I was in a bit of a funk last week.

Then I entered the weekend. On the calendar, two memorials, one for a dad of an old pal, and one for an elementary school friend. On the pages of my social media pages, two writing sisters, each sharing the pain of their own deep personal loss. At home, our daughter’s dog, a dog we had loved for a short four years, a survivor that we had adopted when he had one eye and one tooth, was communicating he was ready to move on too.

In my email, came a musing from a writer I greatly admire, Ann Patchett. She was in the middle of a writing project, looking for a book or two to shed some light and “take me out of my own head for a while.”

I needed that too. I was stuck in my head. Stuck on the page. And to a certain extent stuck at home, petting and comforting this wise old dog and his owner.

I drove up to Capitol Hill, picked up that dog owner from work and said, “let’s take a quick stop at the bookstore.”

This girl loves books. I knew what her answer would be.

I picked up two of Ann’s recommendations, My Twentieth Century Evening and Other Small Breakthroughs, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nobel lecture and The Monk of Mokha, by Dave Eggers and headed home. She recommended these two books with phrases like “breath of clarity” and “inspiring dreams” and I was ready for both.

In between memorial services, I read these two lovely books. While grief passed through me and all around the rooms I walked through, the words followed like loyal pets. Passages were highlighted. Certain sections reread. I googled for facts. And the thoughts raced around and around. I followed the grief of my she writes sister and took in her beautiful poetry dedicated to her mother. I slept and dreamed fitfully, as a small dog woke to sip water and give his last gifts to my daughter.

Standing at the counter, mixing the comforting ingredients of meatballs, (eggs, milk and bread crumbs) I inhaled the wisdom of these two authors. Relationships. Dreams. Connection. Optimism. Hope. A sense of humor through it all.

I reheard the words spoken at the service. Grief is love.

So, is laughter, I thought. As my daughter and I laughed uncontrollably, in the middle of the night, as we tried to breathe through the incredible bad breath and occasional gas of her dog.

A dog we didn’t know we needed. A dog with all sorts of lessons also. Patience. Understanding. The lesson of hanging in there.

The vet came to our house yesterday and with grace he assisted my daughter with this last goodbye.

Later that evening, I tried to connect all the dots of the weekend. Passages. Amazing books that took me out of my head. Old friends. All the dogs I have ever lived with. The dots circled on each other and back again to the same important detail about love and grief and life.

The importance of showing up and digging in.


A Soundtrack. Part 1

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A recent writing assignment about music resulted in an essay I nicknamed, “A Soundtrack of Life.”  I find, like most people, that a certain song or a certain meal can take you back instantly to a specific memory.  A moment preserved.

Because it is Thursday and a special day for throwbacks, here is Part 1.

The Song.

“At the bar”

A funny folk song, of folks sitting at the bar, and the coins are rolling away.  Good pants are ripped and no longer needed for Sunday.

The Moment.

Tekiu point. Clam digging. All the families at the beach. Short hair clipped back with a barrette. Making cigars out of fat sticks and lighting them till they smoked. Dogs. Labs and golden retrievers. My Dad and Mr. Anderson laughing. Driving home in the old blue station wagon, windows all open. No seatbelts. Dad starts the verse.

What’s the first song on your soundtrack?

The “F” Words

Today, I am turning F—ing Fifty-Five years old!

That’s how I’ve been saying it – F—ing Fifty-Five years old!

It just sounds better that way. Sort of fierce. Sort of fun. Sort of frickin’ fantastic!

What’s funny, is my good friend, nameless she will be, said it the same way without knowing.

“You are turning F—ing 55 years old!”

I like it. It fits me. It’s a good title, and I have tried on many titles. But it feels in many ways that I have come full circle.

I am Marianne Lile and I am f—ing fifty-five years old!

I ran into an old neighbor who lived across the street from us when I was young. His dad had died, and I had taken my mom, to remember and reminisce. I had not seen this neighbor in years. He told us the story, of when his family had first driven into the driveway of their new home, fifty some years ago, he had looked across the street and heard kids playing, i.e. my brothers, sister and me. As he told the story he smiled as he recounted from around the corner came a little girl running free – literally – naked, laughing and sprinting around and around her house. That little girl was me.
I laughed at that story. And I remembered running around that old red house. Naked was my preferred option. Laughing. Looking up at the sky. Running.

Looking back, those experiences tend to get lost. Caught up in the fine details of living a life. But, I am committed to bringing them back this year. It’s time.

It’s time to fight too. Time to get off my duff and fight for the fairness and freedoms that are being threatened. I might just get a little feisty.

Just look at those “F” words. Fierce. Fun. Fantastic. Funny. Fits. Feels. Full. Fight. Fairness. Freedom. Fiesty.

So, fifty-five sounds kick ass. Ready for the dance floor. Ready to bring my friends and family to my dining table to eat food, drink what they want to, and to laugh. Maybe, even ready to run around my house naked!

Because I am F—ing Fifty-Five years old!




