Monday, April 30, 2012

DIY Framed Window

Our mudroom has two small, unframed windows.  I affectionally refer to them as hole-in-the-walls, simply because they never quite looked finished.  Last week, I decided to give one of them a makeover by framing it -- just to see what it would look like.  I had a bunch of scrap wood and leftover molding from my framed bathroom mirror projects, so why not?

Window: Before 
Window: Before
I began by jotting down the measurements of each side of the window.


Then I turned to trusty miter saw.  I marked the measurements on a piece of molding and set the miter saw index to cut at a 45 degree angle.  My more detailed tutorial on how to operate a miter saw can be found here!


I placed the molding onto the miter saw, lined it up with my measurements, clamped it down, and then let the saw work its magic.


 Once the first cut was done, I measured the interior length of the piece of molding to make the second mark, then cut again.


Afterward, I raced back into the mudroom to make sure that my measurements were correct.  The 45 degree ends, shown below, will piece together like a box once done.


I had a lot of scrap molding sitting around our garage.  Instead of going to Lowe's to buy more molding, I decided to make do with what I already had.  It worked out perfectly, but just involved a little more math for my English-major brain.  :)


After I cut each piece to the correct length, I attached the molding to the wall using a brad nailer and 1 1/4 inch brad nails.


It's coming together nicely!  You can see my improvised molding on the right hand side and bottom of the window.  Since I planned to paint the molding, I didn't worry too much about the color differences.


The rest of the windows in our house have a nice, deep window sill.  I wanted to mimic the others, so I grabbed a piece of scrap wood and measured the interior width of the window.  

How do you like our lovely, work-in-progress patio project outside?
After I cut the scrap wood to the right length, I buffed it really well using our random orbital sander and a combination of 60-grit and 220-grit sand paper.  Once the surface areas and the corners were smooth, I placed it into the window and secured it using a series of brad nails.


Boom.  Window sill.  



I puttied over all of the nails and seams using painter's caulk. Later, I painted the molding and window sill with two coats of primer and two coats of Olympic's "Glazed Pears."


And there you go!  A framed window.



This was an incredibly simple project that took one hour to construct and about three hours to putty, prime, and paint.  Well worth it.  The window finally looks complete... well, minus a small curtain that I have yet to make!


Our outdoor cat, Mac, sleeps and lounges in the mudroom.  He loves this new window sill!  I've noticed a steady accumulation of cat hair on it.



We still have a hole-in-the-wall window on the opposite side of the mudroom.  I want to frame it, as well, but there is a wall cabinet adjacent to it and I'm not sure how to get around that.  I'm sure I'll figure something out eventually!


Not too bad for a easy weeknight project!  Can't wait to finish the rest of the mudroom for the big reveal!


You may find me linking up at these fantastic parties:

Monday: Boogieboard CottageBurlap and DenimC-R-A-F-TCraft-O-ManiacDIY Home Sweet Home,  Everything Under the MoonGet Outta My Head PleaseThe Girl CreativeThe Graphics FairyMad in CraftsMaking the World CuterOur Delightful HomePolish the StarsSerendipity and SpiceSew Can DoSew Happy GeekSkip to My LouThrifty Decor ChickToo Much Time on My HandsTuesday: A Bowl Full of LemonsCherished BlissCoastal CharmConfessions of a Stay at Home MommyFunky Polka Dot Giraffe,  I'm Topsy TurvyJillify ItThe Kurtz CornerMommy By Day Crafter by NightNap Time CreationsNatural NestersNot Just a HousewifeSugar Bee Crafts,  Sweet Little GalsTales of a Trophy WifeTip JunkieToday's Creative BlogWednesday: Free Pretty Things for YouGinger Snap CraftsHome Happy HomeJAQS StudioLet Birds FlyThe NY Melrose FamilyRae Gun RamblingsThe Sasse LifeSew Much AdoSew WoodsySomeday CraftsSouthern LovelyThursday: A Creative PrincessA Glimpse InsideCrafty, Scrappy, HappyHouse of HepworthsJust Winging ItMade in a DayThe Shabby Creek CottageSomewhat SimpleThrifty DecoratingYesterday on TuesdayFriday: 2805The Answer is ChocolateBacon Time with the Hungry HypoCreation CornerFingerprints on the FridgeThe Grant LifeHappy-Go-LuckyMom 4 RealMy Simple Home LifeNot So Functional HousewifeNot Your Ordinary RecipesOne Artsy MamaPerfectly ImperfectThe Rooster and the HenSimply DesigningTatertots and JelloWhipperberryYoung and CraftySaturday: Be Different... Act NormalCandace CreationsFunky Junk InteriorsIt's OverflowingIt's So Very CheriNutmeg PlaceSunday: The Crafty CowgirlEmbellishing Life with Homemade GoodnessFlamingo ToesG*RatedNifty Thrifty Things

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Dinner of the Week: Chilaquiles con Pollo

This is one of our all-time favorite recipes.  My good friend shared it with me while I was in college -- it is a quick, easy, and unique Mexican dish.  You can really use any kind of salsa for this recipe, so choose your favorite.  I make our chilaquiles (chee-lah-key-lays) with Mrs. Renfro's Hot Jalapeno Green Salsa -- if you love spicy food, this is the best!  If you are faint at heart, then any kind of mild tomatillo sauce will be great, too.

