Their Couple Goals Are Cuckoo

Mistakenly, I’d pictured the people shopping for a cuckoo clock to be older but a couple in their early forties showed up at my Mom’s door. They had arrived to to buy a non-working clock my Mom was selling. I was surprised by their young age and I knew I had to know their story. 

They were as astonished as I had been when when I asked them if they’d ever been interviewed about their personal history and their cuckoo clock collection. No, they’d never been asked about their hobby before. We scheduled a meeting for a few weeks later at their home. There I’d find out how the couple ticks. 

A Hobby With Couple Goal Benefits

Shaun, Audrey and their life size cuckoo clock greet me at their door.

The clock is poised in the doorway, 5 feet tall from tip to tail.  This clock style is known as ‘After The Hunt’. It dominates the entryway and demands attention.

The group of us marvel at the carved regal details. This clock could easily overlook a great hall in a castle or command a place of importance in a lodge. 

Suspended on the clockcase are an ensnared hare and a limp neck pheasant. Hand-carved detailing includes feathers, oak leaves, acorns, and the powder horn. A stag’s head tilts from the peak of the clock, a heavy rack of antler. We admired it mightily. It was easy to see why this majestic clock is a prized possession. 

At 50 awkward pounds, “After The Hunt” was cradled into the house by three people with it’s rack of antlers removed. The clock is only 40 years old and unbelievably the original cuckoo was made of plastic. The former owner replaced the plastic with a 120-year-old cuckoo.

It took two people to hang it securely. It is the only clock in the house that would require professional ONSITE clock repair.

During my visit, Audrey clambers up a step stool, measuring her own height against the ornate five-foot clock hung in the entryway.

Multiple adventures and 30 Clocks In One Year

They both share a mutual admiration for hand-hewn works and antiques, and that appreciation of detail, along with the art, mechanics and craftsmanship of cuckoo clocks, matches their innate interest. 

A medical assistant, Audrey has to get the details right. Her skills, personality and conversation draws folks in. Those traits are a perfect fit for her work in geriatrics. 

A home builder by trade, the hunt and restoration of the clocks helps Shaun unwind. 

Shaun and Audrey took up the shared hobby of collecting and repairing cuckoo clocks little more than a year ago. Often they spend weekends or evenings after work scouting cuckoos together. During these drives they talk about the interesting people they meet:

“One couple that we met was one of our lengthiest visits. They didn’t want us to leave. They kept talking about all kinds of neat stuff. German Christmas trinkets. She was from Germany. She had a bunch of stuff from Germany.

She was excited to meet a couple who were as interested as we were. She said ‘for your age to be as interested and as knowledgeable as you are is kind of unbelievable.

You know, it was hard for her to fathom that people our age actually wanted these things.”

Pride in Restoration

Both Shaun and Audrey fill me in on features and mechanics as we tour the collection of clocks hung to advantage throughout the house and in the workshop. 

Theirs is a self-taught hobby using YouTube video advice about materials, mechanisms, repair, and restoration.

Knowing I had little knowledge of the sound chamber and bellows of a cuckoo, Shaun demonstrates how they work. He shared a tidbit told to him by an old-time clock repairman. They noted that paper for bellows repair was a dear commodity back in the day. Because currency is almost indestructible with it’s rag content, it was sometimes substituted to repair the bellows of a cuckoo clock. 

While they go on their hunt for older cuckoo clocks, the keep their eyes open for a clock from a by-gone era for a clock repair that would have bellows fabric replaced with currency.

Admiring The Inner Workings And Craftsmanship Of The Clocks

Telling time involves the intricacy of the clockworks. The gongs, pendulums, gears, mechanism, sound chambers, bellows, timing of the music, weights, automata, fittings and humidity all play a role keeping a clock sound and in working order. 

Shaun and Audrey have fine tuned the adjustments needed to keep cuckoos TIMELY, and share their knowledge enthusiastically.

Many clocks themselves have a lifespan of 30 to 40 years. Checking the mechanisms, cleaning, oiling and keeping them intact increases the lifespan of a cuckoo clock. None of the clocks at the Vacca home run all the time.

