Insights Blog

Yes, Christopher, There is a Santa Claus

“Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.” 

Frank P. Church, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”

 By Mary Grace Musuneggi

With the onset of the holiday season, I find it easy to recall the days of my childhood and the memories of my Christmases past. When I was young, on random Saturdays, my mother and I would ride the streetcar to downtown and get off under the Kaufmann’s clock. I still remember the department store Christmas windows as we walked along Smithfield Street. I remember the bells of the Salvation Army Santa. I remember the Christmas music that filled the air.

The wonderful Christmas memories and traditions of my past are probably the reason that the holiday season is still as exciting to me as it was when I was a child. I have never let go of the joy and delight that the season can bring. I have never forgotten the spirit of the holiday. And I have never stopped believing in Santa Claus.

Almost 30 years ago, when my son, Christopher, was 10 years old, a group of his friends had gathered in our family room to play video games. The boys were talking about the hottest new game on the street, and as I passed by, Christopher called out to me, “Mom, can you buy this new game for me for Christmas?” I responded with, “We will see. Maybe Santa Claus will bring it for you.” With that the other boys began to laugh as they chided him with “You mean you still believe in Santa Claus?” And in a voice barely above a whisper, hoping I would not hear, Christopher replied, “No, I don’t; but my Mom still does.”

And I do. I believe in the Santa Claus that helps us find the time that we never seem to have the rest of the year. The time to shop and decorate and bake. I believe in the Santa that helps us find the extra energy needed to write out the cards, to wrap the gifts, to attend the parties, to cook the dinner. I still believe in the Santa Claus who, in years where money was tight, somehow made it appear to help to pay for the gifts and the tree and the new outfits. And I believe in the Santa Claus that brings family and friends closer and makes us wish for Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All, no matter what the state of the world might be.

Although for some the holiday season may seem lackluster with the state of the economy, the endless negative news from the media, issues facing the country or because of personal or family concerns, more than ever, once again, I believe that Santa will appear and bring the blessings of faith and hope; the kindness of strangers and the love of family and friends; the miracle of sharing; the knowledge that all we have is all we need; and the realization that we still live in the greatest country in the world.

And when years have gone by these blessings will still exist, and hopefully our current struggles will be lost memories and Santa will continue to be part of Christmas.

We at The Musuneggi Financial Group and Single Steps Strategies wish this year that the miracle of Santa will be part of this holiday season for everyone we know.

Being Grateful

If you were asked to describe how you begin your day, are your mornings filled with rushing around, dragging kids out of bed, fumbling to find your shoes, dreading the bus ride to the city and complaining about going to a job you do not like?  For most women, the mornings are not filled with an hour of meditation, some time for reading, a quite breakfast with the family discussing their plans for the day.  Yet how we set up our day in the morning will most likely be responsible for how our day progresses.

Although we would love to start our days with peace and quiet and a cup of coffee while we sit by the fireplace, limited time robs us of the opportunity to do this. But what if there was a way to bring a positive spin into the early morning that would last through the day? 

While you brush your teeth, or feed the dog, or ride on the bus, or walk into the office – give thanks.

Give thanks for the house you live in, the family that surrounds you, the people on the bus who smile at you, the change in your purse, the clothes you wear, the job you have. Give thanks for your health, your dog, the food on the table.  Thanks for your relatives, friends and co-workers.

Now it may seem improbable to be grateful when the kids are sick, you missed the bus, the boss is angry, and you’re in a rut.  And it seems almost impossible to be thankful when there is no money in the bank, the mortgage is overdue and you were passed over for that promotion. Worries about family, work and money steal your days and take away the ability to enjoy life.  Living becomes existing.

But even at these most despairing moments, you need to reach beyond the “liabilities” to find those things to add to the “asset” side of your life’s ledger.

By starting the day in this spirit, you set up your day to be prosperous and satisfying. If you start the day feeling stressed and lacking, you will have a day of stress and lack.  But if you take an inventory in your mind of your life’s assets, you will realize just what a rich woman you really are. You will see that you have much to be grateful for and that you are probably taking for granted the abundance that already exists in your life.  The world around you will give you more if you appreciate what you already have. If you sow seeds of lack, you will reap lack. But if you sow seeds of abundance you will reap more of the same. 

Melody Beattie wrote in The Language of Letting it Go, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.”

