Friday, December 20, 2013

"We Don't Do Santa." (spoilers ahead)

Let's be honest, nobody but friends and family read this blog.   I'm good with that.  People ask us, "Why?" on our choice regarding Santa, and this is the reason.  This isn't a recruitment drive, just an explanation.  No, you won't agree with all of it.  That's ok.  We love you, anyway, and hope you'll do the same.  Written with love...several times over.  (Seriously, this has gone through quite a few drafts...and has taken me over two weeks to click "Publish.")

Our homemade stockings.  Sandra's and both Bill's made by Gammie.  Nate's made by Sandra to match.

Major spoiler alert.  Children, look away.

"We don't do Santa."  Four simple words.  The power they hold is astounding.  To utter them aloud is to roll the dice, never really knowing what will come.  (To type them in a blog...very similar.)  Usually, the payout is a very uncomfortable conversation.

We aren't grinches.  We don't say it with our noses in the air.  We don't scream it like a battle-cry.  We certainly don't throw it in people's faces on a whim.  The only time it comes up, really, is when people ask the kids what they asked Santa for.  We respond with those four words, usually quite sheepishly, because we just don't know how they will react. They may want to talk more about it, as though we are merely mistaken, and just need a good talk to be convinced.  They might shift uncomfortably, as our checkout-line-neighbor conversation vanishes into thin air.  It's just plain awkward.

Likely, people assume we have some sad Santa-shaped scar in our childhood that we are trying to hide from.  We don't.  We both grew up with the Santa traditions on Christmas, and both of us absolutely loved it.  In fact, if you had told me, five years ago, that we wouldn't be including Santa in our Christmas celebration with our kids, I never would have believed you.

My wife and I discussed it for a while.  A few years back, she told me she wasn't sure she wanted to do Santa when we had kids.  I thought she'd lost her mind.  How could we not do Santa?  It's what parents do.  It's a vital, meaningful tradition filled with joy and wonder!  Not only that, it was something I had always looked forward to doing with our kids!  She was more worried that our kids would be completely crushed by the I was (I had to spend quite a while curled up in Mom's lap, having a good cry.), and wanted to make sure we kept Christ as the central reason and teaching for Christmas.  I told her that was just me, at the time: rather a crybaby.  I had no reservations about letting our kids believe in Santa, and I maintained that both Christ and Santa could coexist on Christmas morning.  Christ is the reason for celebration, Santa would just help us celebrate.  Done.

One day, a couple of years later, it came up again.  The thought had resurfaced, unprovoked, several times over those years, but I quickly brushed it aside, telling the issue "Look, it's all good, we've already talked about this."  I was thinking about all the things I would miss out on if we didn't do it with the kids: the leaving out cookies (and a carrot for Rudolph, of course), the writing letters, the eating cookies and leaving a trail of crumbs behind as evidence, the wonderful stories I used to receive from my Uncle about the elves who were keeping an eye on us (he knew them personally), and so many other fun things.  I love Christmas, and I wanted it to be as special for our kids as it is for me, and these things made it more special.  Wait...more special?  Then, a quiet voice inside that I've gotten a little better at listening to said "So, you're almost thirty, and not having all these traditions is going to ruin your celebration of the birth of Christ?"  I realized that I was a grown man, convinced that if my children didn't believe in this fantasy, it would ruin my celebration.  The celebration of my Lord's birth.  A Lord who came to this world for the express purpose of giving up his life for mine, so that I could be with Him.  Could anything in this world truly make that more special?

Then, I realized just what Santa was: an appetizer; an opening act.  The problem is, he's the appetizer we gorged ourselves on until we spoiled our dinner.  He's the opening act who got everyone to dance so hard that they couldn't enjoy the headliner.  Sure, you can say it's all in how you present it, but let's be realistic.  Does a child have more interest in celebrating a Savior who came to this world and died for their eternal soul, or someone who magically flies around the world and brings them lots of toys?  Please, they're kids.  Santa's going to steal the show.

Does our 3-year old recognize Santa?  How could he not?  He's everywhere.  How do we handle it?  The same way we would handle any other fictional character.  He's there.  He's got a name.  He's not real. 

