Tag Archives: Doing Life Together

Life Lessons Learned from my Parents


This article first appeared on Doing Life Together.

Mom and Dad

My parents on their wedding day, 1951.

Mom passed away in 2004, Dad in 2013. I miss them every day.

In this season between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, I would like to honor my parents by enumerating the ways they made me what I am.

My parents taught me:

To work hard. Whatever chores they assigned me, I was expected to do them well, without complaining, and be happy that I was contributing to my family. (I often disappointed them by not complying with the no complaining and happiness stipulations.) My father worked long hours and sometimes worked a second job to support our family. He worked so hard at his baking job that he eventually became a partner in the business.

To read the rest of this article, click here.

The Day Milo Went AWOL . . . by Andrea R Huelsenbeck

The Day Milo Went AWOL . . . by Andrea R Huelsenbeck

An oldy, but a goody. Un-smiley face graphic by Kaz Vorpal.

Doing Life Together

California King Snake California King Snake

As I was readying to leave for work one day fifteen years ago, my daughter Erin, then fifteen years old and the last of our children to leave for school in the morning, breathlessly announced, “There’s a snake in my pants!”

Now, in some homes, a statement like that might be alarming. However, in our house, it was pretty typical.

Firstly, my kids tended to keep their clothes on the floor. Secondly, although we live in Arizona, we are surrounded on all sides by the greater Phoenix metropolitan area—unlikely a wild reptile wriggled in from the desert. It would probably be one of our resident serpents.

You see, my husband, Greg, an elementary school teacher, collected critters.

So my very logical response to Erin was “Who is it?”

“One of the black and white ones.”

Boy, was I ticked. I had recently flown to New Jersey to…

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Heart Failure . . . by Andrea R Huelsenbeck  

Heart Failure . . . by Andrea R Huelsenbeck   

Some of you know that I am a contributor to Doing Life Together along with some other members of my critique group, Tuesday’s Children. This was my most-read post on DLT in 2015:

Doing Life Together

Source: hestia 0527 on www.craftsy.com Source: hestia 0527 on http://www.craftsy.com

Years ago, my pastor’s wife started a sewing circle to make a quilt that, when auctioned off, would raise money for our financially struggling church. The emphasis was on stitching with excellence, but a special camaraderie formed around the quilting frame. People spoke freely, laughed with abandon. We grew into a tight-knit group. Once, a woman confessed it was her birthday, and she told her husband she wanted to celebrate her special day by coming to our quilting session.

We auctioned off the first quilt at our annual fall festival. A professional auctioneer donated his services, and the quilt netted several hundred dollars.

The sewing circle made plans for a whole-cloth quilt. Instead of a pieced or appliquéd design, the quilting stitches themselves would be the artistic focus of the quilt. The pastor’s wife carefully penciled the intricate design on the new quilt top, and we…

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I Resolve . . . by Andrea R Huelsenbeck

I Resolve . . . by Andrea R Huelsenbeck

Doing Life Together

Many years ago I gave up on writing New Year’s resolutions. It seemed to me like an exercise in futility—by February I’d forgotten whatever good intentions I had the month before.

It also seemed incorrect to call it a New Year’s resolution, since I was making the same ones year after year.

The Encarta Dictionary has 13 definitions for the word resolution.  I would like to look at the concept of the New Year’s Resolution in light of 9 of them.

  1.  Process of resolving—the process of resolving something such as a problem or dispute. We make resolutions in response to problems. We see something in ourselves that needs changing.
  2. Decision—a firm decision to do something. This is my conundrum. If you make a firm decision to do something, you do it. I forget about it.
  3. Determination—firmness of mind or purpose. This is another thing I’m wishy-washy about. I’m only…

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Smarty Dance . . . by Andrea R Huelsenbeck  

Smarty Dance . . . by Andrea R Huelsenbeck   

The brain-dance connection.

Doing Life Together

folk dancersWhen I was a music education major at Duquesne University in the early 1970s, I took a course called Eurythmics, which used rhythmic physical movements to teach musical concepts. One facet of the course was learning folk dances from around the world. Subsequently, folk dancing is one of my most pleasant memories of my college years.