Let’s start this month with some humor…



I’ve been asked to write about shoes. And I want to write about shoes. I have some great shoes. Sexy, over the knee, leather boots and a pair of cowboy kickers, buckin’ bronc on the side and just ready for the dance floor. I have a pair of killer red heels that only mean one thing and a pair of Donna Karan booties that I bought in the 1980’s that still work their magic. I have some great shoes.


I am sitting here, in my chair, at my desk, in embarrassment. A little bit of perplexed disgrace.

I have – I mean I am – trying to embrace this whole, no clutter, live sparingly chatter that is everywhere you wander these days.

What better place to do this than in your closet?

When I brought out my winter clothes this fall, I gave myself a no-nonsense lecture.

“Ok. Let’s just try and get rid of some of these items this year, shall we?”, I said with all the seriousness of my first boss, when she told me to head to the Capitol, hand out the information on our legislation, and do not answer any questions.

I lifted each piece up, eyed it for wine stains, food particles and animal hair. If it passed that test, I eyed it for fitness. To lazy, to try it on, I imaginatively, guessed. I remembered the last time I wore that item. Did I feel good in it? Did it do me justice? Was it still a keeper?

With diligence and determination, I culled the pile of cold weather garments. I was tough – okay I wasn’t that tough – but by the end of picking through this pile I had three big bags of rejected clothing. And not all of them had stains on them.

Then thinking about a great cashmere sweater, I had seen at the local boutique, I thought I should bring some of these pieces up to the consignment store and get some cash! Wow, I had all motors running this weekend!

So, I culled again and pulled out those items I thought looked perfect for the consignment store. Black leather biker jacket. Crisp, white blouse with the tag still on it. (I knew I should have returned it, when I bought it…oh well.)

I took my sweats off, put on my jeans, looked to see if I needed to brush my teeth, (no) and drove up to the consignment store with my bags full of cash – I mean clothes.

The tinkle of the bell hanging above the door announced my arrival, and the gal at the front, put together in designer jeans and forest green top, looked up. Already working with a customer, she asked if I could wait a few minutes before she could look at my items.

I placed my bags down and started to browse through her items. I looked at her leather jackets and I just knew mine was going to be a fast seller.

I glanced at the time on my phone to see if I would have time to swing by that store and buy that sweater.

I saw her from the corner of my eye, pick up the first bag. Jackpot! She picked up that leather biker jacket first! Then the cute, black car coat with its fun little belt. I saw my black velvet, mini skirt, lifted and assessed. That skirt had been hard to part with, after all, velvet was back in style. But, I had culled it!

Bag one done, on to bag two. Same quick assessment. Same no-nonsense attitude.

“Alright,” she said, “I don’t think any of this is will work for our store.”

“Oh,” I said. An upward lilt to that word. “Okay.”

I gathered my bags and tail between my legs, fumbled out the door. Bell above tinkling madly.

“What the hell?” I said to myself back in the safety of my car. “The white blouse had the tag on it!”

“Who doesn’t need a crisp, white blouse?”

I mentally, went through each item in those bags. Remembering again where I had worn it. The good feeling that (most) of them had given me at the time.

“What the heck?”

I had style. I had panache. I could work a room in these clothes! By god, I had once repped a clothing line. I was not dimwitted when it came to stylish garments!
But, my clothes had been rejected. Humiliated. Thrown off the counter and back in the bag. I felt like a scorned girlfriend. I had blushed at that counter! I felt rebuffed. Maybe I should have brushed my teeth, I looked in the rear-view mirror.

I looked at that dejected black leather biker jacket and thought, “Maybe, I should just keep it.”

“Make it work,” as Tim Gunn, on “Project Runway”, would say.

But no, I am supposed to be decluttering. Making my life simpler.

I called my friend.

“Have you ever been rejected at the consignment store?”

She laughed at my story. Felt my pain. She was just trying internet dating for the first time and rejection by the consignment store sounded a little bit more enjoyable.

So now, I am sitting in my chair, at my desk, with the hope to write about my amazing shoes. But sitting behind me our bags of rejection.

Life is a balance, isn’t it?! Rejection. Approval.

Some things work out. Some things don’t. Not everything is simple.

So, feet on the floor, shoulders back and onward.

Okay, let me think about my shoes.

You know what? They are fabulous!

boots made for dancing

September 26

Today is the day.

My memoir, Stepmother, turns 1 today. But in my definition of book years it really turns 10. Since it took me that long to write, edit, find a publisher, print it and watch it move out into the world.

But it is this past year I want to commemorate. To say thanks.

It has been a year of many gifts. And like most good gifts, ones that I did not see coming. Ones that surprised me, touched my heart and brought moments of true joy.

Thanks to the women I met this year. Most of you are writers. You inspire me. You were generous and warm and available.  I felt like an author at a welcoming round table and I was thrilled to sit beside you.

Thanks to the readers. Wow! What I learned from you! Time is precious and for you to take the time to read and/or reach out to me, to tell me how the book impacted you, was an unmeasurable delight. Tears came easily this year. But it was the tears of companionship brought together by your kind comments that marked me most.

