Reading My Way Through 2018


This year I read 20 books out of my Goodreads goal of 35. Sigh. I wish news articles and RCIA class reading counted toward my goal! Nevertheless, I read more books in 2018 than in 2017, so I can be proud of that. Note to self: Must read more books this year.

Here are the 20 books I read in 2018, in the chronological order that I read them:

“Scrappy Little Nobody” by Anna Kendrick
This book was a great way to kick off my 2018 reading. It was a lighthearted view of Kendrick’s life and career, and also an informative insight into the not-so-glamorous behind the scenes lives of actors beginning to achieve fame.
“Wonder” by R.J. Palacio 
This book touched my heart in so many ways. I think this should be recommended reading for all kids in upper elementary school.
“Sisters First: Stories from our Wild and Wonderful Life” by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush
I bought this signed book at an event with the authors in Kansas City in November 2017. I enjoyed every minute of reading this book. The Bush twins have forged their own paths and are refreshingly authentic.
“The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter than You Think” by Brian Hare
This book was a little too academic for me. It had interesting content but read like a textbook. I was looking for more fun stories of dogs in day to day encounters. I did take away some interesting tidbits, such as why dogs always wrap themselves around things when they are on leashes or tie outs.
“What Happened” by Hillary Rodham Clinton
I encourage people of all political persuasions to read this book. Reading all sides of a story is important. I still think “Living History” is Hillary’s best book. “What Happened” is a close second.
“The New One Minute Manager” by Kenneth H. Blanchard
While this book provided a great management philosophy, it was a bit too brief and did not have enough meat for me.

“Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng

Celeste Ng has become one of my favorite authors. She weaves a wonderful plot with complex characters. I love books that make me question how I feel about the “good guys” and “bad guys.”

“Barbara Bush: A Memoir” by Barbara Bush
I had purchased this paperback years ago at a garage sale and finally picked it up after Mrs. Bush’s passing. It is a long one – 562 pages – but totally worth it.

“Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine” by Gail Honeyman

I think I giggled the most of any of the other books while reading this one. The quirky Eleanor is easy to mock until you peel back a few layers and begin to understand what makes her tick.

“Leaving Time” by Jodi Picoult
This book had a slow-ish start, but after the first 100 pages, I was hooked. The plot twists were awesome.
“Lilac Girls” by Martha Hall Kelly (Not pictured as I gave it to my sister to read!)
This was my second longest book read and worth it. I loved the author’s approach of showing us World War II and its aftermath through the lives of three women with very different lives. This book is unique in the war ending long before the book ends. So many people struggled for many years after the war, and I appreciate the author’s attention to this.
“A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman 
I loved this book so much and knew who had to read it next: my brother Mitch. So this book is not pictured, because it is currently aboard the USS John C. Stennis! Mitch rated the book ten out of ten stars and has passed it along to another shipmate to read.
“Where’d You Go, Bernadette” by Maria Semple
Such a fun book! I am looking forward to watching the movie when it comes out.
“My Story” by Elizabeth Smart
I attended an author event with Elizabeth Smart at Iowa State University. After hearing her tell her story, meeting her, and having her sign the book, I was both excited and nervous to read this. I found this to be an empowering read.
“I’ve Been Thinking” by Maria Shriver
This book reads more like a devotional than a novel. I read a section each day and really enjoyed the topics covered.
“You’re More Powerful Than You Think” by Eric Liu
For a political science junkie, this is fantastic. And if you are just beginning to learn about political organizing, I would recommend reading this book.
“The Woman in Cabin 10” by Ruth Ware
This is the best thriller I read this year. If you want an edge-of-your-seat page turner, this is it.
“The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic” by Matthew Kelly
My sister recommended this to me as I pursue my journey to join the Catholic Church. It is a good leadership and involvement book and left me inspired.
“Joan Garry’s Guide to Nonprofit Leadership: Because Nonprofits are Messy” by Joan Garry 
As a new Executive Director of a political nonprofit, I was told by my predecessor that this is a must read. Yes, it is!
“The Snow Child” by Eowyn Ivey
This was my final book finished in 2018. The first half was slow going, and then the second half explodes. Great story line.

I am looking forward to reading my way through 2019. My first book in progress: “Through the Eyes of Santiago” by Pedro A. Salazar. I started this just a couple of days before the new year and love it so far.

I would love to hear about the books you read in 2018! Cheers to reading more books in 2019!



My new adventure in politics

As of January 1, 2016, I am on a new adventure. I am serving as President of the Iowa Federation of Republican Women through the end of 2017. Having been involved with the organization on and off since age 19, I never thought I would step into the president’s role. I have always been involved in politics in some way, and others saw it coming long before I did. I always pushed it off with a, “No, that’s not for me.” or “I will help in other ways.”