Chilaquiles con Pollo
Courtesy of my friend, Danny G.

Ingredients:
- Approximately 1 lbs. chicken tenderloins
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 shallots or small onion, diced
- 32 oz. red or green salsa of choice
- 2 1/3 cups chicken broth
- 18 oz bag tortilla chips
- 2 cups shredded mild cheddar cheese
- 1 cup Crema (Mexican sour cream -- can substitute sour cream thinned with milk)
- 1 cup Queso Blanco, crumbled
- Fresh cilantro, for garnish

Heat a large skillet with some olive oil over medium heat.  Wash and pat dry the chicken.  Sprinkle the chicken with cumin and chili powder.  Place the tenderloins into the skillet and cook, on both sides, until done -- approximately five to 10 minutes, depending on your stove.


Remove the chicken from the heat, and grab two forks.  Use one fork to hold a chicken tenderloin, while utilizing the other to pull the chicken apart.


Keep pulling until all of the tenderloins are shredded.


In a large pot, heat the oil over medium to medium-high heat. Once hot, add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent.


Add the salsa and chicken broth.  Bring to a heavy boil.


Turn off the heat and stir in the shredded chicken and shredded cheese.


Once thoroughly mixed, add the entire bag of tortilla chips -- by handfuls -- into the pot.  Mix the tortillas in with the salsa mixture as best as you can; it's okay if you crunch a few while you do so.  Cover and let the chilaquiles stand for four minutes -- this will allow the salsa to properly soak into the tortillas, making them the same consistency as enchiladas.


Meanwhile, take out your cube of queso blanco and begin crumbling it.


Remove the lid from the pot and transfer the chilaquiles mixture into a large casserole dish.


Drizzle the Crema on top of the chilaquiles, and sprinkle with the queso blanco and cilantro.  Serve immediately in single-serving bowls.


Sometimes we serve our chilaquiles on top of a bed of refried beans. It tastes just as good without beans, as well. If you use a hot salsa in your chilaquiles, then the crema and queso blanco will help cool it down.


Enjoy!



Delicioso!  Love this dish.  I need to make it more often.  Hope you like it, too!

You may find me linking up at these fantastic parties:

Monday: Boogieboard CottageBurlap and DenimC-R-A-F-TCraft-O-ManiacDIY Home Sweet Home,  Everything Under the MoonGet Outta My Head PleaseThe Girl CreativeThe Graphics FairyMad in CraftsMaking the World CuterOur Delightful HomePolish the StarsSerendipity and SpiceSew Can DoSew Happy GeekSkip to My LouThrifty Decor ChickToo Much Time on My HandsTuesday: A Bowl Full of LemonsCherished BlissCoastal CharmConfessions of a Stay at Home MommyFunky Polka Dot Giraffe,  I'm Topsy TurvyJillify ItThe Kurtz CornerMommy By Day Crafter by NightNap Time CreationsNatural NestersNot Just a HousewifeSugar Bee Crafts,  Sweet Little GalsTales of a Trophy WifeTip JunkieToday's Creative BlogWednesday: Free Pretty Things for YouGinger Snap CraftsHome Happy HomeJAQS StudioLet Birds FlyThe NY Melrose FamilyRae Gun RamblingsThe Sasse LifeSew Much AdoSew WoodsySomeday CraftsSouthern LovelyThursday: A Creative PrincessA Glimpse InsideCrafty, Scrappy, HappyHouse of HepworthsJust Winging ItMade in a DayThe Shabby Creek CottageSomewhat SimpleThrifty DecoratingYesterday on TuesdayFriday: 2805The Answer is ChocolateBacon Time with the Hungry HypoCreation CornerFingerprints on the FridgeThe Grant LifeHappy-Go-LuckyMom 4 RealMy Simple Home LifeNot So Functional HousewifeNot Your Ordinary RecipesOne Artsy MamaPerfectly ImperfectThe Rooster and the HenSimply DesigningTatertots and JelloWhipperberryYoung and CraftySaturday: Be Different... Act NormalCandace CreationsFunky Junk InteriorsIt's OverflowingIt's So Very CheriNutmeg PlaceSunday: The Crafty CowgirlEmbellishing Life with Homemade GoodnessFlamingo ToesG*RatedNifty Thrifty Things

Friday, April 20, 2012

Easter Dinner, Part II: Creamy Scalloped Potatoes and Stir-fried String Beans

I'm a little late posting Part II of our Easter dinner!  Life has been nuts.  C'est la vie.  If you missed Part I of this dinner, which involved our perfectly glazed ham, be sure to check it out!