Begin each day with gratitude; because if you do this every day for a month, you will simply not be the same person you are today.  By giving thanks each day for the abundance you already have in your life, you will set into motion an ancient spiritual law that says, the more you have and are grateful for, the more you will receive.

And in the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, I am thankful & grateful for being able to share these thoughts with you.


By Patricia Boswell, MA NCC  (Originally Published March 13, 2012)

Last night I watched, for the bazilunth time, the movie Under the Tuscan Sun. The movie was based on the 1996 memoir of writer Frances Mayes. Knowing a woman lived this courageous story made me love the movie even more. You see, when the movie came out in 2003, I was preparing to leave my marriage of 23 years. In 2004 we separated and I spent many Friday nights on my couch with a bottle of red wine, steamed shrimp, homemade hot sauce, a chocolate eclair and this movie. Watching the heroine’s perseverance to claim her life offered me hope for a life I didn’t yet have as I let go of a life I no longer wanted. I needed hope. I needed courage.

Courage is a tricky thing. Elusive. Often disguised. Seldom easy. I never feel courageous in the midst of an act of courage. Usually it is others that say, “You are so brave.” My courage mimics stupidity. It whispers, “What was I thinking? Am I crazy? You actually think you can do this…and survive?”

In 2004 I was working part time. I had been working part time since my son was born in 1986. This was a decision my husband and I made. I left my agency job as a supervisor and began a private psychotherapy practice. This allowed me the freedom to be home if one of the kids got sick, be a chaperone on school trips and still be a professional. It worked…mostly. Money was always tight.

So, in some ways my decision to leave my marriage did seem like “not such a bright idea.” If we could barely make it together financially, how would I do it alone? (Truth be told that question probably kept me in the marriage several extra years).  I still knew I HAD TO leave. Was it courage or stupidity? I didn’t know.

I did, however, know what I wanted . . .

I wanted a relationship with a man that was “my match.” (I wrote this request, in permanent marker, on my pillow and slept on it for 3 years) . . .

I wanted to live in Pittsburgh (I know this sounds odd, the sun rarely shines, the pot holes consume small cars, and people put chairs out on the street to save their parking place, but it is a friendly, vibrant, small city that I felt at home in).

I wanted a full-time psychotherapy practice.

I wanted to travel … often.

In the movie there is a story about train tracks being built between Austria and Italy in a section of the Alps called the Semmering. It is apparently an impossibly steep section of the mountains. The people of the area built these tracks before there was a train in existence that could make the trip. They built it because they knew someday the train would come.

So, is it courage or stupidity to risk it all for something that does not yet exist? Does one jump in, not sure you can swim, and struggle toward the thing you hope for? Or, does one ignore the inner urge to jump and sit back down?

I think it is courage and stupidity that moves us. While I was in the transition of ending a marriage, floundering, I felt stupid. That voice, those questions had some good points, “You actually think you can do this…and survive?” I jumped in anyway, willing to drown trying. I preferred that over dying in the marriage.

I didn’t drown. I inhaled a lot of water, called for help often and had to be resuscitated a few times, but I made it to the other shore. Here I am…living in Pittsburgh; remarried, last summer, to “my match”; traveling someplace wonderful every year; a successful, full time private practice and both of my kids-who I thought would hate me and never leave the area they grew up in-live in Pittsburgh.

Looking back, living the life I hoped for, I say, “I was courageous.”

Hind sight supports courage.

So does tolerating feeling stupid.

Contact the Author:

Patricia Boswell, MA, NCC

Licensed Professional Counselor

Collaborative Divorce Coach

Facebook:  Patricia Boswell

Facebook group: “My Second Marriage Was To Myself”

Phone number (412) 441-1177

Dress for The Job That You Want…

By Mary Grace Musuneggi
Founder & Executive Director, Single Steps Strategies


As the world becomes more casual, dressing down has become more the code in the work world. The “uniform” of the office is now more likely to be slacks and t-shirts than skirts, jackets and high heels.

But the old adage of “you are what you wear” may still have some value in today’s causal world.

“You are what you wear” asks us to think about what we project to the world, what we think about who we are, and what we want from our professional lives.

