Monday, December 07, 2009

The Book She is Complete!

Well...first draft. (See sidebar).

Why yes, yes it was hard! And I loved writing it!

More news when my other readers get a copy.

I'd tell you the title, but then I'd'll just have to wait.

Thank you to everyone who urged me to the finish line.

Editing begins next week.

Friday, October 09, 2009

A Different Bird in Paradise?

The photo above is supposed to be Impatiens psittacina, also called the Parrot Flower, at least on the Internet. It is, allegedly, a rare, endangered species, native to northern Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), and northern India. Apparently it is a Federal crime in those countries to attempt to export either the flower or the seeds. Wondering if anyone has actually seen one of these beauties in person?

According to numerous sources, which are apparently quoting from an unnamed original source, "The Impatiens are part of a morphologically diverse family, called Balsaminaceae, which has about a thousand representatives that are mainly distributed in the tropics and subtropics. The family Balsaminaceae consists of only two Genera: Hydrocera and Impatiens."

Impatiens is by far the largest and inhabits all continents except South America and Australia. Hydrocera has only one species confined to tropical Asia. One of the features that separates Impatiens from the rest of the plant kingdom is the explosive nature of the seeds. Through a process knows as 'explosive dehiscence,' the ripe seed pods explode under extreme pressure when disturbed, scattering the seeds far and wide, sometimes more than twenty feet from the parent plant.

The flower shapes of impatiens come in many different forms, and all have the ability to change sex. When an impatiens flower first opens it is male and after a few days this pollen cap is shed to reveal the female organs underneath. This evolutionary safety net is to keep the plant from self-pollination but it doesn't always work. Some species naturally set seed without even opening their flowers; this is called being cleistogamous. Some of the species have even gone one step further in that it is self-sterile and needs another of the same species in order to set seed.

Self-pollination, it seems, can weaken the species. After a combination of checking with this handy site and the ever helpful Google, I found one poster who found this:

"Evolutionary biologists and population ecologists view this mixed breeding system as a highly successful strategy for producing genetically diverse new plants from chasmogamous flowers and other new plants very similar to the parental genotypes from cleistogamous flowers. The mixed breeding system is found in many distantly related plant families and has recently been proposed as a vehicle for containment of transgenic modifications in plant groups where it could be induced. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying this fascinating system have never been investigated."

Wow---and I thought I had just found a pretty picture! Nature is amazing---a flower that can change its sex, shoot its seeds out into the world like a canon shot and trys to protect itself from self-pollination with trickery that sometimes backfires. Sounds a lot like humans!

But is the flower above real? Does it actually exist in the world...or just in a clever person's photo manipulation? This person sure does go to a great deal of trouble to convince his readers that the flower, as seen above, is real. In 1901, Botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker wrote an entry for Kew Gardens about Impatiens psittacina, and it was accompanied by a drawing shown at the bottom of the linked page. If you look at the drawing and then the closeup of one section of the drawing...hmmmm.

Are you convinced? I'm skeptical, but I have a friend who has a friend who knows a botanist from Down Under....Help!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Happy Birthday to Ann

A Very Happy Birthday to my friend, Ann Somerville, astoundingly wonderful author and all-around special person. Of course, she's in Australia, so, technically, I guess her special day was yesterday, but, I'm not, so I say it's today! Happy Birthday to you...see you in the City by the Bay in November!

Friday, September 11, 2009

September Sunset 9/11/09

Photos by Karyn, Canon Powershot S80

Update on (Clunker) Jimmy (Jack)

Well, Jimmy is recuperating, and he has a new home with our vet tech, Cathy. Despite beginning to fall in love with Jimmy over the 55 hours he spent with us, we weren’t really prepared to have another animal at the time Jimmy appeared, but we knew we’d keep him long enough to make sure he would live.

He is happily ensconced at the home of our vet tech, Cathy, who Jimmy met Tuesday morning when he was taken to our regular vet for a thorough examination. Whenever we picked him up, his skin would crackle, and he seemed to tire very easily. Still, for the three days we had him, he ate regularly, tried to befriend the not very resilient Pugs, and was generally a love and a good boy---very polite, very, very sweet.

