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.


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!

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?

Western Pennsylvania Usage of Verb Tense, or What Makes Me Twitch

If you have spent any time in western Pennsylvania, you probably understand the struggle of proper verb tense.

verb tense meme

Maybe you’ve heard this:

“I seen them down there.”

“I should have went.”

“He don’t know.”

**cringe** Honestly, some days it’s enough to make my ears bleed. Now, please don’t think I consider myself better than everyone else. I know that I’m not perfect; the only perfect man died on the cross for my sins, so that my imperfect self could be saved, praise God! (Check out John 3:16, if you don’t already know the verse.) However, I try to speak using the best grammar possible. My elementary school teachers were, thankfully, very traditional, and they stressed that speaking well presents you to others in a good light. You sound more intelligent, mature, and professional when you use good grammar as opposed to slang or local colloquialisms. Thus, my attempt to speak properly began, and it is something that I encourage my children to do, as well.


So the other day, after my son told me he “had saw” something, I figured that I needed to up my grammar game for the new homeschool year. I decided to make a worksheet for upper elementary and middle school grades (or any grades, really) to define and help children think about verb usage.


Get your verb tense freebie here!

God Made You Special, and He Loves You Very Much!

You probably think I’m talking about Veggie Tales today. While I adore those little singing, dancing vegetables, this post is about another creation.

Being a cool day, we made a trip to the zoo, hoping that the lower temperature would bring out more animals. It did. Included was this gorgeous white peacock.

I’m saying white peacock, because it is not an albino. Like the Kermode (Spirit bear), this peacock has special genes that make it white, but its lack of color certainly does not diminish its beauty.

Aside from being a great homeschool trip that we’re going to write about using this field trip freebie, that spectacular peacock helped reinforce an important lesson. God created us — each of us — and made us unique.

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:13-16).

The awesome thing about this passage is how it explains that we are all individuals, and we were all formed — wonderfully — by the Lord. God knew how each of us would look, sound, and act before we were even born. It’s really an incredible idea when you consider the power of God. He can do anything, from changing our bad qualities to removing a peacock’s vivid coloring.

So, remember during your homeschool day (and every day) that we are all very different. When it is difficult to deal with our “challenging” children, remember that God made each of them special, because that’s how He wanted them to be.

What About Music?

I grew up listening to 50s and 60s tunes (thanks to my dad) with a side of Sunday school sing-a-longs (thanks to my mom). From there, I branched out to 70s and 80s rock, 90s country, and 00s pop. After that, Christian music became the majority of my listening pleasure. But no matter what sound graced my speakers, or what instrument touched my fingers, it all had a big part in shaping the person I was. Music played a huge role in my husband’s life, as well; that’s why it is such a big part of our homeschool.


This weekend, my family attended a bluegrass festival. For a couple months, my son has been taking banjo lessons (he picked on his own for a couple years prior), and his teacher was playing there with his band. They are all amazing players — multi-state championships, professional playing experience, etc.  Well, the short of it is that they called my son up on stage to play a couple songs with them. He did fantastic; of course, I suppose I am a tad biased. I was so very proud to see my not-so-little guy up there jamming with the big-leaguers.

That moment reinforced for us one of the things we love about homeschooling: the freedom and ease to pursue interests without interfering with schoolwork. Music is schoolwork in our house. And not only that, God wants us to praise Him with music.

“Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; Praise Him with the lute and harp! Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes! Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with clashing cymbals!” (Psalm 150:3-5)

Everything that has breath should praise the Lord! So, if music is not already a part of your homeschool, I encourage you to make it a priority for the next school year. My son could be the next Earl Scruggs, but even if he doesn’t make it to the “Big Time,” his gospel tunes will praise the Lord, just as we’re called to do.

Summer Learning – Part 3

I grew up a writer. I wrote all the time, on my own time. I loved it. What made it so much fun was that it wasn’t about writing a five-paragraph essay; it was about being creative, being experimental, and being me. In this final part of the summer learning series, I’ll offer some ideas for incorporating writing (both handwriting and composition) into summertime fun. Continue reading “Summer Learning – Part 3”