Stems and All

My journey to buy less, consume smart, use what's there.

29 May, 2013
by Jane Newcomb

Everything has a home – really

Even the most unlikely objects can find a home. All it takes is a little time, a bit of patience, and the desire to avoid having anything go into landfill.

As we have moved to declutter our home and life, I’ve been using as a tool to help find some of the most random items new homes. It’s a great service, that allows users to post items up as an “Offer”, or as an item that is “Wanted”. All for free, with no exchange of cash. And the best part, is that it’s all local. Users join relevant ‘groups’ based on proximity and location, so there’s no shipping or long-distance driving that occurs once someone wants an “Offer”.

In a future reality, our home won’t need to ‘get rid’ of anything, as I plan on moving towards a zero waste lifestyle. But in the meantime, there are items that we want to de-clutter and remove from our house, that are best given away for free (vs. hoping to get a little bit of value). Landfill is not an option.

Here are just some of the items that I’ve found new homes for through Freecycle:

– 4″ cardboard mailing tube
– Moving boxes
– Plastic containers from plants
– Old broken bricks and mortar
– Potted plants
– Curtain rods
– Metal scraps

And much more.

My hope is that soon we won’t need this type of service as we won’t have any objects to “freecycle”, but in the meantime, it’s a great service to find homes for objects that no longer have value in your own home, but still have value.

22 May, 2013
by Jane Newcomb
1 Comment

Alternative use for that double boiler

I have a little secret… I’m a hoarder when it comes to pots, pans, and other kitchen items and cookware. It’s my achilles heel. And I’m especially prone to holding onto items made of high quality metal or items that I paid a lot for. I’m working on it, but definitely not yet perfected.

For example, I’ve been holding onto a copper double boiler, convincing myself that I will find a use for it – other than the occasional need for an actual double boiler. It hangs under the butcher block – just dangles there, periodically giving me a little wink when I walk by, subtly reminding me of its presence.

Finding a use for copper double boiler

Finding a use for copper double boiler

I attempted to find a use for it as a place to store onions and garlic, laying gently on its side. But this proved impractical and a poor use of overall space. I then tried to find a purpose for it in the basement, hanging it on the wall and storing loose nails and other items inside. But as we organized the downstairs area, we no longer needed an ‘extra place’ for loose stuff.

Then, one evening, as I made my way to the back yard to harvest some of the lettuce from our slowly emerging crop, I reached for the copper double boiler instead of the usual red colander.

And it turned out to be the perfect vessel for collecting lettuce for our salad. Back in the kitchen, I added a few inches of cold water, soaked the lettuce, and then easily rinsed and cleaned it.

Perfect vessel for harvesting lettuce for daily green salad.

Perfect vessel for harvesting lettuce for daily green salad.

I took the water and silt that was left in the copper boiler, and watered a recently planted pomegranate tree in front of the house, which otherwise doesn’t get much hydration.

Adding cold water to lettuce in copper double boiler to soak and rinse.

Adding cold water to lettuce in copper double boiler to soak and rinse.

While I’m not thrilled with myself for holding onto items needlessly, I do consider finding a use for the seldom used double boiler a win because:
– I recognize that I tend to hoard items in the kitchen, and awareness is a good thing
– I was able to find a genuine use for something that I found beautiful though originally only mildly useful
– And it makes for another good blog post…

It’s all a work in progress…

15 May, 2013
by Jane Newcomb

“Red Meat” is actually “Green” – and in a Good Way

Red meat, when done right, can be very green. In a good way.

I had the amazing pleasure of meeting the owners and workers of True Grass Farms a few weekends ago, where we picked up our 1/16th of a cow, and shared a plate and glass with the other proud owners of our shared bovine at their second “Harvest Festival”. Here’s Part I of my journey to own a (partial) cow.

guido true grass farms ranch

Guido, owner at True Grass Farms in Valley Ford, California

There were about 20 of us in total, assembled from all around Northern California. We came together from various areas, ranging from Lake Tahoe to Oakland to Half Moon Bay, to share a meal and pick up some beef.

farm table true grass farms

Farm table on porch of farmhouse, True Grass Farms, Valley Ford, California

We were also given a tour of the farm, including a walk into the pasture where we were greeted by Steer 101, and other gentle beasts.