The doctor thinks that Jimmy might have a small hole in one of his lungs, and he could require a great deal of special medical care, medication and possibly surgery to get back to normal. Certainly he will have more tests. As we already have one special needs child in the person of The Dolly Lambi, two seemed more than we could take on at this time. (Dolly was paralyzed in her hind quarters at age four by hyper extending her body on her back legs trying to get some food off the kitchen counter {so very pug-like}, and although her paralysis was not permanent, the damage from it was, and she wobbles on her back legs, is very unsteady, and is in need of being watched at all times).

But, the the main consideration was where would Jimmy get the very best treatment and care available. The vet tech would be able to provide that to Jimmy at a fraction of the cost (possibly free, except for meds), and best of all, she and her husband have been placing strays in loving homes for years. In fact, just the week prior, she placed a dog that looks very much like Jimmy with a lady in her church.

However, to make sure Jimmy wasn’t some nice person’s little love, the Doctor scanned his chip. It turns out that his given name was Jack, but the phone was disconnected. Further investigation revealed the street he lived on is in a very bad area, and we suspect that given the distance from us, he was most likely dumped in a good area, but, after checking all the usual places over the past five days, we can say with certainty that no one is looking for Jimmy. Which, in this case, means no more heartbreak for Jimmy.

Jack is now officially Jimmy, and Cathy reports that he’s off the pain meds, responding very well to the antibiotics, and, best of all, he has been drinking water, which is something he did not do for the first three days. The way we got water into him was intravenously at the ER hospital we first took him to, and by adding water to his meals at home, which he ate and slurped with great gusto.

When we got him, or should I say, when he got us, he was so matted and dirty that we had to cut the burrs and sticks and brambles out of him with a scissors. We gave him a sponge bath, but knew he was too fragile for a full grooming. Yesterday, Cathy the vet tech, decided to give Jimmy a make-over, so he could have a fresh new start, again, so she shaved him, took a picture of him and told him his official name is, in fact, Jimmy. Each day she dresses all his sores and wounds, and by the time we got him to our own vet, he had gained one pound. He was barely six pounds when he found us. Oddly, we called him Jack a few times when trying to guess his name, and he didn’t respond at all. We’re pretty certain that being Jack wasn’t fun, wasn’t a good life. The medical team at the vets felt that given his injuries, Jimmy was abused, possibly by a second owner.

Karyn cried all day after she left Jimmy with the vet tech, but we both knew it was the best decision for everyone, especially Jimmy. Today, we realized something else. It was the story of Jimmy, how he sat outside our gate, ran into her arms, was the best houseguest anyone could hope for and never complained about anything, even being that sick---it’s that story that pulled at our heartstrings so much. We’ve known Cathy for six years, and she is probably the only person in this town to whom we would have entrusted Jimmy. And we know that she is very careful when placing adoptees---she interviews them, checks out the home, really does her due diligence when it comes to placing the four-legged children.

So…Jack became Clunker became Jimmy, and although Cathy has sent us daily reports, we already know that this is going to be a HEA ending. If Jimmy can get his health back, and he is, after all, a survivor, then someone is going to have a wonderful companion, and a lot of love. Already, several people who have met Jimmy want him!

After his make-over, Cathy put Jimmy on top of her car to keep him still while she snapped this photo because her two German Shepherds love him and all they wanted to do was play, and Jimmy is way overdue for some serious play time!

Thanks to everyone who posted and wrote to us about the lovely boy Jimmy. We’ll be sure to post an “After” picture when his hair grows out.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Look Who Showed Up at the Front Gate this Morning


THE DOLLY LAMBI "Tell me this is not another boy."
Teddy Valentine: "No, nothing's wrong. Why?"

Completely matted, with stickers and burrs and dirt everywhere, this little boy with pure white curls stood at our gate and ignored Teddy's ferocious barking and just waited for a kind human being to invite him in. He ran into her arms. He was completely sweet, docile and in some kind of pain. We decided to take him to the Emergency Vet because we knew he wasn't a young puppy, and yet he wasn't fixed. He seemed exhausted, frightened and very hungry. We came to a quick decision. This little personable dog had not been well treated or he was a runaway who had run into some big trouble. He screamed when we touched his back. And we know for a fact that people abandon dogs in the desert area all the time. We've rescued seven lost dogs in the past few years, and they were all happily reunited with their owners. They were all in pretty good shape when they came to our gate....but there was just something about Jimmy....

