31 March 2011

Seven-eighths

Many of our blog readers know that Chris' brother, Casey, is stationed with the Navy in Japan. He lives there with his beautiful wife of three years, Elvie, and his 12-year-old stepson, Shin-ya (pronounced SEEN-ya).

They live in Atsugi, which is in the southeast part of Japan, about 20 miles southwest of Tokyo (at the crook if you look at the island of Japan as a letter "J"). So thankfully they escaped all of the damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami nearly three weeks ago. They felt a 5.4 earthquake, but didn't experience any damage or injuries on their base.

But in the ensuing aftermath of the disaster, the military decided to allow families to voluntarily evacuate and temporarily return to the United States as a precaution. Military personnel were moved to safer locations (Casey currently is with his crew in Guam), and their families who opted for the evacuation were flown to the west coast of the United States. Then they could travel to meet up with family in other parts of the country or stay on the west coast until they decided to return to Japan. No one was in any danger, but it was an opportunity to let the families feel safer by moving home for a short while.

Elvie and Shin-ya left Japan around 9 a.m. Indiana time last Thursday and arrived here about 12:30 a.m. Saturday, following an overnight stay in California on Thursday. After more than three years, we finally got to meet our sweet sister-in-law and nephew. And seven-eighths of the Clarks were together. (The three Japan Clarks were already planning a trip here in early April, so we were glad two of them came a few weeks early!)

I was nervous about how Avery would handle the situation. She can be apprehensive around strangers and often takes awhile to warm up to someone. We talk enough about Casey, Elvie and Shin-ya that I hoped she would see them and treat them as her family.

She quickly latched on to Shin-ya, probably because she loves kids so much. It also helped that he had some new toys she could play with. But the feeling was mutual. Shin-ya enjoys playing with her as much as she does with him. She gives him hugs and kisses and begs him to play "dollhouse" or "ball." I love seeing them interact with each other. It's like they've always been together! We all have had a lot of fun talking, eating and playing together. We'll share pictures in another post.

But we got some very good news this week. Originally, the military said that all leaves were cancelled and would be approved on a case-by-case basis. Since Casey already had a leave approved prior to the earthquake, his supervisors agreed to let him take his leave as scheduled. He'll arrive late in the evening on April 4 and will go back to Guam on April 14. But for 10 days, all eight Clarks will be together for the first time ever!

30 March 2011

Bracket update - Final Four

Well, here we are...just a few days away from the three biggest games of the men's college basketball season. So it's time for another bracket update. (Remember that the percentile and rank compare us to the others entered in ESPN's bracket contest.)

Chris
550 points
67.1 percentile
1,947,712 rank

Teresa
580 points
79.8 percentile
1,194,157 rank

Karen
540 points
62.7 percentile
2,206,925 rank

Avery
290 points
0.8 percentile
5,874,575 rank

Avery (Kentucky) and I (UConn) each have a team remaining in the Final Four. Chris and Karen have lost all of their Final Four teams. And everyone lost their champion (St. Peter's for Avery and Ohio State for the rest of us).

But we're really excited since Butler made it to its second consecutive Final Four! And I personally am glad that a lot of the top seeds fell, even if it ruined my bracket. I usually root for the underdog, so I'm excited that there aren't any No. 1 or 2 seeds in the Final Four this year. And each of the four teams has a really good chance of winning the whole thing. But we're rooting for the Dawgs!

We'll post a final update next week. Until then, GO BUTLER!

24 March 2011

2-year doctor's appointment

Yesterday, Avery had her 2-year doctor's appointment. Here are her latest stats: Weight - 25 pounds, 11 ounces (25th percentile) Length - 31.5 inches (5th percentile) Her length seems to go in a stair-step pattern. At one appointment, she has grown. Then at the next appointment, her length stays the same. And after that she grows again. The doctor said it's nothing to worry about. She keeps going up the chart, and that's all that matters. The doctor always reviews the milestones Avery should have met at this time as well as the ones she should meet the next time we see him. She has met all of the milestones for 2-year-olds. And she's quickly on track to meet the next set for 3-year-olds, including counting to 10 (I've got to get this on video to share with you!), identifying colors, identifying body parts, identifying shapes and kicking and throwing a ball. The biggest challenge for the next year will be potty training. She's still very interested in her new potty seat, so we'll probably start the official training within the next few weeks. We don't have to see the doctor again until next March, after she turns 3!

23 March 2011

The Neelys' Easy Lemon Pasta with Chicken

I made this Easy Lemon Pasta with Chicken recipe for the fourth or fifth time last night. And since it's one of Chris' new favorite meals, I thought I'd share it with you!

Ingredients 1 pound dried penne 2 chicken cutlets, cut into fingers Salt and freshly ground black pepper 3 cloves garlic, sliced 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes 3 tablespoons olive oil 3 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh parsley, for garnish 2 lemons, juiced 1/2 cup grated Parmesan Preparation Instructions Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, until al dente. Drain well.