When the nominating committee chair called me last year, I tried to tell her all of the reasons I should not be president: I work full time, I am sometimes involved in primaries with my day job (also in politics!), I like to challenge the process a bit too much at times, I would have high expectations for achievement, I haven’t always been the most tactful with people in the past (working on this!), etc. None of this dissuaded the nominating committee.

Then I learned who my potential teammates on the executive committee would be. I was sold. They are an amazing group of women. So I said yes.

Still, I worried. Did they really know what they were getting into? No, seriously! I’d like to think I have mad political organizing skills, but I am human and thus, not perfect.

When working behind the scenes, imperfections can be easily overlooked. When being the one front and center, they are often magnified. Don’t get me wrong: I am a confident person. In fact, Self Assurance is number four on my Strengths Finder 2.0 Assessment. But even confident people worry about doing the right thing.

And this is about so much more than me. It’s about an organization that is tied to local, state, and national level organizations. Our mission is to elect Republicans, and we have a huge election in 2016. I wanted to do the role justice.

I was elected on October 17, 2015, and then I had October 17 – December 31, 2015, to navigate the transition between President Elect and President. During this time, I decided that I would do three things to be the best leader possible:

1. Communicate openly.

2. Be authentic.

3. Work my heart out and leave everything on the field.

On New Year’s Day 2016, I sent the following email to our IowaFRW members and friends:

I hope you are enjoying a wonderful holiday season and take a little bit of time to rest up for our busy year ahead.

Thank you for all you have done, are doing, and will do to spread our message, sign up new members, and help elect Republicans.

We have a lot to be proud of! Let me ask you this: What do the first female Iowa Senate President Mary Kramer, the first female Iowa Speaker of the House Linda Upmeyer, the first female Iowa Auditor of State Mary Mosiman, and the first female U.S. Senator from Iowa Joni Ernst all have in common?

They are all Republican Women! “Republican War on Women,” my foot!

We are the party of women’s suffragists and abolitionists. We are the party who lifts people up because we know a hand up is much more respectful and sustaining than a hand out.

We can hold our heads high going into 2016 because we are doing good work.

And yet, we have so much good work to do. Our job is never done.

We must sign up new members, engage our members, and implement an aggressive ground game to turn Iowa red in 2016.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), the youngest woman elected to Congress, recently commented on her new role within the Republican party and on the Hill in D.C. She stressed that we need to be authentic, citing how she wears patterned tights instead of traditional panty hose from time to time. She also has her own way of connecting with constituents that is unique to her.

We each bring our own uniqueness to the table. I have been told more than once that I do not look or dress like a Republican (whatever that means!). We are a diverse group of women, and we are leaders in our communities. You are who you are everywhere, so always be recruiting women and men to join us.

I signed up to join the Iowa Federation of Republican Women in Mardelle Helmke’s living room in Humboldt, Iowa. The year was 1999, and I was a campaign staffer working for Elizabeth Dole for President. The IowaFRW President at the time, Deb Foster, cornered me in that living room and would not let me leave until I filled out a membership form. I gave her every excuse, including that I didn’t have time, and you know what? She said, “That’s OK. Just join and do what you can.”

You do not need to be President of IowaFRW to recruit new members. And you don’t need to be at a political event to ask someone about joining us. I need each and every one of you. Our country needs all of us.

Take a risk. Pour your heart and soul into our cause. You will not be disappointed. Our Republican candidates are all so much better than the alternative.

My challenge to you for 2016: Familiarize yourself with our IowaFRW 2016 Goals and do one thing you have not done before to help elect Republicans.

We must provide value in addition to being present. Too much is at stake to simply do what we’ve always done in the past.

In the words of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Let’s “Work hard, have fun, make history.”

I look forward to meeting or re-connecting with you during my travels. Let’s do this!

Melissa Gesing
Your 2016–2017 President
Iowa Federation of Republican
Phone: 563.506.3826

So, here it goes! I’m on Day 19 in my role. I have already experienced a few successes and survived a few mistakes. Guess what? I’m still standing and more energized than ever.

No TV-DVDs-Netflix Conclusion

I made it until May 16, 2014 with no TV. I had an appointment at Bob Brown Chevrolet on Friday, May 16th and the TV was on in the waiting room. I decided to watch it.

Then I visited my family in Durant that weekend. I could have resisted the TV, but I instead decided, “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” My family does not watch much TV at all, but it still counts.

I arrived home that following Monday with a puggle in tow. Introducing a dog and a cat require great patience, along with the help of some wine and TV.