I went to work and Clunker's new Mommy took him to the vet. The minute I saw him, I knew he was going to cost some serious cash. Cash for Clunker? Uh, no, Mommy said, way no.

Hours later I got a phone call. The vet said he had suffered some kind of blunt force trauma, but she couldn't find anything broken. He walks just fine. He was dehydrated so they gave him fluids intravenously, gave him antibiotics because we had no history, took a blood panel to make sure his kidneys were working, and gave him some effective pain meds. He is chipped, but the chip is not from anywhere around here.

Our scenario, which may or may not be true, is that he has been mistreated because he cowers when one first pets him; then he crawls right up into one's arms and falls asleep. We drove around looking for signs, but saw none. I've checked the lost and found in the newspaper. We'll call the SPCA on Tuesday and see if anyone has reported him missing. He had no collar. We don't think anyone is looking for him. Or maybe we just hope no one is. But if he's someone's sweetheart, we want to find out who and kick the shit out of 'em. No, I mean, we would, of course, try to unite any loved ones.

I think he's ours, now, and his name is Jimmy. He cost $299 to put him back in running order, and if he stays, he'll get tutored. The black and now mostly grey Dolly Lambi, our eldest pug, age fourteen and half, is not happy. Teddy Valentine, our two-year old pug, is not happy. But both pugs seems to be behaving a bit better than their usual spoiled selves. Jimmy, very quite, and very polite, thinks we said thugs, not Pugs. But he's too sweet to say so to their faces.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Making Progress...and Helping Out

Martine Colette, Wildlife Waystation

(California wildfires light the hillsides of the Tujunga area of Los Angeles on Monday, Aug. 31, 2009 . (AP Photo/John Lazar))

This photo of fire is the scene I saw on the drive home from work night before last that I made reference to in a post the day before yesterday. The new front of the fire is the Big and Little Tujunga canyon areas of Los Angeles. This front is at the opposite end of the fire from us, at a distance of about 40 miles.

Yesterday brought the on-shore breezes and higher humidity being attributed to Hurricane Jimena, approaching Cabo San Lucas, but the temperature was high 90s, low 100s, and although the fires still burn, the reports put containment of the Station Fire (nearest us) at 22%. We are fine and not in any danger at all. Thanks for the concern and good wishes. It really made us realize how connected we all really are.

As the city was completely enveloped in a cloud cover and a smoke shroud yeserday, I only saw a couple huge flareups on the distant mountains above Acton. Although Action is only about 16 miles from us, the amount of smoke coming our way this past couple days made it seems as though the fire were just over the next ridge; it's actually farther than 16 miles because it's up and down the mountain ridges that surround Action, although it did progress down the mountain sufficiently to warrant evacuation of much of the rural Acton community.

The big news today was the trouble The Wildlife Waystation was having finding enough cages to take out the bigger animals, as flames tore down Tujunga Canyon. As an alternative, firefighters set risky backfires to push the flames away from the WW, and it worked. As of this morning (9/2), all the animals left at the sanctuary are safe.

Wildlife Waystation (WW) houses about 400 animals, many of them disabled, and is a place I was introduced to over 15 years ago by singer Dusty Springfield, a friend. The WW was one of her favorite causes and chosen non-profit charities, but she didn't give only money. Often, she would visit and pitch in and help around the grounds whenever she could. There's always work to be done in place like WW.

The woman who started the WW is Martine Colette, a real scrapper of a Frenchwoman who has devoted her entire life to saving a variety of large animals (mostly), many of whom started out as pets by people too stupid to realize these animals get big and need a lifetime of care and protection once they are in any kind of captivity.

Today, two chimps got loose on their way to their evacuation headquarters at the LA Zoo. One headed for the small primate and bird sanctuary of the zoo (Whohoo, look at me!), and was tranquillized by dart gun within 20 minutes. The other chimp was on the lam for nearly an hour, but was eventually found and finally coaxed into her cage by her trainer. Griffith Park had to be closed while authorities hunted for the runaway. Truth is, the evacuations have completely traumatized the animals, and these kids aren't easy to move under any circumstances.

