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Column: A celebration to bring people together

During the past week our Gus has been clinging to or following me around. He just won't let me out of his sight or spend time outside.

At first I thought he was being a baby but his frustration continued. Then I realized his hearing was more sensitive than mine and he heard people shooting off firecrackers.

Yes, it's that time of the year. Nothing in our fast-paced world connects families, friends and neighbors more than the Fourth of July, with parades, picnics and fireworks. Decked out in red, white and blue, it's off to get a front-row seat in the shade for a Freedom Day parade. I found it's one time when teenagers seek out their parents, who thought ahead to bring a cooler full of water and pop with munchies for the long afternoon.

After the parade, it's off for that All-American picnic. Baked chicken, hamburgers, brats, hot dogs, potato salad, baked beans, salads and fruit are spread out on the table as guests of all ages fill their plates. Pitchers of ice-cold lemonade, slices of dripping watermelon and ice cream cones make for the perfect finish to the big meal.

Finally, parents can kick back and relax in the shade rather than in an air-conditioned house. Children give up the computer for one afternoon and play outside games. It's a day when all ages put aside demands and the iPod to carry on a real conversation. As our long hot summer day ends, the sun sets, the last parcels of food are eaten and cleanup done, our thoughts turn to the fireworks. It's a spectacular ending to a wonderful day.

With world problems set aside for one day, tired people head home and agree that nothing connects families, friends and neighborhoods for one day like the Fourth of July. Fido doesn't realize it will be another year before he will have to go through this inconvenience for his master. As people, we acknowledge the importance of these events that bring a closeness of history celebrated for more than 200 years.

Erma Bombeck once said, "You have to love a nation that celebrates July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy and the flies die from happiness. You may have overeaten, but it is patriotism."

Wishing all our readers a safe, happy July 4 with the people you love.

Potluck baked beans

1 c. brown sugar

1 c. ketchup

1 c. salsa

1/2 c. molasses

2 tsp. crushed, dried oregano

2 tsp. chili powder

2 28-oz. cans pork and beans

2 16-oz. cans Northern beans, drained

2 16-oz. cans kidney beans, drained

1 c. finely chopped onion

2 c. lean beef, browned and drained

Combine all ingredients and bake uncovered in 325-degree oven for three hours. Stir every 30 minutes during baking. Yield: 18 servings