By Paula Sirois
Every Fourth of July is the same for most folks; gather up the troop, hop in the car, drive to the closest field, carry blankets and picnic baskets, bug spray, hats and other necessities. Stomp thru the packed parking lot to the packed field and gingerly step over all the other happy families until you find that lovely spot by the overflowing trash cans. Ahh. All to do now is sit, set up and wait the fireworks. How about something new this year?
1. PARTY ON THE BLOCK: I know the faces of the folks on my street, but not their names. Pretty pathetic since I’ve lived here for eight years. If you’re the same way, the Fourth offers the ideal built-in excuse to knock on doors and solicit the neighbors to an old-fashioned block party. You don’t have to spend a dime. Tell everyone the same thing: please bring one or two dishes to share, bring your own drinks, push some lawn chairs or tables to the designated spot and feel free to bring anything else they may think would add to the event, from baseball equipment to CDs to fireworks. For the truly organized, you could go door to door with a checklist of things needed: Grill, hamburgers, hotdogs, cups, chips, etc., and have everyone check off what they can bring. Schedule the party to begin about an hour before dusk and get prepared for an affordable and fun way to bring the old school neighborhood feeling back. (One caveat: Check with your city/county to see if you need a permit for a block party.)
2. MAKE IT A WEEKEND: This year the Fourth falls on a Thursday, so that means you can legally start celebrating that very night. Why not have a girls’ (or guys’) weekend and do it up? Maybe it’s barter time at home and you can take the girls’ weekend while hubby takes the kids? Or vice versa? How can this be done on the cheap? Easy, pick one friend’s house and have everyone bring something — from favorite drink mixes to movies. Pack an overnight bag and prepare to spend the weekend staying up too late, sleeping in too late and having some much needed friend time. The capper? Sunday evening someone somewhere will be shooting off remnant fireworks as you sit back and thank your lucky stars for having such great friends. What could be better?
3. THE KIDS HAVE IT: Gather up all your parent friends and suggest a kid-focused Fourth of July festival. Pick a spot at a park or the beach and have everyone bring blankets and picnic food, plus lots of water. Use a picnic table for arts and crafts, and don’t forget the marshmallows for roasting using a park grill. Have everyone bring balls and kites, and spend the day outside enjoying the weather and friends. Tell everyone that they need to bring one unique game or craft for every kid they have — which will guarantee to keep kids busy for a while. Tell the kids at the start of the party that by the end of the night you’ll be expecting some sort of play — written and created on the spot. That means that before everyone packs up to go home, they’ll all sit around and enjoy some homemade art that will be remembered forever.
4. FAMILY REUNION: Send out Evites to your whole family: parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings. Yes, the whole crowd. Invite them all to a Family Fourth Festival in your backyard. Ask everyone to bring that one dish they’re famous for making (like Aunt Sally’s potato salad and Uncle Joe’s barbecue ribs — pretty much any dish with someone’s name affiliated with it!). String up some holiday lights in the trees, put chairs in a circle — bring some out from indoors if you don’t have enough outdoor seating — and you’re set. For added bonus, find old photos and drop them in a large basket for everyone to pick through (pre-ribs, please!) and take a walk down memory lane.