Homeschool Weeknight Meal: Chicken Bacon Ranch Casserole

Busy, busy, busy…that’s what I’ve been. I don’t know about you, but with the start of a new school year quickly approaching, and last minute curriculum changes springing up, meal planning has not been a top priority. Once school begins, it will get even less thought. With that in mind, I wanted to share a quick and super easy meal that everyone in your family will enjoy.

Our church runs a hospitality circle, and delivers meals for people when they have a need, such as after surgery or having a baby. This recipe came about when I volunteered to make a meal for a family who welcomed a new baby several weeks ago. I was really struggling with choosing what to make. People normally make the same kinds of things — meatloaf, soup, even pizza. It’s not that those things are bad. And, of course, everyone who receives a meal is just thankful for the help. But I wanted to switch things up. It was also the night before the meal was to be delivered, and I wanted to make something that didn’t require another grocery store visit.

I scoured Pinterest, the logical place to look when you need a recipe, and discovered a chicken, bacon, and ranch pasta dish, BUT Iwasn’t sure about the ingredients. It involved mixing jarred Alfredo sauce with ranch dressing, and I just wasn’t sold on that idea. It also suggested using cream of mushroom soup and ranch. Maybe it’s a tasty combination, but it didn’t appeal to me.

So after thinking about what ingredients would make a delicious ranch sauce, I came up with this recipe. Now, you could certainly boil and shred your own chicken(I used canned), cook and crumble your own bacon (I used Bacon Bits), and make your own ranch seasoning (I hope to try that sometime), but this meal is designed with convenience and speed in mind. Try it out on a busy school night, and let me know what you think!


4 cups dry pasta

2 cups chicken, cooked, shredded

1 cup bacon, crumbled (divided)

2 cups sour cream

1 packet ranch dip mix

1 cup shredded cheddar

1 Tbsp green onions, chopped


Cook pasta according to package, drain, and place in large mixing bowl. Add chicken and 3/4 cup bacon. In a separate bowl, mix sour cream and ranch packet, then add to pasta mixture. Stir to coat evenly. Pour into 9″x13″ pan. Top with cheddar cheese, remaining 1/4 cup of bacon, and green onions. Bake in a preheated oven at 350* for 15-20 minutes until everything is heated through and the cheese is melted.


Setting Routines in Your Family

The adage you can't teach a dog new tricks is not entirely true. Old dogs can learn just fine, but pups are much more likely to pick up routines naturally.

This post is going to be short and to-the-point.

If we want to teach our children to do the right things, make the right choices, and think the right things, we have to start teaching them when they are young. Even babies can learn that the family prays before eating, for example. Keep baby's plate off her chair until you have finished the prayer. When we have our youngsters follow family routines, they grow up accepting them as part of life.

But as for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.

That doesn't mean that you can never begin new routines with older children; it just might take a little longer for them to stick. But don't give up! Second Thessalonians 3:13 encourages us to not grow weary of doing good. If the new routine is something you feel led to incorporate, keep working at it, even if it seems hard for everyone to remember. Eventually, those routines will become part of your family's daily activities, and you will feel good that your goal was accomplished.

An Old-Fashioned Education REVIEW

Being a public school teacher is difficult these days.

When I entered the field of education, I wanted to teach kids, to make them think and enjoy learning. I wanted to have fun with the kids. Now, some 16 years later, I don't feel the same way. I mean, I would still love to just teach kids and have them enjoy the lesson, but it doesn't work that way.

I spend five minutes at the beginning of class taking attendance, marking it on the computer program and sending it in, and then writing out tardy and/or missing from class slips and hanging them outside my room. If the office helpers don't pick them up, I have to run them down between classes. When attendance is completed, I have to address the students who were absent and missed the previous day's assignments, getting them caught up on what to do and finding a place for them to go while the rest of the class reviews. Finally, I begin the new day's lesson, but then I have to stop because someone feels the need to misbehave. If the behavior is too bad, I must write an office referral slip and send the student to the office. Then I'm able to get back to teaching…until someone needs to use the restroom or get a drink. That requires a signature and time stamp from me, and so I must stop the lesson again. Of course, I'm doing all of this while I differentiate instruction for every student in every class. I must remember which ones need alternative testing, which ones can leave the room to work with an aide, and which ones have a free "cool down" pass to go and sit on a bean bag chair until their anger dissipates. But, in my teaching, I must prepare every student for taking and passing the state's Common Core-aligned standardized tests, so that they can graduate high school. If they don't pass, it is simply a bad mark on my record. Forget student or parental accountability.

