Tuesday, October 31, 2006

It begins

Tomorrow, All Hallowe's Day (All Saint's Day), is my first day at work at the District 40 office in Edinburg. My instructions are to dress decently, but comfortably.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Got some reading to do

I've been busy this week, in addition to getting my affairs in order, reading about politics in Texas. Mr. Peña was kind enough to recommend a book I should read to get a heads up on what I'm getting into. Ignoring the preposition at the end of that sentence, I am learning much about the history of Texas politics, thus far. The link is above if you are interested. I can't help but observe that many of the things that we find offensive about politics these days pales in comparison with the events of the past. Yet, it's no excuse for anybody to abuse their power.

My soon-to-be employer has asked that I keep him grounded should he start to step out of line. He could have hired somebody who would write puff pieces to no end,; but, he didn't. You have to respect somebody who is not afraid to lay out his work in the open for all to see. The way I see it, Mr. Peña hired me, but I work for the people of District 40 like everybody else in his office. Our job will be to play a clean game and score points for the people who elected him. Any cheating will bring dishonor to the team and to the people we represent. I can't wait to jump into the game.

Congratulations to Mr Peña on His Website

I found out that Rep. Peñas website, in conjunction with his blog, was ranked 5th amongst campaign websites in the State of Texas by CapitolInside.com, last week. This is despite The Rep. running unopposed in this election season. Mike Halley attributes Mr. Peña's lack of opposition to the well-made website and his open discourse with his constituents. Congratulations to Mr. Peña.

Barbacoa. Life is good.

A while back, I audioblogged about going for barbacoa. I also touched on barbacoa in other instances (1, 2, 3). Well, today, I went out for another pound of the delicious meat. Just to recap, barbacoa is not the same thing as barbecue. Barbacoa is cooked meat from the head of the cow. The best meat comes from the tongue. Some people can manage to pick the meat off the skull. That creeps me out, so I buy barbacoa already picked off the head.

As usual, I went to De Alba Tortilla Factory & Bakery in Mission. I like that they have two options for buying barbacoa. They have regular and especial. Regular barbaco is very greasy. When you make yourself a taco, the grease just drips out the back end. Don't get me wrong, it tastes great. However, I'm committed to my people for the long haul, so I want to avoid clogging my arteries as much as possible. Therefore, my family pays the extra dollar for barbacoa especial. The meat is leaner. The only thing dripping out the back end of your taco after barbacoa especial is the water from your pico de gallo or salsa.

There are plenty of places that sell barbacoa around here on Sundays. For some reason, everybody heads to De Alba. When you arrive, you'll see that the parking lot is full and the drive through has a line at least 5 cars long. If you insist on drive-thru, expect to kill 30 minutes before placing your order. I usually park across the street on the grass and go inside to order. If you wait in line inside, it's 15 minutes to wait.

At other places, you could probably be in and out in 5 minutes. The drawback is that you only get the choice of the greasy barbacoa.

That was breakfast this morning, barbacoa tacos and coffee.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Wading through the applications

I finished filling out my job packet on Monday night, a full week after receiving it. It took me so long because there are pages and pages to fill out. I actually had most of it filled out on the first day. I was not too clear on what to do for the insurance forms. I admit that I put it off a couple days because it seemed pretty daunting. I did make a call to the Personnel department in Austin for some help. The person who helped me out was great. She was very knowledgeable and willing to explain anything for which I had questions. Best of all, she gave me a link to the ERS website, http://www.ers.state.tx.us/, where I could get more details than I would over the phone.My main trouble areas were making decisions over the health insurance and dental insurance.

If you are a single person and become a Legislative Aide, the state will cover all of your health insurance costs. In my case, I am married with two children. This means that a significant chunk of my insurance cost will be deducted from my pay every month. It will still be a hefty chunk with the State of Texas covering 50% of the cost. I called our family doctor's office to ask what combination of insurance to get. You see, my wife will be working for Hidalgo County where the county also covers the employee's health insurance. Our doctor's office suggested we go with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the State's insurance, rather than the county's free insurance for my wife. Hidalgo County keeps jumping from insurance company to insurance company. The net result is that you have to keep learning what is and isn't covered every year. In any case, the HMO is not available in my county, which leaves only the Blue Cross/Blue Shield option. For the dental insurance, however, I had to do some research.

