Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Join PEEPs

video
Welcome to PEEPs-Protect, Engage and Empower to Preserve the Future!

My mission is to engage and empower our youth through PEEPs.

My vision is to generate a force of people who are committed to building learning communities and unite that power when needed to make a difference and divide that power when needs be into smaller branches that is customizable to reach and meet the needs of communities, neighborhoods, families and individuals, with a focus on local economic business development, environmental needs, and local and global community awareness.


PEEPs is a grassroots effort whose purpose is to "Build Learning Communities." This is based on an idea of Alan November, a well-known education consultant who focuses on empowering students with technology and critical thinking skills so they can contribute to the world. He also emphasizes the importance of community involvement in the educational goals of the students. Here is a link to Alan November's TED speech explaining some of his ideas.

My non-profit organization will provide enriching activities that promote problem solving, critical thinking and community service. We need to unite the local businesses, churches, government, neighborhoods and families together to ensure we are providing the activities necessary for our youth to be successful citizens of their communities and prepare them with the needed skills for success in a global environment.

I am Michele Watkins. I am a 5th grade teacher at Cub Run Elementary in Centreville, VA which is in the Fairfax County Public Schools District. I believe my students and the teachers I work with deserve better than what they are getting and I am working with all my heart and soul to be an instrument for change. The changes here in Fairfax County over the last five years are indicative of changes in education across the United States. I hear over and over, "No one is listening to me." I hear that from teachers, parents, principals, curriculum developers, technology specialists and even unions. Many of us are talking till we are blue in the face and nothing is changing. 

These broken systems are wearing us out. These systems are eating individuals alive. We all know teachers who are having mental breakdowns, are getting medicated for depression, whose marriages and families are suffering, who are being singled out and bullied by administrators and who are ready to give up on teaching. 

THIS IS NO LONGER ACCEPTABLE! 

We must come together to contend with this power that is sucking the life, strength, vitality and creativity that made America strong, out of us and our children.   If you are ready to join me and my PEEPs in building learning communities, click here now to join. 

I'd love for this to be free, but the reality is, causes take money. I'm asking for an optional $30 annual donation when you join PEEPs. Our youth deserve, and in fact, we all deserve the benefits of a nurturing environment that a strong learning community provides. Don't wait. Join now and be a part of the solution.

Friday, July 19, 2013

BLACKBERRY ALERT!

OK women, it is killing me to see all these great blackberries around us going to waste. Did you know we have tons of wild blackberries around us? Last year I picked blackberries and made homemade jam. All year long, I felt strength from those berries. I know this sounds corny, but each time I ate the blackberry jam, I felt a strong connection with the strength of the earth and the good soil of our Cub Run Creek and Sully Station area. We are blessed to live in such a beautiful and well-preserved nature area. Have you been out on the trails between Virginia Run and Sully Station, Cub Run Creek trails and the Walney Park trails? They are all amazing. We are so fortunate! Our soil and water and earth here are incredible and we can bring that strength into the bodies of our children and we aren’t doing it. The blackberries are withering up and dying! It is killing me.




I am going to meet at the dog park off Old Lee Rd on the way to Westfield HS on Sat morning at 7:30 am to pick blackberries and I’d love you have as many people there to join me as possible. Feel free to bring your children if you’d like to, but know that these blackberries are not an easy picking. There are serious thorns and we need to have a well developed plan for how to approach this systematically to get to all the blackberries in the middle. Does anyone have any experience with this? I’ve just been picking and eating the ones on the outside of the brier patch. I don’t know how to get to the middle ones.
Thorns are an issue so wear good shoes or even boots, tuck your long pants into your shoes and wear a long sleeve shirt (White is best so it is easier to spot ticks on you.) Have your hair pulled back and in a hat or ponytail. Ticks are a concern so I will be bringing some natural tick repellent that I made from eucalyptus and tea tree essential oils. I’d bring gardening gloves and last time I was out I brought the security stick that I put in my sliding glass door and that was helpful to move around the branches with the thorns on them. You’ll also want bucket or basket, something with a handle to put your berries in.


