Best Ways to Enjoy Summer
The Best Way to Catch Fireflies
A plus: The bugs move slowly, so they're easy to trap in a jar. Punch some holes in the lid and add a little grass and a piece of fruit for moisture. Admire your pretty night-lights till bedtime, then let them go.
The Best Way to Get In and Out of a Hammock
Everyone looks good lazing in a hammock―it’s getting in and out that’s tricky. To make it less so, try these tips.
- Position your backside toward the hammock’s center and tilt back until you reach a 45-degree angle, with the hammock parallel to your rear.
- Gently sit back into the hammock and let it level out.
- Swing your legs up and stretch them out.
- Lie back. Loll. Sigh contentedly. For a graceful exit, sit upright and swing your legs off, anchoring your feet on the ground. Then push with your behind, gathering momentum to stand. “It’s tricky, since there’s nothing to hold on to,” says Waugh. “But it’s good for the glutes.”
The Best Way to Make a Traditional Lobster Roll
The Morrisons of Morrison’s Maine Chowder House, in Freeport, Maine, have been hauling in their catch for more than 100 years. Steal their formula for the perfect lobster roll.
- Use the freshest lobster meat you can find. Ask your local fish store when its lobsters are delivered.
- Get a freshly baked New England–style hot-dog bun. Unlike a typical roll, this is split on the top and white on the sides, not crusty. (New England split-top rolls, $18 for twelve, hancockgourmetlobster.com.)
- Butter both sides of the bun, then grill each side (like a grilled cheese sandwich).
- Line the roll with lettuce for crunch (iceberg does the trick), then fill with lobster. Morrison’s lets the succulent meat speak for itself, but some prefer a little mayo on the side.
- Open mouth. Insert heaven.
The Best Way to Stargaze
Channel your inner Copernicus with these celestial suggestions from astronomer Michael Smutko, Ph.D., of Chicago's Adler Planetarium.
- Download and print a sky chart from skyandtelescope.com (click on "Interactive Sky Chart") for the date and your location.
- Since summer weather tends to be humid and hazy, try to get to drier, higher ground for a clear view. "The desert is wonderful, and the mountains are also good," Smutko says. "But a dark spot away from streetlights will do just fine."
- To see planets, start in the early evening. In the summer, Venus appears prominently in the western horizon right after sunset, and Jupiter is the second brightest object in the evening sky―just look south.
- When it's dark, use your sky chart to help identify the Ursa Major (Big Bear) constellation. Start with the Big Dipper―a subgroup in Ursa Major―which looks like a big pot or a ladle. The front edge of the pot points to Polaris, the North Star.
The Best Way to Cut Jeans into Shorts
Slip on the jeans and mark the desired length on one leg with chalk. Take them off, fold the leg at the mark, and iron the fold, says Caroline Calvin, creative director of Levis. Then cut just under the crease with fabric scissors. Lay the short jean leg on top of the other side and cut to evenly match. Repeat as needed to get the length you want. Ninety-degree days? Bring em on!
The Best Way to Run on the Beach
Beware, shoeless Joes. If you choose to run barefoot, keep your workouts brief at first to allow tender soles to build up calluses. "You can get blisters, even burns, from hot, soft sand," says Guss. "I like to run barefoot, but for more than a couple miles, I wear shoes."
Know your sand. "In soft sand, one mile is like two," says Guss. You may work foot and leg muscles you don't always use, so start slowly. And hard sand can be as tough on your legs as the road, so wear running sneakers.
Pick the right time to run. "My favorite time is in the evening," says Guss. "The wind dies down, and the sand isn't that hot."
Work harder. Fill small bags with sand to use as hand weights.
The Best Way to Entertain Party Guests
Three games that are guaranteed to get a backyard party started―and keep it going.
Croquet, anyone? The age-old sport of whacking small balls through wire wickets can be posh (ask guests to wear white) or plebeian (no shoes or shirts required). (Visit hayneedle.com for sets.)
