The First Batch


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Thank God for music. How else would we get energized to tackle the big jobs?

It’s nice to know that the hardest decision I had to make the other day when I started up the Heffernan Pierogi Factory was what music channel to tune into while I worked.

I went to my go-to decade, 70s music, figuring I would need the kind of tunes that got me moving but did not distract me to the point of wanting to look up at the TV screen to see the flashback photos of artists that I may or may not recognize. 

Let it be said that I ever let good music go undanced to.

This may well be the only exception to my aversion to multitasking. Dancing while making hundreds of pierogi is absolutely acceptable. In fact, I encourage it. With the dog, even.

All the usual 70s music kept on rolling as I kneaded dough, filled the dough circle cut-outs and moved the precious pierogi through my one-woman assembly line. But it was the Staple Singers that made it a party.

staple singers

Even Beans had to get up on two paws for that one.

By the time I wrapped up my pierogi-thon last weekend, I had made 12 1/2 dozen. A drop in the pierogi bucket, really, but nonetheless, a decent tally for starters. I had to donate a handful of the fresh treasures to my official Taste Tester, since my little side gig means he isn’t getting any home-baked goods while I’m on Pierogi Duty (as he likes to call it).

Somehow, I think he’s okay with that. For now.


Next up: A Jumbo-Sized Task

©2017 By Marianne V. Heffernan


The Side Hustle


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Going into the pierogi business was a flirtation in social media for me. I innocently tapped into my Facebook network to ask who would be interested in homemade pierogi.

That’s like asking a busload of school children, “Who wants ice cream and not to go to school today?”

Now, business-minded people might have sat down to calculate all possible expenses, shipping options, volume and scale, and the simple question of, Where will I put all these dumplings after I’ve made them and packaged them, but won’t be delivering them instantly? They would have drawn up a business plan and carefully considered the idea from a variety of angles, to determine if the concept is a sound one as well as executable.

That isn’t what I did. No. I pulled a Lucy.

This is what it means when you make a spontaneous, wacky decision to jump in with both feet to do something that you want to do, because it seems like a good idea at the time.

You know, like Lucy Ricardo in the 1950s popular television program, “I Love Lucy.” Lucy was married to bandleader, Ricky Ricardo, who apparently had the patience of a saint when it came to forgiving his wife when she did crazy things, like getting a loving cup stuck on her head, or deciding to raise chickens.

lucy chickens

Photo credit to,

When people starting posting their orders to my Facebook query, I wasn’t sure they were legit. Sure, people get excited at the idea of getting homemade pierogi. But did all of these people sincerely intend to put their money where their mouths were, to support me in my entrée into the pierogi business?

In a word, yes.

I started an Excel spreadsheet and began populating it. I needed to see this for what it appeared to be turning into.


Potato & cheese are apparently the most popular of the three varieties I offered (the other two being cheese, or sauerkraut). The order list grew. Soon, I had friends in Florida asking if I would ship. The out-of-state requests extended to New Hampshire, Minnesota, Arizona and Alaska. Now I was in deep. How do I do this?

I had no idea. Lucky for me, I am friends with Google. I did some quick research, looking up ‘how to ship food items’ and small business tips.

Screen Shot 2017-12-06 at 8.24.42 AM

Silly me, I had offered free delivery. My intention was to deliver the goods to my Facebook customers who were within driving distance, since most of them are local, and if they aren’t, I figure they are worth the drive.

Side note: It is on my 2018 Year Goals to transform my Facebook friendships into more personalized connections, meaning I hope to connect in person with each of them to explore what that is like. This technology-hijacked world we live in doesn’t encourage that, but I am thinking it’s time to shake that up, for myself. So hey, two birds, one stone, and I’m getting a jump on it!

Two days later, on my way home from work, I hit the grocery store. I would be diving into my self-inflicted pierogi-mania the next day and wanted fresh ingredients.

I decided on how I would package them, and prepared copies of the ingredients and recommended cooking instructions, so that my new “customers” would have guidance in case they were pierogi newbies.

Before I could start cooking, I needed shipping guidance. With all the holiday shoppers out and about on Saturday morning a few weeks before Christmas, my mission was not to hunt for Christmas gifts but to get the best possible deal on fast shipping for my out-of-state pierogi fans.

Note to self: There are no best possible deals for out-of-state shipping of a frozen Polish food delicacy. I would have to figure this out. This Pierogi Thing was happening, and it was picking up steam.

In the meantime, paid orders started hitting my mailbox. I needed to get to it.