Things just don't seem as harmless today as they did when we were kids.  We caught the movie Santa Buddies a few years back while we were hanging with some younger cousins.  The Buddies movies were huge back then, and beloved by kids everywhere.  What could be cuter than finding a way to combine talking puppies and Christmas, right?  There is a scene toward the end where it shows various children around the world praying to Santa for him to come.  I kid you not.  Kneeling at their bedsides, eyes closed and everything.  They managed to turn Santa from a myth into a deity.  That's a perfect example of the kind of confusion that is being created in some kids today.

Sure, we do a tree with tons of other decorations, presents in the wee hours (which will only get wee-er as the kids get a little older), stockings (as awesomely displayed above), trips with family and friends to look at lights, etc.  But, through all of the holiday traditions that we hold dear, we keep our focus on the Savior who voluntarily became the greatest gift we could have ever received, and can't be taken away.

I promise, we are going to do everything we can to make sure our kids don't stop you from celebrating Christmas in whatever way you have chosen. They'll be instructed on how to go along with things without destroying the holidays of children everywhere.  For our little family, this is how it's going to be done.  As for you and yours, that's totally up to you.

Thanks for reading.

With love, joy, and peace to all,


Friday, November 22, 2013

DVD Cover: Disney/Pixar - Toy Story Anthology

As Always: No copyright infringement is intended by anything on these pages. All other content is defined as "original content." The use of all files on Saunders Designs are allowed under the fair use clause of the Copyright Law and are for personal use only and cannot be bought or sold. All covers on this site are meant to be alternatives to the official packaging and are intended to house the original discs. This site does not support or endorse piracy or bootlegs.  If you like a movie enough to print a custom cover, buy it.

So, this one is for one of our 3-year-old's favorite movie series.  We've watched these a few hundred times over the past year.  This is meant to be an anthology cover, despite parts of it not yet being released.  The Buzz Lightyear series has had a very limited release, and the Toons are actually on discs from other movies.  Hopefully they will come out someday.  This preview is for an 8-disc case:

As it happened, when I was looking for artwork, I stumbled across the image I used for the front of the cover.  It worked perfectly, as I was already planning on finding a picture of Buzz and Woody flying, and making it look like they were coming out of the cover.  After clipping the edges, and replacing the wingtips and hat brim, it was pretty well complete.

 Here is the 12-disc case I printed for our collection:
2-discs for each of the first two movies, and 4 discs for the third.  Room for 4 more discs for the series and shorts, assuming they ever get released.

Hopefully I can put in some more time on some of the other covers soon.  I'd like to make one for Cars next, then move on to some of the others.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

How Bad Must Things Be for the President to Apologize?

I don't do politics, mostly because it makes me crazy, and I don't like me when I'm crazy.  I hate listening to speeches from politicians, because of the massive grain of salt that I have to stomach with it.  If I end up accidentally catching part of one, I just sit there, angry about how transparently manipulative they are, and seem to process nothing but the double-speak that takes place.  I truly despise politics.

Listening to the radio and hearing the President apologize for the healthcare fiasco genuinely frightened me.  My first thought was "...if things are already as bad as we know them to be, how much worse must they actually be for the President to say he's sorry???"  I mean, really, how many times in history has the head of a nation apologized?

Am I qualified to make statements as to how the government should make changes to the healthcare system?  Does anyone seem to be?  I have worked in a medical billing office for almost 8 years, and I do have normal-person insurance, so I do have a perspective that most in the government don't.

Insurance companies are only able to profit from healthy people who don't use the insurance they are paying for.  Naturally, if you require companies to provide plans that will insure anyone, despite how unhealthy they are, it's going to cost boatloads more for that plan.  By covering unhealthy people, they have to be prepared to pay for their extra visits to the doctor.  It's shocking, I know, but these companies are in business to make money. 

The government has now made available sub-standard insurance at high rates.  Yipee.  Doctor's do not want to be paid sub-standardly, as evidenced by the fact that most of them already refuse new Medicare patients.  Why?  They want to make money.  They know that other insurance plans pay better than Medicare, so they have to put a priority on maintaining a balance of their patient caseload that will still make the lines on the profit chart go up.  

