“One compliment can affect a whole lifetime. Be bold and speak life giving words.”

You know that feeling when someone says they like your shoes/shirt/scarf?  Imagine that feeling lasting for years to come.

The quote that makes up the title of this post is attributed to Joel Osteen, and oh-so-true.  While, on the delicate continuum of confidence and cockiness, the validation provided by compliments can go either way, I feel it’s inherently a positive reinforcement.  Modern society doesn’t like to look highly upon too much praise, but it can be a good thing.  

For example….

I checked my mail on my way to work the other day and was surprised to find a small envelope from the college.  I’d recently written a piece for the department from which it originated, so I assumed it had something to do with that and quickly opened it.

Instead, it was a handwritten note from my advisor.  He congratulated me on making Dean’s list last semester and wrote that I’m doing very well despite the challenges of freshman year.  It brought me close to tears.

While few people have ever gone out of their way to put me down, I’ve always had a particularly strong voice of negativity in my head (thank you, anxiety).  It’s driven me to work hard- harder than I need to in some cases.  It’s the people who have pushed me up that have made the impact, made the pessimism bearable.  Their compliments have affected my life in ways that most of them are unaware of.

Take my senior year of high school, for example.  I’d always loved English, and I was loving AP (Advanced Placement) Literature and Composition.  I’ve never been one to talk a lot in class (not my best trait, by any means), yet the teacher and I got along incredibly well outside of that class.  We were both attending my Gifted Individualized Education Plan (GIEP) Meeting that spring, when she mentioned a piece I’d written.  She spoke so highly of it that I couldn’t help but smile.  I’d really liked my idea, but it was far from the type of writing done by the others in the class.  Yet it wasn’t inferior because of this- if anything, she made me believe it was superior (I’ll post the piece sometime, if anyone would like to read it [comment if that’s you!]).

My mom’s always been my biggest cheerleader, of course.  A few other teachers and, more recently, professors, have given me this sort of self-esteem boost- somehow it’s always when I need it most.

“How comedic are squirrels?”

“How comedic are squirrels?  We don’t have squirrels in Australia.  The first time I saw a squirrel was at a meeting at Disney.”  –Liam Hemsworth

Growing up in Northeast PA, I’ve had a lot more experience with squirrels than Liam had.  Little did I know the surprise that awaited me at college.

"Obviously I'm studying at the library, human."

“Obviously I’m studying at the library, human.”

Squirrels are apparently a major aspect of many colleges- just ask The Huffington Post and USA Today College.

The squirrels here are just as great, though they aren’t listed in those links.

They hang out sporadically around campus.

"What, can't I observe this adirondack chair?"

“What, can’t I observe this Adirondack chair?”

"Muahaha, it's mine now!"

“Muahaha, it’s mine now!”

They try to blend in and do normal squirrelly things.

"Just sittin' in a tree...."

“Just sittin’ in a tree….”

But then they decide to go Spiderman on you.

"Spidey-squirrel powers, activate!"

“Spidey-squirrel powers, activate!”

One of my good friends here at school shares my love of these little furry guys.  Check out her birthday present to me!

Posing with Emmett, my Keurig :)  I got her this!

Posing with Emmett, my Keurig 🙂
I got her this for Christmas!

This past week has been crazy.  Like, three tests, two papers, and some quizzes crazy, on top of work and my excess of extracurriculars.  After a particularly mind-numbing science test, I tried to relax for a bit, soaking up some Vitamin D in the 30 degree weather.  That’s when this guy showed up!

He might look familiar if you follow TO&E on Facebook!

He might look familiar if you follow TO&E on Facebook!

We hung out for awhile while I waited for my next responsibility.

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Thank you, Mr. Squirrel, for giving me something other than the pelagic zone to focus on.  Thank you Campus Squirrels, for all you do.

Everytime that you lose it, swing it for the world!

Yes, I’m aware that the above lyrics are incorrect- I promise it’s purposeful!

