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Dearest readers,

Some people celebrate Independence Day with parades, cookouts, fireworks, and reflections on our nation’s grand traditions. I celebrate it by sorting through my inbox to make sure I have answered your most pressing, timely questions — before they get dustier than Jefferson’s wig. Read on for a new batch of truths, which you might or might not hold to be self-evident.

Q. Dear Umbra,

I love grilling in the summer, but what is the best source of fuel? Propane is yet another gas, and though the containers can be refilled, there is a lot of waste. At the same time, charcoal doesn’t seem like the best bet either. What’s the cleanest fuel for my fire-roasted fun?

Brianna C.
Sacramento, Calif.

If only we could live in harmony with the rats. (Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography.)

A. Dearest Brianna,

You’re not the only reader to fire this question my way. The short answer is, propane is better than charcoal. The longer, juicier answer is found in my recently reposted video on this very topic. Be sure to watch for my star turn as a wriggling wiener! By the way, a bit of trivia for you: According to the wonderfully named “State of the Barbecue Industry Report,” 82 percent of American households own a grill, and Independence Day is our very favorite time for this pursuit. So enjoy, all ye grillers, but remember: Eating less meat is good for you and good for the planet. Here’s a rack of red-meat alternatives to make your summer sizzle. Yum!

Juicily,
Umbra

Q. Dear Umbra,

Are there any good recipes out there for homemade dandruff shampoo? Pre-made organic shampoos are super expensive, so I’d like to save money and be a little more sustainable.

Kevin
Berwyn Heights, Md.

A. Dearest Kevin,

Ah, dandruff, the scalp condition that dare not speak its name — yet affects up to 90 percent of Americans. Frankly, I think the ingredient lists of conventional dandruff shampoos are even scarier than the high price of organics. That’s why I’m excited to report that many household ingredients can reportedly be corralled for this conundrum: things like lemon, baking soda, vinegar, and salt. Some people swear by rosemary oil and tea tree oil, too. Remember that nutrition can affect dandruff — so be sure to think about what’s going into your body, not just what’s going onto it.

Seborrheic-ly,
Umbra

Q. Dear Umbra,

I watched the video from your visit to the Fixers Collective years ago, for making a tote bag out of a broken umbrella. I can’t seem to find the pattern on your website … is it still available?

Emilia
Portland, Ore.

A. Dearest Emilia,
I think this is what you’re looking for [PDF] — if not, let me know. By the way, I am heartened by the number of people who have gotten in touch about those totes, and I’m positively glowing from being presented with one by a dear reader in San Francisco this spring. Thank you, one and all — and happy stitching!

Bumbershootly,
Umbra

Q. Dear Umbra,

What does one do about Norway rats when IPM has failed? They’re using my garage as a condo, and I can’t find much that is deemed “safe” to use as a pesticide.

Kevin
Chicago

A. Dearest Kevin,

I’ll admit it: I’ve been ignoring your question for a month. I try to love and respect all critters, but the thought of your rat condo has sent me scurrying repeatedly from your email. So I hope you’ve gotten an answer from someone more pragmatic and less squeamish. But quickly: You don’t describe your attempts at IPM. (For the uninitiated, IPM is short for Integrated Pest Management, an agricultural practice that involves ridding pests with little or no use of pesticides.) So I would suggest that first, of course, you want a nice clean garage, with nothing that would tempt a rat. Second, you have to find out how they’re getting in, and block their entry. Preferably not with them inside, however — so to usher them out, you could try natural deterrents such as peppermint oil or wasabi. They also apparently dislike stronger scents such as ammonia and pet urine, though I’m not sure you want your garage smelling of those. Are live traps an option? Could you get a cat? Oh heavens, I’m starting to feel faint. Readers, any ideas for Kevin? I’m off to look into exposure therapy.

Fallibly,
Umbra

Q. Dear Umbra,

Where can I find other ideas like this?

Kathy
Canton

A. Dearest Kathy,

You don’t say which Canton you’re from. Did you know there are at least 23 of them in the United States? To say nothing of Australia, China, Kiribati, and heaven knows where else. I bet none of them hold a candle to my favorite place to hang out, however: the Ask Umbra archives. Kathy, that is where you can find “other ideas like this” — 85 pages of them, as it happens (or you could find them handily condensed and organized when you buy our book). I hope you’ll spend many a merry hour perusing. And if I can help you with anything more specific, don’t hesitate to ask.

At your servicely,
Umbra