Local musician Mike McCabe took up scuba diving  during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Local musician Mike McCabe took up scuba diving during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo provided by Mike McCabe

Finding new interests during shutdowns

By: Maria Allard | Metro | Published April 7, 2021

 Every Friday, Lauren Radke, who owns Macomb Bike in Warren with her husband Jeff, shares her paintings with family and friends through texts and emails. This piece is “Summer In Pink.”

Every Friday, Lauren Radke, who owns Macomb Bike in Warren with her husband Jeff, shares her paintings with family and friends through texts and emails. This piece is “Summer In Pink.”

Photo provided by Lauren Radke

 Growing succulent plants has been a pastime for Cortney Casey over the past year.

Growing succulent plants has been a pastime for Cortney Casey over the past year.

Photo provided by Cortney Casey

METRO DETROIT — When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, musician Mike McCabe was on his way to his job playing piano for vacationers aboard the Carnival Cruise Line.

But the cruise ship shut down, leaving the piano man with plenty of time on his hands. Like so many others finding themselves suddenly faced with some extra free time, McCabe sought out a hobby to keep himself occupied.

The Pontiac resident took up a new interest: scuba diving. McCabe, 56, earned his advanced open water certification in scuba diving and has logged more than 100 dives since the COVID-19 quarantines began in March 2020.

“I really liked it,” said McCabe, a local musician who played a recent socially distanced show at the Hot Rock Sports Bar & Music Cafe in Warren before heading to the Kalahari Resorts in Round Rock, Texas, to perform.

Over the past year, amid the pandemic, McCabe went scuba diving in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Key West and Key Largo in Florida, the Caribbean, and Mexico. With all his equipment, he’s able to venture 130 feet below the surface. McCabe scuba dives with groups of four or eight people plus a divemaster, and remains underwater for 25 minutes.

“Everyone has to stay together,” he said. “It’s very peaceful for me. It’s quiet. The visibility is really good in the Caribbean. You see all the wildlife around you.”

That includes coral, barracudas and sharks measuring up to 8 feet in length.

“They swim right with you,” McCabe said. “I know I’m going to find some pirate’s pot of gold someday.”

But what really floats his boat are the shipwrecks he sees up close. One such relic was the World War II vessel the Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg in Key West.

In the beginning of the pandemic, Grosse Pointe Woods resident Lauren Radke, 60, kept in touch with others through her artwork of oil on panel and watercolor on paper. Radke, who with her husband, Jeff, owns Macomb Bike in Warren, has been painting for years. With people isolated during the lockdowns, Radke began sharing her paintings through texts and emails. The artwork came with brief stories that included Radke’s feelings of each painting.

Macomb Bike shut down briefly in the beginning of the pandemic last year, but reopened three weeks later when the retail store that sells bicycles, accessories and bicycle clothing was deemed essential. Although the store was quite busy, Radke was able to continue painting and shared her paintings and anecdotes with 40-50 family and friends every Friday.

“If everyone is just sitting at home they might be bored. I know everyone has been frustrated by the pandemic. We weren’t going to be able to do anything,” she said. “It became therapeutic for me. I needed something to do. I never considered myself a writer before I got into the writing process. I’m enjoying doing it. I’m hoping people are enjoying it as well. My stories reflect on past and daily experiences, many of which my readers could relate to as well.”

Radke started a website featuring her art at www.laurenradkeart.com. Radke paints off of photographs or from observing her surroundings.

“I really like skies and landscapes,” said Radke, who also has a talent for capturing the sun on canvas. One spot she gets ideas from is Charleston, South Carolina.

“Summer In Pink,” “Geraniums In White,” and “Perfect May Day” are among her pieces.

‘I wanted to keep my mind going’
Michigan author Karen Bell-Brege, who writes “Mick Morris Myth Solver” and “Ghost Board Posse” books with her illustrator husband, Darrin Brege, has been brushing up on her Spanish through Duolingo. The American language-learning website and mobile app is a way to learn a new language, and something for Bell-Brege to pass the time constructively during the shutdowns.

