Home again, home again, etcetera.

I could happily live the rest of my life in central California, near the coast, provided I didn't have to do anything to earn a living. Could somebody please invent a time machine so that I could invest in Microsoft stock early? Thank you.

Pens the Lotion Slut and I keep emailing and texting each other with the words "Best Vacation EVER" and "CONDORS."

We ("we" being Pens and me) arrived late in the morning Sunday at San Jose and were whisked, as much as a bus can whisk, off to the CalTran station near the airport. There's some wonky stuff going on with construction there that would've made it impossible for Beloved Sis to pick us up, so we just rode the bus through town, with Pens asking things like "What's that vine?" and "Is it always so gorgeous here?" (Answers: Bougainvellia and Yes.)

Beloved Sister and Brother-In-Law have a little place in Monterey--and by little, I mean little--with a guest house/studio out back. Pens and Beloved Sis and I installed ourselves there and proceeded to eat lots of bread and hummus and snackages, complete with thyme-infused olive oil. Then B.S. and B.I.L. made us ravioli and butternut squash puree with sage butter and perfectly sauteed zucchini with the sweetest bell peppers ever. I should've known at that very moment that it's nearly impossible to get a bad meal in central California.

Seriously? Had I posted during the past week, this would be the Head Food and Condor blog. Because we saw CONDORS. But before that, I saw HUMPBACKED WHALES. And before that, I sprained my knee.

On Monday, Pens and I went to see whales on the Monterey Bay Whale Watch tour. We took the Sea Wolf II from the wharf at 0900 sharp. It was during the boarding (boarding? Embarking? Getting-on-the-boat?) that the boat went *wibble* and my left knee went *gronk* and I stumbled, practically into the arms of the handsome man who was charged with getting my landlubber ass onto and off of the boat in one piece. Sadly, I caught myself and sadly, my knee swelled to the size of a small grapefruit during the trip.

But I saw three humpbacked whales: a mother and calf and a big male lazily doing the flipper-slap on the surface. And dozens of Risso's dolphins pacing the boat and breaching, and several sea lions (distinguishable from harbor seals by their longer flippers) scamming for scraps. Penny ended up belowdecks in the cabin, green and sweaty from seasickness. At least I won the genetic lottery *somehow*: Penny could be mistaken for a European fashion model, but *I* got the steady cerebellum that allowed me to stand at the bow of the boat and go whooping over the waves while eating a sandwich and ignoring the groans of the dying.

It was, truly, one of the best moments of my life.

Then we went to Cambria. If you ever have to go to Cambria, stay at the White Water Inn. They have cookies! And, if you go straight across the street, dozens of ground squirrels will meet you on the boardwalk and beg for food. I have pictures; they are forthcoming.

Also, if you ever have to go to Cambria (and poor you, having to go to one of the most gorgeous spots on this earth), you should eat at JJ's Pizza. I'm not sure why it got only three and a half stars on Yelp; it's seriously the best pizza I have ever eaten, and close to if not the best hamburger. Plus, the dude who couldn't work the bottle opener for my Sierra Nevada IPA was both charming and handsome.

When you go to Cambria, you have to do two things: See the Hearst Castle and eat at Indigo Moon. The tours at the Castle have been cut to 45 minutes, which is just enough that your head doesn't *quite* explode from the beauty of the place. I kept walking past medieval tapestries and triptychs and saying, "Wait. . .I saw that in a book."

Indigo Moon is that sort of experience, but in food form. Beloved Sis had a risotto that made me determined to learn how to make risotto, with a cheese that I will be ordering in bulk. Pens had a tomato-basil soup that (and I will not lie, here) I was unreasonably proud of already having the recipe for. I had seafood fettucine that will live forever in my memory. Get the Harmony Wineries Riesling: it's the only Riesling I have ever liked. It's superb.

I've been so caught up in the food that I haven't even mentioned the condors. So, CONDORS: As we were driving along Highway 1, a route that is fucking lousy with vistas, we passed a low stone wall with two large, ugly birds sitting on it. One had a nasty pink head; the other had a less-nasty grey-feathered head. The dialogue in the car went something like this:

Pens: Vultures?

Me: Too big.

Beloved Sis: TAGS.

Beloved Sis and Me, together: HOLY SHIT CONDORS.

So we screeched to a halt and walked back to get within ten feet of two California Condors in all their impressive, irrepressable ugliness, and take pictures. Other people were hopping out of their cars and grinning maniacally at us.

Penny mentioned, being the bird-person that she is, that number four looked like she was getting a bit agitated, and what happened? Everybody moved back and let the birds calm down.

Then we saw two more condors soaring over a cliff. Protip: They look a lot like vultures, but marked differently and WAY bigger than vultures.

AND I spotted a purple-freckled starfish and several anemones and a hermit crab in a tidepool, AND Beloved Sis has great pictures of a bright-orange starfish in another tidepool, AND we saw a sunfish at the aquarium, AND Pens is Beloved Sis-and-Brother-In-Law's favorite person ever, AND there were many cuddles with my pit-bull nephew sweetums snuggums Bones, and we all slept eight hours a night at least without nightmares or insomnia.

I'm so glad I took a vacation I could not afford to a place I had left, the last time I was there, with loathing and disgust. I want to do this every week. Tell me, those of you who live in California: do you ever get tired of being surrounded by Nature that isn't trying to kill you?