But in a cruel twist of irony, the day before the fires started, the Wildlife Waystation put out a press release about a different kind of emergency. It's out of money, due largely to having to close the facility to the public over a year ago as it was unable to meet certain LA County requirements. Evidently it takes about $5000 per day to feed all the animals and provide them with veterinary oversight. Anyway, like so many of the animal rescue and/or sanctuary operations that begin as someone's labor of love, the daily coin of the realm is always so much more than expected. Anyway, you might want to take a look at their website, and pass this story on to anyone else who might be able to lend a hand to the Wildlife Waystation.

In every fire and natural disaster, it's the faces of the vulnerable and helpless, people and animals, that strike a chord within us.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Still Here!

Good Morning Everyone,

Hey the prayers and good wishes must have been heard---we're still here, and actually I'm going to work today as the Freeway appears to be open. There's still plenty of smoke in the sky, but I'm sure the Super Scoopers were flying early this morning. If the winds cooperate, things could turn the corner. I'll try to get some pictures as I drive through Acton, on my way to work. The real test of how much the fire is contained will be this evening after the Sundowner winds come up. I'll be driving home at 8:30 p.m. my time, getting home around 10 p.m. Will update then and whenever I can during the day. Thanks you guys!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Fire Update: 10:00 p.m., 30 August 2009

Sadly, two firefighters died today when their vehicle overturned fighting the monstrous Angeles National Forest fire. They lost their lives defending the LaCanada/Flintridge area. The fire area closest to us, in Acton, is now being called The Station Fire. As awful as the fires are, it's pretty demoralizing to realize that some of them were arson. The authorities do not think the original source of the fire was arson, but at one point today, suspicious spot fires were popping up all over the various routes located alongside freeways leading to areas of the Angeles National Forest. Some of this area has not burned for 60 years, so it's pretty much a tinderbox.

Also, Shambala Preserve, the large cat sanctuary, started by actress Tippi Hedren was threatened a couple hours ago, but heroic efforts by the kind of helicopters you see above saved the Preserve. The entire staff is sleeping there and are ready to evacuate if necessary, an evacuation that would be difficult under good circumstances, never mind a raging fire.

Above you see the last of today's pictures, including the delicious cafe au lait personally made for this roving reporter by her Editor-in-Chief, Karyn, with assistance from freelance photographer, Kimberly.

Here's a recap of where we're at at this hour: The fire has burned 100,000 acres, covering nearly 66 square miles; three people were injured, in addition to the loss of life mentioned above; 18 residence have been destroyed, mostly cabins in the Angeles Forest, but 12,000 homes are currently threatened at various fronts along the 130-mile fireline; the cost of fighting the fire, thus far, is $7.7 Million, and rising; the fire is only 5% contained, but the two Super Scoopers have arrived at Van Nuys Airport in the San Fernando Valeey, and are scheduled to attack the Station Fire (Acton area) at first light.

The skies above us are red/orange, even in the dark, but I think we're good for the night, so over and out and thanks for all your letters and posts.

Fire Update: 5:49 p.m., 30 August 2009

OK, we're fine, but this thing is whipping up something fierce. If you look at the map above, we're located directly across from the Rancho Vista golf course in the nearby foothills--we are to the right of Warwick Park, by about 3 miles. The yellow area is the area within which they are trying to contain the fire. The red area, which is a couple hours old, is where the fire was---it has progressed into a third of the yellow area.

The Mt Wilson area has some bad news: Atop Mt. Wilson is the entire Los Angeles communication center---towers for every television and radio station and much of the telephone transmission centers, as well as the "repeater" transmission towers for the emergency notification system. The fire fighting arsenal has been pulled off the Mt. Wilson lines due to extreme safety hazards to crews. Unless the direction, heat and intensity change, fire officials expect Mt. Wilson to be extensively damaged.

The backyard pictures are from our house, the horse and trailer photo from the Acton foothills (Courtesy KNX).

