An Easy Guide to Learning Second Language Home.

I met my wife Julia while teaching English in Saint Petersburg, Russia. We married and soon learned she was pregnant with our son Jack, and upon my in-law’s request, he was delivered in Sayanagorsk, Siberia – my wife’s home city. Two years later, now living in California, our little guy is halfway through his English alphabet, pointing out and saying words like apple and airplane, egg and juice, and he has a selective appetite; hence, we have boxes of Costco Spanish rice, peanut butter, and blueberries stalked like a Soviet armory in our pantry.

20171209_163023.jpg

Jack, however, is developing his language at a slower pace than other kids. His cousin Declan, with lighting moves of some agile, jungle primate has managed full sentences like here you go, catch! before hurling a whiffle ball at your head. Jack watches in subtle amusement, and we can see in his eyes the desire to communicate well. We’ve been told this is due to processing both Russian and Engish. For us, it was important that he spoke both languages and be able to communicate with his family on both sides of the world. There’s also a richness in the inflection of Slavic languages: it suggests an old and enduring culter. This, in turn, will give him not only a fascinating backstory but two languages to tell it in. Watching him absorb and process and go on to repeat language has intrigued me. Children seem to learn a language much better, much faster, like little computers.

Don’t feel bad, they’re just smarter than us

In the midst of sippy cups, tickle-me-Elmo,  Tayo the friendly bus, and discovering the inherent power in the word no, we’ve begun to interpret his delay in speech as a friendly reminder that an amazing process is occurring in our little boy’s brain due to both languages swiveling his attention from mommy’s voice to daddy’s. The process of learning language is best suited for children. As we age, we lose this characteristic. We also become self-conscious and less proud to open our mouths and make a mistake.

I myself have taken stabs ( too many) at learning Russian, listening, speaking, cramming in the grammar, and even living Russia itself. But for children, absorbing language is a subconscious act. Their little brains are built in the early years for corralling information, much the way we retain rhymes and rhythms without wanting to. According to Be Brain Fit, “children can easily learn additional languages due to their heightened neuroplasticity, the brain’s capacity to form new neural connections and new brain cells throughout life.” If only I was aware of this at age 2!

There are benefits 

If you’re raising your child bilingual or considering it, understand that it benefits them in ways other than remaining close to their cultural background. According to a study, there are social benefits including a strong sense of empathy. This allows children to put themselves in other’s shoes and communicate more effectively. Additionally, learning a language early will allow for an easier experience in the future. The process involves memorization of vocabulary, internalizing grammar, listening for hundreds of hours to dialogues, and constant setbacks.

Knowing the process ahead of time is like traveling a road you once viewed as unfamiliar, but manageable the second go-around, as children will detect reemerging patterns during their subsequent experience. Cognitively, there’s much to gain. “Research on executive functions such as working memory, perception, and attentional and inhibitory control, has suggested that bilinguals can benefit from significant cognitive advantages over monolingual peers in various settings.” Other strengths include, but are not limited to, better discipline, focus, and logical reasoning.

How do we put this into play?

As I mentioned above, my wife speaks Russian in simple, persuasive terms. I speak  English with him, and so far, he responds to both languages. In an article produced by Cornell University Its best to surround a kid with “more than one language through conversations and social groups using different languages; the earlier the better.” When at home, try to speak with your main heritage language if a second language is being learned outside of the house.  “Expose children to multilingual settings and give them plenty of opportunities to play with children who speak the second language.”

The basics of learning language that apply to us apply to children. Begin with vocabulary- cat, dog, mommy, and daddy. Point them out to your child and ask what is this? Avoid giving commands like say orange! Instead, incorporate he/she in conversation. Talk to them instead of at them. Remember, “one parent, one language,” according to Raising Bilingual Kids. Each parent should stick to their own language. This is hardly a problem for me, as my Russian is limited to mere babble.

Keep your child’s miraculous capability in mind when searching for the right method to introduce a second language: they absorb in more information than we can imagine. Much of the tedious work, as it is for us anyway, of learning to speak a second language comes naturally to them, and they develop a sense of pride even upon making mistakes as they learn. Having bilingual skills will not only benefit them cognitively but socially, instilling a sense of pride in a rich cultural heritage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Top 6 Pieces of Survival Gear For The Home.

