"Things last either too long, or not long enough," Oscar Wilde once wrote, and for most of us, summer falls into the last category. Sad to say, the days of fun 'n' sun are about as over as a cheap tank of gas. The evidence is all around. Backpacks and pencils are crowding out beach balls and sunblock in grocery aisles. The ice cream truck's annoying version of "Turkey in the Straw" now brings tinkly pangs of melancholy. Farmers' tans are fading. Yellow buses are beginning to circle the neighborhood.
Summer, you steamed us and you broiled us, but we're sorry to see you go, old friend.
Now it's on to Labor Day, the unofficial end of summer. It's time to build one more sand castle, spend a lazy night without homework and feast on butter-slathered ears of Silver Queen. You could take in a drive-in movie, pick juicy peaches for a shortcake or add some color to your buddies at a paintball park. For more end-of-summer fun, we offer these ideas.
Take Your Pick
For area pick-your-own farms, late summer is just a road stop on the way to apples, pumpkins and other goodies. Right now, farm markets are offering peaches, blackberries, corn, tomatoes, potatoes, squash and other summer vegetables, along with summer flowers. Most markets advise calling ahead for business hours and crop availability. Many have Web sites updated daily with fresh offerings. Among the pick-your-own markets in the area are: Hartland Orchard, near Markham, Va.; 540-364-2316; www.hartlandorchard.com. And Butler's Orchard, 22200 Davis Mill Rd., Germantown; 301-972-3299; www.butlersorchard.com. For more farms, visit washingtonpost.com/pickyourown.
Work on your backside feeble grind or blunt fakie at a skateboarding park. Area parks include: Powhatan Springs Park, 6020 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, 703-533-2362; Rockville Skate Park, Welsh Park, 355 Martins Lane, Rockville, 240-314-8765; Shaw Skate Park, 11th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW; Gaithersburg Skate Park, 506 S. Frederick Ave., Gaithersburg, 301-258-6350; Wakefield Skate Park, Audrey Moore RECenter, 8100 Braddock Rd., Annandale, 703-321-7081.
After Monday, most public pools in the area will close for the season. It's best to check local parks and recreation departments for schedules. The Lovettsville community pool will hold its seventh annual dog swim Sept. 10 from 9 to noon at the pool, 57 E. Broad Way. Dogs must have Loudoun County licenses, and the fee is $7. This is a dogs-only swim; humans must stay on the sidelines. For information, call 540-822-5508.
Your Toes Will Be Tickled
Before stashing the spangly sandals in their winter resting place, get a French pedicure and show off those tootsies. Though the traditional French pedicure, with a light base coat and white nail tips, will lend you panache, the newest ones are bolder -- colored tips or a glittery soft pink with fuchsia tips. Option two: Choose a pastel shade as a base coat, and ask your pedicurist to paint a summer design -- a sea gull, shell, beach umbrella or an apple-tini -- on your big toe.
Raft, tube, canoe or kayak? Choose a watercraft and explore the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers with River & Trail Outfitters near Harpers Ferry, W.Va. The outfitters offer several-hour trips, often including a picnic lunch, along with shorter jaunts. For information and reservations, call 888-446-7529 or 301-695-5177 or visit www.rivertrail.com. The outfitters are at 604 Valley Rd., Knoxville, Md.
Fresh Air, Free Films
Bust loose from your recliner and catch the final outdoor movie screenings at the Columbia Lakefront on Wincopin Circle in Columbia. Classic animated films, according to the info line, will be screened free Friday and Saturday. Frankenstein flicks dominate next weekend's showings, with "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" Sept. 9 and "Young Frankenstein" Sept. 10. "A Night at the Opera" with the Marx brothers and "Some Like It Hot" star the following weekend. See them at dusk (8:30). The screenings are presented by the Columbia Association's Lakefront Summer Festival. Call 877-713-9674, Ext. 9030.
Pearls and Peppercorns
Take advantage of the final few days of extended summer hours at two Smithsonian museums. See Julia Child's to-do list and the lorgnette she needed to read it at the ongoing "Bon Appetit! Julia Child's Kitchen at the Smithsonian" at the National Museum of American History. The museum will be open from 10 to 6:30 through Monday. It's your last chance to inspect the oversize specimens in "The Allure of Pearls," which closes after Monday at the National Museum of Natural History. The museum is open 10 to 7:30 through Monday.
Freeze, or I'll Scoop
Frozen custard -- the freshly made, dense and yummy frozen treat enriched with eggs in addition to sugar and cream -- is a beachfront favorite. Best in the summer, it's becoming available year-round. Check out the Del Ray Dreamery in Alexandria, which features daily special flavors such as Boston cream pie or blackberry, at 2310 Mount Vernon Ave.; 703-683-7767. Or try Milwaukee Frozen Custard, with locations throughout Virginia (www.milwaukeefrozencustard.com). Sample dozens of flavors at the Ice Cream Factory & Cafe, 13700 Old Brandywine Rd., Brandywine; 301-782-3444.