Just an FYI for you Common Core creators: it does not take 15 steps to solve a double-digit addition or subtraction problem, and there is not only one way to interpret a text.

I was so fortunate to have attended an elementary school where the teachers were, well, old school. I learned to read with the Dick and Jane books. I had to underline the subject once and predicate twice. I had to stand up and say the times tables in front of the entire class. I had to memorize and recite poetry. I learned cursive writing, using the slanted lines guide underneath my paper. I had an old-fashioned education, and I am very grateful for it.

I wish that I could have worked in the schools of the 1800s, when all students were taught in the same way, behavior issues rarely happened (and if they did, parents put a stop to them), and textbooks mentioned God (because everyone believed). This is the kind of school I wish existed today. Thankfully, homeschooling is so popular, and parents have the right to educate their children as they see fit.

So, when I found An Old-Fashioned Education site, I was thrilled. This complete curriculum includes every subject for every grade, preschool to twelfth…and it is ALL FREE!

Following the rigorous schools of the 1800s, the curriculum at An Old-Fashioned Education includes everything students will need to know. It is not set to standards from a specific state, so things that your state may require (like fire safety, uugghhh) may not be included…but everything else will be!

The curriculum for each grade level is set up in a 40 week plan. If you click on the grade level, you will see a list of required books. These books are all old-fashioned texts that are no longer under copyright and available online for free. If you click on the 40-week schedule link underneath each grade level, you will see the weekly plans for each subject. There are also subject categories listed down the left side of the page. If you would prefer to choose your child's own curriculum from the hundreds of free resources, you may browse the topics there.

There are two cons to this program. First, the weekly schedule is just that — a weekly schedule. It does not break down the activities into daily lessons. This would take some time to plan, as there is a ton of material. But, you do have the ability to pick and choose, and not necessarily complete everything listed. A second con is that the page is no longer being updated. The author of the site has graciously left it up for us to access, but nothing new has been added for years. Since it is not being updated, some links may not work. Now, I certainly haven't gone through every link for every subject, but I have done some extensive browsing. In that browsing, I only found one link that was not current. So, my suggestion is that, if you think you may be interested in this curriculum, you should check it out and print out the weekly schedule(s) that you need.

This curriculum will include Christian content. The author did incorporate Bible lessons, but even within the other texts, there will likely be mention of God. It was a norm of the time, unlike today's ridiculous laws against any Christian thought in a public setting. Also, understand that old-fashioned learning was very academic. Kids could understand a more challenging vocabulary, because that is how everyone spoke. Today, when you ask a student to read Shakespeare, he asks in what language it's written. So, the texts that are selected for this curriculum are not "dumbed down" the way that most modern texts are. If you preview the material for a certain grade level, don't be shocked if it exceeds what your children have done to this point in their education.

I absolutely adore this curriculum and the message it gives about education. If you have ever thought about what it might have been like to attend school a hundred years ago, this site is the place for you! Check it out, and get ready to be awed!

Easy Peasy All-in-One Homeschool REVIEW

A couple weeks ago, I shared my concern about the costs involved in homeschooling. We have been incredibly lucky to have spent only a little over $100 for four years of homeschooling. It’s a miracle, really! Generally speaking, you might pay more than that for one subject of one grade in the “big name” curricula retailers. By using materials that I had from teaching public school, as well as tons of free resources, we saved big bucks. Unfortunately, many of the freebies are meant for early elementary levels, and my kids are moving past that.

Enter the complete, free curricula from Easy Peasy All-in-One Homeschool, Discovery K12, and An Old-Fashioned Education. Today, I’ll discuss Easy Peasy.