Cornhole. Fun game, bad name. The gist? Two rectangular wooden platforms with a small round hole on top are placed 26 feet apart. Players toss small square bags (like beanbags, except filled with corn kernels) toward the platforms. Get the bag on the platform, score a point; get it in the hole, score three points. (Go to ajjcornhole.com for sets.)
Frisbee golf. The fun starts with creating the course. “Holes” can be anything from a tree stump to a deck chair. Designate a “tee off” area for each hole; players alternate teeing off by throwing the Frisbee as close to the hole as possible. Subsequent throws are taken from just behind the spot where the disc came to rest. As with golf, she who gets to the hole first wins.
The Best Way to Cook a Perfect Steak
It’s easy if you use the “poke test,” says Steven Raichlen, host of PBS’s Barbecue University and the author of How to Grill ($21, amazon.com).
The test entails poking the steak in the middle of the meat for doneness and then comparing the feeling to the flesh below your thumb, on the inside of your hand, when making an OK sign. Sounds weird, but it works. Use the guidelines below.
Rare: Make the OK sign with your thumb and forefinger and touch the flesh at the base of the thumb. It should feel soft and squishy, just like the meat when you touch it.
Medium-rare: Change fingers so that your thumb connects with your middle finger. The flesh at the base of the thumb should yield yet feel less soft. So should the meat.
Medium: An OK sign with the thumb and the ring finger will make the base of the thumb feel firm, like a medium steak.
Well-done: An OK sign with the thumb and the pinkie will make the base of the thumb feel hard, like well-done.
The Best Way to Swim the Crawl
Look at the bottom of the pool, not the wall ahead. “Looking down helps body alignment, and it helps you avoid feeling like you’re swimming uphill,” says Benko. “I like to think of it as someone pulling me by my hair to the other end of the pool.” When turning your head to breathe, don’t lift your bottom ear above the water.
Enter the water with your fingertips before any other part of your arm. The idea is to grab the water with your hands, not pull at it with your whole arm. Point fingers down, toward the bottom of the pool. “If your hands face left or right, you’ll zigzag,” says Benko.
Kick, don’t bicycle. Flutter-kick your legs with a slight bend in the knees. A deeper bend may feel more natural but will result in jerky movement; a minimal bend propels you forward. And keep your ankles loose. The best athletes “use their ankles like flippers,” Benko notes.
Finish your stroke. When aiming for speed, it’s tempting to end a stroke at the waist. But it’s crucial to follow through with a full extension of your arms, brushing all the way past the hips. “It’s a bit counterintuitive to finish the stroke,” says Benko, “but if you want to go faster, you need to.”
The Best Way to Snag a Fly Ball
Want to take a ball home from a game? Zack Hample has done it more than 3,000 times (and counting) at 42 major-league stadiums. (He’s also the author of Watching Baseball Smarter; $14, amazon.com.) Here are his techniques.
Sit in an aisle seat. For catching fouls, sit behind home plate, slightly toward the first-base side when righties are at bat and slightly toward third for lefties. To catch a homer, position yourself in the area behind the outfielders.
Wear your glove, even though it’s considered uncool for anyone over age 13. “I’d rather be a nerd and go home with a ball than be cool and go home with an ice pack,” says Hample. Keep your mitt on at all times and your eyes on the ball.
Get to the game early for batting practice if you don’t want to compete with legions of other fans. The stadium isn’t as crowded, the security guards aren’t as strict, the batters are hitting constantly, and the players are friendlier and often toss out balls to the people in the stands.
The Best Way to Win at Carnival Games
Yes, that stuffed bunny can be yours. Jim Strates, president of James E. Strates Shows Inc., which provides carnival midways to major fairs on the East Coast, shares trade secrets.
Shoot Out the Star
The game: Ready, aim, and fire a machine gun or a BB gun. The goal is to shoot out an entire red paper star.
The trick: Shoot around the star, not directly in the center. In other words, make an outline of the star and it will pop right out.
The game: A target leans at an angle, over a basket. Bounce a Whiffleball off the target so it drops into the basket.
