That Time I Put Liz Claiborne Labels in my Target Shoes. {and a fun announcement}

accessories

For some reason, it’s always the extra-large, salmon-colored, v-neck sweater from my dad’s closet that stands out the most. Adolescent me was known to raid the wardrobes of everyone in the household in my crazed attempt to put together a new outfit for school.

Desperate times called for desperate sweaters.

I’d been buying most of my own clothes since I was about twelve years old, at which point I begin raking in the cash from all those $2.50 an hour babysitting gigs. My teenage years — the stage that a girl really, really cares about her image — were rather lean for my family. My dad was a church-planting pastor in the midwest and my mom stayed at home with us until the youngest of us four kids started school, at which point she went back to work as a teacher.

We were not in any way poor; we simply didn’t have much “extra.” Don’t for a moment feel sorry for me. I honestly couldn’t be more grateful. Those years wove themselves into the person I am — resourceful, creative, and spurred on by scarcity rather than shut down by it. Besides, we were rich in all the ways that really mattered.

I may have been shy, insecure, and embarrassingly small for my age but my love of beauty — pretty things, lovely clothes, beautiful colors — was larger than life. My family will tell you it’s just how I’m wired. I started playing dress-up as a toddler and I’ve never really stopped.

football scarf

Fashion Note #1: Scarves are an easy & timeless accessory. Also? One should always dress for success, even if you’re just playing Lucy to your Charlie Brown brother.

ball head

Fashion Note #2: A deflated rubber ball can work as a stylish cap. And it points attention away from the fact that your well-intentioned mom gave you a boy haircut.

Young Marian studied and memorized everything like it was her job from the outfits the twenty-something ladies wore to church with their perfectly matched pumps and endless array of twist-a-beads, to what the fashionable girls wore to school and the back-to-school editions of Seventeen magazine. I saved up my hard-earned dollars for Benetton tees, the tiniest Coach purse they sold, and a Liz Claiborne wallet.

When you’re that age, you simply want to fit in and while I could never really do that — at least in my estimation of things — I resolved to die trying.

Which is why I’d end up in my dad’s closet snatching a very large man’s sweater off the hanger and draping it over my petite frame, grabbing the paisley silk scarf from my mom’s dress coat and tying it around my waist as a belt, and slipping on my Target flats with the Liz Claiborne labels I’d carefully adhered to the insoles.

Wait, what was that you just wrote Marian? Are you telling the world you put designer stickers in your Target shoes?

Yes, that’s exactly what I’m telling you. I created my own knock-off. Talk about shopping the house. And really, I can’t believe I’ve never told you this because it’s totally one of my best stories ever. So go grab a cup of coffee and settle in.

tractor outfit

Fashion Note #3: When choosing contrasting colors, go with the same level of boldness for all the hues. In the words of Clinton & Stacy, “It doesn’t have to match. It just has to go.” And in the words of 5-year-old me, “You are the boss of your outfits & accessories.”

The Story That Beats All

I was probably in seventh or eighth grade and we had a Target in our city. Now this was decades before Target was the awesomeness that it is now, decades before famous designers were lining up to create their own limited lines for the shopping proletariat. Those early Targets were scarce, uncool, and suffered from bad lighting.

Remember, this was the 80s, when department stores ruled the day and you were nobody without Guess jeans and tiny embroidered alligators or polo players on your collared shirts.

Somehow I’d discovered Target and felt that if you looked with a squinty, objective eye, some of their stuff could qualify as legit. So I bought a pair of woven leather, cream colored, pointy-toed loafers from the Target shoe department. Y’all they were so cute. I wish I still had them.

There was only one problem. They were from Target. And this mattered because all the girls in class would flip their flats on and off their heels while their legs were crossed and then everyone knew what designer shoes you were wearing. Or not wearing.

So I did what any resourceful, image-obsessed girl would do. I raided my mother’s closet and found her gorgeous, burgundy Liz Claiborne pumps, the one splurge my darling mom had probably enjoyed in years. And which the dog promptly chewed up. {But that’s a story for another time.} Anyway, because the chewed-up shoes had become unwearable, I decided to harvest them for labels.

