Holiday Letter 2021

Season’s greetings! We hope this letter finds you safe and well.

As with many things in 2020, the holiday letter went out the window. So, this will be a two year recap. 😉

Little did I know that taking a leap of faith into my own business in 2018 would prove helpful during a worldwide pandemic a year and a half later. I was already accustomed to working from home and had clients who relied on some of my services even more-so without in-person events. The 50-50 in 2020 organization had made the decision to dissolve after the candidate training cycle that concluded with the Blueprint for Winning Academy at the end of January 2020. We were able to wrap everything up neatly well before the pandemic hit. I knew this would be concluding when I first signed on with the organization, and the timing of everything proved to be impeccable.

Covid affected each of us differently. My favorite saying pertaining to this strange time has been, “We may all be in the same storm, but we are not in the same boat.” Each of us experienced a different reality. Thankfully my life was not disrupted to the extent others’ were. I was able to mostly work from home and stay safe and covid free. When the derecho hit Des Moines in August 2020, I experienced two and a half days without power and a fridge full of spoiled food. Once again, I counted my blessings.

My fifth niece Mary Josephine was born on July 18, 2020. With Covid restrictions in place, I was not able to visit the hospital and instead spent two days and one night as Nanny Mel for her older siblings in Bennett. We had a blast! And then, when my sister Sarah and brother-in-law-Jeremiah arrived home from the hospital, the kids surprised me by telling me that I would be the first to hold sweet Mary. So I am 6 for 6 with holding my nephew and nieces first after their parents!

The most trying part of 2020 was my mom’s 70-day stay in hospitals and rehab facilities after aspirating on food and enduring multiple complications from Parkinson’s disease. You can read previous blog posts for all of the details. She and my dad left home for routine appointments and errands on August 28 not knowing that she wouldn’t return until November 6. So thankful to have Mom at home again, albeit with a lot of new caregiving requirements.

Percy, Gemma, and I moved from Des Moines to Davenport on November 4, 2020. We found the perfect rental house in the McClellan Heights neighborhood complete with a porch and swing, fenced in back yard, and an amazing front room for our office. We love being back in the Quad Cities and closer to family. I enjoy more frequent visits from my nephew and nieces, as well as my once or twice weekly trips to Durant to see my parents.

While concert going and cross country and overseas trips were put on hold during these past two years, I was able to enjoy a few other fun times:

  • I read 67 books in 2020 and have read 55 books thus far in 2021.
  • The pups and I have explored many new trails and parks across the state of Iowa.
  • I took one weekend trip in 2020 to Omaha/Council Bluffs for cousins Allison and James’s high school graduation and great aunt Marilyn’s memorial service.
  • I visited my bestie Jen and her family, along with a few of my college friends, in Lee’s Summit, MO in July 2021.
  • I treated myself to a long weekend in Milwaukee when visiting the city for cousin Tess and Eugene’s wedding in August 2021.
  • My favorite kids resumed their weekend visits to my place in December 2020. While we were not able to venture out during the first round of visits, we are now visiting more of the Quad Cities including the Quad City Symphony Orchestra at the Adler Theater, Cafe d’Marie, Figge Art Museum, Freight House Farmers’ Market, Me & Billy, Putnam Museum, and multiple River Bandits minor league baseball games at Modern Woodmen Park.

As 2021 comes to a close and I reflect back on these past two years, I am amazed by all that has happened within a short window of time. I have learned to embrace change while becoming more resilient. By going through the tough times, I am learning how to better enjoy the good times. Let’s all unleash the joy during this holiday season, and let it carry us into 2022.

Melissa, Percy, and Gemma


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!


Bookworm = Me

I finally finished “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson!  It took me nearly eight months to finish it.  I read a few other books during that eight months.  I treated the Jobs book like a text book, completely immersing myself in every detail as I read.  So I would pick it up for a while, and then put it down for a longer while.  A part of me didn’t want Steve to die.  A part of me wasn’t reading as much as I used to.  My new job, political involvement, and everything else used my brain power.  And then I was vegging out in front of the TV instead of reading.

