E-mail Update - 2008-12-18

The Past 6 Months and Guadalajara

Hey Everyone,

It has been a while since I sent my last update 6 months ago so there is a lot to cover. Hope you enjoy the update and as always it would be great if everyone who hasn't emailed lately would contact me so I know how things are in your life.

When I left off I was heading to Romania as I remember. The details of the rest of the trip will have to come another time but here is the two paragraph version of what happened over the rest of the summer with the rest of the Eastern Europe trip coming first. Romania was great as I met tons of cool people and did some amazing hiking. The local people there were incredibly helpful and made it a pleasant country, however the food was atrocious. One really cool thing about Romania was that you hitched to get places especially in the country. On such time was when I got a ride back as it started to rain from the Piatra Craiului National Park (see Romania_Hitching picture). After that was Bulgaria which started by spending a week in Varna, near the black sea. While I was there at, Gregory's Backpackers, I met a load of amazing travelers and played soccer with the locals. After that I moved onto Veliko Tarnovo, the best city of the Eastern European swing, where I rented a car 2 days with 2 groups of different people. We were able to get out into the natural areas and that made it really cool there. After Plovdiv, was the southwestern part of Bulgaria where I went hiking in the spectacular Pirin and Rila mountains with Moti, who was a guy I met from Israel. The hiking in these 2 locations was the best of the trip and the 7 Lakes (see 7_Lakes picture) area near Rila is one of the ten most beautiful places I have EVER been. I really need to go back to both mountain areas when I have several weeks I can spend hiking there. After getting to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, I bought the tickets to go back to Western Europe from Croatia. This gave me one week to get through 2 other countries before catching my flights. Serbia was nothing spectacular, but to being in the capital city of Beograd doesn't give you much of a chance to experience much. After that I went headed for Durmitor National Park in Montenegro with Fleud & Patrick, which was beautiful, but I only had a couple days to see that before heading onto Croatia. In Budva, I caught up with Natasha & Fiona, who I had originally met in Plovdiv and who I spent the last couple days with in Croatia. I nearly missed my flight from Dubrovnik, Croatia to Brussels, Belgium but with a lot of help from some really nice locals was able to make it. I was seriously standing on a road with no chance of getting to the airport when a local befriended me, called his friend and they took me there making them late for what they were doing. To be honest I had really did anything wrong as there was hopeless traffic issues that were conspiring against me getting there by public transport. Either way I was totally saved by that guy and his friend.

Belgium has tons of great buildings, but to be honest was quite a boring and lonely place for me. It is the first time since being in New Caledonia in 2004 (which also speaks French) that I didn't meet people to talk to and hang out with. Either way I was happy to leave Belgium a couple days early to go see my good friends Tim and An in the southern part of the Netherlands (near Maastricht). They put me up for over a week and I loved my time there. It was so great to hang out with them and see the country all while doing cool things like checking out a Reggae concert. It was really amazing how similar life there was to life at home and even the scenery looked very similar. After that I left to meet Rob in Amsterdam for 4 days. Staying in the city was well outside of our budget, so we stayed 45 minutes out of Amsterdam, but even there it was still expensive. To be honest Amsterdam really wasn't my thing. I am not into prostitution or smoking joints which is what most of the other tourists were into. However, I enjoyed my time with Rob and taught him how to play Yaniv (an Israel card game), which is my favorite card game ever and one that I learned while I was in Bulgaria. It was good to chill with Rob so I enjoyed that part, but I don't see myself going back to Amsterdam anytime soon. After that I spent a couple days in Rotterdam on my own before heading to Germany to stay with Nina. Nina and her boyfriend Benedikt were cool to stay with and Nina's dad even took me out sightseeing one day and her mom prepared us a big lunch, which was great. It was great to catch up with Nina, since I hadn't seen her since 2006. After that it was back to London and Ash and Cally's house for my last 4 days. While I was there I was able to see several groups of awesome friends each night. One such group was Leanne, Lucy, Matt & James (see English_Friends picture). I just love London, I have more friends there than anyplace else in the world I think. I was so spoiled by everyone there and the city is so amazing it is a place I could see myself going back to many more times, and everyone knows that I am not really a city person :) There were so many people who treated me so great and to try to thank them all by name would make this an even more ridiculously long email. So for all the people I didn't name here know that I remember all the cool stuff you did for me!

