Creating something beautiful

One of my goals for 2010 is to update this blog more often than I did in 2009 (which shouldn’t be too hard given the infrequent posts last year). With that, I also want to do more to get word out about causes, people, and other things that I think are important and deserve your attention and support. For several reasons, I feel compelled to make the first post in this vein today.

I worked a volunteer shift on Saturday afternoon at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art helping with an Artist Talk by Gloria Baker Feinstein (who happens to be based here in Kansas City). I didn’t know much about her beforehand, but I had seen a few of her photographs here and there, and was interested in learning more about her. I am so glad I decided to sign up for the assignment because I fell in love with her photos, was impressed by how she came across as a person, and was introduced to a great organization.

The body of work she has produced is diverse, but all of her photos have a natural grace and elegance about them, no matter the subject or style. There is a thoughtful simplicity and straightforwardness in her images, but at the same time a lot of mystery and a kind of haunting quality. I’m fascinated by how her framing choices and depth of field are often unusual and striking. I loved that she seemed unpretentious in person, and I was moved as much of what she showed during her talk contained themes, ideas, or emotions that resonated deeply with me.

As wonderful as it was to learn about her art, I also found out that Ms. Feinstein is the founder of a non-profit organization called Change the Truth. The group supports the St. Mary Kevin Orphanage in Uganda, and helps provide food, shelter, clothing, and education (and ultimately hope for a better future) for numerous children whose lives have been devastated by war and HIV/AIDS. These kids have witnessed unspeakable atrocities and dealt with death and poverty, and yet they have joy and plans for what they will become and how they will help their country.

In addition to admiring the work Change the Truth is doing, I was touched by Feinstein’s desire to use her art to show these children as people with dignity and inherent value. The truth of what each child has lived through is horrendous, but their truth is also being changed, and that is something worth celebrating. They are not people to feel sorry for, but to see as inspirational.

If you have an interest in this cause, please go to the site, or check out Kutuuka, her book of portraits and journalistic images from Uganda (proceeds from the sale of this book go to CTT for the orphanage).

There are many other things floating around in my head as I post this note. Jon and I have been talking lately about needs in our local community. As I think about people and places that need help, I also have to think of the recent earthquake in Haiti and the hundreds of thousands of people who have been killed or wounded, and the many more who now are trying to survive with virtually no food, no home, and who face the monumental task of trying to rebuild their lives. I cannot imagine being in the midst of such a large-scale humanitarian crisis. Please pray for these people and all those trying to provide aid, and find what you can do to help.

And in talking about people who need help and those who are working to create change, I must remember that today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. May we all be moved to stand up for what is right in this world and to work for justice and equality for those who need it, and may we never forget those who have done so before us. As cynical as I am, I still believe that there is hope and redemption.

Thank God for grace and beauty in a fallen world.

~ Kate

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Season’s Greetings! (our annual end-of-year letter)

Looking back on 2009 has been quite a process, as it’s been an interesting year for us, to say the least. It’s had many ups and downs, and we’ve faced some issues we’ve not had to deal with before. In spite of some struggles, we’re doing alright and looking for a better year to come in 2010.

The year began as any other, with both of us working and pursuing Master’s degrees from Baker University, and Kate judging winterguard. Katy enjoys working as the Membership and Publications Assistant at the International Association of Assessing Officers, an organization for people involved with property assessment and tax policy. She started there in June 2008, and loves her co-workers and her job. Jonathon was in his sixth year at Hilltop, a school for adjudicated youth.  A highlight of January was Jon passing the national exam to be a licensed school administrator.

As you might remember, Katy’s brother, Richard, moved in with us in December 2008, and overall, it’s been nice having him here. Sometimes it’s a little cramped in our small house, but it’s been fun, and there have been times he’s been a huge help as we’ve hit rough spots.

Richard

Some close friends of ours, Jonathan and Lena Andrews, had twins on March 30th. Isaac and Clara (and their parents) have been a big part of our lives this year. We were quickly named “aunt” and “uncle” and have spent a lot of time with this family. This Spring, we also worked on a friend’s campaign for the Raytown Board of Aldermen, and were very excited that he (Shane Par-Due) was elected.

