Counting Blessings

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December is difficult for former musicians. Too many memories of past concerts and repertoire. Michelle and I have both felt disconnected this year (like everyone else) because for as long as we can remember, we have spent this season making music to celebrate the holidays.

Recently Michelle and I have begun to mindfully be cognizant of the good things in our lives rather than dwell on the bad things – which 2020 has tried to make everyone do. I have to recognize that my impact on people’s lives has been more significant than I tend to acknowledge. 

Recently I have been tagged or copied or directly messaged on varying social media by former students expressing delight over some musical performance or performer or composition.  It humbles me every time it happens because I so seldom acknowledge the impact my teaching had on their lives.

To all my former students: Thank you for trusting me to be part of your life. I end with this link sent by Nick Case – a member of Master Chorale at SDSMT and part of Dakota Voices during its heyday

Holiday Greetings 2020

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The apocalypse is here! I’m starting a holiday greeting letter prior to New Years! I create this as an online document but b&w paper copies will be printed out for those to whom I send cards in case they are not fluent internet users.

2020 has been something hasn’t it? In the insanity of the election fury, I left social media and began the feiszli.net website to both boycott Facebook, et al; and to create an online repository for the music Michelle and I have created over the years. I still have my social media accounts, but rarely post to or visit any of them.

The coronavirus ruined many things in 2020. I spent a great deal of effort and time (along with my friend Harald Lischkowitsch in Germany) planning a trip to Germany, Austria, Switzerland for thirteen siblings and nieces. We got to the point of buying airline tickets and sending money across the pond for deposits on hotels and transport. Then the shutdowns began. First Europe, then the USA. We had to cancel. I am afraid that opportunity may never come again. And time Is fleeting. There were weddings and births of nieces and nephews we missed. I am not certain we will ever get the entire clan together again. That is a great sadness to me.

Coronavirus caused some other decisions. At the outset of the initial wave, I was given the option of not working at Total Wine if I felt unsafe. Well, in Florida; home of the miniature Trump, Governor Ron DeSantis; no safety mandates were issued, and nothing was closed. While our store employees were ordered to mask up, customers were not. To make matters worse, they were plugging me into 30 (or more) hours a week! So, I opted out and was able to be at home for three months just as Michelle’s facility also sent the clinicians home to work from a distance. While Michelle became stir-crazy early on, I took the opportunity to begin the website and create consistent editions of my life’s work – the motets from Heinrich Isaac’s Choralis Constantinus.

With more time on our hands, we decided we needed more animals in the house and got a puppy. Not just any puppy. Oh no, not us. Without doing nearly enough research we got a Doberman Pinscher puppy. Loki – the dog of mischief – was acquired from what we thought was a reputable breeder.

Nope. It was a puppy mill. Yes, I know. People with our knowledge and background should have known better. He arrived with parvovirus and was in the vet hospital within 24 hours. Thank God for Michelle’s vet tech training! Parvo is often fatal and Loki was a very sick puppy. He pulled through and we finally got him home a week later, nothing but skin and bones. Needless to say, we reported the breeders to authorities, and they got shut down.

So we have a puppy with three cats that hate himnot reallyhe just wants to be their friend. Dobermans are high energy, boisterous, intelligent, and considered dangerous by insurance companies (we had to change insurance companies and, yes, it went up!) Loki is a very nice dog. He is not aggressive unless frightened and plays well with all other dogs who will put up with his puppiness. Michelle and I are too old for puppies and regret the decision daily until he melts our hearts with his cuteness and antics. Growing fast, it is difficult to remember that he is only nine months old, since he is housed in a huge body.

We figured with our mutual backgrounds in operant conditioning and dog ownership we’d be able to train him to be the perfect dog. Well, 2020 intervened again. Total Wine called and begged me to come back to work. I replied that a 20-hour a week gig had become an albatross when it became 30 hours weekly with an inconsistent schedule. Told the manager that if he’d guarantee me no more than 18 hours a week and a consistent schedule, I do it – knowing NOBODY got that kind of consideration. Figured that would be the end of it. The manager went to his staff and told them of my “demands”. Their response? “We’ll be glad to have him here whenever. If that’s what he wants, give it to him.” So, I’m back at work (Total Wine has now instituted a customer mask mandate) for 18 hours a week, same three days every week. They gave me a raise AND placed me in a program that is akin to sommelier training. Hard to pass up an extra $900/month AND a 30% discount on wine. In the midst of all this, Michelle took and passed her state licensure examination and is now a licensed counselor in Florida. That may not sound like a big deal, but it really is. Most of her co-workers are not licensed. It is somewhat like a bar exam for lawyers. You can get a law degree, but until you pass that bar exam, you can’t do a lot of stuff. Same for mental health counselors. And she received a raise for it. Nice. Proud of her.