The work Audrey does dusting, cleaning, oiling, waxing and refinishing the click compliments the bench time Shaun spends on the workings. Parts can be culled from clocks that can’t be repaired.

The couple have restored clocks that have been tucked into a corner and neglected, coated in dust, with years of mistreatment. Soot, nicotine, humidity and damage to parts can all wreak havoc, keeping these old-time clocks from functioning well.

The Intrinsic Value Of Time-Honored Possessions

Black Forest clocks exclusively fill their collection, displaying a variety of styles and vintages. One of the categories of Black Forest Clocks includes the chalet-style that became popular in the 1940s and 1950s. 

Throughout their home, the clocks cast a magical spell with their ticking whimsy.  Amid the whirring, automata on the novelty clocks that kiss, dance, toast, saw and cluck. Each clock has the inevitable cuckoo whistling its tune every hour and half-hour interval. There are clocks that are wound daily and clocks that run for eight days before needing to be rewound.

Style preferences? Shaun admires the hunt clocks while Audrey enjoys the magic of the novelty clocks.

A Family Bond

Family members have joined in the adventure after Shaun and Audrey send over the latest videos and pictures.

  • While working in a thrift store, a cousin finds a unique cuckoo clock that is added to the collection. 
  • And an eleven-year-old second cousin waits for each new video, enthralled with the clockworks, dreaming of tinkering, too.

The Cuckoo’s Net

The clocks have cast a net over their lives in many ways. 

  • A multi-day synchronization marathon of family members running clock to clock and room to room to time the chorus. (Afterward, an uncle wonders, “how do you deal with the sound of the clocks going all the time.”
  • Delivery men taking selfies with the entryway clock.
  • Tutoring a clock shop owner how to keep her cuckoos clocks in top shape. 
  • Coffee klatches with sellers whose reminisces are worth sipping an extra cup or two.
  • Dressing as the Bavarian couple characters from their clocks.
  • After a German native regaled them about tourism and Black Forest history, there are thoughts of future travel there, despite Shaun’s landlubber tendencies.
  • The joy in teaching others how to clean and maintain their own cuckoo clocks.
  • The pure pleasure of looking at the details of and the wonder of the workings, still stopping Shaun and Audrey in their tracks to admire the simplicity and beauty of the clocks.
  • Busting a move when chicken dance ditty plays.
Modelled after cuckoo clock characters, Shaun and Audrey attend a costume party: Shaun dressed as a Bavarian man and Audrey as St Pauli-style girl.

Spur of the Moment Adventures

A long day may be capped by a trip to look at a clock and shake off the cares of the day. Sometimes, an impromptu visit to look at a clock in a distant city means a chance to explore a new part of the state. Once, a 2-½ hour trip to St. Augustine turned into a day of visiting the city as tourists. This hobby offers lots of opportunities to enjoy one another’s company, even after 20 years and counting. These four-hour drives are full of camaraderie.

A Unique Hobby

Some friends laugh at their hobby, but it is one that enriches their lives in many ways. They’ve bonded over a shared experience, made new friends of strangers, and met others who are interested and knowledgeable about their hobby. It’s their personal history!

Now What?

The next step in their collection is replacing some of their current clock collection with antique clocks. Many of the clocks they own are recent, within the past 30 or 40 years.

There is still the thrill of exploring all the different types and styles of clock, and discovering a clock that is unique to their collection. 

You can set your watch on this guarantee. One day soon, one of them will find a clock on their lunch hour, setting a day long text thread in motion. Even if they’re bone tired at the end of their workday, they’ll enthusiastically jump in the car together, flocking to another cuckoo adventure.

Chalet Style Black Forest Cuckoo clock with kissing couple automata

Homesteading Keene Island the Williams’ Story

“I loved the woods, the fragrance of the trees, the mossy ground, the sun streaming through the trees, the sounds and the quietness.  I didn’t need to see the house. “

by Arlene Williams

In 2015 my husband, Gary, and I moved from Keene Island, Alaska to Southbrook Mobile Home Court. Salem, Oregon.  I am quite social, so after being isolated on our own island for 29 years, I took notice of South Salem Senior Center just a 1/2 mile away from our new home.