As dusk is about two hours from now, the Night Shift of the fire fighting efforts is moving into place. That means the pictures we show of the air arsenal are the last of the day shift flights. The larger airplanes cannot fly at night, and the time between now and dusk is largely the purview of water-dropping helicopters and strategically positioned strike teams on the ground. With the speed, heat and wind fueling the bone-dry terrain into small infernos dotting the hillsides and ridges of the nearby mountains, the fire fighting equipment and personnel is definitely inadequate to keep this fire from moving closer to us. We need a major wind shift. Or as they say in Hollywood, some "good" Force Majeure!

Fire Update: 12:43 p.m., 30 August 2009

You can see the tips of the fleur de lis of our wrought iron driveway gate and the hill straight ahead, facing South. It's getting very hot here, around 103 degrees, the winds are up, to about 35 m.p.h., but so is air firepower and the fleet is working hard. Still, in evacuated Acton, the fire is only two miles from homes, with flames leaping to a height of 200 feet. Several schools (including Highland High School) and park areas (including Tierra Subida) in the Antelope Valley have now been declared as Evacuation Centers for people, horses and other farm and ranch livestock.

A new concern is the electrical power transmission lines that criss-cross some of the mountain ridges and valleys. (Another argument in favor of below ground power lines and other kinds of power generation and transmission!)

A total of 35,000 acres have burned in this La Canada/Flintridge-named fire since Wednesday night when the fire began. There have been three injuries (reportedly to folks who refused to evacuate) and a dozen structures burned, some of them houses.

We're fine, but very watchful!

Fire Update: 11:05 a.m., 30 August 2009

As you can see, winds throughout the night cleared out some of the darkest of the smoke clouds. The shot above was taken a few minutes ago, from our driveway, looking South toward Acton. Unfortunately, that is new smoke from the rapidly growing Acton fire, which is moving North, in our direction. It's still 12 miles away, and there's hours of dense brush that would have to burn before the fire reaches us, as well as several fairly high mountains (3000-4200-foot elevations) to cross. Our house sits at an elevation of about 2800 feet.

Until about a half hour ago, there were no airplanes in the air around Action and the head of Delta Rescue, one of the largest dog and cat rescue organizations, located in Acton, was on a local radio station bitterly complaining about the lack of air power. The super scoopers are not due to arrive from Northern California until tomorrow. In the past few minutes, though, I have seen and heard smaller fire-fighting air power headed in the direction of the fire. At I write, Governor Arnold is holding a press conference, and the questions from the residents are testy---they need information. A fire official tried to shine the people on with jargon-speak, and Gov. Arnold interrupted and said: "Let's give these people the name of someone here, right now, so they aren't lacking information." He's pretty cool, and suddenly several specific names materialized.

Yesterday the fire was able to travel over 10 miles in 8 hours in many sections of this massive fire, which stretches across a total line of nearly 125 miles. The concern at the moment is the mid-morning winds, which are blowing about 25 m.p.h; the higher risk, however, are the Sundowners, which come up around 5 p.m., and can blow upwards of 40 m.p.h. The winds that the fire itself kick up often reach speeds of upwards of 80 m.p.h.

Thanks to everyone for their well wishes! Robin, yes, I just remembered to email the book to myself---I have been off for several days while Kimberly, Karyn's sister visits, and while the sisters caught up on all the news, I wrote nearly 35 more pages, so I didn't have a backup of the new stuff until this morning. But I double insured by emailing it to myself, as Robin suggested. We're OK Ann, and yes, A-Lady, it's alarmingly close.

I will update briefly throughout the day.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

This is Not a Sunset; It's Smoke

No fire within 16 miles of us, but look at the skies around 2 p.m. this afternoon! Most of the smoke is coming from the huge Angeles National Forest fire, also known as the La Canada/Flintridge fire, which is only five per cent contained. Evacuations have reached nearly 3000, and tens of thousands of homes are threatened. Then, shortly after 5 p.m., a fire broke out in the Agua Dulce area (which had such a bad burn last year), closing down the Antelope Valley Freeway in both directions.