Guess what's going to have to happen to make these new plans more affordable?  They will have to pay out less.  There's no two ways about it.  For a product to cost less, the producer must spend less to make the product available.  It's just basic business. People will then have plans they can afford, but still won't be able to afford their healthcare costs, unless the provider is willing to take a reduced rate.  What providers will be willing to do that?  The ones that find ways to provide cheaper service to their patients.  Again, it's just basic business.  The providers still need to make money, so they will be forced to provide sub-standard care, and be paid sub-standard rates in return.  Funny, that sounds just like the system we already have...

Here's What You Should Do:

Plan #1: Socialize It
You want it socialized that badly?  Here you go:

People keep acting like government run healthcare is new in the US, but it's not.  We've had Medicare since 1965.  Is Medicare well-maintained?  No!  And, everybody knows it!  We've heard for years how underfunded it is, and how it may not even be there when I get to the age that I might need it.  When the talks about more government run healthcare were the only thing any of us seemed to care about, I kept saying I needed to record some of the ridiculous phone calls we had with them at the office, and post them all online so people could hear what government run healthcare actually sounds like.  People are undertrained, and frequently (though, not always) downright rude.  One peeve for our office was that for about 6 months, we were required to call a system that could not give us all the information we needed before being allowed to call and speak to someone who could.  It was ridiculous, but despite the employees knowing that the automated system was incomplete, they were required to force us to call it before being allowed to tell us what we needed to know.  And, they were willing to spend as much time arguing with us about the uselessness of the call as it would take to answer our few questions.  Inefficiency drives me crazy.

Is it efficiently run?  No, but how can we fix that when the responsibility for doing so is split up among so many different companies who run it for the government?  Last year, a company based in New England took the Medicare reigns for our region of the country.  We spent months trying to sort out the various irritating changes that this brought.  Now, their company (which was in the middle of a buyout when they took over) will be transferring control to their new parent company within the next year, and I'm sure we will all have to deal with more unnecessary changes.

When they feel the need to check our paperwork, is it done quickly?  Heck, no.  We had to go through a chart review several years ago, and it took over a year and a half to be completed.  They had us send them charts from 3 years before the request, for them to check over.  By the time the whole ordeal was over, it had been 5 years since the patients had actually been to our office.  How can a system that has so much money tied into it be run so inefficiently?

You really want to provide government run healthcare to a nation?  Show that the insurance you already provide works.  If Medicare works, allow people who aren't yet of age to opt into it by paying for coverage. If it gets working great, and people really decide they want socialized healthcare, start making it apply to more people.  

1. Fix Medicare
2. After 1 year, make it apply to citizens under 20.
2. For the following 9 years, every year make the age for Medicare eligibility lower by 5 years.
3. By the time 10 years is up, everyone would be eligible, and be part of a system that had been repaired and shown to be functional.

The gradual change would make it something everyone could actually keep up with, instead of having a ridiculous system shoved down the throats of the entire country all at once.

Plan #2: Fix It
The healthcare industry is just that, an industry.  An industry is designed to make money.  The problem with this one is the same problem we have with any other industry in America: we all want to find ways to make more money by doing less work.  (Don't get me started on how we have completely reversed the American Dream)  In any case, costs are out of control.  Equipment for medical offices costs a ridiculous amount of money, which makes doctors charge more, which makes insurance companies pay more, which makes their customers pay more.  Why?  Because the system allows it, and continuously feeds upon itself.

We took our son in to get tubes in his ears last year.  The procedure takes about 10 minutes.  They knock him out, hook the tubes in, wake him up, observe him for a couple of hours, and you're out the door.  It was great (for both our kids, actually) since they had very frequent ear infections.  Our insurance knocked the total billable amount down to around $2,000.  I wish I made that every 10 minutes.  The money, of course, gets split among the hospital for the facility, the anesthesiologist, the doctor who performed the surgery, etc.  Once it's all boiled down, it's a pretty fair rate (which is the whole point of the "fee schedule" that the insurance company made the doctors agree to).  The odd part is that the total charges submitted (before being discounted to the fee schedule amount) were over $12,000.  Holy crap.  You could buy our cars 3 times for that.

