A Holiday Letter (with a two year update)

Greetings from the south side of Des Moines!

Since I have blogged very sporadically for the past two years, I will try to somewhat briefly catch you up on the “Life of Mel.” 🙂 A lot has happened since I blogged more consistently before the crazy election year of 2016! If you want the crazy election year details, you can find a few of those in my past blog posts.

My niece Ruth Gianna was born on September 23, 2016, and I was overjoyed to become an aunt and godmother for the fourth time. To illustrate how crazy that time of the year was: I left the hospital in Muscatine on the day she was born to travel across the state to Council Bluffs for a Republican women event early the next morning.

I returned to the Target Optical world in December 2016, and that brought me back to Des Moines. Jag the cat was excited to return to his old stomping grounds of his youth, and Percy the puggle loved moving into our new apartment near his new favorite walking trails at Gray’s Lake. I was excited to be blocks away from a Starbucks and a winery!

I managed the Target Optical Urbandale location and kept my toe in politics, as I joined the Board of Directors of 50-50 in 2020 the Friday after Election Day. I was excited to have an opportunity to help recruit and train women to run for office in a bipartisan atmosphere. You can check out more about 50-50 in 2020 at www.50-50in2020.org.

My brother Mitch married wife Hannah in California in late 2016, and we celebrated their union “back home” in June 2017. I love my new sister in law! We had a great party in Cedar Rapids, complete with most of my best friends and many family members joining in on the fun.

I enjoyed a couple of road trips and concerts with my best concert buddy Jen that summer also: U2 at Soldier Field in Chicago; and New Kids on the Block and Boyz II Men at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.

And that brings us to 2018.

Unfortunately, last year had a rocky start, as my 15 year old cat Jagger Q passed away on January 21, 2018. I was devastated. He was my first adult pet and traveled across the country to Houston and back with me when I moved there from 2004 – 2006. Percy even missed his feline brother, roaming from room to room searching for him during the days after his passing.

While Jag will forever be irreplaceable, Percy and I knew we needed a new family member. Gemma Louise, a spunky three year old Corgi / Chihuahua mix, joined our family on February 7, 2018. Whereas Jag and Percy took a year to simply peacefully co-exist, Gemma and Percy were instant soul mates.

In late February, I visited my brother Mitch and his wife Hannah in Camarillo, California. Mitch was stationed at Point Mugu when I visited, and he is currently deployed overseas with the U.S. Navy. Mitch and Hannah will be moving back to Iowa after his enlistment ends this coming fall. I am so excited to have my little brother close by again!

Summer 2018 concerts included Counting Crows and Live at the Starlight Theatre in Kansas City, as well as Billy Joel at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. If you ever get the chance to see Billy Joel in concert, do it. He is an amazing talent.

My niece Kateri Elizabeth Ann was born on August 1, 2018, making me an aunt and godmother for the fifth time. I am so fortunate to live just over two hours away from my sister Sarah, brother-in-law Jeremiah, and their five kids: Gabriel, Lucy, Amelia, Ruth, and Kateri. I always say that if I don’t have my own kids, being an aunt is truly the next best thing.

I left Target Optical in September to pursue my long time dream of starting my own consulting business. The Executive Director of 50-50 in 2020 was retiring, and they were looking for someone to take the reins. With it being a contracted position, it was a natural fit for me. I set up my new business, Red Goose Solutions L.L.C., and began my work with 50-50 in 2020 on October 1, 2018. My spare bedroom “Hotel Mel” has now been converted into my headquarters for everything girl power. 😉

When I am not on the road spreading the good word about 50-50 in 2020, traveling to see family and friends, or going to concerts; I can be found in Des Moines plugging away in my home office, networking at various area social gatherings, trying out new restaurants, playing outdoors with my fur kids, sipping wine with friends, or curling up with a book. Life is not just good – it is great. I hope this letter finds you happy and healthy. From our home to yours, happy holidays!

Mel, with Percy Power and Gemma Louise

Reading My Way Through 2018

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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!

 

Primary Day 2018: May the Best Prevail

Primary Day 2018: May the Best Prevail

Today is Primary Election Day in Iowa! It is always surreal for me when I am not working full time for a candidate in a primary and simply vote, volunteer a bit, and wait for the results to come in. 