Just like with the health insurance, the dental offers two options. The first is a dental HMO plan. The second is similar to traditional insurance. I will admit that I was predisposed to go against the HMO plan. In comparing the plans, we concluded that in our situation, we would be better off with the HMO because the monthly premiums are smaller and there is no lifetime cap on benefits. In addition, we would have to wait three years before seeing any significant reductions in our co-pay with the traditional dental insurance. The HMO plan, however, has set prices on all the possible charges with the benefits immediately available. Many things are at no cost and the items that do cost are at a set, reduced price within our ability to afford.

As a new state employee, you have some important decisions to make when choosing your benefits. It's great that the state offers its employees options rather than a one size fits all plan. I suggest that you use your first month, as you only have 30 days to make your elections after being hired, to really study the plans offered. Also, don't be afraid to call the Personnel/Payroll office in Austin for help. They are very friendly and willing to help. Once you've made your decisions, you have until open enrollment in August to make any changes. Good luck!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Firing up the grill

Firing up the grill
Firing up the grill,
originally uploaded by shainelee.
There are some families that fire up the grill every weekend here in the Rio Grande Valley. Mine is not one of those. Once a month is about the norm. Those families that cook out more often usually live out on a ranch somewhere or on the outskirts of town. The guys will park their car or truck nearby and leave the stereo blaring with Tejano or conjunto music.

My barbecues are more sedate. I'm in it for the food more than an excuse to be outside drinking beer. One thing I do share in common with tradional RGV barbecues is an insistance on using mesquite. Lighting it can be a bitch; the flavor it imparts on meat is worth it. As I type this up, my eyes are watery from all the smoke. Despite all that, I missed the familiar scent of burning mesquite. Lucky for us my father-in-law had some logs lying around. I'll be in Madero for the rest of the day.

Practical Issue: Mobile Service

I've come to realize that, more than anything, being a Legislative Aide is an information-based occupation. The job is mostly information management. There are newspapers and other references to read. There is research to do on topics that are on the agenda. There is correspondence from constituents to read, work on, and file. There are people to know, meetings to set up, social networking, and all manner of information sharing. Even the gossip around the Capitol will be information-based. Most of all, there will be tons of phone calls.

What got me to think about this is my recent need to cash in my bonus minutes on my phone. I'm not officially working yet, and I've put in more minutes on my phone than is the norm for me. I usually struggle to use 300 anytime minutes a month; which I rarely do. I may return to normal once I start working in the office and have access to a landline. So, even though I won't be burning mobile minutes, I expect that I will be on the phone often in the course of my job duties. Worst case scenario is that I'll bump up my mobile service a level or two. If that doesn't work, I'm moving to Alltel for their Friends Circle. I'll probably be in touch with the same people most of the time anyway. Most plans have free nights and weekends, which I can use to keep in touch with my family once the session starts.

If you are aiming to be a Legislative Aide in your district, keep the nature of the business in mind and plan your mobile service accordingly. It's probably better to get on the same network as your team with free mobile to mobile. Or, all of you could have different networks with ridiculously expensive rate plans.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Still messing around

Still messing around
Still messing around,
originally uploaded by shainelee.
I'm still trying to get my phone to post pics to the blog. I went and got a virgin camera phone and I intend to use it. This isn't the most flattering pic, LOL.

Feel free to leave a comment on any scary posts like this.

Wild Rose Memorial Hospital

Wild Rose Memorial Hospital
Wild Rose Memorial Hospital,
originally uploaded by shainelee.
Alma wanted a pic of the hospital where I was born for the scrapbook. We took this during one of our visits to Wautoma, WI.

Mmm, Fajitas

One thing that Alma and I missed about being in the Rio Grande Valley is that we could not get fajitas up in Wisconsin. A friend of ours would go to Wautoma on occasion and take some to Rice Lake, but they weren't as fresh. Fajitas down here don't last as long on the shelf. The biggest reason is that they aren't prime cuts of beef, so they are affordable. If there is one thing the RGV has, it's poverty. Fajitas are the affordable choice for everybody to barbecue. If you want to go cheaper, then chicken will fit the bill.
We are going to buy some fajitas this weekend and head over to my in-laws to cook them on the grill. One of the things that makes the Rio Grande Valley home for us is the availability of the foods we eat. Oddly, tortillas were readily available in all the grocery stores.
Next food, barbacoa.