My roommate’s a dancer- has been for years, and is quite good at it.  Last semester, I went to the dance ensemble showcase to see her and was blown away by the talent hiding on campus.

Aside from my appreciation of what they were doing, I felt an overwhelming pang of nostalgia for my theater days.  I’d covered a little bit of everything from the waltz and tango to swing and jazz-like choreography, and while I was never great at it, it was fun (lack of coordination + dancing doesn’t usually equal grace).  Watching these dancers, I found myself jealous of their elegance, but most prominently of their being on stage.

As I explained this to my roommate, she suggested what must have seemed obvious to anyone who isn’t me:  why not join dance ensemble?

Despite extreme reservations, this idea stuck with me until a few weeks ago, when the drop/add period for dance classes began.  She sent me the list of classes and I found myself drawn to swing dance- I’d loved the bit I’d learned in “The Pajama Game,”  and I’d always been better (or so I told myself) when I had a partner.  I debated up until minutes before the first class, and finally decided to listen to what my mom had always told me:  “Step outside of your box, Jul.”

As my first class began, I was terrified, to put it lightly.  With the exception of one other girl, everyone else had come fully prepared, with a partner and, in most cases, experience from last semester.  I latched onto a pair for the day, and quickly realized that- good at it or not- I loved it.

Image compliments of http://eurenscene.eu/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/AitorNuria2.jpg  (This is actually a step included in our performance!)

Image compliments of http://eurenscene.eu/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/AitorNuria2.jpg
(This is actually a step included in our performance!)

I’ve stumbled over steps, been absolutely petrified over lifts, and hit my partner in the face (accidentally, of course!) countless times.  Despite this, I’ve had fits of laughter and goofy practice sessions that I’ll doubtlessly remember as some of my favourite experiences from freshman year.  I’ve even started a jazz class- even farther from my comfort zone, in a way.

Now that I’ve (quite literally) stepped out of my comfort zone, I’m insanely glad I did it.  Could I have hurt myself terribly that first night and regretted it? Sure.  Did that actually happen? Nope!  As long as nothing changes terribly, I’m sure I’ll be just as happy with my decision.

Check out last year’s swing routine here for an idea of what I’ll be doing!

Beyond War and Peace

Late last [calendar] year, I was browsing the bi-daily student email, I noticed an advertisement reading “Searching for Companion Reader for 8th grader.”  The description explained that a local middle schooler was looking to read Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace and wanted someone to shadow read it with her.  I’d started Anna Karenina over the summer, but hadn’t had a chance to finish it with the excess of school reading I had ahead of me.  I’d loved what I had read, though, so I was intrigued.  Tolstoy has a reputation for being long-winded and boring, but I really like his writing style.

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Despite being involved in entirely too much already, I reached out to this girl’s mother and arranged to meet them soon after.  We were all hesitant during that first meeting, but I don’t regret it in the slightest!

She and I met up again earlier this week for the first time since December.  We’ve gotten pretty far in the novel (though arguably not as far as we’d like to have), and, most importantly, we’ve enjoyed it!  Exploring beyond the world of Pierre and Prince Andrei, we’ve gotten to know one another and get along amazingly despite the age difference.

When I was her age, I was also reading large books and making friends with as many older people as possible.  I know the concept of “I see something of myself in her” is cliche, but it’s undeniable in this case.  As we continue through the book, I’ll have a follow-up on our (hopefully) successful endeavor, but for now, wish us luck!

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“Will you share your life with me for the next ten minutes?”

Or, rather, the next ten posts?

"And if we make it til then, can I ask you again for another ten?"  Thank you for having the perfect quote once again, The Last Five Years.

“And if we make it til then, can I ask you again for another ten?” Thank you for having the perfect quote once again, The Last Five Years.

This marks my tenth post here at TO&E!  Thank you so much for sticking with me, or for joining along the way!

To celebrate, I figured today’s post can explain this musical that I’m so adamant about quoting.

