There's never a bad season to reconnect with neighbors at a block party. Some neighborhoods get together at Halloween. Others bring out the fire pits and snowball shields when winter comes.
But summer's long, lazy days make it prime time for block parties.
Some tips for a fun and easy gathering with neighbors:
Many towns require a consent form signed by all the neighbors to hold an event, so assign someone to round up signatures.
Invite fire fighters and the police, too; they might bring a vehicle for the kids to sit in.
Danielle Blundell, senior home editor for Family Circle magazine, says the best way to wrangle a block party is digitally: Send email invites. Keep track of the potluck offerings and supplies using a master list at a website like www.signupgenius.com . Collect money for equipment rental and other expenses via sites like Paypal or Venmo.
But make sure less tech-savvy neighbors are included, too.
At a block party in Evanston, Ill., "someone made name tags for everyone with their name and a photo of their house," recalls one neighbor, Roxanne Went.
You can also have a block or hall party in an apartment building. Take advantage of public spaces like a rooftop or courtyard. You might play up the number of the floor you live on in the decor to give the gathering a theme, suggests Blundell.
If you're lucky enough to have teenagers on your block, consider hiring them to help with clean up.
And with a party hashtag, everyone can share photos of the festivities on social media. Place a few signs around so people know the tag. Or create a private storage file on a site like Dropbox where photos can be accessed after the party.
Janice Simonsen, a Philadelphian for the past 15 years, says her community takes block parties pretty seriously.
"No block party's complete without white lights strung from the rooftops of the little brick row homes," she says. "There's chalk art and beanbag toss for the kids. A big common food tent — everyone brings their specialty — and there's always one of the older Italian men manning a grill. Someone's grandfather brings a gallon jug of homemade wine."
Those of us creating new traditions might consider a themed party.
"Summer makes me think of camp, so why not riff off that as your theme?" says Blundell, of Family Circle. She suggests play tents for the younger set, relay races and s'mores.
This summer's Olympic Games in Brazil could provide another theme, says Elizabeth Graves, editor in chief at Martha Stewart Living magazine. Hold street games, and craft "medals" for the winners out of baked clay, metallic paint and ribbon. (Instructions can be found at www.alphamom.com by Cindy Hopper.)
If your party goes into the evening, set out a bag of glow sticks or inexpensive flashlights, suggest the editors at www.coolmompicks.com. They're not just fun; they help people see.
"Put together simple decor and a fitting menu around it," advises Graves. Her magazine offers recipes for easy finger food like grilled skewers of meat or vegetables, and for desserts, in a feature called "What Can I Bring?"
Encourage everyone to bring favorite family recipes, Graves says.
"This is something I grew up doing. My mother used to make a chocolate Texas sheet cake — it was simple and delicious and people adored it," she says. "The year she contemplated bringing something else, there was near revolt!"
If your gang's not into baking, consider ice cream sundae-making.
You can reduce waste by providing Sharpies to personalize plastic cups. Or if you're eschewing plastic for glass, buy a box of canning jars that can be personalized. (Some label ideas are at www.minted.com .)
Keep bugs out of beverages by replacing lids with muffin cups and fun straws.
And you can also use muffin liners as a little-bite holder for foods, Graves says. Pick just a couple of colors to keep things cohesive.
Label all foods, so those with sensitivities are aware of ingredients.