Ah, July ... This time of year means summer vacations, long days, BBQ's and, of course, Independence Day. Unfortunately, summer heat also means fire warnings. But don't let firework restrictions put a damper on your 4th of July plans. Spark your own fun with any of these ideas this holiday!

Go to a pancake breakfast

Most cities host some kind of breakfast on the 4th. There may be a small fee, but it's usually under $5. Pancake breakfasts often have some kind of entertainment - face painting, slip'N slides, games, and fun runs. Keep an eye out for fliers and signs around your city, or look up city websites for more information.

Take goodies to veterans

If you know people serving in the armed forces (or who have served) make some cookies and deliver a treat to those who fought to uphold the beliefs our country is founded on. It is a simple way to keep in mind the reason for the holiday and acknowledge those who help defend our freedom.

Go parade hopping

Not every city hosts parades, but there will usually be a couple in the county you live. Show support for local businesses, schools, and groups, and encourage your kids to look for people they know on each float.

Delve into some patriotic trivia

Take some time during the day to read about the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War or even the history of our flag. Share what you learn with your family. Better yet, make a game of it!

Bite the bullet, and host your own party!

Put fliers up inviting your neighbors, and tell them to bring their own food to barbecue. Throw in some giant bubbles, sprinklers and sidewalk chalk for kids, and stream some patriotic music to set the tone. It's a great way to get to know your neighbors while celebrating the birth of our country.

Magnify the patriotic theme all day

The 4th of July is a really fun theme to play around with. Make blue, star-shaped jello or use blueberries, strawberries and bananas for a fruit pizza that looks like the American flag. Barbecue hamburgers for dinner with an all-American apple pie for dessert. Go cheesy and work some red, white and blue into your wardrobe! Anyone with blue jeans, a white T-shirt and red accessories is set. Make fun Americana crafts with your kids, or go big and use spray paint to stencil red, white and blue stars on your grass!

Have a glow stick party

If you can't light fireworks in your area, get a bunch of glow sticks and pass them out to the neighbors. Make necklaces and bracelets for people to wear. Play glow stick games like ring toss, or even line glow sticks to regular items like badminton rackets, hula hoops, or dart boards to make all your activities glow in the dark! Use glow sticks on food tables to have fun with your meal after sunset.

Expand on any of these ideas to make them even more fun for your family. It doesn't take a lot to make the day special, but it would be a shame to let it pass by without taking the time to really enjoy this special holiday dedicated to our country!

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