We cooked Easter dinner for my brother, Cory, and sister-in-law, Casey.  Cory loves scalloped potatoes, so when I saw an extra-creamy scalloped potato recipe in the Food Network magazine, I knew I had to try it.  We also served my favorite green beans in the world.  My family's not really big on green bean casseroles, so this is something that my Dad tried once and we've just stuck to it.  It's so easy and only involve two ingredients, so I'm not even sure if they qualify as a "recipe."  I'm going to split up the scalloped potato recipe and the green bean recipe to make this post easier to read!

Extra-Creamy Scalloped Potatoes
Courtesy of the Food Network Magazine

Ingredients:
- 2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8 inch thick
- 3 cups heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Kosher salt and ground white pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Wash the potatoes thoroughly.


Peel and thinly slice the potatoes.  We cheated and used the slicer/shredder attachment for our KitchenAid stand mixer for the first time.  Never going back.  That attachment is amazing, and I don't know how we just neglected it in our pantry for so long!


Place the sliced potatoes in a large pot on the stove.  In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the heavy cream, flour, bay leaf, nutmeg, and 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon white paper. Pour the cream mixture over the potatoes, and cook over medium heat.


Occasionally stir the potatoes for approximately 12 minutes, until the cream is brought just to a simmer.  Continue to simmer, adjusting the heat if necessary, and stirring the potatoes to prevent their bottoms from scorching.  Do this for approximately five more minutes until the potatoes just begin to soften.


Spray a baking or casserole dish with cooking spray or brush it with butter.  Transfer the potato mixture into the dish and discard the bay leaf.  In order to minimize burning, set the dish into a larger baking dish or roasting pan, and add enough water to come about halfway up the sides of the baking dish.


Bake the potatoes for approximately one hour until they are tender and golden brown. Remove the baking dish from the water bath and let stand 10 minutes before serving.  Enjoy!


These potatoes were heavenly.  I normally don't like scalloped potatoes because sometimes they get all crunchy and dry.  These were extremely creamy and delicious.  I'll definitely be making these again!

Stir-fried Green Beans
Courtesy of mi padre

Ingredients:
- A boat load of fresh, raw green beans
- Approximately two or three tablespoons of oyster sauce

I know what you're thinking.  Oyster sauce?  Yuck!  Trust me.  I have serious cravings for these green beans.  In fact, I'll probably make them tonight.  Oyster sauce makes them sweet, savory, and wonderful.  It's a perfect combination, and they are meant to be with one another.  So humor me, go to an Asian food market, buy some oyster sauce, and just try it sometime.  :)

Start by thoroughly washing the green beans and patting them dry.


Using a sharp knife, cut off all of the ends.  My Dad also taught me a neat trick:  Slice the middle of each green bean at a diagonal angle to cut the bean in two.  This helps them cook faster and more evenly.




Heat some olive oil in a wok or large skillet over medium heat.  Toss in the green beans and cook, covered, for approximately 10-15 minutes.  Be sure to stir the beans well, especially in the first five minutes, to avoid burning. I actually burnt my string beans for this dinner because I was too busy yakking with my family and not paying attention!  Please ignore the burn marks in the photos!



Once the beans are tender, lower the temperature, pour in the oyster sauce, and stir well so that all the beans are coated nicely with the sauce.  Cook the beans for a minute or two longer, then enjoy!


Ah, these are my favorite.  I really can't get enough of them.  I usually make enough of these green beans for a small army so that I'll have them for leftovers, too.  Hope you'll give them a try!


You may find me linking up at these fantastic parties:

Monday: Boogieboard CottageBurlap and DenimC-R-A-F-TCraft-O-ManiacDIY Home Sweet Home,  Everything Under the MoonGet Outta My Head PleaseThe Girl CreativeThe Graphics FairyMad in CraftsMaking the World CuterOur Delightful HomePolish the StarsSerendipity and SpiceSew Can DoSew Happy GeekSkip to My LouThrifty Decor ChickToo Much Time on My HandsTuesday: A Bowl Full of LemonsCherished BlissCoastal CharmConfessions of a Stay at Home MommyFunky Polka Dot Giraffe,  I'm Topsy TurvyJillify ItThe Kurtz CornerMommy By Day Crafter by NightNap Time CreationsNatural NestersNot Just a HousewifeSugar Bee Crafts,  Sweet Little GalsTales of a Trophy WifeTip JunkieToday's Creative BlogWednesday: Free Pretty Things for YouGinger Snap CraftsHome Happy HomeJAQS StudioLet Birds FlyThe NY Melrose FamilyRae Gun RamblingsThe Sasse LifeSew Much AdoSew WoodsySomeday CraftsSouthern LovelyThursday: A Creative PrincessA Glimpse InsideCrafty, Scrappy, HappyHouse of HepworthsJust Winging ItMade in a DayThe Shabby Creek CottageSomewhat SimpleThrifty DecoratingYesterday on TuesdayFriday: 2805The Answer is ChocolateBacon Time with the Hungry HypoCreation CornerFingerprints on the FridgeThe Grant LifeHappy-Go-LuckyMom 4 RealMy Simple Home LifeNot So Functional HousewifeNot Your Ordinary RecipesOne Artsy MamaPerfectly ImperfectThe Rooster and the HenSimply DesigningTatertots and JelloWhipperberryYoung and CraftySaturday: Be Different... Act NormalCandace CreationsFunky Junk InteriorsIt's OverflowingIt's So Very CheriNutmeg PlaceSunday: The Crafty CowgirlEmbellishing Life with Homemade GoodnessFlamingo ToesG*RatedNifty Thrifty Things