In the last month of the trip I had started communicating a lot with a girl back home named Joan. She had been my Spanish tutor while I was at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville (UWP) the year before. Well long story short we got together when I got back. Of course nothing ever being normal in my life she left for Spain to study for the rest of the semester only 4 days after I got home! After a few weeks in Spain she decided she wanted to spend the spring semester with me in Guadalajara, Mexico. Well there was a ton of work to get this all accomplished for her, but after a month plus of hard work we were able to get everything setup. We seemed to have a really great relationship and talked most Tuesday, Thursday & Sunday for several hours. Now for the twist, in early November we broke up after I found out she had been lying to and cheating on me all while in the past several weeks of our relationship making me think I was doing things wrong. Originally I was devastated, I can't lie. However, I had so many awesome friends and family members there to pick me up. After a week I was already feeling better off to know her true character. Plus it allowed me to move onto better things, more on that later :)

Everyone who has read these emails know how much I love my nephew John. Well shortly after I got home I became an uncle for the second time! On September 12, 2008 Shelby Ruth Waterman was born to my brother Thad and his wife Kristy. She was 9 pounds and 1 ounce and 21 inches long at birth. Her middle name is from my grandma Ruth and Kristy's grandma as well. The great part for me was that I was home for the birth this time! I put all the pictures from her birth on facebook.com. On a side note, I use Facebook as my main means of keeping people updated while I travel now. Anyway, John stayed with us for a week while Shelby was being born. That was so much fun because him and I were able to play so much. He is so active and fun anymore, we can play for hours or read books and he just loves spending time with his uncle and is even starting to say Brock now :)

In other medical news things have not been easy since getting home for either myself or my mother. While I was playing basketball on September 17 I injured my left knee really badly. I tried to basically just tough it out for a month but when the knee didn't get better I eventually gave in and paid to get an MRI done. This MRI revealed 4 separate issues with the first 2 both requiring surgery to correct them. Those 2 were the complete ACL Tear (which was my worst fear because I already had torn my right knee ACL and experienced the long & difficult recovery) & a torn meniscus, which is the thing that requires surgery the quickest. After discussing the options with the surgeon (the same one who operated on my right knee) I knew that if I was to have to operation done I would have to give up the spring semester in Guadalajara. So under his advice I have postponed the surgery until at least next August when I get back from the studying abroad and my summer trip. I have been rehabbing it on my own and have been swimming up to 1.5 miles and running up to 4 miles so in a sense it is better. However, it still hurts often and I can't play any sports and even have to be careful about how I step as to not tear the meniscus completely, because I guess at that point there is no operation to fix it. Things have been even more difficult for my mom. She has had back pain for years and this past summer after exploring several options came to the conclusion that she had to have major back surgery. In fact she required several different procedures, but they were able to do them all on the same day, October 13. I spent most of the first 4 days with her in the hospital (along with my brother and father in shifts), and she needed us because due to all the drugs required she was really out of it. After that we brought her home where we were able to help her rehabilitate. A large reason I decided to live at home and do the 40+ minute drive each way to school this fall was so I could help her after her surgery. She was a really good patient and although she has had a lot of pain and some other issues along the way overall she is doing great. At the 6 week checkup the doctor told her that she was in the "small category of people who are doing really well", so that is great. Her main rehab has been walking and she is up to 1.6 miles, which is great considering she was using a walker when she came home. Before the surgery she was starting to lose feeling in her legs and when the surgeon operated he found extensive nerve damage to the legs. So when you add the back issues to the nerve problems we could not be happier where she is now.

In happier family news the entire family went fishing (and yes of course it was catch and release!) & my brother Thad and I went deer hunting in the new deer shack (see Deer_Shack picture) he built for us this past spring. We have also had several family gatherings due to weddings or holidays and have more to come in the next couple weeks. In addition to that there have been a couple of other things that stood out as fun events. On October 28, the Investment Club that I am part of at the UWP went to the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE). This was really cool especially being a person who is really interested in the finance field. The CBOE has been closed to the public since September 11, 2001. However, we were able to not only go there and see the real traders trade in the S&P pits, but we also got to go onto the floor and they did a mock trading session for us, plus fed us and gave us a few workshops (see CBOE picture). One of our members, Drew, got this through his account and it was quite a cool event, the 8 of us who went had a blast. On December 4, I was able to attend the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy concert that was held at UWP with Becky and Travis, who are both members in the UWP Swing Dance Club. When we swing dance Big Bad Voodoo Daddy is one of the main bands we listen to so it was great to see them in concert.