By Jason Kaefer


pexels-photo-134065


Let’s face it, none of us are REALLY prepared for an emergency. Whether you live here in California with the earthquakes, or in Florida with gale-force winds, we all live in a dream world where nothing bad happens. Well, take a moment to consider what you would do to protect your family in a time of crisis. Do you have the necessary things to last hours, if not days? If you answered no, don’t worry, you’re not alone! I began thinking about these things after experiencing the earthquake simulator at the San Francisco Academy of Sciences, where they bring you back in time to both the 1989 and 1906 earthquake.

First, understand that the threat of disaster isn’t necessarily impending, but you should still consider the possibility. Where do you live? Know the threats in your area ie tornado, floods, earthquakes. Plan for specific events. Also, consider your plan for either escape or shelter in place. Basically, if you shelter in place, you stay in your home and ride out the problem. Escape…. well…… let’s not slide too deep into that scenario!

But there are a few essentials that every family should have in their home, as well as in the car. Consider storing them in a pack in an easy to access place. Those apply to every family in every country.

  1. Water 

One gallon a day per-person is essential for hydration and bathing. Use containers of the size pictured below and store it away from light and any pesticides. Try to avoid plastics that will contaminate the water.

41xcvfIKWGL

2. Food 

In the aftermath of an emergency, power could be out for days. Store non-perishable food up to three-day supply. Consider canned food that your family will eat. Examples of this would include canned fruit, peanut butter, dried cranberries, granola, food for infants, and high energy foods. Remeber to keep an eye on the shape of the can; swollen or dented cans should be discarded. Also, remember to keep a trusty can opener in the house.

3. Medication 

It’s the last thing you would think of! But if you’re sheltering in place for days, you should have an extra supply of prescription medication.  There is no telling when you’ll  visit a pharmacy again. Have at least 1-2 extra bottles stored in your home.

Pills

4. Flashlights 

Keep at least four flashlights in the house. Our home is 2-bedroom 2-bath with an office. I like to keep a flashlight in each room, as I might be in one of the rooms during an outage. Its also good to have a flashlight handy for simple outages. And to be on the safe side, know where your breaker box is.  It may seem tempting to light candles during an outage, but trust me, you’re better off using artificial light from a flashlight. Candles up the risk of fire, and for us, our little 2-year-old Jack adds to that risk, being that he hasn’t entirely learned the dangers of fire.

5. A first aid kit 

Keep a first aid kit in an accessible part of the house. This may seem like common sense, but a lot of families don’t have them, and those who do likely don’t know what it consists of. You should have a kit stocked with bandages for scrapes and cuts, antiseptic spray or lotion, 1 adhesive cloth tape (10 yards x 1 inch), 1 instant cold compress, Scissors, 5 sterile gauze pads (3 x 3 inches), and Tylenol. This is just to name a few items. Visit your local fire police station for more information on emergency preparedness.

6. Dust Masks 

One over-looked piece of survival gear is the dust mask. Damage from your home or building could stir up clouds of unknown particles. Visit a Home Depot or hardware store near you and pick up a box of these things, their cheap and come in large quantities. These are good to have for reasons other than emergencies.

 

As I’ve said, the last thing we want to imagine is the thought of a catastrophe at our home, but once you’ve acquired the above listed, you’ll feel more comfortable knowing you have a plan in place. Also, you can use these items in your car.

 

 

 

Discover 3 ways to Achieve Family Balance For Better Homelife.

By Jason Kaefer


family-pier-man-woman-39691.jpeg


Part of being a parent is finding quality time together as a family and simultaneously making a marriage work. In other words, how do you find the balance? My wife and I have our little boy of two years, and he requires most of our energy being that my wife is a stay at home mom and he hasn’t begun preschool yet. We couldn’t be happier with what we have, but it’s difficult finding the balance for ourselves. There are steps I’ve noticed that benefit our family. Consider the following:

1. Do things together

The ocean is nearby for us. For my wife especially, collecting shells on the beach is therapeutic. We bring our little guy so he can play in the tide pools ( the safe, shallow part). Both my wife and I both have reported feeling less tension after spending time in the sand. Even our little guy appears happier on these days. If you’re not located near the beach, consider an activity you all would enjoy. Try getting outside. Hiking is a great way to get exercise and generate happiness. The time will reinforce confidence in your kids that you are there as a support, together.

Additionally, having dinner together strengthens family relationships. Try to set at least 3-4 nights per week for dinner together.