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Thank You

Words cannot express how humbled and grateful I am to you for reading and sharing my post on Monday, Live for 32.  My email inbox is still overflowing with comments and emails from readers of that post.  They are all genuine condolences, prayers, and thank you's.  I've also received heartbreaking stories from Virginia Tech students, parents, friends, and colleagues of fellow Hokies who wanted to share their personal experiences of that ill-fated Monday in April 2007. I had never anticipated this kind of response from my story.  I read each comment and each email during short breaks at work, sitting in my cube with tears streaming down my face.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

I rewrite this story every year, and share it among my friends and family.  It helps to return to this story at the beginning of every April because I get a new sense of clarity from it.  Closure.

This year, I was initially afraid to post it on my blog, thinking that I might offend my readers if I shared such a story.  My mouse hovered over the "publish post" button at the bottom of the page.  I thought:  Am I allowed to share this, to write about this?  I felt a pang of guilt -- I had not been injured on that day, and did not lose a best friend, a brother, a sister, a son, or a daughter; what right did I have to share my experience?

But I had to.  I wanted to share a story that has simultaneously haunted and blessed me every single day for the past five years.  I would not be the same person I am now if I hadn't been at Virginia Tech that day.  I am thankful for the experience, and strive to live and love in every moment for those 32.

Evan and I went to Virginia Tech's annual candlelight vigil on Monday night.  Normally we stand huddled in the back of the crowd somewhere, but this year, we stood in the first row.  That was the closest I've been to the April 16 Memorial, where the 32 engraved Hokie stones lay in a semi-circle on the Drill Field in front of Burruss Hall.  Each one was adorned with a beautiful flower arrangement.  A group of 32 Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets guarded the roped off area between us and memorial. They stood tall, proudly, and respectfully.


The Drill Field was flooded with Virginia Tech students, faculty, and community members. President Charles Steger, Governor Bob McDonnell, and two Virginia Tech students spoke at the vigil, recounting their experiences and explaining what it means to be a Hokie.  As the sun set, two readers slowly announced the names, describing the characteristics and hobbies of each victim.  The family members or friends of the victims lit candles one-by-one and walked to their corresponding Hokie stones. The Cadet in front of us -- a dear young woman -- sniffled, wrinkling her forehead in attempt to regain composure.  I wanted to hug her.  We prayed, we sobbed, we hugged.  There was no shame in it, no reason to hold back.

Then the families turned to the crowd, lighting everyone's candles.  The choir sang as a sea of candles gradually blanketed the Drill Field.  It was beautiful, powerful, and comforting. When all of the candles had been lit, we held them above our heads reverently -- the thousands of flames flickered in the wind.

"Let's GO!" Evan suddenly yelled on top of his lungs.  

The entire crowd answered, "HOKIES!" 

"Let's GO!"

"HOKIES!"

Source
Thank you to all of you who have read, shared, Facebooked, tweeted, pinned, and tumblred (?) my post from Monday.  Thank you for leaving such thoughtful comments, being supportive, and telling me your stories.   And thank you for living for 32.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Live for 32

Every Hokie has his/her story on April 16, 2007.  This is mine.  I cannot tell you how many times I've rewritten this; for me, the events of that Monday morning are indescribable. Thank you for taking a moment out of your day to read this; it's cathartic for me to share this experience with you, and I believe that it's an important story to share.

Update, 4/16/14: I've been asked to place a trigger warning on this post, so I recommend that you take caution in reading this post.

* * *

"Did you check your e-mail?"

"No.  I probably should've.  Why?" 

"There was a shooting in West AJ this morning."

"... What?"

I stared at my hall mate, Allison, in utter disbelief. She explained that Virginia Tech had recently distributed a brief email alerting everyone that a shooting had occurred in West Ambler Johnson, the largest dormitory on campus, around 7:15 that morning.  It was now a little past 9:00 a.m.

"Was anyone seriously injured?"

"They didn't say.  They haven't even caught the guy yet."

I finished locking my dorm room door and headed for the staircase at the other end of the long hallway.

"You're still going to class?" Allison called after me.

"Yeah.  I've gotta go fail an exam."

"Be safe."