I have frequently been in my “Target bubble” and laser focused on my optical store, sales, and staffing during the past year and a half. When I am at Target, I rarely check my social media and personal email. It is kind of nice.

And yet I still love to have my political fix outside of working hours. I love reading the news, especially political news. I love watching the Sunday morning political shows. And I love laughing at all of the SNL skits portraying the sometimes sordid state of affairs that comprise our new reality. 

That isn’t enough though. And that is why I am glad to have found new ways to become involved in politics since October 2016. 

I mentioned in my last post that I joined the board of 50-50 in 2020 in November 2016. I have loved every minute of this new volunteer adventure. Being a part of a nonpartisan organization with a bipartisan board is so rewarding, especially in our currently polarized political environment. The organization’s goal is political equity for women, and I love being part of a movement toward a more representative democracy. What I find to be so neat about this organization is that it was founded several years ago and has really blazed a trail for training and electing women in Iowa. 

I also recently participated as a panelist in a WONKS! podcast titled “Women & Politics.” This was a bipartisan panel of two Republican women and two Democrat women. We had so much fun talking about the things we all have in common, as well as areas of difference. How refreshing to be a part of something bipartisan and positive!

One of the audience questions during the WONKS! podcast asked why we women panelists were not very angry. I personally prefer to channel anger into action, thus letting go of it. Yes, the political news of the day is often frustrating. I do sometimes yell at my TV or Twitter feed. I vow to stay involved in politics so the crazy does not prevail. And I want to elevate the discourse. I want to elect good people. I want to be a positive voice for change and not sink to the level of name calling and false assumptions. I long for the days when being a moderate and compromising were not perceived as bad things. 

On this Primary Election Day in Iowa, I hope that the best women and men prevail. I hope that we elect more people in November who have diverse backgrounds and a willingness to listen to various points of view. And finally, I hope that all of the candidates, staff, and volunteers know that, win or lose, the primary battle was worth it. 

Melissa Gesing, vote, Iowa politics, primary 2018
Voter #201 in Des Moines 64!

Six Months After Election Day 2016: Life Goes On

I last posted four weeks before Election Day. When a post goes viral, it becomes even more difficult than usual to publish another post. 

I purposefully stayed quiet until after Election Day. I wanted my words to stand on their own, without any misconstrued sound bites, or being used as a political pawn. Some may argue that I made myself a pawn for Trump’s opposition simply by speaking out how I did. Others have told me that I wasted an opportunity to gain national fame and to promote my views even further. I admit, I had moments when I myself wondered how I was able to turn down interviews with the BBC, nearly every national cable news outlet, and every major Iowa television, radio, and newspaper outlet. 

At the end of the day, I firmly believed that I said my piece on this blog, and that was enough. I never anticipated for J.K. Rowling to like my tweet or to be a headline on Politico. I simply wanted to do the right thing and be a voice of reason. I was still committed to my day job of working for down ballot candidates and causes. 

Once Election Day had come and gone, and I left my full time job in politics, I thought I would have a lot to say. However, the words have been tough to piece together. Of course I was disappointed in the presidential election results. Nevertheless, I wanted our new president to surprise me and do well. At the same time, I felt for the protestors in the streets. What did we expect to happen when we elected someone who had gone out of his way to put down so many groups of people? I would never condone violence, but I do support everyone’s right to speak out in the hopes of finally being heard.

I have found myself to be in the middle of the polarized ends of this nation’s politics. I am still a Republican and do not plan to switch parties. I agree with a lot of what John Kasich has to say on this topic. While I am fully aware of how the game of politics is played, and it is all centered around the power now in Trump’s hands, I am disappointed that very few have offered a different way forward for the GOP.

On the positive side, this last election activated so many people who were fairly complacent before last fall. I love this new activism and believe some good will come out of the crazy election.

Speaking out against Trump was life changing. I strained and ended a few relationships with my words. I also made new friends from all across the United States – people who reached out to a complete stranger to say “thank you,” or “way to go.” The positive comments and messages far outnumbered the negative. I even heard from people I had not talked to in years, a few who defended my honor on the news sites where people who never met me were saying nasty things about me. I will be forever grateful to everyone who reached out to me with encouraging words. 

