1. Stevens Point, Wisc. My birthplace. Though I only lived there until I was 4, I have happy memories there. Walking to the library with my mom. Drinking apple juice from one of those tin cans with the little sticker seal on top while my mom practiced being a ballerina. Feeding a squirrel peanuts from my hand. Building snow forts with my dad in the snow. On special occasions, eating at Ponderosa. Leaving my very special Annie doll there once ... feeling relieved when we went back and it was still there.
2. Norman, Okla. Where we went next. My sister and I had a swingset in the backyard of the rental house. Though it was rusty and far from new, I loved it. The backyard flooded there when it rained -- the red clay dirt just couldn't handle the water. So we paraded around in the dirty water up to our knees, loving every minute. I had my first real friends there -- Paula Bean, Yvonne next door and Tonia Somes on the next block. I learned to ride a bike without training wheels there. I rode the bus home from school and sat next to a girl who ate paper. I had a going-away party at a park when we left.
3. Fremont, Neb. This is not where we went next, but I skipped over Jacksonville, Texas. We were only there a year -- while I was in first grade -- and other than getting a dog and a kitten, I don't have any good memories there. I started second grade in Fremont, made friends, fit in, belonged. When we moved away three years later, I remember sitting in the frame of my empty waterbed, crying to stay. A friend and I had it all planned out -- I'd just move in with her family. Simple. I'd visit my parents in South Dakota on the weekends. The adults, for some reason, didn't go for that. But I moved back to Fremont halfway through my sixth grade year. It's where I grew up, learned to drive, first fell in love, made my forever best friend, played sports, held my first jobs and learned a whole lot about myself and others.
4. Lincoln, Neb. Where I went to college, met my husband, learned a lot about my current career. Where I coached my first cross country and track teams.
5. London, England. Absolutely one of the coolest cities in the world. The history, the architecture, the West End theater, the Tube, the art museums, the people. We spent many weekends there while studying abroad in 2001.
5. Swansea, Wales. Where we lived while studying abroad. The poet Dillon Thomas calls it "ugly, lovely." He's right. A lot of Swansea is nothing to write home about, but it has an authenticity and naturalness to it that you have to appreciate.
6. Florence, Italy. Have you been there? If so, you know what I'm talking about. If not, go someday. It's one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. And Chianti is only $3 a bottle. We drank it straight from the bottle.
7. Rome, Italy. For the Coliseum alone, Rome makes the list. The city is also filled with cats.
8. Paris, France. The Eiffel Tower at night is amazing. There's this blinking light show that I wanted to see over and over again. We went at least two nights. And from the top of the tower, you look out across much of Paris. I remember specifically seeing Euro Disney in the distance. The art here, too, is incredible. Besides the Louvre, we went to a museum filled with Monets, just Monets on every wall.
9. Munich, Germany. The Chinesiche Turm park where beers are gigantic and cheap and where German people are happy and loud and kind. I'll also never forget staying in the home of a German friend, specifically asking his mom for a glass of water auf Deutsch.
10. Ireland. I can't pinpoint it to just one city or town in this country. Touring the countryside with relatives on my dad's side was something I'll never forget. Seeing the house where my Grandma Veronica was born was so neat and strange at the same time. I wished I could somehow mentally transfer the images to my dad.
11. Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Where we went on our honeymoon and one of my favorite places to go. The realness of it pulls me in. The beaches, the dunes, the lighthouses, the water, the tiny cabins, the genuineness of it all. I could spend days, weeks even, just hanging out in one of the Cape's little seaside towns.
12. Omaha, Neb. Where we've had the smartest jobs of our professional careers so far. Where we've done lots of home renovations. Where we've made a few close friends. Where I've run more road races than ever before. Where we've raised our child. For that alone, this place matters.
13. Grand Junction, Colo. No surprise, I know. It's just where we feel truly "home." The red rocks of the Colorado National Monument and elsewhere. Pablo's pizza downtown. The thrift store in Fruita. The Grand Junction Free Press. The track at Stocker Stadium. The chrome buffalo outside Wells Fargo. Skiing at Powderhorn. And far more than anything else-- the people. If it weren't for them, I'm not sure I'd miss it so much.
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