Next up: The First Batch

©2017 By Marianne V. Heffernan

Holy Pierogi! That’s a Lot of Dumpling


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You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

Funny how I saw that saying posted on social media today, and even though I have seen it many times before, I laughed when I read it this time.

I am sure that Eleanor Roosevelt was not talking about hand-making over 200 pierogi in a day, but when I set my sites on a goal, I do whatever it takes. If that means being a one-woman assembly line for authentic Eastern European cuisine, rock on.

That’s just how I roll.

My entrée into the world of entrepreneuring is an experiment. But it’s also evidence of my curiosity of life and my desire to fully experience it. I figure, life has thrown me a few curve balls that I did not want. You get what you get and you don’t fret, as my little cousin Krissy would say. So when I got the idea to ask my friends and family if they would pay for homemade Polish pierogi, I was floored at the immediate and enthusiastic response.


“Sky is the limit! Whatever you ask for, short of my soul.”

“Do you ship…”

Such a joyful litany of responses, how could I not do this?

Ask my pierogi-sore arm muscles today that question and you’ll get a different response.

Is this how Mrs. T’s got her start?

I did some quick research, calculated the cost of ingredients, packaging, delivery to local folks (those within driving distance) and the biggest, yet intangible asset, my time, and decided to charge $10 per dozen for a choice of three varieties: potato and cheese; cheese; and sauerkraut. Keeping the options limited was key; it is less than a month until Christmas, and the idea is the get the pierogi made and delivered before Christmas Eve, the night when those of Polish heritage, traditionally, enjoy pierogi as part of their holy eve supper.

Here’s a lesson to pass along: One thing people tend to undervalue in themselves is their experience and expertise. It is difficult to put a price on those, because they are the elements of our talents that we add to and hone over time until they are master-grade. My time is valuable to me, as it is to anyone. So if it sounds like $10 per dozen of homemade, fresh from scratch ingredients is too much money to pay, that may be because you are okay with eating cheaper, packaged pierogi from the frozen food section of your local supermarket. And that’s fine. Distinguishing palates know a good pierogi is worth a few bucks more than the boxed variety mass produced.

Although, let me publicly coin this phrase right here, right now: There is no such thing as a bad pierogi.™

So that was it. I posted my asking price, along with an order form. Next thing I knew, I was in the pierogi making business. The orders rolled in. Two dozen cheese, two dozen potato and cheese. Oh, add another two dozen cheese. Before the day on Facebook had wrapped up, I had 15 orders totaling 47 dozen pierogi. I picked up more orders anytime I shared a new post about my pierogi sale. By Sunday afternoon, as I was elbow deep in pierogi dough, my order tally was up to 30 customers, with 912 of the scrumptious dumplings to be made.

starting 3

It is no wonder I am still slogging away at my doctoral dissertation. My drive to answer the spontaneous calls for life experience just won’t let me back-burner my creative ideas so that I do just that ONE THING that I need to focus on to get my PhD. Eh, I’ll get there. Keep your shirt on. (Did I ever tell you about the time I took interest in police officer training? There’s a story for another day…)

So here I am, my Pierogi Marathon launched. I spent an entire Sunday in the kitchen kneading dough, fashioning, securing and packaging 12 and a half dozen pierogi. Partway through, I took a 10-minute break to stretch, and that brings me to my new nickname for myself.

From now on – or at least for the next few weeks, just call me the Pierogi Yogi.™

Next up: The Side Hustle

©2017 By Marianne V. Heffernan




Just Your Typical Wednesday


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Editor’s note: I get that y’all are not THAT interested in my everyday life. I’m regular folk, like all of you, after all. The challenge, sometimes, in reading a person’s blog is that there is a message buried in the words. It will be a private message that only you, the reader, will get. Give it time.

I’m standing in the upstairs bathroom in my underwear folding laundry I didn’t know was in the dryer while the shower is running. Our 8-month-old puppy, Beans, is on the back deck, yipping to come inside, and the makings of a turkey salad sandwich for my husband’s lunch are on the kitchen counter. I’ve half-packed my own lunch, and have dug out my DD Perks card to leave for said husband on top of his work cooler. (My polite way of keeping him from dipping into the checking account too deeply before the next paycheck hits. I know there are at least ten bucks on the Perks card, not counting my birthday freebie, if he is invited to use it by a thoughtful Dunkin host.) These are the strategies for avoiding spousal nitpicky bickering in the mornings on a work day…

All this, and it is 6:26 a.m. on a Wednesday, a mere 20 minutes from the time that I need to grab my backpack and two cellphones that are still charging, along with my wishful-thinking yoga clothes for a ‘”maybe I can get there” 6 pm flow class, and speed out the door. Next to my collection of “bag lady work gear” is the home equity payment that needs to be dropped into the mailbox on my way to catch the bus. Oh, and a Bed, Bath & Beyond coupon I cut out to drop into my envelope of other “wishful thinking” coupons that most likely will get crumpled and tossed in the trash because they will have long expired before I ever get the chance, the extra cash, or the desire to use them.