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat a large grill pan over medium high and add chicken. Grill until golden and completely cooked. Remove to a plate and slice.

Add the garlic and red pepper flakes to a saute pan with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and saute until fragrant. Add the cooked pasta and turn heat off. Mix all together.

Remove pasta to a large bowl. Add chicken to the warm pasta and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle in chopped parsley. Add the juice of 2 lemons and mix. Before serving top with Parmesan.

22 March 2011

Bracket update

Now that the first two rounds of the NCAA men's Division I basketball tournament are finished (well, technically it's the first three rounds, but it will take me awhile to get used to this new set-up), here's an update on our brackets.

Chris added our brackets to the nearly 6 million on ESPN's Tournament Challenge. He also helped Karen with a bracket for her pool at work, so we included her in our group. The percentile and rank refer to how we compare against the other contestants in ESPN's contest.

Chris
430 points
85.4 percentile
862,311 rank

Teresa
420 points
78.0 percentile
1,305,406 rank

Karen
420 points
78.0 percentile
1,305,406 rank

Avery
170 points
0.3 percentile
5,906,300 rank

Chris, Karen and I still have our champions in our brackets, although we've lost some Elite Eight teams. But poor Avery lost 14 of her Sweet Sixteen teams and three of her Final Four teams. But this is only her first attempt. I'm sure some time in the future, she'll start beating us with her choices!

19 March 2011

PW's The MM Sandwich, PW Style

Since she lives on the ranch and cooks for lots of hungry ranchers, The Pioneer Woman often shares her man-friendly recipes. One of them is her husband's favorite sandwich. This one didn't really strike my fancy. But recently she posted her version of the sandwich. And I knew we had to try it. I thought it was delicious, but the real test was what Chris thought of it. He loved it! He even said it was better than the Philly steak sandwiches he gets for lunch at his favorite restaurant downtown. That's quite a compliment! (I actually halved the recipe since we didn't need that much meat. It still gave us plenty of filling for sandwiches at dinner and enough leftovers for two lunches for us later that week.) Here's the full recipe: Ingredients 4 tablespoons butter 2 pounds cube steak Kosher salt Freshly ground pepper 1 whole large yellow onion, halved and sliced thick 2 whole green bell peppers, sliced into strips 2 whole red bell peppers, sliced into strips 3 cloves garlic, minced 16 ounces, weight white mushrooms, sliced 2 tablespoons (additional) butter 1-½ cup sherry (regular or cooking sherry) 4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce 4 dashes Tabasco (more to taste) 8 whole deli rolls 2 tablespoons (additional) butter 8 slices cheese (provolone, Swiss, pepper jack) Preparation Instructions Cut cube steak into strips against the grain. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside. Heat 4 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over high heat. As soon as it’s melted (but before it burns) brown strips of cube steak in two or three batches, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Remove meat to a clean plate when brown. Set aside. Reduce heat to medium-high. Add onions, garlic, green peppers, and red peppers and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until relatively soft (but not flimsy.) Remove to a clean plate. Set aside. Melt 2 add’l tablespoons butter to the skillet. Add sliced mushrooms and stir. Pour in sherry, then add Worcestershire and Tabasco. Cook over medium-high heat for five minutes, or until liquid has reduced by about a third. Add in meat and vegetables, stirring to combine. Cook for just a few minutes to heat everything up, adding more sherry and Worcestershire (and Tabasco) as needed. Stir in 2 tablespoons butter at the end. Keep hot. Toast halved deli rolls in plenty of butter until golden brown and crisp. Spoon meat/veggie mixture on the lower half of the bun, then spoon one or two tablespoons of pan sauce over the meat (it will soak into the bun.) Drizzle a little sauce on the underside of the top bun, too, for extra flavor and moisture. Top with cheese and broil for a minute or two, until the cheese is melted. Serve immediately.

17 March 2011

Avery's first bracket

While perusing my usual blogs this week, one of the writers mentioned how much she and her husband enjoy watching the NCAA men's Division I basketball tournament each year. And of course they each fill out a bracket to predict the winner. They passed along this passion to their children, who have "filled out" a bracket each year of their lives.

When I shared this with Chris, we both agreed that we need to start this tradition with Avery. So to get Avery ready for the National Chris Clark Holiday, we had her "fill out" her first bracket.

We have a cute video of her selecting the first round winners, but we're having problems uploading it since it's more than eight minutes long. Hopefully we can get it to work later.

Here she is choosing the Final Four:





Take a look at Avery's final bracket:


Click on the bracket to see the full-size version.

Chris and I have our own brackets, too. So we'll try to post updates on our standings over the next three weeks.

Happy National Chris Clark Holiday, everyone!

16 March 2011

07 March 2011

Sit 'n Spin

This fun new toy was a birthday gift, courtesy of Uncle Casey, Aunt Elvie and cousin Shin-ya. Uncle Casey remembered playing with a Sit 'n Spin when he and Daddy were little. So he thought Avery needed to enjoy this classic childhood toy, too.