Several years ago I wanted to experience that joy again. A Google search led me to the Phoenix International Folk Dancers, a group of people who meet weekly to dance and promote folk dancing.

When I first joined the group, I found the dances difficult and physically demanding. I couldn’t execute the moves gracefully. I couldn’t keep up with the other dancers. Looking around, I noticed that most of the dancers were my age and older—some well into their 80s and 90s. And it hit me—these were people who had been dancing since they were young…

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Landing in Paradise . . . by Andrea R. Huelsenbeck

Landing in Paradise . . . by Andrea R. Huelsenbeck

Does anyone remember the Maui Writer’s Conference?

Doing Life Together

Maui 5

A green, rocky jewel surrounded by sparkling blue was my first glimpse. As we flew closer, my heart pounded. My dream was coming true.

About 2 weeks after my mother passed away in 2004, I attended the famous Maui Writers Conference. My trip was planned long before the stroke that took my mother’s life. Part of me felt guilty for doing something so self-serving when I was still in mourning. Another part of me was ready to work—and to be blessed by beauty.

The Maui Airport was very open—meaning that there was no window glass. The breeze was free to blow right through the building. How exotic! I boarded a shuttle bus that would take me to pick up my rental car.

I had reserved the least expensive compact car. The agent cheerfully asked me if I would like to upgrade to a Mustang convertible for just $10 a day more…

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Preserving Family Stories


Doing Life Together

Why does Vivian’s house have a false alarm?

The autumn our daughter Carly was two and a half, we admired the fallen leaves together. “But, Mommy,” she asked, looking up at bare branches, “how do the leaves get back on the trees?”

Our old house in New Jersey had a smoke alarm in every room. The one in our son Matt’s bedroom was directly over his crib. He loved that smoke alarm. A little red light on it blinked once a minute to show the alarm was operational. As an infant, Matt lay on his back, watching for the red light, gleefully waving his arms and legs every time it blinked.

In our old neighborhood, people invited trick-or-treating families into their homes on Halloween. Most children headed straight for the treat bowl. Two-year-old Matt walked right past it, located the home’s interior hallway, and checked for a smoke alarm. Then…

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How to Practice the Piano: The Warm-Up, Part II—Etudes and Scales . . .by Andrea R Huelsenbeck  

How to Practice the Piano: The Warm-Up, Part II—Etudes and Scales . . .by Andrea R Huelsenbeck   


Originally posted on Doing Life Together:

Today’s post is a continuation of a previous one on warming up for your piano practice session. To read an article on how beneficial practicing an instrument is, click here.


Etudes are studies that target a particular element of technique. Many composers have written etudes. Chopin wrote 27 that are so beautiful they are concert pieces.

The king of etudes (and the first person to call one of his pieces an etude) is Carl Czerny. He studied with Beethoven and went on to become a successful composer and teacher himself. His School of Velocity has been used for over 150 years by piano students all over the world. As the name suggests, these pieces are designed to help the pianist develop speed. I particularly like the collection called Selected Piano Studies.Czerny

Learn one hand at a time, starting with your more dominant hand. Some measures will be harder than others. Mark those measures and turn them into little exercises, playing them through many times every day. I start by playing them at least ten times, and the last time must be perfect or I keep working. As I improve on those little snippets, I try to play them perfectly three times in a row, then ten times in a row.

When you can play the entire etude well with separate hands, then put the two hands together.

Play it as slowly as you need to play it correctly, then work on increasing your speed. (You can buy an inexpensive metronome or find one online or download a metronome app.) I start by playing at a comfortable speed, finding my number of beats per minute (bpm) by experimenting with different settings on the metronome, writing that number on my music, and gradually increasing the speed anywhere from 1-10 bpm at a time.

You can work your way through the book practicing up to four etudes at a time, playing each one 4-10 times. Again, systematically rotate through them to review the ones you’ve already mastered.


