By JEAN McCLELLAND

For HD Media

America's annual birthday is this week and it's time to get ready for the party. With the red, white and blue theme streaming across the country, it's an easy do to take that theme right into your backyard and your picnic table.

Here are a few suggestions to help make your backyard party the snazziest on the block.

Making your guests comfortable during one of the hottest days of the year has to be the first priority of the host. With 242 American birthdays behind us, we know from experience the 243rd birthday is going to be as warm as all the rest. One can't change the weather, but a host can take steps to make it more bearable.

Most July Fourth parties are outdoors, and that means bugs as well as heat, so kill two birds with one stone by having fans running. Stirring the air dissuades the bugs and makes the humans feel cooler too. Have a basket of hand-held fans for folks to use as will and keep some fans blowing at several levels, from the floor to the table tops to overhead. Those electric fans could be dressed up with some red, white and blue streamers to waft in the breeze.

Spray bottles sitting around for folks to mist themselves can be very refreshing or - if you want to overdo it - make up some frozen hand towels to wrap around wrists, necks and ankles. If all else fails for those who suffer from heat more than others, then provide an inside cooling area for them. Make no bones about it - the party is outside, but if someone needs a respite, have one ready.

There is a bevy of outdoor bug repellents a host could spray an hour or so before the gathering that will definitely cut down on the bug attacks. A host could also marry the practical with the pretty by filling some red, white and blue plastic containers with bug deterring plants like marigolds and lavender.

When it comes to the menu, it can be as easy or as complicated as the cook is willing to make it. Festive fare can be Popsicles from the freezer section of the grocery or homemade blueberry pie. The cook should do what is easy for them, but they might consider thinking out of the box with easy, colorful recipes such as watermelon sangria sprinkled with blueberries to achieve the theme of the day.

Keeping the food safe from the bugs and the heat should be part of any outdoor party plan. There are all kinds of domes and lids designed to cover food being served outside.

As for keeping the food and drink at the right temperature, use coolers and slow cookers to keep food cold or hot. One interesting idea is to freeze balloons of water to place around the food to keep it cool. Frozen red white and blue balloons could also serve as part of the table decorations.

Finally, add in a few patriotic-colored helium balloons to say the party is here and enjoy the day.

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