Ask Umbra®

Yours is to wonder why, hers is to answer (or try). Send your green-living questions to Umbra.

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Umbra Fisk is Grist Research Associate II, Hardcover and Periodicals Unit, floors 2B-4B.

Umbra on used cooking oil

Dear Umbra, It’s always nice to look through cookbooks and to watch cooking shows that feature yummy deep-fried food, and I have often been tempted to try and cook my own creations. However, no one ever seems to mention what …

Umbra on reheating coffee

Dear Umbra, As a web developer for a certain respectable online magazine somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, I drink a lot of coffee to keep me alert and my very demanding employers happy. However, in my constant imbibing of the …

On organic Christmas trees

Dear Umbra, Is there such a thing as an organic Christmas tree? How chemical-intensive is conventional Christmas-tree farming? If I want a Christmas tree, what’s the most eco-friendly way to go? Your fan, Lisa Seattle, Wash. Dearest Lisa, Since you …

Umbra on green hotels

Dear Umbra, My husband and I are Americans who own a small budget hotel in Rome, Italy. We try to be as eco-friendly as possible: our cafe is local, organic, and vegetarian, we use compact fluorescent bulbs where we can …

Umbra on fireplace ashes

Dear Umbra, What should we do with ashes from the fireplace? I’ve heard that they’re great for the garden and I’ve heard that they may not be so good for the garden. Are they a good replacement for salt on …

Umbra on cats and birds

Dear Umbra, I have three cats, and live in a close-in suburb of Boston. I love the cats dearly, and let them outside during the day to wander about, and generally not have to live an indoor, sedentary, boring life. …

Umbra on power strips

Q. Hi Umbra, Around the table at lunch today, my colleagues and I were discussing ways to conserve and be more energy efficient. We’ve all heard that “dormant” appliances still draw energy. We’ve all been told we should plug some …

Umbra on corporate holiday cards

Dear Umbra, My company wants to send out holiday cards each year, but I find it wasteful, especially because of the increased transportation load on the post office. What could we do instead? Cindy Truckee, Calif. Dearest Cindy, A stumper. …

Umbra on solar holiday lights

Dear Umbra, As the holiday season approaches, I’m trying to figure out how to spread good cheer in home decorations while being sensitive to the environment. Years ago, my husband and I purchased strings of lights that we wrapped around …