31 Days of Living Well Spending Zero – Day 19 & 20

I’m giving myself permission to double up on this entry. Yesterday I hosted a birthday party and I was so blessed by the friend who opened up her home and the other hostesses who made spending almost zero possible. The hosts split the cost of supplies (paint and caulk we bought for the art activity) between us and helped create such a fun memory and experience for our dear friend who’s birthday we were celebrating. Other guests brought a canvas to paint on and an appetizer to share. And boy was it a memory and just so much fun!

One of my contributions was to create a lemonade/juice bar for guests. I used what I had on hand and it turned out great. Pink Lemonade, Raspberry Lemonade, and Orange juice that guests could mix with club soda. They could add lime, blueberries, or lemon mint to their drink and it was so fun and festive! And…. I had it all in my freezer, fridge or yard! Fun vases and bottles made it feel special – plus fancy goblets to poor into. The “Bubbly Lemonade Bar” was a hit!

And thanks to the ladies who contributed to making the art part of our evening a success and kept me that much closer to “spending zero.”

One of the main questions I have received through this whole challenge is regarding food. And if you are just now joining me the answers to those key questions are primarily answered in the first week of this challenge as I did a pantry inventory and a freezer inventory and created a month-long meal plan.
That being said there is more to it then just that. I entertain, although I haven’t been as much recently since we are in temporary housing. I host and attend parties (I’ve still done that this month) and I attend weekly get togethers where I bring food – every week. It was important to me that my contributions to these important things did not suffer during this month of “zero spending.” What it took was preparation. (No I did not stock up before the month.) But it took planning, us being intentional with how we have used ingredients, AND in my case it also took some friends. 🙂 You see I believe I could make it through the month with the same outcomes (spending so very little) with or without different inputs. But in my case this month has been more of an experiment in community and creativity. I have the most amazing community of friends and family who have not only been interested and curious about this challenge but also supportive.

Between my “girls,” my Buy Nothing Community which is made up of friends from ALL walks of life, and my family this month has been almost too easy. I say that carefully because there have been moments of sacrifice and growth. But I do believe my experience has been very different then it may be for many doing this same challenge. You see I share about what I am doing and I am part of a community that is generous and loving. These relationships are reciprocal. That means there are times I give, in various capacities, and there are times (too many to count) in which they give sacrificially and benevolently to me too.

Here’s a wee example. Somehow I was cleaning out the “notes” on my phone this past weekend and came across a recipe I had saved almost 3 years ago and never tried. I have a favorite Chicken Gorgonzola Grape salad that Fred Meyer used to make (maybe some still do) but I can no longer get it. We don’t have one close to us and the closest one stopped selling it. It’s been a long time since I have gotten to have it and somewhere in that time passing I had found this recipe, and forgotten about it. I had a hunch it might be close to the real deal, and I was so excited to find it and even more excited since I had all the ingredients on hand. All except the pecans. At the moment in my inherited pantry I had no nuts so I sent a couple of texts and one girlfriend had the 1/3 cup of pecans I needed and was happy to share!

That meant I got to try the EXACT recipe. Made my heart and stomach happy as it s EXACTLY like the one I’ve loved. And it was a total hit at the party. I googled the recipe I had saved to my phone and found a blog where it seems to have originated. No idea if this is the original recipe/owner but I’ll give the credit where I can and say this is a must try recipe! It was a hit at the party and at home.

Gorgonzola, Grape and Grilled Chicken Pasta Salad

1 lb. penne pasta
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts seasoned w/lemon pepper
2 cups red grapes
4 green onions, sliced thinly
1/3 cup coarsley chopped pecans
1/2 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese (Winco in tubs, or you can buy chunks & crumble yourself)
1 cup mayo (don’t be cheap, use Best Foods)
2-3 T. olive oil (I don’t like the taste all that much, so I try not to let it take over)
2 T. seasoned rice vinegar (yes I use it a lot – what of it? Use cider vinegar if you aren’t hip)
3-4 T. sugar (to taste – some like it sweeter than others)
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
A few grinds of black pepper

OK, we’ve gone over this before….cook the pasta according to direction, NOT al dente. And when it’s done, drain in a colander and run COLD water over until it’s completely cold…stick your hand in the middle and feel it to make sure (AFTER you wash it, silly…). Dump in a large bowl.

I “grilled” my chicken in a panini type grill, but have also done it outside, and even resorted to cooking it in the microwave when I was in a real hurry. No one cares…I just like the grill marks and eating the crispy edges. Cool until you can handle and slice thinly, then cut slices in half so they aren’t really long. Spread out and let cool until you have everything else ready.

Dump everything else in the bowl, nuts, grapes, onions, cheese and all the dressing stuff and mix well – give it a taste and adjust as needed, then throw in the cooled chicken and give it a stir. Voila! You now have a salad so fabulous that you should take a picture…which WILL last longer! Not everyone likes gorgonzola – it’s like a milder version of blue cheese to me – but you can add less or more to your taste – that flavor will be more pronounced if you make it ahead, so be forewarned. And if you need to refresh it after keeping it in the fridge, you can do so with a tad more olive oil, warm water or even milk products…just enough to loosen it up if it’s gotten clumpy.

