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Collin, a six-year-old crèche enthusiast, inspires an Advent Cuckoo

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The Schreiber Advent House Calendar paper model — available at the Paper Model Kiosk — is pretty wondeful as it is: heart-decorated windows of a colorful, chimney-topped ginger-bread-like house open to reveal 24 wonderful "hidden" pictures. But we couldn't resist the temptation of adding a dial and a quartz movement to create an Advent Cuckoo Clock for a very special six-year-old crèche enthusiast named Collin…

The colorful Schreiber paper model "Advent Calendar House" becomes a home for a cuckoo. Click the play button, making sure your speakers are on, to hear the call of the cuckoo. (Photos and Video © Crè

Featuring a 19th century German Joseph Scholz proscenium, this is the Cuckoo Crèche that mesmerized six-year-old-Collin. On the hour, the curtains open to reveal an animated scene of The Nativity, and then the large, lyre-decorated, half-round doors above the proscenium open, and the cuckoo calls. (Photo © Crè 
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It's always a pleasure seeing Michael Winkleman, my friend and former photo assistant with whom I have traveled widely.

It's always great fun reminiscing about our adventures in far-away places, like the photo paradise that is South Beach, or the whitewashed croissant of the Aegean, Santorini, or the beautiful historic English stately homes and their miles of gardens.

But, this time, our conversation takes another turn.

Mike, you see, is visiting with his lovely wife, Alecia, and their two beautiful children, Ethan, 3, and Collin, 6. And Collin has just come downstairs with an important question.

It seems like yesterday that I was at the hospital to see baby Collin when he was born, and now, here he is looking up with his bright blue eyes and asking, "Alexis, will you help me make a crèche?"

A crèche? How does this little boy even know the word?

"When we were playing hide and seek," Collin says, "I was in the attic. And those crèches are all over! Dad told me that's what they're called."

But it wasn't just any crèche that Collin is interested in, but a very particular one: the Cuckoo Crèche! (See photo, at left).

The cuckoo's call filled the countryside of my youth, and, upon arrival in America I was surprised to hear it again: at Mrs. Alexandra's Kostopoulos' home, where I first saw my first cuckoo clock. Mrs. Alexandra, God bless her soul, left me her cuckoo in her will, and it became the first of many, many, cuckoos in my collection.

Schreiber Advent Calendar House — available in the Paper Model Kiosk — a few of the surprise pictures that children can discover by opening its windows. (Photo © Crè 
A few years ago, when I ran across a beautiful 19th century Joseph Scholz German theater proscenium, I thought of my toy theater I had left behind. With small pieces of balsa wood, a few batteries, a quartz cuckoo clock movement, and my trusted printer, glossy paper, and Photoshop, I embarked upon creating a Cuckoo Crèche.

Inspired by a toy theater I had made as a child — and was sad to leave behind when I emigrated in the 60s — I began working on the Cuckoo Crèche a few years ago during a Christmas blizzard.

It was an ambitious project — putti flying overhead, an animated angel under an arch lifting the cross, more angels revolving around The Nativity — and it's been sitting in a corner of the attic for a few years now awaiting completion.

That's where young Collin found it, and, according to his dad, couldn't take his eyes off it.

I knew that the Cuckoo Crèche, even with his handyman dad's help, would be just a bit ambitious for Collin. But, surely, there's something the kid can make with his dad's help, so he can have his own cuckoo?

Looking through my cuckoo stash I find a quartz movement, and here I am, at McDonald's, with a cuckoo clock mechanism on the table, waiting for Mike, Collin, and Ethan.

Need I tell you that the boys are enthralled? This must have been the only time in the history of fast food that boys show no interest in their Happy Meal toys!

It doesn't take long for even Ethan to learn to push the button and activate the cuckoo: double doors (see video, above) open, the cuckoo appears, flaps its wings, and sings its song. Was a McDonald's ever before filled with the call of the cuckoo?

And not just one call, but two: because the electronic wizards that created this little cuckoo clock, also added a soft echo to its call. So, for every hour, there are two "cuckoos": a loud one, followed by its softer, distant-sounding, echo.

