Bergen May 2024

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Sunshine & HapPy Times

Gorgeous weather means it’s time to enjoy all the fantastic outdoor spaces at Meadowlands Racing & Entertainment, perfect for private parties or just hanging out with friends.

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Stressed? 36

If things are making you persistently tense and worried, it’s not just in your mind—your body’s getting in on the act too. Here are some ways to chill.

Water, Water, Everywhere 38

Flooding is an increasing problem throughout Bergen, and it’s likely to get worse. Do we have the will—and the funds—to fix it?

‘A Sky Full Of Stars’ 42

Paired with a cancer remission party, a Franklin Lakes resident’s 24th birthday bash becomes a celebration of life, resilience—and the many people who helped her.

‘The Time Of Their Lives’ 48

The guests couldn’t all converse when a wedding blended two cultures, but their smiles said it all.

Baby’s Birthday Bash 56


Bergen Buzz 17

Our guide to new ideas, tips, trends and things we love in the county.

Kids’ Corner 28

Keep little ones active with the latest garb, gear and games.

Style Watch 26

Cool blue is an icy hue to rock all summer long.

Her 2020 wedding plans scotched by the pandemic, a New Jersey mom moved onto mark Year One for her son with an unforgettable event.

30 beloved shop work hours, Sook Woodcliff much

Tastes 62

Who says veggies have to be boring? These dishes are easy to make, full of nutrients—and both are surefire crowd-pleasers.

Bar Tab 78

A strawberry mezcal margarita is a sweet and tart sip that’s perfect for your next summer soirée.

Restaurant Review 82

Wang’s Chinese Cuisine in River Edge goes beyond the usual comfort classics.

Gatherings 86

Bergen residents always show up to support their neighbors.

A Bergen Moment 88

A local photographer captures the beauty of a foggy day at Cooper’s Pond in Bergenfield. 62


8 Editor’s Note

34 Health News

84 Be There

MAY 2024
56 26
Grettel Neyra and SooYong Park celebrate at The Rockleigh. Photo by Kate Testa, Off Beet Productions.

Take Time To Party!

I don’t know how your mom put it, exactly. But one bit of wisdom mothers impart is how fast our todays become yesterdays. “Everything in life will change,” said the mother of Wyckoff resident Caren Scoropanos. And Oaklander Regina Pepe’s mom told her to savor being a mom herself— because those little ones won’t stay little for long.

You can read these and other bits of cherished maternal advice on page 17. And yes, we print them this month because Mother’s Day is the 12th.

(You’ll find ideas for surprising Mom on page 18.)

But even though I’m a mom myself, my agenda here goes beyond that one day. This month, BERGEN celebrates not just mothers, but celebration itself—parties, if you will.

After all, they’re the best antidote we have for life’s fleeting quality. Marking an occasion with a festive event full of bright decorations won’t stop the day from slipping away. But if you’re lucky it can fix a joyous moment in the minds of your family and friends that, when recalled in coming years, will always bring back joy.

We tell of three celebrations in this issue, each with a bittersweet note—which of course makes it all the sweeter. When Ashley Ryan threw herself a 24th birthday party full of white balloons and ridiculously combined cuisines (page 42), it wasn’t just two dozen years she was marking; it was also her victory over the Stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma that could have claimed her life—and that now made life extra precious.

Alicia and Bryan Wong wanted a large October 2020 wedding, but COVID had other ideas. Forced by the pandemic to settle for a small ceremony back then, they saved up their big-bash ambitions for their son Carter’s first birthday party, with 200 guests sharing the spirit of what they dubbed “Carter’s Carnival” (page 56). The Wongs and their designer pulled out all the stops—even Carter was impressed.

Then there’s the wedding of Grettel Neyra and SooYong Park, both of whom left very different homelands as small children. It featured a three-tiered cake and brought together Cubans and South Koreans. Some attendees couldn’t actually converse with each other, but they could smile—and cry—and hug, and the day (page 48) was a rousing success.

Speaking of parties, on page 30 you’ll meet the proprietor of a Ridgewood pastry shop that produces confections guaranteed to make any party tastier. And this issue doesn’t neglect BERGEN’s usual broad interests, of course. Learn about dealing with stress on page 36 and the timely problem of flooding in our county on page 38.

Not every day can be a party. But this is a beautiful time of year, and we’re blessed to live in a lovely place with lots going on. What’s not to celebrate?


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you back commodity of time Wealth Management Planning Today for Tomorrow’s Pallas Capital Advisors Welcomes Managing Director, Eric Lalime, CFP®, CIMA®, Contact us to schedule a meeting 1 Maynard Drive, Suite 2101 | Park Ridge, NJ 07656 551.277.2686 | Financial Planning | Investment Management | Family Office Whether you are selling a business, inheriting wealth, or looking ahead towards retirement, we work in close collaboration with our investment team and outside advisors to ensure your plan is created efficiently and effectively with your defined objectives in mind. As your life changes and evolves, your plan grows with you -and as stewards of your wealth, we’re with you every step of the way. commodity of time Pallas Capital Advisors Welcomes Managing Director, Eric Lalime, CFP®, CIMA®, C(k)P Contact us to schedule a meeting InvestmentAdviceofferedthroughPallasCapitalAdvisors,LLC,aregisteredinvestmentadvisor. CRN24_112 1 Maynard Drive, Suite 2101 | Park Ridge, NJ 07656 551.277.2686 | Financial Planning | Investment Management | Family Office Whether you are selling a business, inheriting wealth, or looking ahead towards retirement, we work in close collaboration with our investment team and outside advisors to ensure your plan is created efficiently and effectively with your defined objectives in mind. As your life changes and evolves, your plan grows with you -and as stewards of your wealth, we’re with you every step of the way. Achieving financial comfort and giving you back the precious commodity of time Pallas Capital Advisors Welcomes Managing Director, Eric Lalime, CFP®, CIMA®, C(k)P Contact us to schedule a meeting Contact us to schedule a meeting Eric Lalime, CFP®, CIMA®, C(k)P Managing Director
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Editor in Chief RITA GUARNA

Creative Director


Senior Associate Editor DARIUS AMOS

Assistant Editor KIRSTEN MEEHAN

Contributing Editors



Contributing Photographers




Production Manager FERN E. MESHULAM

Production Artist CHRIS FERRANTE


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BERGEN is published 12 times a year by Wainscot Media, 1 Maynard Dr., Park Ridge, NJ 07656. This is Volume 23, Issue 5. © 2024 by Wainscot Media LLC. All rights reserved. Subscriptions in U.S. outside of Bergen County: $14 for one year. Single copies: $6.95. Material contained herein is intended for informational purposes only. If you have medical concerns, seek the guidance of a healthcare professional.

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Dr. James Geuder is a board certified vascular surgeon with over 26 years of experience treating vascular and vein problems in Bergen County. At The Vein Center of Oradell, Dr. Geuder personally examines, educates and treats all patients. The Vein Center of Oradell has an ICAVL-approved vascular lab, and they became the first vein center in New Jersey to be certified by the Intersocietal Accreditation Commission. Castle Connolly and New York Magazine consistently include Dr. Geuder on their “Best Doctor” list and he also has the Patients Choice Award which is based on patients’ experience. The Vein Center of Oradell makes every effort to offer patients the most comfortable and friendly environment as they receive the best medical care. Please see our reviews on Facebook from the Bergen County Moms.