I have some Certo pectin for jam and some plastic freezer jars to pass out till I run out.  I’ll print out the recipe and even give a demonstration of how to make the simple jam for you and your family if you are interested. Tell all your friends. We need the benefits of these berries in the bodies of our families.

Thanks to Heather Wier who just told me that blackberries are known for lowering blood sugar and have the highest anti-oxidants of all fruits. They are great in cobblers and pies and are delicious plain or with come cream too.  I hope to see you on Sat.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Science Can Bring Change-Natural Tick Repellent

HELP PROVIDE EVIDENCE TO YOUR CHILD THAT SCIENCE CAN BRING ABOUT CHANGES
Will you and your family help?

Last Friday no one attended the Blueberries for Sal/Blackberries for All Class. I know in some cases people were traveling, but in many cases the issue was ticks. I understand ticks are a major concern for this area and Lyme's Disease is a very serious disease that can come from ticks. I am concerned that if we don't take action that fewer and fewer people will be spending time outdoors, and that worries me for our future.

A week ago I picked blackberries for 45 minutes and had 3 ticks in my hair (the type that do not carry Lyme disease). I spotted them quickly since I was looking for them and I killed them immediately.  Last Friday my son and I conducted a science experiment. He wore eucalyptus oil and body spray and I wore tea tree oil and body spray. (I made the oil by mixing the essential oils with castor oil and the body spray by mixing the essential oils with water.) Both of these are natural repellents to ticks. We picked blackberries for 60 minutes and had no ticks in that time.  

I'm asking for your help to continue this experiment. I have set a box on my back patio with the eucalyptus and tea tree oils and body sprays.  My address is 13914 Deviar Dr and is right across from Cub Run. Will you please apply the oil to your face and the spray to your hair and go with your family to the dog park on the way to Westfield High School. The blackberry picking will be perfect starting today, Friday, with tons of berries there for at least a week. I'll then ask you to fill out a survey to show your results.  My hypothesis is that if you are wearing the natural repellents, you will not get ticks on you. This experiment could help increase the confidence of others in our neighborhoods to get outside more. Science provides important evidence that can bring change. 

If anyone with the natural repellents does get a tick, how does it compare with my original experience of 3 ticks in 45 minutes. None of the ticks on me were the type that carry Lyme disease. If any brave soul wants to try the experiment without wearing any natural repellent and include that in our data, that would be great! (probably try to stay away from those with the oil and spray to make it more accurate) Here is a site by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called I've been bitten by a tick, do I have Lyme's disease? A tick that has Lyme disease must be attached for at least 24 hours to pass on Lyme's disease, so if you do a thorough check for ticks, the risk of getting Lyme disease is greatly reduced.

If we can provide data to others in our neighborhood proving that wearing a natural tick repellent does make a significant impact in decreasing tick problems, maybe more people would be willing to go and pick blackberries and spend more times outside in our beautiful Sully Station outdoor areas. 

What's in it for you? Fresh wild blackberries! I also left a package of liquid pectin and some plastic freezer jam containers in the box at my house that you can take to make the simple homemade blackberry jam. This recipe takes less than an hour to make at least 6 cups of homemade blackberry jam. Grace and Mrs. Smith made it with me last week and they were shocked how easy it was. They had never made homemade jam before. 

Since I am on vacation in Florida right now you can stop by my house anytime. The plastic bin is on my back porch and you can use the oils and sprays and pick up your pectin and jam containers.

I'm including a couple of other sites that might be helpful. Remember, when picking blackberries, you want to wear long pants and a white or light colored long sleeve shirt makes it easier to spots ticks if they are on you. Blackberries have thorns, so go slow and be careful. Be sure to enjoy eating them as you pick. You want to pick only the ones that are completely black. They should almost fall off when you touch them. If they are still a little red, they are a little too tart. I tried to blaze some paths for you when I was there last Friday.

