some of my favorite fourth of july memories are the years we visited my grandma and extended family in penfield, new york (where i was born). it is the epitome of small town america and i very much prefer the weather there this time of year. we would start the day with the local fourth of july parade, complete with marching bands, politicians, people dressed as our country's forefathers and no less than 46 clowns throwing candy. then we'd all carry our chairs and blankets back to my grandma's house for a cookout with more food than i probably ate in a year, including my favorite, white hots. (if you're from the north, i'm sure you know what i'm talking about. i'm also sure you're wishing you had one right about now.) my grandma's backyard is huge and green and beautiful and we would all sit outside together, playing bocce ball and eating (and eating. and eating.) until it was time to leave for the live music and fireworks at the local park. we'd bring blankets and sweaters and dance together on the lawn in front of the stage to basically every white person american classic rock song you can think of. then we'd all snuggle up together (it gets pretty cold at night in upstate new york - even in july) and enjoy the fireworks, which were quite spectacular in my memory. it was idyllic and i miss it. it's hard to believe that so many people in the world don't experience the kind of life we take for granted every day here in the united states. i think that fact is more clear now than it has been in my lifetime and i'm reminded of it every morning when npr wakes me up. despite economic difficulties, soaring national debt, politicians who can't manage to act like grown-ups and irreverent crazies who think it's appropriate to invite themselves to military funerals, i think there is still some good here. i think there's hope for us and i'm proud to be an american. so go eat some watermelon, a white hot (if you're lucky) and enjoy celebrating our birthday. we've got it pretty good here.