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.

Love,
Melissa, Percy, and Gemma

India: Simple Things

India: Simple Things

Before I visited India, mention of the country would bring up images of meditating, Buddha, zen stuff. My brief time in the cities seemed nothing like that.

However, in the rural area where I visited and spent the majority of my time, I saw this every day.

When waking at dawn every day, serene music played from the speakers in the open air court yard at Bijolai Palace. It was surreal to look out on the country side while hearing this foreign music and taking in the amazing sights. I really felt like I was in a faraway land.


The simple “Namaste” greeting became routine. I found myself placing my hands together and nodding my head downward while saying this without even thinking about it after only a couple of days in India. This word / phrase carries a lot of regard with very little fanfare.

The stone structures that house families and businesses in the villages are incredibly simple. A few have bright colors in the city, but on the country side, you see a lot of bland color. Since I visited during the dry month of December, the ground was dry and vegetation was scarce.

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Dirt is everywhere. It blows around and is a part of the dry air. The simplicity of dirt everywhere struck me. Most homes had dirt floors. The schools where we stationed our vision clinics had dirt yards. Often the people who live there were mostly covered in dirt and did not seem to care.

In the midst of all of this blandness, one would see bright flashes of orange, pink, blue, and every color of the rainbow. The women wear bright, yet simple, attire that stands out in a land of brown and grey.


The villagers have very few possessions. A few pots could provide cooking and table wear purposes for everyone. When giving a child a sticker or a pencil, her eyes would look at you like you just gave her something much more than that. Some villagers had to be reminded to wear their new glasses rather than tucking them safely away. These interactions and more made me pause about how casually I regard all of my material possessions in comparison. (I will discuss my post trip feelings in future blog posts.)

I did my best to embrace simplicity while I was in India. When my mind wandered, I really tried to keep the wandering scope within India. I tried not to worry whether I had remember to pay all of my bills before I left the U.S. or think about how Percy and Jag were faring without me. I found it fairly easy to keep my head in India though, because random sightings would churn back around in my head all of the time.

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I found myself to be an early morning person in India, largely due to the 11.5 hour time change. I embraced that quiet time each day to walk around the court yard, take in the music and scenery, and process the awesomeness that is found in the simple things.

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Namaste.

India: Go Big or Go Home

India: Go Big or Go Home

Prior to my trip to India, I had never set foot outside of the United States. I was becoming a world traveler overnight. To my surprise, I was not very tightly wound about this whole concept of going from 0 to 100 out of the gate.

I told myself when I found out I was going on the trip on December 10, 2013 – nearly a year before I was scheduled to leave for India – that I was going to embrace everything uncomfortable about it. That was easier to do than I had anticipated. The trip seemed so far off, and so I just continued on with life. Even one month out from the adventure, while I was sitting on conference calls about security and travel requirements, it still seemed forever away.

I crave change, almost too much at times. I was going to be traveling with a group, many of whom had traveled a lot internationally. I listened in on all of the pre-trip conference calls and read everything that OneSight emailed to me to prepare for the trip.

When you do something big, you have to break it down into manageable pieces.

For me, the first manageable piece was taking in all of the information thrown my way. In addition to reading the OneSight email updates, I googled Jodhpur, the city where I would be staying. I watched multiple YouTube videos. I began to buy a new Indian food each week when I went to the grocery store.

Then came the paperwork for my U.S. Passport and my India work visa. I have to admit, I waited until nearly the last minute to get all of these things processed. I think part of this was due to my suddenly laid back approach to this process, and the fact that I have passed multiple secret service background checks during my years in politics when I worked presidential events and had a Vice President come to my office.

The U.S. Passport proved to be an easier process than the India work visa. I take for granted that I live in a country that is not physically surrounded by so much turmoil.

