Counting Blessings

I work Fridays, Sundays, and Mondays for a total of sixteen hours a week at Total Wine, the largest retailer of wine and spirits in the USA with 208 stores in 24 states. We stock over 8000 different wines in our store. I am one of about 800 wine specialists working for Total Wine across the country. I don’t work because I need the money. I have plenty to keep me busy with the house, yard, Heinrich Isaac editions, and family genealogy. But I do enjoy the atmosphere of working with my colleagues. It is very reminiscent of graduate school. We’re all wine geeks who love talking and learning about wine.  I’m the odd guy there because I’m part-time but they keep me around because I know just enough to be valuable and they appreciate that I always want to learn more.

So, today I get a call from the wine manager. Quick organizational chart: 2 store managers, 3 asst. managers, 1 wine manager, 1 wine supervisor. I consider the wine manager to be my mentor in wine; although he is probably 20 years my junior, he has sommelier knowledge. Anyway he called me today and asked if I would be interested in being part of a wine tasting next Tuesday with Tony Biagi – Napa Valley’s Winemaker of the Year for 2020. This guy has been behind some of the best-known wines in Napa for decades. OK, so let me get this straight: They want to PAY me to spend two hours tasting wines with one of the best winemakers in California on my day off. Gee…..

That call got me thinking about how fortunate I am.

I turn 68 this year. The ravages of age have indeed begun creeping up on me. I have a rotator cuff problem right now with my right shoulder. It is probably akin to the other health issues I have had such as the spinal stenosis (for which I had surgery in 2017) and arthritic knuckles which prevent me from any keyboard work. I have been afraid to try playing my tuba or euphonium because of the condition of my right middle finger.

Waa, waa. 

I am continually told that I do not look my age.  A (younger) co-worker was shocked to discover my age yesterday. I see the differences but evidently others do not.

I walk my Doberdork about five miles daily on the days I do not go into Total Wine. And when I am at Total Wine I probably walk ten miles in addition to climbing ladders and hoisting cases of wine up and down.

I go to my doctor, dentist, dermatologist, ophthalmologist appointments regularly and they invariable send me away with nothing more than cautionary warnings (“eat more veggies”, “don’t drink too much”, wear a hat”)

I live where it does not snow. It doesn’t even frost! I have a swimming pool and hot tub right outside my 24-foot glass patio door – which most months is wide open, making the pool area (called a “lanai” here) part of my living room. There is a 25-foot boat on a lift on the canal at the edge of my property. Said canal leads to the Caloosahatchee river and right down past downtown Fort Myers to the Gulf of Mexico.

My beautiful wife, Michelle, turns 50 next Tuesday. She continues to amaze me with her intelligence and dedication to her chosen career. She is considered a rising star in her field, but those people do not even begin to grasp her breadth and depth of knowledge in things like music history and performance, cooking, or craftsmanship. Two days ago, she whipped up a seafood pasta from leftovers that was worthy of any restaurant. The next day she designed and executed an undercarriage for a beautiful desk that we bought on Craigslist that allows it to be wheeled around. That same day, she went out to the lanai and made two black iron trellises for bougainvillea look amazing by painting portions of them (see image at top).

Every day I thank God that I get to spend my life with her.

There are other blessings. The afore-mentioned Doberdork – Loki – continues to grow and annoy and amaze. He is definitely a challenge – one we did not anticipate. I figured we could handle any dog with our combined backgrounds in psychology, education, veterinary technology, and dog ownership. WRONG! Despite previous dogs such as Bassett Hounds Collies, Springers, Cockers, mutts of all types: Loki is the smartest and most stubborn animal we have dealt with. He is also the most loving and dedicated.  When Michelle comes home, his ears go to his shoulders and he cannot wag his tail enough. I mean, really, how do you beat that?

There are my ongoing friendships and work with Markus Utz and Harold Lischkowitsch. Both live in Konstanz, Germany and both are central to my current life.

Markus is truly one of the finest musicians in Europe. One of the last students of Eric Ericsson, he has risen to be the professor of choral studies at the Zurich School of the Arts – where Hindemith once worked. His work at the Konstanz Munster caused our paths to cross and while his star has continued to rise; he has allowed me to tag along by creating editions of music for his groups to sing.  He keeps me in the game and challenges me to keep working in the research that I began way back in 1982. Markus is invited to Yale University again this fall as a visiting professor for their Sacred Music program. We have been collaborating on his presentation there where he will use portions of my presentation material from the 2010 Isaac conference at Indiana University and music from my editions from the Choralis Constantinus. His planned project to record an entire CD of my editions is still on track, but keeps getting pushed back due to Covid-19 problems.

Harold and I spoke just last Saturday. We miss each other. He has been one of my best friends ever since we set eyes on each other the day after German reunification  (Deutsche Wiedervereinigung) in 1990. We were in Vienna – neither of us had slept the night before. But both recognized a kindred spirit. And it was our good fortune that we both had a connection to Konstanz. I was on that trip only for the chance to see Konstanz, the focus of my doctoral research. He was there as a native Konstanzer to introduce the city to a group of Americans. I cannot speak for him, but I can say with confidence that he has changed my life for the good. It will remain a great regret that Covid-19 forced the cancellation of our planned family visit to Konstanz because I so wanted to show my family all the things that makes the city so appealing.