It was flurrying when I embarked on my trek toward Pamplin Hall.  Listening to Cake on my iPod, my mind was preoccupied with remembering who the cinematographers were for William Friedkin's The Exorcist while the other half was wondering why I was still with my boyfriend, Sean.  Ever since we left for college, our phone conversations consisted of argument after argument.  It was easy to become irritated over the most trivial matters when he was six and a half hours away at Christopher Newport University.  He didn't deserve to deal with that.

My walk to class.
I was halfway across the Drill Field when I first heard the gunshots.  After pausing my iPod, I was almost certain that the "cracks" were emanating from the construction site on Stanger Street.  They continued, echoing off of West Eggleston and War Memorial Gym behind me.  Crack.  Crack-crack.  Crack.  Crack.


West Eggleston and War Memorial Gym
Something didn't seem right.  My insides screamed at me to turn around.  But I had to get to Pamplin Hall early to study for my Literature and Film exam; I pushed onward.

Drill Field Drive
The shrieking sirens of two police cars and an ambulance soon replaced the cracks; the trio raced past Torgersen Bridge and disappeared behind McBryde Hall.  I tentatively crossed Drill Field Drive and, planning to cut through the Burruss Hall tunnel, I climbed the steps leading to Norris Hall.

Norris Hall
Five men in black uniforms appeared seemingly out of nowhere, walking briskly to crouch around the front doors of Norris.  They carried assault rifles the size of baseball bats and used rapid hand gestures to signal to one another.  The man in front cautiously reached for the door handle, but there was a jingling sound, and the door wouldn't open.

Norris Hall
That's when the screams sounded, and the thuds of students as they wrenched themselves through Norris's second story windows.  Blood was smeared across their faces, their hands, their clothes.  Some stumbled through the overgrown bushes and away from the building while others crawled through the yellowed grass.  

I stood frozen in my tracks.  A dozen other Virginia Tech students gathered around me, like helpless sheep.

Crack-crack.  Crack.  Crack.  Louder now, coming directly from Norris.  It suddenly occurred to me what these sounds were.

A police-marked Ford Explorer crashed onto the sidewalk in front of Burruss Hall.  The doors flung open and four policemen emerged with their handguns out of their holsters. 

One policeman grabbed a boy nearest to him and yelled, "DON'T go to class!  RUN!" 

We ran.  Like hell.

The cold wind bit my face; tears and tiny snowflakes stung my cheeks as I slowed down to a panicked walk on the Drill Field midway between Slusher Tower and Pamplin Hall.

Slusher Tower to the right
I couldn't think.  I couldn't function.  Yanking out my cell phone from the pocket of my hoodie, my thumbs were too frozen to dial my mom's work number.

"Hi sweetie," she cheerfully answered.  It was an ordinary Monday for her.

"Mom.  Is there anything about Tech on the news?"

"Why?  What's going on?" she demanded.

"I think William Morva's back." (William Morva was an escaped convict who killed two Blacksburg police officers on Tech's first day of classes in August 2006.)

It was impossible to phrase what exactly was going on.  Somewhere between my hysterics of gunshots, policemen, and blood, my mom interrupted by directing me to go straight to my dorm room and lock the door.  As she was telling me this, I spotted Mikey, a boy who was in my high school graduating class.  Without saying a word, I grabbed his coat sleeve and dragged him to the residential side of campus with me.

West Eggleston Wind Tunnel
My mom, in a panic, hung up to call my brother, Cory.  As Mikey and I entered the West Eggleston wind tunnel, we looked back at massive group of students, who, by this time, had congregated at the intersection of the Drill Field. Suddenly, every single one of them took off running straight for us.  Their screams pierced through the morning air.

O'Shag Hall
By the time I reached O'Shaughnessy Hall, my dorm, I had barely regained my senses. My sixth floor hall buzzed with several girls who had returned from campus, just as I had; others stood in their doorways, still dressed in pajamas.  Some were crying, a few were frantically calling their friends, and a couple were yelling hysterically.

No one knew what was going on.  Tech had sent another email telling us little more about the original shooting in West AJ, but besides that, we knew nothing.

"What is going on out there?" my roommate, Tameka, mumbled half-asleep from her loft bed when I keyed into our room.

"There's been a shooting."

"What?  No.  You serious?  Where?" Tameka was already climbing out of her bed.  I didn't have time to answer.  My cell phone started ringing; it was my brother, who was a senior at Virginia Tech.

"Kirsten, what's going on?" Cory demanded, "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," I reassured, watching Tameka as she turned on the TV to check the local news station.  "I don't know what's happening.  Where are you?"

"At my apartment.  I slept through my alarm -- I'm supposed to be in class," Cory continued, "Mom said you saw police in front of a building.  Which building?"

"I don't know what it's called -- I haven't had a class there yet."

"I need to know which building.  Casey's in class right now," Cory's voice cracked, referring to his girlfriend.

"Hold on, I've got a campus map," I began, fumbling blindly through my desk drawers.  My eyes could barely focus on the handwritten labels of each academic building.  "It was next to Burruss."