The barking continues. The multitasking continues. Until.

“WTF? Is the dog outside?!”

Yes, I’ve cleaned up the language. Acronyms are more fun that way.

I assertively (but not politely) point out said underwear outfit, now-warmed up running shower spraying and laundry mid-fold (mostly his, I might note. But I don’t). He storms out. I don’t know to where.

I step into the tub and go for another record-breaking shower.

I could be the Mary Lou Retton of fastest shower takers. Ever.

My champion hygiene gymnastics aside, husband steps back into the bathroom and notes my defiance. He chides my lack of compassion for the neighbors. He plods down the stairs like the kitchen is on fire, to scold the Beans.

I hear instructions to “Get on your bed.” (No, I’m wrong. It’s more like, “GET ON YOUR BED!!!” Three exclamation points, no less.)

beans oct 2017


I try not to dwell on the previous night’s exchange that the correct term is “GO TO your bed,” but I lost that debate hours ago.

Ah, the work life.


Commutes, coffee on the run, making lunches, getting the kids off to school or the dog calmly into her crate. Making sure the bills are paid, making notes of what you need to squeeze into your day. When is my upcoming doctor’s appointment? Better call and double-check. Is that line item on the new credit card bill legit? Better check. Haven’t talked to my mom in a couple days – maybe I can fit in a call at lunchtime.

It’s no wonder we forget to breathe. There. I just did. Check that box.

Now that I’ve stressed you all out with my crazy routine, how are you feeling?

Next up: Multitasking is the Devil.

©2017 By Marianne V. Heffernan



The Positive Side of a Negative


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When I woke up on Saturday morning, I thought of Maine. Stubborn as I am, Maine was my desire that day, even though my husband had slammed the gavel down on the idea of taking a long drive to explore a land sale. Before I could linger in my rambling thoughts of a leisurely ride and a sneak peak at Acadia through our car window, the yelps of a bratty puppy told me my schedule was not my own.

So I let it go. I got up to start my day.

No sooner did I dismiss the notion, my focus shifted. I have plenty on my plate on any given day. I am writing my doctoral dissertation, painfully slowly, so there is no such thing as “free time.”

But the day was mine to claim, and once I got through the routine morning tasks, I knew where I had to go.

I have always been proud of our family home in Seymour. Set on a small hill, nestled on a wooded lot that back in the day was like living in the wilderness with only a few neighbors and away from the town bustle, our house was the idyllic place to grow up.

Trees to climb, a lawn to rough up with our sports games, a driveway for bike riding. An outdoor playground that was ours to use in whatever ways our imaginations would suggest.

john skateboard

I headed to my folks’ house intending to do a little yard work and pay a quick visit. My parents are in their 80s now, still living independently in the house my father built for us more than fifty years ago, but yard work is not an activity either of them can manage anymore. In the busy schedules that each of us creates in our lives, neither myself nor my brothers had been able to stay ahead of the yard care that was screaming to be done.

It’s a sentence my father would hate: The yard has become unkempt, to put it mildly.

Overgrown weeds have filled in the once neatly clipped front lawn that had been the site of our sled riding in the winter. The side yard was strewn with remnants of firewood bark, left behind when the winter’s stock was first piled and then deliberately relocated to the bins in our den next to the wood stove.

I know how proud my father is of the home he and Mom made for us, and how much it bothered him that he could not keep up the maintenance as he could in his younger days. I drove up the driveway, parked my car, and took it in. This was not going to be a quick or easy job. After a quick hello to Mom and Dad inside, I put on my work gloves and got to work.

There was a hard rake leaning against the side wall of the yard; the side yard of our house where our basketball hoop was.
hoop view
The hoop pole is still there, rusted but standing. The old backboard is gone, and with it, the netted hoop. But I see it in my mind.

joe dunk

It was the rake that did it. Instantly, as I grabbed it, I was back in my childhood. It was as if my grip on the rake transported me through a whoosh of memories collected over time and filed away as “the past.” dad raking.jpeg

It was the same kind of rake that I had left lying in the grass one day as a kid. I guess I must have dropped it to run off and play. Who knows? The only thing about that memory that I recall is that my younger brother John ended up falling on it.