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After plenty of April showers, we’re anticipating gorgeous May flowers. If you’re not quite gifted with a green thumb, however, caring for plants and a garden might be intimidating.

Not to worry, as there are several ways to pick up a few garden and nature pointers, including classes and programs at the following locations:

• Bergen Community College, 400 Paramus Rd., Paramus, 201.447.7100;

• Lorrimer Sanctuary, 790 Ewing Ave., Franklin Lakes, 908.481.4090;

• Tenafly Nature Center, 313 Hudson Ave., Tenafly, 201.568.6093;

Visit to read more about where you can learn how to take care of plants and appreciate nature around your home.


Entertaining a crowd this summer, or just want to enjoy tunes on a relaxing Sunday morning? Try listening to music on old-school vinyl records. Whether you’re looking for a classic jazz LP or Beyoncé’s latest album, these Bergen record stores have what you need:

• EZ 2 Collect, 133 Broadway, Elmwood Park, 201.791.3833;

• Music Country, 728 Anderson Ave., Cliffside Park, 201.943.1045;

• Soldato Books & Records, 15 Sylvan St., Rutherford, 551.243.1859;

To read about these and more record stores in Bergen County, visit

4/16/24 12:46 PM

Bergen Buzz



What’s the best advice your mother ever gave you? With Mother’s Day coming up Sunday, May 12, BERGEN posed that question to nine county residents. Here’s what we heard:

“Always take the time to eat as a family.”

—Philomena Adams, 66, New Milford

“Follow the Golden Rule: Treat people the way you want to be treated. That’s an essential component for a peaceful, empathetic society.”

—Susan Auger, 54, Oakland

“Live in a space for a while before you decide what it needs.”

—Ella Kinney, 53, Wyckoff

“Nothing in life comes easy. You have to work hard for anything you want.”

—Payal Shah Lala, 51, Oakland

“Make talking to your children about their lives a a regular thing so they feel comfortable talking to you about anything.”

—Catherine Noel, 34, Franklin Lakes

“Enjoy every stage of your children’s growing years. There will come a time when they don’t want your attention, so read that extra book before bedtime, stay 10 more minutes at the park and snuggle five more minutes at night.”

—Regina Pepe, 44, Oakland

“Everything in life will change. Hang in there!”

—Caren Scoropanos, 51, Wyckoff

“Don’t worry about what others think of you—they are all worried about themselves!”

—Joan Schofield, 59, Ridgewood

“Don’t dwell on things that don’t work out. Take something positive out of every situation.”

—Lucy Talamini, 52, Oakland



The woman who raised you deserves a treat on Mother’s Day. And happily, our county is rich in possibilities for rewarding moms— though none can repay the debt you owe her: Try some sparkle. An open-cuff diamond bracelet from LaViano Jewelers in Westwood is simple but stylish, with the perfect amount of glitter to draw the eye.

• Available at LaViano Jewelers, 175 Westwood Ave., Westwood, 201.664.0616; Capture memories. Don’t keep all those great pictures trapped in her phone’s camera roll. An instant photo printer creates images directly from any Apple or Android device so that they can be framed or added to scrapbooks.

• Available at Best Buy, 2400 Bergen Town Center Dr., Paramus, 201.556.1321; Grow a garden. If your mom has a green thumb, what about her feet? These sturdy gardening boots from Duluth Trading in Ramsey are waterproof and slip-resistant, and the ultra-padded insoles make them comfy too.

• Available at Duluth Trading, 1300 Rte. 17, Ramsey, 201.335.0405;

Aid an awakening. Start Mom’s day off right with beans from one of Bergen’s small-batch coffee roasters, like Roast’d Coffee in Hasbrouck Heights. Pick her fave flave, grind and roast for the perfect cup of joe every time.

• Available at Roast’d Coffee, 155 Rte. 17 S., Hasbrouck Heights, 201.426.0520;


Few things are more idyllic in this season than a picnic, so why not pack a basket with snacks and sandwiches and invite family and friends to one of Bergen’s hot spots for casual al fresco dining? These locales offer spacious lawns, shady trees and fragrant flowers:

• The drive down the Shore can be a long one, but you can reach the “beach” with a visit to Darlington Park in Mahwah. The water is surrounded by soft sand, perfect for a relaxing day outdoors.

• Enjoy the shade on a warm day at the Englewood Picnic Area in Palisades Interstate Park. The riverfront boasts a playground for children and grills for adults to prepare delicious meals.

• Residents from all over visit the James A. McFaul Environmental Center in Wyckoff for its nature exhibits, gardens and trails, but you and your crew can set up on the grass for a quiet picnic.

• Memorial Park at Van Neste Square in Ridgewood, a pocket park, sits above the hustle and bustle of the town’s business district. So, while cars and pedestrians are moving along the street below, you won’t be disturbed as you’re eating and lounging on the lawn with friends.

• The expansive open lawn of Overpeck Park in Ridgefield Park is adjacent to the amphitheater and Overpeck Creek. That means you can catch a stage show and kayakers in action as you chat with friends in peace.

• Most visitors at Riverside County Park, spanning Lyndhurst and North Arlington, will spend time at the ball field or the dog park, but you and your family can pick any spot on the lawn for bonding time and an easy bite.

• Van Saun County Park in Paramus is one of Bergen’s crown jewels for many reasons. Not only can you take in the fresh air, but children can ride ponies, a carousel and a miniature train before or after your picnic. Extend your fun with a visit to the Bergen County Zoo in the park.


Dog: Millie, a 5-year-old Chihuahua/ Jack Russell mix

Owner: JoAnn Jarolmen of Ridgewood

It wasn’t love at first sight. Having owned Labrador retrievers and sharpeis, Jarolmen had little experience with small dogs.

But then she was presented with the 5-pound Millie through Pennsylvania-based DAWGS Prison Programs, a nonprofit that rescues dogs from highkill shelters. (DAWGS stands for “Developing Adoptable Dogs With Good Sociability.”) “I decided to make the best of it,” she recalls.

That risk has paid off in spades.

Though Millie was shy and quiet at first, it didn’t take long for her personality to show. She barks and spins when she sees animals on TV, and she burns off energy by running around in the yard. Still, Jarolmen describes Millie as “especially docile”—so much so that she works as a therapy dog. Once a week, she gets dressed up and volunteers at Villa Marie Claire Hospice in Saddle River, and once a month she volunteers at the “Read to a Dog Program” at the Ridgewood Library. She charms every human she meets. As Jarolmen says, Millie “became a very ‘large’ member of the family.”

Want to see your pet in an upcoming issue? Email a photo and a brief description of your dog, cat, bird, rabbit or other animal to



Hungry for more options for when you’re hungry? Check out these recently opened eateries:


Restaurateur Ariel Espejo (the mind behind Englewood staples Vida Garden, El Tango and Hidden Garden) has a new debut, Mexcal Tequila Bar. With almost 80 kinds of tequila and a full Mexican menu, the restaurant has something for everyone who craves south-of-theborder flavors. Bonus: It’s located next to the bergenPAC, convenient for pre- or post-show bites.

• 24 N. Van Brunt St., Englewood, 201.414.2371;


When next you have a hankering for pasta, head to Al Dente Fresh Pasta Co. in Westwood for top-notch noodles. At Al Dente, all the pasta is made fresh and in-house for an authentically Italian taste. Whether you order a specialty dish (the shrimp, chicken and sausage of Three Paisanos is a must-try) or go the build-your-own route, you’re sure to leave happy—and full.