The latest report (10:05 p.m.) on the largest fire closest to us is that the LaCanada/Flintridge fire is moving rapidly toward the horse and hill country of Acton, an attractive rural community about 12 miles from us. We don't want the Agua Dulce fire and the LaCanada/Flintridge fires to merge. Acton is located midway between where we are and the Agua Dulce fire. Here's some pictures...very dramatic. The silhouette shot is of Karyn's sister, Kimberly, visiting for the weekend, and she's the woman in the straw hat near the pool. She and I took these photos. The regal pampas grass in our front yard stands guard at the gate!

But fear not, if we have to leave, we're ready: dogs, people, documents, survival duffel bag, two iMacs, a couple dozen irreplaceable pictures, and water, coffee and snacks. Check. Oh, and dog food and Teddy Valentine's blankie, known as Priscilla. Check.

10:17 p.m. Update: And my damn manuscripts and the backup discs!!! Good grief, CHECK!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Listen Up: My Cousins Are Coming!

Uh...short note to my 7 regular readers. I've sent the link to this blog to some of my cousins---cousins I have been searching for many years, and found. That's a great story, and I'll be writing about it soon. In the meantime, welcome to Kathleen, Colleen, Diana and Don, and Patricia and's a snapshot of my life, and I'm glad I found you again.

Oh, also, my cousins do not yet know that I'm known as Fire Marshall Margaret and Meteorologist Margaret.

So, just to get them used to my other jobs around here,the photo above is of tonight's lightening storm in the desert. It was part of a movie that I was trying to shoot, so, since I'm not so good with the camera yet, I plucked a single shot from the video to place here on the blog. So, sorry it's a little grainy, but it gives you the idea of what we had here tonight. Since we're in Highest Fire Danger alert, I'm happy to say, nothing caught fire that we know of. The storm was actually about 20 miles away from the house, and positioned over the San Gabriel Mountain Range.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Great Topic for Writers at "Teach Me Tonight"

More Doug Savage Work here

Dr Sarah Frantz has come up with another great topic for writers, here. I probably should have put my response to her post on my blog instead of hogging space on her post...but it does somewhat explain my ability with word dumps! 

This blog is one of my favorites, and I think any writer would benefit from the information provided, the topics covered and the skill of all the staff contributors.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Signs of Spring

As my seven long-time readers well know, everything in the garden has a given name. Given by Karyn. This morning I took some pictures of some "people" you may have seen in prior pictures to show the incredible growth, despite the limb-breaking snows of winter, the sogginess of pre-Spring and the already warm winds of pre-Summer.

These photos have been published over the protests of the professional landscape architect who has assured me that these vignettes are nowhere near ready for their closeups. The professional says things won't be ready for the cover of any publication for at least a consider this a sneak preview.

First, welcome Mondo, also known by his birth name of agave americana variegata.

Next, Pinky, a lovely flowering Plum tree. In the background, you can see one of the many ancient groves of Joshua tree that surround us. Ollie, the fruitless olive tree, peeks in from the right.

And finally, we introduce you to Goliath, child of Mondo. Goliath seems happily surrounded by the Orange Grove, and if you look closely, you'll see Lemoncello, both varieties of ice plant.

So, enjoy the preview. I'm in such trouble! heh.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

"Simply Red" By Our Guy Bob

Bob is our brother-in-law, and I thought this was a pretty cool story about him. He completely customized the 1956 Lincoln Continental Mark II you see above, and he's brilliant with customizing Harley's, too. I'll take some more pictures when we visit Karyn's sister Kimberly, and Bob, in April. 

And if you want to know about the six degrees of separation between Karyn and me, there's another story here, too. When I was in my just barely legal twenties, I was a reporter for The Daily Review, the same newspaper that published the article below. My "beat" was "The Women's Page" (that's how long ago it was---now it's called Lifestyle or Your World or Whatevah!) 

I spent my day writing engagement and wedding announcements. Anyway, the Daily Review owned a small weekly paper in the Newark/Fremont called The Argus. Karyn's family subscribed to The Argus (and still do). At that paper, they actually made me the Women's Editor. I'm sure Karyn would have read the paper, but she was probably still in kindergarten! Decades later, we meet, and the rest as they say, is history. Who would ever in a million years think I'd learn to write articles for the Weddings & Engagements section in the same town where the girl I would later marry lived?!? (OK, let's be honest, who on earth would have thought two girls could ever marry!)