The next thing was packing. I actually packed light. I did not pack every little thing that was recommended, such as a flashlight. Yes, I am such a risk taker! 😉 I am pretty proud of how well I packed, since I did not take a lot and I had never traveled out of the U.S. before this. The planner in me was somewhat on autopilot, as I did not even take my suitcase out until a few days before I left. And I bought my final item – an outlet adapter – the day before I left home.

While I did a pretty good job of packing for my first time traveling overseas, I could have used a lot more paper products. Instead, I confiscated as much toilet paper and as many napkins as I possibly could from our hotel room and dining area to tie me over and to prevent me from blowing my nose like a farmer. The dry northwest India winter air did a number on my sinuses. I was miraculously back to normal within 48 hours of arriving back in the U.S.

And then all of a sudden, the time had arrived. Once I was at the airport, the rest was out of my hands. I was anxious and relieved all at the same time when I checked in at the Moline airport. With each leg of my trip to India, I became less anxious. I was getting closer to the destination. It was really happening! I was going to India! I had such a laid back approach because the idea of going to India was so big that my mind just shoved it to the side. Then the anxiety of not forgetting anything nagged at me for a few days leading up to the trip (when I finally decided to start packing). The entire journey to India still seems surreal to me in some ways. I knew no one going on the trip with me. I had not even met any of these people in person prior to meeting them in Newark, New Jersey. Thanks to a crazy broken exit sign on our plane scheduled to take us from Newark to Delhi, we had an extra night in the states to “bond” while we waited for the next flight on the following night.

Everything was already new once I reached Newark: the people, the airport, the whole international flying experience, you name it. I did take comfort in the familiarity of Starbucks. 😉 I was so excited that I could barely sleep during our short night/day at the hotel in Newark. And when the plane FINALLY took off from Newark, I took a deep breath and pinched myself for about the 20th time since leaving home.

The truth is, you can’t really prepare yourself for the really big stuff. That’s because going big requires a big leap of faith that everything will be just fine.

My journey across the globe to help people see

My journey across the globe to help people see

Three months ago today, I returned from the trip of a lifetime. I was part of a OneSight global clinic in India.

While I journaled regularly while in India, once I started my long journey home, it was difficult to put pen to paper. Thus, it was even more challenging to think about how I would even begin to blog about my trip to India.

I fully intended to blog while I was in India, but alas, the internet and wi-fi there is spotty. So I stuck to my once or twice daily 140 words or less posts on Twitter and Facebook. And thankfully I had a paper journal that my dear friend Beth had given to me specifically for the trip.

So here I am, three months later, finally starting to share everything I saw and felt while experiencing life on the other side of the world. It will take multiple posts to cover everything I want to share. I somehow managed to condense my thoughts and photos down into a twenty minute presentation for the Durant Lioness Club on St. Patrick’s Day just a few days ago, so I will kick off my series of India posts with a small section from that presentation titled “My journey across the globe to help people see.”

By the numbers:

360 days of counting down

40 people from 8 countries on our clinic team

20 of those people flying from the United States

2 – 15 hour flights, in addition to the domestic connecting flights

11.5 hour time difference

1 broken exit sign on the departing plane

1 – 24 hour delay due to cancelled flight after broken sign

10 clinic days

432 near accidents while riding to and from anywhere (animals, other vehicles, you name it)

23 photos taken with random Indians because they asked me to pose with them

7 compliments on my nose ring from Indian women

1 almost glorious meal at McDonalds in Jodhpur (no beef and no ice!)

956 times I told myself how thankful I am to live in the United States

5,000 patients seen, with most receiving Rx eyewear

5,000+ pairs of sunglasses donated and distributed

7 offers to refill my plate each time the villagers fed us lunch

321 “namaste” greetings

3: the number of people we were required to have in groups when exploring the city of Jodhpur solo – and my native New Yorker friend Helen actually counted as 2 people 😉

36 hours spent traveling to get home

5 days to fully recover from jet lag

1 redhead whose life has been changed forever

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I look forward to sharing more of my journey with you!