Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Drawing Together

By C.J. Hirschfield

At Children’s Fairyland, we love artists and we love teachers. Oaklander Clare Szydlowski is both, and for the fourth consecutive year, she’ll be participating in our adults-only DrawnTogether event on Sept. 30.

That evening, Clare will be one of 50 local artists who will create Fairyland-inspired pieces as admiring guests look on. At the end of the evening, the art works will be sold for a flat $40 per piece; the proceeds will benefit our park and its programs for underserved kids.
Although the wine, music, tarot readings and fairy hair weaving are fun, it’s the opportunity to engage with talented artists that has made this such a popular event. Speaking from three years of experience, Clare says the feeling is mutual.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Reflections on 9/11 in Manhattan

Editor's note: This post is a slightly edited version of a column originally published in the Piedmont Post on May 4, 2011, two days after the death of Osama bin Laden. 

By C.J. Hirschfield

On the evening of Sept. 11, 2011, I was in Manhattan’s Little Italy with my small staff, enjoying a great dinner on a warm and lovely night. Back then I was working in the cable industry, and every year at about that time we came to New York from Oakland to produce a huge industry fundraiser for an organization that aimed to ensure that cable’s management reflected the diversity of the customers they served. 

Clark, Abby, Paul, and I always tried to get in one dinner together before we had to turn our energies to the black-tie event for more than 1,000 VIPs. That night we enjoyed each other's company, a bit of wine, and excellent Italian food. As we walked to catch a cab to our midtown hotel, we marveled at the beauty of the night. The Twin Towers glowed.

The next morning, as I was preparing to head upstairs at the Hilton to our temporary office, I turned on the Today Show and learned that a plane had hit one of the towers. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

A Swarm Is Coming

Editor's note: This column was originally published in the Piedmont Post in January 2016.

By C.J. Hirschfield

Many times this fall and winter, I’d ask little kids walking around Fairyland if they wanted to see something really special. The answer was always yes, and their parents humored me. I directed their attention to a number of nondescript plants, and told them to try to find a caterpillar. Which they did.  Their eyes lit up, and their toddler selves were engaged and interested. (It helped that that the creatures are bright yellow.)

I told them that Fairyland had planted special plants to attract monarch butterflies. In fact, we are now a certified monarch way station; our dream is to create a winter nesting place for thousands of monarch butterflies.

And it now appears that our dream may become a reality.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Of Sand and Spam

By C.J. Hirschfield

Children’s Fairyland, which opened in September 1950, was the first storybook theme park in America. Many other themed attractions followed, and over the decades the number of theme parks and specialty museums has exploded. Museums celebrating sex, the Mob, chocolate, spies, prison and Biblical Creation regularly draw crowds across the world.

I want to note two new entries into the field: the world’s largest indoor theme park, which opened last week in Dubai, and a museum devoted to Spam (the food, not the annoying junk mail) that opened a few months ago in Austin, Minnesota.

The Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota. Photo via Meat + Poultry.

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Reality of "Reality TV"

By C.J. Hirschfield

Children’s Fairyland has been approached to be the location of reality TV shows exactly four times. We’ve graciously declined three times, and just learned that we probably should have said no to the fourth as well.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Land of Oz

By C.J. Hirschfield

Last week, a man and his 5-year-old daughter enjoyed a full day at Fairyland. They were exiting through the gift shop when the man looked up and noticed two puppets in a display that honors the 60th anniversary of our renowned puppet theater—the longest-running in America.

The Alice in Wonderland and White Rabbit puppets that caught his eye had starred in a 1960s Fairyland production, and on the display we noted the person who designed the puppets’ lovely costumes: Frances Oznowicz, who happens to have been the grandmother of our visitor, Mike Oz.

Mike and Frances Oznowicz with marionettes at one of Fairyland's annual puppet fairs in the 1950s.

Although he’d visited Fairyland many times, as both a child and a father, Mike now felt the time was right to learn more about the place that played a key role in the lives and careers of three of his closest family members.

We’re so glad he did.

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Day to Play with STEM

By C.J. Hirschfield

By now, pretty much everyone knows that STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math, and that mastery of STEM spells success in school and beyond.

STEM jobs in the East Bay pay well –$80,000 a year or more, even without an advanced degree.  And jobs are plentiful: No other region in the nation can boast three national laboratories – Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore, and Sandia – as well as a cross-section of manufacturing companies that use robot operators, 3-D printers, software designers, researchers, and programmers. What’s more, jobs in STEM are only expected to increase.

But many young people in our community are not prepared to take these good jobs. It’s a challenge that East Bay business leaders have been working on for decades, particularly directing their focus on school-age kids.

The trouble is, by the time kids are taught STEM subjects in high school, or even in elementary school, it may be too late. We need to start much younger, getting kids excited about math and science during their pre-kindergarten years.

And – in case you were wondering – that’s where Fairyland fits in.