Monday, April 27, 2009

Got One!

I shot my first squirrel today. Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures of the awesomeness. So, you'll have to settle for my eyewitness account. I looked out the window this morning and saw a squirrel digging around the rose bushes on our front porch, so I ran and got the gun. I flipped off the safety and cocked it so as to be ready to fire as soon as I opened the door. The sound of the door opening startled the squirrel a little and he hopped out of the rose bushes and onto the sidewalk where he stopped to look at me. Mistake number 1. I popped off my first shot and hit him square in the midsection. Impossible to miss as he was only 5 feet away. Now, all of you animal lovers can just relax. The squirrel was absolutely fine, but definitely startled, so he began to scamper away. He wasn't scampering fast enough for my liking however, so I quickly popped off another shot which narrowly missed. He scampered much quicker after that and hopefully he's learned his lesson and won't be coming back. Of course, I've got a bottle of pellets waiting for him if he does.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Solution

Our little squirrel problem continues to irritate me. So, today I procured a solution:

I found this bad boy on sale at our local sporting goods store and thought it would do the trick. The guy helping me at the store asked what I wanted the gun for. I told him I wanted to get the squirrels out of my backyard. He started showing me some expensive, fancy rifles, but I told him they were a bit expensive for squirrel control. He said, "well, if you don't want to kill them on the first shot, then you can just go with a pellet gun." Perfect. So, I bought this one along with some biodegradable pellets (we care about the environment!) and, as an added bonus, it came with a free target. Naturally, we got right down to some target practice.

Mr. Frisby reckons we were shooting about 25 feet from the target. He didn't know I was a crackshot. As you can see from the target, it looks like the squirrels have something to worry about.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Reader

This is The Reader. I don't know her name. I don't know how old she is. I don't know where she lives or what she does for a living. All I know about The Reader is that she likes to read and she likes to walk and that she does them simultaneously. The Reader has been walking and reading the streets of my neighborhood for the last, oh, 15 or so years. And over those 15 or so years, whenever I've been living at my parents' house, I have seen her out and about on a regular basis. Always walking, always reading, never watching where she's going. Sometimes I see her walk by the house. Sometimes I see her nearby as I'm driving through the neighborhood. Sometimes she seems quite far from the last place I saw her. But, she's always there, walking and reading. She walks along, swaying from side to side (I'm guessing the upper body movement occurs to offset the lower body movement. Usually we swing our arms as we walk to take care of that, but since her arms are busy holding a book, she swings her entire upper body instead), ingesting whatever information she's reading. Yesterday, I saw her when I was driving to work and decided that it was time to honor her and her staying power with a blog post. So, I snapped the above picture with my phone and here we are. Whenever I see The Reader, I always wonder where she lives, how many miles she walks when she goes out, if she's ever fallen down and what she is reading. I wonder how many total miles she has walked and how many books she has read since I first saw her walking by with her nose in a book. I think it's impressive that she is able to walk and read, without looking up, and that she doesn't fall (at least, I assume she doesn't fall since she has been doing if for so long). So, here's to The Reader. May there be many more walking and reading sessions in her future.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

An Octopus' Garden

Okay, I'm not an octopus, but I did plant a garden. And now it's starting to grow! I planted some seeds a couple of weeks ago and had started to get a little worried when it had been over a week and there were no shoots coming up out of the ground. But, I'm happy to report that my seeds are sprouting and I have plants! Here's what I'm growing:

California Poppies - my favorite flower!

Strawberries - No seeds for this one, I just bought the plants. But, I'm excited to eat the fruit!

Tomatoes - I just bought the plants for these as well. I hate tomatoes, but Mr. Frisby likes them.

Sugar Snap Peas - These were the first of my veggie seeds to pop up and I was so excited! I now have four little pea plants growing.

Peppers - these sprouted shortly after the peas. I have them in a pot inside the house and will transplant them when they grow a bit.

Cucumbers - I was really excited about the cucumbers, but I had given up on them when there were no sprouts after two weeks. However, just yesterday I saw a little seedling, just pushing through the dirt. If you look carefully, you can see it right in the middle of the picture.