Restaurants With a Breeze
Before its palm trees go brown, visit the huge island bar/complex at Seacrets in Ocean City (49th Street and the Bay; 410-524-4900), suggests Weekend restaurant critic Eve Zibart. For sidewalk fare to the mmmth degree: Citronelle (3000 M St. NW; 202-625-2150). A final outing in Friday khakis: Tony & Joe's (3000 K St. NW; 202-944-4545) and the adjoining Nick's Riverside Grille (3050 K St. NW; 202-342-3535). For a cocktail-hour ending to a canal-side stroll: the stone patio at Old Angler's Inn (10801 MacArthur Blvd., Potomac; 301-299-9097). Or for the feel of an Italian piazza: Positano Ristorante (4940-4948 Fairmont Ave., Bethesda; 301-654-1717).
Paint Your Pals
Paintball is part tag, part Stratego and all about out-psyching opponents. And "statistically it is safer than golf," say the folks at Anne Arundel Paintball Park, 7600 Race Rd. in Hanover. It's certainly faster paced. The park offers seven playable fields (four wooded) and on Sundays a portable field with inflatable bunkers. You can come with friends or join an ongoing game. Reservations are required for equipment rental. Call 301-440-0800.
Before summer ends, get in on a footwear trend for next year's trip to the beach. Crocs have been described on Internet opinion lists as the comfiest shoes ever. "They may look a little dopey," one shoe reviewer wrote, "but the freedom of feeling that you are walking in clouds is well worth it!" The basic Crocs Beach model, one of several styles, is a perforated clog with a back strap that can be rolled forward for a slip-on shoe. They're made of a flexible material that's said to mold to your feet and also feature a supportive foot base. Besides beachgoers, boaters, chefs and gardeners have taken a fancy to them. For information, visit www.crocs.com.
Splash away the weekend at a water-spouting treehouse or ride ocean-size waves without the sharks at the Hurricane Harbor water park at Six Flags America (13710 Central Ave., Largo). The water park is closed Friday but open Saturday through Monday from 10:30 to 8. Times are subject to change; for amusement park hours and other information, call 301-249-1500 or visit www.sixflags.com.
Watch the Birdies
Improve your golf game at a public course. Some suggestions: Enterprise Golf Course, "often referred to as the Augusta of public courses in the mid-Atlantic region," according to one Web site, is a par-72 championship course (2802 Enterprise Rd., Mitchellville; 301-249-2040). The Stonewall Golf Club at Lake Manassas, just a few minutes away from the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club that will be hosting the Presidents Cup Sept. 20-25, is a par-72 championship course featuring woods and views of Lake Manassas (15601 Turtle Point Dr., Gainesville). For reserved tee times, call 703-753-5101. The Sligo Creek Golf Course is a challenging, fun-to-walk, nine-hole course (9701 Sligo Creek Pkwy., Silver Spring, 301-585-6006).
Grab the fishing gear this weekend and try two spots recommended by Weekend's Fish Lines columnist Gary Diamond. For fishing from shore, piers or bridges, head for Point Lookout State Park in St. Mary's County, where you'll find striped bass, bluefish, spot and weakfish, or the Ocean City area, which will be prime for striped bass, bluefish, large weakfish, kingfish and flounder. For boating anglers, he suggests the Susquehanna Flats in upper Chesapeake Bay, where there'll be "lots and lots" of striped bass, along with channel catfish and tidewater largemouth bass.
Burger Bites Back
You could celebrate the waning days of summer with the usual blah burger. Or you could grill a fitting finale to this long, hot season with patties that pack some heat of their own. In a bowl, combine 11/2 pounds of lean hamburger; 1 finely chopped jalapeno pepper; 1 small onion, chopped; 11/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce; 1 tablespoon ketchup; pinch dry mustard; and salt and pepper to taste. Make into six patties; grill, fry or broil. Line the bun with a thick disk of ripe tomato and add your favorite toppings. A cold beer in a frosty mug would look mighty pretty next to this plate.
Heed the Call of the Wild
You might be hankering for "land, lots of land under starry skies above." If there's no fencing you in this weekend, think about spending it in a tent under the pines. At press time, the Virginia and Maryland state parks systems listed many available campsites offering all sorts of terrain and recreational opportunities. For information on campsites in Virginia, call 800-933-7275 or visit www.dcr.virginia.gov/parks/reserve.htm. For reservations at Maryland campsites, call 888-432-2267 (TTY: 866-804-7846) or visit reservations.dnr.state.md.us.