When I was young and things were not quite going my way, when I was upset by circumstances or dealing with a difficult life issue, my mother would remind me that all things were possible if I just “got up, got dressed up, and got going.” The actions of moving and doing were a means of working through a problem and heading for a new life experience. But the central part of this theme was that I “got dressed up.” Not just dressed. Dressed up. Getting dressed up ensured I was putting my best foot forward and feeling good about who I was.

Just like the UPS driver and the McDonald’s employee, I have a “uniform” when I get up every day and go off to my work life. I believe that what I wear sets the tone for what I expect from myself, what I expect from my business, and what I expect from my day.

One of my mentors in my early career said more people would become who they wanted to be if they just “dressed for the job they want, and not the job they have.” Work at and look like who you want to be. Shakespeare wrote, “all the world is a stage and each must play a part.” What is the costume you should be wearing for the part you are playing?

In her book Simple Abundance, Sarah Ban Breathnach tells us “most of us do not think we are carrying on a conversation with the outside world when we get dressed in the morning, but we are.”  She also reminds us that Alison Laurie, author of The Language of Clothes, says, “long before I am near enough to talk to you…you convey your sex, age, class to me through what you are wearing. To choose clothes, either in a store or at home, is to define and describe ourselves.”

As we enter a new season, now is the perfect time to re-evaluate our wardrobe—the “uniform” we wear when we go out into the world. What are you saying to the world? What do you really what the world to hear?

The Purple Boot

By Carole Kunkle-Miller, Ph.D

I love skiing. For five years, I owned a purple ski boots that were very stylish. They matched my purple skis, my ski jacket, and my hat. I looked great–the only problem was the boot never fit quite right. It pinched in one part, so I tried everything to make it fit. I adjusted the buckles, had extra padding put in, and bought a heated liner to change the inside shape of the boot; the ski shop stretched the outside of the boot; I tried thin socks, thick socks.

Regardless of how hard I tried, my feet would be in extreme pain at the end of every run. Finally, I gave in and bought a new pair of boots. And guess what? I had no pain, no pinching, and I could ski better. But what amazed me was why I had put up with those purple boots that were not right for me. As I looked at it, I had paid good money for the boots and they matched everything. They were supposed to be a good brand and I went through a lot of work to attempt to make them fit.

How often do we experience this same dynamic in our relationships? We put up with a friend or a lover who clearly hurts us and is not right for us. Why? Because we have invested so much; because we are sure we can make it work.

Most people say, “ I think I can make him/her change.” That is the biggest error any of us can make–thinking we can create or force change in others. We really only have control over our own thoughts and behaviors. If we are clear about what we want and continually clarify and refine what makes our hearts sing, we will experience a good fit between what we want and what we eventually have. We can make relationships work well for us if we don’t “put up” with relationships that will never be a good fit, no matter how hard we try.  Once we learn to love ourselves, making the choices that serve us best is so much easier.   


Dr. Carole Kunkle-Miller is a psychologist, health coach and collaborative divorce coach with over 35 years of experience in the human effectiveness field. She directs Carole Kunkle-Miller, PhD and Associates, a group of psychologists and social workers with many years of experience and education. Connect with Carole at her website,

Mary Grace Musuneggi Featured Speaker at Power of South Hills Women Event

On August 16, Mary Grace will be speaking to Power of South Hills (POSH) Women and signing copies of her new book, A Man is Not a Plan.

POSH Women is committed to fostering connections with local business women in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. Their goal is simple: to provide a networking opportunity for women without a high cost or commitment requirement.

The luncheon begins at 11:30 AM at Houlihan’s in the Galleria. There is no cost to attend, but registration is required. To register, visit

Finding Peace Within–and Without–Nature

By Lisa Purk
Guest Contributor

At home, I have a serene backyard space that is quiet and private and includes a small pond with a waterfall. When I listen as the water splashes over the rocks, I experience a great sense of peace. It is my habit to retreat there in the early morning. Peace also finds me when I bike along a river trail, hike in the woods or walk the beach at sunrise.

Given the opportunity, I will always enthusiastically invest my time in these activities. Peace arrives in my heart naturally and unencumbered in these places.

As the sound of flowing water, the feel of a gentle breeze or the crunching of leaves and rocks beneath my feet enters my mind space, the stresses and worries of everyday life fall away. Nature becomes my tour guide, leading me on the path to my soul and to the deepest recesses of my heart. Peace is always one of her destinations.