The rake was lying flat, teeth side jutting up, like the jaws of a tiger. John was running around the yard, like we kids often did, and must have tripped. He hit the rake jaws with his forehead, I think. No scars. Barely a scratch, I recall, but he let out a wail, and I would bet that Joyce, his twin, came rushing to his side.

Even in the fuzziness of that memory, I am smiling. 

It was super humid on Saturday and I spent the day pulling weeds, dragging brush, and unintentionally unlocking memories I had not thought about in some time. That’s they way memories work. You can purposely call them forth and swim in them when you’re feeling sentimental or melancholy or are reliving a shared history with friends or family.

Or they can call you forth, inviting you to dance a while.

joe john chas kotos

This is the house I grew up in. This is the yard I played in with my five brothers and sister, in our childhood. And I love it — every bit of it, from the proud red paint color to the deep crack in the one sidewalk square that has my name etched in it.

It’s the yard where we flung a frisbee in the late afternoons of summers.

mare frisbee

The driveway we all grabbed a shovel to clear the snow in the winter, and where we played “Bank” — using the window on the side of the garage as a teller window that we would ride up to on our bikes to deposit or withdraw Monopoly money.

paul shoveling

I dragged brush from the pile where my brother Joe had taken down a tree a year ago that had been overhanging the yard. He hadn’t gotten around to finishing the cleanup, so the limbs and branches were piled like yard art.

You cannot pile up tree branches perfectly. Their natural arcs and outshoots are firm enough that you cannot make them fit together like puzzle pieces. They have to lie in their free form, twisted and fitting in where they can to form a mass of limber arms entangled but moveable.

I popped in and out of the house that day, taking water breaks and cooling off from the humidity. Each time, my folks sitting in their den would mention a tidbit from the news, or offer me something to eat or drink. On my third trip inside, I was about to pass out from overheating. Mom kept talking, failing to see that I had my head in my hands fighting off nausea.

She offered me ice cream. You’ve gotta love a cute little old mommy who is stuck at home way too much.

So my husband and I didn’t have a Fall getaway to beautiful Maine to look at a possible dream site for our retirement years. But I got a trip to my childhood, and precious time with my parents. And yeah, the yard is looking better already. Thank God for husbands who sometimes say no.

Copyright ©️2017 By Marianne V. Heffernan

‘Too’ is a 4-Letter Word


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I was a little ticked at my husband for not being willing to just go with it. I’d seen an ad for a land sale in Maine — one of my favorite states to spend time in — and wanted to just be spontaneous and go check it out. We’ve been exploring our options for retirement, and this jumped out at me as one of those random things you stumble upon that says, “Hey, maybe you need to see this.”

He considered it and did not flat-out reject the notion. But when I followed up to make it a weekend getaway, he balked. “Too far,” he said.

That did it. The word “too” is officially my #1 least favorite word. In fact, I may have to banish it from any discussions in the future with anyone at all. Think about it. “Too slow.” “Too fast.” “Too high.” “Too close.” “Too hard.” “Too complicated.” “Too expensive.” “Too cheap.” “Too long.” Etc.

Inserting that word just means you are rejecting something, making a judgment without considering the possibilities of a positive. Limiting yourself.

I just can’t do that.

Here’s how I see it. A few examples.

“Maine is too far.”

No, the long ride, especially right now, means taking in the beautiful foliage along the way; a chance to listen to music together on the radio; to have a leisurely coffee from the Dunkin Donuts we stop at as we get on the road; a chance to feel like we “got away” without having to go through the hassle of airports, extra baggage, whatever.

“The driver in front of me is too slow.”

No, it means maybe I am in too much of a rush. If I were driving faster, maybe I’d be setting myself up for a crash. Or maybe I am missing the roadside beauty,


or maybe I’m not thinking that this pokey driver is a young person still learning the rules of the road and gaining experience behind the wheel. Or maybe it’s an older driver — like my Dad, in his 80s — who is still driving because it is the last bit of independence he can still manage, albeit slowly; maybe he’s driving my Mom to a doctor’s appointment and is simply trying to get them both there safely. Whatever the scenario, the slowpoke in front of you is giving you an opportunity to ease off the gas pedal and be mindful. Try it.

“The zipline is too high.”

Hmm. Maybe it is. 🙂 Conquer your fear and do it anyway! Learn what you are capable of handling, as it will make you stronger and build your confidence.

