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Coronavirus hobbies: What Tampa Bay residents made during a pandemic

Baby Yodas, TV scripts, cookie rooms. We asked locals what they made while stuck at home.

Chances are, you’ve spent more time at home since first hearing the term COVID-19. The Tampa Bay Times wondered what you did with it.

Some people crossed every movie off their watch list, tackled a giant stack of books or perfected their island in the video game Animal Crossing. Others wrote a screenplay, learned to code, grew their own food or started a clothing business.

Related: 12 things Tampa Bay residents learned during quarantine

They’re all fine uses of the extra time. In the language of Twitter, no one needs to “feel personally attacked” reading this. It’s fine if you (like the person who wrote this) spent the majority of your free time becoming an expert in Xbox, food delivery apps and what the ducks in the local park like to eat.

This isn’t so much a celebration of productivity or self-improvement as it is a gallery of adaptation, perseverance and survival. People doing what makes them happy takes many forms. We already rounded up what people learned to do during quarantine. Maybe these examples of things people made will inspire you too.

Trippy looking paintings

Charlene Miller, 65, Clearwater

Charlene Miller

Miller had never created any type of visual art, but when the pandemic slowed life, the retired Episcopal priest and former private school principal said she was “sitting around doing nothing” and felt inspired by paintings she saw online. She ordered supplies and watched tutorial videos, she said, but “never in a million years did I think I could do this.” Apparently, she could. She posted photos of her “acrylic pour” paintings and people wanted to buy them.

Two paintings by Charlene Miller. She started creating visual art for the first time during the pandemic. [ Courtesy of Charlene Miller ]
A painting by Charlene Miller. [ Courtesy of Charlene Miller ]

Now Miller has a website, sunandfunstudio.com. “I’ve had a lot of family drama and issues, and you put COVID on top and it has been a weird few months,” she said. “But when I start to paint I forget about everything else. It’s the most freeing experience of my life.”

Leather wallets for everyone

Tim Walker, 53, Tampa

Tim Walker with his leatherworking tools and supplies. [ Courtesy of Tim Walker ]

It started when Walker purchased a pistol back in April. He couldn’t find a holster he liked, so he went to Michaels, bought some leather and rivets and took a stab at making his own. The result, he said, was “crude,” but his leatherworking hobby snowballed. He devoured YouTube tutorials and added new tools, including one to stamp his own logo on the wallets he crafts and customizes for all his co-workers at the Tampa cigar company where he works. He likes it, he said, because completing each step along the way — and there are quite a few — feels like its own little reward.

A passport holder made by Tim Walker, who started leatherworking when the pandemic led to more time at home. [ Courtesy of Tim Walker ]
• • •

A ‘rock clock’

James Keith, 26, Tampa

James Keith with the "rock clock" he designed and built during the COVID-19 pandemic. [ Courtesy of James Keith ]

Keith, a software engineer, had conceived the idea for what he calls the “rock clock” a while ago. It’s a sort of electronic jukebox clock displaying his 12 favorite albums of all time, along with built-in speakers and a monitor to play the corresponding music videos. He finally found the time to construct it from scratch while spending more time social distancing at home. It runs on a small Raspberry Pi computer that “was not fun to program on.” It was his first time staining and cutting wood, and now the rock clock is the centerpiece of his home.

• • •

Honey from bees found in her yard

Margaret Garcia, 68, St. Petersburg

Margaret Garcia in her bee suit, and some of Garcia's honey and the bees in her hive. [ Courtesy of Margaret Garcia ]

When Garcia discovered there were bees under the shed at her Crescent Heights home, she didn’t want to use an exterminator. Instead she found a bee removal expert, the type who can transfer bees to a new hive and give them purpose somewhere else instead of killing them. At the last minute Garcia said, “I’m going to keep them.” They were moved to boxes and now she has several hives producing honey, as well as a hobby that doesn’t require her to leave the yard. “They’re fascinating,” she said. “For an insect to be so organized, it’s an eye opener.” A recent extraction produced 32 pounds of honey. An artist neighbor made the labels for her jars.

• • •

A screenplay and two TV scripts

Cody Smith, 27, Tampa

Smith, a managing editor for a marketing startup, had long thought about doing more creative writing in his free time, but when the world stopped he went for it, finishing a draft of a screenplay about a group of 18- to 20-somethings who run a scam to get cash, and writing two episodes of a TV series, working title Strangers in the Crowd, over a couple of months.

A page from a television script written by Cody Smith. The working title is "Strangers in the Crowd." [ Courtesy of Cody Smith ]

Each episode, he said, is its own story about someone in the underground club scene. “The first is about a DJ who has been out of the scene for years but gets roped back in with a chance to do a spur-of-the-moment set,” he said. “The next one’s about a guy who works at a PR firm and gets a sudden push to sign his clients to ’360 deals,’ but he goes in a different direction. ... It’s nice to have a silver lining. In an alternate universe where things were normal, it’s very possible I still wouldn’t have started writing.”