"Burruss?" Cory demanded, "Casey's in Williams Hall -- to the left of Burruss."

"No, no, no -- this building was to the right of Burruss," I reassured, spotting it on the map.  "Norris Hall.  It was Norris."

I could hear the relief in Cory's voice, "Oh, okay, thank God.  Thanks.  I'm going to try to call her -- maybe she's out of class by now."

Around 10:30, we received an email saying that classes were cancelled for the remainder of the day and mandated that all on-campus residents remain in their rooms with their doors locked, and stay away from windows.

The local news station covered what little was known about the situation first.  Then it was broadcasted on CNN, MSNBC, NBC, everywhere.  Locked in our room armed with my baseball bat and hockey stick, Tameka and I didn't have time to watch the news because we began to receive dozens upon dozens of phone calls from frantic friends and family.

My mom, who worked in public relations, called, saying that she knew a New York Times reporter who wished to talk to me. I consented.

"Kristen, tell me... what... you saw... as going... class," the reporter shouted into his cell phone. Our phone connection was spotty, and I heard blips of rapid talking, cursing, car honking, and the sounds of passing semi-trucks on the other line -- the male reporter was en route to Blacksburg to cover the story. "Anything... would... great."

"I..." I began, hesitantly glancing at Tameka, who was eyeing me suspiciously, "I was walking to class, listening to my iPod. I heard these cracks -- thought they were construction. As I was heading into Burruss, I looked up and saw... at least 10 guards -- looked almost like SWAT team members with assault rifles aiming at the main entrance of Norris."

"Did... know... happening?"

"No, I... had no idea what was happening."

Verizon customers soon lost cell phone service, so we used AOL Instant Messenger and Facebook to get in touch with everyone. My inbox became flooded with messages from classmates who I barely talked to from high school. I, too, desperately messaged everyone I knew at Tech; I was relieved to hear that my good friend, Evan, was okay, as were John and Michael, my two closest high school friends.

Pandemonium ensued during the lockdown. Rumors, spread through Facebook and AIM, claimed that there were bomb threats in dorms and a shooter loose in nearby Lee Hall and Cassell Coliseum. My RA warned us to ignore the fire alarm if it went off; the police thought that it would be a ploy for the gunman to open fire against a group on unsuspecting students. Armed policemen were everywhere: guarding the dorms, blockading Washington Street, and camped in the basketball courts between O'Shag and Pritchard. I didn't realize there were so many policemen in Montgomery County.

O'Shag, Lee, and Pritchard Hall Basketball Courts
"What is that?" Tameka whispered at one point, hastily turning off the television.

I listened, and heard footsteps in our hallway -- heavy footsteps made by someone wearing oversized work boots. They crept down the long corridor toward our room, pausing at each doorway. The amount of panic and fear that we heard as the footsteps approached us was unimaginable. I wanted to believe that it was a policeman, a RA, or someone harmless patrolling the dorms, but we didn't know what to think, to feel, to do. An ominous shadow cast underneath our door when he had reached us, and we held our breaths for what felt like an eternity before he started his trek back down the hallway.

We didn't know who the shooter was, what he/she looked like, or even how many there were. All we knew was that there was a shooting in West AJ at 7:15, and two hours later at 9:20, there was another in Norris. For that reason, we trusted no one.

Despite all of this, it never occurred to me how severe the situation was until the news anchors began numbering the casualties.  First it was two from the incident in West AJ.  Then it was eight to 10 from Norris. Suddenly, it jumped to 20.

President Steger's 12:00 p.m. Press Conference
Source
President Steger held a press conference with the Montgomery County police chief at noon.  There, they officially declared that the shooter had committed suicide and that there were 32 confirmed causalities.

Thirty-two.

I spent the rest of the afternoon in silence in my dorm room.  Even with the lockdown lifted, I didn't feel safe venturing outside.  I watched the news and spoke with friends over AIM.  There were no jokes, no laughter, no smiles.  I threw up a bowl's worth of chicken ramen noodles when a friend mentioned that she saw me quoted in a New York Times article.  I Googled my name to find out that I was also quoted on countless other websites and articles.  Had I known a better sense of what was going on that day, I would have chosen my words more carefully to that reporter.

Pritchard Hall
At 6:00 p.m., Evan sent me a message asking if I wanted to hang out and talk.  I needed to talk.  Badly.  He escorted me from O'Shag to Pritchard because I was scared to walk by myself.  We sat in his dorm room and talked for a while about a bunch of things I don't remember.  Evan was a RA, so at one point, there was a knock on the door. One of his residents stood in the hallway, his dark cheeks stained with tears.

"Jon.  You ok, man?" Evan asked.

"Yeah, I was hoping they gave you a list.  Of names," Jon stammered.  His shoulders were bent low.  His left hand dug into his pocket and the other hang in the air, his fingers quivering.  He looked completely vulnerable.  Helpless.

"Names?"