Yes, the “too” word stuck in my craw (I so wanted to use this expression, so here’s the Urban Dictionary’s definition):

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A little resentment, sure. I was ticked. I wanted to do what I wanted to do, but it was a thing to do together, so his rejection of the Maine thing put the kibosh on it. For now.

And you know what? It was a good thing I didn’t flex my brat muscle and bitch about it. The “not going to Maine” on Saturday meant I had the day to do something else. Something I had been wanting to do for a while. Something that you can’t always plan. Something that leaves a memory on your heart.

Up Next: The Positive Side of a Negative

Copyright ©️2017 By Marianne V. Heffernan

My 9/11 (Part II): Godspeed, Cowboy


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NOTE: This post was originally published in 2011 and is republished on this newer Walking Distance platform to share Tommy Foley with new followers here. May Tommy Foley’s soul and all the souls of those we lost on Sept. 11, 2001 rest in peace. 

It took me about a day or so after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 for the reporter gene in me to kick in.

Realizing that I knew someone who may be able to give me an insider’s view of the biggest American tragedy since Pearl Harbor, I reached out to my bureau chief at People to offer my help in reporting. Whatever kind of coverage they were doing, they were sure to have a full contingent of reporters and freelancers pitching in, and I just had to be in on the biggest story that I would ever come across in my life.

I had no idea what I was volunteering to do.

I reminded my BC that Tommy Foley was a firefighter in the South Bronx and our readers were sure to remember him. She agreed. “Make some calls,” she said.

I dialed Tommy’s cell phone, expecting to get his voice mail because I knew he would be on site at Ground Zero with his brother firemen. I had every confidence that he would return my call, when he got a moment. That’s the way Tommy was. You could count on him to be responsive, dependable, and always, a gentleman.

To cover my bases, I called his home number too. He had moved into his own home several months before. We had chatted on the phone sometime after that, if my memory is correct, but to be honest, the details are fuzzy after all these years. I do know that our phone call that night was just a friendly call to say hello instead of a reporter-subject interview.

He was thinking about auditioning for Survivor. He was still loving his job, but open to new opportunities for really making the most of his life. We talked for about an hour. He sounded, as always, happy and positive.

When I didn’t hear back from Tommy within a day of leaving him those messages on September 11, I began to get nervous. By then, my BC was calling for an update. Unfortunately, it hadn’t occurred to me — still — that Tommy may have been one of those first responders who rushed in to the towers to help get people out. I hated the thought, but when my bureau chief said I had better call his family and find out what was going on, I knew I was in for an assignment I really did not want to do.

There was no backing out now. I had signed up for this.

There is nothing worse as a reporter than having to call the family of a victim — even if the “victim” has not yet been determined to be one. No sooner did I identify myself to Tommy’s sister, Joanne, the words tumbled out of her mouth and took my breath away.

“We don’t know anything yet,” she said.

I was stunned. Beyond stunned. It could not be true.

Joanne told me that Tommy was due to get off work that morning, finishing up his shift at 9 a.m. But firefighting was his calling, and when duty called, Tommy was there. Joanne promised to keep me posted, promised to let me know when there was news. I filed the briefest of stories that week, and People ran another great photo of Tommy with my information. I hated what it said.

Ten days later, I was leaving Shea Stadium with my brother James after a Mets game when my cell phone beeped a voice mail message. “They found him,” Joanne’s message said.

“They” were Danny Foley, Joanne and Tommy’s younger brother, and KC Gross, Joanne’s husband, who had continued to search the rubble at Ground Zero until they found Tommy. Danny Foley made that promise to his parents, Tom and Pat Foley, that he would bring Tommy home. Miraculously, he kept that promise.

It has been ten years since those horrors turned the Foley family’s world inside out. Last weekend, Joanne Foley Gross took that nightmare and converted it into pure inspiration. Her documentary, Tommy Foley: Legacy of a Young Hero, captured a happy, candid young man of tremendous potential, who had lived every day like it was his last.

To this day, any time I drove across the Tappan Zee Bridge, I think of Tommy Foley, because his hometown of West Nyack is literally the next highway sign that pops up on that route. On those rare occasions when I drive by the Palisades Center mall, I remember how anguished I was, sitting in my car in that parking lot after Tommy was confirmed among the dead at the World Trade Center on 9/11.

I sat there trying to find a way out of having to contact his close friends and family for “comment” for my People story. I have been in those shoes as the sister of a victim, and they are uncomfortable, horrible shoes. Instead, I told myself that my empathy would be, in some small way, a gift to them because I would approach them and those who loved Tommy with a compassion that would never be aggressive or pushy, but would respect their privacy and pain while getting my job as a reporter done.

