Insights Blog

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

Feather Your Nest

By Mary Grace Musuneggi

When I moved into my house, I hung a wreath above the fireplace in my outdoor space. The wreath was made of vines and ribbons and baby’s breath. Within a month, I saw the robins in the area were picking away at it, taking pieces of the vine and ribbon and flying off to add to nests they were building elsewhere. On one particular evening, I noticed an industrious robin had chosen to use the wreath as the very foundation of his nest. He began by packing mud between the fireplace wall and the wreath. To discourage this building project, I removed the wreath, removed his structure and re-hung the wreath. I came home the next day to see that this determined robin had rebuilt the nest. After taking it down one more time, I came home the next evening to find he had built it again…and his female partner had moved in. I was amazed. Such determination should be rewarded, and so I left them alone. Within a few weeks eggs appeared, and within a couple of months baby birds were born, fed and taught to fly. Finally the entire family left the nest.

Even though I removed the old nest when the family moved out, for the next five springs, new robin families arrived, built their nest, raised their children and moved on. Somehow all felt very secure in my space; all were willing to share the space with me and my family. When we came out to sit, or watch TV, or grill, or just take in the evening air, the robin families did not fly away; instead, they watched our activities just like we watched theirs. They filled the mornings with their chirping and singing. On occasion, after the babies were born, the mothers sometimes squawked if we got too close, just to remind us that we were sharing their space, too, after all.

Then one year something new happened. After the robin family moved away, I forgot to take down the nest. I had been traveling a lot and upon returning from an extended trip, I was surprised to see a male and female dove had taken up residence in the old robin’s nest. Not only had they made it their home, but they had added more mud and twigs and leaves. It was big enough for the two of them to sit side by side. Upon further investigation, I discovered they were sitting on two eggs. For weeks they took over my deck, flew in and out, perched on the furniture and even sat on an outside ceiling fan as it went round and round. They were having a great time and really making themselves at home. When the babies hatched, the parents littered the area with seed pits and other food sources that they shared with their family. Unlike the robins, they were very unwilling to share the space. They squawked anytime I came out the door and frantically flew from side to side in the space when someone approached.

By the time they moved out the wreath that had been the foundation of all the nests and the source of building materials for so many robins had totally deteriorated. And so I took it down with nest attached and threw it away. It was the end of an era.

But in the process of clearing out the wreath and cleaning up the space I found myself meditating on what life lessons I had learned from this odyssey.

All of these birds do what comes naturally. They follow their instincts.

They are determined to accomplish their goal. They let nothing stand in the way of their progress.

They use natural elements to create a home and raise a family. And the doves recycled an existing structure, adapting it to their needs.

The priority for these birds is their family, and the parents work together to create a healthy, safe, and nurturing environment. They protect their nest from outside influences. They raise their children to ultimately become independent creatures, teaching them to fly, to search for food and to leave the nest. They teach them to become productive members of their society.

Their life is uncomplicated. It includes work and family, plus creativity and fun—the perfect example of simplicity, joy and abundance all rolled into one of God’s small creatures.

I am glad they shared their lives with me. I am glad I had the chance to share my space with them. And I am glad they reminded me of some basic rules for living well.

As we enter the Spring of this year, I am anxious to see who comes to live on my deck. A new wreath has been hung and robins are already flying by scoping it out.

And as you begin the Spring of your year take a lesson from my “friends.” Learn to live without stress; create and accomplish your goals; enjoy life’s simple pleasures. Build your personal “nest” with joy and abundance.

I Love My Dog…And Other Living Things

By Mary Grace Musuneggi

With Valentine’s Day approaching, we, of course, think of love. And no matter what is happening in our world, we love those little creatures that add unconditional love to our lives. We love our pets.

I love my dog. I know this, because I am one of those millions of Americans who have made going to the pet store a momentous event. I take my dog along…of course. I buy gourmet doggy biscuits and the best in collars and accessories. My beagle, Watson, has ceramic feeding dishes and a wagon filled with toys. He has a sweater for when it is chilly, and a coat for when it snows.

And although I am a little over the edge when it comes to Watson, I know that as much as I love him, I love others more…my family, my significant other, my friends. However, I have had “paws” to wonder if there are some people whose sole loving relationship exists between them and their pets.

