Oven Baked Hot Dogs

For the best chili cheese dogs around, all you need is this easy Oven Baked Hot Dogs recipe. Loaded with chili, chopped onion, and melted cheddar, they’re crispy on the outside but soft and savory dogs tucked into fluffy buns. Lunch, dinner, pot lucks, even on Game Day- these are perfect for almost any occasion.

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The First Day of School

I’m thinking next year, I’m going to host a big brunch, with mimosas of course, so that all my fellow SAHM’s and myself can raise a glass and a toast to the fact that we all managed to retain our sanity throughout another entire summer, and of course that all children are still happy and healthy. While I love my boys, I’m always happy to see that first day of Summer Vacation, and I’m just as happy to see it go. Does it take anyone else an entire school year to recover?

First Day of School

No, I didn’t lose a son. Son # 1 was struggling to get out the door this morning and missed the group photo ops. It seems somebody was a little to used to secretly reading half the night, and didn’t realize how early 7am would come. The days of sleeping in until noon are over. At least until next Summer, or the weekend. Here are the bright eyed and bushy-tailed ones, ready to go. I found these free, printable grade signs, which I LOVE from Designs by Nicolina.

Now, let me introduce you to my latest idea. The Homework Caddy.

4 Sons 'R' Us: Homework Caddy

In an effort to cut down on wasted time, misplaced assignments and supplies, and mismanaged time all 3 big boys will be doing homework at our very large, and accommodating kitchen table this year. The homework caddy will be on-hand each day, smack dab in the middle of the table with all the supplies each boy could possibly need to complete their assignments. Best of all? There will be no reason, or excuse, for any of our homework supplies to be ‘walking off’ this year. Here’s to hoping this also prevents the over-used, ‘But Moooooom, I can’t do my homework because I don’t have…’.

Inside the caddy, which I found at Jo-Ann’s craft store, are 3 pint-sized Mason jars containing markers, sharpened pencils, and colored pencils. There’s plenty of loose-leaf tucked in the back, and even a pad of construction paper. Pens have been included and tucked away in the bottom is a pair of scissors, manual pencil sharpener, and two glue sticks. Did I manage to forget anything?

Make homework time just a little bit easier this year by making your own homework caddy today.

Oh, and fellow parents? We made it! Happy 1st Day of School 2013.

1, 2, 3 … Lollipop Tree

I love my sisters completely, but years into adulthood, I still have vague recollections of us disagreeing, and possibly fighting, throughout our childhood. I’m still convinced I’m imagining most of the excessive bickering though. We couldn’t have possible argued all the time. Right?!

Now that I have four boys, the oldest three of who are extremely close in age, I am plagued by bickering, tattle-tailing, ‘he-said/’she-said’ disputes, etc. Just bickering, over everything. Over anything. Sometimes…even over nothing. I love my boys to death, but I just can’t deal with constant, and needless conflict. I’ve had to get creative to not simply ‘cope’ with this sibling issue, but to combat it head-on. While my husband and I are no strangers to ‘consequences’ I do like to try an incentive or reward-based program first. The lollipop tree was something I had stumbled upon on Pinterest, as a party decoration, but I had other things in mind for this adorable little ‘plant’.

Our lollipop tree is used as a reward system for acts of kindness. Every time we witness an unprompted act of generosity, helpfulness, compassion…you name it. The kids get a lollipop. While I hoped this practice would work when I began it, I have to admit I was more than a little skeptical. However, after almost a year in action, I can definitely see the successes. Of course, being realistic, it hasn’t weeded out all the bickering and combativeness, but it has gone a long way to serve as a permanent, visual reminder to think about their actions, and even the consequences that may result from them.

1, 2, 3 … Lollipop Tree

4 Sons 'R' Us: 1,2,3...Lollipop Tree

  • small plant pot of your color, size, and choice
  • a Styrofoam ball that fits into the opening of your pot, and is snugly supported by it
  • an economy size bag of Dum-Dum lollipops

Directions

  1. Place the styrofoam ball on top of the plant pot.
  2. Start sticking your Dum-Dum lollipops into the styrofoam ball, keeping the lollipops close together.

4 Sons 'R' Us: Lollipop Tree

3. Continue sticking the lollipops in until you’ve filled up the entire part of the ball that is showing outside the plant pot.

lollipop tree

You’re done! How easy was that?!

And, I have to add that if I did have a daughter or an opportunity to plan a girl’s birthday party, this would be the perfect table decoration for any Candyland, or candy ‘themed’ party!