The Foley family has handled their “victim’s family status” with grace, class, compassion, and generosity. They have steadfastly preserved Tommy’s memory and are sharing him with the world. It takes a lot to do that. It takes guts.

I just want to know: How did Pat and Tom Foley raise such an extraordinary young man?

His poise, particularly in the face of danger or the uncomfortable public spotlight. He was deliberately thoughtful with his words. He was also totally at ease. He was, he told me, that blend of country boy with an ability to be as comfortable in his boots and cowboy hat as he was at a black-tie affair in the city. He just plain liked people, and he admired his parent’s more than 35-year union, holding up that example as the model for himself. If he couldn’t have it that way, he wouldn’t do it, he said.

In the film last week, I couldn’t help smiling at Tommy’s reference to this when he talked about where he saw himself in five years time. The package included wife, kids, home, but also all the things he loved the most. “Bull riding, a firefighter … just to be happy. If I can find a girl like that one day … Giddyup.”

Then he smiled that smile.

Godspeed, Cowboy.

Copyright 2011 By Marianne V. Heffernan

Visit for more information on Tommy Foley and to order a copy of Legacy of a Young Hero. Proceeds from the film sales will benefit the Firefighter Thomas J. Foley Foundation.

You can also visit Walking Distance‘s Facebook page at for more photos from the film premiere.


Celebrating someone who got it right

NOTE: This post is being republished on the even of the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 Terrorist attacks.  


When you love someone that much, you don’t leave them behind.

That’s what I said last year, in a blog post about the FDNY’s Tommy Foley, who died on Sept. 11, 2001, rushing in to the horrific scene at what was the World Trade Center. I was making a point about the way we memorialize our loved ones, as a way of keeping them with us as we move on with our lives.

Later this week, Joanne Foley Gross, Tommy’s sister, will introduce her brother to the world in a remarkable documentary she created over the last several years. Tommy Foley — Legacy of a Young Hero, will premiere at a handful of New York locations beginning on Thursday, Sept. 8, with showings through Sunday, Sept. 11, the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

To say that Joanne’s work has been a “labor of love” sounds cliche, but it deserves far better than that. I don’t know what else you would call this film created by a woman who was, until that terrible day, not a filmmaker nor a writer, whose credentials for producing this artistic story are simply that she is the loving sister of a brave New York City firefighter, and she recognized that her brother’s life deserved to be shared.

Boy, can I relate to that.

I had hoped to interview Joanne before this week’s premieres, but since we have not been able to connect yet, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to share this story with you. Joanne recently was interviewed by a reporter for, so many of the questions I was kicking around were answered in that news article.

You can read the piece here:

I can tell you this: Joanne’s commitment to telling her brother’s story was unwavering and beyond admirable. She saw the potential and she made it happen. This week, she and the Foley family will celebrate Tommy’s life in an extraordinary way. With his story now on film, Tommy will live on for others who knew him and for those who never had the privilege.

I’ll be there this week to honor Tommy’s legacy, support his family, and share in what I know will be a transformational experience. Next week in Walking distance, I’ll share my experience with you. In the meantime, if you can’t be there in person, you can order the documentary by visiting Watch the trailer:

All proceeds will benefit the Thomas J. Foley Foundation.

If you need inspiration to live your life to the max, then meet Tommy Foley. He wrote the book on it. As a firefighter, Tommy Foley worked hard to make sure no one was left behind. This week, his sister is doing the same for him.

Copyright 2011 By Marianne V. Heffernan

My 9/11 Connection (Part 1): Cowboy Up


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Some of you may be wondering why I have been blogging about, posting photos of, and otherwise sharing details about Tommy Foley, a New York City firefighter who died on #9/11. Why have I been talking up a new documentary created by this young man’s sister, which was unveiled over the last several days?

Just how did a girl from Seymour, Conn., come to have a special affection for one of the FDNY’s Bravest, and what makes her think that everyone else needs to know about it?

You need to know about Tommy Foley because he happens to be one of the most genuine and remarkable human beings I have ever met. Let me give you “the back story” on my short-lived and unexpected friendship with this young man from West Nyack, N.Y. and you can decide for yourself.

Have a seat. This is going to take a minute.

