Living

Umbra on commuting choices

Dear Umbra, I have three choices in how I travel the 15 or so miles between my house and my job: car, light rail, and ferry. Each one, depending on the time and the day, has its advantage in terms of time, convenience, practicality, and enjoyability. If we assume that all the logistical factors are essentially equal, which is the most environmentally virtuous? As a follow-up, what would you consider the tipping point of cost or convenience (twice the time? half the cost?) in making the choice? Freddy Alameda, Calif. Dearest Freddy, Ah, the Bay Area life. Which pleasant mass …

Umbra on resolutions for 2009

Dearest Readers, A Happy New Year to you all. I hope that you look back fondly on 2008, and have big happy plans for 2009. I do. You and I may have similar happy plans, in fact. I plan to feel happy about my federal government. This column has always been written in the shadow of a Bush, where no hope would bother to grow, but today my hope is a tender new sprout. How I anticipate January 20. I have so many fantasies — fantasies about feeling happy to read the news, about a cheerier Daily Grist, about honest …

Umbra on eco-actions for kids

Dear Umbra, In my city, environmental awareness might as well be some late-night, budget infomercial that nobody thinks about except to laugh at. I’m trying to organize a series of interactive presentations in area schools to educate and engage kids in a more progressive approach to greening up our lives and our city. Many of these kids have heard all the normal shticks: don’t run water when you’re brushing your teeth, turn off the light when you leave a room. These mantras are a boring echo to them. Could you give me 10 Things a kid can immediately do in …

Umbra on eco-friendly detergents

Dear Umbra, Like a good guilt-ridden liberal, I’ve switched to supposed earth-friendly dish detergent. And, on the basis of previous Ask Umbra columns, I don’t rinse my dirty dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. Here’s the thing: About 10 percent of items are still dirty when the dishwasher pronounces things clean. So then I rewash these items, either by hand or (perhaps futilely) in the dishwasher. Doesn’t seem terribly eco-friendly. Scott D. South Portland, Maine. Dearest Scott, No one said being an environmentalist would be a tiptoe through the tulips. There are going to be setbacks, struggles, moments when …

The Best of Grist List 2008

Or are you just soapy to see me? Man Junk: “A line of organic shampoos for the discriminating scrotum.” Members only, please. Eat your hat Tried to go whole hog, but still have leftovers? Haberdash over to this site to save your bacon. Because “one always looks neat, in a hat made from meat.” Elephant out of room Hey Ranger, Coming 2 town. Meet 4 drink @ Babar? Got junk n the trunk, IYKWIM. I’ll never forget u. Luv, Elephant. We’ll undertake ‘er Feeling deathly ill? Rest in peace on one of these slightly used sofas. Sure, they were coffins …

Umbra on homegrown meat

Dear Umbra, I try to eat as many vegetarian meals as possible, but I haven’t “gone all the way” yet, mostly because my in-laws (whom my husband and I live with at the moment) raise beef, chickens, and hunt deer; and my husband and I end up with a lot of free, locally produced meat. How does this fit in with eco-friendliness? Would it still behoove (no pun intended) me to continue to push for vegetarianism? I am by no means a meat-lover and it’s fairly easy for me to pass it up, except when it comes to eating and …

Ring in the new with a ‘natural’ bottle of bubbly

Fewer chemicals in our sparkling wines? We’ll drink to that. Nothing says festive quite like the pop of a chilled bottle of bubbly. But while sparkling wine delivers a party in a glass, things are typically less thrilling out in the field. Like most wine, bubbly tends to come from grapes grown in large monocrops — vines as far as the eye can see. And they’re more likely to be swathed in a cloud of pesticide spray than in a farmer’s careful attention. These grim conditions generally hold sway at all price points, from $5 headache bait to the brand-name …

Sweetness in Seattle

Theo Chocolate is the country’s first organic and fair-trade chocolate-maker

Photo: Sarah van Schagen Stroll into Theo Chocolate in Seattle’s artsy Fremont neighborhood, and you’re bound to feel all warm and cozy. From the freshly made confections beckoning from behind the counter to the welcoming brick fireplace and mugs of hot cocoa (a new addition this winter), the storefront offers a respite from the winter chill. But descend the stairwell into the belly of the chocolate factory on one of their daily tours — adjusting your blue hairnet along the way — and you might end up more than a little disappointed. For starters, there are no chocolate waterfalls. There …

Umbra on children’s art supplies

Hey Umbra, I’ve got a niece with a second birthday coming up and I’d like to get her a present that doesn’t involve sitting in front of a computer or TV. So, I thought, how about an art set? What better way to get those creative juices going at an early age than some finger paint and crayons? But crayons must have some crazy toxins in them, and what about finger paint … do I need to be concerned? I’ve heard about veggie paints, but don’t know where one can find them — or how to make them. Ideas please! …