Our hobbies and interests can say a lot about who we are. A concerned environmentalist might become a beekeeper or raise and release Monarch butterflies. A dedicated worker who needs to step away from the office might become a BMX racer. Ten years ago, the National Institute for Health did a study on the positive connection between hobbies and wellness, which may seem obvious to many, but since then it’s been a frequent topic for exploration amongst psychologists and in pop culture. “[Hobbies] make the world better,” local bat enthusiast Jillian Childs says. “And [my hobbies] change me for the better.”
Off she goes
At first, Paula DeLuca was a spectator. She would accompany her fiancé as he rode his bike in BMX events, a type of off-road bicycle racing. Then her 9-year-old daughter, Natalie, wanted to give it a try. Finally, “I was like, what the heck, I guess I’ll do it, too,” says DeLuca, who lives in Sykesville. “It was something we could do as a family.”
Her first race? “I kept thinking to myself, ‘I’m going to die,’” she recalls. But “I didn’t finish last, believe it or not.” In fact, at a recent national race she came in third. She has found that BMX racing has definite health benefits as well.
“I sit at a desk all day,” says DeLuca, who works as a medical bill review manager. “My knees are not feeling good. I was at a point where it was really hard for me to stand and walk some days. You would think riding the bike would make that worse. But when I ride, my knees don’t hurt at all.”
She, her fiancé and Natalie can spend entire weekends racing, including at their home track, Chesapeake BMX in Severn. And in doing so DeLuca has become part of a community with racers ranging in age from “2 to 70.” Most tracks offer beginner classes and clinics for all ages as well as experienced rider clinics and open practices.
“It’s a family,” she says. “It’s competitive, and obviously people want to win, but your competitors are your friends, and they are supporting you and encouraging you even if they are racing against you.”
And while those in the sport can spend thousands of dollars on bikes, DeLuca says she purchased a basic
“off-the-shelf” bike for around $400 and has done just fine. Besides the bike, one needs the all-important helmet; a “basic” one costs around $100, she says. After that, “you just need a long-sleeve T-shirt and long pants, and you are good to go,” she says, adding that race fees can range from $10 to $20 for local races and $50 for national competitions.
For DeLuca, it is money well spent. “When you are out there, you forget about the daily struggles of everything and anything,” she says. “All you’re focusing on is going as fast as you can and not crashing.”
It was a moment of pure amazement for Jillian Childs. She was outside a cave in Texas at dusk awaiting the departure of more than 10 million bats for their night feeding.
“They start coming out one at a time,” she says. “You’re like, ‘There’s one. There’s another one.’ And then after a while, they just start swirling out. It was a cyclone of bats. It was beautiful.”
Today, Childs, who lives in Taneytown, is a member of Bat Conservation International and has accompanied bat researchers into the field as an observer. As such, she is well aware of the challenges facing bats, which make up 25 percent of the world’s mammals and are being seriously impacted by habitat loss and disease.
“Bats are what are called a keystone species,” she says. “If you have a healthy bat population, you probably have a healthy ecosystem around you.”
Which is why Childs does not always understand the bad rep they get. “They don’t fly in your hair,” she says. “They just want to eat bugs.”
And when she recently moved into a new home, “one of the first things I did was put up a bat house,” she says of the artificial roost. She hopes to add more soon, too. According to Childs, a single-chamber bat house already assembled can cost $40, and for the ones she is constructing herself, the materials are about $50 for a four-chambered house that would cost $150 already assembled.
And inside that new home of hers? You guessed it. Lots of bats. Childs makes no apologies. “Let me tell you,” she says, grinning. “Halloween clearance is a great time to get bat décor.”
Bees and butterflies
Patty Miller is drawn to bees and butterflies. And not just because of her love of nature, but also because of her concern for the planet.
“If we lose our pollinators, we starve,” she says. “A large amount of our fruits and vegetables require pollinators whether it’s bees or butterflies. And they are up against so much with the weather changes, the loss of habitat and the use of pesticides.”
Miller, of Perry Hall, is a beekeeper who also raises and releases Monarch butterflies. She began beekeeping three years ago and keeps two hives on a friend’s property.
“They are fascinating creatures,” Miller, 60, says. “They have this language. They will do this little wiggle dance that will tell the other bees where the nectar is.”
She has not yet cultivated any honey but hopes to by summer’s end. According to Miller, a beehive can produce 60 to 80 pounds of honey per year. “But you need to leave behind about 50 pounds for the bees themselves in the winter,” she says.
For those interested in beginning this hobby, “you are looking at $600 just to start up,” Miller says, adding that beekeeping is an involved activity that requires protective clothing and special tools. And replacing the queen during peak season, if needed, can cost $55, she says.
And yes, she has been stung.
Raising and releasing Monarch butterflies isn’t quite as involved or costly. “You really just need a nylon enclosure and milkweed,” she says.
Perhaps it was always meant to be. After all, her name is Serena, and nothing speaks more to serenity than the calming, soothing aroma of lavender.
“I like to joke that my name is Serena, and I’m not that serene, but it made sense for a lavender farm,” says Serena Pelletier, of Sykesville, who owns Serene Lavender Farm.
Pelletier, 52, has long enjoyed gardening. And as she established herself in her career and her children were growing up, she began searching for something more, she says. “I was thinking, ‘What can I do for me?’” says Pelletier, who is a vice president of publishing operations for Penguin Random House. “What is an expression of me?”
The answer came during a family trip to Montreal a few years ago. “We took a day trip to a lavender farm,” she says. “There were acres and acres of lavender. This was in July, and the lavender was in full bloom.”
Pelletier was inspired by the spectacle. “Sitting there with my daughter, that’s when the light-bulb moment happened,” she says. “I thought I could do this. I have the land and the energy.”
She began researching the plant and how best to grow it with an eye toward sustainable and environmentally friendly gardening. The initial cost of setting up the farm was under $10,000, according to Pelletier, for such items as a tiller, the plants and landscaping materials as well as the installation of a drip irrigation system.
Once the lavender farm was up and running, she realized early on she had found her niche.
“There’s so much you can do with lavender, and people love it,” says Pelletier, whose farm raises both English and French lavender. When ready, the plants are brought into her house to dry in the basement using dehumidifiers that run “24/7 during the season,” she says, adding that “the aroma takes over our house.”
In addition to selling fresh lavender, Pelletier makes bouquets, sachets, wreaths and jams and syrups among other items to sell. “I made a profit last year,” she says. Thus, her hobby supports itself while continually enriching her life in other ways.
“It’s so therapeutic,” she says. “When I’m out there working, it is just me and my brain and nature. There’s something revitalizing about that.”
Photography by David Stuck