• 301 Center Ave., Westwood, 201.497.3115;

WE ALL SCREAM FOR… …ice cream, of course. But at Maroons Creamery in Ridgewood, there’s much more, as the new shop offers a special take on just about every confection you can imagine. Besides hard and soft ice cream, its menu includes boba tea, tea floats and sundaes with names like “Do It For The Gram” (graham crackers and strawberry shortcake ice cream) and “Lady Luck” (tiramisu ice cream and ladyfingers).

• 57 E. Ridgewood Ave., Ridgewood, 973.330.0960;


Summer is fast approaching, and so—for many of us—are long days in the sun. So don’t forget the sunscreen! “Overexposure to the sun, along with the lack of sun protection, can lead to skin cancer,” says Rachel Matteo, licensed esthetician and owner of Bloom Esthetics in Midland Park. “It also speeds up the aging process and causes hyperpigmentation and capillary damage, as well as increasing skin sensitivity and breakouts. So if you want to keep your youthful good looks, sun protection is an absolute must!” Here are some timely reminders:

• Use the right SPF. That’s sun protection factor, and you should be using 30 or 50 on your face and any other body parts that get prolonged sun exposure, such as the back of your neck (or your shoulders, if you’re wearing a bathing suit). For the rest of your body, use SPF 15 or 30.

• Use the right filter. A sunscreen’s “filter” is the way it blocks UV rays from the skin. Mineral sunscreens use zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which sit on the skin’s surface and physically reflect UV. Chemical sunscreens employ a chemical reaction to absorb UV rays into heat energy. They’re equally effective, but not without cons: Sunscreens with mineral filters are often much thicker and leave a white cast on the skin; chemical sunscreens have less of a cast, but can sting some people’s skin.

• Reapply often. Experts say to reapply sunscreen hourly if you’re outside in the sun. If you are swimming or sweating a lot, reapply more often. “At my practice, I usually recommend HOP+ and Dr. Esthe,” says Matteo. “They are safe, effective and contribute to the overall health and appearance of the skin without being sticky, greasy, or leaving a white cast.”


Beach and pool season is fast approaching, so be sure you have something to read as you’re catching some rays. Need help finding your next page-turner? Check out The Order by Midland Park’s Donald Cimmino. The book is a sci-fi adventure that details what happens when a criminal act has been committed by the government of one galaxy against another. Released earlier this year, it’s available on Amazon—and Cimmino tells BERGEN a sequel is already in the works.


It’s the unofficial start of summer, but before you barbecue, remember that Memorial Day is a time to reflect and pay tribute to those who gave their lives defending our country. Bergen offers many opportunities to mark the occasion, including these events:

• Fair Lawn: Memorial Day Parade, Monday, May 27, at 10:30 a.m.

• Ho-Ho-Kus: Memorial Day Parade, Monday, May 27, at 10:30 a.m.

• Mahwah: Memorial Day Parade and Ceremony, Monday, May 27, at 10 a.m.

• Oakland: Memorial Day Parade and Ceremony, Sunday, May 26, at 1 p.m.

• Old Tappan: Memorial Day Parade and Ceremony, Monday, May 27, at 9 a.m.

• Ridgewood: Memorial Day Service, Monday, May 27, at 11 a.m.

• River Edge: Memorial Day Parade, Monday, May 27, at 10 a.m.

• Waldwick: Memorial Day Parade and Ceremony, Monday, May 27, at 9:30 a.m.

• Wyckoff: Memorial Day Parade, Monday, May 27, at 11:30 a.m.

MAY 2024
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You don’t particularly want to go to the hospital, but the state-of-the-art Valley Hospital in Paramus can make your experience better than ever if you need to.

The new Valley Hospital officially opened last month with 370 private patient rooms, an expanded Emergency Department, sustainable design and green spaces, medical offices and more spread over 40 acres. Visitors can also see Stefan Knapp art panels, which once graced the exterior of Alexander’s department store.

To help kick off the grand opening, Gov. Phil Murphy joined Audrey Meyers, chief executive officer of Valley Health System, and other state and local dignitaries for a ribbon-cutting ceremony in late March. Planning for the $900 million healthcare center began in 2017, and construction started in November 2019. The new hospital replaces Valley’s facility in Ridgewood, which will be repurposed for urgent care and outpatient services.


All the prep you put into your ’do can quickly come undone as soon as you step outside. Heat and humidity can be disastrous for hair, but Brianna Panico of Panico Salon in Ridgewood has a few tips to help you keep your hair healthy and looking great all summer long:

• Enjoy the waves. Blonde or brunette, auburn or gray—no matter what color your hair is, a few waves can give it more interest. “You can never go wrong with a fun and flirty beach wave,” Panico says.

• Maintenance is a must. “If you’re good about maintaining your hair, you can have any color you want,” our expert says. “If you’re blonde, make sure to wash with cool water. If you’re brunette, keep your hair moisturized.”

• Keep it together. Heat may entice you to wear your hair up, but many ties and scrunchies can damage hair. To avoid hair breakage, Panico recommends a silk scrunchie.

• Wash the water out. Be sure you wash your hair if it’s been exposed to pool chemicals or salt water at the beach.

“Always wash your hair after a day in the water, apply conditioner on the ends and work your way up,” Panico says.

“If you washed your hair the day before, simply rinse it out and apply conditioner.”

• Don’t overwash “Tempting as it is, avoid washing your hair every day,” she advises. “With colored hair, aim for every other day.”


Not only is Tenafly’s Trevor Ostfeld, 17, an upstanding citizen, he’s now a published author. In 2022, he joined a group a volunteers and delivered more than 9,000 pounds of supplies to women and children at the Poland-Ukraine border. While there, Ostfeld met Iryna Chernyak, who was rallying the community to help her find the family’s cat, Messi, who went missing when Ukraine was attacked earlier that year. The two would eventually co-author Finding Messi: The Miracle Cat From Kyiv, a children’s picture book that tells the inspiring story. Finding Messi is now available where books are sold; all proceeds will be donated to charities that support victims of the ongoing war in Ukraine.



Hackensack University Medical Center

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Piece Of Cake?

Running a beloved local pastry shop requires hard work and long hours, but Keum Sook Park of Woodcliff Lake says she loves it so much she’s never tired.

Ridgewood’s Sook Pastry is a local staple. The cheerful storefront on Broad Street welcomes in patrons with colorful awnings and a reputation for delicious confections. There’s nearly always a line in front. The shop’s founder and owner, Keum Sook Park, 54, and originally from Seoul, South Korea, lives in Woodcliff Lake with her husband and college-aged son. She moved to the U.S. in 1998 to pursue a career as a pastry chef. During the pandemic, Sook joined with Ridgewood’s Feed the Frontlines Initiative, a program for which all involved received the Jefferson Award for volunteerism from the governor of New Jersey.

Why did you move from Seoul to New York City?

In Korea, we don’t have a lot of desserts. Not the kind you find here—the chocolate, the pastries. The desserts here are just so beautiful. I knew I wanted to do something like that, so I came to the U.S. to study. I went to the Institute of Culinary Education and the French Culinary School, then worked with François Payard, a wellknown French pastry chef, at Payard Pâtisserie & Bistro in New York. From the start of my studies to opening up Sook Pastry, it took about 10 years. When did you decide to open a shop of your own? When Payard closed his shop in 2009. Many of Sook’s staff worked with me at Payard. When it closed, we were all out of jobs. Some of us were working at Chinese restaurants, or at Italian restaurants, or as dishwashers. But no one was working with pastries. When I opened, I called all of them and said, “If you want to work with pastries, work with me.” They are all experienced; much of my staff has been here from the beginning.