Now, for those who aren't familiar with fee schedules: the hospital can bill as high a number as they want, but if they are a member of an insurance network, they must take the discount down to what that company has decided is a fair rate for the service.  If they are out of network, they take no fee schedule reduction, but the patient's deductible will usually be several thousand dollars, so the high rate would offset that, ensuring that the hospital still made some money without having to squeeze every dime out of the patient all at the time of service.

So, what do we do to fix this?  Limits.  If we want to fix the current system, somebody needs to make all parties involved meet on some middle ground.  My thought?  Use a fee schedule.  No more in-or-out of network mumbo jumbo.  Set a nation-wide base rate of pay for every medical service, then based on the provider's location, place a positive or negative percentage adjustment on that fee schedule to take the regional economics into account.  Boom.  Doctors know what they will be paid, insurance companies know what they have to pay, and patients can decide if they really need insurance or not.

Hey, these are just ideas.  Like them?  Share them.  Want to steal them and write a bill based on them?  Go nuts.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

As One Voice - God's Schedule

I think we've become scheduleaholics.  School schedules, work schedules, sports schedules, child #1's schedule, child #2's schedule, doctors appointments, night classes, TV schedules, sometimes even church schedules...where does it end?  We are drowning in them, completely dependent on them, and want nothing more than the freedom of escape from them!

"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, 
for tomorrow will worry about itself. 
Each day has enough trouble of its own."
 ~ Matthew 6:34's almost as if the Lord knew exactly what He was talking about.  How about that.

God's will doesn't change, but his plans for us vary throughout the day.  God isn't wishy-washy, or undecided about His will for us.  He just has a bigger plan than you or I could begin to understand.  

Our schedule says "God, here is what you want me to do, and here is how I am going to do it.  Today, I'm going to do this.  For the next week, I'm going to finish this.  In about a month, this part will be done, then on to the next.  Within 75 days, I will have this goal you set for me all tied up with a little bow on top.  Sound good to you?  Great, thanks for listening."  

God's schedule says "Yeah...I commend your initiative, but that's not how this is going to happen.  I've got a million things going in the background that are going to help direct you in one way or another, know....take a breath and give it a minute.  I'll let you know when to move, just keep your eyes on me.  I promise, it will be better this way."  

The more we plan our lives out, the less we are able to see God's will for us as it is a changing, growing journey with no end.  The more we plan, the more frustration we have when things don't go the way we wanted them to, and that makes it even harder to see Him at work, and almost impossible to enjoy the journey.

That's where A1V is at the moment.  Breathing and patiently waiting.  It's funny, something like this starts out with such big plans, huge commitment, and such an inner drive and desire to see it come together.  It's been 2+ years, now, and we are in a sort of holding pattern.  I have no doubt, the whole thing is going to happen, and it's going to be amazing.  We just have to be patient and watch for the pieces fall into place.

Here's my prediction for your day:  It will not all go as planned. 

Smile about it.  

Then, give God a thank you for knowing more about how your life will play out than you do.

As One Voice Homepage 

Friday, September 20, 2013

DVD Cover: Disney - Aladdin Anthology

Lately, I just haven't been able to get creative about things.  I've got several projects that need attention, but just couldn't get into the swing of it.  To try and jump start my creative process, I decided to revisit an old hobby: DVD cover designs.  This is what got me messing around with graphic design in the first place (thanks to Ric Easton), so I thought it was an appropriate choice.

Let's get this out of the way:
No copyright infringement is intended by anything on these pages. All other content is defined as "original content." The use of all files on Saunders Designs are allowed under the fair use clause of the Copyright Law and are for personal use only and cannot be bought or sold. All covers on this site are meant to be alternatives to the official packaging and are intended to house the original discs. This site does not support or endorse piracy or bootlegs.  If you like a movie enough to print a custom cover, buy it.

Hopefully Disney won't hunt me down, now.  OK, on to the latest design, an Anthology cover for Aladdin:

This is based on a set that a friend and I had worked on a couple of years back, wanting to make a complete set of the Disney movies in storybook-style cases. The series we worked on is done chronologically, and is just for the main canon of Disney movies.  I'm trying to make covers for the sequels as well, and design them in such a way that they can easily be incorporated into the main set design.  This image isn't 100% up-to-date, as I did go back and add a few details to the cover after making the preview.  