Well since her name came up lets discuss Becky some more :) I met her at the UWP Swing Dance club last year at the beginning of the second semester, in late January. We were both new on the same night and have been swing dance partners ever since. To be honest she is much better at it than I am and is even the president of the club now. Either way we have always hung out a fair amount and have been good friends since we met in the club. This semester I would even stay at her dorm room when I went to swing dance since it was late on Tuesday night, so I could swim laps and then go to school early the next day. Well in the past several weeks we have started dating and it has been going great! We have already did the "meet the parents" which went well on both sides. She is a hard worker so she is quite busy even though university is done, but we are planning to spend as much time together as possible before I leave on January 3. Plus she has her birthday only 3 days before mine so we will be celebrating that on December 27. Yeah us December kids rock! While we are on the subject my 30th birthday is happening on December 30..ok so maybe I am not a December KID anymore :( I am going to celebrate with my family on December 28 during the day but don't have plans, other than spending time with Becky for December 30 itself. I plan to send out a separate email about this to people in the area, which will be coming soon, but if you want to do something just let me know!

I guess that means all that is left to talk about for the past 6 months is how my semester at UWP went. It was a busy one with some hard classes and 18 credits which was a lot to deal with at points, especially considering everything else that was going on. But as of Wednesday I finished my semester and it is looking like I did pretty well so that is great. Besides the obvious homework, papers, reading and studying I spent a lot of time preparing for next semester in Guadalajara, Mexico. One of the biggest things for this was the massive amounts of paperwork that I needed to do. This breaks down into 2 separate but equally daunting areas. First is the application process which ended up requiring 6 separate sets of paperwork (12 when you consider that I did it all for Joan too). This literally took weeks of time to pull together because of all the forms, signatures, permissions, and everything else that was needed for it. Also there were the scholarships that I went after to try to fund the financial end of studying abroad. There were really 4 scholarships I was going after and only one of them was pretty much guaranteed. The other 3 all had massive amounts of competition and I spent weeks refining my application and pulling together everything I needed for them. In the end it all paid off as I received all of the four scholarships I applied for (a total of $3,400). Needless to say I was really happy that I was able to receive so much help for what was going to be a fairly expensive semester.

Well I have referenced it several times and it will be the last part of the email. I will be leaving January 3, 2009 to fly to Guadalajara, Mexico where I will be studying Spanish at the Universidad Autonama de Guadalajara until May 15, 2009. Once I am done with school I will be taking the rest of the summer to travel in Spanish speaking countries. While I am studying I will be taking day trips within Mexico so I am guessing I will want to go somewhere else for my summer trip. Right now I am leaning towards South America for the trip (maybe Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia), but to be honest I am really open. Originally I was looking at Central America (especially Guatemala), but after reading about the country it sounds like June and July would not be the best months due to the rainy season, mosquitoes and tourist high season. Either way I guess I am open to ideas and will figure out the summer while I am in Mexico studying. One interesting difference for this trip will be that I will be home for 2 weeks. At Easter break we get 2 weeks off, so from April 4 until April 18 I will be home. I already have my flights bought so if you want to get together before I leave or while I am back let me know. My program will be pretty cool because it is a Spanish immersion. I study for 4 hours in the morning (9am to 1pm), 2 hours grammar and composition and another 2 hours of speaking. In the afternoon my mission is to go out into the public and speak to people in Spanish. Between this program and the summer trip I hope to be fluent in Spanish when I come home and as long as I do well with my classes (and test into the level I want when I get there) I will have completed my Spanish minor. Being as independent as I am I knew that I couldn't do the home stay option the program wants you to do. So I am renting my own apartment. This means anyone who wants to visit me while I am in Guadalajara is more than welcome to!! Yep I am offering an apartment I don't have yet as a free place to crash. Of course I would have to go to all my classes, but otherwise I am willing to entertain anyone who comes down. I am not thinking the apartment is going to be much, but hey free is hard to argue with! Anyway if this sounds interesting to anyone let me know :)

Well that is probably a long enough of an email for now, but hey 6 months makes a lot to cover! It would be great to hear from everyone and as I stated earlier Facebook is the place I keep updated the best now, so if you want to add me as a friend on there, just search for my brock@genextsoftware.com email.

I added a lot of new people to the email update this time, I hope you all enjoyed it. If you want off the list just let me know and it will be done!

Merry Christmas, Happy New Years and Happy Holidays to Everyone,

Love & Peace!