This summer is going to look a little different than others. You’ve been staring at the same walls—and the same faces—for months now. You aren’t taking any far-flung vacations. Friends and family feel a billion miles away, even if they’re next door. But it is still summer, dammit. With a little creativity and a few assorted props, you can swap old summer traditions in for some promising new ones. Here are our suggestions.
Explore your neighborhood with the “mystery adventure” game.
This one works whether you live in a city or nowhere near one. Someone closes his or her eyes and points to a spot on a map, and wherever the finger lands, that’s where you go the next morning. You can set the radius of your adventure circle to whatever distance seems doable to you, depending on whether you’re driving or walking. For my family, this game has brought us to some beautiful places that never would have occurred to us, like Kent Island on the Chesapeake Bay, where we spent the day exploring the beach and nature trails. We’ve had our share of duds, too—ending up at a dead end road in the middle of nowhere—but even those have given us lots of laughs, and we keep a backup plan at the ready. A tip: You can maximize successful outings by manipulating the map a bit—zoom in on a general direction that seems potentially optimal for your crew. —Jill Pellettieri
Make your own oyster bar.
My mother usually likes to celebrate her birthday with a round of oysters at a favorite restaurant. A no-go this year, obviously. But with some extra tools and a YouTube video or two, we recreated the experience at home, and for one day, we were shellfish kings. We ordered our oysters directly from the restaurant—in our area, several spots that shuttered dine-in service are offering curbside ingredient pickup. But if not, there are also fishermen willing and able to ship things packed in ice (we’ve had great non-oyster experiences with this company, and this one will airlift oysters to you overnight for not-crazy prices). We had heard you can pop oysters open with a screwdriver or other household items, but feeling like now wasn’t the time to chance it on a potential trip to the ER and in need of a gift for Mom anyway, I ordered this boxed supply set of knives and a cut-proof mesh towel. (There are certainly cheaper options.)
The night before our scheduled pickup, Mom diced up an old shallot we had at the bottom of the fridge and threw together a mignonette. We also had the horseradish required for cocktail sauce thanks to a small bottle in the fridge usually relegated to the exactly two times a year we eat gefilte fish. (It’s 2020. Jews can both enjoy a Seder and a raw bar.) Day of, we threw some ice in a blender and dumped it onto the platter that usually holds our Thanksgiving turkey. Mom did a quick method study on YouTube, laid out some towels, and we got to shucking, which, despite our inexperience, proved easier over time. We found there to be both more grit and more oyster crabs than expected, which was a little gross but not a big deal. In the meantime, I sliced lemon wedges and whipped up some Bloody Marys. Maybe you’ll want to crack open an old bottle of prosecco instead. We set a table in the backyard with small plates and cocktail napkins. But even indoors, this would have felt a little less like quarantine and a little more like a day by the water. —Jessica Miller
Read some escapist books featuring zero contagions or stressful crowd scenes.
Count summer reading among the many simple pleasures that 2020 has turned into a smoking minefield. Any thriller featuring a pandemic or the breakdown of society now feels a little too relevant to work as light entertainment. Even an old favorite like Jaws, with its city officials willing to put lives at risk in their doomed attempt to boost the local economy, stirs up more real-life anxiety than many readers will have the stomach for. A globe-trotting suspense novel may trigger a melancholy longing for places made inaccessible by the existential gantlet of air travel. So here’s a list of stress-free beach reading for the beach-deprived, with an eye toward books you’re less likely to have already read. It’s a mix of mostly time-tested (and a few new) titles to help you get away from being away from it all. Here’s a list. —Laura Miller
Host the DIY Olympics.
The Tokyo Summer Olympics have been canceled, dashing the hopes of athletes who have trained their whole lives for this year, and also mildly disappointing those of us who like to live vicariously through others’ feats. So why not make your own Olympic Games? The first step is to stage an opening ceremony with three key ingredients: costume changes, a rousing song, and a torch. Generally, opening ceremonies serve as a vehicle for the host nation to brag about its national history, so choose any song that feels like a satisfying blast from your family or friend group’s collective past and that should do the trick. Now make your co-quarantiners parade around your house with a candle or a flashlight to the soundtrack of your choosing. If you’re quarantining solo, get some friends together on video, coordinate outfits, nominate someone as the torchbearer, blast your chosen song, and dance around. The games have begun!