The trick: Aim low. Throw the ball underhand and hit the target as low as you can.
Knock Down the Milk Bottles
The game: Three bottles are stacked in a pyramid. Your goal is to knock them all down with one ball.
The trick: Aim for the intersection of the three bottles, and don’t put too much power into it. The bottles are heavy, but the harder you throw the ball, the less aim you’ll have.
The Best Way to Tell a Ghost Story
Use as many specific local details as possible, and “place the ghost-story setting where you actually are,” says Peter Straub, author of Ghost Story ($8, amazon.com). Then let your imagination go wild―but make sure the story features “a hideous crime,” Straub says. “Anything awful will do.”
Give the ghost a creepy moniker that reflects some behavior on the part of the ghost. Maybe the ghost is always whistling, for instance, and is known as the Whistling Man. It also helps to connect the ghost to some historical lore―a pirate’s treasure, say, or the Civil War. Again, be specific. Maybe the ghost was a California gold prospector in 1848 or a Louisiana riverboat captain in 1833.
Try to make some detail from the story come to life. It helps to enlist a conspirator―someone hiding in the bushes who jumps out at a crucial point in the story or (if your ghost is the Whistling Man) someone who starts whistling in the woods at just the right moment. “And that,” Straub says, “will scare everyone right out of their wits.”
The Best Way to Wear a Sarong
Sam Saboura, style host of the Style Network’s Extreme Makeover, offers four ways to tie this versatile cover-up.
The halter. Fold the fabric into a triangle and place it beneath your shoulder blades. Crisscross the two ends over your bust and tie at the back of your neck.
The hip hugger. Fold the sarong into a triangle and wrap it around your midsection, high on the back and lower in front. Bring the two ends together to tie below your waist, creating a deep V in front.
The long skirt. Wear the sarong as a midcalf skirt, tying it on a diagonal that slants down to one side of your hips.
The strapless dress. Wrap the cover-up around your torso and tie it into a strapless dress.
The Best Way to Tie Espadrilles
Apply this lace-up logic from Meghan Cleary, author of The Perfect Fit: What Your Shoes Say About You.
- Slide your foot fully into the shoe and plant it firmly on the floor.
- Cross and tie the laces once behind the ankle, then bring them forward, cross and tie again, and continue up the leg, depending on how long the laces are. The calf is the maximum height―any higher and you’ll look like a gladiator.
- Each time you cross and tie, secure the laces slightly tighter than is comfortable, since they will loosen a bit when you walk. Just don’t cut off your circulation.
- For a streamlined leg, make the final tie in the back. Create a more whimsical look by putting the final tie in front with a small bow.
The Best Way to Enjoy Ice Cream Without the Mess
Eating ice cream is divine; wearing it is another matter. Sharon Martin, owner of Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream & Yogurt, in Virginia Beach, Virginia, offers hints for keeping every last bit of creamy goodness on your taste buds, not your T-shirt.
- In general, chocolate-based flavors melt faster than vanilla-based ones, and anything with a ripple is drip-prone. (Caramel and fudge make ice cream softer.) But fruit flavors hold up well.
- Opt for a cake cone or a bowl-like waffle cone (if you’re really hungry). But sugar cones are an accident waiting to happen, since there’s nothing to catch the drips. Martin suggests that sugar-cone connoisseurs flip the cone upside down in a cup.
- Gently push down the top of the ice cream with your tongue so it fills the cone, and lick around the edge so you can catch whatever is ready to drip.
The Best Way to Hook a Fish
Go for small fry. “Don’t try to take on the ocean,” Swindle says. “Go to a lake or a pond and go for smaller fish, what we call panfish, brim, or sunfish.” These little fish are abundant all over the country. Plus, they are most likely to bite every day and weigh only 6 to 10 ounces, so you’ll have no trouble reeling them in.
Talk to locals. The friendly folks at a nearby bait-and-tackle shop can be a wealth of fish info, especially if you’re vacationing in an unfamiliar area. “Most tackle stores keep up with the local fishing reports and have great knowledge of the lakes in their areas,” says Swindle.