The colorful Schreiber Advent Calendar House becomes a home for a cuckoo. (Photo © Crè 
It doesn't take long for Collin to learn to discount the echo and count the hours on his little fingers, bobbing his head in time to the call. Even Ethan gets the drift, singing, "Kick-oo!" in time with the echo. Imagine how long it takes the boys to finish all those French Fries — to the accompaniment of "CUCKOO!" Cuckoo!" and "Kickoo!" — and the fact that we all don't get kicked out of Mickey D's is a testament to the kindness of strangers.

I can hear the cuckoo going off again as Mike is opening the door to his pickup, and when I get home I know I have to come up for a home for Collin's bird.

Looking for inspiration, I put on Handel's Organ Concertos Op. 7 in F, and forward to No. 13, "The Cuckoo and the Nightingale," a beautiful performance by The English Concert (Archiv). Enjoying the music — the strains of the violin mimicking the nightingale, whose song is echoed by the pipe organ's cuckoo —I browse the Paper Model Kiosk looking for something that could serve as a perch for Collin's cuckoo.

I find it in Schreiber Advent Calendar House a paper model whose windows open to reveal a surprise picture for each day of Advent (see image at left).

You can see why the Schreiber Advent Calendar House, lovingly designed by Humbert Siegmund and Angelika Schäfer-Siegmund, would be a favorite with children: bright, colorful, resembling a ginger-bread house, it features heart-decorated windows that open to reveal hidden pictures — a snowman, a rocking horse, an angel, a snowflake, an owl, a clown, a teddy bear, a peacock, a ship, an elephant, a locomotive, a toy sholdier, a tree, a Christmas sock, a candle, Santa, the Virgin and Child, even a fish and a ginger-bread house!

Collin peeking from behind Advent Cuckoo's window No. 1 — who could guess a few years ago that our young model would grow up to be — at six! — a crèche enthusiast? Mouseover the image above to see how much fun Collin and his little brother will have opening and closing windows! (Photo © Crè 
Personalize your Advent Calendar or Advent Cuckoo — with family photos

As beguiling as the Schreiber "hidden" pictures are, I wonder if Mike, who's a great photographer, should use for Collin's Advent Cuckoo close-ups of his boys, instead?

Or baby photos of himself, Alecia, and the boys? Photos of the grandparents? Cousins? Pets? Images that Collin and Ethan will have fun "discovering" — again and again.

One look at the stock photo I had of Collin — the little tyke made his modeling debut a few years ago — will show you how wonderfully personal your Advent Calendar or Advent Cuckoo could be (see image, below left).

Schreiber's Advent Calendar houses a cuckoo

Simple enough in its construction — all lines to cut are straight, save the curved door top — the Schreiber Advent Calendar House is a paper model children will really enjoy assembling.

But, before Collin picks up his paper scissors to begin work on his Advent Cuckoo, I have to do a bit of remodeling to the Advent Calendar House.

By comparing the original Schreiber Advent Calendar House model and Advent Cuckoo (images above, left) you can see the addition of a clock face and cuckoo doors.

You can find many clock faces on the Internet to suit just about any taste, or you can create a face in Photoshop, as I did. Any dial 3.5 inches in diameter will do. I used a playful font for the numbers, and added big, round eyes, and a smiling mouth.

I cut out this dial and positioned over the Schreiber model front, adding a yellow background to cover the existing green curlicues that would have been half-covered up with the dial. I also added four fan decorations in the corners, but this is not a necessity.

At the top of the front façade, just below the peak, I covered over the two windows in the original model with the piece shown at left, so the cuckoo's molded plastic door will look at home as well. And for that special touch, I included "Collin's Cuckoo Clock" across the center arch (see image below, left).