Going through stuff

Going through stuff
Going through stuff,
originally uploaded by shainelee.
We are going through our stuff to get rid of extra items. I found this in the closet, my dad's old jacket. I'm going to call to find out if he wants it back. Frank, call me and let me know if you want it back or if we can sell it. We will be having a yard sale at my mom's next weekend.

Our apartment is cluttered with stuff we had and some stuff we brought from Wisconsin. I hate having too much stuff. It just fills up space and doesn't let you think clearly.

A cold front came through the valley last night. It's in the 50s right now.

Friday, October 20, 2006

First Week Home

Well, it's been our first week home. We pretty much just took it easy after moving back in to the apartment. Magnus is not in school yet. We need to get something notarized. He'll probably begin school on Monday. Tien is doing OK. She is was in her groove with my mom. Now she's adjusting to ours again.
I've been working, although I don't officially start work until November 1st. There are some things that I'm doing to prepare before being on the job. Mostly, I'm trying to get to know everybody at the office. It's a government job, so I'll be working 9 to 5. That's a perk of being on salary, I suppose.
Our concern for now is how to deal with the need for 2 vehicles. Alma has borrowed her parents' car for now, but we can't do that forever. We have enough for a down payment; but if we get the car now, we'll struggle to make the payment in November. So, we should wait to get a car in November so that we can make a payment in December when I get my first paycheck.
Alma is going to start looking for work. She intentionally wanted some time off before hitting the job market again. After working long hours with UMOS, we are both a bit burned out. We just want to enjoy a little free time.

1st Event

Today, I accompanied the District 40 team, headed by Mr. Peña, to the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Luncheon. I got a chance to meet Gene Espinoza at the door. It's always fun to meet another blogger. I also met several other people, from the RGV Food Bank, to the Boys and Girls Club, to Time-Warner Cable, and including the lovely Miss Edinburg. The Edinburg Chamber did a great job of organizing the event. Attendance was well over 125.

The topic of the Chamber Luncheon was a Panel Discussion on Legislative Issues. The legislators on the panel were Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, State Senator for District 20; State Rep Aaron Peña, Jr of District 40, and State Rep Veronica Gonzalez of District 41. They each spoke for a few minutes and answered questions from the audience. I'll leave the details for them to fill in on their own press releases.

Of significance to me was learning what happens at these events and what my job duties will be. Of course, I'll be responsible for taking pictures at the events and writing down details for events to be put on our calendar. I'll also have to be at hand to assist Mr. Peña with anything he might need. These things were explained as we went along. The event took more than a couple hours, but it went by rather quickly as there was much going on. The press certainly got a lot of time for taking photos.

I'm not officially on the job yet. I'm visiting the office and attending things to get a feel for the job prior to getting started. One thing, for instance, that I had neglected to do was talk to two of my soon to be co-workers. Since I usually only have brief visits until I get hired, I spend the time with Mr. Peña and Orlando. Now I have a better idea with whom I'll be working. I even had time to learn a bit about the filing system. I also need to remember to take donuts.

Comment Moderation On

I've decided to turn on comment moderation for this blog. I will be working for Mr. Peña, but in a way I am also working for the other state representatives. After reading some of the comments on the first post, I realize that there is a distinct possibility that some readers may post some ugly things about our legislators. Even if I restrain myself from being critical, ugly comments by readers could be construed as my endorsing such views. My concern is not litigation. It would be like squeezing water from a rock, not much to give. I simply need to live up to my responsibility to all members of the legislature.

In not so many words, I don't want to detract from the work being done in Austin by allowing vicious attacks to be posted.

Disagreement is OK. It's how you disagree that determines whether your comment is posted or deleted. Although, I don't foresee such situations happening as I will try to provide all sides of an issue. All I can do is research all aspects of an issue and present them. Ultimately, it will be the legislature's job to make the decisions. They won't listen to me if I write or allow others to write trash about them. Then, I would not be of any use to District 40.

As stated in another post, I'm excited about this opportunity. I can see that I have joined a team that has and can get things done.