Mask chains to raise money for charity

Huiran Xaxni, 34, Palm Harbor

Huiran Xaxni and her sons, Giovani, 9, and Ryan, 7, wear mask chains that she made. [ Courtesy of Huiran Xaxni ]

Huiran started selling beaded mask chains in June for family and friends, with a goal of donating proceeds to Feast Food Pantry in Palm Harbor. “That ‘hobby’ blew up a little, and to date I have made roughly 150 mask chains and donated over $300 in cash to Feast,” Huiran said. The chains let you hang your mask around your neck when you don’t need it on your face. She plans to keep making them, and donating the money. She accepts orders via email at huiran.xaxni@gmail.com.

• • •

Garden boxes and lots of veggies

Carlos Prince, 44, Tampa

Carlos Prince, with a garden box he built, and some of the vegetables he has grown at home. [ Courtesy of Carlos Prince ]

When the coronavirus first hit, Prince, a realtor in Tampa, went to the grocery store like many other people. “The toilet paper thing kind of scared me, and then you went to Publix and they were running out of chicken and beef,” he said. “I thought, if they close stores or something, how are we going to survive?” He bought some vegetable plants at Home Depot and started watching videos on how to keep them alive, but soon he was running out of pots. He turned to the YouTube channel homesteadonomics to learn how to build his own raised gardening boxes, even though he’d never really built anything before. So many people asked where they could get one that he started a business, Skyway Gardening, to help others be self-sufficient. He takes orders via skywaygardening@gmail.com.

Many of my friends have requested that I show them how to grow vegetables for themselves. A few are scared because of...

Posted by Carlos Prince on Friday, July 24, 2020
• • •

Some ‘really ugly’ spoons

Jessica Knight, 30, and Nick Pine, 33, St. Petersburg

Items that Jessica Knight whittled with her fiance during the pandemic. [ Courtesy of Jessica Knight ]
Jessica Knight and Nick Pine.

Knight has been getting into crocheting, and with her fiance, Nick Pine, has been refinishing a vintage wooden chair found on Facebook marketplace, disassembling and sanding pieces in 40-minute chunks of time (”It’s going to take us a year,” Knight said), but they both enjoyed getting into whittling, the process of carving wood with a knife by hand. “It’s some stuff I wanted to learn for a while,” Knight said. “I bought a whittling kit on Amazon, and made some really ugly spoons. It was fun.”

• • •

Baby Yodas

Alyssa Pitruzzello, 25, Brandon

Alyssa Pitruzzello made some Baby Yodas.

“I had always been interested in learning to crochet and I tried to learn a couple times,” Pitruzzello said. “I ended up getting a Kindle book to learn the basics and from there I just found some crochet patterns and started trying them out. It’s a nice relaxing hobby to have and it helps me have something productive to do so that I don’t spend all day looking at my phone.”

Some of the items Alyssa Pitruzzello has crocheted since taking up the hobby to pass time during the coronavirus pandemic. [ Courtesy of Alyssa Pitruzzello ]
• • •

‘Sick beats’

Trey Cartwright, 21, Brandon

Trey Cartwright.

Cartwright said he has been out of work during the pandemic and has coped with that by using free time to craft beats with the music production program Fruity Loops. “Just being creative, trying to pass time in a way that gives evidence that you’re here,” he said. “Every time you make a beat it’s progress, the same as an artist working on a canvas.” His tracks, which he posts to SoundCloud, are mostly in the trap and “underground Florida music” genre.

• • •

Ten pounds of muscle

Dane Rahaman-Singh, 26, Tampa

Dane Rahaman-Singh, before and after gaining 10 pounds of muscle. [ Courtesy of Dane-Rahaman Singh ]

Rahaman-Singh said that having more time at home during quarantine finally “gave me time to lock down on my nutrition ... and gave me the rest I needed to finally bulk up a bit.” He said he put on 10 pounds of muscle, something he’d been aiming at for a while.

A cookie room, and many, many cookies

Lisa Nagle, 57, Lithia

Some of Lisa Nagle's cookie-making supplies inside her "cookie room." [ Courtesy of Lisa Nagle ]
Lisa Nagle

Nagle, who started baking weekly batches of cookies for first responders at St. Petersburg General and Northside Hospital when life slowed down due to the pandemic, created a “cookie room” in her home. What is that? “A cookie room is a room that has been converted into a special little room of happiness,” she said. “It’s where I go to decorate my little gems of joy. Mine used to be my son’s room until he moved out. ... I’m getting pretty good!”

Some of Lisa Nagle's cookie creations. [ Courtesy of Lisa Nagle ]
Related: 12 things Tampa Bay residents learned during quarantine

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