I have two children. Neither is my biological child, but both call me “dad”. I am proud of both. They have chosen their paths in life and are pursuing them. They call me daily and I am always glad to hear from them. They are a blessing.

In conclusion, I could complain about what is wrong with the country, with politics, the world, but I have decided to focus on what is going well. I truly believe that much of this appreciation comes from cutting ties to social media. My Facebook account remains active because Messenger is helpful for sending information to others. But Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. are all gone. I ignore most emails from Academia.edu – the majority of which seem intent on getting me to pay them to discover who might be reading about me (seriously?).

My wish for all reading this is that you see the beauty around you and seek happiness in the little things. Happy Eastertide.

March Update

It’s been almost two months since I last posted. Much has happened since that time, but I haven’t had the opportunity to write about it. Here are some details:

Spring has sprung in southwest Florida. The Key lime, Barbados limes, and Bearss limes are all blossoming as is the tangerine tree. The avocado that we grew from seed may never bear fruit, but avocados never do until they’re about seven years old anyway, so maybe it will someday. I’m eating tomatoes and herbs from the garden. The rosemary bushes and Italian parsley are truly loving this climate. The African blue basil never stops trying to take over its space.

In February I was again reminded how my immediate family runs the gamut of the baby-boom generation. My oldest sibling was born in 1945 and my youngest in 1964.  My oldest niece Carrie came to Fort Myers on vacation with her husband Dan. They are now empty nesters and grandparents (!). This makes me the brother of a great-grandfather. Hmmmm. Even funnier, it makes Michelle, who is several years younger than my niece, a great-grand aunt. Hehehe.

It was great to spend an evening with them in downtown Fort Myers at the rooftop bar on top of the new Luminary Hotel overlooking the Caloosahatchee River. We caught up on many family things and laughed about the many things that makes our family unique.

While Michelle and I rejoice almost daily that we live in this paradise that we have created for ourselves, one of the things that we do miss is seeing the Feiszli clan. Of course, we had the whole family trip planned for June of 2020 until Covid-19 knocked everything off course. All of our generation with the exception of our youngest sibling, should soon have received their second Covid vaccination.  Michelle got both of hers quite early due to the nature of her job at a state-run facility.  I just received my first Moderna shot yesterday and am scheduled for the second on 1 April. Hopefully by the fall of 2021 we might be able to have family gatherings again.  I have missed at least three weddings and have not seen at least two new babies. I have not really seen any of my family since 2015. 

Mask up! Get the vaccine! Let’s get over this plague!

BTW, this photo was taken on a rooftop (outside), and we all wore masks to the table and only removed them when we were seated far away from others. Dan and Carrie had already contracted and survived Covid. Michelle already had both her shots. I (the oldest) was probably most at risk in this photo.

Only a week or so later, Jackson and Nathan came down for a visit. This was actually more than simply a “spring break” for these two. It was actually Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Michelle’s birthday celebration all rolled into one, since Covid had put the clamps on everything for the past year.

They now live in Sioux Falls and are carving out their own life trajectory.

Nathan is a rising star in the Olive Garden chain, serving as the culinary manager of the Sioux Falls restaurant but (from all indications) being groomed to become a corporate trainer for other managers. They have already flown him to Italy (in 2019) to study cooking and culture – an experience that, just as my first trip to Europe in 1989, was life-changing for him.

Jackson has come to enjoy the hospitality industry – despite the fact that he completed a degree in electrical school. He enjoys working with people and with the challenges that hotel work brings him. After working at the Alex Johnson in Rapid City, he immediately took a position with a boutique hotel in downtown Sioux Falls and may soon investigate other positions with more responsibility.

Their ultimate dream would be to have their own restaurant with Nathan running the kitchen and Jackson running the house. Too bad I’m so old because I’d love to run their bar.  🙂

They were here a week and the five of us managed to do much together. Michelle and the guys went to the beach one day while I and Rachel worked. The four of them went kayaking at the Manatee Park without me one day. We all went downtown the night of this photo. We hot-tubbed, swam, played with the dog (Loki misses Nathan now that he’s gone, I think), had some really great home-cooked meals with good wine and cocktails.

As the old newspapers used to say, “A good time was had by all”

I missed the kayaking trip because I have somehow managed to injure my shoulder. The specter of  old age is making its ever-increasing impact upon my life. I went to the doctor’s office and the nurse practitioner suspects a torn rotator cuff and ordered an MRI. OK, scheduled that only to have my health insurance company refuse to approve it until 1) I got an x-ray and 2) saw an orthopedic surgeon. <sigh>

So, I can’t work, can’t do yardwork (and have to pay someone else to do it), and have trouble sleeping because I can’t lie on my right side. Oh, and I have discovered how pathetically right-handed I really am.  Got the x-ray. It shows nothing other than arthritis (big surprise). If it is torn tissue that won’t show up in an x-ray, of course. I (finally) get in to see the ortho on Tuesday and then (maybe) the idiotic insurance company will OK an MRI so we can discover what the hell is going on. Grrr. 

Ah well, I can’t play piano because of arthritic fingers. I couldn’t raise my right arm to conduct if I had to. Looks like I’ll have to resign myself to being retired in Florida with a boat, pool, spa, and convertible. 🙂

That’s all the news from Lake Wobegon. Hope you’re all doing well and finding some happiness in your daily lives.

Counting Blessings

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

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.