Going Back to My Root

AOL (http://www.aol.com) has come up with a new program called OpenRide.
It's basically a browser similar to Opera (http://www.opera.com) and
FireFox. The touted features are that you have tabbed browsing, integrated
email client, media center, and other stuff. Of course, I want to try it
out. The only drawback is that I have a slow internet connection until
our DSL gets connected. So, I have dusted off my old shell account at
http://www.silenceisdefeat.org to browse the web while the huge file

OK, so it's not a root account. But it does bring bring back memories of
when I first started on the Internet. It was my first year at UT
(http://www.utexas.edu). When you signed up for a computer account, your
options were few. I started off with a VAX account. Talk about an obscure
OS! Then, when the Internet gained popularity, I moved to a UNIX account.
The web consisted of a few pages accessible by Lynx and NCSA Mosaic. More
often, I would use Gopher. IRC was popular. Newsgroups were still cool.

Here I am now using my Linux shell account to work on the internet. If you
have never used a shell account, it's all text based. There are no
pictures or the ability to use a mouse. The programs you use run on
another computer. Just black and white text (sometimes colors, depending
on your terminal). The benefit of using a shell account is that you don't
need a lot of bandwidth. You can do a lot of things with a lousy dial-up
connection. The drawback is that not all sites are Lynx-friendly.

You may wonder, why in the name of the computer gods would you stoop to
AOL? Like it or not, they made good on their goal of being universally
accessible. You can get aol or aim on most phones. They make it easy to
post stuff on their journals. They offer cool features like the AOL
Digits, which is a free phone number attached to your account, which
includes voicemail. They have a lot of stuff that I would not pay
$24.95/month to get; however, now that AOL is free, it's a good thing.

Shaine Mata

Silence is Defeat Public Access Unix Systems

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

On Board at District 40

As revealed in my other blog, RGV Life, I have joined District 40 Representative Aaron Pena, Jr and his team for the 80th Texas legislative session. The Rep has his own blog, so this blog won't be a repeat of his work.

Here is what to expect from reading Session 80.
  • Writing from the perspective of a legislative aide.
  • Some of the issues that concern the team regarding our district.
  • Elaboration on some issues. Some issues may require further explanation.
  • Requests for information. We have a pretty sharp team, but we don't know everything. On occasion, I may request public comment on issues. Keep in mind that providing references gives you more credibility. Philosophical is good, but we need data to back us up.

Here is what you won't see on this blog:

  • Gossip. I will see and hear all kinds of things that may or may not be true. Session 80 will not be a Capitol gossip column.
  • Arguments. If you plan on commenting to draw me into a heated discussion, forget it. This is an informational site, not a debate forum.
  • Burning other officials or agencies. I'm not here to target officials and shoot political bullets. I've been hired to help The Rep get things done for his district.

I am really excited about this job because of the people working with me. Sure, being right in the middle of things and learning things before anybody else does is interesting. I'm sure you'll agree that with the wrong people, the job would not be worth it. Come on, nobody gets rich as a Legislative Aide. It will, however, be worthwhile for the relationships forged from this joint experience. One thing I have learned is that a good team makes the lousiest job a great experience. In this case, we have a good team and an exciting time ahead. I hope that you enjoy reading about all of this from January to May in 2007. Who knows, maybe we'll have some special sessions.

upgrading our universe

Today, the Mrs and I ordered DSL service through AT&T. We should be
back online soon. Our Rioplex wireless modem has always had lousy
reception at home. we kept it because it was better than dial-up. we
will also be getting a new computer. our old laptop was bought for
schoolwork, not audio, video, and photo editing. It struggles. I'll be
needing to do these things.

Shaine Mata

sorting through mail

I finally got all of our backed up mail sorted out. we did not opt for
mail forwarding because we did not want to carry all those papers
back. most of our accounts can be accessed electronically. paper
statements would have been redundant. in any case, i'm done and ready
for bed.

Shaine Mata

Monday, October 16, 2006

Taking care of details

This message is from a Virgin Mobile user. Enjoy.

My family and I are glad to finally be back in the RGV. We arrived very early on Sunday, giving us cause to sleep late. We visited my in-laws and had menudo. We unloaded the U-Haul and then made our way to my mom's to watch a movie. We left the unpacking and "moving in" for today. There are other details to address as well. We left the meter running on our utilities, so we are in luck with the hot weather. It's a big change to go from snow to 90 degree weather. Thank God for air conditioning. Our apartment is our refuge. Our van was fine without A/C up north; not here.

