The Why of This


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I swear to you I did not wake up one morning and say to myself, “You are going to begin making pierogi until you have fed the entire northern hemisphere.”

Yet, almost magically, the pierogi is changing my life.

It is energizing my days, as I get home from my day job and change into my pierogi-making uniform (usually a t-shirt and yoga pants) to begin to make the dough. I get two batches of dough going at a time, so it has had time to get ready for the rolling. It is a kind of zen thing. The dough and I are one, joined by the rolling pin, encouraged by the music I have on in the background.

But why on earth am I doing this?

the golden circle

I have a full-time job. I also am in the last gasp of finishing my doctoral dissertation, the thing that should be consuming my every waking moment outside of the employment that helps keep our household in good stead.

I have a family –- including a rambunctious pup in need of training –- and a house that needs the usual routine cleaning. I also do enjoy regular sleep. What is this pierogi gig that is driving me to organize my time even more, so I can get back to the dough and the fillings that become such a hot commodity for those who truly know what a good pierogi tastes like?

The “Why” is a great question. It needs to be tended.

Simon Sinek is an author and inspirational speaker who most people recognize by his intriguing concept of getting to the “Why” of what we do. He suggests the concept of the Golden Circle, that has an outer layer of “What.” The What is the easiest to identify, and for some of us, it is the automatic thing that constructs our days.

What do we do?

I am a writer. I write. It happens that my writing (the one I make my living from, currently) is twisted into editing, strategizing, creating and supporting the creation of “writing” that promotes the company I work for and its products.

But I keep it simple, I write.

Some people teach. Some care for others as nurses, doctors, therapists, whatever. Some build houses or sell cars or clean buildings. You get the idea. What do we do? That’s the first question to start scratching the surface.

Yet, that doesn’t help me with the ‘Why of Pierogi,’ so I looked at Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle again. The next layer asks me another question: How? How do I do what I do?

That’s a question for another time, but ponder that one if you wish. For me, “how” includes a keen awareness of the full experience including who is part of it, how do I feel in it, what are the difficulties and the payoffs. It’s not just the mechanics, though that is the point of the How circle.

The goal is to get to the Why. That innermost circle that is the most revealing, and some would say, the most important.

Why? Why do you do what you do? What is your purpose?

Maybe I am just easily persuaded. I hate to say that, because it makes me sound like a pushover. And I’m pretty sure there are at least a handful of people who would challenge that statement, knowing how stubborn I am by nature.

But when it comes to trying new things or testing my abilities, I don’t blink. I go.

The beauty of that is, I am usually surprised by the experience and all that it reveals about myself, what I don’t know, what else there is to embrace in this life.

So why? Why am I making pierogi like the world will go hungry without them?

starting 3

I think I need to keep going to figure it out.

Recently, I read an article that challenged Sinek’s theory that “the Why” is the most important thing. It suggested we should get to “the Who” first.

Who are we? Do you know who you are?

To use an Oprah phrase, it was an “aha moment” for me. I may have answered this question though, when I answered the “What do you do?” question. I write. Hence, I am a writer.

Maybe this Pierogi Adventure is giving me a two-fer, two W’s for the price of one. My Why and my Who are blended into a perfect combination of who I am and why I would offer to make potentially a thousand pierogi for anyone who raised their hand at the offer.

Okay, a thousand pierogi might be an inflated number. It will feel like a thousand by the time I finish but it is all worth it. The sincere appreciation and enthusiasm I am receiving is priceless, for making something that it meaningful to me and my family. It is connected to so many beautiful memories, that this experience now becomes a part of all that.

All I can say is “Wow.”

Next up: Don’t Call Them Customers

©2018 By Marianne V. Heffernan


The Shipping Challenge (or, How To Make Pierogi Fly)


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For small business owners, the issue of shipping your product has got to be one of the biggest stumbling blocks to success. You have no control over what items cost to ship, or how they are handled when they leave your care. You have no control over the temperature of the delivery vehicles (plane, truck), and no control over the weather where the items are headed. There can be lost shipments, truck breakdowns, delayed flights, misread addresses… a gamut of miscues that can land your precious product in Oz.

You really have no way of guaranteeing your carefully crafted, beautiful pierogi will arrive at its eager new owner’s home in one piece and as delicious as it was intended to be.

It’s enough to drive a control freak insane.