But as enjoyable and rejuvenating as these escapes are, they are relatively brief in their duration. Relative, that is, to time spent in daily life activities.

I, like you, have a home and a family I love and desire to care for in meaningful ways. My business, as with your chosen career, takes time and attention to grow. My daily realities are like yours: laundry, meals, errands, bills, cleaning, landscaping…the list goes on.

No matter how well we attempt to plan and order our lives, we each also face larger stresses and worries. There are more tasks than time to complete them. Decisions are pending but clarity is lacking. Unexpected bills, relationship conflicts and health concerns all weave their way into our lives when we’re not looking. 

As much as we can all thrive from our rejuvenating escapes, we also benefit from bringing peace into our hearts in the midst of our everyday lives.  Nature is certainly a great tour guide. But she can’t always be there when stresses and worries invade our space.

Experiencing a flow of peace into your daily life requires you first be open to it. You must believe in the possibility. For many people, this belief must start with a mind shift. 

As you begin each day, affirm to yourself, “My heart and mind are open and receptive to peace.” As you do, think of an experience that easily brings you a sense of calm. In this way, you will be associating the feeling of peace with your words. The power of your affirmation is amped to new levels when you connect a feeling to your thought. This simple practice, done consistently, will bring you into a space that is receptive to peace. 

To continue to experience peace in the midst of your busy days, nothing will go further than mastering your thoughts and word choices. Here are a few of my favorites to help you get started:

  • Thank you: It’s not only a polite phrase. “Thank you” can go the distance for settling your spirit. Whether uttering the words for something specific or offering them as a general expression of gratitude for the good in your life, use them often. When you find yourself in a place of stress and worry, use them as a way of embracing peace, “Thank you; I welcome peace even as I wait for resolution to my concern.”

  • All is well: This isn’t just a phrase of Pollyanna avoidance. It is a way of finding strength in the thoughts “I’ve done everything I can at this time” and “I have trust for the future.” Some of the things that cause feelings of stress take time to resolve, and this phrase will keep you grounded as you go through the process.

  • I’m happy for her/him/them: Consider how often your stress is related to someone else having something you want for your own life. Maybe you sense a note of jealousy or envy, or you pretend it doesn’t matter to you. But inside the pit of your gut is a knot that cries, “I wish I had that!” and “Why can’t that be me?” accompanied by a worry that wonders, “Will it ever happen?” You will go far toward achieving your sense of peace AND opening yourself to receive what you desire when you make a shift to feeling joy for others. 

As much as I love nature, she’s not always with me. But my mind, my thoughts, my words—these are always my travelling companions. They’re yours, too. Be certain the ones you’re taking along on your journey get you to the destination you desire…including your place of peace.


Lisa Purk, owner of Inner Fire, is a Life Coach who works primarily with women. With a strong background in Speech-Pathology and Business, Lisa applies her knowledge and experience from both disciplines to her passion as a coach. She is a sought-after speaker for organizations and businesses.

The Power of Parents Who “Just Say No”

By Mary Grace Musuneggi

Having been a single mom from the time Christopher was 9 months old, I know what it means to be both mom and dad sometimes. Many times. With Father’s Day in June, I happened to wander into a blog about single dads who are struggling to be both dad and mom. I needed to learn how to throw a baseball; they need to learn how to braid hair. I needed to learn how to build a swing set; they need to learn how to iron a princess dress. No one to share the tasks? Got to be it all?

When Christopher was in middle school and began to play football, I needed to learn the game. You would have thought with being raised in Steeler Country, I would know all about football. But that was not the case. I also thought it was really important to attend all of his games. And so no matter what was going on, whether the game was home or away, I made an effort to get there.

One game day, I was in a business meeting that was going on and on. I kept looking at my watch, knowing I would be late. Although I kept jeans and a sweatshirt and tennis shoes in my car, once the meeting was over there was no time to change. I ran from the meeting, jumped in my car, and headed to the field. Business suit, high heels and all, I ran from the car, through the grass (heels sinking into dirt), and climbed the risers congratulating myself for making it there before the first quarter ended.

Once the game was over and the team came walking off the field, I walked towards Christopher to praise him on some good plays. Before I could even say “hi,” he looked at me and said in a quiet and somber voice, “Can’t you dress like the other moms? Can’t you be like the other moms?”