Summer Car Crayons

I can’t get a single thing by my youngest. At four, hell hath no fury like him discovering me throwing anything away, ever. I have to smuggle out crayons like a Mexican drug lord. While I really hate throwing things away that I can re-purpose, I can’t stand to see his tiny little hands cramped up, struggling to make the tiny broken bits of crayons create the perfect little pictures he has in mind. So yes, me, the meanest Mommy in the world, takes them away. Contrary to his belief I don’t actually throw them in the garbage though. I have accumulated quite a stock-pile in my craft bins. When I saw heard about this idea, I just knew that this was the reason I had held onto them. Now, using nothing more than the summer heat as a power source, we now have a whole new batch of fun crayons to create with. At his age, he thought it was magical as we periodically checked on the melting crayons and how they ‘transformed’ from something old and broken into something brand spankin’ new.

For my older boys, I used this as a teaching point and science experiment to help explain how truly hot the inside of a car gets on a typical summer day. When we did this it was only about 85 degrees out, and pretty comfortable outside. However, our car was sitting in direct sunlight and I think they finally saw why their are always ads on tv and the radio about not leaving your children or pets in the car. While comfortable outside, they watched as our car was transformed into a virtual oven.

Before this experiment, especially with the oldest two sons, I would face a chorus of complaints, and ‘but why‘s’ when they had to come into stores with me while I was out running my errands. Since the car crayons, not a single issue. Instead of spending time wasting my breath lecturing them on the potential ‘dangers’ (the eye rolls suggest they typically think I’m just being an over-protective mother), it was so much easier to simply show them.

Summer Car Crayons

4 Sons 'R' Us: Summer Car Crayons

  • old crayons, papers removed and broken into pieces
  • silicone baking mold, or silicone ice tray
  • your car
  • a hot summer day

4 Sons 'R' Us: Summer Car Crayons

 

  1. Add a variety of broken crayon bits into the molds. You can combine similar colors, or a mix and see what combinations you end up with.
  2. Place mold on a cookie sheet for stability and sit on the dash board of your vehicle.
  3. It will take about 2 hours for the crayons to melt all the way. Periodically, come out to check on them and view their progress.
  4. When fully melted, use pot holders to carry the cookie tray back inside.
  5. You can leave them to cool on their own, or place in the refrigerator to help speed up the cooling process.
  6. When completely cool, pop out your new crayons and get coloring.

Dr. Seuss’ ‘The Lorax’ Themed Birthday Party

With four boys, you’d think that would mean A LOT of birthday parties.

I used to have visions of perfectly planned out, whimsical themed parties.

As the kids grew, they pretty much let me know I’d lost a marble or two. I’m lucky if the older boys let me comb their hair on their big day.

All totally normal I’m told, but I still don’t have to like it. Do I?

That being said, I’m taking full advantage of the youngest son’s obsessive love of things and getting in as many themed birthday’s as I can before I’m stuck with just super heroes, and then nothing but cake, ice cream, pizza, and presents.

Since he first got it for Christmas, the youngest son has been in love with The ‘War-ax’.

I had flirted with the idea of Toy Story, but as I watch his love of this famous Seuss’ character continue to thrive, logically I knew nothing else would do.

That being said, while I enjoy having a ‘theme’ especially one so close to his little heart, I do have four kids and there’s only so much I can do.

While I wish I had the time, and energy, and let’s be honest… motivation to throw the super elaborate parties some of my friends do where everything is planned out, coordinated, and theme-centric (virtually down to the tp in the bathroom), I just can’t.

Son # 4 walked in, took one look at the few simple treats in store for him, and his face literally lit up. Now, if only I could keep him thinking I’m that cool forever.

Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax Birthday Party

The Lorax Themed Birthday Party character punch and pictures shown on display

The Lorax face was made using a pumpkin template that I traced onto construction paper.

The pumpkin template can be found here

Orange Hawaiian Punch made his ‘body’.  I did have to explain that punch, in this instance, is something you drink and not something you do. 

The ‘UNLESS’ quote printable can be gotten from A Little Delightful.

The I speak for the trees picture was made using lollipop sticks, a sharpie, sparkly pom poms, and a glue gun.

Since my son absolutely loves The Lorax movie, and it’s adorable cast of characters, I knew I wanted to have some themed goodies to snack on.

We opted for Teddy Grahams (as Barbaloots), Goldfish (representing the Humming Fish), Marshmallows (their most favorite treat), and yellow and orange Reese’s Pieces to represent The Lorax himself.