Display at South Salem Senior Center with samples of media available through My Beautiful Life Story. CD, Plexi photo transfer and canvas framed 3x3 photos
My Beautiful Life Story display at South Salem Senior Center

While at the Senior Center I met a gal named Zoe, who preserved old pictures. Before long I also recognized her at the swimming pool in our mobile home park. ( I’m not a swimmer, but I went there for social reasons and to get acquainted with other homeowners.)

When Zoe came to my house, I brought out the scrapbooks.  I showed Zoe my stacks of scrapbooks that documented our time at Keene Island.  We bought the island in 1991.  The island was 68 acres, but we owned just 2 acres of it.  The rest was Alaska Park Land and no one could live on it.  It had a house, built in the 1920’s, and a shed.  Originally, it was a fox farm and there were even some of the fox cages still there.  There had been several owners before us and it’s history is quite fascinating.  After we bought it, I realized that this was going to be a major adventure for us and I documented every building project, who came to visit us, the fish that were caught, etc. 

At this point in history, we used film in our cameras.  At the end of August we would return to Metlakatla to begin another year of teaching.  I would mail the film in to be developed and divide them into the various sections for the scrapbooks.  In May we would go back to Keene Island and my first project was to put the pictures in the correct scrapbook.  I ALWAYS did this. We had sold Keene Island and I wanted to create a book for the new owner that showed the history of the island before his purchase.  Zoe showed me how to mark the pages with sticky tabs and ABC to mark the pictures that I wanted included.  ( My grandkids are really cute, but I decided the new owner wouldn’t care about them!)

As I tried to recall all of the steps involved, I realized that it isn’t necessary.  That is what Zoe does.  With every step, I’d do what she’d tell me to do.  Sometimes I completed the task in a short amount of time and other times it took awhile.  Zoe was always very patient and made herself available when I was ready.  Then there was the problem of me changing my mind about what to include.  This was not a problem.  All of this was part of the project.

Arlene Williams displays a print copy of the Keene Island journal she made for new owners of Keene Island

Another phase of Zoe’s work was to make decisions about the appearance of the book.  What size, what shape, linen, hard or soft cover, picture on the front or just printing, dedication or not, which font and size?  So many decisions.

The final decision was the number of books to order. I made my list and then ordered a few extra.  When all was said and done, I had one unclaimed book.

That was soon claimed by our grandson Keene.  He was born shortly after our purchase and has always said that “this is MY island” and someday he’ll own it.  He loves showing his book about HIS island to his friends.

Carving Memories from Chickpeas

Living Library: Lorene Patrick, making whimsy from everyday objects.

Entering Lorene Patrick’s home was a step into a wonderland full of fantastic creatures. Everywhere I looked were hideaways, cottages, circuses, workshops & shoes where tiny lives are lived. All of these intricate dioramas have one thing in common, their creator, Salem Oregon resident Lorene Patrick. 

Lorene with her circus diorama
Lorene with her circus diorama

In the 1960s Lorene purchased her first carving tools and began creating. She was inspired by the tiny dolls and miniature toys she treasured as a child. And now, 89 1/2 years old, she shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, her creativity and passion is truly inspiring and her tiny creations are a wonder to behold. 

Delighted by the work of hobby miniaturists, she joined a miniature group in the Portland area. Eventually she was consumed by her hobby & found herself a member of six miniaturist groups. She travelled to England and other faraway places to see the work being done by other craftsmen. 

Slowly she left the miniature groups and set out on her own. Her imagination lead her to create unique dioramas, creating each pattern and piece from scratch. At a craft show one artist displayed tiny dolls made from chickpeas. There, her creative mind took off as she assembled miniature scenes and tiny habitats. 

Lorene carves each diorama by hand, assembling scenes that are the work of a master puppeteer. Tiny clothes, shoes with buckles, fireplaces. Each exquisite detail is handcrafted. 