Do Some Market Research
Instead of buying spices in expensive little jars, try buying fresh herbs available at area farmers markets. Sprigs of basil can be added to a grill marinade, made into pesto and frozen, or dried for winter. Bouquets of fragrant lavender, likewise, can be admired in a vase or made into sachets. (Hints on preserving herbs can be found at www.imagesbuilder.com/HouseandGarden/herbs.html.) Visit a local farmers market or try one of six FreshFarm markets in the area, where the emphasis is on local produce and ingredients (www.freshfarmmarkets.org).
Lunch With Music Legends
Remember disco dancing to "The Hustle" or singing along with "Baby, I'm Yours"? Join in a tribute to the composer of those and other tunes Friday in the final concert of the Live! on Woodrow Wilson Plaza summer series. The free event is a tribute to Van McCoy, the singer-songwriter and producer who was born and raised in Washington. The impressive lineup: Herb Fame of Peaches & Herb; Jean Carne, who has performed with Duke Ellington and Earth, Wind and Fire; and actress and recording artist Melba Moore. McCoy, who died in 1979 at age 39, worked with all three performers as well as with Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Nat King Cole, Tom Jones, Nina Simone and many others. The concert is at noon outside the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.
Ice, Ice, Baby
Out-of-town guests may refer to our regional shaved-ice treat as a "snow cone." Set them straight. Take them to a snowball stand this weekend and pop for a chocolate with marshmallow or a Creamsicle with sour Nerds. The summer's most requested flavors at one snowball stand, near Kendall Hardware in Clarksville, have been egg custard, cherry, cotton candy and Skylite, a berry flavor in blue. The "Harry Potter" flavor, which tastes like banana bubble gum, hasn't been nearly as popular as the new book.
You Say Tomato, I Say Salad This dish is as easy to make as it is delicious. It is only delicious, however, when made with fresh, ripe tomatoes. No "cardboard" specimens need apply. You'll need 6 to 8 large tomatoes chopped in large chunks; half a medium onion chopped into half-inch pieces; 4 tablespoons oil (olive, corn or safflower work well); pepper; and 1 teaspoon salt or more to taste. If you like, add a small bit of fresh chopped basil or parsley. Peel the tomatoes by blanching or by running a paring knife firmly around the skin and pulling it away with the knife. Combine the ingredients in a bowl. Let stand in the refrigerator for at least two hours or until juicy. Serve in bowls and set out a plate of crusty bread for dipping. Balls of fresh mozzarella make a nice side or can be sunk into each bowl to soak up more summer flavor.
Get to Work
Plan a post-Labor Day workout with your friends. Rent a mobile climbing wall or a rope course and invite the gang to a backyard challenge. Upwards Enterprises Adventure Programs in Frederick (www.upwardenterprises.com) will bring the walls and ropes to you, along with staff to help you ascend. Reservations are suggested two weeks in advance. Call 240-529-1620.
Drive In, Bliss Out
Stake out a space, eat too much popcorn and kick back just like the old days at a drive-in movie. Bengies Drive-In Theatre is planning a "Dusk to Dawn Motion Picture Movie Marathon" Saturday and Sunday at the theater, 3417 Eastern Blvd., Baltimore. Bengies, operating since 1956, claims to have the biggest screen on the East Coast. Call 410-687-5627 or visit www.bengies.com. Or check out the Bowie Baysox Drive-In, with its all-digital movies and inflatable screen (4101 NE Crain Hwy., Bowie; 301-464-4806 or baysox.com/events/movies). Don't forget the bug repellent.
Head for the Hills
Put some mileage on your hiking boots. Here are two possibilities: Cunningham Falls State Park in the Catoctin Mountains near Thurmont, Md., offers nine trails, a 78-foot waterfall and panoramic views of the Monocacy Valley. Visit www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/western/cunninghamfalls.html. An hour's drive from Washington is Sky Meadows State Park in Delaplane, Va., with six trails plus access to the Appalachian Trail. See www.dcr.state.va.us/parks/skymeado.htm for details.
The Chill Is (Almost) Gone
Some of the icy tea and coffee drinks that kept us cool this summer will become unavailable as autumn approaches. Dunkin' Donuts' Turtle Nut Iced Latte, a toasted-almond-flavored drink with caramel syrup, will be discontinued in mid-September. As of this month, Starbucks will no longer serve its iced Tazo green-tea Frappuccino, lemonade and iced tea, or the Mint Mocha Chip Frappuccino. Cosi's limited-edition Arctic S'more (an iced blend of milk, chocolate syrup and graham cracker crumbs) will be featured through Labor Day.
Grow Some Greens
Garden on! Sow spinach, radicchio and lettuce seeds, planting them twice as deep as in summer. Mulch and water plants regularly, keeping vigilant of frost. Garlic can be planted for next summer's harvest. September is ideal for planting trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs. It's also a good time to neaten up. You could trim spent perennials and plant pansies nearby for a splash of continuing color.
Freelance writer Mary K. Feeney lives in Howard County and plans to watch the Nats on Labor Day.