Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Join PEEPs

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. 


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


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

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