Here is a site with general information about picking blackberries 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

PEEPs: An introduction to the non-profit educationally focused grassroots organization called PEEPs-Protect, Engage and Empower to Preserve the Future.

Well, for the last three weeks or so I have been waking up in the middle of the night and writing down ideas that I have for a non-profit organization. The ideas are now firm enough to officially start the non-profit organization called PEEPs. Let me be the first to welcome you to PEEPs or Protect, Engage, and Empower to Preserve the Future.

PEEPs is a grassroots effort whose purpose is to "Build a Learning Community." This is based on an idea of Alan November, a well-known education consultant who focuses on empowering students with technology and critical thinking skills so they can contribute to the world. He also emphasizes the importance of community involvement in the educational goals of the students. Here is a link to Alan November's TED speech explaining some of his ideas.

My non-profit organization will provide enriching activities that promote problem solving, critical thinking and community service. We need to unite the local businesses, churches, government, neighborhoods and families together to ensure we are providing the activities necessary for our youth to be successful citizens of their communities and prepare them with the needed skills for success in a global environment.

Here are links to some videos that give information on PEEPs:
2. Blueberries for Sal/Blackberries for All Workshop-A local environmental project based on a classic picture book favorite of mine called Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey

Phase 1 of the PEEPs program is to provide and encourage enrichment activities in the areas of arts, fitness, world awareness, problem solving, financial prowess, environment and technology. My initial focus will be to reach out to rising 4th, 5th and 6th graders, especially those students who attend Cub Run ES, Deer Park ES and London Towne ES but students at other close schools like Virginia Run are welcome too. As a grassroots organization, PEEPs is dependent on each of you to spread this information to others in our community. I’m asking you to take a moment of time and think about others you know who may be interested and share this link with others who you think might be interested, especially 4-6 graders in the Sully Station Area.(http://life-literacy-happiness.blogspot.com/2013/06/peeps-introduction-to-non-profit.html)

The cost of becoming a member of Sully Station PEEPs is $30 per person. For that $30, student PEEPs will receive a secure "Google Apps for Educators" Account, which includes a secure email.  This email has a contact book which includes emails of every PEEPs member, but is completely closed to people outside of PEEPs. Along with email, they will have resources to create websites, blogs, wikis, forms, surveys, spreadsheets and many other great tools. PEEPs will be offering classes on how to do this later this summer.

Student PEEPs will also receive a secure, monitored educational account to a site called Glogster, which is highly recommended by educators. It is an easy and creative way to make interactive online posters.  These glogs are great for helping students have a voice and share their ideas in a fun and meaningful way. Here is a link to show briefly how glogster works.

PEEPs members will also receive an invitation to join two free sites that I use on a daily basis to help increase my productivity. The sites are Diigo and Dropbox. Diigo is a cloud based bookmarking and tagging system and Dropbox is a simple way to connect your personal computer to the cloud.  This means that you can access any file from any computer eliminating the need for emailing and saving files on memory sticks. 

PEEPs members will also receive access to our newsletters and websites as well as access to workshops and classes we are offering.

As an incentive to act quickly, I have been given 30 copies of A Field Guide To Fairfax County's Plants and Wildlife. I will give one copy to the first 20 families who apply for PEEPs membership and who don't already have a copy. It is a beautiful field guide with plants and animals that are found here locally. It was published this year by the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services Stormwater Planning Division. Enough copies were printed to provide one for every 5th grader in Fairfax County Public Schools, but there are very few copies still available. Thank you to Takisha Cannon of the Stormwater Planning Division of the Fairfax County Government for donating these copies to PEEPs. We are keeping 10 copies to use for our workshops and PEEPs members will be able to download an electronic copy of this guide. Here is a link showing some sample pages of the field guide and a file you can download so you can see what a great resource this is.