Isaac (L) and Clara (R) Andrews

In April, Jon was notified that his contract at Hilltop School would not be renewed. DeLaSalle Education Center (which provides educational services there) has repeatedly slashed the budget at the facility in the past few years, eliminating almost half of the teaching positions. Perhaps our biggest challenge this past year has been trying to remain positive as we deal with doors closing and very few opening.

On the positive side, Jon finished his Master of Arts in School Leadership in May. This degree, along with a good score on the licensure exam, qualifies him for jobs in administration. He’s hoping to become an Assistant Principal or Principal at some point. We had a great time at his graduation party, especially since Kate’s Papaw Bob was in town from Ohio (he hasn’t been here since our wedding).

Papaw Bob and Einstein

This summer we launched two web sites, this one for us personally, and one for Jon to talk about music. The first site is jandksmith.com, and its main page hosts this blog (which we’ve not been diligent about updating). The second site, radiofreeraytown.com, has gotten much more time and attention. On Radio Free Raytown, Jon blathers about anything music related, and every Friday he posts a podcast that can be streamed or downloaded. He hopes to at some point get it synced with iTunes as well.

Toward the end of July, Katy became a volunteer at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, one of our favorite spots in Kansas City. Around this time we also helped put on a concert with Mike Roe and Terry Taylor (of the bands The 77s and Daniel Amos, respectively). Steve Hindalong (of The Choir) was there to play drums, and Michael Miller was a great opening act. If you aren’t familiar with any of these artists, we highly recommend you check them out.

Kate’s Papaw Bob made it possible to make a last-minute trip to Ohio over Labor Day weekend. Her Uncle Rob got married, and we visited her Aunt Jo in Ashland, Kentucky. Jon’s never been to Ashland, so it was nice to finally introduce him to where part of Katy’s the family is from and spend time with Jo (we haven’t done so since our wedding).

Aunt Jo and us outside her house in Ashland

Shortly after, Kate returned to Kentucky for IAAO’s 75th annual conference in Louisville. It was her first trip for the organization, and a lot of fun. In addition to being a great work experience, she got to see some of the revitalized downtown and tour the Muhammad Ali Center.

We had another tough moment this year with the death of Anne Winter, Kate’s boss, on October 22nd. Anne committed suicide, and for the first time many people (including co-workers) learned she had been bi-polar and battled depression for a number of years. She had been able to keep it hidden quite well, so her death hit very hard because it was so unexpected. Anne was loved and respected by everyone who knew her, and there’s not space here to go into what she meant to us. In addition to being Kate’s boss (and a great one), she had owned a record store and befriended Jon years ago, always encouraging him in his music and recommending new things to listen to. Jon did a Radio Free Raytown show in her memory. You can listen to it here.

Although he has not had constant employment in 2009, Jon has found things to do with his time.  He was asked to help organize a benefit in October for Angel Tree’s work in the Raytown area.  (Angel Tree is a program sponsored by Prison Fellowship Ministries to purchase Christmas presents for children of incarcerated adults.) His band, My Science Fiction Twin, even performed at the event, which was held at Benetti’s.

My Science Fiction Twin performing at the Angel Tree fundraiser

We spent Halloween weekend in Topeka, Kansas, to celebrate our sixth anniversary and see the Billens, whom we don’t get to visit with as much now. Sam held a release party for his third CD, and we spent that Saturday with Bill, Dan and Rosa, and their kids.

Dan and Rosa's son, Isaac, dressed as a bat for Halloween

In early November, Jon began a new job as a paraprofessional at Raytown Middle School working one-on-one with student with special needs. It is a difficult job for a number of reasons, but it’s a start in a good school district. Hopefully, he can use this to his advantage in working toward a job for which he’s better qualified. At least it is back in his field and a step up from the job he took as a delivery driver at Pizza Hut in August. To make himself more marketable, he’s seeking certification in another area besides social studies (he’s mainly looking at math certification).

