Dear Friends and Family,

We hope that you had a wonderful year 2003. Here's hoping that 2004 is an improvement, in any event!

A recap of 2003 for our family includes several highlights:

  1. great strides in Thad's treatment for his tea burn from 2002;
  2. a trip to Togo, and a church project to re-screen parts of the Bassar Hospital;
  3. lots of improvements around the house;
  4. visits from and to friends and family; and
  5. the beginning of Tchapo's senior year -- yikes!

Spring brought garden activities, which is primarily the pervue of Anna. She does a great job keeping us in tomatoes, beans, swiss chard, zucchini, etc. Once the school year ended we decided to rip out the entryway wallpaper (a horrible candy-stripe pattern) and paint instead. Andy enjoyed putting in oak trim, but won't be mistaken for a master carpenter!

Later on we decided to rip up some of the backyard concrete, to create some grassy play space for Thad (demolition was our specialty this year). Oh boy, that wasn't fun…it was a lot of hard work, and couldn't have been accomplished without Kpandja, especially. Concrete saws, jack hammers, sledge hammers, loads of dirt – we did it all. Lots of good learning experience, let's say, and stop at that….

Somewhere in there Andy and Tchapo went to Harlan County, KY for SWAP (Sharing With Appalachian People) with a group from church. They fixed people's homes (Tchapo mostly roofed, while Andy did a lot of je ne sais quoi). They were there for a whole week, while Thad and Anna went to Oshkosh to visit good friends of hers. Both Anna and Thad were warmly welcomed.

In July we went to Andy's family reunion in Syracuse, IN, for a week, which was fun for the whole family. We love getting together for that. Shortly thereafter, we left for Togo to visit with Anna's side of the family for three weeks. We had a lot fun being with family and Craig Haas, a special friend of the family (also a former Peace Corps volunteer in Togo). The family was delighted to meet Thad for the first time, and he was definitely the center of attention. Before we left for Togo Thad had learned animal names and sounds, so he was glad to see the real things and chase them around: pigs, goats, turkeys, guinea fowl, etc. Tchapo made an effort to try speaking Bassar this time, which pleased us (a language he once spoke just fine!). He enjoyed training with a Bassar soccer team and playing with them (since he is now too old to chase animals, which was his former favorite past-time in Bassar: Thad has taken over that job). We all enjoyed the trip. What made it especially rewarding was using $2200 which our church raised to put screens on windows at the hospital: we hope that patients there are sleeping better and getting malaria less frequently now that the new screens are in.

Tchapo just turned 18 and is finishing his last year of high school. He will go to NKU, and considers studying psychology, but reserves the right to change his mind. He is having good senior year, but wishes that it would go more slowly. He's been seeing the same girl for awhile now (ask him about Lindsey). He got cut from soccer (because he missed try-outs while in Togo – ouch!), and then got cut from basketball (which he had not played since freshman year). He was sad for awhile, but got his sense of humor back and says that he will try out for other sports just to see how many sports he can get cut from in his senior year. He plays pick-up basketball at NKU once a week with (mostly) old men, and bowls on a church team in a league a couple of times a month. He got his first "real" job as janitor for an after-school program at the church, and baby-sits to feed his gas habit.

Thad is an active and delightful two-year-old. He is rapidly acquiring language skills, and is a very polite little boy. He likes reading and taking walks to the park. He loves singing, which he and daddy engage in especially at bedtime, with the banjo. He is Daddy's boy. He goes to the Library story hour once a week and always wants to get to the church nursery to see his buddy Jack. The Shriners, who did such a great job caring for Thad following his tea burn of August 2002, have declared his treatment complete (although they're there for him until he's 21, should he need any further care for the burn). We still rub him down with lotion twice a day, and he does have some modest scarring, but fortunately it doesn't restrict his movement and the scars are in relatively hidden areas.

Anna is still working part-time at a nearby nursing home and takes kickboxing and step aerobics whenever she gets a chance. Thad keeps her very busy.

Andy is on his 4th year of teaching at NKU. He spends too much time on his teaching, and wishes he had more time for reading. He was awarded the Outstanding Junior Professor in Arts and Science for 2002-2003, and will soon go up for tenure. He wishes he were playing more soccer, but likes playing basketball (he's one of those old men) – especially when he can block one of Tchapo's shots or steal one of his passes… which is not very often.

Kpandja (Anna's brother) is in his second year of premed at NKU. He is doing fine. We notice that his English has improved quite a lot over the course of his stay here! He tutors in the Math Center, and is doing very well in his coursework. He is a hard worker, who also spends many hours helping to raise his nephew Thad. He is a great help to the family.

Best wishes for a wonderful 2004; stop by for a visit if you're in the neighborhood. We hope to see you this year!

The Longs of Ft. Thomas, KY (for better photos!)