Unfortunately I have run into a couple of problems with my garden:

These little beasts seem bound and determined to ruin my gardening ambitions! The snails are easy to take care of - snail bait. They have eaten several of my flowers and make a big mess, but the garden is now just littered with rotting snail carcasses. The squirrels, on the other hand, are impossible! I have tried many things to keep them away. At first we got Bruce:

Bruce worked for the first afternoon, but the squirrels soon realized that he is not a real owl and, therefore, not a threat. They were soon back in the yard digging up my flowers and seeds. I'm now using a squirrel repellent spray, but it's effectiveness seems to depend on the squirrel's determination to ruin my life. If they're really determined, the spray won't stop them. And it only seems to last for a few days anyway. Does anybody have any idea how I can keep these furry beasts out of my garden (and, no, I can't just shoot them - I already checked and that would require me getting a hunting license)?

Friday, April 10, 2009

It Ain't Over Yet. . .

So, just when I thought this whole passport business was done, I get an email from the passport agency. Essentially, the passport business is done because I have my passport and that's all I need. But, the email is simply further proof of this government agency's inadequacy and ineptitude. You'll remember from my last post, that in the midst of my contac the Passport Agency hell, I tried to send them an email to explain my problem. The email never seemed to go through since every time I tried to send it, a window just popped up saying that I didn't have a certain something installed on my computer in order for it to work. However, as I learned from the email I received a few days ago, the email did indeed go through. The text from my email to the passport agency:

I renewed my passport several weeks ago. I received my new
passport with a typo in my middle name. I immediately sent it back in
with the correction forms filled out. According to your website,
additional passport photos are not needed if the last passport was
issued within 90 days. A couple of days ago, I received a letter saying
that I needed to submit additional passport photos in order for my
application to be processed. Again, going by your website this should
not be the case. In addition, passport photos cost money and, since
this was your mistake, I shouldn't have to pay the extra money for
additional passport photos since the ones I just submitted are less than
90 days old. I have tried to reach you by telephone regarding this
problem, but "due to abnormally high caller volume", I have not been
able to get through in any of my numerous attempts. Perhaps a separate
phone number, or at least a separate menu option should be made
available for people who actually have problems with their passport
application so they're not just grouped in with all of the people who
are just checking their status. As you can probably tell, I'm getting
extremely frustrated with this whole situation and the fact that your
mistake has required a lot more effort on my part and has been extremely
inconvenient and despite my best efforts, I'm having so much trouble
getting your mistake fixed.

Your prompt reply will be greatly appreciated.


Jenni Frisby

I attempted to send this email about a week before I received my passport. I don't know when it actually went through. Given the troubles I've had in dealing with the Agency and the issues at hand, you might realize how entertaining the following email was to me, especially when I received it just a couple of days ago - over a week since my initial email and several days after I actually received my passport:

Thank you for contacting the National Passport Information Center.

In general, new passport photos do not have to be submitted if a
re-write is requested within 90 days of issuance. If the agency is
requesting them, however, they will need to be submitted.

For further information, please refer to our website or call (877) 487-2778, for TDD/TTY users
1-888-874-7793 (Mon-Fri 8:00AM to 10:00PM ET; excluding federal
holidays). If you need to contact us again by email, please include all
prior messages/correspondence in your reply so we can review what has
previously taken place.

Thank you,
National Passport Information Center
Agent #1962

What I love about this email response is: 1) the amount of time it took to send such a generic response, 2) their referring me to the very website that I had referred to in my original email, 3) their ludicrous suggestion that I contact them by phone when it was the difficulty in phone contact that drove me to email them in the first place and 4) their apparent refusal to acknowledge that they may have made a mistake and that I was, in fact, right in not needing to send them passport photos.

As I said, the passport business is essentially done because I have my passport. But, given the nature of this email, I now feel the need to send them a good, old-fashioned letter to explain the many problems with their agency. Do I think my letter will change anything? No. But, it will make me feel better.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Passport Saga

Many of you may remember my post back in February about the problem with getting my passport renewed. Here's the story in a nutshell. I sent in my old passport for renewal in January. I received my new passport in February. Upon receipt of the new passport I saw that they had misspelled my name. In my opinion, this is an unacceptable mistake on their part because 1) it costs the taxpayers money to fix, and 2) it is completely avoidable by the simple process of proofreading and checking your work. The correction of this one letter mistake has consumed the last month and a half. And through this process of getting it fixed, I have come to realize that I have severely underestimated the inefficiency and ineptitude of our United States Government. Allow me to elaborate.