Sure, I could have been stronger. I will likely try this social experiment again when I do not decide to bring home a new dog to my eleven year old cat who has always been an only child. (Stay tuned for more insights on dogs and cats living together in a future post.)

I went without Netflix until May 24th and pretty much made it the entire month with no DVDs. My DVD exception was putting in “Monsters, Inc.” for my friend’s daughter to watch when they visited me on May 28th.

I briefly dreaded having to post this conclusion, and then I remembered that I did this for myself and no one else. I went 15 days without TV, 23 days without Netflix, and 27 days without DVDs. Not too shabby. I had nothing to prove, and I will always be a work in progress. My sister and brother-in-law asked why I had not posted in a while, and the delay had nothing to do with shame. I have been busy parenting Jag and Percy through this crazy adjustment period. And I may have been procrastinating while watching TV. 😉

No TV Day 12

I have made it over one third of the way through this no TV month! Some days are still easier than others. And I am totally planning to binge on Netflix after this is all over.

A few more awesome things that have come about since I last posted:

Balcony Bliss
I am loving the warmer weather and spent most of last Wednesday out on my balcony. Since I cannot make up my mind about which patio furniture to purchase, I just hauled my living room chair out onto my balcony. This is the first time I have had a balcony in several years! Thus, the multiple mundane balcony photos.

Jag was so excited to be outdoors too. He prefers to show his excitement through lounging and napping. He loved the spot right under the makeshift patio chair.






Reading Like Crazy
I have been reading The Wall Street Journal, Time, Vogue, and my book of the month nearly every single day – all of them! No distractions, except for…

Free Fall
This Frozen Free Fall game is addictive. My goodness. The saving grace is with the limit of lives during a given time span. Of course one can purchase more lives, but I am not that hooked. Whew!

Quiet Time
Instead of waking up to the Today Show, I am waking up to the sunlight and letting my mind wind up for the day that way. Of course, I have my limits and eventually brew a pot of coffee to really start my day. Mornings can be so peaceful though!


Only 19 more days to go!

No TV Day 5: Unintended Consequences

As I sit down at home for the first time today – at 8:34 p.m. – I feel like this no TV thing is no big deal on days like today. I worked a full day at Target Optical, and then I attended a Junior League of Des Moines meeting tonight.

In two or three hours, I will likely be asleep. So, I backtrack through the small windows of time when I have been home today. And I realize this no TV thing has already changed a few habits:

– I wake up in the morning feeling super refreshed.
– I eat at my kitchen table instead of while sitting on my couch.
– I am becoming more comfortable with silence.
– I pay more attention to Mr. Jagger Q, my orange tabby.
– I am reading more often.

I am sure this list will grow, and I never imagined no TV would change this many little things within just five days. Now, off to read……

No TV Day 3: Too Busy to Care

I am posting my Day 3 recap on Day 4 with no TV because I had a whirlwind of a day yesterday. The only moments when I thought about TV were while I was getting ready for work in the morning, and then when I arrived home after midnight and only would have stayed awake for about 10 minutes of whatever random thing I turned on anyway.

I had a full work day at Target Optical followed by a quick wardrobe change and a bachelor party out on the east side of Des Moines. Days like yesterday are often the norm for me, as I tend to pack my calendar with stuff to do. I like to be out spreading my social butterfly wings, and I thought about that when I decided to go TV free for a full month.

My challenge will be those days when I have that rare down time and want to waste it by zoning out in front of a good show or movie. Finding new ways to relax is the challenge. Stay tuned for today’s recap a bit later…….

No TV Day 4: No Cheesy Ads (Almost)

I woke up this morning thinking about my Sunday morning political shows and briefly thought about turning the TV on for just one hour. And then will power prevailed! Instead I washed dishes, read a book, and nursed my wine headache with a pot of coffee.

Instead of thinking about the good things about TV, I switched gears and thought about the things I absolutely do not miss with no TV in my life. And while I like the Sunday morning political hack shows, it occurred to me that I am abstaining from TV during the height of Iowa primary season.

One thing I absolutely do not miss with no TV in my life: cheesy political ads! With multiple candidates running for both U.S. House and U.S. Senate, we have plenty of ads going in the Des Moines market.

Yes, I spent nearly a decade of my life immersed in politics. And now I dabble in politics within the volunteer realm. I can still call a cheesy campaign ad when I see it. And I take those bad ads personally. Come on consultants, give me more than that!

The thing is, I should have included You Tube in my no-fly list for this month. I see a new ad pop up online, and boom, I am watching/critiquing it. Oh well. Watching it once (or twice) is way better than seeing it multiple times during the news or prime time. Yet, I cannot help but to ponder those bad ads and re-write the script/setting/everything in my head. And then, just to prove my point, I have to show the bad ads to non-political-hack friends or family to get their opinions. Turns out I know the electorate. They hate cheesy ads too.