If you haven’t heard of EP, you haven’t tried searching for free curricula. EP is high-ranking on google search results…and for good reason. It is a complete (and I mean complete) Christian homeschool program for every grade level, preschool to twelfth! The high school site is separate (allinonehighschool), but it works the same way.

The creator’s background is interesting. Lee’s family was living in another country as missionaries. She didn’t have library access and was looking for a way to save her children’s lessons online. So EP was born and grew as Lee’s children advanced through grade levels.

Easy Peasy includes all subject areas, even the required fire safety for us Pennsylvanians. It makes use of free books, games, and other activities found on the Web. Each of the 180 days of lessons in each subject are laid out, so there is absolutely no planning needed from the parents. There are some worksheets or activities that may need printed out, but everything is prepared to make this curriculum, well, easy peasy. Since EP uses free materials from online, not everything is “Christian”. Lee does explain these instances, and gives a Christian introduction to the activities.

One of my favorite things about EP is the ability to have your child work on one grade level, or select different levels in different subject areas. Parents can choose to suit the needs of their child; the program is very adaptable in that way.

The only negative I have encountered is the need to be online. If you know you’ll be away from home for a day, you could look ahead, make notes, and print worksheets to do, but there will likely be something online that you won’t have, unless you have a device with wifi when you’re gone. Also, if you have several children using the program, they might fight over the computer. Fortunately, there are some readers and math books available in print, but there is a charge for them.

You will NOT need to supplement anything. You certainly can add in extras, if you feel like your child could use some more practice, but it is not necessary. I’ve read many comments specifically about the need for more math:

“There isn’t much math practice.”

“There seems to be a lot of games.”

“Don’t kids need to do worksheets each day?”

In my experience — and I’m sure with many others — math is often a struggling point. You want kids to enjoy math, to want to do math. Games are certainly motivation for working. If you look at the early grades, EP does include games, I think, every day, but there are also worksheets. And as grade levels rise, games lessen. Your children can learn math without hardcore drilling. But, again, feel free to supplement wherever you see fit. You’re the parent, right?

Overall, EP is a wonderful tool for homeschoolers. In this case, being entirely free does not mean poor content. EP is an all-inclusive, all-grade curriculum. When you consider the amount of work that went into planning this, truly, it is awe-inspiring.

I hope you’ll check out Easy Peasy All-in-One Homeschool!

The Narrow Path

As I was doing my Bible reading this morning, I passed over a passage that I had highlighted AND underlined. Obviously, in previous readings I found it important enough to mark twice over, but today it really made me stop and think.

Jesus is the most misunderstood person mentioned in the Bible. He is the most known person, but often misinterpreted by the secular and Christian communities. Yes, he loved everyone, he was kind, and he lived a peaceful life (except for that time he flipped over a table and yelled in anger at the poor behavior and decisions of those in the temple). But in Matthew 10:34 he said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Jesus was not put on the earth to show us how to love one another no matter what; he was put on earth to fight for lost souls, so that they may see their sin and turn from it. Old Testament laws were not to be forgotten once Jesus arrived. Quite contrarily, Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). The things that were immoral in the Old Testament were still immoral in the New.

Of course, it was always in the plan for Jesus to die on the cross. That death was foreshadowed repeatedly in the Old Testament. His death was the punishment for all the sins that had been, were being, and have yet to be committed. But (and this is a big but) his death on the cross is not a blank check with your name on it; it is not the chance for you to say that God knows you’re human and, therefore, forgives your sinning. Fortunately, he does forgive us, because none of us are perfect, but the death of Jesus did not give us freedom to continue sinning, to choose to sin. Those who purposely sin, believing that they are covered with the blank check of Jesus’s death every time they do wrong, need to rethink their actions.

We need to live our lives as best as we can, doing good and thinking righteously. “Enter through the narrow gate,” Jesus instructed in Matthew 7:13. “For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” I’m trying to follow the narrow road, and I hope to see you there, too.