What is your favorite part of your days at Sook?

Seeing the same people every day.

Your least favorite part?

Seeing the same people every day! Since we’ve been open, about 14 years, I’ve seen kids grow up through their visits. Girls who used to come in with their little pink dresses, on their way to ballet, now come in with their boyfriends. When I see that, I don’t feel young.

How did you get involved with Feed the Frontlines?

How did you decide on Ridgewood as a location?

I actually looked at Wikipedia, at towns from New York City going south. That’s how I found Ridgewood. On Sundays, you see everyone out and about and talking. It has a very hometown feel.

This was during 2020, at the height of the pandemic. Feed the Frontlines reached out to us, and many other restaurants. They had funding from a grant to feed essential workers and others who needed it and wanted local restaurants to provide that food to help keep those businesses going. We provided chicken crêpes, and worked about five

days a week to do so. We were making 300 or 400 crêpes a day. What was keeping Sook open during COVID like?

I’ve worked at this for 14 years, and I never worked harder than I did during the pandemic. So did the rest of my staff. I felt I had a responsibility to them. They all needed to support their families, so we had to stay open.

Who tests and tries out new pastry recipes?

The whole kitchen! The whole staff, really, including office managers. They all give feedback to get the recipe right.

How many tries does it take to get a recipe right?

At least four or five.

What was your most difficult recipe to develop?

Macarons! Macarons are so sensitive. Sometimes you think everything is perfect, but they come out totally flat.

So what’s the secret to a perfect macaron?

Experience. You try again and again. You try at different temperatures, different mixes of dry and wet ingredients, different times in the oven. Sometimes it’s a go, sometimes it’s a no-go. Do you have advice for someone looking to open a business?

I love my pastries, so I never feel like I’m tired. I’ve put in 24-hour days at Sook. People say, “You’re here every day; how do you have the energy?”

Doing this gives me energy. You need to love what you’re doing for more than just money.

A menu recommendation?

The Glen mousse cake. It’s very popular for a reason. Most places don’t have anything like it. What’s next for you?

I would love to expand and have a larger location. There’s nothing concrete, but it’s something I think about often.

Photo courtesy of Keum Sook Park
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while receiving (CPR) for cardiac arrest percent after one minute to after 39 minutes, according to

—The BMJ



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1IN 10

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We hear a lot these days about stress. But the first thing to know is that it’s not all bad. “Stress has many wonderful attributes,” wrote Alia and Thomas Crum in the Harvard Business Review a few years ago. “It reminds us that we care; it connects us directly with the most challenging and important aspects of our lives.” Still, many of us would respond that we know we care; we’d actually like to stress a little less.

You’re not living in the wild anymore, with dangers around every bush, as your distant ancestors once did. But try telling that to the built-in responses in your own body. They seek to help you by putting your organ systems on high alert in reaction to any perceived threat. In our complicated modern world, however, too much of that, sustained for too long, can be a hazard to your health.

Acute (short-term) stress elicits our fight-orflight response to a dangerous situation. Your blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate and levels of muscle tension may skyrocket for a short time. Chronic (long-term) stress occurs over time and can lead to insomnia, anxiety, depression, panic attacks, weight gain, memory problems and headaches. It also can increase inflammation in the body, contributing to metabolic disease, fatigue, brain fog and cardiovascular illness.

Though there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with stress, handling it is crucial to one’s well-being. “Poor stress management can lead to actual physiological changes in the body through the release of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline,” says Gautam Bhasin, Psy.D., a clinical

neuropsychologist and vice president of the Department of Behavioral Sciences at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck. When patients come to Bhasin with health issues related to stress, he explains how they can use a variety of lifestyle tools to navigate stressful situations.

“The first step to managing anxiety and stress is to identify your anxiety triggers, or the specific things that cause you to have an emotional or stress reaction,” he says. “Identification of stress triggers can make life a bit more predictable and manageable, and actions can be taken to decrease the impact of the trigger itself. One step is a phenomenon called ‘behavioral activation’— doing the things you really enjoy on a daily basis. Prioritize activities in your life that bring you joy and peace; they can be restorative and help you inoculate yourself against chronic stress.”

Another way to reduce stress is to reduce time spent in front of a screen (including computers, TVs, tablets and smartphones) and re-engage with nature, family and friends. And there’s also:

Healthy eating. An old proverb states, “You are what you eat,” and if you eat well, you’ll feel well too. “There is a direct link between the food we eat and the stress we experience in our lives,” Bhasin says. “There is bi-directional network in the body known as the gut-brain axis, which directly connects the brain with your gut. The gut can play an important role in helping to regulate mood, stress and cognition.” Eating foods like yogurt with probiotics, leafy greens and prebiotics can help sustain a healthy gut-brain axis and have a positive impact on overall mood, he adds. On the other hand, foods high in sugar can negatively impact mood, as they cause rapid spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels. And highly processed foods can cause inflammation, which also negatively impacts both physical and mental health. “Eating a balanced diet with healthy fats, proteins and veggies will help regulate mood and have a positive effect on cognition,” Bhasin says.

Getting enough sleep. Resetting your body with rest can have a positive impact on stress and mood. Adequate sleep is essential for overall well-being—it helps people cope with the stresses of everyday life, regulate emotions and maintain a healthy and positive outlook on life. Too little shuteye can have the opposite effect. There is a strong connection, says Bhasin, between the amount and quality of your sleep and your mental and cognitive health. “Sleep deprivation can lead to the development of anxiety and depression, as well as causing deficits in attention, memory and decision making. Less than adequate sleep can negatively impact the way hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are regulated in the body. Poor sleep can create a situation where stress hormones remain elevated and lead to increases in anxiety and depression.”

Meditating. Holistic approaches to stress such as breathwork and meditation also can reduce tension and anxiety. “Deep-belly breathing techniques and mindfulness mediation are at the center of most of the mental health interventions I employ across the hospital,” our expert says. “Deep-belly breathing activates the body’s relaxation responses and can have a positive effect on the parasympathetic nervous system, leading to a reduction in anxiety, muscle tension and heart rate.” Meditation, meanwhile, has been shown to reduce chronic stress, improve overall mood and decrease depressive symptoms, he says.

Bhasin reminds those who are battling excessive stress that help is always available. “Doctors can help patients navigate their mental health journey by letting them know what resources are available to them and what level of care they think would be most suitable,” he says. “There are many mental health providers out there, and it is sometimes difficult to know which type of clinician [mental health counselor, social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist, for example] would be the best fit for a patient. Consult with your physician first and ask for guidance or a referral.”


Special Report


Flooding is an increasing problem throughout Bergen, and it’s likely to get worse. Do we have the will—and the funds—to fix it?

The video is a document of desperation. A mere 10 seconds long, it shows a torrent of water pouring down Marlene Resciniti’s backyard steps into her finished basement—a sight, to Resciniti, that’s both horrific and familiar. She’s lived in her Woodland Park house for 36 years, and in the past two decades she’s experienced four major floods and countless near misses. When she first saw the house in 1988, the Dowling Brook meandering past the backyard was part of the property’s allure; today it’s a source of fear and frustration.