Personalize the Schreiber model with a child's name, as shown in this piece that will be attached to the top of the front, just below the peak. The cuckoo doors will be attached to the cuckoo housing with screws threads through the two holes. (Photo © Crè 
You'll also notice that the sides of this Advent Cuckoo prototype is shorter than the original, so that instead of three windows on each side now there are only two. But this was only done in thinking that I needed shorter access to the inside front of the Calendar House in positioning the clock and cuckoo mechanisms. But by leaving two-thirds of the bottom open, you can easily gain access to the batteries.and the clock movement.

Besides, using the Schreiber model as is means more windows: the more windows that little fingers can pry open, the merrier!

At the back of the Cuckoo House I moved the door to the left, directly in front of the movement's batteries, for easy access, but again, you won't have to worry about this refinement. And on a framed sign I added, "The Winklemans, Collin, Ethan, Alecia, Mike."

Installing the clock and cuckoo movements

The cuckoo quartz movement is made up of four parts: the cuckoo housing, the clock movement, the on-off-loudness switch, and the light sensor.

While not really heavy (the housing is plastic), nevertheless especially the cuckoo housing requires some extra support.

So, before attaching the cuckoo and clock mechanisms, I used the front as a template to cut a piece of heavier paper stock, which I glued to the inside to give extra strength to the front.

Or, it might be easier to attach this reinforcement after you've assembled the sides to the front. In fact, this is probably the easier way, so you won't have to worry — during assembly — about the cardboard interfering with the side tabs. On the bottom, this cardboard can align with the front tab fold.

Positioning the clock movement: the size of your dial, which should be about 3.5 inches in diameter, will determine where you will cut the hole for the clock movement shaft. After threading the shaft through the front, secure the movement in place with the provided hexagonal nut.

If the movement is higher than the "floor," place balsa wood needed thickness under the movement. The "floor" — a heavy piece of cardboard of 3/8 piece of balsa, attached on the inside to the front and side wall tabs — does not extend the full length of your Advent Clock, but about 1/3 from the front. So that you can have access.

The inside of the front before assembly shows the reinforced gray paper; the cuckoo housing in place; the clock shaft opening; the holes for the eyes cut in the outside front (white), and larger on the reinforcing paper; the balsa wood and screw eye supports on which the eyes will hang; and the right and left eyes with their top screw eyes and bottom wires resting right-side up. 
Installing the cuckoo mechanism: using an awl and the cuckoo door as a guide, punch two holes in the front and secure the mechanism (on the inside) to the doors (outside) with the screws provided.

You'll also need to support the back of the cuckoo housing so it does not cause the front to bend in. This can be easily accomplished by cutting and gluing small pieces of balsa together in the shape of the Greek letter Π (pi), with the top of the pi resting under the cuckoo housing, and the legs on the floor, on either side of the clock mechanism.

The cuckoo housing is attached to the front doors with screws provided, and a Greek "Π" pi-shaped balsa wood "scaffold" resting on the floor and reaching the bottom of the cuckoo movement keeps it from sagging — and the front true and not bending inwards.

The on-off, loudness, switch, and manual cuckoo-activating button does not need to be mounted on the back, as I did, but left as it is, with access to it from the open bottom of the Advent Cuckoo.

Now, all Collin — and Ethan — need to do is push that little button — or move the large hand past 12 — and the Winkleman home will fill with the call of the cuckoo all hours of the day and night!

But if you find your child stays awake counting the cuckoo until the wee hours, you can not remove the light activating switch, as I did. But it sure is nice to know what time it is if you wake up in the middle of the night. (If you do remove the light activating switch so your cuckoo will sound in the dark, you must twist a piece of thin wire around those those two pins, otherwise your cuckoo will not sound its call.)

Movable eyes?

Since the cuckoo clock housing has an assembly on the bottom designed to operate a pendulum, I was intrigued with the idea of using it to animate the eyes of the Advent Cuckoo clock. But to accomplish this I first had to snap the housing apart, and remove the small square clock mechanism from the much larger clock housing. Because the large housing would have been flush with the inside of the front, whereas the smaller clock mechanism alone would allow just enough room for the eyes.

Not that moveable eyes are at all necessary — just having those doors open and the cuckoo calling will entrance any child, or child at heart! But if you want to add this extra-special touch, here's how to make the eyes move.