Lucky for me, Liz Claiborne had embroidered, adhesive labels in her fancy shoes at that time. Such luck! I simply peeled them from the carnage of the chewed-up pumps and gave them new life in my Target flats. Those rectangular designer labels fit perfectly over the no-name discount labels and no one was the wiser.

Until now, 27 years later, when I tell the whole world.

If thrift stores had been a big thing back then, I would have cleaned up. But they weren’t and so I learned how to shop clearance racks like a boss and pillage the family closets. Though I never felt like I looked the part, my family tells me I left for school every day looking put together and on trend. I’m quite sure they were biased but still, I will forever love my mom and dad for complimenting me all the time on my knack for making something cute out of nothing much.

I didn’t see it as a gift; I saw it as survival. But in retrospect, my parents were actually on to something. I wish I’d actually acknowledged my knack for hacks as the resourcefulness that it was.

pattern mixing

Fashion Note #4: Practice pattern mixing until you can do it in your sleep.

I know it was hard for them to not be able to buy everything my teenage heart desired but they gave me so much more. They surprised me with the occasional mega-splurge, like a pair of Calvin Klein jeans folded up at the edge of my bed one morning. And my mom, whose Southern roots meant that she always wanted her girls to have a new Easter dress, prayed with me in the mall parking lot before we’d go in to shop. She would ask God to provide, even though our means were limited. And God always did.

Years later, I’ve been known to do the same with my daughter. I’d call that a legacy, even if it’s about something as superficial as the clothes we wear.

And that’s why I’ve never written about any of this here on the blog — because it seemed superficial.

Except that it’s not.

Every single person on the planet has to put on something every day — whether it’s a loin cloth or a designer gown. For most of us, it’s something in between. Thank goodness. Because I don’t know the first thing about accessorizing loin cloths.

But I do know a thing or two about mixing up your closet with creativity and resourcefulness because I’ve been doing it my whole life. I love combining new pieces, accessorizing, hunting through cast-offs and coming out with something amazing.

If I’d really been paying attention, I’d have realized long ago that this isn’t superficial at all. My real-life friends ask me for help and I love to do it. They’ve even prompted me to write about it on the blog or to go into business doing closet makeovers. I’ve always just brushed it off because:

a) This is fashion we’re talking about and I’m a “serious writer.”

b) I’m not a professional.

c) Outfits don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.

But when it’s something we all have to do every day? When it communicates so much about our personalities? When it paralyzes us from even trying because we’re not naturally good at this whole fashion thing? When it can easily costs lots of money that we don’t actually have?

Well, that sounds like it’s something that really matters and for a host of good reasons.

So I’ve started listening to what others say and taking to heart the clues from my past and my present — my friends, my sister, my husband, my parents’ affirmation all those years ago, the chatty girl with blue hair at the Deal Mart who looked me up and down on an everyday Thursday and asked me if I was a stylist, my daughter’s friends who say, Oh my gosh, Mrs. Vischer, I like, LOVE that outfit so. much. {Insert TBH and dramatic teenage voice emoji.}

Maybe my little world has been trying to tell me something all these years and I’ve been too busy with my important, meaningful, serious work. And also too embarrassed to reveal all my “secrets” because they are dumb and superficial and too thrifty for the average person.

Well, times…they are a changing.

formal wear

Fashion Note #5: A Study in Contrasts. Juxtapose formal wear with “natural” elements like a plastic split-rail fence and fake grass platform.

Now before you worry that I’m about to become a fashion blogger, I’m not. I don’t even read fashion blogs. And besides, most of the real fashion out there isn’t that “real” to me. I’m a mom who looks cute approximately two days a week when I actually have to get out of my minivan and talk with other adults in public places.

Also, fashion isn’t my number one thing. I plan to keep writing the real about motherhood, faith, school choices, books, and the possibility of everyday redemption. That’s where my heart beats strong. Try as I might, I’ll never be a niche blogger. But you’ll always find the same theme here and it’s honest dish about real life — how the epic and the everyday frustrations, failures, and funnies are all tinged with hope, possibility, and redemption.