“I’m living a nightmare here,” Resciniti says. When she bought the house, she wasn’t required to carry flood insurance because the risk of flooding was so low—just one percent over the course of 100 years. That’s no longer the case. “As the years went on,” she says, “there was more building going on; now the water has nowhere to go with the runoff, and I’m in a flood zone.”

It’s a refrain you’re likely to hear from

residents throughout Bergen County, many of whom never imagined they’d be living in a flood zone or battling floodwaters on a regular basis. And even those who knew when they bought their homes that flooding was a possibility didn’t expect it to become a probability. It’s a state of affairs, flood victims attest, that can erode one’s sense of well-being. “My wife takes it particularly hard,” says Brian Paladino, a Lodi resident whose house has flooded eight times over the past 20 years. “Every time we get heavy rain, she’s watching out the window.”

It can also erode one’s bank account. Albert Di Chiara, who owns the Di Chiara Funeral Home in Lodi and lives above the business, has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in a series of floods and spent more than $100,000 in flood mitigation efforts. And that expense doesn’t include flood insurance, which costs him $25,000 a year. Even so, insurance typically doesn’t cover the entirety of a loss. During Hurricane Floyd, in 1999, Di Chiara had 13 feet

of water in his basement and 2 feet on the first floor, and his losses from the flood approached $600,000, for which FEMA—the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which provides flood insurance to homeowners and businesses—reimbursed him $212,000. The difference, he says, “came away from my mother’s retirement, my uncle’s retirement, our savings.”

Flooding—dreading it, fighting it, paying for it—has become an intrinsic part of life for an increasing number of Bergen households and it’s likely to become more common, and affect a growing number of residents, as time goes on. The problem, of course, isn’t just local. A 2022 study out of the University of Oklahoma, for example, predicted “widespread increases” in the occurrence of flash flooding across the U.S. While efforts are underway to address the problem, virtually everyone—from government officials to water resources engineers to frustrated residents—


agrees that they’re insufficient. To truly mitigate Bergen’s flooding will require large measures of determination, engineering ingenuity, forward thinking and, of course, money.


Bergen County isn’t alone in its propensity to flood. “The Northeast in general is experiencing more rainfall, including more frequent storms that are shorter in duration but higher in intensity,” says Hannah Talos, a water resources engineer with LAN Associates in Midland Park. The culprit, says Rutgers water resources engineer Qizhong (George) Guo, is a warming climate, since warm air holds more moisture than cold air. Those surge storms are particularly dangerous because they don’t allow sufficient time for rainwater to be absorbed by soil, drainage systems and bodies of open water.

If climate has delivered one blow, overdevelopment has turned it into a one-two punch. In densely populated Bergen, says Talos, “we have so much impervious surface—roads, parking lots and other paved areas— that don’t let water in but just force it to run off.” If those first two punches don’t knock us out, there’s a third that might. “Our drainage infrastructure hasn’t been sufficiently maintained and is deteriorating,” says Guo. And even if it were in pristine condition, that infrastructure wasn’t built to handle the amount and type of rainfall that we’re experiencing today.

the borough’s Department of Public Works has made clearing drainage areas a priority. “Our DPW makes it a point to clean out the catch basins and culverts a week before floods and heavy rainfall are predicted, to make sure that the rivers and the brook are flowing freely,” he says. “That has really limited flooding.” Guo considers this kind of maintenance critical to flood control efforts, but says it’s labor-intensive and therefore expensive.

This March, the federal government addressed some of the county’s oldest and most dysfunctional drainage systems with $4.7 million in grants to Emerson, Englewood, Leonia and Tenafly. The money will go toward projects that include the creation of water retention basins, new drainage pipes and other drainage infrastructure, as well as drainage maintenance.

One long-term effort, in Bergen County and throughout New Jersey, is the state’s Blue Acres program, which has been buying up properties built in floodplains—areas naturally prone to flooding—and converting them to water

by the Army Corps of Engineers to ameliorate flooding in towns along the Saddle River was scrubbed in 1997 because the river had changed significantly while the study was being done, and the Corps is now working on a second study. The solution, Luna says, could be a flood tunnel, dredging of the river or the construction of a flood wall. “It might not happen in my lifetime,” he adds. “But without federal relief, we can’t do it.”

Money isn’t the only factor holding back municipalities from making major floodmitigation changes. Paul Vagianos, mayor of Ridgewood, says that, to prevent overflow from a stream running behind Ridgewood High School, the town could build a berm. But in fact, the town is forbidden by law to do so because it would adversely affect other communities along the stream.


“We have so much impervious surface—roads, parking lots and other paved areas that don’t let water in but just force it to run off.”
— Qizhong (George) Guo, Rutgers water resources engineer

Given enough money and time, major engineering projects may well solve some of Bergen’s flooding problems. But to address a future in which flooding is increasingly common, we’re going to need a sea change in our attitudes about growth and development. That doesn’t just mean no future construction on floodplains.

Though waterways aren’t, strictly speaking, infrastructure, they too are suffering from a lack of maintenance, in the sense that silt, over the years, has been allowed to build up in them, rendering many streams and rivers significantly shallower—and therefore less capable of holding waters from heavy rainfall—than they were years ago. Scott Luna, mayor of Lodi and a lifelong resident of the borough, notes that “years ago, Lodi had beaches along the Saddle River—you could swim in it. Today, some spots in the river are so low you could walk across them.”


In recent years, officials have acknowledged the severity of our flooding problem and ramped up efforts to address it. In many localities, those efforts start with making sure that areas designed for drainage, including pipes and culverts, are cleared of silt and debris. Tracy Kallert, mayor of Woodland Park, notes that

storage, parks and open spaces. The program has acquired 19 properties in New Milford along the Hackensack River. While it has certainly had an effect in New Milford, as well as other communities downriver, there are still far too many properties standing in Bergen’s floodplains.



A number of Bergen communities have been in conversations with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about major engineering solutions to the problem of flooding, with funding coming from the federal government. For more than a decade, for instance, the Corps has been conducting studies on flood remediation in Woodland Park and Little Falls. Plans could include the construction of a $150 million flood tunnel. Kallert believes that the project will come to fruition, but not overnight. “Originally,” she says, “I’d thought it might happen in 2024, 2025. Now it’s looking like 2026, 2027. While it’s frustrating, it’s good to know that there’s hope around the corner.”

Luna is a little less hopeful for Lodi. A study

“Having more green space, more trees and plants that take up water, and more pervious ground is, I think, the most effective way to slow down the speed of water,” says Talos, and slowing water is the key to keeping a rainfall event from turning into a flood event. Instead of, say, building a parking lot that’s a stretch of asphalt, equipped with inlets to collect stormwater and pipe it out to a large catch basin, we could build grass islands throughout the lot to absorb water.

We could, says Guo, construct green roofs— planted with vegetation over a growing medium and a waterproof membrane, like the roof atop the Meadowlands Environment Center in Lyndhurst. We could also build bioswales— channels, usually mulched or planted, to concentrate and filter stormwater runoff. We might even create so-called floodable parks, that transform temporarily into ponds during surge storms. Essentially, we need to start enlisting nature in our efforts to reduce flooding, rather than fighting against nature.

“I believe that green solutions are going to be more and more important,” says Talos, “in a future characterized by increasing amounts of flooding.”



Paired with a cancer remission party, a Franklin Lakes resident’s 24th birthday bash becomes a celebration of life, resilience—and the many people who helped her.