2.  Date Nights

Set time aside, whether it’s once a month or once a week, and spend time together on a date without the kid(s). The time together will serve as a subtle reminder that you’re both in it together and allows you both to appreciate one another’s effort. Keep it light. Somewhere local and quiet that allows you both to talk freely and just relax.

3. Glass of wine and a movie 

When the kid(s) are asleep, make it a point to spend time together watching a movie or just simply talking. By doing this, you will not only go to bed with a positive, fresh start for the following day, but it helps to summarize your thoughts and feelings for the week. My wife and I are movie fanatics, so we’ll discuss the details of a film with a glass of wine. But as I’ve said, find a balance that is right for you. 

The balance of work, marriage, and family is a complicated one that takes a while to find. The above suggestions work for us but don’t have to apply to everyone. Find your own balance in a similar routine!

Avoid Becoming Stressed And Apply These Methods To Your Life.


pexels-photo-313690.jpeg


Nothing prepared me for the stress of being a Case Manager in the mental health field. In my twenties, a long night out would alleviate much of my discomfort from work. Even then, I was working as a Paramedic on an Ambulance, and this produced an enormous level of stress. But it was my relatively young age that allowed me this ability to decompress. As time went on, I began noticing that my mind had grown fragile, as though it would slip into a tremble when external stressors effected it, and my physical health also lacked resiliency.

The job of Case Manager involves a lot of administrative time, appeasing the gods of Medi-Cal through paperwork, justifying our services. This job depended on superior organizational skills and time management, as our success at the end of the month relied on our productivity. My stress levels went through the roof after six months! To add to this, I’ve never been good with caffeine, not knowing when is enough until it is too late and my heart beats on like a drum. In this state, problems with obvious solutions become magnified due to anxiety. I even remember once, sitting at my desk trying to begin my paperwork and feeling so stressed out that I couldn’t raise my hand up to the keyboard.

So whats wrong with a little stress on our life?

Well, nothing; When it’s minimal and enough to motivate you, I suppose. But similar to my physical symptoms, stress can, and often will effect your mind and your body in the sense that it forces your body to react. Your Cardiovascular, Nervous, and immune system are all activated in the moments of high-level stress. This will cause an acute rise in blood pressure, heart rate, and cause long-term disorders like arrhythmias, sleep disorder, chronic headaches and backaches, and anxiety. Sounds fun right?

I decided this didn’t have to be my life. 

I found ways to deal with the symptoms I had been experiencing, and much of it is common sense. For example, taking breaks during the day (aside from your lunch break). Not working is, frankly, un-American. We value relentless work effort and positive results. Our greatest leaders, CEOs, Entrepreneurs, etc have always had exceptional work habits. Steve Jobs, for example, woke up at 6am, worked for 3 hours at home, and then headed to work. He also had a list odd habits he would later change that I won’t touch on.  But these ARE characteristics of people we revere as successful. Others include Margret Thatcher who was rumored to only sleep four hours a night. President Trump also, four-five hours per night.

We lend credibility to these habits and cobble them with personal work ethic. But as a society, we don’t value the ability to regulate stress. How would you feel running on four hours of sleep five days a week? Would you be at your optimal level of focus, active listening, and personal happiness? Maybe you fall into that category of person who can do it. But if you’re like me, you’d be having a nervous break down at this point. It’s wise, I think, to dismiss these extreme habits as relative to the person and not a guide for anyone desiring success in life.

Which brings me back to alleviating stress. In his book, Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn Ph.D. points out that “human beings are actually remarkably resilient to stress. One way or another we manage to persevere, to survive, and to have our moments of pleasure.” I think this is most notable for me and has worked to change the pattern of stress in my life; to have moments of pleasure.

TAKE BREAKS!

As I mentioned above, we value relentless work effort but neglect one’s ability to take care of him/herself. Imagine being in the gym. For anyone who is active, you would understand that your body needs ample time to recover from the stress you’ve placed on it. Whether it be squats, deadlifts, or running, you need to give your body time to heal itself. This was proven thousands of years ago that athletes require a period of rest for optimal performance.

Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz point out in their book The Power of Full Engagement, “Energy is simply the capacity to do work. Our most fundamental need as human beings is to spend and recover energy.” Whether you’re in the office or out handling manual labor, remember to give yourself a moment or two for a stretch, a glass of water etc. my goal during the day is to stand from my chair and walk down the hall for 5-10 minutes followed by two glasses of water. Another good recommendation would be to bring a canteen of water, typically a half-gallon to be kept by your desk. The reason for this (the breaks I mean) is to conserve energy.