Finishing the 570 page book was exhilarating.  Now I want to read constantly.  The bookworm is back. I nearly removed “bookworm” from my headline a month or so ago.  “Am I really still a bookworm?” I asked myself.  Yes, I was and still am.  I was simply not being who I am.  I let other things consume me more than books.

And you know what made me realize I need to let my inner voice – that one saying “Read more! You love to read!” – be my outer self?  The book about Jobs did that.  He let his passion fuel his work.  Reading is not creating the next technological advancement, but it is doing what I enjoy.

Personal Branding Via Your Headline

Marketing has taken over the world, and not only for businesses and products.  Now we are told to market ourselves, to create our own personal brand.  At first glance, this may seem silly.  Since I’m a nerd though, I love the concept of personal branding.

Melissa Gesing:  Organizing queen, headhunter, political enthusiast, concert-goer, bookworm, godmother.  Make it a venti in the morning, red in the evening.

Too often we let our random jobs define us, when it should be the other way around.  For many years, I was the student, retail manager, political staffer.  But I’m so much more than my full time job!

Since I began this blog, I’ve reviewed my headline many times and have tweaked it a few of those times.  I keep this as consistent as possible with my summary on social media sites.  LinkedIn is a bit tougher, because I want to create a more professional persona.  But then I struggle to let my personality shine if I feel too restricted.

How to create your personal brand headline: Brainstorm the top ten things you like to do!  Some of these may be work related, recreational, or random hobbies.  Throw it all together into something consistent with the message you are sending to people on a day to day basis.

My personal brand headline is quite a hodge podge of stuff.  I have so many projects and interests, so I find it daunting to narrow it down.  I am  Type A and constantly evolving, which leads to a lot of reviewing and adjusting.

Organizing Queen: I love organizing everything – messy rooms, small and large events, volunteers, you name it.

Headhunter: I recently began a venture with A-PLUS Recruiting where I cold call businesses to drum up new business and search online for qualified candidates to fill spots.  I also like hunting for the right people in general – whether it’s expanding my professional contacts or simply being a social butterfly and enjoying the company of fun people.

Political Enthusiast: I left the political mention off of my headline for quite a while, but now it seems foolish not to include it.  I often shy away from mentioning politics because people often zero in on that item and ignore all of the other things that make me who I am.  Alas though, I love politics and will always be involved in some capacity.

Concert-Goer: One of my favorite past times is going to concerts with my best concert buddy Jen.  Most recently, I went to see U2 in St. Louis.

Bookworm: Ever since I have been able to read, I have enjoyed it.  I read everything from chick lit to biographies.  Currently, I am reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Godmother: Talk to me for ten minutes, and you will inevitably hear about my nephew Gabriel and niece Lucy.  I love them to pieces and babysit them on Fridays.

Make it a venti in the morning, red in the evening: Coffee and wine are fabulous.  I enjoy various area coffee shops including Starbucks, Dunn Bros., and Redband Coffee.  I also enjoy Target‘s selection of wine and winding down at The Grape Life.

The toughest part of the headline is to leave out job titles.  As mentioned above, this may be necessary to include on LinkedIn, but think of it more as keywords there to let your imagination go.  If you love your job title and that is what you do with your life, more power to you.  However, I am aiming for a well-rounded headline that shares a glimpse of me.

Skeptics of this sort of thing likely think people who know us will know who we are without a headline.  True, but what about those people who only know you on the surface and might benefit from knowing more?  I have stumbled upon several new projects and opportunities by showing more sides of myself than just the full time or day job that threatens to take over my life.

Your Twitter profile is a good place to start with summarizing your brand in a headline, and I love reading others’ blurbs.  The character limit is a good thing, because it forces you to be concise.

Most importantly, have fun creating and refining your personal brand.  I am living out my headline today – babysitting Gabriel and Lucy.  Happy Friday, everyone!