All-in-all, this is probably one of my favorite covers that I've made.  It just all came together very well.  The front background was actually made from two pics I found (one of the moon and clouds, and another of the palace in the evening).  I was able to take the sky around the moon and recreate it, closing the gap between the images, and giving the palace a much darker background to match.  

The back cover is done in order, since the sequel movies are actually the beginning and end of the animated series.

Look for more to match this set including Toy Story, Cars, The Little Mermaid, 101 Dalmatians, Jungle Book, The Lion King...and just any other Disney set that has a series or sequels to go along with it!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

DVD Case - How to Train Your Dragon

Our family has been hooked on these since the first movie.  I don't think we watched it until about a year after it came out, but it's fantastic.  The other follow-ups they did (The Book of Dragons, and Legend of the Boneknapper) were also great.  The series is pretty good, and our 3-year-old just loves it all.  What could be better than a story of a boy and his dragon, right?

I did this one, trying to match it closely to the aforementioned Book of Dragons, in which the people of Berk keep all they have learned about dragons...hence the title.  I left the movie logos off of the front and spine deliberately, just hoping to give it the feel of the book. 

Really, this one is just a temporary case, as the series is still ongoing, and a second movie is due to come out next year, and a third in 2016. 

I have a couple of issues to work out with the movie logos, hoping to find some that match each other a little better, but once that is done, it should be ready to upload to the site!

A few edits later, and here is the finished product:

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Custom Yu-Gi-Oh Cards - Pokemon Theme

So, I'm really letting my geek colors shine through, today.  

This past weekend, I undertook a project for a buddy of mine.  Joe got me hooked on Yu-Gi-Oh a couple of years ago.  Joe is also hooked on Pokémon, which I am not.  He has convinced me to play a couple of times, but I refuse to get addicted to another game that costs me money!  It's fun, but I prefer the mechanics of Yu-Gi-Oh.  

In an effort to help Joe get the need to play both games out of his system, I made him a set of Pokémon-themed Yu-Gi-Oh cards, and I think they turned out pretty nice!


I built a template for the cards, which very closely resembles the Yu-Gi-Oh format, and found some images of the Pokémon characters online, added backgrounds, and built the cards.  Then the fun really began.  I looked up the various cards, and tried to come up with ways to make the effects of these customs relate back to how they play in the Pokémon format.  (Several involve coin-flipping to determine effects.)

I even studied up on a bit of the storyline from the cartoon, and based some of their effects on that.  For instance, if Ash and Pikachu are on the field together, Pikachu can't be evolved.  (As they choose, in the cartoon, not to evolve Pikachu.)

Joe was impressed.  I don't have a page on the site for these yet, and a few tweaks still need to be made (like adding Nintendo to the copyright info at the bottom), but wanted to show them off.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

As One Voice - Back to Basics

The whole basis for As One Voice has been giving God praise for all that He has done, and doing it as the Body of Christ that He intends us to be.  From the beginning, I've thought of it as an offering to Him, and sought to design it in a way that all those involved will know this is something we are giving to Him, straight from us, as a gift.

On that note, the human concept of gift-giving has become a hindrance.  When we give gifts to one another, it's not fair to require the recipient to be involved in the process.  If they have to work at all for it, it feels less like a gift. 

About a week ago, God gave me what I and my family (and probably most other NCIS fans) call a "Gibbs slap."  He's given me several over the years, but the message behind this one was loud and clear: "What made you think you were supposed to do this without My help?"  He, who specializes in providing for all of our needs, whether we realize it at the time or not, does not need anything from us.  This whole project, which I had viewed as a grateful people, showing God the worship He deserves, isn't meant to benefit Him at all.  He's God, for crying out loud.  What does he truly need that we could even strive to give?  So, the project is about Him, but the project is for us.