I believe that with all my heart because it’s the story of my life, the story that continues to unfold every day.

And I’m realizing that everyday redemption can even extend to our closets and how much fun would that be for all of you real women who show up here? Not to mention the fun I’ll have as the hostess.

I’ve got some super fun things in store for you.

giant watch

Fashion Notes #6: When an accessory is taller than you, it’s time to choose something a bit more understated.

One last thing before I conclude this post that has somehow become a memoir.

I’m sweating here. I’ve put off writing this post for weeks. I’ve been waiting for the brave to show up and guess what? I’m still waiting. But if we all waited until we weren’t afraid to begin, then no one would ever get on stage or write that book or say “I do.” So many of the best endeavors begin when we’re still shaking in our boots. I’m learning that the shaking is actually a good indication of meaningful, authentic work.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post that I was terrified to publish. I almost didn’t. Turns out that more people read that post than any other post in the 31-day series. Experiences like that give me courage to lean into the fear and the unknown and say yes anyway — even over something as silly as an announcement about a new fashion niche on one’s blog.

I’ve got more to say in my next post when I reveal some of the inspiration behind this new endeavor. {And introduce you to a couple of my muses who have inspired me with their bravery, creativity, and permission.} And I’m going to tell you a bit more about what’s in it for you.

/////

Your turn. Because friends, I so need some feedback here. Where are you on this issue of your wardrobe? Do you feel clueless or stuck? Have you given up all hope? Could you use some inspiration and practical tips from a real person? Do you have a closet full of nothing to wear? Do you want to learn thriftier ways?

This shopgirl wants to meet you where you are.

Tell me everything.

Don’t want to miss a post? You can subscribe and have each post delivered right to your inbox. As always, you may unsubscribe any time you like. {I promise not to sell your address to pirates, aliens, spammers, or The Gap.}

How Death Teaches You to Make Much of Life

beach

I finished the 31 day series about school exactly one week ago and planned to take just a few days off. But I’m learning to write my plans in pencil and always with a lower-case “p.”

Because sometimes out-of-town family needs help right away and you can be the one to go.

And in the midst of that you read the words on your phone that your dear friend with cancer has taken an abrupt turn for the worse.

Plans have a way of mocking us like that.

So I spend an everyday Wednesday sobbing because she’s in a Hospice house instead of her own home. And only five days before we were sitting in her living room. And only four days before that I was dropping off chicken and dumplings, having a normal conversation and making plans for the next time I’d see her. It wasn’t supposed to look like this yet.

Crisis has a way of sifting through the rubble of our myriad everyday concerns and then holding out what really matters. The fact that it takes something this serious to bring about certain repentances in my life, well, it’s just ridiculous is what it is.

It’s two days ago and my face feels like plaster of Paris as the tears have for now evaporated and the salt has settled into the fine lines. I’ve declared sandwiches for dinner indefinitely. I walk through the back door amid wild boys slinging backpacks and the dog who’s joined the fray. I thumb through the mail. Credit card applications. Grocery flyers. The holiday Anthropologie catalog. Dumb. Dumb. And also dumb. Not to mention overpriced.

And I want to scream, How can people be comparing grocery prices and buying jeweled alpaca sweaters when my friend is dying?!?

I haven’t written about her here. Although this is a space of honesty for me, there are some things that feel outside the lines of public jurisdiction. Things that are sacred and private and folded up like origami, tucked right beside my hurting heart. It is one thing to unfold my own story but it’s a delicate thing to unfold a page of another’s, even as it intersects with my own.

When my head and heart are full and overwhelmed, I take to the keys. It’s just my way. Many words never see the light of day. But writing helps me see and feel and figure out, even when the figuring out is never going to happen. Because really, we all know there is no making sense of a wife and mom who’s diagnosed with Stage IV cancer.

Grief has a way of mangling our mouths as we attempt to sputter out words that matter, even with those we dearly love and have known for so many years.

