Worms make the best pets. They’re hypoallergenic, require no training and can be left alone for days at a time. They eat garbage, yet never have to go to the vet. Worms are quiet, and they never guilt trip you with their soulful eyes. Plus, worm poop doesn’t stink (it smells forest-fresh and humus-y) and it’s a valuable resource for greening our planet. The world needs more good dirt!
Worm farming, also known as vermicomposting, is the practice of turning food scraps into potting soil via red wrigglers. Technically, red wrigglers are not the same as the mega-earthworms we usually find in Puget Sound gardens — they are smaller, svelte-er, with more gusto for food scraps and are (surprise!) a pretty rosy red. Also known as redworms, they are a really magnificent magenta, I’d say.
Beloved by fishermen, these protein-packed worms are high-powered compost-producing machines — in ideal conditions a red wriggler herd can churn through its weight in food scraps in 24 hours. (Of course, kids will have to perfect their worm-farming expertise to get to that level of production.)
Despite the amazing recycling power of worms, maintaining a home worm farm is an epic slacker pet experience.
Worms live in a dark world on earth time; they don’t need much attention — just food scraps and occasionally some fresh bedding. For optimum worm health, your family should regulate the moisture and temperature of your worm bin — but you can do this by feel or by family science, your choice.
As I've read the latest research on parenting and childhood, I have reflected on how much of who my children become is intertwined with the circumstances they were born into. No matter how naturally bright or wonderful they are, given different circumstances, they could be selling gum to tourists in Tijuana to help support the family, or digging through the garbage of an Indian slum for food. I sometimes wonder how much potential is lost to poverty, to addiction. The following experience, originally published on my personal blog, has had a tremendous impact on how I view childhood's role in who we become.
It was one of those scorching summer days when I could feel the soles of my sneakers turn sticky and soft against the concrete. I guzzled water and let it trickle down the neck of my shirt beneath my Kevlar vest. If I wasn't working I’d probably be wearing something light and breezy, like a cotton dress. Instead, I felt claustrophobic inside my uniform: Black, knee-length shorts and a utility belt that held handcuffs, pepper spray, a police radio and a collapsible baton that was meant to be used as a weapon for self-defense. My bulky white shirt buttoned over my ill-fitting bullet-proof vest made my upper body look huge and emphasized my skinny legs, “like an orange with toothpicks for limbs” is how Nick, one of the other officers, described me.
I often wondered what made those who hired me think I was suited to be a security officer. I was a scrawny, pale, 19-year-old girl, the one who blushed when someone used profanities. After many discouraging weeks looking for a summer job to fill the gap between my college classes, I ended up at Riverfront Park in Spokane, Washington, the sprawling acreage where most of the city’s major events took place. I was expected to work a job where I dealt with a very peculiar group of people; Drunk people, men who ran naked through the playground, women who picked fights and spat at people when they were angry. I was the only female working with seven men who all seemed to be on high-protein diets and aspired to someday become police officers or firefighters.
But I stayed. I worked that summer, then the next, and the next. My confidence grew as I found that I could do the work, and that the hours of bike-riding in the park made all of the other aspects of the job worth it. But I also began to feel jaded. Spokane’s meth epidemic ensured that there was a steady stream of drug addicts in the park boundaries, living under bridges and along the banks of the river like an infestation. My frustration with people who threw their lives away on drugs and bad choices mounted. I developed a smugness that overshadowed the compassion I might have shown. “Those people” made my job difficult.
Then came that sultry day in August — a day when my only reprieve from the heat was to ride my bike down all of the inclines along the river-cooled trails surrounding the park, creating my own breeze. It was the day I found Stephen.
Despite the relentless, muggy heat, the park was crowded with people. I’d taken a break from riding, parked my bike beside the carousel along the water, and began conversing with the other officers working the shift. The music from the carousel echoed across the river, mingling with the staccato of children laughing, and quacks of the ducks as they fought over bread crumbs on the waterfront. That’s when I first saw him, sprawled in the grass. Despite the stifling heat and incessant noise, he lay still, asleep. His forehead was heavy with wrinkles, his skin and hair the same shade of sandy brown except for the big, purplish circles under his eyes. His frame was small and thin and something about his face looked sad, even in his sleep. The sun was beating down on him and I wondered how long it would be before he was sunburned.
Dr. Siegel covered a wide range of topics, from brain anatomy to the nature of what we call "mind," from the definition of mental health to nine different practical applications of the latest brain research to parenting.
It was a wonderful and inspiring presentation, and a bit overwhelming. It felt like a semester long course packed into an hour and a half, so, rather than try to repeat that pace here, I will just pass on a few points that stood out for me. I highly recommend the book for a more in-depth treatment of these topics.
Brain anatomy and the role of the pre-frontal cortex
Dr. Siegel began with a discussion of brain anatomy. The pre-frontal cortex (PFC) is the part of our brain that is responsible for integrating all the others. It gives us the ability to be emotionally balanced and self-aware, responsive instead of reactive, intentional with our bodies, empathic and intuitive. What research demonstrates is that the PFC is strengthened in children who have patterns of secure attachment.
This was interesting to me because it linked how children relate to their caregivers to the actual structure of their brains, not just learned habits of behavior. How we treat our kids socially and emotionally impacts them physically.