At age 23, a visit to an urgent care on her lunch break brought Ashley Ryan’s life to a grinding halt. The Franklin Lakes resident thought she had a standard mid-winter cough. She almost turned down the suggested chest X-ray, but the physician’s assistant insisted. A good thing too.

“I’ll never forget the look on her face,” says Ryan, who was immediately rushed to the emergency room because of the large, abnormal mass that showed up on the image.

Three days and numerous difficult tests and biopsies later, Ryan was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma on Feb. 4, 2023.

Yes, on World Cancer Day.

Ashley Ryan of Franklin Lakes celebrated her 24th birthday and cancer remission last year after six months of surgeries and chemotherapy. But the party, she says, was just as much in celebration of her family, friends and caretakers. “It felt like the whole community came to help me and my family, whether I’d known people from kindergarten or just met them recently.”


Clockwise from top: Ryan’s parents surprised her with balloon sculptures and décor from Jersey Girl Balloons, which Ryan says “transformed the space.” She requested that all the guests wear white as a celebration of life. “They made everything so easy,” says Ryan of the people at the North Jersey Country Club, who handled the catering. Hors d’oeuvres were offered as the guests arrived to the party.“ Recalls Ryan of the support she received during her treatment: “My friends and family tried to make it feel like my chemo sessions were just us meeting up for coffee or lunch. They would bring something I love to eat and try to make it something to look forward to.”


“It was a lot to take in as a 23-year-old,” she says. “I felt like my life had just started. Everything came to a complete stop.”

What followed was surgery, then 12 rounds of chemotherapy. Her last scheduled treatment was in July. The next month promised another milestone—on Aug. 14 she would turn 24.

She decided she would plan a birthday party. She and her family also hoped it would double as a cancer remission party. The planning process, which Ryan took the reins on, was a welcome distraction from the weakness and exhaustion caused by chemo. “It was something to look forward to when I really wasn’t feeling well,” she says. “All I wanted for my birthday was to have everyone I love celebrate overcoming this incredibly difficult year.”

On Aug. 1, those hopes came true—Ryan was declared officially in remission.

What an occasion to celebrate.

The event was held at the North Jersey Country Club in Wayne, where the Ryan family have been members for nearly two decades. The evening was warm and clear. Ryan’s parents surprised her with white balloon arrangements and décor from Jersey Girl Balloons, which transformed the venue. Guests began to arrive around 6 p.m., each wearing white at the hostess’s request.

“I thought it was the perfect color for celebrating life,” says Ryan. Each of the more than 100 guests, she explains, “was invited with intention.” They had all sat with her during a chemo session, or reached out to the family, or gone out of their way to offer aid. “Every person in that room played a part in getting me


Top: Ryan’s mother, an avid baker, made the party favors for the event. Bottom left: The night was filled with joy. “Everyone was so happy to be there,” says Ryan. “Everyone was smiling.” Bottom right: The centerpieces were also provided by Ryan and her mother.


through it,” Ryan says. She wanted to celebrate her caretakers and supporters as much as her own relief.

Dinner, catered by the country club, was light and buffetstyle. The spread included three of Ryan’s favorite cuisines: Italian, Mexican and Japanese sushi. “They didn’t really go together,” admits Ryan with a laugh, “but I love all those options. I thought everyone would find at least one thing they liked.” Then she adds, “I didn’t want people to sit around eating. I wanted to dance.”

Ryan was insistent on the dancing. “That’s all I wanted to do,” she says. “I told myself, ‘I don’t care how weak you feel, you are getting up and dancing and having the best night ever.’”

And dance they did. Ryan wouldn’t let anyone linger on the tearful speeches delivered by a cousin, two of her best friends or her mother. Bright with joy, she pulled everyone onto the dance floor.

The music, provided by New Jersey-based DJ Mando, who Ryan describes as “a friend of a friend,” went on for an hour past the party’s scheduled ending time. Ryan remembers two songs in particular. The first was when her father grabbed the mic and gave the room a spirited rendition of The Isley Brothers’ “Shout.” The second she recalls for more tender reasons.

“Coldplay is my favorite band,” she explains. “During treatment and during operations I needed to be awake for, I could listen to music. It was always Coldplay. I asked the DJ to play ‘A Sky Full of Stars.’ That’s what the night felt like to me.”

Choking up a bit, she adds: “I hadn’t felt that happy in such a long time. It was perfect.”

Clockwise from the top: The photos showing everyone’s reaction to the events are some of Ryan’s favorites. Ryan discovered she was in remission Aug. 1. Her birthday is Aug. 14, and the celebration was held on Aug. 18. Nothing was more important to Ryan than a night on the dance floor. “I was still weak from chemo,” she says. “I think the adrenaline got me through it.”



The guests couldn’t all converse when a wedding blended two cultures, but their smiles and hugs said it all.

It happens that at the tender age of 5, Grettel Neyra and SooYong Park both embarked on epic adventures, leaving their respective homelands in Cuba and South Korea to start fresh in America. Although her family settled in Florida and his in New Jersey, life’s zigs and zags—and an online dating app—would find them, in their 30s, beginning a new journey together with vows taken at The Rockleigh in Rockleigh on Oct. 8, 2023.

Today they’re settled in Wood-Ridge with Loki, Sam and Echo (a dog

Romance is in bloom in the gardens at The Rockleigh, where Grettel and SooYong Park share a moment, apart from guests but not the camera. Event planning by Kelly Seca, Gifted Events Photography by Kate Testa, Off Beet Productions Text by Donna Rolando

Counterclockwise, from top: No cookie-cutter gifts for Grettel’s bridesmaids—the bags’ contents were individualized to each gal; meet ringbearer Julian, dressed to the nines for his important role; the bride during the ceremony—hair by Anna’s Bridal Creations.


Clockwise from top: Close-up of the bridal bouquet with her favorite, baby’s breath; walking down the aisle—groom SooYong in dress blues, bride Grettel in her embroidered gown; a Marine insignia is added to the groom’s tuxedo.

and two cats), looking back on a storybook history. SooYong was living in Carlstadt, and Grettel had moved for work to Palisades Park when she saw his dating profile and it closed her heart to all others. Their first date in December 2018 only cemented these emotions, as they went from movies to ice skating, dinner to a kiss on the escalator at the Palisades Center Mall in West Nyack, N.Y.

“I just knew from day one,” says the bride. “Maybe the way he looked at me. I just saw how kind he was.” She gladly accepted in July of 2022 when he caught her off guard with a sunset proposal onboard a sailboat in Aruba, one of their first times out of the country after COVID.

Their wedding day was replete with contrasts, as Grettel decided not to compete with the opulent venue’s marble dance floors and cascading chandeliers, but to keep it simple. That meant white roses (Amaryllis Event Décor), her beloved baby’s breath (an absolute must) and her choice of embroidered wedding gown from Englewood’s Jaehee Bridal. The groom, who served as a U.S. Marine Corps corporal and owns Little Ferry-based Geo Distributions, wore his dress blues.

Through the efforts of Kelly Seca, owner and luxury wedding planner at North Arlington-based Gifted Events, the trail of simplicity extended to table settings aglow in high and low candles, some floating with baby’s breath, as well as white rose centerpieces. Leaving Grettel in “awe,” The Rockleigh was their first choice early on and gave this already nervous bride a measure of confidence. “I loved


Clockwise from top: Wedding planner Kelly Seca created a low-high effect with the table décor and featured white rose centerpieces; a three-tier cake with enough fillings to satisfy any sweet tooth; a private moment on the dance floor; a candle with floating baby’s breath is a romantic touch.

how beautiful it was and, above all, it was just so classy,” Grettel recalls.