Prior to this post, I have done three post election interviews: a Dutch newspaper, part of a panel on Iowa Press, and a forthcoming interview with German Public Broadcasting. I will let you check out those pieces if you want a more in depth look at my views nowadays. And perhaps I will elaborate here on my blog as I continue along my journey as a somewhat rogue Republican and feel the need to speak about various topics.

In the meantime, life goes on. I returned to working at Target Optical in December and love it. I also bought a new vehicle – named Rosa Parks! – in December and moved to Des Moines in February. In addition, I have found new avenues for political involvement, including being on the board of 50-50 in 2020. My puggle Percy was “with her,” and my cat Jag is disappointed that Trump has not yet built a wall to keep all of the dogs out. 

I sometimes wonder what life would be like had I not posted my last post or resigned from the Iowa Federation of Republican Women. While I would have kept others happy, I most definitely would be feeling regret right now. Call me emotional, selfish, attention seeking, or whatever else you want. I know in my heart that I did the right thing, and for the right reasons. I prayed about the decision, talked to close friends and family, and then asked myself what I wanted to tell people when talking about the 2016 election years from now. I thought specifically of my nephew and nieces. Regardless of their future views, I know I can look them in their eyes and say that I stood for what I thought was right. And if I can do it, anyone can. That’s how we start to make the world a better place: one person at a time.

Ending this bad and unhealthy relationship

I have finally had enough with falling in line with my party and trying to support Donald Trump for President. Perhaps it’s because things finally hit close enough to home and my world experience to resonate. Or perhaps supporting Donald Trump has been a bit like being in a bad and unhealthy relationship. Part of the problem with getting out of the relationship is that you keep convincing yourself that things are going to get better. While they often briefly get better, they continue to get worse until the downs are lower than one ever thought possible.
In the meantime, you lose yourself and you lose who you are just to try to keep the peace and not rock the boat.
As President of the Iowa Federation of Republican Women, I was publicly neutral during the caucus to convention process. While there were times that I really disagreed with things Trump or even other candidates in the Republican Party said, I (mostly) kept quiet. There was the Carly for America “Faces” ad when I broke rank a bit, and I am more proud of that today than ever.
While I had my own opinions (which did not involve caucusing for Trump), I wanted to let the process play out. I had faith in the process, our party, and our people and was confident everything would work out for the best.
When it became apparent that Donald Trump would secure the nomination, I decided it was time to speak up. I did not want to do it publicly on social media and instead wanted to go through the appropriate channels. So I agonized over what to say and emailed my concerns to the president and a few in leadership positions of the National Federation of Republican Women on May 5, 2016. I told them that while I had pledged unity at our spring meeting in March, I was having grave concerns about our future nominee. As someone who has rarely voted for the nominee early on and is accustomed to voting for another choice in the general, it wasn’t an issue of me not being able to lick my wounds after the caucus and primary losses. It was something fundamentally larger than that. I simply wanted to start a conversation, and I was hoping that the Trump campaign would do some outreach so we could overcome a few of the obstacles and right some of the wrongs that had had occurred thus far.
A few questions I posed in the email:

– What do I tell my six-year-old nephew who saw Trump on TV a few months ago, turned to his mom (my sister) and said, “Mom, he is a bad man. He says bad words and wants to blow things up.”? What do I say to my sister, who was at a loss for words (and is a strong Republican)?

– How do I reassure my mom – and moms of all of our men and women serving our country – that Donald Trump will speak wisely and not get us into more conflicts with his off-the-cuff remarks?

– What do we say to women across the country who are mortified at Trump’s comments on the Howard Stern show discussing women’s breast sizes? How about so many of the other things he has said that objectify women? What message does this send to young girls?

– How do we respond when our presidential nominee has stereotyped an entire religion?

– Trump has openly insulted John McCain’s service to our country and has blamed George W. Bush for the 9/11 attacks. Are we OK with that?

