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SUMMER RULES is a series where we ask people to share with us how they’re staying safe and sane during this very different summer season; from mask suggestions to soundtrack selections, we’ll take a peek into how others are making these challenging times work.

Today we’re not only going with a double dose (we heard from Mari Andrew this morning), but we’re speaking with a triple threat! Nick Partridge, planetary geologist Dr. Emily Martin and curator Dr. Matt Shindell all host AirSpace from the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. (If you’re not a dedicated listener yet, fix that immediately! Check out Season 3 of the podcast wherever you listen!)

Tomorrow (Friday, July 17) they’ll be taking over the National Air and Space Museum’s Instagram from 5pm to 10pm for some short lightning talks about the Red Planet, from David Bowie to Martian cocktails and everything in between (including lots of science, they promise!). 

In the meantime, the trio have been so kind as to loop us in on how their summers are going; so far, they’ve been keeping their cool with low country boils, Murder She Wrote, ambient tunes and more:

How do you usually feel about summer, as a season overall, and how do you feel about THIS summer, by comparison?

Nick: Summer is always the busiest time at the Museum, and my summer 2019 was consumed by planning for the Apollo 11 50th anniversary—so while my summers in DC have never been exactly leisurely, they did always have a certain verve. This summer is a lot different—working from home with a toddler has its own vibe, and my schedule, wardrobe, and downtime can now best be described as “chaos casual.”

Emily: I always look forward to summer! Summer usually brings trips to conferences or to collaborate with colleagues. Many of my colleagues are also really close friends so summer is when I get to catch-up and visit and start new projects. This summer is much harder to describe in an uplifting way, so I’m working on being more kind, more aware, more hand washing, and mask wearing.

Matt: When I was a kid, summer was a time for two things – little league baseball and trips to the library. I haven’t played baseball in years, but I still love the library. When it’s hot outside, the library is a great place to get away from the heat and find another world to slip into. When I was a kid, I was very attracted to a good fantasy novel – like The Hobbit or, even more so, The Neverending Story. This summer there’s no way to get to the library – and as a historian libraries are even more important to me now than ever – but I’m still getting my fix via my local library’s online resources. I’ve listened to a lot of audiobooks while walking my two dogs.

What is your summer shaping up to look like?

Nick: Strangely, a lot more time outside—but only as far as our back patio. With fresh air, sunshine and my daughter’s yard toys only a couple of steps away from my “desk” (kitchen table)—but still well within WiFi—it’s a great way to distract the kid and change the scenery for a little while. A lot of my colleagues had gotten paler on their Zoom calls through the spring—I was actually sunburned a couple of times. 

Emily: My Covid-Summer is looking a lot like March when stay-at-home orders were first announced. I try and stay really focused on all the things I’m grateful for. I’m not sure it’ll truly feel like summer ever this year, but that’s ok, because I have a lot.

Matt: My summer has been all about being at home with my wife, our two dogs and our cat. I’ve been reading a lot about late medieval and early modern European science.

Is there anything in particular you’re actually looking forward to this summer?

Nick: The new Mars rover Perseverance is scheduled to launch in a few weeks—it’s always exciting to see major missions get off the ground, and I suppose it’s doubly reassuring to see someone going somewhere this summer (even if it’s a robot).  

Emily: Oh! We are going to try and see the comet NEOWISE that should be up at dusk this week in the northwestern sky (and maybe later this month if we are lucky!) Lifehacker had a great article about how to see it. It’s a once in a 6,000 year opportunity! And, if you don’t want to go outside, google some of the images backyard-astronomers have been taking. They are really epic.

Matt : I’m looking forward to a lot of things. My wife and I will celebrate our 11th anniversary this summer. It’s not one of the round-number anniversaries, but that doesn’t really matter – every year together has been a new adventure, and this year definitely held some firsts. 

What are some of your tips for staying safe and sane right now? 