A bit about my publisher…She Writes Press and Brooke Warner have been an incredible partner during this process. It comes as no surprise to me that Brooke was awarded the Industry Innovation Award last night by the Book Industry Study Group. She is a trailblazer and a champion of women writers. My experience went way beyond my expectations. And I could not be more grateful for the honor of having been an author with this organization and this group of fine people.

This year I loved the readings, the book groups, the interactions that followed meeting with people and listening to their thoughts and questions. I enjoyed the challenge of defending my words. Because in the acts of defense, I found fierce truths and an inner strength that I can live with.

I am proud of my book. I am thankful for the gifts of the past year. And I am deeply grateful to all of you.



Red heart in nest

I sit.

Step Mother.

Sometimes you just need to sit down. Take the weight off.

And ponder.

Why the word step?  Why the word mother?

The word step creates a distance. A hurdle. A physical barrier to cross to get to the destination.

Mother.  Well that just summons a million emotions!  It is a revered word.  A life giver. A home. A nest. A protector.

Most step moms give it all.  They protect, love, shield, play, clean up after, drive and cook for their step kids.

All things “motherly”.

BUT…the but.  The hiccup.  The eyes that say you aren’t my mom.  You are my Dad’s wife.  You are a good listener.  You are sometimes my friend.  You are a good cook.  But

Being a step mom is one of the hardest things I have ever done. And that is a consistent refrain that I have heard from the emails I have received since the publication of my memoir, Stepmother.

Does the label of stepmother create more hardship from the get go?  Have we made it harder by assigning a name that creates distance, a hurdle and already belongs to another?

As I sit,  I ponder.

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Clean Slates

March 2017.

The first thing I was going to do this year was repaint our bedroom.  It had been a long nine years since that space had seen fresh paint and those walls were tired.  And now, finally, at the end of February all the pictures are down and are relaxing in another room.  All the nicks and scratches, the animal hair, the squashed residue of bugs gone by and the usual family dirt are fixed, gone and covered up.

I finished that last upper corner with my small brush, covered in that last hard-to-reach edge with a paint dipped Q-tip and pulled back the blue painter’s tape.  Tying up the last trash bag filled with tape, I sat on the bed and looked at this new space.  I had changed pretty much everything.  Even the direction of our king size bed.  Once facing east, it now pointed north.

A clean slate.

These first months of this year have had a strange momentum.  The rhythm of the days has been off.  It feels as if there is an underlying edge and a persistent unease that permeates a part of each day.  I can’t help but feel some of it is emanating from one of my favorite cities, Washington D.C.  But is that all?  What else was creating this restlessness?  This lack of energy?  This procrastination? (After all, it took me two months to finish the one thing I had said I was going to do first!)

The instant reaction to this clean room was physically obvious.  Peaceful.  Relaxed.  Open.  I could look at this space in a new way.  And isn’t that what we all want to do sometimes?  Put the old behind us and start out fresh.  Hold that clean slate like a precious piece of art and take the steps to fill that space in a new and comforting way.  A place to reflect the present and move on from the past.

I recently received a beautiful email from a reader of my memoir, Stepmother.  I could feel the angst in her words as I read the note.

“Hello Mrs. Lile,

My name is…and I am a stepmother to three girls.  By chance, maybe out of desperation, I checked out your book at the library.  I currently live in…and have been navigating the stepmother role since July, 2014.

…Your words have made me feel like I am more normal than I think I am.  I feel so alone in the journey that I have chosen to travel (yes…many of my friends remind me that I chose the stepmother life).  My husband is reading the book and I hope that your words give him a little insight to how I might feel…”

I am guessing that this reader could use a clean slate too.

Feeling alone, but overwhelmed.  Feeling isolated but surrounded.  Feeling stuck.  Wanting a do over.

But how do we create a space for a clean slate in our personal lives when navigating family, work and life?  How does that desire not feel selfish and one sided?  How do we do it without causing even more disruption?

Maybe we start small.  Just one room.  Or just one small wall.  One little table.  Or even one tiny page.  Small baby steps.

Because we need clean slates.  We need them for different reasons and at different times in our life.  We are not stagnant people.  We change.  We evolve.  We see things differently than we might have once before.  I, for one, need to see that reflected “some” place.  I have used clean slates to actively and with fierce determination wipe out the old with something new to serve as a clear and decisive reminder of all my hard earned efforts to grow or to remind me of something I learned that was exceptionally valuable.  I have also expended the energy to create a clean slate much the same way I have used old boards under the wheel of my car to get out of that mud filled rut.  A way to get out and move on.

A clean slate can be the tangible evidence that “you” and “your” life are open to the next adventure.  And part of this new slate will be a reflection of where you are today.  A mosaic of color.  Or a muted haze.

Most importantly, it is your clean slate.  And you get to design it any way you want.  As the poet Mary Oliver wrote so eloquently, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Maybe we need a clean slate to remind us of our plan.

What does your clean slate look like?