Many moons ago, I was born in the small Minnesota town of Isanti-actually the Cambridge hospital to be precise. My father’s family had lived in Isanti for many generations and my own family lived there for ten years. That is until my Mom had enough of the harsh winters and moved my family back to where she grew up, Arizona. I was 15 months old.
I really like Arizona, it’s a great state. I like the topography, the beautiful sunsets, the mountains that surround the valley, the gorgeous winters that can’t be beaten and I even like the heat. Even though we left Minnesota, Minnesota certainly didn’t leave our family. We still bled purple every Sunday, hot dish appeared at our dinner table at least once a week, uff da was a common phrase, our favorite card game was hand and foot, and most importantly we were taught to be kind and genuine.
Throughout the years we would go and visit Minnesota to see family and old friends...in the summertime of course. I was always amazed at the amount of greenery the state boasted, how “gosh darn nice” everyone was, and how peculiar it was that on nice days people were outside, like everyone in the state was outside (I since understand, my Minnesota friends, we take advantage of our nice days). I always felt relaxed and at peace in my former home state, it was as if the Nordic Gods wanted me back home.
In my early twenties, I developed a habit which quickly turned into an addiction- running. After a few years of running various 10k’s and half marathon’s, I decided it was time to conquer the big kahuna, a full marathon. In January of 2009, I made the decision to run a marathon before I turned 25, which was at the end of May that year. In warm Arizona, the running season basically stops at the end of March. Three months wasn’t going to be enough time to ramp up my mileage and train. I started googling different states that were hosting marathons in May and would also have a similar elevation. I found Stillwater, Minnesota and it happened to be having it’s inaugural marathon a week before I turned 25. Perfect! I think. I had never heard of Stillwater. I didn’t know if it was east, west, or way up north. I quickly emailed my cousin who lived just outside of the Twin Cities to see what he could tell me of this “Stillwater”. He sold me on the town saying it was very charming and only 20 minutes aways from where they lived. OK, so now Perfect! I booked my plane ticket and started training for that race. A race that I had no idea would change my life.
From the starting point along the St. Croix River (which I actually thought was the Mississippi River-Uff Da) I fell in love with Stillwater foot over foot during those 26.2 miles. The rolling hills, beautiful Victorian homes that adorned the neighborhoods, the charming downtown, and the almost eclectic vibe the town seemed to have, made me think this could be my town . And the people, who were just so nice that I actually understood what Minnesota nice meant.
After the race my cousins, who kindly cheered me on for four hours, and I ate at Smalley’s. As we clinked beers I looked at them and said, “If I ever move back to Minnesota, I am moving to this town”. I had no idea then. I had no idea that my future husband was helping his mother move into her new home across the river in Somerset, WI. I had no idea that I one day would be giving birth to my second child at Lakeview Hospital. I had no idea I would be dropping my little girl off at Lily Lake Elementary every morning. I had no idea I would eventually find a job that I love. And I had no idea just how much more I would fall in love with Stillwater.
It was a little less than a year after the marathon that I would meet the Wisconsinite who would eventually be my ticket to Stillwater. His name was Jodi and he had just moved to Arizona for his job. There was something very familiar about him, something very midwest and something very genuine. It was about our third date when we were going through pictures together on my computer that we came across my finish line picture of the Stillwater marathon. He became excited and exclaimed, “Hey, that’s Stillwater!” I told him how I would love to live there one day. He quickly agreed, telling me how his mom lives in Somerset and how he tried to buy a fixer upper in Stillwater about a year prior, but lost out in a bidding war. Looking back, I should thank the man who outbid Jodi as he probably would've never moved to Arizona.
After doing the whole falling in love and serious dating thing, I was pretty sure that Jodi was going to be it for me. I also knew that his time in Arizona had an expiration date and his company would be sending him to the next job. I had a choice. Stay in the state I had lived since I could learn to walk or to go with him to the next job. I obviously chose the latter. The next job was in Sioux City, Iowa. Uff Da.
It was during the move to Iowa we learned that we were expecting. It was a time of joy and excitement and nervousness all rolled in one. It was also a time of great loneliness that I had begun to experience. I had no family, no friends, my pants no longer fit, corn was everywhere, I had no real connection to the city and I just never felt at home. Knowing that I was about to burst (literally and figuratively), Jodi told me that if I could hang in there for about two years while he completed this job, I could pick the next place we live. I told him Stillwater. He told me he would get me there, and that man never goes back on his word.
Over the next two years, whenever we would visit Jodi’s mother for Thanksgiving or Christmas or the Fourth of July, we would drive through Stillwater and I would imagine what my life would be like here. What parks would we play at, where would my kids go to school, what running trails would I explore, would I learn to like winter, what restaurants would I talk to locals at and exclaiming, “do you have any idea how cool of a place you live in?!"
Finally, Jodi found a job in Minnesota and we were on our way. In January of 2014, we finally were able to call Stillwater “home”.
I remember our first night here. It was a very cold night of one of the coldest winters. We were renting an old small two bedroom apartment overlooking downtown Stillwater while looking for a home to purchase. All our furniture, except for the crib, was in storage. We actually had nothing but some clothes, a tv, a couple of DVDs and an air mattress. But I didn’t care. I was smiling ear to ear because I finally felt at home. We had done it. The Nordic Gods had finally got me back.
Since that first step I took for that marathon over 7 years ago, I have yet to be disappointed by this town. I love the St. Croix River. I love how the bluffs look in the fall time. I love the Stillwater stairs, even when my legs feel like they are going to fall off. I love taking my little girl to Leo’s for the traditional birthday meal. I love running on Brown’s Creek Trail and the Gateway to my heart’s content. I love my morning walks along Lake McKusick and watching the Canada Geese fly in. I love how there is almost always a banner in downtown Stillwater depicting the next festival. I love that this town has festivals. I love never being bored with the restaurants downtown. I love watching the liftbridge raise up over the river. I love the endless amount of steeples. And I absolutely love that I was able to get married atop the steps of the Historic Courthouse to the man who promised me he would get me here. That was my favorite Stillwater day.
But most of all, I love the people here, I love how much they love and care for this town. It’s what makes Stillwater unique and it is the draw that brought me here. From my personal experience, that is really rare.
I still haven’t become used to the winters, but there are so many other days when I am listening to the babbling of Brown’s Creek or watching my girl smile with glee at Teddy Bear Park or taking a walk down along the St. Croix, that I think, “I can’t believe I live here”. Thank you Stillwater for making this transplant finally feel at home.