As you shrug off your winter coat for the umpteenth time, aren't you about ready to think about summer? It would be a nice change to stand in front of a barbecue grill dressed in something other than a snowmobile suit. Summer related musings are a must right now so you can retain your sanity. 


While outdoors, it's always fun to see the various types of birds return to Michigan from their winter vacations. is a great place to get information about when certain birds are due to arrive. “Journey North is a program for sharing the amazing journey of migratory species and then to offer a way for a general audience to track these phenomena across North America.”


If you check the Journey North maps that record sightings, you'll see that robins, red-winged blackbirds, and orioles are already in our state. Hummingbirds are just entering our southern counties. Check it out at:  


Birds are cool, but some facets of summer nature require some caution. Last Tuesday, the Cadillac News featured a front page article about ticks and tick bites. Adding to that is the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, which lists seventy-eight entries of ant, bee, and wasp stings according to the level of pain caused by the sting. The late Justin Schmidt, the person who compiled the index, personally experienced over one thousand stings. 


“He determined the stinging score by two components: the actual physiological harm and what he called the 'ouch factor.' Schmidt believed that pain comes in two flavors, imagined and realized.” For instance, he described the Honey Wasp as having the worst bite: “Like having a cotton swab dipped in habanero sauce pushed up your nose.” See the chart at:


Insect bites can be scary, but there are things that can help you maintain health in the summer. Some of these strategies are tried and true and are detailed in “Five Age-Old Health Remedies That Actually Work.” 


One of these is simply airing out your home. “Ventilation is a good way to get virus particles out of your home. Your grandparent’s advice to air out your home is perfectly reasonable and can help you stay healthy.” 


While that's going on, you might want to air out yourself by going outside. “Since the advent of television, cell phones and other technology, we are outside less. You’ve likely heard an older family member tell you to get outside and away from the TV or cell phone screen. Spending time in natural sunlight can reduce stress and depression. A Harvard Health report found a 21-minute walk cuts your risk of heart disease by thirty percent.” (


A popular outdoor summer activity can involve the whole family. Whether it's at a park or in a backyard, kids love to play on a swing. It's even more fun if there's an adult who can provide some extra oomph to the semi-flight. Now science has added an improvement. 


“Physicists have determined the ultimate strategy for the playground swing. The sense of how to shift our position on a playground swing tends to come naturally as part of growing up. Now scientists have put together a mathematical model for the ultimate swinging technique.” 


Here's how to achieve swing perfection. “When you're just starting with the swinging, lean all the way back on the forward swing just as it passes its equilibrium point (with the swing chains pointing straight down). As the swinging motion builds momentum, you need to start leaning back earlier – ideally at the highest point on the backward swing, just before you start going forward again. It's this change that maximizes the oscillations of the swing.” (


Did you get all that? If not, your child can resort to a more traditional approach. This is also known as the “hey mom/dad push me higher” technique. 


With summer approaching more bicyclists are venturing out on the streets and trails. There's a new bike design that could create some second looks if you see one: “This Square-Wheeled Bicycle Works Like a Pedal-Powered Tank.” That's right. It's a bike with square wheels. 


“Even our ancient ancestors managed to figure out that, to comfortably get from point A to point B without walking, you needed wheels that were perfectly round. And yet, determined engineers managed to build a bicycle with square wheels that rolls as comfortably as a bike with round ones.” 


So, how can this be? “This square-wheeled bicycle can be comfortably ridden almost anywhere. The square wheels themselves don’t roll at all, but their rubber tires have been sliced up and paired with four sets of bike chains to create a continuous tread that rolls around the outside of each wheel. It’s essentially a pedal-powered tank, with the bottom edge of each wheel quietly gliding along the pavement as it’s ridden.” See it in action at:


Finally, a dad joke sort of encapsulates what everyone is feeling as we close out April and slog toward summer. “What month of the year is the shortest? May because it only has three letters.” 


Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns online at and