Here’s another example of what a beautiful community I live in. Earlier this month, Day 15, I shared that a friend’s husband heard me say we had no pumpkin in our pantry and that this time of year I love, and crave pumpkin. I thought it might be one of the hardest things to resist buying. Well the next day she dropped off a can. I made pumpkin bread (this is my go-to recipe) and shared at one of those weekly meetings as my contribution. Plus mowed on it myself!
Well then we were out again. I took my request for fresh sugar pumpkins (thought I might try making my own puree) or canned pumpkin with my local Buy Nothing group and this is what they came up with!
Incredible. And I’ve been scouring the internet for pumpkin ideas since! I brought these delicious pumpkin cookies to a party this week and again, a hit! Don’t you just love finding a recipe that is tried and true online, and having it work well for you? I do! Here’s where I found the recipe. I did cut it in half since I am being careful with ingredients (and if I’d done a full batch I’d have been out of butter for the month,) plus it makes a very large batch…. like 60 some cookies!

Melt-in-your-mouth-pumpkin cookies

Yield: about 60 cookies

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes per batch


2 cups butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 15-ounce can pumpkin
4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 to 4 cups powdered sugar (add until desired consistency/firmness)
ground cinnamon sprinkled on top (optional)


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl beat the 2 cups of butter with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add granulated sugar, baking powder,baking soda,salt,the 1 teaspoon cinnamon,and the nutmeg. Beat until combined. Beat in the eggs and 2 teaspoons of vanilla until combined. Beat in pumpkin. Beat in as much of the four as you can with the mixer. Stir in remaining flour with a wooden spoon.

2. Drop dough by heaping teaspoons 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until tops are set. Transfer to wire racks to cool.

3. For frosting, in a small saucepan heat the 1/2 cup butter and brown sugar until melted and smooth. Transfer to a medium bowl. Stir in milk and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Beat in powdered sugar until smooth. Spread frosting on cookies. Sprinkle with additional cinnamon if desired.

****I added a bit more butter and powdered sugar to the frosting so it became more of a butter cream frosting. Just to the consistency I liked. It probably was an additional cup of powdered sugar and 3-4 more tablespoons of softened butter.
And it definitely is crucial to sprinkle cinnamon on top of these!****
Again another wonderful friend and Buy Nothing community member contacted me personally. I had been on the hunt for apples and carrots – produce is a tough one in a month of zero spending but again my community came through. I told you about the apples before and the swiss chard I received from friends there. But she shot me a message and said she had some bulk produce and extra meat from her freezer she’d like to share. I drove up to a box with my name on the side, and a cute little heart around it. I felt loved when I peered into the box – for sure! Plus a lady nearby had gifted me more powdered sugar, which I had just run out of too. She doesn’t even know about the challenge and was just cleaning out her pantry. I put my name in the hat and she gifted it to me. Not to mention these little clementine oranges are one of my boys favorites and they were tickled pink to get to snack on one during our short car ride home.

Today’s challenge from Ruth Soukup, the author of Living Well and Spending Less who is hosting this challenge was to rest, relax, and recharge. So that is what I did. Hence the photo below of me me putting my feet up this afternoon. I watched an episode of tv on netflix and took a wee nap – which is what tv/movie usually results in for me. It’s also why yesterday and today’s posts are combined. I am giving myself permission to take a wee break. I ignored the dishes, laundry, and all the other chores I was supposed to do. (Hoping I’ll still get to some of it before my hubby walks in the door.) Took the break and now am blogging and drinking some homemade apple cider.

Camper is stirring so it’s time to get back on duty – but I can tell you that the break was glorious. Much needed and just because I am spending zero does not mean I can’t find a way to have my own version of a “spa day.”

What I spent on…1. Split the cost of supplies with the other hosts of the party. Kept costs down and we were able to bless a wonderful friend with a great memory and celebration.
What I did not spend on….
1. Carpooled to the party. (Thanks friends!)
2. Bubbly Lemonade Bar supplies

3. Appetizer – Chicken, Gorgonzola, Grape Pasta Salad and Dessert – Pumpkin Cookies contribution. (See recipes above.)Thanks to a friend and Buy Nothing member for the pumpkin and a friend for the pecans I needed to complete these recipes without spending.

4. My gift to the guest of honor was the party itself (supplies) so I just wrote a card that included a favorite memory we have together as her gift. She appreciates gestures and experiences so I know this meant a lot.

5. Leftovers for lunch, yummy dinner, and hot cider this afternoon all at home without spending.

6. Last minute I found out that we needed caulk gun dispensers at the party and through family and a “can I borrow for 24 hours” post on Buy Nothing I was able to procure 7 of them! Amazing.
1. When you are in community you help meet each other’s needs, you give GENEROUSLY to each other and with no questions ask work together to make life better for each other. It’s a really beautiful thing and how God made it.
2. Relaxing, resting, and rejuvenating is vital.
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  1. For fresh produce, have you asked your local grocery store about looking through their reject bin? We pick up free boxes of produce almost every time we go. Most of it goes to our chickens, but there are usually a few things that are still good for us to eat too. Much of what is thrown away is just not "prefect" looking enough to sell.

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