Score one for no TV!

Day 2 with No TV-DVDs-Netflix

I made it through yet another day TV free! Woot!

I have to admit, this no TV stuff is still really weird for me. I do not miss actually watching it, for I don’t actively watch TV that often. It is just the security of having it playing in the background that I miss.

I miss falling asleep to my Netflix comedy or drama of the moment. And now I have this sudden yearning to finish House of Cards Season 2.

And I still have those five DVDs still in their wrappers, just calling my name. Another month of dormancy won’t hurt them, since they have been collecting dust for some time now.

It seems that eliminating this stuff completely tends to bring up a need to do all of my TV-DVD-Netflix watching now. Instead I am staying strong and doing my other usual stuff, like laundry, sipping wine, checking Facebook, and doing some volunteer projects at home.

I do reward myself with a little Free Fall game action on the iPad periodically. I need something mind numbing to keep me from being too serious.

On to Day 3!

No TV (or DVDs, or Netflix)


The Decision

Last night I decided I should go TV-DVD-Netflix free for an entire month. And since today started a new month, I decided to just start right away.

I do not watch a lot of TV. I usually just have it on as background noise. I occasionally pop in a DVD. Netflix is probably the toughest to give up, as I usually fall asleep to Frasier (or whatever series I am on) playing on my iPhone or iPad.

During my day off yesterday, the usual background noise seemed to be a distraction. I had a lot to do at home during my day off. For once, I had nowhere to go and thought I would get a ton of stuff done. And that is when TV and the like became distracting.

I want to make my time at home meaningful. Sure, I need to get my household chores done. But even my down time needs to be changed up a bit. I read a fair amount and could read a lot more instead of zoning out in front of the TV or Netflix on the iPad screen. I bought an online subscription to The Wall Street Journal and rarely read it. Instead I usually absorb the mind-numbing sound bites from network news.

Day 1

So this morning I woke up and refrained from turning on the Today Show. It was weird. I played a few tunes instead. I blogged. I did the normal things without having the TV there to distract me for five or ten minutes here or there.

And this evening when I arrived at home at around 6:30 p.m., I did not immediately go to the TV. After about 30 minutes, I caught myself nearly turning it on out of habit. And then I redirected myself.

This could be a long 31 days. I have a feeling the first few days will be the worst though. Once I break the habit, I will miss the old ways less and less with each passing day. I am pretty excited to see what happens. It certainly can’t do me any harm to cut the TV, DVDs, and Netflix watching from my life. And I will never be bored. I have way too many things I want to do for that to happen.

Moving to the 50266

I survived yet another move!

The process of moving can be quite deceptive with moments of “this is going to be easy,” to “oh my God, what am I doing,” to “no looking back now!” I can honestly say I made the right decision with moving to West Des Moines. And I can honestly say I went through all of these moments repeatedly.

When I decided to transfer from the Davenport Target Optical store to the Urbandale and Des Moines area Target Optical stores, my new boss and old boss (the stores are in different regions, of course!) made our initial conversations very painless. “this is going to be easy”

Then, while I had my store staffed and my replacement identified and recommended, the process seemed to take forever to finalize. “no looking back now!”

Upon departing Urbandale after my day of apartment shopping with my mom, I encountered the worst driving conditions of the season and was shocked to hear AM radio declare that an ex boyfriend decided to run for Congress in the area I was planning to move to. “oh my God, what am I doing?!”

Side Note: No ex drama, wish him the best. These things just make one pause and look upward to the skies and say, “What are you trying to tell me?” Same with the blizzard. Why during that day at that time? Lord only knows.

My family jumped on board immediately to offer help with packing, loading, unloading, etc. “this is going to be easy”

Multiple Quad Citians showed their love toward me. They say everyone loves you when you are leaving. 😉 Seriously, I do appreciate their sincerity. “no looking back now!”

The money crunch of moving always stresses one out. “oh my God, what am I doing?!”

Navigated the roads of Polk County like a pro (and west of I-35 like a semi-pro). “this is going to be easy”

Felt like a complete newbie as I adapted to various stores’ unique processes. “too late to look back now!”

Upon a return trip to my parents’ place in Durant, unsuccessfully attempted to bring back four of my five plants. I guess that two hour stop and leaving them to freeze in my car in sub zero temps did it. “oh my God, what am I doing?!”

Transferred my Junior League membership to Des Moines. Feeling like a nerdy junior high girl as I prepare to attend my first event here. “no looking back now!”

Felt at home in my new place as soon as I moved in. “this is going to be easy”

If you want to test your will, patience, and self confidence, I suggest picking up and moving to a new area. Nothing builds character like a good move.