wisconsin Magpie either:

In fact, it’s entirely possible that “Wisconsin Magpie” was the only domain name still available in 2015. (Evidently I arrived late to this blogging game, as I do to most things in life.)

Fortunately for me, Wisconsin Magpie pretty accurately sums up what this blog is about: I’m a Wisconsin girl through and through, and I like to collect odd things for my nest, much as I have heard the birds of the same name do.

Here’s another pretty picture that is also not of a Wisconsin Magpie:

In addition to our passion for collecting, there are other similarities between me and my feathered friends. For example, we are both attracted to shiny objects, we’re both a bit territorial and we’re both smart enough to be able to recognize ourselves in a mirror (unless, of course, one of us has been dipping our beak into the merlot again).

Furthermore, bird magpies are known for their screechy, squawky, annoying call. And anybody who’s ever had the misfortune to sit next to me at St. Jerome’s on Sunday morning knows that that is also an accurate description of my singing voice.

This is a turkey in a hat:

So to the visitors who came here expecting to read about home decor, thrift store finds and vintage collectibles, I’m sorry for boring you with this (scientifically suspect) ornithological lesson.

And to the confused birders who bothered to read all the way to the end of this post and still don’t know why you’re here, I would like to apologize once more for leading you astray with the name of my blog.

But I hope you both will come back and visit again sometime because this is the only place where you can learn about the peculiar nesting habits of the (human) Wisconsin Magpie.

Decorating a home theater

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away….

now showing sign

… by which I mean, in August of 2014, in Milwaukee ….

… my son and his girlfriend moved into their first apartment together and decided to decorate it in a movie theater theme.

I made the Now Showing sign for them that I blogged about earlier. Everything else they made or bought themselves.

Yes, those are genuine red velvet theater seats around the dining room table.

JT and Anna bought them from an old theater that had gone out of business. The chairs were still bolted to the floor and attached to the adjacent seats when they went to buy them, so they had to do a little disassembly work before they could even take them home.

JT built a platform for each chair out of 2x4s and attached casters to the platforms. Then Anna gave the wood and metal parts a fresh coat of gold paint. The seats are a little banged up in spots from years of wear and tear, but they still flip open and closed.

The casters make the chairs easy to move, so they can be pulled away from the table and wheeled over to the big screen for extra seating there.

The curtains were fashioned out of tablecloths and tacked to the wall.

Opposite the screen, JT built a shelving unit that holds their projector.

He hooked their surround sound, GameCube, XBox, computer and TV cable into it.

The rest of the shelving unit holds a mix of modern equipment, movies and vintage memorabilia.

I made the clapboard as a prop for a kids play a few year back. The old film reels were picked up at garage sales and thrift stores over the years. (There are more sprinkled throughout the apartment.) And the vintage movie projector on the right belonged to my parents when I was a kid.

The inside cover of the old projector, which still has the operating instructions attached to it, is displayed on another shelf.

The projector still works, but the bulb is burnt out. (Anybody know where you can buy replacement bulbs for vintage equipment?)

In addition to the old projector, my mom gifted JT with a whole box full of family movies that date from 1963 to 1972. (I forsee another blog post about those coming soon.)

Kodak 8 millimeter film

Elsewhere in the apartment, JT and Anna have an old-time snack bar set up.

home theater
Anna found the piece in an antique mall. It was originally a jewelry display case. When she bought it, it was painted a light blue, and some of the glass was missing. She replaced the glass, added shelves, cleaned it up and painted it black, then filled it with traditional movie snacks.

They also have a retro popcorn maker (it’s new; it just looks old) …

home theater
… and lots of other small film-related items, like this miniature projector:

vintage pencil sharpener
It’s actually a pencil sharpener. (The sharpener part is on the back.) For a miniature, it’s got a lot of great details: The reels on the top even spin.

Did I mention JT is a film major?