It was very clear: these cows are loved, respected, and treated insanely humanly. They are rotated every day to a new pasture, which is good for the cows and good for the land. They are never spooked or shooed, but rather they are gently coaxed to their next grass feast.

carpaccio appetizer at true grass farms

Carpaccio appetizer at Harvest Festival cow share pick up, True Grass Farms

And on the menu for lunch? Beef. And lots of it. At one point in my life, I would have found the experience of seeing live cows roaming in the pasture one moment, and eating slices of carpaccio the next, a bit morbid and wrong (I was, after all, against my mothers wishes, a vegetarian from age 10 to 20).

But now, I actually found the whole experience to be, well, ‘honest’. It felt good to know where the beef in our freezer was coming from, and to know that it was raised in a very sustainable and green way, and perhaps more importantly, humanely treated upon slaughter.

I’ve made the decision to eat red meat periodically, which I believe can be done even on a journey to becoming ‘green’. And while I pay a little more per pound for “green beef”, I would rather eat it a little less frequently, but know the acres of land where it once roamed.

cow share at true grass farms

Rob getting our share of cow from Evan and Guido at True Grass Farms Harvest Festival

8 May, 2013
by Jane Newcomb

Thrift Stores Rediscovered

1994: I have fond memories of this year, as this was the year that I graduated from college. Anyone who graduated in 1994 will fondly remember both “Gin Blossoms” and “Beck”, the bands and the songs (and possibly their association with drinking).

Another fond memory of 1994 for me: the year I happily swore off Thrift Stores.

I had graduated, moved to San Francisco, and started my first ‘real job’ at a publishing company. Every 2 weeks, my bank account was miraculously replenished, and for the first time, I could afford things, including shiny new clothes. No more trips to the Thrift Store and buying funny smelling stuff that harbored moth, mites and mildew.

After nearly 20 years, this was about to change.

“Want to run a quick errand with me? It’ll be fun!”, asked the Sister.

I glanced at her suspiciously. She was using the same tone of voice that I use with the Cat when it’s time to visit the vet.

“What kind of errand?”, I asked, watching her, carefully.

“Oh, just need to pick up something,” she responded, lightly, avoiding eye contact.

Fifteen minutes later, we were parked in front of my human version of the Vet – a store boldly declaring itself “Savers: Good Deeds, Great Deals”. My hackles were up and my ‘moth ball radar’ on high alert. This did not bode well for the vow I made nearly two decades earlier.

But I’m a giver, and so decided that I was willing to be the bigger person, and humor my older sibling as she shopped.

We walked into the store, and I froze. Bright lights, happy sales people, and row after row of products, neatly organized by size, color and type. And it wasn’t just ‘tops. But rather, ‘short sleeved knits, long-sleeved knits, wool, cotton, blends, and more.

This was not the damp and dingy memory association that I had catalogued in my brain under “Thrift Stores”.

45 minutes later, I walked out with 3 “new to me” sweaters, and very deep appreciation of the “Savers” store and business model, in which they claim to keep 600 million pounds of product out of landfill, and gets ‘new’ product cheaply and effectively to families and communities they serve, as well as employing those same communities.

Norine, the Sister, making a purchase at Savers

Norine, the Sister, making a purchase at Savers

I humbly rescinded my swearing off of Thrift Stores, and realized that this squarely fits in with my new streamlined life. The reality was, that I would periodically need (or strongly want) something ‘new’ in my wardrobe. Thrift stores offer a green, environmentally gentle way to acquire something ‘new to you’, without the packaging that comes along with truly new stuff. Not perfect, but better than walking into a mall and buying something recently packaged and imported from somewhere in Asia Pacific.

Thrift Stores – by any name – have come a long way. There are amazing bargains to be had, zero packaging, and are environmentally gentle way to enhance a wardrobe from season to season.

Yes, you’ll still need to thoroughly wash any item you buy, and yes, clothing may have a lingering moth ball essence clinging to it, but there are many ways to find gently used items when the time comes to supplement items in the closet.