Also, to note, when setting out snacks at a party, vases, bowls, glasses and jars all make cute serving dishes.

Of course, the youngest son had to have a ‘War-ax’ cake.

Again I used the cut out pumpkin template to ‘trace’ the basic outline with a tooth pick.

The eyes were made using life savers, smarties, and miniature chocolate chips. We also made him his very own Truffula tree forest.

Lorax Party cake with the lorax face made from buttercream frosting on a white plate

Lorax Party truffula tree cupcakes made from cotton candy tufts on lollipop sticks stuck in homemade cupcakes

'The Lorax' Themed Birthday Party- Lorax Party truffula tree cupcakes made from cotton candy tufts on lollipop sticks stuck in homemade cupcakes

Again, these cupcakes were made using lollipop sticks that I had ‘sharpi-ed’ Truffula bark onto.

Tufts of cotton candy made the ‘wooly’ bits.

While I had seen these cupcakes in several party posts, there was on lesson they all failed to mention that I had to learn the hard way.

Cotton candy melts, especially in a moist atmosphere.

These were what the cupcakes looked like about an hour after being tufted.

Lorax Party - melted truffula tree cupcakes seen on a cupcake holder pan

Pretty depressing, right?

I felt a brief wave of panic when I checked on them before I went to bed the night before the party and originally discovered their sorry state.

However, I was easily able to re-do the sticks and waited until just before I was ready to serve cake to re-tuft, and they stayed perfectly fluffy up until the moment they were greedily gobbled up.

So, son # 4 thought he was pretty much the luckiest little boy in the whole world when he saw his special cake and cupcakes.

I know this because he told me so himself the next morning when he borrowed one of my rings and proposed to me.

Lorax Party - child shown with Lorax themed with lit candles, seated at the table

Chicken And Stuffing Stuffed Shells

There are many variations of stuffed shells, our family loves this easy recipe for Chicken And Stuffing Stuffed Shells. It’s quick & easy using boxed stuffing mix, chopped rotisserie chicken, and everyone’s favorite- pasta- smothered in a creamy sauce. It’s guaranteed to get the whole family gathered around the table for a filling meal.

Chicken And Stuffing Stuffed Shells shown on a blue square appetizer plate on a wooden table

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Thai Chicken Coconut Soup

We all have at least one version of chicken & rice soup we enjoy. This Thai chicken coconut soup version up’s the ante by adding Thai flavors and giving it an Asian flair. It’s hearty, with just the right amount of subtle sweet & savory flavor notes, and finished off with a tangy garnish of chopped fresh cilantro leaves.

thai chicken coconut soup in a soup pot and shown in two small black bowls, topped with fresh cilantro leaves

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Broccoli & Cheddar Twice Baked Potatoes

Cheese & broccoli are a classic combination that make any dish just a bit more magical. Take your baked potatoes to the next level by turning them into broccoli & cheddar twice baked potatoes. Quick and easy, this meatless meal is a family favorite that’s perfect to serve for lunch or dinner.

broccoli & cheddar twice baked potatoes topped with a dollop of sour cream and chives served on a white plate

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30 Minute Homemade Soft Pretzels

My husband and Auntie Annie have always had a special bond.

One I’d long ago accepted that I couldn’t come between.

There’s something sacred in her delicious doughy confections that he finds… irresistible. T

his cheap and easy homemade soft pretzel recipe did something I had long-thought impossible. It put the kibosh on their long-time love affair.

One taste that’s all it took, and it was love at first bite.

Move on over, Annie. There’s a new soft pretzel in town.

If you thought, like I did for so long, that delicious, homemade pretzels were only for the over-achievers, think again.

This recipe couldn’t be any easier or more simple. These cater to all ages, genders, occupations, and availability.

For those of you with pretzel lovers of your own, I challenge them to try these.

I assure you that even the most loyal brand supporter won’t want to buy or pay for their pretzels anymore.

30 Minute Homemade Soft Pretzels

4 Sons 'R' Us: 30 Minute Homemade Soft Pretzels shown on a wooden cutting board

If you’ve tried making these 30 MINUTE HOMEMADE SOFT PRETZELS, or any other recipe on my site, let me know in the comment section how it turned out, we love hearing from our readers! You can also follow along with me on PINTERESTFACEBOOK, and INSTAGRAM to see more amazing recipes and whatever else we’ve got going on!