Look, here. In this corner I saw the interior of Geppetto’s workshop, with several Pinocchios and minute wood shavings on the floor. Tiny brushes and paint pots sit readied on a miniature workbench at the puppeteers elbow. 

Looking in another corner, I see a scene from Wind in the Willows where Toad sits in his easy chair by the fire underneath a pastoral image hung over the hearth. 

Lorene has lovingly created each and every one of these scenes from wood, beans, bits and pieces of gathered fabric, leather, remnants of seed heads turned upside down to be a woodstove for a tiny mouse, and tidy garden rows fashioned from spices turn into cabbage heads and such. 

Lions, giraffes, clowns, acrobats, trapeze artists, miniature bands, popcorn munching chickpea headed audiences are transfixed by the magic that is happening under the Big Top. Each and every one of these scenes are created from a single idea. Lorene starts with no plan and no pattern, simply a germ of imagination. 

I was transported to an unforgettable world filled with curiosity and a generous dose of magic during my visit with Lorene.     

Originally published in the South Salem Senior Center Newsletter, June, 2019

Family adventures worldwide with the Speer family photos

Travel document Dr. Homer A Speer Sr. Cancelled Argentinean Travel Visa

 I’ve scanned hundreds of Homer A Speer Jr’s  collection of vintage photos and postcards, learning the stories behind most of the the family history treasure Homer’s collected. I’ve learned a lot of local history along the way while preserving important mementos and photos.

While Homer and I scanned we talked about the photos and share memories.  I can imagine I am traveling this junket too, set in the early 20th century.

Dr Speer lived a colorful life and left a deep lasting visual legacy for his son.

World Travel Shipboard Costume Party early 20th century
Shipboard party Dr. Homer A Speer Sr World Travel

I’ve learned about the San Paulo serpentaria. I wouldn’t have imagined I would be researching serums, serpentaria and geography when I started my vintage trek through a treasury of family photos. It all started innocently enough….

“What do you suppose those hives are he is looking at’ says Homer, looking at a photo of his father circa 1924. It is sunny hot on this day almost 90 years ago Homer’s dad is wearing a full suit, hat and tie in the heat of the day.  This vintage photo shows Homer Alexander Speer Sr leaning against a wall, peering into the moat behind the wall.

I am sorting through the photos we’ve scanned to the antique photos folder “Wasn’t there a picture earlier of a snake we thought was taken in Peru? I think the guy holding the snake was standing in front of one of those too”. We look through Homer’s computer to find the particular group of photos I am talking about.

From Homer’s Picasa album, we find the picture I’d scanned a few weeks before. Sure enough, the guy holding the snake IS standing in front of one of those hives. This photo has 1924, San Paulo, written on the back. Here is where the curious get hooked.

” Let’s google ‘San Paulo Brazil snakes’ Homer!” Up pops the Institutio Batalan, built by Brazilian physician Vital Brazil in 1901.  Our curiosity is as strong as Dr. Speer’s as Homer flies us over the same spot almost a hundred year’s later by satellite and mapping.

President Teddy Roosevelt Butanan Museum, San Paulo Brazil 1912

We can’t see the serpentaria in the photos we pull up on google earth. The Google car didn’t drive into the compound of Institutio Batalan when it was mapping San Paulo this century, but in 1914 Teddy Roosevelt did.

Lab Session with Cadaver Dr Homer A Speer Sr c. 1905

Turns out, anti-venom and a lot of other research has been conducted in San Paulo for over a century, making it a world renowned center for sera and other pharmaceutical development.  This is why Teddy Roosevelt was here in 1914, and  Dr. Speer arrived a decade later. The elder Homer was educating himself about  serums development and the medical advances that would come around the globe from research being done here in Brazil.

Looking through Homer’s vintage photo we’ve both learned something new about Brazil, snakes and those ‘hives’. Both Homer and I are curious; we learn that each time we get together to compile his vintage photos and put the pieces together for his own personal history project.