On a recent trip to PETCO, Watson and I were followed into the store by a very large man in his late 50’s.  He was carrying a small terrier. In a quiet voice he whispered; “Daddy loves his little baby. And because you are a good puppy, we are going into the store to buy you dog food and a toy. Would you like a new ball? Yes, you would. And when we get home, we will play and play.”

As hysterically funny as I thought this was, I dared not to laugh, as how many times have I been guilty of having that same kind of conversation with Watson?  Still, I couldn’t help but wonder if this same man had little talks like that with his kids, his wife, or other humans in his life.

Then, because life has a way of teaching us through mere contrast of events, the next day I found myself walking into Giant Eagle, followed again by a rather large, but younger man. This one had a very fidgety, pouty-looking 5 year old boy in tow. And the dad’s conversation went something like this, “I am telling you right now, don’t ask for a thing. I just have to pick up a couple things; and then we are out of here. Your mother always does this to me. When I am tired and on my way home she thinks of something for me to do that she could have done herself. All I want to do is get in and out of here. Do you understand me?” Of course it was not necessary for the little boy to answer him. It was obvious that he understood very well.

So I wondered if this man had a dog. And what kind of conversations he had with his dog when he went to PETCO. And did he talk like this to his wife or other humans he knows. And I wondered…if he had talked to his son the way the man at PETCO talked to his dog, how differently the little boy may have reacted. “Come on, son, we need to get a few things in the store. And because you are such a good boy, how about while we are here, we find something you would like, too. And, although I am tired from working today, I missed you; and when we get home maybe we can play ball for a little while after dinner. I love you, son, and I am glad we can spend this little bit of time together.”

So why do we go to extremes for our dogs? Maybe it is because they love us unconditionally. Maybe because when we walk in the door, they jump up and down, wag their tails and treat us as though life was not worth living while we were away (even if that was 5 minutes or 5 hours).

They don’t care less for us if we are tired or having a bad hair day. They are ready to play when we want to play, and they will come to our defense against anything they perceive to be a threat. They instinctively know when we are sad, and they respond to the mere sound of our voice. Who else in our lives does all of this, all the time?

Maybe that’s because we don’t tell the humans in our lives all those little things we tell our pets. Should we say more often, “Daddy loves you and we are going to play and play”? Should we run to the door when our spouse walks in after 5 minutes or 5 hours? Should we defend our friends against anything we perceive to be a threat in their lives? And should we approach each person we meet with the love and affection we show our dogs?

I love my dog…and I have told him that and showed him that today. I must remember today to do the same for all the other living things in my life. And maybe in return they will do the same for me.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Up! Up! And Away!

arizona 1By Mary Grace Musuneggi

A few years ago on vacation with my family at the Arizona Biltmore, I had the opportunity to enjoy a private plane ride to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, go hot-air ballooning over the desert, and cheer on my daughter-in-law as she hiked up Camelback Mountain. Each one of these experiences gave me a totally different perspective on the area. I was still in Arizona, but I saw snow-capped mountains, gleaming canyon rocks, desert sand and cactus, and colorful spring-like foliage. Some up close, some from far away, some while floating in the sky…and each view was a picture of awesomeness.

On my flight back home, I couldn’t help but think that the next day I would return to my normal routine. Not a lot of difference each day. Awake. Go to Work. Go Home. Sleep. Awake. Go to Work. Go Home. Sleep. A little more like walking on a treadmill than soaring above the clouds. Even though I love my work and I love my home, the perspective each day is much the same. I also hear this theme echoing from many of my friends, family members, clients, and associates.

Now this is not to say routine can’t be good. For some of us, routine is the system for a well-organized and rewarding way of life. But what if each day we added a few moments of seeing life from a different perspective? What if we went to work a different route; started the day with an inspirational reading; went to the gym before work instead of after? Or dared to be even more adventurous…set time to go zip- lining, segwaying, snowboarding?

I read a story recently about a couple who decided to take a “honeymoon” every month for a year. Some were costly, but some were not. If you have never really explored Pittsburgh, there are so many things to do that cost nothing. View the city from the top of Mt. Washington. Walk along the river. Ride your bike on one of the city trails. Take your dog to a dog park. Sit by the Point State Park fountain. Walk around PNC Park on the North Side.

Change your perspective! Seize the day! Make 2017 all that you want it to be!

Yes, Christopher, There is a Santa Claus

santa-cookie“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 2013 gathered in our family roomchris 10 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 bringing 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 Single Steps Strategies wish this year that the miracle of Santa will be part of this holiday season for everyone we know.

