Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Weather Permitting

By C.J. Hirschfield

Note: The recent spell of rainy weather made us remember this column, which was originally published in 2006. We’ve updated it slightly, but in fact it’s timeless ... just like questions about the weather.

We can control many things in life: what to eat, how much to exercise, which books to read. And yet as my staff and I peered out of Fairyland’s front gate this morning and saw rain, I couldn’t help thinking that the success of our business is, to a great extent, out of our control.
A fairy monitors the rain gauge at Children’s Fairyland.

Here’s what we do when the weather looks iffy.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Building Blocks of Creativity

By C.J. Hirschfield

In a world of tablets and screens, wooden toy blocks may get passed over as quaint or boring. But as I recently learned, they remain one of the best ways to encourage children’s imaginations and spatial skills. In fact, playing with wooden blocks started the career of one of our nation’s most renowned architects – and he wasn’t shy about crediting the blocks’ creator, who also invented the modern kindergarten.

While touring Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West home and studio in Scottsdale, Arizona, last week, I admired the compound’s creativity and whimsy as well as the groundbreaking techniques for which the architect is known.

The design of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West was inspired by the architect’s early use of children’s blocks

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Healing Magic of Fairyland

By C.J. Hirschfield

Last weekend was graduation day for the kids in foster care who had completed Fairyland’s Junior Animal Caretaker (JAC) program. To celebrate, we threw a little party with hot dogs, lemonade, a cake and a visit from the Oakland Zoomobile.

Graduating Junior Animal Caretakers meet a snake from the Oakland Zoomobile.

We started our grant-funded JAC program five years ago, and have discovered its healing effect.

JAC is individualized, with 90-minute therapeutic sessions for children age 8 to 12 who have experienced trauma. Participants are referred to us by local agencies (primarily court-appointed special advocates); all have experienced abuse or other extreme stress.

In learning to care for our animals, these kids learn empathy and responsibility. Most important, they learn that they too are worthy of loving care.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

An Audit of Oddities

By C.J. Hirschfield

Each year, Children’s Fairyland is required to conduct an audit of its financials. For a number of years, CPA Hilary Crosby has done the job for us. Last week, she spent the day poring over our books as well as other documents. It’s typically a pretty dry process.

But all of a sudden Hilary broke out in raucous laughter, surprising all of us. Whatever she was reading was clearly hilarious, so much so that she felt the need to take a photo of it.

These "clothes" play a role at Fairyland. Really.

When I heard she was reading one of my monthly Executive Director Reports, I was baffled. How could my reports – which cover financials, development activities and park improvement and maintenance activities — be such a hoot? And especially to Hilary, who has done audits for 22 years, for more than 1,000 clients, and presumably has seen it all?

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Mystery of the Lakeside Dome

By C.J. Hirschfield

Last week I came across the script that was used when Fairyland’s train used to roll through Lakeside Park. “The Lakeside Lark is now leaving from the gates of Fairyland on our magic track. Please sit back and relax. We hope you enjoy the trip,” it began. And later: “If you look off to your right, the geodesic dome stands. It was completed in 1957, the first to be installed in the States.”

The geodesic dome in Lakeside Park.

The 36-by-28-foot dome still stands, adjacent to the Rotary Nature Center, although it is empty and sad-looking, and its purpose is unclear.  As I started to learn more about the imposing structure, I discovered that a number of other things about it are unclear as well. 

For example:

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Dragon Roars Back

By C.J. Hirschfield

Topiary is the horticultural practice of training live perennial plants by clipping foliage to develop and maintain clearly defined shapes, usually geometric or fanciful. European topiary dates back to Roman times.

Walt Disney – who by now you must know was heavily influenced by Children’s Fairyland – helped bring the American portable style of topiary into being around 1962, when he used steel-wire frames through which plants extended as they grew. He re-created his cartoon characters as landscape shrubbery throughout Disneyland.

Fairyland got into the topiary game in 1999. The New York Times noted our achievement with this headline: “Dusting Off an Enchanted Land and Adding Some Dragons.” 
Behold the dragon's newly trimmed face!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Very Fairy Hair

By C.J. Hirschfield

A couple of weeks ago, six Children’s Fairyland employees chose to have sparkly metallic strands attached to their own hair. I was one of them. And we’re not alone. Others (mostly women) who have chosen to have beautifully colored,  iridescent  strands woven into their tresses include members of  Flex Gym on Piedmont Ave., partygoers in Marin, and regular patrons of an East Bay beauty salon.

Very Fairy Events was in town twice recently, for Fairyland’s Member Appreciation Day, in late August, and our adults-only Drawn Together arts event, in late September. At those events we typically offer such delights as face painting, hair chalking and henna “tattoos.” Lately, though, we’ve noticed that the fairy hair strands are really catching on.

Manda Stretch, co-owner of “Very Fairy Events,” at a Bay Area festival