Michelle traveled to South Dakota twice this year. Nathan was promoted to be the manager of the Sioux Falls Olive Garden. Michelle went back to help Jackson pack up their house while Nathan prepped for his new position and searched for a new home in Sioux Falls. Just a few weeks later, Rachel fell gravely ill and ended up in the hospital in Rapid City. After some deep soul-searching, Rachel made the decision to leave Rapid City in September and come to Florida permanently to begin a new life. She has been here now for almost four months. She is healthier than she has been for a long time. After getting her health straightened out, she looked for work and, after two part-time gigs, has just begun a fulltime job working as the dishwasher at a local family-owned restaurant. That will allow her to build a nest egg and get her own place, hopefully by March. So, now our kids have left Rapid City also.

The University of Miami called on me to step in to teach four classes of graduate choral literature in September. The single GOOD thing about Covid-19 that happened this year is that the class was already being taught via Zoom, so I did not have to drive 2.5 hours to Miami and back in order to fill in. AND it was early music, so I enjoyed introducing the graduate students to Heinrich Isaac. Markus Utz, professor of choral conducting at the Zurich University of the Arts and former music director at the Konstanz Munster proposed a collaboration wherein select members (about 12) of his Ensemble Cantissimo would perform and record a whole CD of my Isaac editions. I have been working on their preparation but, with all else this year, the pandemic has set the project back a year.

Michelle’s facility called the clinicians back in October. She was there for maybe a week and then became extremely ill herself. Covid-like symptoms – but was taking a weekly Covid test at work with negative results. Hmm. Finally got her to the doctor. Pneumonia! She has never been this sick before. Coughing her lungs out, aches, fever, lethargy. Facility sent her home just as the facility erupted in a Covid nightmare. Entire wings were turned into hospital wards and all clinicians were sent home again – which was good for us as Michelle had already used up all her sick leave. She is on the mend now after three months, innumerable prescriptions, many tele-health visits, and the loss of almost 15 lbs. But she still has to be careful of over-exerting herself because she’ll end up with a coughing fit.

SO, with all that happening, consistent training of a puppy went out the window. Then, Rachel arrived with her cat in tow. Consequently, our dream house – which was the perfect size for us when we moved here with three cats and the two of us seems a little crowded and a lot messier. Yet, it’s good to have Rachel here as she discovers her direction in life.  Meanwhile, we’re slowly getting a handle on Loki and he will start working with a professional trainer in February.

And, finally, we crossed off one of the last bucket list items. Michelle had always mourned that she had to get rid of her beloved Mini-Cooper around 2007 when the kids got too big to fit in the back seat.

When Rachel arrived and began working, it was obvious that two cars – one of them a Miata – were not going to stretch when Rachel began working. So, we made another impetuous decision to go out and get Michelle’s dream car – a 2017 John Cooper limited edition Cooper convertible. It’s got every bell and whistle imaginable. I might be jealous except that I love my Miata so much that the Mini just doesn’t feel right, so it’s OK. Rachel will use the Ford Fusion and pay for the insurance and we’ll borrow it for things like taking Loki to the vet or doggy daycare.

So, year three in Florida creeps across the halfway point (May will mark three full years that we’ve been here). We count our blessings. Jim’s garden has seven tomatoes growing (in December!). The house survived the highest storm surge in decades when tropical storm Eta passed by in the Gulf – authorities verified that this storm surge surpassed that generated by Irma in 2017. Water did not quite reach the dock although it did get to the trunks of my lime trees and African basil planted on the edge of the canal. We planted our annual Christmas tree in the yard – a tangerine this year. We have enjoyed the harvest of more key limes than we can use from our Christmas tree a year ago..