I received a couple of responses basically saying to work hard for the down ballot candidates, pray for our nominee, and we are confident that he’ll turn it around and behave going into the general election. I was also encouraged to read Governor Bobby Jindal’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal a few days later. So that’s what I did.
Then fast forward a few weeks later to a nonpartisan women’s leadership conference. I was giving a presentation about balancing work and personal life and I talked about how balancing our public life with a personal life can be tough, especially in politics when things can intertwine. I mentioned Carly Fiorina’s ad and said that I stood behind that ad and at the same time I was prepared to support Trump if he was our nominee. A few women were visibly upset with me.
And I know many more were silently upset with me for saying that I could support a candidate who had done so much wrong, even by that point at the end of May 2016. I went back to my hotel room that night and I have to admit that I had a good cry. I felt like a horrible person. I reached out to a couple of my Republican peers, and they reassured me it would be OK. I was emboldened by knowing that I am a caring individual and thought I could support Trump without necessarily condoning his words or behavior.
So I continued on and for a while – in my world at least – it went a little better. Then Trump picked Mike Pence as his running mate. While Pence is more conservative than I am personally, I met him a couple of years ago and feel good about him as a person. So that reassured me that maybe everything would be OK.
Then Kellyanne Conway became Trump’s campaign manager. I thought, “Finally, a woman is in charge! Maybe now Trump is going to apologize, and he’s going to do the things that need to be done to right the ship.” The first week with Conway in charge showed me that perhaps things were getting better.
I worked at the Iowa State Fair GOP booth on the day Mike Pence visited the Iowa State Fair. I was asked repeatedly by a staffer to wear a Trump – Pence shirt instead of my IowaFRW shirt for his arrival. After about eight times of being reminded, I put the Trump – Pence t-shirt on. I admit, it felt weird. But I thought, “If I’m going to be a team player, I have to be all in. I can do this.”
The overall response from fair goers at the fair booth was good. Toward the end of the night though, a few women came up to me and asked how I could support Trump after all of the terrible things he had said about women. I didn’t have an answer, and so in true Trump fashion, I attacked Hillary. After they walked away, I asked a couple of other people at the booth what they would’ve done. They said that I could always bring it back to the Supreme Court and electing someone who will appoint conservative justices. And I thought perhaps that was a good argument to make.
Then the debates were coming up and I thought, “OK, Hillary is going to throw everything at Trump. Here is his chance to really reset for the general.” And during the first debate, when Trump asked Hillary how she wanted to be addressed, and then said he wanted to make her happy, I was on my last thread. He was continuing his sexist behavior, right there in front of my eyes.
Still, I was hanging on, if only by a thread. It was down to a day by day roller coaster. One day, I would say that I could jump on board the Trump Train. And then the next day, I would realize there was no way I could be a team player any longer.
So when Mike Pence gave a solid debate performance, I was back on a high. Only 35 days to go. I could do this. Yes, I still had those nagging feelings. But once again, I thought, Trump is going to get better. He still has time to show us he is worthy of our party’s nomination. The first presidential debate was a warm up. Kellyanne will kick him in the rear for the next one.
And then the tapes. Ugh. I could not even process all of that for a good 24 hours. I was immediately angry. I was angry at Trump, but I was even more angry with myself. It should have been no surprise, given everything else we have been shown about Donald Trump. Nonetheless, it shocked me. I was sick to my stomach and could not see straight. Luckily it was the end of the work day, so when it was time to leave the office, I decompressed in my car for about an hour, grabbed some coffee, and wandered through a book store before driving home.
This was the final straw. I had finally taken all I could. Then I saw how people were responding on social media. I was proud of our elected officials who stood up against him.
At the same time, I was dismayed by so many strong women who were pointing fingers at Hillary and saying at least it’s not as bad as what she has done. Now I find myself making similar judgments about Trump supporters that those women from the leadership conference made about me when I said that I would support him. Now that it’s personal to me, I don’t see how someone could stand by a candidate who is saying such horrific things about someone like me. So to those women who confronted me during that evening in late May, I apologize and I thank you. I already apologized that night and I told them that it was a tough decision, as I was still struggling with it every day. But now I finally get it.
I ask you this: Who are we if we defend ourselves by saying, “Wow this is horrible, but not as horrible as that over there?” Regardless of your party or your opinions on issues, we need to have candidates who can stand on their own merit and be honorable.
This is also not an isolated incident from a decade ago. This is one of way too many times where Trump has used unacceptable words and actions. That is what makes me so sad for my party.
I should have spoken up long ago. I do not like attention. I did not want to rock the boat. I wanted to honor my commitment in my role for Republican women.
I’m not trying to excuse the multiple chances that I gave to Donald Trump. I am telling you what was going on in my head, right or wrong. I honestly thought at some point we would turn a corner, things would get better, apologies would be made, and it would all be OK.
I was wrong, and it really pains me to have to say these things less than 30 days out from the election. I am not going to talk about any of the Democrat, Independent, Green, or Libertarian Party candidates because this is not about them. This is about who our Republican nominee for President is and what we as Republicans will stand for.
I will work my heart out out for our candidates down the ballot who deserve our support. However, I cannot pretend to support our presidential nominee any longer, and I also cannot be silent. That is why this evening I have submitted my resignation as president of the Iowa Federation of Republican Women:

“To the IowaFRW Executive Committee, Board of Directors, and members,

It is with a heavy heart that I submit my resignation as your state president today. Since I cannot support Donald J. Trump for President, nor can I advocate for his election, I feel that I cannot adequately fulfill the duties of my position. While I am still a Republican and plan to work hard for our down ballot GOP candidates, I cannot fulfill our mission ‘To elect Republicans at all levels of government’ with Trump as our party’s nominee.

Additionally, I cannot support the National Federation of Republican Women President Carrie Almond’s statement (http://www.nfrw.org/news-releases-20161010) that was released yesterday on behalf of Republican women nationally, as I do not support Donald J. Trump.

I will do all I can to ensure a smooth transition in leadership, and this is truly a last resort for me. I cannot in good conscience lead this organization or look at myself in the mirror each morning if I do not take a stand against the racism, sexism, and hate that Donald J. Trump continues to promote.”

I am saddened that I even have to make this choice because I want to support all of our Republican candidates. I truly intended to do that when I was elected as president.

However, I am not being true to myself if I don’t speak up and and say something. The first candidate I worked for full-time as paid staff was Elizabeth Dole for President in 1999. Elizabeth Dole ran for president over 16 years ago, and during that campaign we fought a lot of sexism. I vowed that I would always remember the lessons that I learned from that campaign. I can never condone sexism.
I don’t claim to have the moral high ground, and I don’t claim that any of our candidates are perfect. However, there is a clear line that has been stepped across when candidates fuel racism and sexism and the darkest parts of our minds – over, and over, and over again.
I look forward to working diligently for our many fine Republican candidates and issues this year. I will not be advocating for Donald Trump or voting for him.
This is not about being conservative, moderate, liberal, establishment, or anti-establishment. This is about common decency as Americans.
As I mentioned previously, I was immediately outraged when I heard the tape. I made myself wait to respond though. I needed time to process it all, and I wanted to speak rationally. Quite frankly, I have been through so much of a roller coaster already, that I figured another couple of days to engage in a few more conversations and think through things could only help me become more at peace with my decision.
And even during my waiting period between being done with Trump and announcing it, I have been dismayed by Trump. In the same breath as saying he is sorry for what he said on the tape, he continues to defend his words as locker room banter, and then point the finger at the Clintons. During the last debate, he also made the outrageous statement that had he been President, Captain Kahn would still be alive.
So I am ending this bad and unhealthy relationship right now. I am done making excuses. I am done hoping for a change. As Condoleezza Rice so eloquently stated: “Enough!”
And since it is not good to jump into one relationship right after another has ended, I am not going to use this post to speak about whom I may vote for on November 8th. For now, I need to be single and find myself. I will decide in 28 days who I am voting for. Until then, I am going to respect everyone’s opinions and I hope you respect mine.
When I look back on this election years from now, I want to be proud of taking a stand for what I thought was right, even if I cut it a little close on the deadline. Decency transcends party loyalty. I still believe in an America where we can elect decent and honorable people to lead us.

Brother Mitch is HOME!

Brother Mitch is HOME!