Now, onto the sports! Many Olympic feats can safely be shrunk down to apartment- or backyard-size ambitions. Hurdle jumping might be the easiest one: just keep stacking empty Amazon boxes or Lysol cans. Try fencing with pool noodles, or archery with rubber bands attached to popsicle sticks. Olympians have already demonstrated some options: You can try synchronized swimming in your bathtub, for instance. Every event must be followed by the obligatory athlete interview. Questions should include: “How are you feeling?” “What did you eat for breakfast today?” “What was it like out there?” Answers must be given in some combination of: “I’ve worked really hard for this,” “All my training paid off,” and “This really is a dream come true.” Even if you are less than athletically inclined, don’t rule out the DIY Olympics. The point of the games is and always has been the pageantry. So lean into the celebration. Hold medal ceremonies for everything, all summer. Who wore pants for the most hours today? Who can manage to avoid face-touching for an entire day? This year, everybody wins gold. —Aviva Shen
Have a “kids are parents” night.
No school or camp in the morning? Take advantage. Here are the rules: Kids make dinner, put their parents to bed, and stay up as late as they want. When we did this, our kids—then ages 7, 9, and 11—could serve any dinner of their choosing, but it was their responsibility to do the dishes and clean everything up. We taught them how to shut down the house—double-check the doors are locked, turn out the lights, turn on the alarm. They settled on tacos for dinner, with a requisite glass of milk for us. Then they put us to bed at 8:30. We fell asleep long before the kids ventured upstairs, which they claim was around midnight, but my guess is it was later. —Jill Pellettieri
Make pantry cocktails.
In most places, you can’t go out for a drink. And not all of us have elaborately stocked home bars. But if you have a bottle of booze and some imagination, a cocktail is already waiting in your fridges and pantries. Gin. Tequila. Pickles. Ice cream. Whatever’s in the bottom of your crisper. If you have some combination of these things, you might have a cocktail. Read our recipes here. —Bryan Lowder
Act like a teen.
In a teenage summer, constraints breed creativity. Perpetually broke and unable to get into bars, teens come up with a lot of weird ways to amuse themselves. This summer, with the economy in freefall and public gathering places closed, it’s time to dust off the handbook from the more resourceful summers of our youths. I’m lucky enough to have a literal handbook from mine. Each June in high school, a few friends and I would make a summer to-do list, one of which I recently found. Some of the entries are simple: “Tan nude.” “Buy/light fireworks.” Many reveal a surplus of time and a dearth of funds: “Enter radio contests.” “Pick wild blueberries and make something out of them.” Others offer a bit more imagination: “Buy cheap plates at Zyla’s, break them, and make mosaic.”
Come June, I plan to put myself back in this mindset, with a low threshold for fun and no shame whatsoever. If you and your partner are crawling up the walls of a teeny apartment, park in a secluded lot or at the edge of a park and make out for a bit. If you want to remind yourself of the vastness of the universe or just need to feel something—anything—find some winding roads and drive around with the windows down, playing Dashboard Confessional or Incubus at full volume. (The latter released a new EP in April.) Carry a boombox down your block and blast something a little raunchier—remember, you don’t care about dirty looks. You kind of want them. Buy a cheap raft, bring it to a heavily polluted river at an unauthorized entry point, tie yourself to a tree, and float for a while. Maybe take your swimsuit off. Write “FUCK JEFF BEZOS” in chalk on the sidewalk outside a Whole Foods. Make friendship bracelets to mail to your pals. Loiter, loiter, loiter. Another item from my old summer to-do list: “Pee outside.” For me, peeing outside was a symbol of rebellion and adventure, but in this summer of quarantine, it may become a necessity—the “bladder’s leash” only stretches so far. When you let loose, think of me and my high school clique, and pretend it’s all part of the fun. — Christina Cauterucci
Get into these random sports, since they’re the only ones on TV.
A day at a ballgame remains a quintessential summer activity. Part nostalgia and tradition, sure, but baseball’s loping rhythms also feel in sync with the season’s heat and humidity. That’s to say nothing of hazy nights watching the NBA Finals, the Stanley Cup Finals, Wimbledon, the French Open, and the Summer Olympics. Well, not this year. So check out some German soccer. Discover the underdogs of Korean baseball. The truth is that you can have a summer sports obsession without any of these things. You just have to know where to look. Read Slate’s guide to the only sports currently on TV. —Seth Maxon
Try these weirdly delicious berry-spinach-yogurt popsicles.
Don’t be freaked out by the spinach. These popsicles have a nicely complex berry flavor, thanks to the honey, vanilla, and lemon juice in the recipe. You don’t really taste the spinach. And since there’s full-fat yogurt in them, along with greens and fruit, they make for a pretty satisfying snack, or even breakfast. I first discovered a slightly different version of this recipe on this blog, and now it’s a summer standby. You need: 9 ounces of plain Greek yogurt, ¾ cup of frozen blueberries, ¾ cup of frozen blackberries, somewhere between half a cup and ¾ cup of frozen spinach, 3 tablespoons of honey, 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, and 1½ teaspoons of vanilla extract. Put all ingredients in a blender and blend. Pour into six popsicle molds. Freeze about half a day or four to six hours, and enjoy. —Rebecca Onion
Stage your own “Quarchella” festival.