I didn’t struggle for words as I sat across the restaurant table from her all those times we left husbands and children to fend for themselves so we could catch up on life and have the food brought to us for a change. I didn’t struggle for words during craft nights or sitting on her sofa or even at the chemo center.

But when we know that our words and our days and our very moments are precious and numbered, we second-guess and measure them. We surely do.

Why does it take impending loss for the real cherishing to begin? 

How do you go about the business of living when someone you love is dying?

chair

Yesterday was my son’s 11th birthday. I’ve got to be honest, I resented the timing. Her photo is in his scrapbook because she helped give the baby shower. And though everything seemed completely futile and ridiculous on Wednesday, a deeper truth had settled in by the next morning.

Because of death, we should make more of life.

Just last week, this young son of mine came walking into my room, still wet from the shower and wearing a pensive look on his gentle face. Mom, he said, I’ve been thinking — we value life so much because it ends. 

His words shocked me out of my day’s end stupor. I probed a bit, trying to figure out where such deep thoughts were coming from inside such a young mind. But he simply said he’d been thinking about why we value the things we do, especially life.

What first seemed cruelly inconvenient — his birthday rolling around in the midst of such dark days — was actually a gift. I couldn’t stay under the covers because we had eleven years of life to celebrate.

I had pancakes to make and “Happy Birthday” to write on the kitchen chalkboard. I had money to spend on after school fro-yo and a Nike hoodie to stuff into a gift bag.

In these days of life and death all mixed up like a tangled ball of twine, I’m learning that death calls to me with a megaphone, telling me to get up and get to living already.

Make the dinner and the phone calls and the love.

Make the home and make the beauty.

pumpkins

Make the extra trip to the store to get the bacon that goes with the pancakes.

Make the effort to tell her how much she’s loved.

Make the sacrifices.

Make the time and the memories and quit calling such things a waste.

Because our makings and our moments — they matter. And you don’t realize how much until they’ve slipped through your fingers.

In light of death, in light of any deep loss, we could go through the coming weeks and months cynical about the silly preoccupations of the everyday, bitterly laughing at the futility of laundry and Christmas parties and homework.

Or in light of death, we could go through the coming weeks and months and all of our days simply making more of life, unwrapping each day as a gift, thin and fragile though the days may feel.

The grief is still real. The default cynic in me still reaches for the covers instead of the light switch. It’s easy for death to give way to more darkness instead of more light but that would be an even greater tragedy wouldn’t it?

In God’s ironic design, death actually gives way to greater life.

A seed falls into the ground and dies. In its place grows a towering oak.

Pride and greatness have to be snuffed out before humility and grace can do their life-changing work.

An innocent man died 2,000 years ago so that a broken people could be redeemed and resurrected and a broken world one day renewed.

As the light dims on this life for my friend, a radiant new one awaits.

We grieve. Oh how we grieve. But we do not grieve as those without hope. And as we grieve, we’re reminded of how precious each day really is. In light of death, I want to more fully live.

Let’s step boldly into our lives. Wherever you are, whatever circumstance is breaking you, don’t let loss steal your life. You’re still here and the world really does need what you have to offer, whether it’s a sandwich or a symphony. No offering is too small.

Cherish this life. Cherish your people. Cherish the everyday and the epic days. Because even in the midst of death — especially in the midst of death — we must make much of life.

/////

This space is where I show up for work, the space where I offer up all sorts of things for you — encouragement, inspiration, a bit of crazy, a touch of beauty, and always the real. I don’t plan to change that. I just don’t know what my posts or schedule will look like in the coming days and weeks. Because I can’t help but “write the real,” it’s near impossible for me to produce from a place that’s different from where I really am. It feels fake and duplicitous, ridiculous as that may sound to some people.

I have some fun stuff I’d hoped to introduce this week but see the part above about those penciled, lower-case “p” plans. I may feel differently next week. Or I may not. Because even though I want to choose life — the whimsical, the beautiful, the silly — I can’t dish up that sort of fare right now. At least not today. I guess what I’m saying is thanks for grace.