But back to Bob. (Sorry, Bob, but hey--we have a love of girls and cars in common!) Bob is a very cool guy---No he's the epitome of cool, and his 10-car garage with nearly as many bikes and cars in various stages of ready are testaments to his talent. There's this one vintage '56 Mercedes....heh. 

OK, now for the story published this week.

By Eric Kurhi
The Daily Review

Bob Cecchini manipulates vintage Detroit steel the way a sculptor molds a lump of clay, working deftly to turn raw material into a work of art. This artist's tools are a bit different: a cutting torch and welder, a garage full of machinery and a full-size auto lift. It's in this workshop that old cars begin their metamorphosis and rejuvenation.

Tops are chopped. Frames are cut. Fenders and fins are tweaked and stretched, and the process usually involves an injection of youth serum in the form of a high-powered engine and state-of-the-art gauges, suspension and electronics.

Cecchini doesn't draw out elaborate plans. "You have to change things as you go along," he said.

Behold his latest creation: "Simply Red," a 1956 Lincoln Continental Mark II that first rolled off the production line when Cecchini, now 69, was a teenager.

A Mark II was always a dream machine. Only 3,000 were built, and the $10,000 coupe was the epitome of luxury, competing with top-of-the-line Cadillacs and even Rolls-Royces. It was far from an Everyman's car, unless that man was Elvis Presley or Frank Sinatra, both of whom owned a Mark II.

But with Cecchini's modifications, it's truly one of a kind. The low and long brandywine-red coupe has a classic yet modern look, but vintage car aficionados will instantly realize there's something missing: the signature spare-tire trunk hump that
has always been mandatory on a Lincoln Continental.

"Everyone said you can't take that off," said Cecchini, a Fairview resident. "I said that's the first thing that's got to go." That's the rebel in Bob. That's what got him into modifying cars in the first place.

He's been a hot rodder since his teen years, and participated in his first car show in 1962 with a supercharged convertible Chevy. He was doing a lot of work customizing motorcycles in the 1970s, even building a wild-looking ride for soul legend Isaac Hayes.

In 1979, one of his choppers was named the second-best custom vehicle in the nation. That designation included cars, which didn't sit so well with some of the four-wheel customizers.

"The guys were mad at me for winning with a motorcycle," he said. "One of them told me, 'Anyone can build a motorcycle.' I thought, well, what's the difference?

"I was fine building motorcycles until (car customizers) got funny with me," he said. "That made me think, 'Alright, I'll show you how to build a car!'"

He literally went for the gold with the "Golden Nugget," a '57 Chevy that was the reigning champ of the auto show circuit for years, winning 57 best-in-show titles and International Grand Champion honors across the nation.

He eventually sold the Nugget, which he estimates would be worth about $800,000 today.

Simply Red is more subdued, but since he finished it in July it has already won two awards — at last summer's Good Guys meet, in the "Coolest Custom" and "Slick and Smooth" categories. Cecchini is hoping for more wins at the San Francisco Rod, Custom and Motorcycle show at the Cow Palace in Daly City this weekend. But unlike the Nugget, which never put rubber on the road, he's been taking Simply Red out for trips near his house in Fairview, as well as his former San Leandro stomping grounds.

"It handles fantastic, like a sports car," he said. "I took it to my 50th class reunion. Everyone else was driving a Toyota."

See? I told you Bob was cool. Kudos to our brother-in-law!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Modified Time Lapse

Well, yes, it has become a bit dusty in here, I know. I'm busy putting the finishing touches on my bailout plan, i.e. writing, writing and more writing, on the book. I so want to be finished with this one and on to the sequel. 

In the meantime, these shots were impromptu iPhone wonders captured last week. I do believe Westlake Village is one of five spots in California with the most beautiful and dramatic sunsets. If you have to go to work, this is a pretty fabulous place to do it.

5:17 p.m. Westlake Village, California

5:22 p.m., Westlake Village, California

5:26 p.m. Westlake Village, California