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I just got back from a dream vacation (well, about as big as dreams get when you can’t afford to travel abroad). To celebrate the release of my first book, I dyed my bangs bright pink, painted my nails blue and hopped on a plane to Los Angeles with my boyfriend.

After four days there, we drove up the Pacific Coast Highway to Monterey, then on to San Francisco, and flew to Seattle for the last five days. I did some readings and signings along the way, you know, for tax purposes. It’s the only way I could justify a big vacation. I also caught up with old friends and showed my boyfriend, who’d never been to the west coast, all my favorite haunts in Seattle and L.A.

I’d be lying if I said I was eager to come home. In fact, I even cried a little on the plane. It’s so flat here and leaving the mild Pacific northwest for our heat and humidity? Not to mention my friend in Seattle had a huge garden and a community garden down the block. My friend in L.A. lives within walking distance from an amazing vegan restaurant, and then there are all those bars and record stores in Seattle that I love.

Well, you can’t change the landscape or the climate, but it didn’t take me long to remember that my all-time favorite bar, record store and Italian restaurant are in Forest Park. As I mentally reviewed all the delicious food I’d had over the past few weeks, my mind (and growling stomach) kept returning to the meal we had at Gaetano’s before we left. As a vegan, I appreciate Gaetano because he goes out of his way. He custom-made vegan pizzas for me and they were the best I’ve ever eaten. Rumor has it he may open up a gourmet pizza place. How awesome would that be?

The night after we got home, we headed over to the Beacon to check out their new beer garden. As I approached my favorite watering hole, I noticed a freshly painted Beacon Pub sign, new windows and a tall fence to the left of the entrance, the tops of umbrellas visible behind it. Once inside the spacious beer garden, I stared around in awe.

One of the patrons recognized me from my column (how cool!) and said, “I wondered how you’d like this since you used to work here and don’t really like change.”

“I love it,” I told her sincerely.

The kind of change I don’t like is when a place is remodeled and completely loses its vibe. The Beacon has the same friendly neighborhood bar feel and hasn’t lost any of its eccentricities, like the decorations. But now it has a great outdoor patio where you can enjoy the fresh air and even hold a conversation because it’s not on a busy street like so many other bars.

The next night was Old School Records five year anniversary shindig. Even though we were pretty wiped, we decided to drop by. Listening to Peter, the co-owner’s stories of the music biz, I was glad we did. I haven’t been to a record store anywhere and found the owners as knowledgeable and friendly as the folks at Old School.

So, for the most part I’ve got everything I need right here at home – except mountains, a milder climate and a community garden. The latter is totally attainable, though. I read about the effort to start one and I hope it succeeds. It will give me one more great thing to come home to.

Stephanie is the author of “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” and “Ballads of Suburbia.” She’s a proud Forest Parker who holds a master’s in fine arts degree from Columbia College Chicago. She loves to hear from people through her Web site www.stephaniekuehnert.com.