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The Creative Pastimes That Have Sustained Us in the Pandemic

We’ve built miniature rooms, made jelly and decorated a casket — wait, what?

By Patricia Corrigan

Those of us with time to spare have nurtured new interests and reinvented past ones to help us cope during the past year. When we rose from our couches after binging on the Netflix series "The Queen's Gambit," sales on chess sets jumped by 125%. Kate Middleton and Princess Charlotte, her 5-year-old daughter, go spider hunting in between home-schooling sessions. And many of us have turned to reading to help us escape the challenges of these odd times.   

A miniature antique shop with Tony antiques, pandemic projects, pastimes, Next Avenue
Barbara Deuel's miniature antique shop  |  Credit: courtesy of Barbara Deuel

Consider Susan Flanagin, 74, who festooned the lid of the cardboard cremation casket she bought from a funeral home in Missoula, Mont. "I spent a week going through all my photos, choosing many for a visual timeline of my life," Flanagin wrote on the Next Avenue Facebook page in response to our request that readers surprise us with their creative pandemic projects. 

A retired teacher, Flanagin said in a phone interview that though she is the widow and the mother of artists, she does not make much art of her own.

"I liked the idea of being creative with this and being practical at the same time," she said. "I'm very comfortable planning for my own death and sharing about it, and I advocate for all people to take more of a role in death decisions."

The process was enjoyable, Flanagin said, because sorting through a lifetime of photos gave her an opportunity to reflect on those key moments.

Older man sitting outside teaching a Zoom cocktail class, pandemic projects, pastimes, Next Avenue
Michael Cecconi teaches a Zoom cocktail class  |  Credit: courtesy of Michael Cecconi

"I spent time thinking about my whole life and the people in it," she said. "I thought about what I've done that's worthwhile, what has been important to me and what, if anything, I may want to do next." She has stored the decorated casket in her garage.

Teaching Craft Cocktail Classes Online

Following in the formidable footsteps of actor Stanley Tucci, Michael Cecconi has transformed his home kitchen in Oakland, Calif. into a teaching platform, where he leads classes on how to create craft cocktails. A certified Master Mixologist, for decades Cecconi shared his skills from behind a bar. But now, of course, his classes take place over Zoom.

"I've always loved teaching face-to-face, but at this point, I'm so accustomed to the video platform that it doesn't faze me," said Cecconi, 48. "The bartender is the focus for each class, but it's also a chance for people to hang out, learn something new and hear other people's experiences with making cocktails."

"I thought about what I've done that's worthwhile, what has been important to me, and what, if anything, I may want to do next."

He's been impressed, he added, with the broad age range of participants.

"If I had taken a class on making good cocktails when I was in my twenties, I would have looked at drinking very differently," Cecconi said. "Conversely, when fellow 'silver foxes' enroll, I am so happy that people maybe in a rut with what they drink realize they still have new things to taste. And they want to learn how to combine flavors and about balancing techniques. That thrills me." 

Making Miniatures Goes Over Big

Like many of us, since March 2020, Barbara Deuel has spent a lot of time in her home. She has used some of the time to create new rooms for her San Francisco apartment — in miniature.

"For decades, I've been a craft person, making jewelry, decorative cards, ornaments and rosaries, but I'd never allowed myself the time to make miniatures," said Deuel, 61.

Laid off from her job as a child care worker due to the pandemic, one day she settled in to construct a tiny bookstore in a 16-by12- inch box. The scale, she said is 1:12, with one inch representing one foot.

"It was early in the pandemic, and I was feeling a little anxious, so I finished it in a week," Deuel said. "I'd put music on and just keep working. I made the shop too big, so I kept making tiny books — hundreds of them."

Deuel then connected with miniature artists on Facebook, for specific guidance and more ideas. To date, she has constructed a toy shop, an antique store, a coffee shop, a country church, a house complete with a tarot parlor and a birdhouse with the bird's art studio tucked inside.


"Surprisingly, I had most of the tiny furnishings just sitting around, and I made the rest," she said. "The whole process has been really fun. I get an idea, I begin, I get in the zone — and I feel happy." Now, Deuel is considering teaching workshops.

Next Avenue Readers Reveal Their Pandemic Projects

Next Avenue readers also have found interesting ways to fill spare time. Carol Elkins works with, a platform that pairs researchers in a variety of fields with volunteers interested in citizen science.

Nada Reed makes protective masks from quilt fabrics. "I feel I may be doing this for some time," she wrote. "This is about health and safety for the ones I love. It helped give me a purpose to care for my family."

"I get an idea, I begin, I get in the zone — and I feel happy."

Voice teacher Heidi Saari Leeson completed a series of instructional videos on YouTube for her students and anyone else interested.

Using pine needles gathered behind her house, Beth Hansen made baskets.

Elizabeth Anke put up several batches of wild grape jelly from fruit she picked near her cottage, and said she plans to hold a "Jampalooza" at some point. "I also dabbled in restoring some outdoor furniture and growing some marijuana," she wrote.

Some people have adopted cats and dogs; Robin Douglas bought a "very social" parakeet that keeps her laughing.

A flattened cardboard box decorated with photos, pandemic projects, pastimes, Next Avenue
Susan Flanagin's cremation box, decorated with photos  |  Credit: courtesy of Susan Flanagin

Trish Mulloy restored a "life-size, beat-up, gray concrete lion." Mulloy added, "His name is Henry. Now I regularly seek out worn-out, unwanted statues and rejuvenate them."

Pat Wilkens restored an old quilt. Janet Huwaldt finished a new one.

Thinking a paint-by-number kit might be fun to try, Marti Brauer ordered one. "Now," she reported, "I'm addicted to them."

Scrapbooking appealed to Mary Lou Faneuf Dawson, who made books for family members and looks forward to watching them page through the works in person. Someday!

Nancy Litchfield Magi created "scrapjournals" depicting days spent sheltering in place. "Included were pix of graduates without graduations, bears in windows, roses seen on our neighborhood walks, journal additions by friends or family via Facebook or emails, photos of socially distanced, outside holiday celebrations and flyovers by Blue Angels honoring first responders," she wrote.

Reflecting on her choice to decorate her cardboard casket, Flanagin voiced what we all might say about our chosen creative endeavors: "This was good for me — and that's what matters."

Patricia Corrigan
Patricia Corrigan is a professional journalist, with decades of experience as a reporter and columnist at a metropolitan daily newspaper, and also a book author. She has written for Next Avenue since February 2015. Read more from Patricia at Read More
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