Can you remember…

tft-2016When you were a child, what was your favorite toy? Maybe it was a stuffed animal, a game, or a bike. Maybe it was as simple as a baseball glove or as complicated as a model plane you built from a kit.

Whatever it was, it was special…and you remember it to this day.

Every child deserves that experience. This is why we are so proud to be part of The United States Marine Corps Toys for Tots drive. Can you believe we’re celebrating a decade of service with Toys for Tots? In that time, we’ve developed a fantastic partnership with South Fayette High School and collected nearly 17,000 toys.

To commemorate our 10th anniversary with Toys for Tots, we’ve set a lofty goal: 20,000 total toys donated. That 20,000 toys translates to countless children and families waking up to a very special Christmas morning.

Our lobby is already starting to fill with toys and bikes, and we will continue collecting until December 8th. Toys can be dropped off any time during office hours, and we hope you’ll also join us for our annual Toys for Tots Holiday Donation party on Thursday, December 8th from 4:00 PM – 7:00 PM.

South Fayette Student Government members will be here that evening to “stuff a bus” with all of the toys and deliver them to the Toys for Tots donation center.

From all of us at Single Steps Strategies, and on behalf of all the children who will receive these toys, thank you!

Holiday Bother or Bliss? You Decide.

MGM smaller fileBy Mary Grace Musuneggi

A few days ago a client of mine wished me “Happy Holidays” as she left the office. “Oh, no,” I shuddered. “It can’t be that time of year again!”

Although I love the holidays, I know the stress they can sometimes bring. So much to do. So many deadlines. The decorating, the shopping, the cooking. The company, the parties, the family gatherings. Some of us approach these with excitement…and some of us with dread.

I don’t so much mind most of this, and in fact I delight in the sounds and sights of the seasons; but point me in the direction of the mall or Wal-mart and I break out in a cold sweat. For me, that is stress at the highest level.

No matter what part of the holidays stresses you out, there are truly only two ways to approach the coming days, just as there are only two ways to approach most things in life: You can be a Winnie the Pooh, or you can be an Eeyore.

Winnie the Pooh is one of my heroes. Pooh knows what will make him happy, and he pursues it with passion. When the honey pot awaits, he is not diverted by anything that gets in his way—not bees, not blustery days, not getting stuck in a tree. He is persistent, single-minded, and never has a harsh word to say. Every day for him is delightful. All of his adventures are fun.

On the other hand, Eeyore spends his days worrying, complaining, doubting, and insisting that nothing good will ever happen. He goes through each day planning for everything to go wrong.

At the end of the day, Pooh is reveling in a pot of honey, while Eeyore has had the kind of day he had expected, too.

As we approach the holidays, as we approach life, who will you be: Pooh or Eeyore? The results of your choice will be a wonderful holiday season…a wonderful life…

…or not.

Self-Defense 101

What would you do…

… if someone physically got their hands on you?
Grabbing your hands or arms. Maybe your shoulders or neck.
Squeezing…being manhandled…forced into a position that you don’t want to be in.

Would you let fear take over and paralyze you?
Or, would you FIGHT BACK and survive the encounter?

Not knowing what to do in this violation of physical space can lead to fear, paralysis and great suffering.
DO NOT let this happen to you (or a loved one)!
Instead, learn how to fight back and defend yourself against a close range enemy or threat.


On Tuesday, October 11th from 6:00PM – 7:30PM, Pittsburgh Combat Club is hosting a private group lecture and demonstration for Single Step Strategies.

In this dynamic workshop we will cover:

  • The nature of self-defense
  • The paradox of learning self-defense
  • Anti-social vs. A-social Aggressors
  • Understanding PA force law and it’s ramifications
  • What your attacker wants and does not want
  • Basic safety tips
  • General awareness strategies
  • Demonstrations of simple strategies and techniques
  • 50% off discount for upcoming seminars/workshops
  • 6 FREE classes at the studio
  • And much more!


Workshop – Self-Defense 101
When: October 11, 2016
Time:  6:00 PM – 7:30 PM
Location: Greentree SportsPlex – PCC Studio
600 Iron City Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15205


All registrants, please be sure to complete this waiver prior to the workshop. (You are not required to participate in the demonstrations, but there will be opportunities to do so if you wish. Please complete the waiver either way.)