Savers Store business model and environmentally green product cycle.

Savers Store business model and environmentally green product cycle.

Here are some other terms for the ‘store that shall not be named’:
Thrift Store
Second-Hand Store
Discount Store
Consignment Store
Snack Store for Moths (I made this one up)

When absolutely needed, then happy shopping…!

1 May, 2013
by Jane Newcomb
1 Comment

Paperless trail: decluttering paperwork from my life

We all have our hated tasks and despised chores – tasks that we avoid doing at all costs. For me, that task is filing paperwork. I will often stack papers on top of papers on one of my filing bins, until the entire stack threatens to topple, rather than taking the few minutes it would require to purposefully put the papers into their appropriate files.

I realized that as part of the journey to creating less waste and de-cluttering our lives, one of the biggest upsides for me was to go paperless.

One rainy afternoon, I decided to tackle my albatross. I was determined to grab this bird by the neck, and give it a good thrashing. Feathers and all.

Project paperwork declutter underway...

Project paperwork declutter underway…

As with most painful projects, I decided to divide and conquer to make it more manageable. Regardless, it was a painful project.

1.) Online elsewhere: I first determined which of my accounts and information I could easily access online. It turns out, that most bank accounts, savings, brokerage firm statements, mortgage statements, insurance forms, and more are available and easily accessible online. I made a list of all the account numbers and website URLs, and made a separate list for all the passwords. All of this paperwork I put into the shred pile.

2.) Sentimental stuff: I am the person that has historically filed away lots of sentimental stuff. Ticket stubs, museum entries, race bibs from past triathlon races that I’ve done, and more. I pulled all of these aside, and put them into a “deal with later” pile. More on that later…

3.) Keepers: After all this was done, there were really only a handful of items that I felt I needed to store and keep hard files of, including taxes filed in previous years, house and car loan and deed information, birth certificates, copies of my families will, and a few other items. The majority (at least 80%) of the paperwork and stuff I’d been stockpiling and pain-stackingly been filing could be shredded.

By the time I finished this project, I was exhausted, but it was such a worth while accomplishment.

24 April, 2013
by Jane Newcomb

Juicer juice recipe #3: apple, orange, celery, carrot, ginger

Juicing is fun, healthy, and creative. I recently made what’s become a ‘go to’ recipe for a delicious morning juice snack, and consists of the following (makes 2 servings):

1 apple, cored and quartered
1 orange, peeled and quartered
6 stalks celery, leaves still attached
5 carrots (stems reserved for other recipe)
1 inch fresh ginger, peeling is optional

Juicer juice recipe with apple, celery, carrots, and ginger

Amazingly simple, refreshing and delicious

Results are a refreshing juice, with a hint of earth and fruit, and a touch of kick from ginger. Amounts can be altered to fit any mood…!

17 April, 2013
by Jane Newcomb
1 Comment

Sustainable “R” buzzwords beyond just “Recycle”

Recycling is good, but it’s time to re-shape our consumer habits and beliefs further.

The universally recognized recycle symbol was born in 1970, at the hands of Gary Anderson. This is the same year that launched the first Earth Day, originally lauded as an “environmental teach-in day”, to help raise awareness and political support for various environmental initiatives (

Now, more than 40 years later, the recycle symbol – represented by three arrows chasing one another in a never-ending mobius strip – is still a relevant and recognized symbol. However, the “R” of recycle is really only the tip of the environmental iceberg, and while important, it’s only one part of a complex consumer ecosystem.

We often see ‘recycling’ as being the best way to support the earth and ‘do our part’. Is recycling a good thing? Of course. But it’s also one of the last actions that we should take when making a decision about something we possess.

When it comes to sustainable living, there are many other “R’s” to be considered before anything gets to the “recycle” stage.