Geography Curriculum Review

I know I said that I would be reviewing a few free homeschool web sites, and I will be; those posts are coming up next. BUT, since I have been preparing and planning for the new school year here in The Living Room Schoolhouse, I wanted to share with you what my kids will be using for geography: Geography Around the World by Bonnie Rose Hudson.

I lucked into this ebook several months ago through a freebie offering! Since we were in the midst of school, and I wasn’t going to be using the book immediately, I tucked it away neatly in my homeschool files until yesterday. Upon first glance, it seemed pretty good; but once I started digging through, I realized just how much information was included. This ebook is packed full, and I knew I wanted to share it with you. Here are some pros and cons of Geography Around the World:

– It is an ebook. I adore physical books — holding them, smelling them, turning the pages. But I also have a hard time getting rid of them and, no matter how much I love real books, they take up space. Having an ebook frees up my bookshelves. Using multiple devices also enables more than one child to use the same book at the same time.

– It is an introductory course. This ebook covers a little bit of everything, from using maps to memorizing capitals to identifying natural resources. It is not really in-depth on any one topic; instead, it offers an important foundation for later studies of geography.

-The author set up units that coordinate with grade level. As noted in the ebook’s introduction, unit one is suitable for first grade, unit two for second grade, unit three for third, and on and on up through unit eight for eighth grade. The activities get (appropriately) longer and increasingly difficult with each unit.

-The answer keys are included. No extra purchase for solutions is necessary. Each unit’s answers are posted at the end of the unit. **Just be careful to avoid giving those pages to your student when printing activity sheets!

– The book is inexpensive. My copy was free, because I happened to find a short-term freebie offer. See, following homeschool blogs pays off! But, at $19.99, this ebook is an amazing deal for all of the information that’s included.

-It is not a full year course. If you use each unit in its grade level, it would only take a short time to complete the activities. That would be sufficient if you plan to use another social studies curriculum, but if you need a full course in geography, it will not last.

-There is no teaching guide. Even if you only do one unit for each grade level, which is pretty easy to understand, there is no suggestion about how to break down the activities for daily learning. So I made one…you can find my freebie below.

How I Plan to Use the Book
Overall, this ebook was an amazing find. Despite its cons, it has a lot to offer. My son did a U.S. geography/history curriculum in fourth grade, but needs to cover world geography this year for seventh grade. So, I went through the textbook and broke down the readings and activities. Since it has been a while, I figured we would start with unit one and work through to the end. The beginning information will be review, but that’s a good thing. It worked out to 90 lessons, which is half a school year, or one semester. However, I plan to allot two days for each lesson, so that if we run over (which is very likely in the later units), there will be more time available. Doing it this way will make the curriculum last all year long. My daughter, who will be in fourth grade, is also going to use this book, but I don’t know if she’ll complete it. I may have her work until the end of unit four, and then continue with each grade level after that. A great benefit of not having a guide is that you are free to use the curriculum however you see fit. But, for those who like having a suggested schedule, here is mine. (You’ll notice that mine is called “All About the World.” It is the exact same book with the same content, but my freebie version had that different title.)

I hope you will give Ms. Hudson’s book a try, and don’t forget to check out her site,, to see what else she has available.

Homeschool Costs: Low-Price Alternatives for the Upper Grades

Looking at curriculum and really digging into planning for the next school year has been stressful so
far this summer. It has not been stressful as in anxiety-causing, but stressful as in mind-consuming. I spend a LOT of time thinking about what to choose, but I still don’t have all of my materials decided…and it’s already the middle of July. I have about one more month before we begin. Ahhhh!!!

I’m chalking up my excitement to the fact that my oldest will be entering his secondary education. He’s no longer a primary elementary learner; he’s in the big-time junior high. One would think that with my background in teaching, and having taught seventh grade for a decade (yes, 10 full years), that I would be an expert. And while I do feel like I’m more in my comfort zone compared to elementary instruction, I’m nervous because it’s such a change, and that change leads to some worrisome questions. 

Have I prepared him enough to take on the next level of thinking? 