Before assembling the front to the sides — or to its heavier backing — carefully cut out the whites of the clock eyes. Align the backing heavier paper under the front, trace these holes, and cut them out larger on the backing so the backing will not be seen through the eye openings.

The right "R," and left "L" eyes suspended from screw eyes (left, above) and shown with the clock mechanism (right). The bottom wires, "r" and "l" of each eye are formed into hooks, and threaded through the end rings of the wire piece "p." The heavier wire hook (shown in the image below, left) is connected to the pendulum and, threaded through the "p" center ring, drives the eyes. 
Print a second set of eyes, with an inch-wide circle of white around them. Cut out each eye and attach it to a thin piece of balsa wood of the same diameter and 3/8 thick or less, as shown in the image at far left.

Drill a tiny hole at top and bottom of each eye wood piece, attaching a wire eyelet, at the top, and a wire piece about 2 inches long at the bottom. (The two eyes and their screw eyes and bottom wires are shown, just below the cuckoo housing, in the larger image above, left.)

On inside of front, mark vertical center of each eye opening. Measure this distance, make a note of it — it will also be the distance from the center of each outer ring of wire piece "p" that you'll need to make later — mark it on a small piece of balsa wood, and attach a second set of screw eyes (see image at far left). Now slightly open the screw eyes of the each eye piece and hang each eye from a screw eye support (see image at far left.

Position the balsa wood support so that, when looking from the front, the pupils are positioned within the eye openings as you'd like. (I positioned mine slightly to the bottom.) Slightly move the balsa piece up or down, right or left, so that the eyes are just where you want them; then mark this position on the inside front with a pencil, and glue balsa support in place.

Closeup of the the wire piece "p" shown above — the outer rings thread on the hooks of the bottom eye wires, and the pendulum hook threads through the center ring, driving the eyes.  
After the balsa wood support is firmly in place, you can still make fine adjustments by taking each eye off its support and either giving the support screw eye another turn — or unscrewing it a turn — so that when you rehang the eye it's right where you want it.

Bend the end of each bottom eye wire into a hook (as shown in the image at left) making sure these wires do not touch the floor and that both bottom eye wires are of the same length.

Shape a third wire, as shown in the image at left, making sure the distance between the centers of its outer rings is the same as that between the eyes centers that you measured, above. This will insure that the end rings of this wire piece "p" are centered on the two bottom eye wires. Make sure that these end rings are not formed too small, so that the bottom eye wires will have some play. The same holds true with the center ring, through which the pendulum loop will drive the eyes back-and-forth. This play will create a nice tick-tack.

Attach a piece of heavier wire to the plastic pendulum under the clock, and form a hook at the other end. This will be threaded trough the center loop of the wire joining the two bottom eye wires. The length of this pendulum wire? It depends where you'll position the clock housing. Experiment, cut the pendulum wire, form its hook, threaded through the center ring of piece "p."

Pendulum hook — this thicker wire is attached to the clock pendulum and, threaded through the middle ring of the wire piece "p" drives the eyes back-and-forth. 
Making sure that the eyes and eye wires move freely between the square clock mechanism and the front, slightly move clock housing back and forth and side to side so that you can hear the clock tick nicely. Make sure the eyes move from side-to-side without scraping on the front, and secure the clock housing in place.

Seeing those eyes move back-and-forth? Magical!

Having your home fill with the sound — and echo — of the cuckoo 24/7?

Well, I'll talk to Michael in a few weeks and let you know!

A word about the camera and lens used in the video

My friend Celso Rosa, who was recently on a business trip in Chicago and took time out to shop for lenses for his Canon, was telling me how helpful lens and camera information is to a budding shutterbug.

Celso, I shot the video with my Canon D5, using my 300mm telephoto, at 100 ASA (or ISO), at f2.8.

The result, especially as evident in the closeup of the cuckoo calling? Beautiful!

Have fun with your new lens, Celso! And if you find any cuckoo's in your neck of the woods, send me a pic!


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