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Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years premiered in 2001, and off-Broadway in 2002.  The latter production starred Norbert Leo Butz and Sherie Rene Scott.

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I don’t know if I can truly do this amazing show justice in a description, but bear with me.

The show opens with Still Hurting (performed in this link by Lauren Kennedy), in which the female protagonist, Cathy, sings of her failed relationship with the male lead, Jamie.  Her distress is followed by Jamie’s Shiksa Goddess (Adam Kantor in link), in which he sings about this amazing non-Jewish girl he’s falling for.  As it turns out, his “goddess” is Cathy.

The beauty of The Last Five Years is that Jamie is singing of this doomed relationship chronologically, from first meeting his “Shiksa Goddess” to their eventual split, while Cathy’s songs are in reverse, from the split to Goodbye, where she puts into song the post-first-date magical feelings of perfection.  They meet in the middle for their engagement in The Next Ten Minutes (ladies, if the Central Park setting isn’t enough to secure a “yes,” then the lyrics undoubtedly are!).  The amazingly wonky timeline mixes with fantastic music and characters to form a truly great show.

The film adaption, starring Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick, recently premiered in the US (I’m blaming the concurrent timing of Fifty Shades of Grey for its lack of popularity).  I’d been counting the minutes until the clock said “Na na na na na na na, oh Jules, you’ll get to be happy!” and the movie was available.  Thankfully, iTunes supplied a digital download to make up for the closest theater showing being in DC, so I could watch it almost immediately.  Since then (~ten days), I’ve watched over half a dozen times.  You could call it an obsession.

The film lived up to and went beyond my expectations.  Jeremey led me to actually like Jamie’s character (I adore Norbert, but could never sympathize with his portrayal) and his voice is absolutely to die for- I will shamelessly admit to falling at least a little bit in love with him after his very first number.  Anna’s performance was fantastic, as expected, but I (saying this, I know I’m committing some form of treason and hope the internet doesn’t murder me in retaliation) wasn’t sure her range lived up to the part at some points.  Regardless, she did extremely well overall, and the chemistry between the two was fantastic.  The movie included everything from cameos by Jason Robert Brown and Sherie Rene Scott to a shoutout to the Sound of Music.  In short, I love it.

How many more times will I watch this film and/or listen to the soundtrack in the future?  Only time will tell.  Why not join me?

An Idealist without Illusions

A few nights ago, my roommate was playing Trivia Crack when she encountered the question:  “Who was the only Catholic president?”  She laughed at the game, mocking its lack of difficulty.

I laughed along with her.  “It’s not like you can just look around the room for that one!”  In all seriousness, there’s no doubt that I’m a Kennedy fan.

Here, Jack hangs out by my desk.  Whenever Buzzfeed seems to be trumping my homework motivation, he's there to say "Hey, hate to bother you, but you know, I was a war hero,  a senator, President, and a published author.  You should probably complete your schoolwork.

Here, Jack hangs out by my desk. Whenever Buzzfeed seems to be trumping my homework motivation, he’s there to say “Hey, hate to bother you, but you know, I was a war hero, a senator, President, and a published author. You should probably complete your schoolwork.”

My grandfather made me this brilliant collage as a back-to-school gift-  he's fostered a love of history in me for years, and Kennedy's no exception!

My grandfather made me this brilliant collage as a back-to-school gift- he’s fostered a love of history in me for years and Kennedy’s no exception!

My room at home’s even more astonishing.  Aside from about a dozen books, I’ve got a record, a decorative plate, a raised copper depiction, a painting of Jack and (dare I say, the more attractive?) Bobby….  One of my high school teachers- and fellow flea-market junkie- caught on to my interest and picked up most of these items for me.  Thanks, Mrs. Ulsh!