Is he going to be frustrated at the increased work load? 

How much money is it going
to cost me to gather a sufficient multi-subject curriculum suitable for upper grades? 

At this point, I usually sigh. I close my eyes and I smile, because I know that everything will be fine. I have taught my children the elementary grades for next to nothing…a book here, some paper and ink there. Cost is a major issue for our family, as I know it is for many other homeschooling families. We chose to homeschool for so many reasons, but hoping to spend a thousand dollars on materials every year for each child is not one of them. 

So, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that there are a ton of good, free resources for
homeschooling. Some are entire curricula; it’s amazing. I follow lots of homeschool blogs, and the amount of freebies that show up in my inbox daily is just incredible. I still have quite a few elementary
years, so those emails will be helpful. The bad news is that most of those freebies are geared toward younger students. It is rare to find freebies for junior high and high school learners. When I do, they are normally just individual worksheets instead of whole year, or even semester, courses. 

So, what is the on-a-strict-budget homeschool parent to do? 

Fortunately, there’s better good news: Discovery K-12, Easy Peasey All-in-One, and An Old-Fashioned Education. In the next few posts, I will address and review each of these entirely free, entirely online, entire curricula for your student’s entire kindergarten through twelfth grade education.  They’re pretty awesome; stay tuned!

A Four-Day School Week?

As I begin to plan curriculum and schedules for the new school year, I’ve been toying with the idea of a four-day week. When I first heard of  this idea, I was quite skeptical. How could it possibly work?

How could you fit all of your content into just four days? 

How could you fit in 180 days (the PA requirement) if you’re not having school each weekday? 

After researching, talking to a homeschool mom about her four-day schedule, and simply thinking logically, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is very possible. There are two ways a four-day school week may function.

METHOD 1: The Extended School Year

In Pennsylvania, the school year runs from July 1 to June 30. If you began on July 1, you could easily hold school for only four days each week, throw in holiday vacations, and finish before the end of June. The negative aspect of this method is, obviously, the lack of summer vacation. Here in PA, people love their summertime freedom. Although my children do some work on reading and math, we never hold formal school days. But, even if you started at the beginning of August, you could still finish by the end of June, only with less vacation days, and have a full month off to recuperate. The positive aspect of this method is having only four days of planning and grading for the parents, and four days of work for the students…and a long weekend every week for everyone.

METHOD 2: The Not Really Four-Day Week

Let’s be realistic. Public school students rarely work all day long. Elementary kids have recess periods, breaks, and free time mixed in with their academic lessons, not to mention party, movie, or field days. Secondary students have 3-5 minutes between each class; down time when teachers must take attendance, answer the phone, discipline poor behavior, or write out passes; study halls; and the occassional movie. Oh, and don’t forget the field trips. All things considered, public school students are not getting 180 days of learning. If a homeschooler did four days of academic lessons each week, the fifth day could be for physical activities, such as karate or swim practice; music lessons and lots of practice time; nature hikes through the backyard or at a park; educational videos; hunting or fishing excursions; or trips to the museum. These all are activities that should count as a day of school, while not requiring workbook pages  or essays. This fifth day would be informal, but still involve learning. So the four-day week is not really a four-day week after all, but rather four days of book learning, plus one day of other learning. This schedule would allow for a longer summer break, and still have vacation days during the school year.

While I’m not yet sold on the four-day school week, it is something I’m considering. With a gifted musician who is becoming more involved in playing outside of the home, I am open to trying something new. 

What is your opinion about the four-day school week? Do you have any experience with it? What do you think would be other benefits or disadvantages?

Golden Milk for the Win!

One of the common myths about homeschoolers is that they are quarantined in their homes all the time. I’ll save the big response to that myth for another day, but just know that my children do leave the house on a regular basis. Whether it’s to church, the grocery store, or a friend’s house, they spend time around other people, and when you get around other people, you’re bound to pick up germs.