Though glamour and simplicity are contrasts, the couple’s cultures brought harmony to the day. Since Grettel and SooYong each have a family-focused heritage, there were many similarities—cuisine, of course, not being one of them. As their love for each other spilled over to their families, the sentiment was contagious. Grettel says watching their parents all interact was a highlight of her day. “They can’t speak to each other because my parents don’t know English and his have limited English,” says Grettel. “I loved that they hugged, they cried—it was beautiful.” As soon as they started dating, the couple had included their families in their circle of love, she says, noting that family ties are cherished in both of their cultures. Of her husband, she says, “He’ll try a new food that he’s never tried and never liked just because my mom made it for him.”

To fuel that loving feeling, the couple went out of their way to make their families feel comfortable, adding the Korean staple kimchi to The Rockleigh’s cuisine and serving soju on its “own beautiful table” during cocktail hour, which also featured the couple’s three signature drinks: apple cider mule, smoked maple old fashioned and fig and thyme margarita. “The Rockleigh was very accommodating in allowing us to bring in outside food,” Seca says.

To reflect a Cuban vibe, Latin music was an integral part of the mix by Eclipse Events, while a saxophonist especially delighted SooYong’s dad, who has played the trumpet for


in a light-hearted moment, the groom makes his own entrance; a sea of sparklers enhance the magic of the couple’s first official dance.

Clockwise from top: The couple’s flower girl, MacKenzie, rises to the occasion;

Top: Saxophone music and illuminated foam sticks add fun to the festivities. Bottom: The couple aimed to create a club-like atmosphere for their friends.

decades. And for their friends, light-up foam sticks provided a “little club feel,” Grettel recalls. “A lot of our friends are club-goers and they love to party, so we figured, ‘Let’s bring that into the wedding.’”

It was evident that many aspects of this special day, including the customizable blue maid’s gowns ( and their personalized gifts, were inspired by others. But the three-tier cake from A Little Cake in Park Ridge was “fully on us,” Grettel admits. Self-proclaimed sweet tooths, they ordered a chocolate top, coffee middle and Funfetti bottom, because, she says, “Why choose one when you can choose three options?”

The couple’s first dance also reflected their personalities: a country version of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”

It was a magic moment accentuated by sparklers and a smoky effect—like dancing on a cloud. “My husband is such a country music snob,” says Grettel with a laugh. “He’s a huge fan.”

Besides planning the reception for 243 guests at a venue that, like SooYong, stole the bride’s heart on day one, event planner Seca gets credit for all her emotional support. “It became one big party, and people were having the time of their lives,” says Seca.

“Without Kelly,” quips Grettel, “I probably would have had a breakdown before any of this happened.”

Still on the horizon for these newlyweds is a honeymoon, and they are dreaming of destinations. “Greece or Thailand,” says the bride, “but we’ll see.”




2020 wedding plans scotched by the pandemic, a New Jersey mom moved on to mark Year One for her son with an unforgettable event.

Text by Kirsten Meehan

The name? That was no problem: Carter’s Carnival. The words lent themselves to a perfect vision, and Alicia Wong of Manalapan had a vision for sure. In decorator Adam Leffel of Hackensack-based Adam Leffel Productions, she found the partner to help make it happen.

Oh, and Wong had one thing more: an unused event contract at The Legacy Castle in Pompton Plains.

“My husband Bryan and I were supposed to get married there in 2020,” Wong explains, “but, obviously, things happened.”

The pandemic cancelled the Wongs’s wedding ceremony. Instead, their nuptials were small and private, as any event in October of 2020 had to be. They discussed holding a wedding ceremony once things began to open, but at that point Alicia and Bryan had another priority: their young son, Carter.

“It just made sense to pivot to him,” Wong says.

Wong planned everything personally. “I love planning parties,” she says. “I love to decorate and coordinate, and I

Alicia and Bryan Wong and their son Carter enjoy a family moment during Carter’s birthday party. Alicia took the lead in planning a full-event first birthday for her son, bringing a full vintage carnival to life at The Legacy Castle in Pompton Plains—with the significant help of Hackensack-based Adam Leffel Productions.

Décor by Adam Leffel Productions Photography by Off Beet Productions

Top: The vintage wall decorations were done in-house by Adam Leffel Productions, which also coached the venue on the lighting choices. Bottom left: There weren’t many flowers in the circus-chic décor, but those present bloomed from popcorn buckets. Bottom right: Both Wong and decorator Leffel paid close attention to every detail of the party’s design, including the golden plates and the napkin folds.


Clockwise from top: For the party to be the event Wong imagined, she knew she would need to bring in performers, and Aerial Acrobat Entertainment exceeded expectations; Leffel sourced the balloon arrangements, one of the first things guests saw when they entered the room, from Life O’ The Party Balloons in Hackensack; Leffel’s company created the place cards, which were designed to look like tickets for what might be the greatest show on earth.

knew exactly what I wanted to do from the beginning. I could see it right away.”

What Wong visualized was a full vintage carnival, complete with performers, games and magic. “It needed to be an event,” she says. “I wanted full entertainment and eye-catching visuals. My goal was for it to be more than just something to create memories for our family; I wanted all the guests to leave impressed and have a great time.”

She had the perfect team to make that event a reality. Leffel, a luxury event designer and decorator, prides himself on creating distinctive celebrations. “We need to get into someone’s head to put this kind of event together,” Leffel says. “There are a lot of nuances to it. We need to see their creative vision, and then we offer them options to bring it to life.”

And bring it to life they did.

All the décor was done in-house. Leffel and his company crafted the vintage carnival images and then enlarged and printed them for the walls and displays. They created the place settings and the table decorations; they brought in the napkins and linens and created the napkin folds. Leffel’s business thrives on details, and Wong provided him with many of them.

“When we meet a client, we often ask, ‘What kind of adventure are we going on? How deep down the rabbit hole are we going?’” says Leffel. “We got to go pretty far down it with this one. It wasn’t an Alice in Wonderland theme, but working on it felt like that.”

For the party to really shine, both Wong and Leffel knew, there needed to be full commitment to the aesthetic. “Sometimes a client just really has attention to details,” says Leffel. “The whole thing really came together.”


This page, top: A Little Cake in Park Ridge provided a birthday cake that was almost too pretty to eat, though doing so was, according to Wong, Carter’s favorite part of the day. Left: “Everyone said ‘Wow!’” recalls Wong.

“Everyone was smiling the whole time.” Wong got the satisfaction of seeing her vision come perfectly to life.

Bottom: Music was provided by a DJ from Hank Lane Music, who delighted a dance floor with plenty of children on it.

Opposite page: “It was a one-of-a-kind event,” recalls Leffel. “A totally customized party. We haven’t done anything exactly like it before or since.”

“Adam was great,” adds Wong. “He made everything easy.”

On the day of the party, the 200 guests arrived to what Leffel calls “a visual feast.” The Legacy Castle’s downstairs room had been transformed down to the lighting, for which Leffel’s company coached the venue. The chandeliers were covered in overlays that turned the light blue, and red lights danced on the walls. The party started with a cocktail hour, during which mentalist and magician Jason Silberman walked through the crowd performing tricks.