I hadn't even realized it, but my whole approach to planning and organizing this event had been skewed by my own desire for control.  Before setting a date, I wanted to gain input from churches that wanted to be involved, hoping that by doing so, it would help people feel more involved, and give them a greater desire to take part, and encourage others to join.  I wanted to get the whole thing aired on the radio, making it that much easier for people to connect to the service. (I still believe this will happen eventually, we just haven't arrived at that thread, yet!)

I've been feeling rather inspired, lately.  I'm inspired by Steve Wiens, and his upcoming run from one rim of the Grand Canyon to the other.  I'm inspired that through this insane effort, he hoped to raise $50,000, in a month's time, for Eyes That See, a more-than-worthwhile charity helping women in Ethiopia escape human trafficking.  Steve credits himself as a lunatic, and I totally agree.  It's utter lunacy to believe that much money could be raised in such a short time. Steve posted an entry titled We Did It! a few days ago.  Guess what?  We serve a God who has a heart for lunatics.  A week before his run (which takes place this coming Sunday), the donations have totaled over $51,000.  Guess what God can do, and what His people can do when they band together?

So, here's a slightly new take on the whole process: A big step out in faith.  I'm going to set a date, and I'm going to pray, and I'm going to watch in amazement as He begins to put all the pieces together for this to happen.  

Care to join me?

As One Voice Homepage 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Catch of the Day: Perspective

This year has been stressful. 

We had our second child in January, which is one of the hugest blessings in our lives, every time we see that magnificent smile he makes.  But, when you couple that with caring for his 3-year-old brother, and my grandmother, it gets pretty tough sometimes, especially for Sandra.

A few months ago, the house we still own on the other side of town was broken into and robbed.  We didn't have much there, but anything worth taking, was.  The china that we received as wedding gifts, everything I needed for working on the yard, the tools I had left there for working on the bathroom that remains half-finished to this day.  Even the old family Atari!

I have several projects all going at once, (maintaining 2 houses, attempting to write various children's books, teaching Children's Church, side jobs doing web design, etc.) and am constantly trying to figure out which one needs my attention the most, and rarely am able to give it the attention required.  So much so, that I actually gave up working on Vacation Bible School this year, which was a huge deal for me.  I've been in charge of it for years at our church, and just couldn't shake the guilt of having to pass (or push) it on to one of the kindest people we know.  (Thank you again, Kim)

Then, we got a call that Sandra's grandmother was diagnosed with lymphoma.  Those of you who know Sandra know that Grandma lives in California, and was a huge part of raising Sandra, so this was akin to hearing this about a mother, rather than a grandmother.

Soon after, we scheduled an emergency flight to California, to be with the family, after hearing her health was rapidly declining.   

Then, we saw God's grace at work.

We could only afford to go because of the insurance check from the house being robbed.  We had set the check aside, waiting until we had time to replace what was taken, because we knew that if we put it in the bank...well, it wouldn't be there long.

As it happened, our trip made us miss VBS weekend completely, and I would have needed to push it all on Kim at the last minute, had I held on to it as tightly as I wanted to. 

It was the middle of summer, so school was out, which meant my Mom was off and she and Dad could come stay with my grandmother while we were gone.

"And we know that in all things God works for 
the good of those who love him, who have been 
called according to his purpose."  
~Romans 8:28

Even the bad can be used for good, and we all-too-often fail to notice when it is.  The trip to California was abrupt, and couldn't have been long enough, but was good in its own way.  We got to say our goodbyes to Grandma, be there for the rest of the family through a very difficult time, and experienced a closeness with them that is very rare when living so far apart.

If God can use all that, I can't wait to see what He does next.

I've spent lots of time praying for God to reveal His will for me, fearing I'm off-track, or worrying that an opportunity will just breeze by me because I'm too distracted to notice it.  I'm done worrying over that.

His will for me isn't one moment that I'm going to spend my life heading in a straight line toward.  It's a puzzle that He is tirelessly putting together.  He knows every piece, He knows what order to place them, and He already sees the masterpiece He has meticulously planned.

So, hopefully, the next time I'm stuck looking at the current mess, and all I can see is how crude the edges are, how it just doesn't seem to match anything or fit anywhere, I'll remember just how carefully He carved it out of the whole picture of my life.