We still have to get our Internet going so that I can catch up with the news. We will go with Rioplex Wireless for now. Perhaps we will get DSL for more reliable connections.

Thanks for all the welcomes. I've got other news to write about, which you no doubt read at Aaron Pena's blog.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Last things before going home to the RGV

Tonight, my wife, son, and I are staying at a Super 8 Motel. We cleared out our apartment and have almost finished cleaning it. We want to get our deposit back, so we rented a carpet cleaner to do the job ourselves. Tomorrow morning, we will go into the apartment early to clean the bathroom and kitchen before going to work. Once that is done, we would essentially be killing time until we are released from our jobs. All our meager possessions are in a U-Haul trailer we rented. All we can do for the moment is haul it around with us everywhere we go, which consists wholly of work. 
We would have spent the night at the apartment except we already had our utilities disconnected. In the Rio Grande Valley, this is quite alright. A night in the dark wouldn't hurt. This week, however, a cold front has decided to make its way through the Rice Lake, WI area. We are expecting snow over the next few nights. Obviously, we would prefer to sleep than shiver at night.
At work, we have been clearing out the school. UMOS has decided not to lease the building due to a big rent increase. The end result is that we need to move everything out of the building into storage until we have somewhere else to put the school. We are all worn out from carrying furniture, containers, and appliances out of the building. We are trying to finish as quickly as possible on the hope that we will be allowed to leave sooner.
Before leaving Wisconsin, we may just stop by Plainfield, WI to visit my relatives. It's not 100% certain as we have a time constraint with the U-Haul. Another issue is the added expense of living at the Super 8. Going to Plainfield would cause delays. As it is, we expect to leave on Friday, worst case. We would then reasonably expect to arrive in the Rio Grande Valley by Saturday night or Sunday morning. The thing is that I have some business to do in Austin and San Antonio, so I need to pass by during the daytime. One thing can be done during the weekend. The other must be done during a weekday. The Mrs. and I will have to discuss our plans.

Friday, October 06, 2006

No more dirty diapers

Today was the last day of school at the UMOS Migrant Head Start center in Rice Lake, WI. I got my last look at my class of toddlers. In all likelihood, I won't see any of them again, unless I take the seasonal job again. From here until the middle of next week, the staff will be cleaning up and putting things in storage. That kind of work flies by, so our last day of work will be coming up soon.
I have mixed feelings about today. On the one hand, I am glad that the daily 12 hour grind is over. The job isn't tough; it takes forever for each 12 hour day to pass. When you work hard, in contrast, time flies, somewhat. I'm glad I am done changing diapers every couple hours. No more wiping noses. No more washing your hands constantly like you have OCD. I do wonder what will become my toddlers in the years to come. I wonder through what paths their parents will lead them. I'll miss my class a little bit. My wife and I have so many stories about them to keep us chatting. They graduated out of her class into mine, so we have common experiences.
I'm more sad that the experience is over just as I was getting into the groove of being a teacher. I really only had about one and a half months of teaching experience at this job. A lot of it is administrative, filling out forms for diapers, feeding, sanitizing, attendance, naptimes, and all manner of details. At this age, your lessons are expected to last about 15 minutes, which is as long as you can realistically keep the attention of toddlers. Back to the point, it takes a while to get into the routine that allows you to keep up with all the demands of the job. I was just getting decent at it.
Many of the migrant families that are done for the season and all of the teachers are anxious to go home. We are headed to different homes. The migrants of this area will be going to Coahuila and Eagle Pass. The Migrant Head Start staff are split in half. One half will go home to the Rio Grande Valley; the other half are residents of Rice Lake and will find something else to do until next year.
It will be nice to have a change of routine. I look forward to finding a new one.

21 hours to go

A few weeks ago, I reviewed my progress. I have 21 hours to go for graduation!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Maybe even longer

I finally got my cable reconnected after having it prematurely cut by the cable company.Withouth cable, we have no weather channel and no internet.  I requested to have it shut down on the 10th of October, which is our last expected date here in Rice Lake. Now, I am hearing some talk of extending us for a few more days, which will cause further delays on our return to the Rio Grande Valley. All of this complicates stuff for us. We'll manage somehow, I suppose.
I'll get going on the SpinRGV press releases as soon as I get a chance. I'll probably be able to do it Thursday evening.

Sunday, October 01, 2006