Stay tuned for more information on how to sign-up online for PEEPs membership and how to sign-up for the Blueberries for Sal/Blackberries for All Class and the Habits for Life Class. If you'd like to put your name in line for the field guide before then please email me at michelemwatkins@gmail.com.

Thanks so much for your willingness to take active steps in Building our Sully Station Learning Community.





Sunday, March 31, 2013

Dayenu!


Todd went to school in Jerusalem and was there for the Easter/Passover season. While there, he attended a Passover Seder hosted by a Jewish Rabbi. While we have been married it has become our family tradition to have a family Passover Seder each year. We love how it teaches our children about other's cultures and traditions. It has always been important to us to help our children understand and appreciate differences in others.

I find it amazing to think that we are participating in an event that has been celebrated for over 3000 years! What a stabilizing tradition in a very destabilizing society we live in today. During a Passover Seder there is an account and symbols to help remember Moses leading the Israelites out of the bondage of Pharoah.  There are four cups of wine drank during the Passover Seder. These cups of wine symbolize the four redemptions promised by God to the Israelites in Exodus. First, "I will bring you out of Egypt",  second, "I will deliver you from bondage" (recounting miracles such as the parting of the Red Sea),  third, "I will redeem you", and fourth, "I will take you to me for a people."

There are several interesting Mormon ties into the Passover Feast.  As part of a Passover Feast, there is a place setting made for Elijah to prophet. It has been prophesied that Elijah will return during Passover. Also as part of the ceremony, someone goes and opens the door to invite Elijah to enter and take his place at the Passover Seder.

In D&C 110, Joseph Smith records visions manifested to him and Oliver Cowdery in the temple at Kirkland, Ohio on April 3, 1836.  First the Lord Jehovah appears in glory and accepts the Kirkland temple as his house. Next Moses and Elias each appear and commit their keys and dispensations. As a side note, there is an interesting question proposed at Feast Upon the Word about this idea. The question for vs 11 is: Moses. Why did Moses have the keys for the gathering of Israel? What does that gathering have to do with his role as the prophet who led the children of Israel from bondage in Egypt, but not into the Promised Land? Continuing with D&C 110, finally Elijah returns and commits the keys of his dispensation as promised in Malachi.  What is coolest of all is that these visions occur during Passover of that year.  Elijah did return during Passover, quietly, and the Jews are not aware that their prophesy was fulfilled. That holy and symbolic ceremony that has been performed in its "orderly" manner for over 3000 years, set the precedence for its modern day fulfillment with both Moses and Elijah returning to provide the keys for the modern day gathering and sealing of God's people to him.

A funny thing happened during our Passover Seder this year. There are traditional songs that we sing each year during our Passover Seder. One is "Who Knows One". It is a song kind of like the "12 Days of Christmas" that replays important Jewish with each number ie 1 is God Our Father, in Heaven and in Earth, 2 Tablets of the Law, 3 are the Patriarchs, 4 Mothers of Israel,  5 Books of the Torah, and so on. The other song we sing is DayenuThe word "Dayenu" means approximately, "it would have been enough for us", The song is about being grateful to God for all of the gifts he gave the Jewish people, such as taking them out of slavery, giving them the Torah and Shabbat, and had God only given one of the gifts, it would have still been enough. This is to show much greater appreciation for all of them as a whole. (from Wikipedia, Dayenu) After singing the traditional parts of the song, it is the tradition for each person to add a verse of their own gratitudes, each getting more and more specific, to the pinnacle items. Just like the traditional song ends with the ultimate thing they are grateful for, being the temple. 

In our family Todd happened to go first this year and he added:
"If God had built the Temple for us, and not given us a nice home to live in, "Dayenu" (we all say). " If he had given us a nice home to live in, and not given us good jobs as a means to provide all for our good life, "Dayenu" (we all say, and then go into the chorus of Day-Day-enu, Day-Day-enu, Day-Day-enu, Dayenay, Dayaenu!)

