Best Ways to Enjoy Summer
The Best Way to Catch Fireflies
How? With womanly wiles: "Fireflies blink to attract a mate," explains naturalist Lynn Havsall, director of programs at the George B. Dorr Museum of Natural History, in Bar Harbor, Maine. "Males fly around while females sit in trees, in shrubs, or on the ground. So find a female and watch her blinking pattern. Then imitate the pattern with a pen flashlight and the males will come to you."
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.
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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 from Penny Waugh, a buyer for hammocks.com.
- 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."
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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 lobstermeat 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.
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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
What better way to declare the start of summer? The key to cutting off jeans is not to go too short too soon.
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 Levi's. "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
Who needs a treadmill when you have miles of shoreline? Running on the beach can get you into great shape. Take it from lifeguard Benjamin Guss, 25, of Del Mar, California, who recently qualified to compete in this year's Iron Man triathlon (yes, that means swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and then running a marathon―consecutively) in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.
- 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 croquet.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
The crawl is the consummate swim stroke: graceful, powerful, and bound to get you to the other side of the pool faster than any other. But without proper form, you might as well be dog-paddling. Consider these pointers from Olympic medalist Lindsay Benko, who won gold in 2004 in the 800-meter free relay and silver in the 400.
- 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.