Living

Dispatch from the virtual front lines of parenting

The fight to save childhood

Boys will be boys … online or off.School started this week. We have two fourth-graders and a second-grader. Ken has the misfortune to be driving a carpool that involves four boys and two schools and takes about an hour round-trip. I am biking to work every day now, because we’re cutting back to just the one beat-up station wagon for transportation. Today I was almost hit by a Hummer. New school year, new shoes, old lunchboxes, and a new household rule that we’re all wrestling with: No internet access except Saturday mornings. One of our children — and I think …

More, More, More, said the parents

Ask Umbra on big families

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Dear Umbra, I have recently become a grandmother. (Eek! Doesn’t seem like it was that long ago that I made the decision to have a child.) Though I had just one child, my daughter is pregnant again. She married a guy with seven sibs, and they want to have three or four, including adopting one. How do I talk them out of it? Having more kids will defeat their work to live lightly on Earth, won’t it? Even adopting — making a kid from Asia or elsewhere [into an] American — doesn’t help much, …

Walking the Chalk

Going back to school? Here’s a green cheat sheet

OliBac via flickrAh, back-to-school season. The rustling of leaves, the squeak of new sneakers, the reassuring sound of chalk on a blackboard. Wait, does anyone still use chalk? And if they do, is it emitting some sort of toxic dust that’s dooming our children to a life of bad health and environmental despair? School, once that bastion of knowledge and wholesomeness, has become a sort of devil’s playground, presenting dilemmas ranging from toxic threats (probably not chalk, but what about radon or asbestos?) to junk-food lunches to diesel buses. We hereby present a few useful links and resources for navigating …

A stunt or not a stunt? That is not the question

Last week, Elizabeth Kolbert, a respected New Yorker journalist who writes admirably about our climate catastrophe and the environment, wrote a scathing attack on my book, No Impact Man. Sadly, casualties on the battlefield of Kolbert’s wrath included not only me, but also the work of James MacKinnon and Alisa Smith (authors of 100 Mile Diet), Henry David Thoreau (author of Walden), and other writers who used their own experiments in alternative lifestyles as narrative vehicles to, hopefully, propel into the popular discourse vital cultural issues that transcend the particularities of their experiments. MacKinnon and Smith wrote about their year …

You're not from around here, are you?

‘Localwashing’ in pictures — bogus marketing at its finest

Local food, local goods, local everything is in, as you’ve no doubt heard. Local is fresher. Local burns less shipping fuel. Local keeps the wealth nearby. Naturally, there’s money to be made off local, so big businesses are muscling into the game. The emerging term is localwashing—a variation on greenwashing wherein businesses claim to be local when actually … you get it. “The ingenuity of the food manufacturers and marketers never ceases to amaze me,” said author Michael Pollan, who’s done more to articulate the need for local in the food realm than maybe anyone else. “They can turn any …

Pane in the Glass

Should I suck it up and buy vinyl windows?

Not my window. But this is how they feel sometimes.TottoBG via flickrOnce upon a time, I was full of unswayable romantic notions about old houses. Then I bought one. I’ll refrain from going into too much detail about the quirks of our house, and of course I’m grateful to have a roof over our heads. But we’ve come up against a particular challenge that I can’t seem to figure my way around. It’s a little thing called window shopping. No, not window shopping like pressing your nose up against the glass (thanks, wordplay-loving co-workers!). Window shopping like, “We have got …

Tsunami of stupid

Rogue 9/11 ad isn’t from WWF — and its science is bogus

A Brazilian advertising agency’s rogue 9/11 ad crashes against WWF’s disapproval. Its message: “The tsunami killed 100 times more people than 9/11. The planet is brutally powerful. Respect it. Preserve it.”Image: DDB Brazil via New York Daily NewsWorld Wildlife Fund (WWF) suffered a PR heart attack this week when bloggers and Twitterers caught scent of an alleged (and now denounced) WWF ad comparing the casualties from the 9/11 terrorist attacks to those of the 2004 Asian tsunami. In case anyone was wondering “too soon?,” the answer is yes. WWF was quick to quash any affiliation with the advertisement, with WWF …

Pop: The Question

Ask Umbra on bubble wrap

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Dear Umbra, I just got married and received a lot of presents in the mail. I recycled/reused all the boxes, but I’m still stuck with a LOT of bubble wrap and sealed air. Is there a place where I can take these rolls of plastic to be recycled? JohnnyWashington, D.C. A. Dearest Johnny, Congratulations and best wishes for a long and happy marriage. You may wish to retain a portion of the bubble wrap for use during periods of marital fragility. I have several ideas on the recycling of said wrap, which boil down …

Think Fast

Your greenest Ramadan

Islam is green by nature, and Ramadan offers a chance to make a big impact.Shawna AyoubAfter my grandfather had a stroke, the doctor said he might not walk again. He also said that getting him to challenge himself — to give walking a true try — was critical to his physical and emotional recovery. My grandfather took his first steps only a week after the near total paralysis of his left side. While he never regained his easy gait, he also never let his slow, strained shuffle hinder him. Mornings, he made ten laps back and forth on the Lebanese …

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