As the awareness around sustainability grows, and more people have a desire to do more, new terms continue to emerge. Here are some of my personal favorites:

Re-shape – attitudes about what we ‘need’ in our lives to be fulfilled
Re-fuse – to bring anything non-essential into your life or home
Re-duce – the amount of ‘stuff’ you think you need
Re-fill – rather than buying packaged products
Re-pair – buy high quality items upfront, that are be repairable and fixable
Re-wear – think about re-wearing certain items of clothing more than once (vs. washing)
Re-use – support and buy items that are re-useable, not just disposable
Re-share – items within your network of family, friends and neighbors
Re-turn – items like computers and electronics to responsible manufacturers to recycle
Re-spond – to companies that aren’t being social and environmentally responsible
Re-purpose – items for different uses
Re-cycle – items responsibly that are at the end of their life cycle
Re-earth – anything that is compostable

Maybe it’s time to develop a new “R” symbol, that more completely represents these evolving ways of life and living!?!?

Embrace the “R” words that resonate most with you and your family’s lifestyle. If you can, stretch yourself beyond what’s known and see where it takes you!

10 April, 2013
by Jane Newcomb

Fight the reverse ‘purge-urge’: don’t replace!

The old me:
“I’m so good! I’ve just donated 3 sweaters, and 3 pairs of pants to GoodWill. Now, it’s time to go out and shop for 3 new sweaters and 3 new pairs of pants!”

The reality is, that most of us living in the United States, and in many countries beyond, actually already own way too many items than we can actually use in any one lifetime. Take the 21 belts that were uncovered when my boyfriend and I moved in together…

21 belts to choose from

Which of these 21 belts does he actually use?

Just a wee bit excessive. We were able to get the number down to 5 without running out and replacing any of them, which was a great start. 5 belts is still far too many, but we’re tackling this in baby steps.

The new-er me:
I’ve developed a few rules for myself that I try to live by as I continuously purge more and more from our homes and our lives.

1.) Don’t replace: While it was challenging at first, I fight the urge to go out and purchase ‘replacements’ for anything that has left the house and our lives. Ironically, this has become progressively easier the more I give away, and I expect that this trend will continue.

2.) “What’s in that corner of the closet anyway?”: If you can’t see it, you probably won’t use it. At one point, I owned about 40 sweaters. They were double stacked high up in a closet – I didn’t even know what was back there. The reality was that I really didn’t wear or use many of them. So, if I have ‘hidden corners of stuff’ somewhere, I definitely work hard to avoid ‘re-placeing’ items that get purged from these areas.

3.) Take care of what I have: As I continue to trim useless or excess items from our lives, I am realizing that I place higher value on and take better care of the items I keep. I am finding myself mending small holes or tears in clothing, bags, etc., vs. just tossing or getting rid of it. I carefully pick ‘nurdles’ off of sweaters if they develop, and I fold and store all of our things more neatly.

This is a work in progress, as I do still find myself in the ‘trap’ of wanting to replace something, but I am confident that it will be a battle that I win.

3 April, 2013
by Jane Newcomb

Meet my good friend, Bon Ami

I’m on a quest to start removing toxic, bad cleaning products from my house cleaning ritual. I’m pretty particular, however, so was not looking forward to this process. I had read about a safe, green, environmental product that could replace my current, not-so environmentally friendly products: Bon Ami was rumored to outperform my normal go-to’s, Ajax and Comet.

The skeptic in me cried – “No way”. After all, how could a seemingly simple, 5-ingredient cleaning product actually beat out a highly engineered, super-duper powerful one?

After reading up on the relative ‘goodness’ of Bon Ami, made from just 5 ingredients for the past 125+ years, I decided to give this alleged ‘friend’ a try.

The results far exceeded expectations.

blackened pyrex dish

BEFORE: Well-loved Pyrex dish before Bon Ami test

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27 March, 2013
by Jane Newcomb

Buying bulk: how much “green” can I save?

Buying food and other products in bulk has many “green” benefits: both in terms of protecting the sustainability of the planet, as well as projecting the green in your wallet.

In terms of benefits to the planet, much of the upside comes from avoiding all the packaging that’s associated with most non-bulk food and product purchases, which primarily ends up in landfill: “Buying ‘bulk’ to avoid packaging” Part I and Part II.

But just how much ‘green wallet’ savings can be enjoyed by buying in bulk?

buying bulk can save money

Buying in bulk can result in tremendous cost savings

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