Unless you never read a thing that I post on Facebook and Twitter, by now you know that my brother Mitch is back in Iowa after being deployed with the U.S. Navy. I went ten months without seeing my baby brother. And I was not alone. His friends and our family, as well as his girlfriend, endured the same length of time without seeing Mitch in person.

baby4A lot can happen in ten months:

  1. My sister Sarah became pregnant with baby number four.
  2. Our dad retired from his sales and marketing job of 19 years.
  3. I crossed off a bucket list item when I appeared on the Today Show on Caucus Day.
  4. Nephew Gabriel and Niece Lucy completed another year of school.
  5. Gabriel, Lucy, and and Niece Amelia all grew a ton. I feel like they grow too much when I haven’t seen them in a couple of weeks. I can’t imagine how different they are after ten months!
  6. Numerous terror attacks took place across the globe.
  7. Iranians fired missiles at my brother’s carrier.
  8. My brother’s carrier was featured on CNN for setting a record number of bombs launched against ISIS.
  9. Mitch’s deployment was extended by one month.
  10. As if I wasn’t emotional enough in my normal state, I now get teary eyed around anything patriotic, having to do with the armed forces, etc.

Mitch Navy ProfileMitch shared some amazing photos and videos with us during this past week. The views were breath taking, and the sleeping quarters were insanely small. They provided a unique glimpse into my brother’s new life as a sailor.

Hannah MitchWe only have a few more days with brother Mitch before he goes back to base. This time he is taking a piece of home with him though – girlfriend Hannah. So, while this big sister is fighting back tears, I will be so excited for the new adventure ahead for the two of them together.

troopsThank you SO MUCH to everyone who has offered words of encouragement, given hugs, and simply let me babble (happy babble, interchanged with the-world-is-going-to-end babble) on and on and on and on. We know there will be another deployment, and I will always need my tribe to talk me off the ledge and then hand me a glass of wine.

Why we must advocate for the F-35

As of today, my little brother Mitch has been deployed for 108 days.

When his ship departed Norfolk, VA, on November 16th, I felt helpless. The Paris terrorist attacks had just happened the Friday prior, and I know in my heart he was on his way to fight the “bad guys.”

I have been involved in politics since college, and national defense has often been a hot button issue of mine. I feel that my political involvement is doing something to make the world a better place, albeit small compared to what my brother is doing.

In addition to continuing to support candidates who align with my views regarding national defense, I have recently begun to pay attention to the actual issues at hand that directly impact our men and women serving our country. Issue advocacy has a huge impact in our country. While lobbyists get a lot of attention, especially during the recent presidential debates, each of us civilians can have an impact far greater than we realize. Advocacy makes me feel a little less helpless when watching news reports from afar.

An important part of supporting our troops and advocating for them is making sure they are equipped with the necessary tools to perform their work. With military technology continuously innovating at breakneck speed, it is imperative that our aircraft keep pace. There is only one option when it comes to truly top-of-the-line next-generation fighters: the F-35. The F-35C variant, which is intended for the U.S. Navy, the branch in which my brother proudly serves, will be the most advanced aircraft ever designed to specifically conduct aircraft carrier operations.

Each member of our armed services is someone’s brother, sister, son, or daughter. The responsibility rests on our shoulders to do everything in our power to keep these loved ones safe as they lay their lives on the line protecting our way of life. This requires that they have the best technology available and the best tools to accomplish their mission. In terms of aircraft, this can only mean the F-35.

I hope those we have elected to serve our state in Washington, D.C. join me in supporting our military and advanced technology like the F-35. In addition to this being an incredible tool for our military, it is also partly manufactured at Rockwell Collins, based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This is a win-win scenario for national defense abroad and jobs here at home.

I am proud that U.S. Senator Joni Ernst supports the F-35 aircraft and the safety of our brave troops, including my little brother. I encourage everyone to advocate for this important aircraft being added to our nation’s weaponry.

With our troops, their friends, and families sacrificing so much for freedom, it seems to me to be a relatively small request to provide our armed forces with the most state-of-the-art equipment and weaponry.

Please join me in advocating for the F-35 aircraft, and thank you to the men and women who are serving our country.

Top Ten reasons why living in the first in the nation caucus state is awesome

1. An extended family

Wherever I go, I have political family. Everyone who is anyone in politics cuts their teeth in Iowa. We see each other at our best and worst. We have yelled at one another, divulged our deepest secrets, and formed a mafia-like bond.