Homer A Speer Jr Beaverton OR Skype Call
Homer A Speer Jr enjoys exploring technology during Skype call

Homer and met when he was looking for some tutoring on his computer. He’s in his mid-eighties and as curious as I am, Homer has a lifetime of stories to share. He has a treasure of family photos and friends he’s connected with by having a tutor who can help him with learning more about how his computer will connect him with many things.

You know how sometimes life has a way of working in funny little vignettes. When you are doing something you really love with another person who has a passion for sharing their stories and inviting you on their journey? I’ve gotten to walk into the past with Homer and learn some wonderful things.  In the case of my dear friend Homer, the past is lovingly illustrated by stories and those vintage photos. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to help preserve and share his past. And watch as he confidently shows me something he’s now learned to do on his own on his computer.

Homer, Walter, Dr Speer and Bobby enjoy the beach at Seaside Oregon

This past year, I’ve ridden bikes with Homer and his brothers in Seaside Oregon. Thanks to those vintage photos I’ve built sand castles on the coast as the Dr. Speer the elder shades the beach  in his suit coat, tie and ever present hat.

I’ve traveled to Alaska circa 1947 when Homer was stationed there during his time in the Air Force. I’ve attended Homer and Nancy’s wedding the year I was born, lifting a glass to the happy couple at Nancy’s parent’s home over in West Slope.

Homer Speer and Nancy Lee Finn Wedding 1957

I’ve also waded in Odell Lake beside the family and watch the string of fish unfurl out of the boat to be proudly displayed. I’ve seen the home in Beaverton, when the land was raw. Furry sheep, the ‘girls’, grazed the pasture tucked into the property before the house was built.

This past summer I looked photos from the 1960’s of dam’s being built by the Guy Atkinson Company. Through conversation I’d sat beside Homer as he carefully enters numbers in the general ledger for the company those years ago. As Homer’s career developed ‘we’ traveled to Guernsey in the UK where he scouted for Tektronix and met new friends.  Among them a heretofore distant cousin who shared a family tree that included Homer’s own family. Homer is a man who seems to gather synchronicity wherever he goes. He delights in family and has drawn Nancy and I over closer to one another as we share stories and lessons over dinner.

In the present day I’ve excitedly passed on the story of treasure unearthed in a potato field and teased Homer that he’d missed his change to find the horde when he was in Guernsey. He must have been working too hard that year.

Roman Age Treasure found on Jersey Britain

I have found a treasure myself. How?  Every day I am whetting my curiosity whistle beside wonderful folks who are keepers of their family’s personal history. Like being part of a magical family legacy.  Wonderful stuff, being part of the family!

Pleased to announce this blog about my adventures with the Speer family photos was featured in the NixPlay blog, “Recounting One Family’s Past Through Pictures.” Their blog about ‘our project’ recognizes the importance of preserving these marvelous stories! Thanks NixPlay!~ zm

Testimonial A Living Memory Book



As the Speer Family West keeper of family history, Homer’s photos dated back to the before the turn of the 20th century. After organizing the photos and slides, they were scanned to preserve them.

I taught Homer how to use his software so he could label, rotate and order images on his own.  Once he was satisfied with his project materials I helped Homer stitch his digitally labeled still photos into several video montage. He had selected music to accompany some of his finished slideshows which was added to the montage if he desired.

 Homer’s vision and Zoe’s expertise made  his dream possible. He tells how in this video.

Today we have the opportunity to leave  our children and grandchildren and all our family a permanent story of our lives.  This is the first time in history that this is possible. Instead of just pictures we can literally share with them what our life and times were like.I can’t imagine how great it would be to have had all my grandparents be able to do what we can do today.  I can only imagine what it would be like to have my grandpa leave me story of what it was like to live and experience what they experienced during and after the civil war.  With the help of My Beautiful Life Story, I have been able to do that now for my family.Together you and I have created a “LIVING MEMORY BOOK”.  That is what has happened to me. That’s what you have done for me.  I enjoy being able to see ALL Of my historical family photos and the videos we created from those photos from the comfort of my computer and even on my SMART TV.  With your help, my last few years have been some of the most enjoyable of my life…Homer Speer Jr, Banks, Oregon