Nick: Exercise is supposedly great for stress relief (and I suppose that it is), but it’s also great for balancing out your chosen shelter-in-place indulgences—whether that’s eating more take-out or a couple extra bottles of wine on the weekend. Churchill had a lot of great quotes about the ubiquitous utility of Champagne in all circumstances—he was wrong about a lot of things, but not that in my opinion. 

Emily: I do not check my email after 7pm or on the weekends and I play Candy Crush before bed instead of reading the news. Also, spending my weekends with Jessica Fletcher on Murder She Wrote (Seasons 1-5 on Prime) has been really uplifting: watching someone constantly fighting the patriarchy and NOT get tired (but how?!) is energizing. Be warned, there are episodes and some writing that do not hold up, but the feminism is pretty solid.

Matt: I think everyone has to find what works for them. I can spend hours on end reading. For my wife, sewing, weaving, or listening to music and dancing around the living room seem to do the trick. Phone and video calls with family have helped us feel connected to our loved ones. And the occasional virtual happy hour with colleagues or cocktail hour with friends is a nice antidote to the useful but often impersonal virtual meetings we rely on now.

Go-to summer wellness practice advice? Any spots in particular that have been helping you on that front?

Nick: Some advice that I received from a much wiser colleague in another moment of historic national upheaval—being consciously nicer to the people closest to you is an important form of emergency management. Otherwise the shock and stress creep out unconsciously and take a serious toll on those relationships when you need them the most. She used the example of being at the airport the morning after a national emergency and seeing how many couples were fighting at the curbside drop off. Conscientious kindness to people who are likely to forgive you for a few microaggressions is a hard thing to keep in mind—even more so when the emergency is months long with no end in sight—but it’s so important.

Emily: We have had a hard time keeping sufficient fresh produce in the house with trips to the grocery store still only happening every other week. We recently tried out the FreshFarm Market Share and have really enjoyed it!

Matt: I don’t think I’ve gone so long before without eating a meal in a cafeteria or restaurant. I’ve cooked or prepared almost every meal since mid-March at home, and often from fresh ingredients. Eating well, and feeding yourself and your partner, are wellness practices in my book. And the walks with the dogs have been a great way to get fresh air and a change of scenery. There is a wooded trail near our house that gives you the feeling that you’re taking a walk in the forest, with a lot of tall oak and poplar trees that keep you shaded from the sun.

Where did you get your mask from? And what, aside from that, has been your more or less go-to summer uniform?

Nick: I have several—I use paper masks for running outside, I have a few little black masks that don’t fit over my increasingly large quarantine beard (and were never as versatile as you’d think—saying black goes with everything doesn’t make it so), and I’ve used bandanas a few times but always end up looking like a cartoon bandit. My current go-to was a gift from a colleague. It has a Mercury astronaut from the 1960s on it with a modern passenger jet flying over their shoulder, which I find pleasantly incongruent. 

Emily: My friend who is a pastry chef also sends epic care packages. When I was in grad school she would mail me her homework and I was not mad about it. Sometime in April she sent me a surprise package with some of her home-sewn masks and sourdough starter. It’s ok to be jealous.

Matt: My wife sewed the mask I wear most often from the muslin she uses to cut and size patterns. I also have a couple Levi’s bandanas that I use sometimes. My uniform has mainly consisted of shorts and t-shirts. I have a drawer full of space- and video game-themed t-shirts that I don’t usually get to wear to work.

What (if anything) are you reading right now, and why do you recommend it? (Alternatively, just share a favorite book.)

Nick: I’m re-reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. Apart from being my favorite candidate for the first “great American novel” of the 21st century, it’s Escapism with a capital E—which might be a little too on the nose this summer, now that I think about it…

Emily: I truthfully haven’t been doing a lot of reading this year. I’m usually working through Sue Grafton mystery novels interspersed with some memoirs or biographies, most recently The Matriarch (about Barbra Bush) and Madam Secretary (memoir by Madeline Albright).