"She hasn't answered my calls.  My texts," Jon's choked words were almost indecipherable.  "Her roommate hasn't seen her since she left for class..."

I bit my lip and turned to stare out the window.  My eyes burned from their fight against tears.

"I'm sorry, man.  I don't have a list.  I don't know if anyone does," I heard Evan murmur.  Jon merely nodded his head, thanked Evan, and walked out the door.

Evan slumped into his desk chair.  Shortly thereafter, he received an email from one of his fraternity brothers asking if he wanted to go to Macado's for a late dinner.  Evan invited me along, but I politely declined.  As Evan was locking his door, I noticed that Jon's door was open; I knocked on Jon's doorframe.  Jon turned away from his computer and I walked over to him and gave him a long hug.  His shoulders were still trembling.  It was all I could do.

Tameka was packing her bookbag to spend the night at the rugby house once I arrived back to our room.  I didn't blame her -- everyone I knew was getting picked up by their parents and friends and it felt eerie to be one of the few left on campus.  Cory later invited me to stay at his place, but I didn't feel comfortable waiting on Washington Street alone that night, waiting for him to pick me up.

Sean called.  It was nice to hear his voice (and to finally have cell phone service).  I began spewing everything about the day's events and cried for the first time.  Sean tried being helpful and reassuring, but he couldn't quite understand why I was so upset about it.  Now, thinking back on it, I understand that he was used to this sort of thing; he and his family used to live in Abuja and Cote de I'voire where schools had "coups days" instead of snow days.  What resulted in a slight misunderstanding escalated into yet another fight and I hung up on him during a time in which all I needed was someone to talk to.

I was grateful when Evan messaged me a few hours later after he got back from Macado's.  We agreed to meet outside O'Shag for a second time.  Evan was more somber than he was before.  When he returned to his dorm room, he described how his fraternity brother, Nik, was hounded by the media during dinner -- somehow they knew that he survived unscathed from Norris that morning.

"Nik told them, 'I'm eating with my friends right now, but I'll be happy to talk to you after we're done.' The reporters and cameras gave him some time, but then kept returning, like vultures, to our table," Evan recalled, shaking his head in disgust, "Finally they just wouldn't take no for an answer.  Nik's story was more important to them than for Nik to spend time with his friends."

Evan left for a bathroom break, and I overheard him talking in the hallway to his residents on his way back.  A short while later, he returned to his room and collapsed onto his bed in one heap.  Staring at the ceiling, he told me that he had known someone who had died, a RA.

Evan told me a story about when he first met Ryan Christopher "Stack" Clark.  He encountered Chandler and Stack near West End Dining Hall, who were debating where McBryde Hall was in relation to where they were standing.  Apparently Chandler pointed toward Chem-Physics and Stack was certain that it was in the exact opposite direction toward Cassell Coliseum.  Both of them were way off.

While he was telling me this simple story, Evan burst into tears.  Stack was not only a RA, but played the baritone for the Marching Virginians and triple majored in English, Psychology, and Biology -- all the while maintaining a 4.0 GPA.  He was a senior and only had three weeks left before he could've graduated.

Stack
Source
I decided to spend the night at Evan's because it was almost 3:00 in the morning and I did not feel comfortable sleeping by myself in my empty dorm.  We split his bed, him curled in a fetal position on one side of the bed and me on the other side.

Hours crawled by.  The morning light cascaded through Evan's broken blinds.  I hadn't slept.  My eyes burned from tears, from the lack of sleep, from staring too long at televisions and computer screens.  Evan lay on the opposite end of his twin bed.  He stirred his feet slightly, brushing a toe against mine.  I doubt that he had been able to sleep either.

"Evan," I eventually croaked, "I keep having nightmares."

Evan immediately climbed to my side of his bed and enveloped me with his arms.  My tear ducts erupted.  I thought of the plague of silence that swept across my hall during President Steger's news conference.  I thought of the hundreds of emails I received from frantic friends and family.  I thought of Jon's tears when he knew that he had lost a friend.  I thought of how much our lives had been altered in just 24 hours.

I didn't think of Sean.

In the early morning hours of April 17, Evan kissed me.  Just once.  I left his room shortly thereafter, completely and utterly confused.  I had previously thought of him as nothing more than a good friend, probably my best friend at Tech.  We had met in our British Literature Class in January, and in that short amount of time, I grew to trust him and love him as a friend.  After that morning, however, I was in such a whirlwind of emotions that I didn't know what to think.