And will you pray for my dear friend and for her hurting family? They are walking through harder days than I can imagine.

Day 31: 3 Simple Truths to Bring You Back Home When You’re Stressed About Educational Decisions

31 days final big button

While you’re stressing over college prep versus AP or the classical private school vs. the public charter school, there’s a single parent who’s simply grateful for public school, afternoon care, and the school bus.

As I mutter about my school frustrations, there’s a mom half a world away who knows that the education of her children is the ticket for her family’s survival. In developing countries, every additional year of education can increase a person’s future income by an average of 10%.*

And guess how much of the world even holds college degrees? Less than 7%.

It’s all relative, isn’t it? When we’re surrounded by privilege {and if you’re reading this, you’re probably in the top 4-5 percent of the world’s wealthiest}, our grasp on the essentials is rather skewed. I’m not saying our decisions don’t matter because they absolutely do. And I’m definitely not saying God doesn’t care about our American middle-class concerns simply because there are needier people to worry about. He cares so much. If He knows when a hair falls from our head, how much more does He care about the education of our children? But our definition of the “best” for our kids and His definition of the “best” aren’t always the same. 

In the midst of decisions and stress, it’s helpful to take a step back and consider the basics. For me, simple truths can serve as a reset button when I don’t know which way is up. Maybe it’s the same way for you. Here are three perspective-builders when indecision swirls within your head and anxiety grabs hold of your heart:

1. Parents around the world would sacrifice everything for the options that we actually deem sub-par.

Sometimes we have to rest in what should be the most obvious truth but is often the most overlooked: our kids are getting an education. And not only are they getting an education, we actually have options about the kind of education they’ll receive. These are luxuries in most of the world. I don’t write these words to induce guilt. I write them to invite gratitude.

2. Education is so much more than thirteen years plus a college degree.

We talked about this on Day 29. Education is the hard flint of our everyday lives that carve our unique personhood. Education is both natural science and natural consequences. It’s studying calculus in the classroom and practicing compassion within our families.

Education begins the day we’re born and continues until the day we die. Let’s not insult the richness and beauty of education by reducing it to 16 short years of academia. Education is a life. The most brilliant scholars will never know the intricacies of how you got to be you. They’ll never be able to plumb the depths of redemption in your life. We all have so much to offer one another and the world. And our truest offerings have little to do with the sort of education we received and much to do with the character and compassion that’s grown out of adversity and real-life experience.

ice cream april
3. We accept what we have and also what we lack.

We give our children what we have and trust that it is enough. We make the best decisions within our means and trust that they are enough too. I’m betting that you actually give so much more than enough.

And we accept what we don’t have –whether it’s money, energy, “better” options, health, or stability.

In so doing, we trust that our lack is just as much a part of God’s equation as our abundance.

This is the theme of my life. Because sometimes, God re-routes us in ways that feel like failure but are actually grace. 

/////

I don’t want to oversimplify complicated decisions but I don’t want to overcomplicate them either. When you’re feeling stressed about these issues, look at what you already have. Breathe in the gifts and exhale gratitude.

It’s going to be okay.

Thank you so much for joining me for this series. Thank you for your encouraging comments, e-mails, and “likes” that inspired me to keep going. Whether you read one post or all 31, I hope you found grace and encouragement. If you missed any of the posts, go here to see a complete list. And if you ever want to check back and read more of the series, just click on the “Cool About School” tab at the top of the page.

Things will be quiet on the blog here for just a bit but I’ll be back with all kinds of stuff I’ve been storing up for you during the month of October.

For other posts I’ve written on this topic of school, go here.

I’ve linked up with The Nester and her tribe of 31 Dayers.

Don’t want to miss a post? You can subscribe and have each post delivered right to your inbox. As always, you may unsubscribe any time you like. {I promise not to sell your address to pirates, aliens, spammers, or The Gap.}

/////

 * United Nations Educational Scientific And Cultural Organization. “Reaching out-of-school Children is Crucial for Development.” UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). Accessed April 8, 2014.