Fostering secure attachment with the four “S's"
As parents, Dr. Siegel said that we can foster secure attachment if we remember the following 4 "S"s. Our children need to be:
Seen — this is not just seeing with the eyes. It means perceiving them deeply and empathically — sensing the mind behind their behavior, with what Dr. Siegal calls "mindsight"
Safe — we avoid actions and responses that frighten or hurt them
Soothed — we help them deal with difficult emotions and situations
Secure — we help them develop an internalized sense of well-being
Editor's Note: This post was originally published following the tragic school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut last December. In light of the tragedy unfolding at the Boston Marathon today, we wanted to once again share this essential information with our readers. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by today's events.
Just like adults, kids are exposed to news coverage of violence or hear about it from friends, and they are likely to have fears and questions. Studies show that children can suffer long-term emotional damage from exposure to violence in news coverage.
Dr. Bob Hilt, child and adolescent psychiatrist at Seattle Children’s Hospital, says parents should be prepared to help their children deal with traumatic events, such as natural disasters and acts of violence.
See our tip sheet below and watch this video.
How to help your kids cope with violence
Dr. Hilt suggests parents follow these tips to help their kids process traumatic events:
1. Control what kids are seeing and hearing. Limit the amount and type of news coverage your child is exposed to. If the TV is on, make sure you watch with your kids so you can answer any questions they might have about what they’re seeing. Younger kids don’t have the ability to contextualize traumatic events. A child might personalize an event and worry that it might happen to his family. While teens are better able to emotionally process violence and disasters, they might still have questions. Make sure to check in with your older children as well.
It’s the time of year when we see a fine layer of yellow dust on our cars outside, and a lot of us feel cruddy. Dr. Ashley Jerath Tatum, an allergy specialist at Northwest Asthma and Allergy Center, joined KING 5 in studio to share expert advice on what we can do to avoid springtime allergies and uncomfortable symptoms.
Q: How do parents know if their child is suffering from allergies and/or asthma?
Children with respiratory allergies, or allergic rhinitis, will experience nasal congestion and discharge, eye redness, tearing, and/or itching, as well as sneezing during specific times of the year (for example, in the early spring if allergic to tree pollens) or when exposed to cats or dogs.
Children allergic to dust mites, indoor molds, or pets in the home may experience chronic nasal congestion and throat clearing. Other allergy symptoms include headache and fatigue.
Allergies should be considered in children with a history of recurrent ear or sinus infections, eczema, and/or asthma.
About 1 in 10 children has asthma. Children with asthma will experience recurrent episodes of cough, wheeze (a high-pitched whistling sound when breathing out), chest tightness, and/ or shortness of breath. Symptoms can worsen at night, awakening the child.
In young children, a persistent or chronic cough may be the only sign of asthma. Triggers for such symptoms can include pollens, animal dander, dust or dust mites, molds, air pollution, upper respiratory infections and exercise. Symptoms may also occur or worsen upon exposure to cold air, second hand tobacco smoke or wood smoke, strong smells and chemical sprays, perfumes, paints, cleaning solutions and chalk dust.
A child with exercise-induced asthma, or exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, or may complain that his or her chest "hurts" for "feels funny" during or after physical activity. You may also suspect asthma in a child if he or she is more easily fatigued during exercise (slows down or stops playing) compared with his or her peers, seems to run at a different pace than others or than what seemed to be his or her norm in the past, or avoids physical activities and sports altogether.
Q: What's the connection between allergies and asthma?
Allergies are an important trigger for asthma in about 70% of children. Risk factors for asthma in children include respiratory allergies, atopic dermatitis or eczema, food allergy and a parental history of asthma.
The expression of asthma, respiratory allergies, or allergic rhinitis, and other allergic diseases (food allergy, atopic dermatitis or eczema) is the result of a complex interaction between a person's immune system and genetics and environmental exposures.
Infections in early childhood may influence the development of the immune system (the "hygiene hypothesis"). Environmental factors include allergen exposure, viral infections such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), air pollution (in particular, ozone), dietary habits and use of acetaminophen.
Q: How do allergies begin in children?
Respiratory allergies and asthma develop due the effects of environmental factors in a genetically susceptible person. An allergic reaction begins in the immune system. Our immune system protects us from invading organisms that can cause illness.
In a person with allergies, the immune system mistakes an otherwise harmless substance, such as pollen, as an invader. This substance is called an allergen. The immune system overreacts to the allergen by producing Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. These antibodies trigger cells to release histamine and other chemicals causing symptoms of itching, congestion, discharge, cough, etc.
Here’s what I know for sure: No amount of begging, cajoling, or threatening will motivate my kids to behave quite like the bad fortunes of a sibling.
To wit, Efram spent most of Friday afternoon and evening in the doghouse (Sidney who spends her life trying to figure out what we are talking about, also wants to go to the doghouse. She also really wishes she were able to hold her horses). Efram doesn’t spend much time there, but when he does, a certain older brother and younger sister spring into action. Bennett and Frances, who both refuse to do chores they haven’t thought of themselves (really, I don’t need you to spontaneously clean the freezer or rearrange my makeup drawer) set the table for Friday night dinner:
You may not be able to see this clearly, but there are place cards as well as napkins daintily shoved into glasses.
Last week when I asked them to set the table they left the silverware in a pile in the middle of the table, and heaped all the napkins on one of the chairs, only three people got glasses, and a place was not set for yours truly.
But this week, Efram was in trouble, and truly nobody shines like a sibling trying to get a leg up. The two of them were falling all over themselves to be of use to me, like obsequious bell hops:
“Is there anything else we can do to help Mummy? Wow, this dinner smells delicious — did you make it?” No, the chicken soup fairy flew in and shvitzed in the kitchen while I got my nails done and read People.