It was sometime in 2000 when I was working a side gig as a stringer for People magazine. My bureau chief would call me to offer assignments that usually required me to track down nuggets of info in towns of various celebrities who were “hot” at the time. I’d be sent to places like New Canaan, Conn., back when David Letterman lived there, or to Chappaqua, N.Y. , to nose around about former President Bill Clinton.

Once, I got to cover a red carpet event for one of the Harry Potter films, and got sent to help cover the lavish reception of one of Liza Minnelli’s weddings — neither of which got me all that close to A-List movie stars (although I can give you the skinny on “Ralphie” from The Sopranos, as far as how friendly he was… NOT).

Occasionally, I would get an actual interview assignment for stories about newsmakers like an upstate New York family’s quintuplets, or former Brat Packer Andrew McCarthy (does anyone remember him?).

This time, I got a real gem: How would I like to interview a firefighter who was named #10 in the top 100 list of eligible bachelors? (Tommy was tenth, behind celebs like George Clooney and Derek Jeter.)

Um, yes please?

I was given a phone number and a few details on what was needed, and went to work.
I called Tommy and introduced myself, telling him I wanted to come out to his home and interview him, his family, and some of his friends.

On the telephone, Tommy was instantly friendly. (The other night, while watching the documentary about Tommy, I heard many of his friends speak of his warmth, and I was immediately transported to that first phone call.)

Tommy, then 31, was living with his parents at the time, thinking about buying a house but concentrating on his career with the fire department and balancing that with a landscaping business on the side, a passion for rodeo bull riding, and spending quality time with his family and friends. Many people would say, “Too good to be true,” but Tommy Foley was the real deal.

He invited me to his home, and when I arrived, insisted we go out and have a bite to eat while I interviewed him. He had a seafood place all picked out, and it was as if we had been friends for years. First we sat down at the kitchen table with his parents, Pat and Tom Foley.

What was planned to be an interview became more like a visit with good neighbors. No doubt, Tommy’s friendliness and warmth was an extension of his parents. I gained insight on the character of this young man who could likely have dated movie stars but had instead been a chivalrous teenager who escorted more than one dateless young woman to her prom, usually when asked by a friend to take their sister.

He laughed off the People anointment. The star treatment netted him a lot of ribbing from his brothers at the firehouse — that’s “fi-ya-house” in New York speech, a manner that made Tommy all the more endearing. When he said he was a New York City Fi-ya-min, it was like he had been practicing that phrase his whole life.

He probably had. Firefighting was in his blood. His father, brother, and even brother-in-law all were firefighters, and Tommy was a rising star in his field. He joined the department at 22, was assigned to Squad Co. 41, and after nine years got the chance to join Rescue 3 in the Bronx. Rappeling from a building to rescue a man in 1999 was the first rescue that garnered the media spotlight for Tommy. That spotlight only got hotter, landing him calendar photo shoots and bit acting roles on The Sopranos and Third Watch.

Firefighting was the dream job Tommy insisted he would never give up — not for an acting career or any other, despite the opportunities he was getting due to his uncommon good looks and charisma. “It’s the best job in the world,” he told me.

When People launched the inaugural “Top Bachelors” issue (July 10, 2000), it planned to celebrate it in grand style. Again, I got the call from my editor: “We want you to be Tom Foley’s escort to the People party… We’ll send a limo to pick you two up…”

Of course, I never shy away from the tough assignments.

I watched Tommy work that party that night, where larger-than-lifesize images of him and other bachelors in the issue were set up all through the venue. He was as comfortable in the big-city setting of a fancy party where the Cosmopolitans are flowing as he was in the saddle of a horse — and there, I suspect, was part of the secret of who Tommy Foley was.

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you why this New York Cowboy left an indelible impression on me.

Copyright 2011 By Marianne V. Heffernan

How Do You Pack for a Dream?


The dog is underfoot, stressed out because Joyce and I are running up and down the stairs frantically looking for last-minute things to pack. Bruce, our little brown Pomeranian mixed breed, isn’t allowed upstairs in our house where the bedrooms are, and he just knows that something is up that he is not included in. We try to ignore him, but Joyce, being the animal lover that she is, can’t help but stop mid-stairs, turn around and go back down the stairs to scooch down and give Bruce some attention.

joyce and bruce in the den

Meanwhile, I am running around looking for clean underwear.

It’s the night before our big cross-country trek, and we are 20-somethings who have barely been outside of the confines of the core New England states. We are planning to drive clear across the country from Connecticut to Colorado, stopping at every tourist trap along the way.


So, that didn’t happen. Well, maybe in the back of my mind somewhere, it did. 