Deep Breathing 

I’ve mentioned in other posts that mindfulness can keep you focused. Using the same techniques of deep breathing can reduce stress as well. Take ten minutes, find a quiet space, even if it’s at work, sit comfortably, and begin by breathing in deeply through your nose, noticing your belly and chest rising. Exhale through your nose and follow your belly and chest as they fall. I perform these exercises at home, so its more comfortable for me to lie on my back. Although, I can understand that you wouldn’t want to scare a colleague at work!! So sitting is perfectly fine. This technique has been proven to reduce stress, and there are several videos available on the internet for guided breathing. Give it a shot!

Hit the Gym!

Seriously! Get off the couch! People have a tendency of doing what is comfortable. The last thing anyone wants is to move faster and harder for an hour in a gym after work. But its been shown that regular exercise can decrease levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. Even five minutes of aerobic exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety effects.

 

 

 

How to Stay Centered, How to stay focused.

By Jason Kaefer


pexels-photo-267967.jpeg


A friend once mentioned that I seemed unable to focus. Much of this was made worse by caffeine during the day, lack of sleep, and worrying about things out of my control. I also read provoking material that cranked me up late at night and kept me awake. Simple tasks like interacting with others seemed impossible when my mind was being pulled everywhere at once. My friend mentioned that meditation could allow me to center myself and increase happiness and focus. Like many people, I dismissed the claim and assumed it was too good to be true. The idea seemed too Hollywoodized and overused when referencing some far eastern thing about energy and flow.

I was wrong.

The benefits of meditation are immense. Trust me! But like many people, I was faced with the difficulty of learning the technique and of course, staying with it. Meditation is a learned skill and requires discipline. In the beginning, the concept remained abstract and I didn’t understand much of what I was doing. I even experienced anxiety during my first session in a Tibetan monastery in San Jose, CA.  But as I stuck with it over time, I began to notice an increase in focus and the ability to remain in the moment when my mind wanted to scatter in a thousand directions.

Does it actually do anything? 

Yes. The mind is an exhausting thing to comprehend. When dealing with physical exercise, it’s far more understandable that you would break down a muscle and allow it to build back up. You then give yourself time to recover, then have at it again. This would also involve measurable goals, and with this comes quicker satisfaction, as you would see yourself making progress in a mirror. Although, with the perfection of our physical selves should come to the strengthening of our minds. Meditation scientifically works. Numerous studies have shown that people who have used meditation for years have literally preserved their brain as shown in higher levels of gray matter. Other benefits of this method include;

*Lower heart rate

*Reduces Anxiety

*Happier state of mind

*Less stress

It gets you outside your own head!

The best way to explain the effect I experience is that it allows me to step outside my own head and remain in the moment and stay focused, even when a song comes on the radio or a flashy car whizzes by. Our mind produces thousands of thoughts a day and the vast majority of those words are negative, the mind doesn’t always make perfect sense. This could also be called the inner critic, much of it is subconscious. The key is to turn off the voice altogether. So how do you do it?

Give yourself 10 to 20 minutes a day to practice. I would recommend first thing in the morning, as its quieter and you won’t be interrupted. It also sets the tone for the rest of your day. Sit in a comfortable position, either in a chair with feet flat on the floor, arms in your lap, or sit on the floor with your legs crossed and your arms resting on your knees. The key is to be as comfortable as possible. Avoid laying on your bed; I’ve fallen asleep doing this. Close your eyes and breath deeply in and out. Count your breaths as you inhale, 1-2-3-4, and then repeat. Here’s where it gets tricky, your mind is going to wander. Thoughts will pop back into your head and distract you. When this happens, pull your attention back to your breathing, count 1-2-3-4 and repeat. As you do this, you strengthen your ability to focus, which subsequently allows you to push away distracting thoughts during the day.

Other methods of mindfulness 

Find a method that works for you. With your eyes closed, try bringing your attention to the sensation of your feet on the ground. Notice your the way you are sitting, do you feel any discomfort on your back? How about your legs? Where are you feeling the tension, if any? Examine all sensation, and once you’ve reached your neck, noticing tension, calmness etc. bring your attention back to your breathing and count again 1-2-3-4.