“It’s great. I love it,” she said. “You can do as many lessons as you want. It’s inexpensive, and it’s great for my brain.”

 Bell-Brege lived in Mexico City, Mexico, when she was 12 for a few years with her family. That’s where she learned the Spanish language and “spoke it pretty fluently.”

“I went to an English school where you had to take Spanish. I let it go unfortunately,” she said. “It’s coming back. The lessons are really fun. You get points for how well you did.”

The Duolingo programs will let you know if you’ve made a mistake or are mastering the material. Different icons give hints at how you are doing, and there’s a way to connect with other students if you choose.

Bell-Brege tries to study 5-10 minutes per day but at times gets “sucked in. I’m on it for 30 minutes. I just want to do one more lesson.” By relearning the language, the author hopes to write her next book with Brege in English and Spanish.

She and Brege travel throughout the state holding presentations at schools, with Brege talking about illustrations and Bell-Brege discussing reading with the kids. The pair have been frequent guests in Warren, including visits to Warren Woods Public Schools and Warren Consolidated Schools.

The couple, which won the Michigan Reading Association’s 2021 Gwen Frostic Award, had several school visits planned last school year when “it all came to an abrupt halt.” Both hope to get booked for more presentations when the time is right.

Also learning a new language for the past year is Terry Oparka, 63, of Sterling Heights. The retired newspaper reporter and local romance author is studying the French language through Duolingo. It’s become a routine for Oparka to log in at lunchtime, sometimes taking her lesson outside during warm weather to pick up complete sentences, verb tense and phrasing in the language.

“It’s fun to learn French. It takes my mind off the pandemic. It’s just you and the app,” said Oparka, a Mott High School graduate. “I wanted to keep my mind going. It makes me do something with my brain that is new.”

It can be challenging.

“You get kicked off if five answers are wrong,” Oparka said. “You want to be good so you can keep going.”

This isn’t Oparka’s first attempt at learning French. She studied phrases when she went to Paris for her 50th birthday. One situation in which she used her French was buying a ticket to go to the third level of the Eiffel Tower.

“They’re receptive to you if you try to speak French,” she remembered.

She hopes to return to Paris and also visit other parts of France to speak the language.

During quarantine, Cortney Casey began growing succulents indoors and absolutely loves it. In various shapes, sizes and colors, succulent plants store water in leaves or stems in different types and species. Right before quarantine, Casey and her husband, Shannon, moved to their new home in Auburn Hills from Macomb Township.

“I wanted to start fresh,” she said. That included purchasing new furniture. That’s when Casey, 40, added a couple of succulent plants to the decor. A couple turned into 100 different kinds. Casey learned about succulents through Facebook groups and “interesting articles” and has them all over the house.

“It makes me happy to bring the inside in to boost my spirit. My favorite is the echeveria. They make me think of warm places,” she said. “I like the feeling of nature being inside. I have an app to keep track of all of them, to water them and remember their names. They’re fairly low maintenance and don’t need a lot of water.”

While most of her plants are indoors, Casey has placed some outside her home, some in pots and some on windowsills. When the weather breaks, Casey plans to add several to her balcony. Casey purchases the plants at different nurseries in Oakland and Macomb counties.

“It’s been fun finding them,” she said. “It will be fun to see how big they get. It’s kept me going over the winter. I’ve killed quite a few too. It’s a learning process.”

Her new hobby helped give her something to do with fewer work demands during the pandemic. The Caseys own the Michigan By The Bottle Tasting Room with locations in Royal Oak, Auburn Hills and Shelby Township, and because of the shutdowns were only offering carryout and virtual tastings. But things are more active now with restrictions being lifted as the establishments are open at 50% capacity for seating, and masks must be worn when not eating or drinking.