Contributed by Christine St. Pierre

Conflict is woven through the fabrics of our lives, and as I’ve laid my head to rest in recent nights, thoughts swarm like mad hornets: What has the world come to? Is there no end in sight? What of the progress we had made as a human race? Was there ever progress?

Global news reflects back to us stories of our own undoing, like a mirror above the bathroom sink, revealing blemishes we wish to conceal—blemishes we wish were never there at all. Many of us have the privilege of hiding those blemishes as if they never existed, until the end of day, as we wash ourselves clean for a peaceful night’s sleep, and there they are: Syrian refugees, Putin cold war fears, struggling immigrants on U.S. soil, white-supremacist GOP trollers, Black Lives Matter opposition, ISIS terror, and the list goes on.

History repeats itself as we see heartbreaking images of young Syrian children sleeping on the streets or seeking refuge with their families, cold, wet, and with fear in their eyes and their hearts. As we, as a nation, struggled to realize and welcome Jewish refugees into our borders in the 1930s, we, again, have failed as members of the human race to once again set aside pointless political mechanisms for the sake of homeless and helpless men, women, and children, running for their lives.

Invisible borders dissolve to receive refugees in countries like Turkey and France—despite recent attacks by ISIS extremists who have been recently categorized together with all Muslims and all Syrian refugees by ill-informed refugee rejecters—while other borders, like our own in the United States, strengthen and materialize in order to keep refugees out. According to GOP candidate hopeful Mike Huckabee, the United States should “deal with” Syrian refugees the way Chipotle dealt with an E. coli outbreak: shut’m down.

Is this how we view each other? Like bad meat to be cast aside—a product on which we can or cannot, should or should not, capitalize? Or is this how many of our appointed authorities view other races—a question that runs like a red thread through the heart of our crises: Race and terror. The two go hand-in-hand, and show themselves in many forms.

Within our own borders, the Black Lives Matter campaign resurfaces in the media to reveal institutionalized forms of racism occurring, this time, on college campuses across the country. People of color recount experiences of systemic oppression, death threats, and manipulation that are seldom acknowledged, by media, by college boards, and by peers and community members. As mainstream media develops these stories, we are seeing action all the way to the roundtable—with University of Missouri president, chancellor, and head football coach resigning amidst student protests over cultures of racism.

On November 24th, in Bellingham, Washington, Western Washington University’s President Bruce Shepard suspended classes due to hate speech targeted at Western students of color. Dr. Shepard stated:

“We have mobilized to offer support and to provide protection to those specifically targeted by the hate speech.  With disturbing social media content continuing through early this morning, students of color have advised me of their very genuine, entirely understandable, and heightened fear of being on campus.

We need time to press the criminal investigation and to plan how, as a campus, we will come together to demonstrate our outrage, to listen to each other, and to support each other.  So, I have decided to cancel classes today in order to provide that time.”

On one hand, resignations and cancellation of class recognizes issues of systemic, institutionalized oppression of people of color, and, hopefully, seeks to overcome them; leftist-armchair-Internet-activism on behalf of Syrian refugees shows support for opening our borders by creating dialogic banter with opposing and supporting views; GoFundMe campaigns and volunteer opportunities are becoming available for individuals to contribute to the Syrian refugee crisis; “V for Vendetta”-esque political satire from political commentators like John Oliver help to breakdown the fear mongering tactics deployed by politicians.

On the other hand, these issues—on which no one seems to be able to agree—are still in moving throughout the sphere of social justice and political activism where things continue to circle in a whirlpool of indecision, with no end in sight. One can ask themselves, Where do we see our systems changing? The dialogue has begun, and progress, or the onward movement toward a destination, is underway, but what does our destination look like?

I urge you to take time with yourself to reflect and write. Take an hour with your significant other(s), family, friends, and talk. This is a call-to-self-reflection. Ask yourselves these two questions: What gives you pause? What gives you hope? And, from there, as Gandhi once said, aim to “be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Torfaen Libraries' blog: Autumn

Food scraps and decomposing plants from your spring and summer garden are fantastic compost material, but there’s something else–something better–that we’ve been missing all along: tree leaves. At least twice as rich in minerals than manure, the composted leaves of most trees can save you cash, not only on what you would spend on plant food and humus, but also on sanitation bills.

Some of you may be thinking, Well, I already save on bills by burning my leaves. But think of the carbon footprint you create when burning that organic material. Plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen as they grow, storing the carbon dioxide in plant material that is rereleased as the plants burn. Even though composting also releases small amounts of carbon, much of it is contained in the decomposing plant matter. A major contributor to climate change and airborne pollutants, carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that contributes to the greenhouse effect, which adds “insulation” to the earth, making our planet warmer.

During extra hot summer months that often go unaccompanied by rain, your mineral-rich leaf compost will improve depleted and dry soil, helping your garden reach its full potential. Plant material from trees, ranging from leaves to pine needles, are high in mineral content such as calcium, magnesium, nitrogen, and phosphorus–many of which make up your average bag of garden compost or potting soil. This is because most trees are deep-rooted, absorbing minerals from deep within the earth that travel through the tree and into the leaves. The structure of these leaves as they decompose, known as humus, facilitates mineral filtration, soil consistency, and overall plant and soil health by aerating heavy soils, preventing sandy soils from drying, and balancing water levels in the soil.

In order to successfully compost leaves, one must do a bit more than rake them into a pile and check on the pile come springtime. Adding nitrogen—such as manure—to the pile will allow the compost to heat up and give the bacteria in the compost something to break down. Next, attempt to grind or shred your leaves. This will make handling the compost much easier, as the humus will be more broken-down. Turn the compost pile every three weeks and, come spring, use your new compost as mulch for a healthy garden and healthy harvest!

For more information on other things you can use for compost, check out this detailed composting chart that lists materials ranging from dog poo to algae.

Contributed by Christine St. Pierre