Tameka returned to our room shortly after I did and we reluctantly turned on the news; they had finally released the names of the 32 victims.  Ryan Christopher "Stack" Clark (22).  Emily Hilscher (19).  Professor Liviu Librescu (76). Minal Panchal (26).  Professor G. V. Loganathan (53).  Jarrett Lane (22).  Brian Bluhm (25).  Matthew Gwaltney (24).  Jeremy Herbstritt (27).  Partahi Lumbantoruan (34).  Daniel O'Neil (22).  Juan Ortiz-Ortiz (25).  Julia Pryde (23).  Waleed Shaalan (32).  Professor Christopher James "Jamie" Bishop (35). Lauren McCain (20).  Michael Pohle, Jr. (23).  Maxine "Max" Turner (22).  Nichole White (20).  Madame Jocelyne Couture-Nowak (49).  Ross Alameddine (20).  Austin Cloyd (18).  Daniel Perez Cueva (21).  Caitlin Hammaren (19).  Rachael Hill (18).  Matthew La Porte (20).  Henry Lee (20).  Erin Peterson (18).  Mary Karen Read (19).  Reema Samaha (18).  Leslie Sherman (20).  Kevin Granata (45).


All of these undergraduates, graduate students, and professors died because of the actions of one troubled and disturbed young man.  That man, Seung-Hui Cho, was someone I knew, someone who shared classes with me, someone who was an English major, just like me.  Though his short stories and plays were disconcerting, I had never imagined that he was a threat to our school.  His quiet nature was not portrayed in the menacing pictures and videos he had sent to NBC Studios.

I went on Facebook and saw that I had a message from Sarah, a friend from my Literature and Film class.  She told me that Maxine Turner, one of the 32 victims, had been in that class with us.  Shocked, I looked Maxine up on Facebook because I didn't recognize her name.  Oh my God.  Max!  When I saw her Facebook page, and saw that she had more than 150 wall postings from her friends and family asking her if she was safe, I froze.

Max
Source
I needed to get out of there.  Staggering out of my room with my towels and shower caddy, I stumbled into the bathroom, turned on a shower, and stepped fully-clothed into the frigid water.  I lost it.  I had never cried that hard or that long in my entire life.  Max was the girl I never made an effort to talk to.  She sat two rows in front of me every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  I often saw her in the hallways between classes.  Did I ever say hi?  Did I ever ask her how her day was going?  Did I ever wish her to have a good weekend?  No.  I have regretted not saying anything to Maxine every single day for the past five years.

Later that morning, my RA walked room-to-room to let us know that Tech was hosting a memorial convocation at noon in Cassell Coliseum, our basketball arena.  President Bush, the first lady, and Governor Tim Kaine were flying in by helicopter to be there.  She warned us that it was going to be a media storm and that we weren't obligated to answer any reporters unless we wanted to.

I made arrangements to go to the convocation with my friend Kimberly.  Evan texted me to ask if he could meet me there.  As I was texting back and forth with Evan, I thought of Jon.  According to Evan, Jon hadn't left his room, but perked up at my invitation to go with us to the convocation.

Kimberly and I met Jon outside of West End dining hall.  I gave him another long hug, and he seemed to be in better spirits.  He even cracked a smile or two.  The three of us passed by row after row of media trucks and vans on our route to Cassell.  There was a much larger turnout than expected; once Cassell was full, the police directed the rest of the public into Lane Stadium to watch the convocation on the jumbo tron.

Source
We met Evan and his fraternity brothers on the 40 yard line.  Lane Stadium was packed with students, parents, Blacksburg residents, and the media.  We sat in the withered grass and watched the president's helicopter land on the football practice field.  Evan kept glancing nervously at me, unsure of how I felt about that morning's events.  I untied his shoelaces in a playful manner -- it was the only thing I could do to let him know that everything was okay.

President Steger, President Bush, and Governor Tim Kaine spoke at the convocation.  Hushed whispers and muffled cries were heard throughout the stadium.  But it wasn't until Nikki Giovanni, an English professor at Virginia Tech, went up to the podium to speak when there was any sense of closure to the massacre.


Listening to Nikki's speech was singlehandedly the most emotional moment of my life.

Source
Writing this, the events of April 16, 2007 are so vivid in my mind that it feels as though it happened only last week.  I remember that day even more so than my own wedding day.

I grew up in the DC metropolitan area, desensitized by the constant reports of needless violence.  After this ill-fated day, I witnessed something that I had never seen before:  a mass gathering of students, teachers, and townspeople, holding their candles high and crying into the shoulders of complete strangers.  The community's strength, resilience, and endurance from those days onward were truly admirable.  

April 17, 2007 Candlelight Vigil
Source
The outreach we received from around the world was humbling. For weeks afterward, the Drill Field was decorated with gifts, posters, flowers, and cards expressing "We are all Hokies" from mourners in other towns, at other universities, in other states, and other countries.


April 16 lifted the blindfold from my eyes, reminded me that the daily stresses of life are insignificant, and taught me that every single day and every single person in our lives are precious. If you really, honestly love someone, then go to them. Be with them. Cherish every moment you have together. If you don't, you'll only regret it, and you may not be privileged with a second chance.

I just wish that it didn't take 32 lives for me to realize this.

April 16 Memorial
So, for now, God bless our fallen Hokies and each one of the survivors. Live, laugh, love, and lament for our beloved 32. I know I always will.

A bench next to the April 16 Memorial.
Hugs to each and every one of you, and thank you for reading this.

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