{my top three} things to do in my city

I've been through a lot of phases in my life. When I first discovered country music, I was certain I wanted to live on a sprawling farm with 2 rocking chairs on the wraparound porch. After traveling the world a bit, I decided that a sophisticated metropolis was more up my alley. 

Instead of wide open spaces or city living, God gave me the surprising Option C - charming small town in Minnesota nestled in the bluffs of the St. Croix Valley. All the benefits of living in the city, such as walkability, local small businesses, and every store you could ever want, combined with the friendliness and community of living in the country. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Stillwater, MN
Here is a quick tour of my favorite free or cheap spots around town. 

1. Parks

Even though we don't have a yard of our own, we don't need one! The plentiful parks more than make up for it. 

First up is Teddy Bear Park. Cute bear sculptures, multiple playgrounds, and a giant sandbox - this park is a dream for the under 7 set!

Pippa's hat!
Pioneer Park has the best view of the river, hands down.

And let's not forget a picnic on the banks of the St. Croix River itself! With pathways, benches, and a cute gazebo, this is the hot spot to watch the lift bridge, well, lift, people watch or just enjoy a good book once the weather turns nice in Minnesota (June-August if we're lucky).

In all honesty, I'm not really even scratching the surface of parks here in Stillwater. These are just a few of our favorite spots.

2. Restaurants

So on principle, and mainly because there's not a lot of room in our budget for it, we don't go out to eat much. (help me I'm poor). Maybe a few times each year at best. And usually when we do, it's to celebrate a special occasion or because family is visiting.

So obviously, there are way more discerning palates out there to tell you about the best foodie spots in the area. I'm here to tell you where the budget spots and the bests drinks are.

Nacho Mama's has a small, intimate dining space, but large, not-so-intimate portion sizes and margaritas. Best place to share a platter of nachos and a marg!

We always walk past these little outdoor dining joints with pizza and one with Chicago-style hot dogs, and we finally gave in and tried it yesterday!

Anyone who knows me is aware that in college I almost switched my major from education to buccaneering, but I heard there were not a lot of jobs opening up in the pirate field for college grads, unless you wanted to swab the deck for minimum wage (come on, I'm an educated human - that's just degrading). So I stuck with Spanish and education, and decided that maybe becoming a pirate could be a career move in my 30s or 40s. 

Anyway, all that to say that Smalley's Caribbean Barbecue has a pirate theme, and I dig that.
Plus also the most fabulous jerk chicken sandwich ever to grace my lips. And rum drinks in Mason jars.

3. Strolling Main Street

Boutiques, ice cream, coffee shops, and a darn good view of the St. Croix. 

If you made it through all those pictures, you deserve a medal. 

We're feeling pretty good these days to call Stillwater our home base. 
Come visit us!

{my top three} dream jobs

I'm pretty sure every kid had to do that project in kindergarten or first grade where you talk about what you want to be when you grow up. Hopefully, your parents kept it to compare to what you actually ended up doing, so you could share a good chuckle about what your innocent mind dreamed up vs. reality.

For example:
Little Johnny in Kindergarten - When I grow up, I'm going to be president. And when I'm president, I will make sure everyone has enough food and hears God's Word!

John 20 years later - I'm a successful accountant who hates everything about government! I have a wife, a house in the suburbs with a jacuzzi, and we're going on a cruise next winter!

Most children choose noble or high powered careers for their dream job - President of the United States, astronaut, professional athlete, and firefighter are some of the usual suspects. I'll admit, I fell into the professional football player category. That's right, folks. As a youth, I aspired to play for the Green Bay Packers. That didn't pan out, and I'm not sure where I went wrong...

As we get older, we tend to lean toward professions where our passions and talents can be used. With a natural gift for language, I ended up in choosing to be a Spanish teacher. While I absolutely love my decision, there are a few dream jobs that never left the back of my mind along the way. The one thing they all have in common? Freedom. Open spaces, time that is my own, fresh air, and making my own decisions all day every day. Let's take a look:

Cowboy (cowgirl?)

I mean...you get to ride horses, sleep under the stars, sit by the campfire each night. Sure, it requires some physical labor, but you get to be one with nature, you don't have to talk to a lot of people, and you get to travel! Toby Keith's I Should Have Been a Cowboy is my theme song. Is this still a career? Why didn't this show up on that standardized aptitude test that told you what your career was supposed to be?

Fisherman (fisherwoman?)

Basically the same as cowboy, but you get beaches, water, and boats. You could also moonlight as a pirate. Also, delicious fresh-caught fish? With some fresh squeezed lime, fresh fruit...it's all I need in the world.


Typical author living on the coast of somewhere beautiful, penning my masterpiece as I gaze out upon the ocean waves? I would probably own a lot of light-weight baggy sweaters, flip-flops, and linen pants in this scenario. Hairstyle courtesy of the salty air. I would have a local beach bar where I have a tab and some good friends. I would read 1 novel per week, you know, as part of my "work."

Do you have any dream careers that slipped through your fingers?

{my top three} dream trips

Most people have a dream destination or adventure lingering in the back of their mind. Most people also read one book at a time. I like to read 2 or 3 books at once, just as I like to juggle several dream trips in my fantasy world. Ever since the conception of my bucket list in Bogotá circa 2009, I have harbored grandiose plans for worldwide travel. 

The following are my top 3...for now.

Machu Picchu

I have a special place in my heart for South America. This continent’s tumultuous and fascinating past often goes untold in the classrooms of North America. What a shame! The mystery, betrayal, violence, adventure, and untold riches litter the pages of Sudamérica’s history books, rivaling the most spectacular blockbuster film or dramatic telenovela. The more I learn about the land of Simón Bolívar, the more I want to explore it. 

Specifically, Peru calls to me. Lima, Cusco, and Arequipa are on my list, but they would all be merely leading to the apex of the trip - Machu Picchu. Hiking and camping among one of history’s greatest mysteries is appealing to both my intellectual and outdoorsy sides. 

Spain to Morocco

As most students of the Spanish language, I would love to see the origin of the Castellano language. Specifically, my bucket list calls for sipping a glass of red wine, or vino tinto, in a plaza in Spain. Maybe on the patio of a restaurant, or a balcony overlooking the plaza - I’m not picky! I want the word vale to become a part of my everyday speech in Spanish, and I want to catch futbol fever. 

After exploring the motherland, it would only be a short ferry ride from Tarifa or Gibraltar to Tangiers. And my bucket list instructs me to repeat a line from Casablanca in Casablanca. So, here’s looking at you, outdoor markets, head scarfs, and desert sands! I’m coming for you, kid!

Buenos Aires

I can’t help it! I just can’t escape the draw of South America! First I would learn to dance the tango, followed by a dinner of steak and wine, followed by a night on the town putting my new tango skillz to work. I would explore the land of Evita and the desaparacidos from the Guerra Sucia - the dirty war. The European vibe of the city would make me feel sophisticated as I lounged in yet another plaza. 

After having my way with Buenos Aires, I would make my way to wine country, sipping my way from vineyard to vineyard. I would probably camp under the stars like a true gaucho or whatever. 

Apparently my bucket list is just a geographically organized ledger of plazas and patios from which to sip beverages, and also some places to hike. Cheers to that!