Backyard beauty

(Photos by Sharon)

Sometimes the museum right “next door” is one you forget to visit. But I’m glad our recent painting party with Barry Treu turned out to be small enough that he could host us at the Freeport Art Museum. We had fun creating variations on his “rainy day” picture of flowers in boot vases, we were literally sitting in the midst of the 19th Regional Juried Exhibition.

Featuring artists from throughout the Midwest, working in a variety of two- and three-dimensional media, the show will remain at FAM through July 29. Perry Eden, Linda Vietmeyer, Sheila Welch and Kathleen Wilken, all of Freeport, are just some of the artists whose work is featured in the regional show.

Before we left, we also had a chance to wander through the museum to see some of the other items on display. They are immensly varied. One of my favorites may not be intentional art, but it appeals to my (possibly weird) sense of humor. The “Please Do Not Set Anything on the Piano” sign — set on the piano — strikes my funny bone.

But on a more traditional note, I liked the dyptich — two-panel painting — called Pelican Island by Tara Keating.

I also liked the late 17th century Samurai helmet and mask, and the flirty statue of peasants, carved in marble by Ferdinand Vichi.

No matter what is shown, its well worth a trip to enjoy the art in our midst at the Freeport Art Museum. And admission is a bargain at $3 for adults, $2 for senior citizens and students, and $10 for a family.

The museum is at 121 N Harlem Ave. Learn more at


Art comes in many forms

(Montgomery Art Museum exterior from; others are Sharon’s photos)

When I go on trips, I love to stop at museums. On my trip this month, I had my first visit to both the art museum in Montgomery, Alabama, and the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky. Each is a tiny gem of a museum.

The art museum has a variety of media — both two- and three-dimensional. It’s a favorite of my almost-three-year-old grandson because of the many activities in an interactive children’s area. One that I liked was the Anatomy of a Painting. Opening sliding panels reveal the steps of the painting from an underlying sketch to the final layer of color. There are also a variety of building blocks, sketch tables and other art treats he and older children can enjoy.

A blown glass exhibit included a bright yellow pear, a seed-speckled strawberry and a purple plum by artists Joey Kirkpatrick and Flora Mace. Another exhibit featured the work of Ginny Ruffner, working with Grant Kirkpatrick — both based in Seattle, Washington. From an apparently bleak landscape of glass tree stumps sprout floral oases. This is one I wish I’d had more time to stroll through.

Admission is free, but be as generous as you can with your donations.

(Justin Ming Yong’s work; Sharon’s photo)

The National Quilt Museum is one I’ve wanted to visit for several years. No, I don’t quilt, but I admire those who work in this fabric art form. The museum has hundreds of quilts in its collection, but the building is too small to display them all at once. That’s an advantage, though, because it means there will likely be something fresh every time you stop.

One of my favorite exhibits was by Canadian artist Justin Ming Yong who works in abstract forms. His show in Paducah, “To Fill a Field,” appears to be on loan from the Toronto Arts Council and funded by the city of Toronto. I was enthralled by his work.

Some of the other exhibits featured traditional quilts, quilted garments, and miniature quilts displayed in doll-house sized rooms. A quilt mural of poppies was so large it reminded me of Monet’s water lily paintings at L’Orangerie museum in Paris. And the quilts of children playing were so detailed, it was easy to forget they were “painted” in cloth.

There was a small admission fee, but well worth it for the opportunity to enjoy so many amazing quilts.

I’m afraid I wasn’t able to walk away from either without a few purchases at their gift shops. Looking forward to my next visits.

À bientôt!

To (self-)publish or not to (self-)publish….

(Wikipedia photo)

I finally made it past the programs and other materials I’ve been working on all March. And I managed to squeak over the finish line in a class I took on self-publishing.

I’ve grown up imagining seeing my books on the library shelf. “The” library was always the one in my home town, the one where I spent a lot of my spare time as a kid, the one where I got my first job.

But my first full time job — at my hometown newspaper — conditioned me to expect to hear presses run minutes after the last story landed on the last page. Not an ideal expectation for someone seeking a traditional book publishing experience, where the day you type “the end” can be years before the day you open the box with the finished copies of the book from the publisher.

I know more than most, I suppose, about the printing process. I even took a printing class when I was in college. I loved setting type and working hand-fed presses. But that’s another story.

I’ve waited so long to devote time to writing fiction, that I have my doubts about being able to wait patiently for that traditional book publishing cycle. And I haven’t even looked for an agent yet (although I’ve had a couple encourage me to send them something when I finish the book).