Upon receipt of the misspelled passport, I immediately began my internet research to discern how to go about getting this mistake fixed. All of my information came directly from the United States government's Passport Agency website. The passport was to be returned, along with a form that was specifically created for necessary corrections and yet was distinctly similar to the original form that I had filled out for renewal. As a matter of fact, all of the information was exactly the same except the part on the new form that asked for the misspelled word followed by its correctly spelled form (don't they have electronic records?). Incidentally, the download of said form did not go smoothly. We had to reformat it and shrink it to get the form to fit within the printable margins of the page. I also had to mail (again) proof of my properly spelled name. According to the Passport Agency's website, I did not need to mail additional passport photos since my incorrect passport had been issued within the past 90 days (which is how it should be since my appearance has not changed in the last 90 days and passport photos are expensive and it would be ludicrous to expect me to fork over more dough for passport photos when it was their mistake in the first place). So, according to the website's instructions, I mailed in my incorrect passport, the application/correction form, and my marriage license so they could get the process of correction going. And, of course, said documents were all mailed on my dime. Fast forward three weeks and I get a letter in the mail from the passport agency. It should be my new passport. But - you guessed it - it sure isn't my new passport. Instead, it's a letter stating that I need to submit additional passport photos in order for them to process and send me my new passport.

As you may imagine, I was livid. I called the phone number they listed for the passport agency, "should I have any questions" (you better believe I had some questions!). Due to "an unusually high call volume", however, I was on hold for an hour before I gave up because I had to get ready for work. Of course, the phone number was for anyone who had questions. That includes people who just want to know the status of their passport application. The next day, it was the same story. My lividness grew each day. Finally, on the the third day of calling, I was again on hold forever and finally decided I would just try emailing them. Unfortunately, that also didn't work since there was some issue with their email program on their website. No wonder they were experiencing an unusually high call volume. When the email didn't work, I decided to give them one more chance on the phone before I resorted to good old-fashioned snail mail. Surprisingly, I got through after only a half hour wait. It was a Christmas miracle! Unfortunately, after explaining to the nice lady my problem and her verifying that indeed I did not need to resubmit passport photos, she informed me that she could not help me and that all she could do was inform the passport agency of the problem and recommend that they send my passport. She told me that someone from the agency would be contacting me regarding the problem and that if I hadn't heard from them in two days, I should try calling again (because I don't have anything better to do than sit around on hold with the passport agency - or whoever it was I was speaking to since they could only inform the passport agency of what was going on).

Yes, this is our US Government at work. But, don't worry - it gets better. A couple of days later, I received a phone call from some man with a strong southern drawl who worked at the passport agency in South Carolina (and, no, I will not resort to generalizations about the incompetence of people from certain parts of our country at this point). He did not understand why I had questions because the letter should have explained everything. They needed photos. I then proceeded to explain to him what their website said and the instructions given there. I also explained to him that regardless of what the website says, passport photos are expensive and that I shouldn't have to pay for new ones to correct their mistake. The he said (in a strong southern drawl), "well, I don't know about that. I'm not familiar with what's on the website. I'll have to check on that and get back to you." And then he hung up.

I observed to Mr. Frisby that no privately run company in this country to get away with running their business in this manner. But, since there's only one place to get a passport, the passport agency can pretty much do whatever they want and everyone just has to deal with it. After not hearing back from the man after several days, I decided to try my luck on the phone again. I called them yesterday and after being on hold for an hour and a half (that is not an exaggeration - I read all about digital photograph formats, made dinner, ate dinner and cleaned up dinner all while on hold) someone finally picked up only to inform me that the records showed they had mailed my passport express mail that day and that I should receive it today. She then gave me the tracking number so I could track it online. I asked her if there was some other number that I could call so that if something went wrong I wouldn't have to wait for an hour and a half again. She said, "no, that's the only number." Thanks for the callback, dude.

Happily, I did indeed receive my passport today, with my name spelled correctly and no other mistakes that I could see. Over dinner last night, Mr. Frisby told me that my sister had remarked to him that Obama's iPod gift to the Queen of England may not have been a wise use of the taxpayers money. Later, I remarked to him that this whole passport fiasco was also not a very wise use of taxpayer money. However, at least the Queen of England will have hours of enjoyment from her taxpayer money iPod. All I get is to relive this hell in another 10 years!