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5 from 1 vote

30 Minute Homemade Soft Pretzels

Ingredients

  • 1 and 1/2 cups luke warm water
  • 1 packet active yeast 2 and 1/4 tsp
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 4-4.25 cups all purpose flour and more for flouring the counter surface and hands (for whole wheat, use 2.5 cups wheat flour & 1.75 cups white)
  • 1 large egg
  • salt for sprinkling optional
  • cinnamon & sugar for sprinkling optional

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
  • Dissolve yeast in water. Stir with a spoon to combine. Add salt and sugar, stirring to combine.
  • Slowly add flour, one cup at a time. Stir with a wooden spoon until dough is thick. Continue to add flour, one cup at a time, until dough is no longer sticky.
  • Poke dough with a finger. If it 'bounces back' it is ready to knead.
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes and shape into a ball.
  • With a sharp knife, cut the dough ball into 1/3 cup sections. This measurement doesn't have to be exact.
  • Roll the dough into a rope about 20 inches long.
  • Once you have your long rope, take the ends and bring them together until your form a circle. Twist the ends then bring the down towards yourself and press them down into a pretzel shape.
  • In a small bowl, beat the egg. Dip the shaped pretzel into the egg wash, evenly coating both sides.
  • Place on baking sheet and sprinkle with salt or sugar depending on your personal preference.
  • Bake for 10 minutes at 425. Turn the broiler on and bake for 5 more minutes to brown the tops. Watch carefully to prevent burning.
  • Allow pretzels to cool, and serve.

Notes

recipe adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction

DIY Tiki Torch

During the summer months, I love being able to sit out on my porch in the evenings and enjoy a good book, watch the kids play, and just take in the beautiful weather. I’ve always loved the look and feel of lit tiki torches on summer evenings. Something about it just totally sets the scene for me. There prices, however, horrified me.

I was so excited last summer, when I came across little globular tabletop torches in the store. For a great price!! I could totally envision the queenly atmosphere they would create. The part of my brain that logically rationed as Queen of my Castle I deserved to stoke my fairy-tale inspired fire, demanded their immediate purchase. I automatically saw my little piece of far, far away where I could decompress, and just lose myself for a few minutes each evening.

Naturally, I came home with a matching pair, assuming we’d live out the rest of our days creating beautiful, enchanted Summer memories together.  Unfortunately, my happily ever after just wasn’t meant to be.  Both pots (let’s face it, at this point their ambiance setting fairy God mother had abandoned them and, in my eyes, their clock had already struck twelve) leaked horribly. Despite my valiant husband’s best efforts, they just weren’t salvageable. For me, the whole affair was quite tragic. So much for my illusions of grandeur.

Ever my knight in shining armor, my husband came to my rescue! If I couldn’t buy the perfect table top torch, then he would make me one! This was his brain child.

This easy to make tiki torch was a roaring success. Using citronella infused torch fuel I’m able to keep the mosquitoes at bay, all while adding a little ‘enchantment’ to my evenings. My still full wallet was feeling pretty enchanted too!

DIY Tiki Torch

4 Sons 'R' Us: DIY Tiki Torch made out of an old Patron tequila bottle shown lit up

  • old, sturdy glass bottle
  • 2 washers that fit the lip of your bottle
  • 1 spacer
  • rubber grommet (make sure it will fit tightly down into your bottle creating an airtight seal that prevents the wick from moving around)
  • tiki torch fuel (I used one with citronella to keep the mosquitoes away)
  • tiki torch wicks

Directions

  1. Add fuel to your bottle. Be careful not to over fill.
  2. Place a wick into the bottle. Leave about 2 inches exposed above the lip of the bottle.
  3. Thread the end of the wick through the grommet, pushing the grommet towards the bottle opening. Force grommet down into the neck of the bottle, leaving it flush on top with the lip. Make sure to hold onto the end of the wick so it doesn’t also get pushed down into the bottle.
  4. Take one washer and thread it onto the wick, pushing it down until it rests on the top of the bottle. Make sure there’s not gap between the bottle and washer # 1.
  5. Thread a spacer onto the wick and push it down until it’s resting flush against washer # 1.
  6. Thread washer # 2 onto the wick, pushing down until it is resting firmly against the spacer. The washers will keep the flame away from the glass preventing it from getting hot, at all.
  7. Push the exposed wick down into the bottle, leaving only about 3/4 of an inch of wick exposed and ready to light.
  8. Allow the wick time to completely saturate with tiki torch fuel before lighting.