Thoroughly learning scales will enable you to play pieces in all keys, major and minor. It is helpful, before practicing a piece, to run through its scale first, along with a progression of chords in that scale.

If you are just beginning to learn your scales, start with the key of C. It is the simplest, because it doesn’t have any sharps or flats. Then progress through the Circle of Fifths.circle-of-fifthsTraveling clockwise or counterclockwise through the circle will add one sharp or flat to the pattern. (Don’t make me try to explain why—just know that music, like everything else in the natural world, is governed by physics and mathematics.)

The Hanon and Schmitt exercise books have scales sections. Refer to these so you can see where the black keys fall and also which fingers to use for each note. Fingering is important; these tried and true fingerings will help you play smoothly with ease.

For the sake of being systematic, learn all the major scales first; then progress through the minors. There are two kinds of minor scales that pianists need to know: harmonic and melodic. The harmonic minor scales are what composers use when writing the harmonic scheme of a piece in a minor key; they use the melodic when writing the melody. The melodic minor is different ascending and descending. (Don’t ask me why, that’s just the way it is. Some intervals sound better going up than going down.)

Start by practicing one octave (eight note unit) going up and coming back down again. Learn the scale first in your more dominant hand, then the other hand, then both hands together, an octave apart.

When you can play one-octave scales in each key well, try two octaves, then three (it helps to group your notes in threes), then four (think groups of four sixteenth notes).

Then learn to play them in contrary motion. Starting with both of your thumbs on the same note, let your right hand go up (right) and your left hand go down (left) in the sequence of the key for one octave, two octaves, or three octaves, then reverse direction and move back to the starting note.

Warming up is just the appetizer of your practice session. Spending time on exercises, etudes, and scales will prepare your brain and your muscles for the entree of your practice: making beautiful music out of notes on a page.

This concludes my two-part series on How to Practice Piano: The Warm-Up. In a future post, I’ll write about practicing repertoire, explaining how you can make your practice time most productive.

Did you find this post helpful? Is there something you would add to the practice of etudes and scales? Please post a comment below.

How to Practice the Piano: The Warm-Up, Part I—Preparatory Exercises . . .by Andrea R Huelsenbeck  

How to Practice the Piano: The Warm-Up, Part I—Preparatory Exercises . . .by Andrea R Huelsenbeck   

Doing Life Together

083This post started as a response to Jeff Goin’s 500 Word Challenge. The writing prompt was to explain how to do something, step by step.

Although I am not a piano teacher, I know a lot about practicing the piano. I have been playing piano on and off for 54 years, and I love/hate practicing. Many music students regard it as a necessary evil. However, to learn what scientists say about how daily practice and learning to play an instrument benefits you, watch the video below:

To be a great musician (I confess I am not), practicing is a discipline you must cultivate. It is a way of life. The suggestions I give may be applicable to practicing other instruments as well. (For an excellent treatise on the discipline of practicing the guitar, also applicable to other instruments, read Practicing: A Musician’s Return to Music, by Glenn Kurtz.) better practiceing

As a…

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This piece was first posted on Doing Life Together. On Saturday, I’ll post a slideshow of photographs I’ve taken at the MIM.

Doing Life Together

MIM ext from mim.org

If you are ever in the Phoenix, Arizona area, I recommend you spend a few hours at the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM). This world-class cultural center will delight your senses. I’ve gone five times, and I look forward to going again. The MIM was founded by Robert J. Ulrich, former CEO and chairman emeritus of Target Corporation.

The Building

Inlaid marble floor at the foot of a circular staircase at the MIM Inlaid marble floor at the foot of a circular staircase at the MIM

The MIM opened in April, 2010. Although the building is relatively new, its organic style makes it seem like it’s been there forever. That was intentional. Architect Rich Varda designed it to evoke the topography of the Southwest. Indian sandstone is the primary element on the building’s façade. Patterns on the floors, walls, and ceilings suggest the geological striations of the Arizona landscape. The museum encompasses 200,000 square feet on two floors.MIM 007

The Collection

The MIM…

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