So, what’s there to like?  Plenty.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the second son born to Joe and Elizabeth (Fitzgerald) Kennedy.  His brother, Joe Jr., was expected to rise into politics (kind of like Arthur, Prince of Wales), but his untimely death passed the metaphorical gavel to Jack, whose poor health had long been a factor in his relatively lesser perceived potential.  The latter had become a war hero while commanding PT-109 (a Patrol Torpedo boat), when he acted to save his crew members despite a repeated injury to his back.

After the war, JFK, with many fellow veterans, headed to Congress.  During this time, he befriended Richard Nixon, who would later serve as a subsequent US President.

Jack continued in the legislature, and married Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy in 1953.

In 1957, his book Profiles in Courage won the Nobel Prize for Biography.  Translated into many languages, the book helped put JFK in the national spotlight.

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At forty-three years old, John F. Kennedy became the first Catholic president (this had been a huge roadblock during his election, as people worried his loyalty to the Pope would interfere with his loyalty to America).

There are countless more facts I could list about Jack Kennedy, but this would become an impossibly long post, and I don’t want to do that to you, dear readers.  Instead, I’ll simply state once more that I’m a fan of the man, and leave you to make judgements for yourself.

If you’re interested in looking more indepthly at Kennedy and his legacy, I highly recommend Larry Sabato (University of Virginia)’s course The Kennedy Half-Century, which I’m taking now.  Coursera’s classes are free, and this is one of many that you can complete entirely at your own pace!

His book is a recommended companion to the class, and to any Kennedy fan!

His book is a recommended companion to the class, and to any Kennedy fan!

Where the treetops glisten….

I like Christmas as much as the next person.

Like, I really like Christmas.

Like, I really like Christmas.

So does Cooper!

So does Cooper!

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And Carl the dinosaur!

I like gloves and hats and scarves.

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As well as Frank Sinatra, obviously.

Mugs of warm drinks, fireplaces, blankets, and whatnot.

Blankets are cuddly and warm and great, especially when accompanying a puppy.

Blankets are cuddly and warm and great, especially when accompanying a puppy.

Regardless, I despise winter as a whole.  If we could just stay in fall forever and ever- switch to spring if we absolutely must, I would be entirely content.

But Jules, the snow is so pretty!

But Jules, the snow is so pretty!

Okay, I get that.  I appreciate its prettiness.  But couldn’t it just be pretty?

Nope.

Dangerous for drivers and/or pedestrians, a nuisance for plow truck drivers, and just misery in general.

General misery. Forget fire and brimstone, this is what the Devil’s land must look like.

My Dad’s worked for the Department of Transportation for years.  People like to joke about “cushy” State jobs, but his is anything but.  Would you like to risk your life at absurd hours in exchange for helping people who can’t even have the decency to be grateful?  Pennsylvanians love PennDOT jokes, yet I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone say “Hey, thanks for what you do out there” to any of these guys.

I remember a time in elementary school when my class was assigned “White Christmas” for the annual holiday concert.  I’ve been performing for years- I wanted desperately to enjoy the concert.  Yet, more difficult than my then-crippling stage fright, was the guilt I felt at this song.  A white Christmas means Dad won’t be home.  I can’t dream of that!  

So, my hatred of winter grew at a pretty young age.  Even now, when the absence is pretty perpetual on my part, I can’t bring myself to enjoy winter weather.  I’m far too uncoordinated to venture out in the slush and ice- I’m eternally grateful to campus facilities for clearing the sidewalks; otherwise, I’d never be in class!  Joint pain nears unbearable when it’s snowy or haily or icy or sleety outside.

Right now, it’s 41 degrees Fahrenheit and it’s as if summer’s arrived.  I’m pretty ecstatic, really.  That is, except for the eight inches of snow that fell yesterday, and next Saturday’s forecast for more.

So it’s true, despite its extreme romanticization, I cannot bring myself to like snow or winter, subsequently.  Instead, I’m off to enjoy War and Peace with a coffee and warm blankets- the silver linings of this seemingly eternal state of icy destruction.