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Warm-up act There are plenty of ways to get into the swing of spring -- even if the weather isn't cooperating

Spring in Buffalo is an adventure. Through April and -- let's face it -- well into May, there's no knowing what the next day will bring.

It could be 75 degrees. It could be 35 degrees. You could be dazzled by sunlight. You could be frazzled by frost.

And precipitation? The sky's the limit. We could face benign clouds and sun -- or rain, snow or sleet. Look up, and you might see a brilliant blue sky. Then again, you might see giant hailstones coming at you.

Whatever it's doing out, though, it's spring. The calendar says so. So do the crocuses and daffodils. Birds are chirping and mating. Spring's here.

Get out and greet it. Celebrate it. The idea is to behave as if it's spring, even if the temperatures are stuck down low. Here are some ways to help you start enjoying summer's pleasures now.

*Nothing, not even Rick Jeanneret, screams "Spring" as loud as a Bisons game. Dress warm, if necessary, and go. You'll feel those summer endorphins beginning to stir.

*Hit a barbecue joint. The smell of hickory smoke and the taste of pulled pork remind you that summer's right around the corner. Go to Fat Bob's and dream yourself back to New Orleans. (Pre-Katrina New Orleans, that is. Forget your cares for a minute.)

*Buffalo Raceway is open again and brightening our spring as it has been doing every year since 1942. When you get out in the open air and watch those horses run, it brings warm thoughts of the Kentucky Derby, mint juleps, all that good stuff. Whether you bet or not is up to you. The trick is to get out in the open air. Races begin Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. On Sundays, post time is 1:05 p.m. Call 649-1280 for information.

*Go miniature golfing. You don't have to worry about looking foolish wearing a parka and holding the club with gloved hands. Everyone looks silly on a miniature golf course anyway. Adventure Landing, 2400 Sheridan Drive, Tonawanda, opened its courses on March 1, and a spokesman says people are already golfing, even in the middle of the night. Hours are 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays; 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. For info, call 832-6248.

*Go regular golfing! One option is the Paddock Chevrolet Golf Dome (175 Brompton Road, Tonawanda, 504-3663), where you can hit golf balls on a driving range without feeling the rage of the elements. There's a mini-golf course, too, if you have to wait. Could happen. The dome is open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, and a spokesman said, "At the present time, ma'am, we are loaded here."

*Last week, Shores Waterfront Restaurant opened again for the season. There's a lot to be said for dining near the water, in a place you associate with summer. On weekends, enjoy the racket raised by an impressive array of Buffalo hard rock bands. Shores is at 2 Detroit St., Tonawanda Island, North Tonawanda. If you need info or directions, call 693-7971.

*Asparagus and baby green peas are all well and good, but nothing tastes like spring the way a hot dog does. Hit a summer hot dog joint. We suggest Red Top Hot Dogs, in Hamburg at Lake Shore and Big Tree roads. It opened March 1. Open daily 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; call 627-5163.

*The Transit Drive-In is already open on weekends. Four screens mean four different sets of movies to choose from. Call 625-8535.

*Catch a preview at the Shaw Festival. We usually associate this annual theater festival -- which takes place in Niagara-in-the-Lake, Ont. -- with summer. But it began April 3. Go up now, and you'll avoid the summer crowds and also get a jump on the season. Plus, until shows officially open (openings start May 9), you'll pay 30 percent less for tickets than you would in the summer. Our springy Shaw choice: "Mack and Mabel," a musical about early Hollywood movies. The songs -- by the great Jerry Herman, who wrote the music for "Mame" -- include the witty "Movies Were Movies" and the ballad "I Won't Send Roses."

*Today, Saturday and Sunday are the last three days to catch the Spring Flower Show at the historic Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens. Savor their aroma. Open daily 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.; adult admission is $6. For info, call 827-1584.

*Make the most of the spring daylight by relaxing in the atrium of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Buffalo. The glass walls let in a lot of light, and they're so high that you think you're outdoors. Plus, the hotel environment makes you think you're on vacation. Choose a table and chill. We suggest a mimosa. The Hyatt is at 2 Fountain Plaza. Call 856-1234.

*Give yourself the illusion of a warm, sultry evening by lounging in the courtyard of Stillwater, the restaurant formerly known as Lord Chumley's. One of Buffalo's most marvelous optical illusions, the courtyard makes you think you're outdoors in a foreign piazza. A bonus: Often, you'll find live music. The legendary Buffalo band Party Squad plays many Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. You'll feel as if you're starting the outdoor concert series early.

*Niagara Falls, Ont., always has some new glitzy, goofy attraction ready to zap you into that spring-break mood. One recent addition that cries out -- or, in some cases, squawks out -- for your attention is Bird Kingdom. Currently open on weekends is the Tropical Cafe, which serves island food and beer and has an open-air, rain-forest feel. For info on Bird Kingdom, call (905) 356-8888.

*The Butterfly Conservatory is all aflutter, celebrating its 10th anniversary. The admission price ($11 Canadian) is a small price to pay to be thrust into a rain-forest setting, with ponds, waterfalls and exotic flora. And, oh yeah, butterflies. We almost forgot about them! Reason to go now: The butterfly folks warn that waiting times may become longer in the summer months. Open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. until May 7, when hours are extended until 8 p.m. Call (905) 358-0025.

*Go on a picnic. The marina's a good idea, because it's by the water and you can park nearby. But if it's nippy downtown, any neighborhood park will do. No need to make a big production out of it. You could even find a picnic table in Delaware Park. Pack something warm to drink, and bring soup in a thermos if you have to. If there's a grill, grill burgers, steaks and potatoes.

*Find a heated patio, at Spot Coffee on Elmwood Avenue, say, or at Nektar, the upscale bar/restaurant at 451 Elmwood. You'd be amazed how many people gather on patios even when it's chilly. It puts you in that summer mood.

*The Arts and Crafts movement was all about keeping in touch with nature, and about bringing indoors and outdoors together. That philosophy shines in the Roycroft Inn, which dates to 1905. The big windows, shining wooden floors and open spaces give the place a bright, airy feeling. Flowers and foliage surround the wide patios, so if it's warm enough to dine al fresco, you're in for a real treat. If you're not hungry, you'll get a boost just from stopping in for a drink or to look around. The Roycroft Inn is at 40 S. Grove St., East Aurora. Call 652-5552.

*In a pinch, head for the nearest Dairy Queen. Standing outside on a chilly day isn't so bad when you're eating something that's even colder. God love Dairy Queen for opening in March, when things really look bleak.

-mail: mkunz@buffnews.com

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