I don’t suggest that I have any real business acumen to speak of, or that this pierogi adventure I’m on is going to amount to anything more than a fun experiment in which my rolling-pin muscles become leaner and better defined, from my arms to my abs. I am literally making this up as I go. I have a great product, but had no idea that I would get order inquiries from at least five different states.

This is a bonafide dilemma.

In case you didn’t know, I don’t like to disappoint and I don’t back away from a challenge. I grab it by, well, whatever I can grab, and I squarely look it over until I have figured out how to solve it. So with this mindset, I set out to research my shipping options.

My trip to the UPS store in town could have been an episode of “Candid Camera.” Sorry that I didn’t get the name of the two comedians behind the counter. For purposes of furthering our story along, I’ll call them Larry and Moe.

Let me set the scene. It is Saturday morning during the Christmas season, and the main drag of my little hometown is crammed with cars – even moreso than usual. I assertively navigate Main Street like a Super Mario Brother and fly into the shopping plaza parking lot, where I abruptly pull into a spot right in front of the UPS store. I am a yogi on a

I hustle into the UPS store, where “Larry” sees me coming. He tries to back-peddle to the back of the store. But I am too quick.

“Hi there!” My friendly smile is a bit exaggerated, as I’m thinking this is a pierogi novice who may not understand the infinite value of the delivery problem I am bringing to him. I need to get this guy in my pierogi corner.

“What can I do ya for?” Larry says, not returning my smile but eying me like I’m wearing a fuzzy pink robe and hair curlers.

I look myself over. I am not.

“I need to fast-ship a specialty food item,” I say. “What’s my best option?”

Larry doesn’t miss a beat. “Well that depends. Where are you sending it to? How much does it weigh? How big is it?”

Listen pal, I’ll ask the questions here.

“Oh Larry, such details,” I say to myself. “Here, have a pierogi.”

Larry estimates it will cost me “one million dollars” to have him and Moe correctly package up my Pierogi Yogi™ orders to get them through the Dry Ice Shipping Police and to the far corners of the world in time for Christmas.

“Lighten up, Larry,” I mutter under my breath. If Santa Claus can get it done by Christmas morning, so can I.

I scribble a few notes in my handy notebook, as Moe tells Larry that I’d best be sure to drop off my packages late in the day so they won’t be sitting around the UPS shipping area like a wallflower on prom night.

I walked out of UPS Downer Land, undeterred. I have friends at the Post Office.

Next up: The Why of This

©2017 By Marianne V. Heffernan

A Jumbo-Sized Task


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This morning as I ride the bus to work I find myself Googling the question, “How do you eat an elephant?”

It’s been a little over a week since I put out my virtual “Pierogi-R-Us” sign on Facebook, and I am up to my elbows in flour a lot more often than I thought would have been possible. Somehow, magically, I’m finding the time to get this done, but I need to know that there is a finish line.


As I look over my spreadsheet of orders to get a handle on which ones are up for delivery this weekend, I am doing the math in my head for how many more hours I need, to get this all done before Christmas.

Since I don’t like to do math in my head,

I call my friend Google. As I mentioned the other day, Google and I are buds, and whenever I have a random question, I dial up “G” (my cute little nickname for him) and ask him. Or, I just start typing what I think I want to know, and magically, G picks up the rest and answers me before I have a chance to finish the question.

Now that’s a close relationship. Finishing each other’s sentences is something I only do with one other person these days (my husband), but G and I are allowed to be friendly. In fact, my husband encourages it, and even leans on my good friend G himself from time to time.

Anyhoo, my question. “How do you eat an elephant?” surprisingly brings up a fun variety of responses from Google. I’m pondering this question, in case you didn’t make the connection, because of the gi-normous amount of pierogi I am in the midst of making for over 30 of my closest Facebook pierogi fans.

As I noted in a previous post, I’ve been known, from time to time, to bite off more than I can chew. There, I said it.

I am wildly ambitious about embracing this life for all it has to offer.

I do not like to miss opportunities to try new things, to learn, to do things for others, to have fun, and yes, to accomplish things and be successful. That’s just my way.

So putting out the offer to craft the famously popular Polish pierogi as a side gig, to see what it would be like to put on the cap of “business owner” was really nothing outrageous for me. When I go in, I go all in. I know that when I decide to do something, I figure it out and I get it done.

So, the answer to the question, in case you didn’t get it, “How do you eat an elephant?”

One bite at a time.

Next up: The Shipping Challenge

©2017 By Marianne V. Heffernan

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.

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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.