As you focus on your breathing, allow your attention to shine on the thoughts that come into your mind, but don’t analyze them, don’t think about them, or question them. Simply observe them as thoughts and nothing else, like a conveyer-belt of thoughts. When negative thoughts roll by, grab them and throw it in the trash can. This method of meditation increases self-awareness. Being aware of your thoughts helps you to control emotion. For example, you arrive home after a long day and you’re tired. Your spouse is angry with you for being late and forgetting to text before you arrived. If you’re like me, you would feel defensive and unappreciated.

Your immediate reaction would be to fire back and scream how you feel, likely destroying the next 48 hours of your relationship. Being aware of your thoughts and emotions helps you to regulate yourself (keep yourself in check) because you’re calm now and know how to handle yourself when being accused. You slow yourself down and ask, “has her day been as bad as mine?” As you look around the room you notice how clean it is, and on the stove boils a crock-pot of chili. “Maybe he/she had a hard day with the kid?” The point is, this method will help you remain aware of yourself in moments when most people would snap.

Try these techniques and see what works for you! meditation is something I’ve learned to do over years and couldn’t live without!

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Morning Routine

pexels-photo-545012.jpeg


What if I told you that waking up in the morning could be something to look forward to and less like a chore? On a good day, I used to throw off the blankets, roll un-gracefully to a sitting position, lumber my body to the shower, turn on the heater,  and let the water wake me up. This would be followed by a mug of coffee, a carb-loaded breakfast, and out the door to a heavy commute. Trust me, the above mentioned is how many Americans spend their morning lives, and this goes on for many years, adding stress from work, relationship problems, and possible substance use to take off the edge. I’ve found a successful day starts the SECOND you open your eyes. Stick to a healthy regime aimed at reducing sluggishness, and you will increase happiness and energy. It all starts with healthy sleep;

1. Sleep

7-8 hours of sleep is essential for a healthy start the next morning. It’s also beneficial for a healthy long-term life. All too often, we are pulled backward by work and family, and we skip that extra 2 hours of sleep. Some people, celebrities, and politicians alike have made a living sleeping 3-4 hours a night. However, the is the exception, not the rule. There are multiple benefits to a 7-8 hour sleep. You’ve probably heard that sleep repairs your immune system; this is true. People who have deprived themselves of sleep often experience changes in judgment and inability to recall recent information. You also make yourself more prone to sickness due to the sudden dip in your immune system. Lack of sleep can also be attributed to fatigue, mental break down, and mood swings. Try to avoid alcohol and caffeine at least 4-5 hours before sleep as these interrupt your circadian rhythm and change the production of chemicals in your brain. 

2. Water 

Consider that you go 7-8 hours without fluid. This is the state your body wakes up in. The best idea and the first task of the morning are to consume fluid to replenish what you’ve lost. Be sure to hydrate your body when you wake up; not after a cup of coffee and a shower, but immediately after you stand from your bed. Drink at least three glasses of water. By doing this you may hydrate your body and flush out toxins. A rule for anyone active in the gym, especially runners, your urine should be a pale yellow (not clear) for optimal hydration. Hydrating in the morning will also help energize you as well as kickstart your metabolism and promote strong immunity. 

3. Blood Flow

Once you’ve gotten 2-3 glasses of water in you, move on to a light exercise. This will depend on the person. If you’re a stronger individual, try push-ups 10-15 reps followed by deep stretching and breathing. I prefer cardio as it tends to energize better than resistance training. Stretching is also a great way to start the day. Spinal decompression can be accomplished with a simple stretch that involves placing your body on all fours, bringing your chest to the ground and your arms stretched forward. You might feel a pop or two in your back. This will help to alleviate any pain you may have acquired during sleep and allow you to sit, stand, and move more fluidly during the day. 

4. Cold shower

Taking a cold shower has been proven to reduce stress and improve your well being. It also has shown to aid your body’s recovery after an intense workout by increasing blood flow throughout. The energizing effect of a cold shower is what I personally enjoy most because you get a similar effect as a cup of coffee. And this energy lasts for several hours, plenty of time to get through a slow morning. Although beneficial, this isn’t easy to do and requires you to step outside your comfort zone.  But after a while, you will develop a tolerance to this icy displeasure, and the energizing effect will be instantaneous.