Our national Independence Day, better known as the Fourth of July, is just around the corner. Hence it’s time to start planning for this proud annual celebration, albeit with a Latin twist! Most Latino celebrations are a blend of where our families came from and where we are today.

In our family, the arroz con gandules sits next to the macaroni salad while the empanadas share the picnic table with the American style Spinach Dip. We proudly celebrate American Independence and our cultural traditions all at once; it is an amazing blend and one that makes this country great. 

The 4th of July also unofficially ushers in the summer outdoor entertaining season, which means many cookouts and picnics to come. Casa Latina’s tips will help you create functional and cozy outdoor living spaces that are both stunning and safe for the entire family to enjoy from the 4th of July Celebration till the end of summer.

Outdoor Style Ideas

The 4th of July is the only time of the year when you can go overboard decorating with a red, white and blue theme without appearing tacky. However as much as the combination of colors tugs at our hearts on July 4th, these colors do not appeal to most of us from a permanent home design perspective. So I suggest using recyclable decorative plastic and paper products with a patriotic July 4th theme for your holiday cookout AND making some more permanent design upgrades to your outdoor space that you can enjoy for the rest of the season. Here are few suggested outdoor design ideas to think about.

All Weather Cushions:  If the cushions on your outdoor furniture are worn, or if you are buying a whole new set, make sure to get all weather cushions with accent pillows. They come in many beautiful styles you can choose from and in a variety of colors and patterns. You can leave these cushions out all year long without worrying about it. If you are already happy with the cushions you have, add a little spice with all weather throw pillows in bold colors that compliment your pattern. Accent pillows go a long way in creating a chic backyard look. 

Umbrellas: Use multiple umbrellas to create several seating areas. Many families have one umbrella for the backyard which is part of the main table. Depending on the size of your backyard, I suggest placing one or two extra umbrellas and creating separate seating areas so everyone is not crammed together and your guest can wander and mingle. There are many styles of umbrellas that have stands and the ability to extend to the left or right allowing more flexibility on where to place them.

Chairs: If you don’t have enough chairs to create several seating areas, consider buying a set or two of stackable plastic folding chairs. They are easy to clean and, because you can stack them on top of each other, they store well and don’t take up to much space. Plastic chairs have come a long way and are now available in a variety of colors and styles.  So they can add to your outdoor area’s look as well as to its functionality.

Lighting. If your celebration will continue into the night, then lighting will set the mood once the sun goes down. Do not just rely on the lighting you have. Get creative and add ambiance by integrating string lighting with colorful paper shades. You can use a combination of colors or simply select your favorite and string them around or across the backyard, or from your trees.  There is no right or wrong way when hanging string lights. So don’t worry and be daring!

Candles: Add some candles to your outdoor lighting as well. I recommend the battery operated votive candles. Place them in white paper sandwich bags and turn them on when it starts to get dark. You can line your walkway or place them on your picnic table and patio and not have to worry about starting a fire. Again, it is about getting creative and designing your own unique look. A combination of different types of lighting will give your evening cookout added ambiance.

Keeping It Safe

While outdoor celebrations are a lot of fun there are hazards to be aware of and avoid. Keep your family and friends safe by taking these simple steps:

Food Safety 1: If you are transporting food to another location, or keeping it outdoors in the cooler until you start cooking, the USDA recommends that you use and an insulated cooler with enough ice or ice packs to keep the food at 40 °F or below.  Pack food directly from the refrigerator into the cooler. Keep the food in the cooler until you throw it on the grill, or with cold salads until your guests are ready to eat.

Food Safety 2: The USDA also recommends that you keep plenty of clean utensils and platters handy. Never use the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Always have a clean platter available to place the cooked meat in because bacteria present in raw meat and poultry and their juices can contaminate your cooked food.

Grilling Safety. Make sure to keep the grill at least 24 inches away from your house and make sure you have a fire extinguisher within easy reach. Fire is a very real safety hazard when grilling but one that can be avoided. 

Mosquito Repellant: By all indications, due to the mild weather this winter, 2012 is going to be ‘the year of the mosquito’. Not only are mosquito’s pests but when they spread the West Nile Virus they can be downright dangerous. So do your guests a favor and keep mosquito repellant handy.

Sun Screen: Most of us are now aware of the dangers posed by long-term sun exposure and of the damage to our skin that repeated sunburns cause. So keep some sunscreen handy if your party will take place in the afternoon hours when the sun is at its peak.  

Hand Sanitizer: If you are picnicking in a public area bathrooms can sometimes be quite a distance away. So make sure to pack some hand sanitizer and place it where everyone in your group has easy access. We also recommend keeping it accessible to guests at home.     

Now that you know how to have a stylish and safe celebration, our Casa Latina wishes your Casa Latina a very happy July 4th this year!

Marlene Pratt is the co-founder of Casa Latina, an interior designer and on-air television host on both English and Spanish-language television. Follow Marlene on Twitter at @CasaLatinaToday and Like her FB page

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