So, the class in self-publishing was led by Jim Jackson, a past president and past member of the Sisters in Crime Guppy Chapter. The Guppies are “the great unpublished,” although the name is a misnomer since many members stay in the chapter after they’re published, sharing what they’ve learned with the rest of us who haven’t reached that lofty stage yet.

Jim taught a great class on revisions last year. It was intense, but amazingly organized and detailed. I loved it.

When I heard he was teaching one on self-publishing, I new it, too, would be well-planned, well-researched and, well, amazing. I figured it would be the ideal way to get all the facts so I could make a good decision about whether to keep trying for a traditional contract or just go it alone.

I haven’t made my final decision yet, but I do feel well-prepared to make it in the next few months.

I’ll keep you posted.

Agathas, Anthonys and Edgars, oh my!

(Sharon’s collage)

Even though I’m still what we call a “pre-published author” in the crime fiction business, right now my life seems to be all about awards.

A year ago I offered to create the program for Malice Domestic, an annual conference where fans and writers of mysteries gather for several days to talk, drink tea, and vote on the Agatha Awards. Yes, they are named in memory of the Dame herself, Agatha Christie.

I’ve put in about a day and half already this week on photos, email, and page designs. Others on the committee are also hard a work writing stories, setting up the sessions, designing ads, and doing countless other tasks that happen behind the scenes to make sure people who attend have fun while they’re there.

The Agatha Awards are hand-lettered tea pots, some black, some white. They suffered a few supply chain problems during the height of COVID, but it looks like the supply is back to normal now.

:Last week, I got my invitation to the Edgar Awards. Everyone who is a member of Mystery Writers of America is eligible to attend the ceremony — black tie, it is — in New York in April. I won’t be going, in part because it happens days before Malice begins, and I’ll be busy in Maryland. The award is a colorful bust of the man considered by many to be the father of mystery fiction in the U.S.

And today, amidst all the Malice email that’s been landing in my box, I also received my invitation to nominate stand-out books from 2022 for the Anthony Awards. I’ve only been to Bouchercon, where the Anthony’s are presented, twice. I tried to go more since my first trip to Toronto a few years ago, but, well, COVID.

I managed to join thousands of others in Minneapolis for what is the biggest mystery conference in North America. That’s where they awarded the clear plaque for the first time. The conference and the award are named for Anthony Boucher, who was both a critic and a writer of mysteries. Boucher was actually a pen name of William Anthony Parker White.

And I need to take a look at my 2022 reading list on Goodreads to pick out things I might want to nominate for the Anthony’s. I’m already reading the nominees for the Agatha Awards, since I get to vote on those, too.

So, contests. They’re taking a lot of my time lately. And maybe someday, I might even have a book that’s eligible

A bientôt.

Building new habits

That’s what we do in the new year, right? We start fresh with a new calendar. We try to make this year “count” in some way that previous years haven’t.

I’ve always tried to give some of my time to volunteer pursuits, mainly by taking positions on various non-profit boards. And, thinking back, I’ve always taken the same kinds of roles — the ones that help with publicity or communication. These days, that tends to involve social media.

But since I’m mostly retired, I’m up to six groups. I counted the other day. (Stop me before I volunteer again!) Their demands vary, and one only needs attention from now until the end of April. But it needs a lot of attention.

Another needs a record of the hours its volunteers serve. In order to be eligible to vote at the annual meeting, volunteers must have provided at least 10 hours of service during the previous year. And the organization needs records of that service, not just to keep track of its voting members, but also to include in grant applications.

So, my new habit involves a timesheet — my new habit. I made a spreadsheet to help me keep track of the hours I’m spending for each group. I didn’t make it until Jan. 8, so I missed whatever I put in on the first week. That’s ok, because I didn’t do anything for the group that wants records until the day I started it. (And I need to give them a bit of time today.).

Since it’s all on the honor system, I’m rounding to the nearest quarter hour for all the groups. I hear that works for lawyers.

And I’ve been diligent since that first day.

I added it up yesterday and I’ve put in 51.75 hours of volunteer service to five of my six groups in the past two weeks. (The other one won’t meet until next week.)

But I also added a column for writing and revising. So I also learned that, until yesterday, I’d only put in 3 hours towards my novel. That’s no way to get revisions done.

I doubled the time yesterday. I focused on my revisions and spent 6 hours on them. That has to improve.

So, my new habit — my timekeeping — is already teaching me things about the balance in my life. And led me to my next goal, which is to make sure I get some writing and revising time in at least five days a week.

Wish me luck.