Music festivals are done this summer. Bonnaroo? Gone-aroo, at least until September. Glastonbury, Firefly, Pitchfork: all kaput. Even the Juggalos are shutting it down. (Let’s not talk about Lollapalooza.) What’s a summer festival enthusiast to do? The only option is to make your own. Call it Quarchella. Turn off your air conditioning for three straight days, preferably during the hottest stretch of the year. Strip down to your barest clothes, the dumber the better. Maybe cut up and dye an old tablecloth or curtain, wrap it in some odd way around part of your body, and call it a sundress. Make “set lists” on Spotify, Apple Music, or YouTube from the lists of artists that had been booked to perform at the canceled festivals, or build your own festival lineup. Go nuts.
Set up different “stages” around your home: Maybe your TV’s Spotify app is one stage, a Jambox in your kitchen is another, and a laptop in your bedroom is last. Give each stage a name and assign different artists to each one. Putter between them throughout the day. If you would normally partake in mood enhancers at a summer music festival, you’ll need to stock up on light beer and other drugs of choice for the event. (Drug dealers are essential workers in blue states.) Yell at the top of your lungs “Who’s got my molly!?” while shirtless and wearing one of those big sun hats. Do what feels right. Finally, and maybe most importantly: Instagram everything. Make one of those stories with a million parts and bad sound that no one has the time or patience to click through. If you don’t Instagram Quarchella, Quarchella never really happened. —Seth Maxon
If you have a backyard, project a movie in it.
With movie theaters likely to stay closed at least until July, this summer is the perfect time to master the art of showing movies outside. A good projection setup isn’t cheap, but with the money you’re saving on tickets and popcorn, you’ll make it up in short order. I consulted a neighbor who’s been throwing outdoor movie parties for years, and he told me that the most important quality in a projector is how bright it is, which is measured in lumens. He recommends the Acer H5382BD. (There are also setups that allow you to jury-rig a projector with a smartphone and a magnifying lens, though I’d guess quality would be dicey.) Use a flat piece of a “nonmelty” substance to make a platform for your projector (that thing gets hot!). A bedsheet will work as a projection surface, but you’re better off with a collapsible screen like the ones made by Camp Chef, which have a black backing to block ambient light. You’ll also need to wait until it’s dark, ideally a half-hour after sunset or so—otherwise your projector is competing with the sun, and is likely to lose. You’ll also need speakers, anything loud enough to be heard outside, either Bluetooth or with a long enough cable to reach the screen. For the movie source, any device that plays video will work, but if you’re using a phone or tablet, be sure to put it into airplane mode and turn notifications off; nothing spoils a movie’s climax like a push alert. —Sam Adams
And go yard camping like a pro.
Sleeping outdoors can be magical and gritty, even if you’re just pitching a tent in your own backyard. Look for a tent that’s advertised to sleep twice as many people as you actually plan to use it for, otherwise you are going to be very cozy. Don’t overthink it, just get something cheap, uncomplicated, and well-reviewed (no “rooms”). If you have kids who sleep in their own rooms, consider getting a second small tent to be the “kids tent.” Since you don’t need to pack a car, go all out for comfort. This is a good time to break out the guest air mattresses, but cheap foam camping pads will work, too. You’re not likely to get into a warm sleeping bag in July (try sleeping under top sheets), but if you’ve got a sleeping bag, it can add some further cushioning. Navigate with headlamps, which are far superior to holding a flashlight. Assuming you don’t have a backyard fire pit on hand, you can make to-go s’mores with marshmallow fluff and Nutella. Take the opportunity to explore your patch of nature: sleep with the tent fly off so you can stargaze, forgo camping chairs in favor of a blanket on the grass. —Shannon Palus
Make a homespun water park.
We’ve decided to transform the slide on our daughter’s backyard playground into a water slide. First, this involves snaking our water hose up to the top of the slide to let the water run down. (There are plenty of cheap plastic slides available online, too.) We then put a Slip ’n’ Slide at the bottom of the slide so as she gets to the bottom of the slide, her forward trajectory continues. One alternative is to replace the Slip ’n’ Slide with a small pool so it’s just a big splash at the end. Some other ideas we’re considering: Using a BBQ skewer to poke holes in a pool noodle so that it becomes a sprinkler when you attach a hose to one end. (This person has the right idea.) Hanging water balloon piñatas from trees. Family water gun tag, complete with a paintball-style obstacle course involving propped-up cardboard “walls” to hide behind. We’re still figuring out how to engineer our backyard waterslide plus Slip ’n’ Slide without letting our daughter cruise 20 mph across the grass toward the concrete, but we have plenty of time to figure it out. —Derreck Johnson
No yard? Have an indoors cookout.