As always, we are just within a phone call or email away. We always enjoy hearing from former students, colleagues, and friends. Jim is always accessible via email jfeiszli@gmail.com or mobile: (+1) 239-292-9654. Michelle is still mfeiszli@gmail.com and (+1) 605-415-6830. Jim sends a blog out about every two-three weeks from his website. If you wish to receive it by email, simply go to https://www.feiszli.net and subscribe. Our postal address remains:

13480 Marquette Boulevard
Fort Myers, FL 33905

All best wishes for you and your loved ones in the New Year. Love to all,

Jim and Michelle

Reminder: If you are receiving this as a paper message and wish to be able to access the hyperlinks, just go to: https://www.feiszli.net and click on the “Holiday Greetings 2020” blog for a fully functional online version of this letter.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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The concept behind the USA tradition of Thanksgiving is a good one. The historic reality, as usual, is less than what we were taught to believe. The actual beginnings of Thanksgiving was a celebration of English militia having slaughtered indigenous Native American people. I’m not making this up. See the Smithsonian article: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/thanksgiving-myth-and-what-we-should-be-teaching-kids-180973655/

Beginning on that downer, we need also acknowledge the holidays of Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ōmisoka, anf (of course) Christmas)

While being cognizant of my Anglo-Saxon-Germanic heritage and the havoc it wreaked upon indigenous peoples, I will take this opportunity to recognize what I have to be thankful for.

I have an immediate family that makes me happy to come home to.  This includes:

  1. Michelle. My best friend and forever companion.
  2. Jackson. My son and his partner Nathan. So proud of both of them.
  3. Rachel. My daughter. She is healthier that she’s ever been and is determined to find her way forward. So proud of her having looked her troubles in the eye and faced them down.
  4. Loki and the cats. Yeah, I took on a puppy who has incredible challenges but he loves me. The cats hate him but I think theymight come around some day when he settles down.

My extended family that grounds me in who and what I am:

  1. Bob and Mary – my eldest brother who always set the bar a little higher than I could reach. Distinguished military career (both of them). They inspire me.  Their children – Carrie, Chris, Justin, Kevin and respective spouses and children continue the legacy.
  2. Chuck – my elder bother who was always smarter and cooler than I could ever be. I’ve always believed that his engineering background gave me insight into the engineering students that I taught – even while knowing that Cornell was levels above SDSMT. His kids are amazing: Adam, Alex, and Caitlyn. I’m still mad that Alex stole “feiszli.com” from me.  🙂
  3. Melissa, Lorie, Cindy – My brother Bill’s children and ex-wife. Difficult to say how much they mean to me. Bill flamed out too soon, but I have great memories of his generosity in taking me in when I had no place to go. I am grateful to have been part of their life.
  4. Sue and Rand….. omg. You are the epicenter of the Feiszli clan. It is significant that Dad chose you (Rand) as his executor. If we need someone to call, it’s you two. I love you so much. Patrick/Dani, and Emily, you are the extensions of this great parenting pair. Love you all.
  5. Mike and Shannon (and Celia, Andrew, et al). You remind me of what family is all about. Wish I was there more often. This Covid thing keeps us from getting together, but I miss you and want to to visit.

Hopefully 2021 will allow us to have the Feiszli reunion we need. But until that happens; I love you all. Be safe, stay well.

We are, after two years and seven months in Florida, still happy and grateful to be here. We did settle in a very conservative area of Florida, but frankly, we are OK with being the liberal-thinking counterparts to many of our neighbors. When we posted our Biden-Harris sign on our lawn (and I am not a bumper-sticker kind of person), we were surrounded by dozens of Trump signs.  But I had at least 4-5 neighbors whisper to me that they were encouraged by our display. Trump still took our county (and state) but I am encouraged that maybe we gave others the ability to vote their conscience.

Many of you know that I left social media months ago because I foresaw the great divide happening in this country. If I thought I could help stop the nastiness and anger, I would. But, as someone who was on the Internet long before it was even known as the Internet; I have seen the consequences of being able to vent at a screen rather than in the presence of a real person.

Email, Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp, whatever allows one to craft a persona that cannot be sustained in real converse.  Donald Trump or anyone else can be someone that does not stand up to reality.  Sorry folks, I was there before the WorldWideWeb, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. I saw this coming. Stop it. Get off social media. Find alternative methods of communication.  Gee, maybe resort to sending cards through the USPS. Whatever. I have resorted to creating a website and blog that circumvent what we have accepted as our communication medium.