And on a related note: Last week, the Japan Clarks finalized their plans to visit Indiana in April! We can't wait to spend 10 days with you three and get to know Aunt Elvie and Shin-ya!

06 March 2011

05 March 2011

Pacers vs. Jazz

With the hope of a good basketball season, Chris wanted to go to an Indiana Pacers game this year. When he saw the February game at home versus the Utah Jazz, he quickly bought two tickets. He wanted to see former Butler University player Gordon Hayward who now plays for the Jazz. (You may remember that Gordon missed the last-second shot during the 2010 NCAA Men's National Championship game.) And I think he also wanted a date night with his wife!

We sat at mid-court in the upper deck.

We were right behind the retired jersey numbers of some of the Pacers' most celebrated members. It's kind of weird to take pictures of basketball games, especially the jump ball, when Chris isn't a referee on the game!

Here is Hayward getting ready to make his first on-court appearance of the game.

I actually managed to capture Hayward's one and only basket of the game, a breakaway dunk.

The crowd went nuts! I think everyone cheered more for Hayward than anyone on the Pacers team.

The Pacers didn't play well for most of the game and lost by 11 points. But Chris and I still had a fun date night together!

04 March 2011

Go, go, IU!

Avery is trying really hard to help IU win a few more games at the end of this season. Daddy appreciates her enthusiasm. But he's hoping her support will turn into a big victory.

03 March 2011

02 March 2011

Avery's second birthday: Celebrating with family

The first family birthday celebration took place the day before Avery's birthday. We spent the afternoon with Mommaw and Poppaw Clark; Great Aunt Linda and Great Uncle Dave; cousins Emily and Suzanne; and Great Aunt Judi and Great Uncle Ron.

Avery was all about the presents this year. She loved the bows, the bags and the paper.

When we arrived, Avery pointed out the pink cake and said, "Avery cake." But she kindly shared the cake with the rest of the guests.

This was a surprise gift! Avery's Great Uncle Larry made this special cradle for her baby dolls.

When asked what was carved on the front of the cradle, she said, "Avery Joy."

She immediately put Betsy into the cradle and started rocking her.

The "official" birthday party last Saturday included the grandparents and Aunt Karen.

Karen went the classic route and got the Fisher Price cash register and doctor set.

My mom made her a second batch of felt play food.

This set includes a cake, a pie, six eggs and plenty of vegetables.

She's still excited about clothes. Look at that face!

The big gift from Mommaw and Poppaw Clark was this tricycle. Avery is a little too short for it now, but she'll grow into it quickly. And several parts are adjustable, so this should be a good outdoor toy for several years.

And the big gift from Grandma and Grandpa Hromada was this doll house that my Grandpa Hromada made for my sister and me. The furniture and dolls are new and the house has a few upgrades -- like new floors and a brick exterior -- but it's the same house I remember playing with.

Avery started playing with this right away. And Daddy couldn't help but join in.

There wasn't a theme for this party. I just wanted to make a cake that would be special and recognizable to Avery. So I found a great fish cake online and attempted it myself.

I thought Avery would say, "Fish! Fish!" when she saw the cake. Instead, we had to tell her what it was! (Video coming later.) I hope she was just distracted by the big cake in front of her. Otherwise, I may never make another birthday cake again!

It was a wonderful low-key birthday party for a wonderful 2-year-old!

01 March 2011

Avery's second birthday: Her special day

Our precious Avery turned 2 years old last week. And we celebrated her birthday for practically the whole week! Chris already had the day off for her birthday since it fell on Presidents Day this year. We originally planned to go to the zoo. But the cold, rainy weather and Avery's rash made us change our plans. The day started with opening presents from Mommy and Daddy.

She got some books...

...a pink soccer ball...

...and a princess potty seat.

Avery has acted very interested in the potty lately. So we thought the princess seat would be a good first step into the potty training adventure.

She knew what to do with it!

Since we couldn't go to the zoo, we did one of Avery's other favorite activities -- window shopping! We went to Meijer to look at the babies and toys. But first she stopped in the scrapbooking aisle (that's my girl!)...

...and the books aisle. Of course, she found an Elmo book right away.

This is what she does when we go down the toy aisles. She just wants to hug the babies and say hi.

Believe it or not, we walked out of the store without buying anything. We told her we wouldn't buy anything, so she didn't put up a fuss when we left with empty arms.

Next up was lunch. We asked Avery what she wanted, and she said, "Pizza!" So we went to Arni's, one of our favorite places for pizza.

She loves pizza so much!

After lunch, we visited the doctor to check on her rash. The doctor's office features a huge fish tank with lots of tropical fish. She loves watching all of the fish, especially "Nemo."

The day was filled with lots of activity, so Avery skipped her daily nap. But she still was an angel. I'm so glad we got to spend her special day with her. And I hope we'll always be able to have this day together as a family.