Oh, how I realized at that moment how important it is for kids to be the same, to not stand out, to not be “different.” And having a mom run through the field in high heels and a business suit was just way too different, way too weird.

But my answer to his question was “NO.”

Being a parent is such a joy, but it is also an awesome responsibility. I learned that day—and Christopher learned that day—that sometimes the answer is “no.” And I think whether we are a single mom, single dad, a mom and dad couple, a two-mom or two-dad couple, grandparents raising grandchildren, foster parents, adoptive parents or any combination of a family, one of the best things we can do for our kids is “just say no.” No, I couldn’t be like the other moms. My situation was not like a lot of the other moms. No, I couldn’t dress like them when I had no time to change.

Life is filled with “no’s,” and that is just fine. Think how that makes us appreciate the times we get a “yes.”

No, you can’t sleep until noon.

No, you can’t drink underage.

No, you can’t skip doing your homework.

No, you can’t go to a college we cannot afford.

No, you can’t call in sick to your job when there is nothing wrong with you.

No, you can’t do [insert here], just because your friends can do it.

No, No, No.

Being a parent is an awesome and joyful responsibility, and the no’s are how we help our children to learn responsibility themselves.

To all dads who are also moms and all moms who are also dads: You are not, and can’t be, like any other dad or mom. You are you, and that is exactly enough.

The Secret of Motherhood & More? Just Be!

by Mary Grace Musuneggi

Although my mother passed away over 17 years ago, I still think about her every day. And with Mother’s Day approaching I think about all the special things she used to do. She was Irish and a great story teller. She found a lesson to be learned in everything I would do.

I had not yet turned five when I started Kindergarten at Boggs Avenue Elementary School in Mt. Washington. Kindergarten in those days was more about socialization and constructive play than educational courses. So every day we sang and played and did art projects. I really liked to play; I liked to sing; but my talents waned when it came to art projects. 

One day the teacher gave us a mound of clay and asked us to mold it into an animal. I tried and tried and nothing seemed to happen. My clay continued to look like a lump to me. Then suddenly the teacher came over, picked it up, turned to the class and said, “Look! Isn’t this wonderful. Mary Grace made a cow.” Really? A cow? It didn’t look much like a cow to me. A cow was certainly not my plan. But young as I was I knew not to contradict my elders, especially when they were saying good things…and when those good things were about me. So I painted it and let it dry, and in a few days I took it home.

I gave it to my mother, and I related the story of how the cow came to be. With a smile on her face she said to me, “That’s life. Sometimes successes come by accident. The important thing is to just be; show up and keep trying. And you will find that sometimes you are in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing.” My mother was so wise.

I look at my life sometimes and realize that a lot of it, a lot of the success, came from me just showing up, just being, just trying. And I ended up in the right place at the right time.    

So I wish you a Happy Mother’s Day. A day to celebrate all the times we have just shown up; delighting in being in the right place at the right time. Delighting in being the women that we are. To celebrate and be grateful for our moms who taught us to do just that.

Mary Grace Musuneggi to Speak at Chatham University Center for Women’s Entreprenuership

At Single Steps Strategies, our guiding principle is “empowering women through education.” We especially love to share opportunities for women to empower each other through education. This kind of empowerment is what the Chatham University Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship is all about, and Single Steps Strategies’ Founder and Executive Director Mary Grace Musuneggi is honored to be speaking at their May 12 Women Business Leaders Breakfast.

Mary Grace’s presentation will share strategies and stories from her new book, A Man is Not a Plan: Life Strategies for Independent WomenDid you know some studies say 90% of all women will spend part of their adult life as a single? With that in mind, it is amazing to think any women would leave her financial future in someone else’s hands. An expert on financial independence, Mary Grace wants every women to know “a man is not a plan.”  But this presentation is about more than money. It is about finding the courage to be CEO of your own life, whether a man is in it or not. Mary Grace wants to empower every woman to examine her dreams and goals and get on the path of achieving them one step at a time.

The Women Business Leaders Breakfast Series features prominent regional women business leaders speaking on a variety of progressive business topics. Casual networking and a continental breakfast precede engaging and interactive presentations on topics essential for women in business such as innovative entrepreneurship, strategic business growth, unique marketing strategies, and logistical business planning.


Breakfast and networking begin at 7:30 AM, and the event begins at 8:00. Tickets cost $25 (student and veteran discounts available) and are available through the CWE’s website