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Last minute food preparations. Cleaning. Setting up decorations and table settings. Running to the store for forgotten items.

In my family, holidays like Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day often mean parties and cookouts with friends. But sometimes the mornings of these events are more frantic than festive.

Perhaps you can relate.

Maybe that’s even you right now.

Maybe you’re reading the newspaper with your morning coffee at one side and a long to-do list at the other. Or maybe you didn’t have time to plan your shindig in advance, and you went online looking for some last minute hacks to pull it off.

If so, here are some simple Fourth of July party ideas to add some flare and help bring your holiday from frantic to festive.

Activities

Old-fashioned games: If you have yard games (or board games, in case of rain) collecting dust in the garage or a closet, now is the time to bring them out.

For our Memorial Day gathering this year, my family set up a croquet course in the backyard, and a friendly competition commenced after lunch. Even guests who didn’t play positioned their lawn chairs to watch the action and cheer.

Some other options are horseshoes, badminton, ring toss and ladder ball. Or, if you have sidewalk chalk on hand, draw up some old-fashioned hopscotch and foursquare for the kids (and kids-at-heart).

Selfie station: Photo booths and selfie stations are popular activities for almost any occasion from birthday parties to weddings. And they aren’t as difficult or time-consuming to set up as one may think.

Find a plain wall inside the house or a fence in the yard and hang some red, white and blue streamers on it. Or, drape a plain white sheet over a clothesline. Gather some patriotic props and accessories such as red, white and blue beaded necklaces and sunglasses, American flags, bandanas and Uncle Sam hats, and voila! You have a selfie station.

Decorations

Bandanas: Looking for an extra touch to tie everything together? Send someone out on a Walmart run to purchase a pile of red, white and blue bandannas, if you don’t already have some on hand. You might be surprised at their variety of uses. (Just check Pinterest.) You can use them as napkins, placemats, table runners (if you have time to sew a few of them together), party favor bags and more. Or, cut them into strips and loosely tie them to a long piece of string to make a garland.

Repurpose Christmas items: Don’t have any Fourth of July decorations? You may be able to use some of your Christmas decorations without anyone knowing the difference. For example, red and white stripes signify peppermint candy in December, but in July, they represent the American flag. And a big red Christmas bow takes on a patriotic air when pinned to a blue tablecloth.

Refreshments

Another Christmas hack: Use a star-shaped cookie cutter to cut Jell-O, watermelon, cheese, finger sandwiches, brownies and, of course, cookies. If you want to get extra creative, use a bell-shaped cookie cutter on these same foods and add a crack to make the Liberty Bell.

Think red, white and blue: use red, white and blue Jell-O to make firecracker Jell-O shots. Prepare drinks of those colors. Use food coloring to make red and blue Rice Krispies treats. Set out a tray of blueberries and strawberries or raspberries.

In the end, even without any of the above patriotic frills, a simple homemade meal or cookout with your loved ones is more than enough to celebrate the Fourth of July.

After all, what’s more American than the combination of family, friends and food?

Contact the writer:

ebaumeister@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9100, ext. 3492