The True Story (see prior post, She’s Not Here) is that my husband and I are taking a vacation we have delayed for the past 14 years. We are getting ready to soak in the breathtaking views of the West around the region of Yellowstone National Park.

It is the night before our trip, and as usual, the packing never ends. My strategy: Whatever I do, I must make sure that Mike does not get the carry-on bag with the flat tire. No, I am not being considerate. I am simply avoiding the inevitable crankiness that would stem from my husband dragging a bag on wheels that isn’t actually on wheels, completely.

No, this carry-on has a hole in one of the plastic wheels from the thousands of international (and domestic) flights I logged as a communications manager for the company that manufactures the world’s best helicopters. (Sikorsky).

Let me add that the “dragging” of the carry-on will be done through four airports (both ways), since there is no direct flight to Wyoming. You will have at least two connections if you’re flying out of Hartford or Westchester, and at least one out of a major New York airport.

If my husband should end up with the flat-tired bag, you can expect that the grumpiness of a caffeine-starved, sleep deprived, stiff and slow moving guy is going to get real old, real fast. 

You married women know what I am saying. (To be fair, the crankiness of a breakfast-deprived, overtired, too-chipper-for-the-early-hour gal is no cup of tea for the husband either.)


So we’re packing for Wyoming like the weather will be as it is at home in Connecticut: maybe a little chilly as in “early spring chilly,” and maybe even warm enough for shorts. Comfortable, casual attire, with the ability to layer. No problem.

I pack my new, red NY Giants nylon pullover. He packs his old, gray New England Patriots T-shirt. (And yet, we get along so well…)

ny vs ne.jpg

I pack my hiking boots and not a single other kind of footwear.


He packs his sneakers, hiking boots, and, is that another pair of sneakers?

We get the suitcases packed, set three separate alarms so we won’t fail to get up on time to make our flight, and go to bed. And then, it happens.

I am WIRED. As in, my brain will not settle down and go to sleep.

Why not, you ask? It isn’t that I am excited about this great trip we are about to take (even though of course, I am). It isn’t that I’m not tired. Heck, sure I am.

No. It is my affliction that keeps me up. Specifically, I have the Curse of the Writer. I cannot sleep because I have suddenly realized that I have not packed a critical item that I will need literally from the moment we pull out of our driveway.

A pen.

I’ll need to take notes of the funny things that happen, the things we eat, the people we meet, the highlights of our days. Yes, a pen is the one thing I cannot leave home without.

I start the silent meditation. “Pen…. Pen…. Pen….Pen… Pen…”

I am embedding the mental note with repetition as I drift off to sleep, hoping that my subconscious will grab onto it and then remind me when I wake up to grab my favorite pen and immediately put it into my bag.

Pen… Pen…” (snore, snore, snOOOOOOOre).

How blissful it must be, to be able to drop off to sleep, non-pen-dependent and worry free.

I resist the urge to issue a sharp elbow to my husband’s unsuspecting ribs, roll over, and resume my mental chant.

Pen….Pen… Pen… Did I pack anything to read on the flight? I’ve bought John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley to bring with me. Inspiration for my future writing. I need to check that I put it into my flat-tire carry-on.

I would have jotted it down on a note pad on my bedside table so I could see it as soon as I woke up but, well, I didn’t have a pen.

Pen… Pen…Pen…. Somewhere around 11:30 p.m., I must have fallen asleep.

The good news is, I remembered the pen. The bad news is, the journal I packed to write in was tucked away in a carry-on stuffed in my overhead bin. This, you can now be happy to learn, is the true reason airplanes provide barf bags. They doubly nicely as note paper until you can get a proper writing depository for the golden words yet to flow from your mind to your precious pen and onto the pure blank page.


The next day as we are driving to the airport in the pitch black of 3:45 am, I tell my husband about my sleep crisis and my absurd fretting over remembering to pack a pen so I could capture our adventures in the moment.

As if I wouldn’t be able to find a pen anywhere in our travels (like at a news stand at the airport, or a gift shop?).

He pauses. Ya gotta love a man who takes a moment to pause before passing judgment on your crisis du jour.

“Wow. It really sucks to be you,” he says, with complete compassion for my plight.

Yes. Yes it does.

So grateful that he gets it.

Next up: How Many Dogs Does That Woman Have Anyway?

Bonus content coming up with the next post:

How to find your place to stay. I’ll post some ideas on the Facebook page but if you’re going this year, you should have your lodging figured out by now. Otherwise, consider going off-peak – in the Fall before the park closes for the season.

Copyright 2017 Marianne Heffernan