All of my children currently have colds, so it’s good that we don’t have formal school during the summer. This morning, guess who else woke up with a cold. Me! The discomfort of a piercing sore throat and constant runny nose was amplified by my lack of sleep, after being up half of the night with a miserable, sick, teething toddler. Oh, the joys! So I needed something to help me get back on my game; there are lots of things to do today, fireworks included. (Happy Independence Day, America!)

Enter golden milk. Golden milk is another name for a milk-based tea made with turmeric, a pungent, deep yellow-colored spice. Often used in Thai and Indian dishes, turmeric has a bit of a kick, but when it is blended with other spices in this tea, it is fairly tame. 

The results? After one glass, my throat was 90% improved, and my nasal passages opened up. Now, keep in mind that this tea doesn’t perform miracles; it’s not Jesus! I won’t continue to improve after just one shot, but after a couple more cups today, I should feel pretty much back-to-normal. Made with only milk and spices, this warm drink would probably be safe for children, but I’d stick with those over age 5 just to be safe.

If you google “golden milk” or “turmeric tea,” you will find plenty of recipes, but this is the one I enjoy. Here is what you need for one serving:

1 cup milk (regular, almond, soy…whichever you prefer)

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

pinch black pepper (I know it seems gross, but a lot of chai tea recipes include black pepper, as well, and, yum, chai tea!)

1 teaspoon sweetener (honey, stevia, agave nectar…again, whichever you prefer)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 


1. Add all of the ingredients, except the vanilla, in a small saucepan. Mix it well. 

2. Warm it on low, stirring often until it is steaming hot, but not boiling. It should be ready in 5-10 minutes. 

3. Remove from heat, and add the vanilla. Stir to blend.  

4. Pour into mug and taste. You may choose to add more sweetener at this point. Take note if you do add more, so you can use the appropriate amount to start with the next time you make the tea.
Enjoy, and feel better!

Independence Day History (and Homeschool Fire Safety)

July fourth is synonymous with gatherings of family and friends and displays of fireworks. To understand why, we must take a look back in history.

The day is a celebration of our country’s 1776 declaration of independence from the control of England. Many United States citizens were tired of their lack of participation in governmental decision-making (“No taxation without  representation!”), and they desired to be self-governed. Thomas Jefferson, along with Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, penned the Declaration, a statement against this outside control. It was happily approved and signed, marking the U.S. a free, independent country.

The idea of fireworks is credited to John Adams, who wrote his wife about his involvement in the Declaration and suggested that future annual celebrations of independence include, among other things, “illuminations.” Fireworks were a part of the importance and excitement of the event, and that has carried on for the past 241 years.

So, if John Adams, founding father and second president of the United States, said that fireworks should be used in celebrating our independence, that’s a pretty good reason to do it! But, to have fireworks, you need fire; and where there’s fire, homeschoolers need fire safety…especially in Pennsylvania, where it is an annual elementary requirement. With the 2017-2018 school year officially beginning on July 1, I thought a bit of fire safety would fit in fantastically during our Independence Day celebrations.

Here are nine fire safety rules to follow and teach your children before shoving a sparkler in their hands and letting them run wild.

1. Do not use fireworks without adult supervision. Young children should not light fireworks, and older children should be monitored.

2. Never use fireworks indoors, even if they seem harmless.

3. Never hold fireworks while lighting them (sparklers excluded). Always keep your face back and then move away quickly after ignition. Parents may opt to have their children to wear safety glasses or other eye protection while lighting fireworks.

4. Understand how to light each firework and what it does when lit. 

5. Keep at least two buckets of water around. One should be used to hold finished fireworks and duds. The second should be used (although, hopefully it won’t be necessary) for emergencies. A nearby water hose is also good precaution.

6. Do not try to relight a firework that fizzles out. Wait 15 minutes to make sure that it won’t restart on its own, and then have an adult place it in a bucket of water.

7. Do not touch the burnt end of your fireworks after they have finished; they may still be very hot.

8. Do not put fireworks of any kind close to someone’s face. Even small sparks can cause an injury.

9. Choose an open location, away from flammable objects such as propane grills, when setting off fireworks.

For more information on being safe with fireworks, check out the National Council on Fireworks Safety. Have fun!