2. Political boot camp

Want to be a big deal in politics? You have to come to Iowa. Our activists and staff are a tough crowd. We don’t care where you come from. You are expected to work 85+ hours a week and like it. This work is not glamorous: making phone calls, knocking on doors, ensuring event signs are placed properly and never fall down, signing up event attendees before you let them out the door, running to get food for national staff, etc.

3. Meeting presidents (and candidates) before they are a big deal

If you live in Iowa and have not shaken a president’s hand, it really is your own fault. Candidates visit multiple times in a variety of venues. Insider trick: Go see them before they officially throw a hat into the ring. It’s much easier to get a handshake and photo without a gaggle of press closing in.

4. A nobody can succeed

I volunteered on my first campaign while at Simpson College. While my family is informed and votes, no one else has volunteered on a campaign or tried to make a living in the political world. In Iowa, you are given a fair shake as a kid who has no idea what she is getting herself into. Work hard, be loyal, and use your head. That’s what it takes in Iowa.

5. Everyone is a TV star

With national and international media everywhere, if you participate in this process, you are likely to get in a camera shot at one time or another.

6. People care about your opinions

Reporters are dying to know what we are thinking. Friends from across the country reach out seemingly out of the blue.

7. A full mailbox

Ever get disappointed when you check your mailbox, and nothing is there? Never an issue during caucus season in Iowa! As a political nerd, I even keep a few of my favorites as souvenirs. (Photo above courtesy of Marlys Popma.)

8. TV ads

While we all get tired of these ads, they are a sneak peek into the oppo research underway for the general election. Once again, this might be a good thing for us political nerds only.

9. Crossing things off of your bucket list

Being on the Today Show (simply in the crowd outside) has been on my bucket list since grade school. Did I mention I am a nerd? 😉 Tomorrow I will likely cross this off my list if everything goes as planned.

10. People (kids too!) are inspired

With all of the above going on, those Iowans who have never participated in the process often think twice about it every four years. Just this year, I have several friends who are likely to caucus for the very first time. I also get to involve friends and family in many of the cool things listed above. We in Iowa have a voice before the field is narrowed. How cool is that?!

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
Email:
melissa@iowafrw.org
Twitter:
@melissagesing

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.

When your little brother deploys for the first time

My little brother enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 2014, and he recently left on his first deployment.

While we are ten years apart and did not hang out a lot together during our younger years, I still feel a special connection to him. Perhaps it’s the orneriness. Perhaps it’s being close astrologically. (My birthday is February 27th, and his is March 12th.) Perhaps it’s being the bookends to our middle sister whom you would love to hate if she wasn’t so cute and nice all of the time.

I am often a stereotypical Pisces and show my emotions on my sleeve — until I see that others are falling apart. Then I miraculously keep it together to the point where others have often questioned whether or not I feel anything. When he left for boot camp, I saw him at graduation, we hung out for a brief hour and a half in the airport during his first leave (I was on my way to India!), and even when he came home during his second leave, I mostly held it together. And when I did break down a little bit, only my bestie, the puggle, or the tabby cat witnessed it.

Fast forward to last week when my brother deployed overseas. I was a wreck for two days straight. I broke down to two co-workers and once again, my bestie. I found it a double edged sword to see his carrier on TV and on Facebook. It was nice to have the images, and then it also made things more real and disturbing. I know he is safe, and I for one would not want to mess with that crew of amazing sailors. But he is far away during the holidays. And the deployment coincidentally came a few days after the terrorist attacks in Paris.

My brother has always been one to do things 100%, so why would deploying be any different? He is defending freedom during a time of heightened awareness, and he is doing that during such an important time during the calendar year.

During the midst of all of this, I have come to realize that I had no clue what military families go through prior to my brother enlisting. Sure, I said thanks to our vets, told families they should be proud of their loved ones, and thought I knew what I was saying.

Service to one’s country is a noble endeavor, but the reality of it all is not very glamorous. While I am enjoying the snow, eggnog, and loved ones, my brother is on a metal ship making his own Christmas tree out of cardboard and other clever things.

I am incredibly proud of my little brother Mitch. And I am proud of every service member and their friends and families who support them and stay strong through the ups and downs of military service.