Jonah went next:
"If God had given us good jobs as a means to provide all for our good life, and not given us our families "Dayenu" (we all say). " If he had given us our families, and not given us our friends to enjoy life with, "Dayenu" (we all say, and then go into the chorus of Day-Day-enu, Day-Day-enu, Day-Day-enu, Dayenay, Dayaenu!)

Nick went next with:
"If God had given us our friends to enjoy life with, and not given us good food, "Dayenu" (we all say). " If he had given us good food, and not given us water, "Dayenu" (we all say, and then go into the chorus of Day-Day-enu, Day-Day-enu, Day-Day-enu, Dayenay, Dayaenu!)

Lastly, I went to close out the ultimate of ultimates with:
"If God had given us water, and not given us our good health, "Dayenu" (we all say). " If he had given us good health, and not given us books!   At this point there was a pause and sputtering,  mumble, mumble "Books?"  The boys can't bring themselves to say books here, so I quickly try to improvise this spontaneous response of mine to make it more appealing and add, "and the internet, people sharing ideas, that's what I mean." 

Todd replies, "Your too late... You said books!" and starts up with, "Dayenu" (which we all say, and then go into the final chorus of Day-Day-enu, Day-Day-enu, Day-Day-enu, Dayenay, Dayaenu!)

And thus ends our Passover Seder for this year, and thus the title and real purpose of this post.

I am so grateful for books, the internet, and the ways that people can connect and share ideas online.  It has been spring break this week so I have had time to read a few books and catch up on some blogs that I follow and click on some links I normally would not have the time to do. I have been brought to tears four times this week.

First, I finished reading the book, "The Dirty Life On Farming, Food and Love" by Kristin Kimball. On page 257, the part, "Watching that guy's collard flutter into his basket was the moment I got married, in my heart. There is no such thing as escape after all, only an exchange of one set of difficulties for another. It wasn't Mark or the farm or marriage I was trying to shake loose from, but my own imperfect self, and even if I kept moving, she would dog me all the way around the world, forever." I bawled! This was a message to me!

Second, I read the book, "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.  On page 131, in a letter from Eli (a 12 year old boy) to Juliet, "Is there an animal you'd like to have? I want to carve a present for you, but I'd like it to be something you'd favor. Would you like a mouse? I am good with mice."  I bawled!  This showed in simple elegance the incredible and simple strength of human beings reaching out to connect and bond with another human they deeply care about.  Like a cat, offering their loved owner a caught mouse. (You probably have to read this book to get this quote fully, or maybe it is just me.)

Third, I clicked and watched the link to the TED speech, "Amanda Palmer: The art of asking" (starting about 11 min and 30 seconds).  "My music career has been spent trying to encounter people the way I could on the box. Blogging and tweeting, not just about my tour dates and my new video, but about our work, our art, our fears, our hangovers, our mistakes...and we see each other. And I think when we really see each other, we really want to help each other."  I bawled!

This is why I choose to bring up books in the Dayenu Song! The power to connect and see each other. As I spend two hours on my final free day of spring break, writing and sharing these experiences of mine. I have looked to the side of my screen and am mocked when I see that I have 0 followers to my blog right now. Why am I doing this? Will anyone read this!?! I don't know. 

The power of human beings intrigues me. I love "Les Miserables". Over and over it brings out the tremendous inner resilience in humans for goodness and the ability to endure, reach out, connect and survive, to find a way to have hope when none seems possible. 

I'll close with my last bawling experience of the week, from the acknowledgment section of Mary Ann Shaffer in "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society", pg 304. "I hope, too, that my book will illuminate my belief that love of art--be it poetry, storytelling, painting, sculpture, or music--enables people to transcend any barrier man has yet devised."

Dayenu!