The year has ended on a better note. Jon joined The Sexy Accident as the band’s new bassist in November. He looks forward to the band recording in February and booking a small tour to New York in June. (You can watch a video from Jon’s first performance with the band here.) We hosted Thanksgiving again and enjoyed having Katy’s parents in town. That weekend, we had a surprise progressive dinner birthday party for Jon, who just turned 30. Shortly after, he quit his Pizza Hut job. Katy is halfway through her Masters of Liberal Arts, and it’s going very well for her. And we were recently asked to be Isaac and Clara’s godparents. We are honored Jonathan and Lena want us to fill this role in their children’s lives.

Isaac and Clara Andrews

Isaac and Clara, at seven months

This year has been rough, for us and for many of our friends. It has been hard to remain optimistic through everything we’ve dealt with and seen people around us experience, yet we are. We know there are people who support us, a God who loves us, and we know that things will change, even if we can’t say when. As we now spend Christmas in Ohio, we pray that you can also find the hope to look forward to another year. May you see the beauty of the season and know that there can be peace in the midst of chaos. Thank you for being in our lives.

Have a very merry Christmas,
Jon and Kate (and Einstein)

July exploded like a firecracker (or How Is It August So Soon?!).

So we started this web site thing, but haven’t really updated it much. Jon’s been concentrating more on job hunting (anyone need a school administrator?) and posting content for the other site he started, Radio Free Raytown. Speaking of which, he and the site were recently featured in the local paper, The Raytown Post, and you can read the article online. I’ve been working and in summer classes, and in the past six weeks we’ve been to concerts, at the lake, celebrating birthdays and a wedding … the days have filled up rather quickly.

The highlights:

View from Millers' lake house at sunsetWe spent July 4th at Truman Lake with a couple of families from church. We enjoyed a short visit with Rick and Rachel Sams who were back visiting from Ecuador and popped in. The day was beautiful, and that night Jon and Richard got to shoot off lots of things and that made loud noises and almost temporarily blinded everyone. We went down a few weeks later for a very relaxing day on the water. As you can see in the photo, the Millers’ lake house has an amazing view that is always nice to go back for.Jonathan about to devour the meatballs

My birthday was July 9, but it lasted for several days this year. The night before my birthday, Jon took me to see Low, a favorite of ours, who were playing with In The Pines, a fairly cool local band, at the Record Bar. The night of my birthday we had dinner at Houlihan’s (sign up for their e-mail list and get a free birthday meal every year!), which was lovely and quiet and just the two of us. The following night we had the opposite atmosphere – a lively dinner at Buca di Beppo (free birthday dessert!) with friends Jonathan and Lena Andrews who were celebrating Jon’s birthday. Jon was in awe of the one pound meatballs, as anyone should be.

Mid-month, we went with friends to see Sonic Youth, which was very cool. And at the end of the month, Jon and I were part of a concert venture that brought Michael Miller, Mike Roe and Terry Taylor to Kansas City. The time leading up to the event was stressful, but the show was awesome. Jon has posts up about both shows on Radio Free Raytown with some pictures linked from his new Flickr page.

I recently went to a volunteer orientation at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. For those who don’t know, the Nelson is pretty much my favorite place in Kansas City. I’ve been wanting to get involved somewhere, and had been trying to volunteer for a smaller local arts organization for about six months, but they could never seem to figure out what to have me do – it kept changing and then wouldn’t actually happen. I had thought going there would be more helpful than going to the obvious place for art, but decided that perhaps going bigger would be better, and it turns out they plugged me in right away at the Nelson. I’ll start working with the Events and Outreach committee in September.

And our friend HopJon and I with Hope and Paul at their weddinge got married yesterday, and Jon played guitar at the wedding. The day was lovely and we all enjoyed it very much. Hope and Paul are great, and we wish them a long, happy marriage!

That’s been our summer. Jon and I are trying to hold out hope that he’ll get hired by a school in the area sometime very soon, and I’m going to enjoy a few weeks off before fall classes start up. That’s all for now!

~ Kate