Use the right bait. For small fish, live bait is best: worms from the local tackle shop or crickets and other crawly creatures you and your kids catch yourselves.
Watch that bobber. “When the bobber or cork on the water’s surface starts to dance, that means you’ve got a bite,” says Swindle. Be still and wait until the bobber goes under the water―that means the fish is on the line. Tighten up the line―never jerk it―and reel it in smoothly. Put the fish in a bucket of water to protect it and remove the hook. If it’s stuck to the lip, extract it carefully with needle-nose pliers.
The Best Way to Keep White Clothes White
Follow these do’s and don’ts from Chantal Kruczek, director of housekeeping for the Four Seasons Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona.
- Do wash white items every time you wear them, even if you don’t think they’re dirty. “We always leave something behind―perspiration, perfumes, body oils,” says Kruczek.
- Do pretreat stains with a stain remover.
- Don’t use soap and water before pretreating.
- Do use the cool setting of the dryer.
- Don’t overdry or whites will turn gray.
- Do hang washed clothes outside if you can. The sun is a gentle, natural bleach.
- Don’t use household bleach too often. It will whiten, but it can also break down natural fibers and cause yellowing.
The Best Way to Fly Paper Airplanes
If your origami aircraft tend to nose-dive, try these tips from aeronautical engineer Ken Blackburn, the world-record holder for keeping a single-sheet paper airplane in flight indoors (27.6 seconds).
- Use copier paper. Paper should be strong enough to hold a shape and light enough to stay aloft. Avoid newsprint (too flimsy) and poster board (too heavy).
- Choose a sound design. The ones you mastered as a kid still work, or check out Blackburn’s ideas at paperplane.org.
- Tweak the wings. “Take the back edge of the wings and bend them up between your fingertips a little bit,” says Blackburn. “This will hold up the nose.”
- Throw evenly. Give the plane an easy and level throw and it will fly straight.
The Best Way to Pack a Beach Bag
These sunny necessities will fit in a large tote.
- Place a towel inside your beach blanket and roll tightly. Slide the roll vertically into the bag so you can slip it out first thing.
- In general, heavier items go on the bottom―that steamy page-turner, for instance. And a plastic water bottle.
- Fill a resealable plastic bag or a cosmetics case with sticky items, such as sunscreen. Put a hairbrush in a separate bag. Toss both in.
- Roll up a change of suit, a T-shirt, a cover-up, and a cotton beach hat and add to the bag. Remember your glasses and the case. Take an empty plastic bag for your wet suit.
- Protect electronics by putting them in their cases, then in a plastic bag. Instead of carrying your entire wallet, take the basics―cash, driver’s license, ATM card. The same goes for keys. Insert them in a waterproof container. Carry them in a separate, preferably zippered compartment.
The Best Way to Pick a Beach Read
Best-Selling Authors Share Their Favorites
Kurt Andersen (Heyday: A Novel, $16, bn.com) likes Our Man in Havana, by Graham Greene ($15, bn.com), and The Power Broker ($25, bn.com), by Robert Caro.
He says, “My two most memorable beach reads―that is, first read next to bodies of water during the summer―are The Power Broker and Our Man in Havana. Both are compelling from the get-go and have extremely vivid main characters, which are probably requirements for good beach reads. The Caro is huge, which also makes for a good beach read. And the Greene is set in sweltering, sea-breezy pre-Castro Cuba―that is, the story itself reeks of beachiness.”
Augusten Burroughs (Possible Side Effects, $14, bn.com) goes for anything by M.F.K. Fisher, especially The Art of Eating ($25, bn.com).
He says, “Some people mistakenly refer to Fisher as a food writer, but she’s really just a woman with a voracious appetite for life who likes to eat. Her description of gently roasting a tangerine on the radiator of her Paris flat while watching the troops out her window and waiting for her husband to return home will knock your shoulders forward in awe―and you’ll run out to get some tangerines and maybe a husband to go with them. Word by word, she’s an exacting, incredibly perceptive author, with a gift for observing her own relationship to food and how it enriches life. I was told that, far from being a snob, M.F.K. stopped trying to cook potato chips herself after she had her first perfectly slender and golden Lay’s potato chip, feeling like, Why bother? Bother with her books and you will never forget them.”