If you don’t have access to a private backyard or patio situation this summer and plan to avoid gatherings, that doesn’t mean you have to totally skip your beloved burgers, hot dogs, and BBQ chicken this year. Just move the cookout indoors. While charcoal grills cannot come inside—seriously, don’t, you’ll burn the place down—the good news is that the char and smoky flavors of grilling can kinda sorta be obtained in the kitchen. You have two friends—the broiler in your oven and a stove-top grill pan—and you will need two other things: adjusted expectations and this crazy good, smoky sauce to slather on everything. Read more here. —Bryan Lowder
Maximize any kind of outdoor space.
These days, all plots of outdoor space—including the ones we previously ignored—are becoming precious commodities. So in search of the best way to maximize your open-air experience, we broke it down by category. Full-fledged yard? (Here’s a convenient pop-up fire pit!) Fire escape? (Try a foldable bistro table and chair set!) Stoop? (Give yourself some more back support while you sprawl!) Patch of public park? (This lightweight foldable lounge chair is a dream!) With a few strategic refurbishments, any bit of grass or cement can lend itself to lounging. Here are some tips. —Cleo Levin
Make a nature documentary.
Stop rewatching Planet Earth and Our Planet. Get in the game. Channel David Attenborough and film your very own nature documentary at home. You may or may not encounter a wild bobcat or elephant in your backyard or outside your window, but that doesn’t really matter. Don’t squirrels and pigeons deserve the spotlight too? Can’t you put on an accent at least as stellar as mine in my own documentary, set in bucolic Newark, New Jersey?
To make your own is simple. All you need is a smartphone. With high-tech cameras that can now shoot at 180 frames per second and basic, downloadable video-editing software, you can make an episode without ever leaving your lawn chair.
In my tiny concrete back patio area, squirrels, cats, and bugs are typically pests. But on a nice sunny day, they became my subjects. I made my budget 90-second documentary in about two hours, recording everything that moved. I captured an alley cat urinating on my Ring cam—perfect. Squirrels, bees, and weird city birds weren’t far away. Remember to get close enough to observe but not disturb. That squirrel was really struggling with the bread bag, but you just can’t intervene. The voice-over takes heart. I don’t know much about what those animals are thinking, but that didn’t stop me. Editing is easy. If you’re a pro, you already have an Adobe Creative Cloud account and can download the mobile app version. If you’re a hobbyist, there are plenty of options, like the free, super intuitive Videoshop or the inexpensive and worth it LumaFusion. After you’ve got your software, it’s as simple as recording the clips, recording the audio using your voice memos app, and combining the two in your video-editing app. You might not get a contract with Netflix, but at least you’ll be outdoors. —Aymann Ismail
Throw a quarantine parade.
Summer is parade season. Or at least it used to be. Memorial Day, Pride, Juneteenth, July Fourth: No one’s going to gather in crowds to clap for dance troupes and floats on any of these holidays this year. But the dance troupes and floats aren’t the problem: just the crowds. With a few adjustments, a parade is still possible. You’ll just have to make one yourself. Instead of a citywide event on a centrally located route, a quarantine parade should be a neighborhood-specific endeavor that lets spectators enjoy the show from the comfort of their own driveways or stoops. Pick a date and time—evenings are great as the days get longer—and post on your neighborhood listserv or text nearby friends to get a roster of desired participants. Reassure everyone that paraders will wear masks and maintain safe distance. Make some gaudy flyers and post them along your “route” so people know when to look out their windows or settle onto their porches. You can staple-gun them to phone poles or stick them into the ground like yard sale signs. Just don’t get into anyone’s mailbox—you’re a parade marshal, not an outlaw!
Next, prepare your act. Maybe you and your kids will learn a song on some homemade instruments. Maybe you’ll dig up your old marching band uniform and sashay down the street to a recording of “Stars and Stripes Forever.” With a little papier-mâché, your car could be a horse, you could ride on the roof, and your driver could treat the neighborhood to a few dozen plays of “Old Town Road.” You could choreograph a dance routine, film an instructional video, and send it to all your friends for a spread-out performance. Now is not the time to shy away from cheesy displays of togetherness. —Christina Cauterucci