Adults can chat, kids can play games in the dark, and everyone can roast marshmallows or cuddle in a soft lap until they're drowsy. Here's how to make campfires work in your neighborhood.
Campfires are best begun after dusk. A starry sky and/or full moon will add ambience, but even if the sky is overcast you can enjoy the outdoors. Take a peek outside for a quick weather check, call the neighbors and announce, "It's a campfire night. Come on over!"
Real campfire buffs might enjoy a fire pit built into the ground. Most are lined with metal and surrounded by bricks, patio blocks or large stones. (Plans and kits are available to build your own.) Coleman and other companies make portable outdoor fireplaces, roughly $75-$150, available at discount department stores, hardware stores and on the Web (see below for links). Check your city codes to be sure recreational fires are permitted where you live. Public fire rings in neighborhood parks are another option.
Find fire pits and portable fireplaces or learn more at these Web sites:
Tips for a Foolproof Fire:
WHAT TO BRING:
Tell guests to bring bug repellent, sweatshirts, and lawn chairs or blankets to sit on. Snack foods like popcorn, caramel corn, party mix, and gorp (good old raisins and peanuts) are perfect for nibbling. And don't forget drinks and plenty of marshmallows, chocolate bars, and graham crackers for s'mores. Flashlights are handy to use on the walk home when backyard paths are dark. A recipe for campfire popcorn appears below.
CAMPFIRE POPCORN PACK (for 1 person)
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- 4 teaspoons popcorn
- heavy-duty foil
- campfire forks
Tear off an 18-inch piece of foil. Pour the oil and popcorn into the middle. Bring 2 opposite foil corners together above the popcorn and fold them over 3 times to seal well. Bring remaining foil corners up toward the center and roll open edges together to seal the 'foil tent' closed. (There should be enough room inside for the popcorn to pop.) Poke the ends of a campfire fork through the folds of foil at top of pack. Set pack into hot coals until oil sizzles and you hear a kernel pop. Then pick up fork and gently shake the pack above the coals until popping is done. Open the pack and add salt.
CREATE THE RIGHT MOOD:
Arrange chairs or blankets around the fire and start the fire before guests arrive. Ask a guitar-playing neighbor to strum a few campfire tunes or turn on the radio for some mood music. Activity tester Ryan, age 12, suggests downloading the words to familiar camp songs and printing them out so everyone can sing along. It's fun to share spooky or funny stories, too. Another test family went all-out and set up tents for a camp-like atmosphere. After games and s'mores, the kids crawled into the tents to hear ghost stories.
Roast marshmallows or popcorn, chase fireflies, play hide-and-seek in the dark or play flashlight tag. Little ones might be happiest snuggling in a parent's lap as they listen to stories.
The Bissmeyers and their friends found that sparklers kept the older children happy for quite a while. The Hannan children thought it was neat to play in a patio sandbox by firelight.
All our test families agree that socializing and talking with other adults uninterrupted is a real treat. Watching the fire burn while sipping on a beer or glass of wine can add to the sense of relaxation, too.
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