Susan Cheever (American Bloomsbury, $15, bn.com) recommends Social Crimes, by Jane Stanton Hitchcock ($13, bn.com).
She says, “Summer reading is unlike any other. In the summer I give myself permission to read, to read all night, to read while the phone rings unanswered, to read for pleasure. This has always been so―I remember the summers of my childhood in terms of books read while lying in the coolest place I could find, usually in bed in front of a fan. This freedom has two effects: I can read longer books because I have more time, and I can read less serious books. Last summer I read the new translation of Anna Karenina, and then I read John Irving’s Until I Find You: A Novel [$16, bn.com]. And then I read George Pelecanos, John Grisham, and Linda Fairstein.”
Nora Ephron (I Feel Bad About My Neck, $13, bn.com) loved The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins ($8, bn.com).
She told Real Simple, “I read my all-time favorite book, The Woman in White, in the summer, in my house, out by the pool―everywhere, because I couldn’t stop reading it. I also love reading cookbooks in the summer, because I do more cooking in the summer than I do in the winter. My favorite cookbook last summer was Sunday Suppers at Lucques [$38, bn.com], by Suzanne Goin. And for some reason, I associate Anne Tyler with summer reading, even though I would happily read her any month of the year.”
Linda Fairstein (Death Dance, $10, bn.com) suggests Anthony Trollope’s The Eustace Diamonds ($11, bn.com).
She says, “When I get to my beach house on Martha’s Vineyard, I settle in to write my own crime novel every summer. I put off reading my favorites―Connelly, Crais, Coben, Scottoline―till fall so that I’m not tempted to imitate their styles or dialogue. Instead, I immerse myself in a book by one of the 19th century’s great storytellers. I love the period, the density, and complexity of Trollope’s tales, and the fact that I’ve got at least 35 more to read before I run out.”
Elinor Lipman (My Latest Grievance, $14, bn.com) likes Mrs. Kimble ($14, bn.com), by Jennifer Haigh.
She says, “I couldn’t put down this tale of a serial husband and the intersections of his three wives. I reviewed Lost and Found: A Novel [$14, amazon.com], Carolyn Parkhurst’s second novel, for the Boston Globe and wrote a rave. It’s a literary version of TV’s Amazing Race, very smart and very funny. The Republic of Love [$19, amazon.com] is my favorite overlooked novel by the late Carol Shields, who won the Pulitzer for The Stone Diaries [$16, bn.com]. Hugo Hamilton’s The Speckled People [$14, amazon.com] is my favorite memoir of the last few years, chronicling his Irish childhood, post–World War II, when having a German mother meant that Nazi epithets dogged his childhood. I’m a huge Stephen McCauley fan, and Alternatives to Sex: A Novel [$14, amazon.com] may be my favorite. And I’ve just discovered Cammie McGovern, whose Eye Contact [$14, amazon.com], about an autistic boy who witnessed a murder, is just what I’m always looking for: a riveting story told beautifully. Anyone who watches Antiques Roadshow must read How Elizabeth Barrett Browning Saved My Life [$14, amazon.com], by Mameve Medwed, her fourth novel.”
The Best Way to Skip Stones
The recent world record for stone skipping is 40 skips, but everyone has to begin somewhere.
- Find smooth, flat stones. “The stone should fit in the space created between your pointer finger and thumb when making the A-OK sign,” says Jill Tipograph, director of the online summer-camp directory Everything Summer.
- Pinch the stone between your thumb and middle finger and wrap your pointer around the top of the stone like a hook. Lift your arm up and back and toss the stone with a snapping motion.
- “Aim to hit the water about 15 to 20 feet from the shoreline,” says Tipograph. Toss the stone at a 20-degree angle for a greater chance of skipping multiple times.