Matt: I’ve been listening to audiobooks from my local library’s online resources when I walk the dogs. I just finished Stephen King’s novel, Pet Sematary, read by Michael C. Hall. The older I get, the more I like ghost stories and horror novels – go figure. And I still enjoy a good fantasy novel, too. I’ve made my way through most of Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher series now (after enjoying the series on Netflix), and I am also three books into Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle.

Do you have a go-to summer hang-out recipe that still works for a socially distanced gathering? And/or just a favorite general summer recipe that’s still a go-to, even now?

Nick: My family’s low country boil recipe works in almost all situations. It’s infinitely scalable—I’ve made it for anywhere from two to fifty people—and it’s basically impossible to get wrong. It keeps well, travels easily, and is ideal for serving outdoors. Fill your largest pot halfway with boiling water and a package of Zatarain’s crab boil. Throw in (in this order) red potatoes, corn on the cob, yellow squash, a large onion, kielbasa, shrimp, and a cut lime—add the next ingredient every time the water returns to boil. That’s it. 

Emily: I’m still not ready for any socially distanced gatherings, however my favorite go-to has been the King Arthur Flour Cheesy Crispy Pan Pizza has been especially easy. This is fool-proof and made from mostly pantry staples. It takes fore-thought but not much else, a few minutes of prep the night before (seriously, like it’s negligible), and then you take it out of the fridge at lunch time for it to do it’s yeasty work before you bake it for dinner.

Matt: I love anything from the grill or the smoker. One of my favorite things to do is have people over for a bbq. I’ve been grilling around 2 chickens a week this summer, and experimenting with marinating and grilling chuck roasts as steaks. My wife’s birthday is coming up, and she will probably insist on carne asada. We haven’t had anyone over this summer, but I’ve probably used the grill more than ever.

What about great summer cocktail or mocktail recipe?

Nick: According to Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, “a real gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s lime juice—and nothing else. It beats martinis hollow” I wholeheartedly agree.

Emily: We were REALLY excited for our first Aperol Spritz. But what I’ve been even more excited about is embarking on a fun science experiment making Kombucha. I started with the kit from Standing Stone Farms and have really enjoyed making tart, fizzy, chilly beverages that help me through my afternoon slump that tastes fancy! Also fancy glassware is required.

Matt: I haven’t made one yet this summer, but I usually like a good sloe gin fizz when it’s hot outside.

What’s on your summer playlist this year, or are there three songs that are permanent summer favorites for you?

Nick: All M83 all the time. 

Emily: Lizzo. That is all.

Matt: While I’m reading I like to tune into the Chilled Cow YouTube channel or play other ambient music, like Bonobo. And Neko Case is on regular rotation in this house.

Where do you wish you COULD GO this summer, if there were no restrictions or safety risks?

Nick: I haven’t been to the beach in years—so I’m not sure it’s fair to say I’d have gone this year, either. Fantasies of exotic international travel aside, I miss being able to go to NYC for the weekend. 

Emily: I just want to float in a pool with good friends and chilly beverages.

Matt: It’s a terrible time of year to visit Phoenix, AZ, but it would be nice to see my family in person – it has been a few years since I’ve been back.

And is there anywhere you’ve been safely going that you could recommend for people who live nearby? Any day trips or local spots worth mentioning, for example?

Nick: Stay home!! 

Emily: We have really enjoyed getting out of the house and driving around neighborhoods that we don’t know well and admiring the big fancy houses and buildings. There really is a wealth of really cool architecture in our city and you can drive just about anywhere and google will always help you find your way home.

Matt: I haven’t gone anywhere outside of my neighborhood, so I have nowhere specific to recommend. My only advice is to take advantage of the peaceful spaces you have available to you – porch, deck, patio, doorstep – whatever you may have. And take walks – a nice walk first thing in the morning is a great way to start the day.

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