There were games set up and prizes to win. Aerial Acrobat Entertainment provided acrobats and stilt walkers to wander through the room as the party went on, juggling and interacting with the guests. A DJ provided by Hank Lane Music kept people moving, and a caricature artist from the same company sketched out keepsakes for anyone who wanted one. There was also a photo booth, provided by Off Beet Productions. The party wound down with a Venetian Hour catered by The Legacy Castle, with high-end takes on fair food such as cotton candy and soft pretzels.

From this day of frenetic movement, what scene does Wong remember most?

“We all walked in as a family,” she says. “They announced all three of us, and stilt walkers escorted us in. Carter saw everything for the first time. He was always a really chill baby, but I swear he reacted with surprise.”



Veggies Redux

Who says healthy food has to be boring? These dishes are easy to make, full of nutrients—and both are surefire crowd-pleasers.


Yields 6 servings


n 2 Tbs. olive oil

n 6 small red potatoes, sliced

n 1 cup fresh spinach, torn

n 2 Tbs. green onions, sliced

n 1 tsp. garlic, crushed

n salt and pepper to taste

n 6 large eggs

n ¹/³ cup milk

n 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded


Heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Cook potatoes in hot oil, stirring occasionally, until tender but firm, about 10 minutes.

Mix in spinach, green onions and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Cook and stir until spinach is wilted, 1 to 2 minutes.

Beat together eggs and milk in a medium bowl. Pour over vegetables in the skillet. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until eggs are firm, 5 to 7 minutes. Slice and enjoy!

“If you’re looking to lower your carbohydrate intake, try swapping the red potatoes for cauliflower, or use only three small potatoes and supplement with half a head of cauliflower. Cauliflower is also a rich source of sulforaphane, an antioxidant that may reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Be sure to steam the cauliflower first!”

—Azi Ahmadi, registered dietitian nutritionist, Learn To Eat Right, Ridgewood




Yields 6 servings


n 11/2 lbs. yellow mini potatoes

n 2 carrots, grated

n 1/2 onion, minced

n 2 eggs, beaten

n 1/2 cup spelt flour

n 1 Tbs. salt

n 1/2 tsp. pepper

n 2-3 Tbs. vegetable oil

n sour cream and green onions for serving


Wash potatoes in cold water and then add to a large pot of cold, salted water and bring to a boil. Allow to boil for about 2 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft in the middle. Drain potatoes and mash with a fork in a large bowl. Stir in the carrot and onion. Add the eggs, flour, salt and pepper and mix well.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Drop heaping tablespoons of batter into the skillet. Press down on the batter to form a pancake. Cook until the bottom is golden and crisp, 3 to 5 minutes. Flip and cook on the other side. Repeat until all the batter has been used.

Drain the fritters on paper towels. Serve with sour cream and a sprinkle of green onions. Fritters will keep for 3 to 4 days in the fridge and up to 3 months in the freezer.

“Adding carrots to these potato fritters is a great way to sneak in more vegetables. For even more vitamins and minerals, try adding shredded zucchini or yellow squash in place of some of the potato. If you’re concerned about the amount of saturated fat in the sour cream, top these fritters with some parmesan cheese instead.”

—Linda McLachlan, registered dietitian nutritionist, Nutrition Matters, Wyckoff






The Market Basket is an award-winning, full-service caterer, capable of providing complete party planning services for a few or a few thousand. Their knowledgeable staff is experienced in all aspects of event management and ready to put their ideas to work for you. Whether you are planning a Wedding, Rehearsal Dinner, Family Function or Corporate Event, your function will be catered with unique style and professionalism. The culinary selections range from the simple to the sublime. The Market Basket’s extensive menu provides endless ideas for Elegant Dinner Parties, Festive Cocktail Parties, Backyard Barbecues, Theme Parties and Simple Buffets. Experienced catering consultants will be happy to create a custom menu based on your individual needs. All arrangements for your party rentals including custom-sized tents,

dance floors, tables and chairs, china and flatware, glassware, fine silver, and portable cooking equipment, will be arranged for you. Exceptional linens in all fabrics, styles and prints are available to help create the unique atmosphere that you envision.

Not quite sure where to have your event? The Market Basket can provide a list of locations and make recommendations based on your individual party needs.

The safety of clients and staff is the most important. Strict CDC guidelines are followed at all catered events. Your next unforgettable event is just a phone call away 201-891-2000

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FALL IN LOVE WITH THE OUTDOORS. Host your event at New Jersey’s only four-season mountain resort. Nestled in the scenic Vernon Valley in Vernon, New Jersey, the beautiful Red Tail Lodge at Mountain Creek welcomes guests in rustic style with vaulted ceilings, exposed beams and elegant lodge-style decor. Mountain Creek is the perfect location for your big day or next corporate or family banquet event. The Mountain Creek team will provide a seamless day from start to finish, enhancing memories that will last a lifetime.

For those looking to say, “I do” Mountain Creek offers wedding packages from 25 people and up with several indoor and outdoor wedding venue options available, including a beautiful outdoor garden and truly unique,

scenic mountaintop amphitheater. Each ceremony is paired expertly catered reception inside the magnificent Red Mountain Creek’s friendly and professional staff. We know your event day is to you and our wedding and event specialists craft a magical experience that caters to your every need.

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IT IS NO SECRET THAT HAVING A COMPLETE, BEAUTIFUL, AND FUNCTIONAL SMILE makes you look and feel great. If you aren’t confident in your smile, you may not be confident in yourself. There is a solution, however! A smile makeover that combines both functional and cosmetic dental services, to give you the dream smile you hope for. Our smile makeovers are unique to each of our patients. The results can often transform your appearance dramatically, while focusing on your optimal oral health.

If a smile makeover sounds right for you, our office specializes in two-visit smile makeovers. We can give you a striking new smile in as little as 5 days, depending on your needs. These two-visit smile makeovers are minimally invasive and can be performed utilizing some of the latest in dental

technology. You’ll be able to adjust your smile until you are fully satisfied, even before we begin any treatment! This leads to more satisfied patients and predictable results for every one of our smile makeover procedures.

Smile Bright for your Big Day!


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THE MEETING AND EVENT PHASE AT BEAR MOUNTAIN INN IS A SOPHISTICATED AND ELEGANT AFFAIR. The spacious and versatile event spaces are adorned with rustic yet modern décor, featuring stone fireplaces and large windows overlooking the stunning natural surroundings. The tables are elegantly set with fine lines and polished silverware, creating a luxurious ambiance. The attentive staff ensures that every detail is perfectly executed, from customized catering options to audiovisual equipment setup. Guests can enjoy the picturesque views of Bear Mountain State Park, adding a touch of tranquility and any meeting or special event.  Our guest rooms are elegantly furnished with cozy wood accents, plush bedding, and comfortable seating areas. Guests can unwind in bathrooms featuring marble countertops and spa-like amenities. Some rooms offer breathtaking views of the Hudson River or the lush forest,

providing a serene retreat for relaxation. Bear Mountain Inn and Overlooking Lodge offer a perfect balance of nature-inspired tranquility and cozy comfort rooms. Let’s not forget the 1915 Restaurant, this world-renowned dining space is adorned with a one-of-a-kind wood ceiling that is accented with soft lighting and rustic decorations where guests can enjoy a diverse menu featuring seasonal American cuisine while taking in the view of the panoramic views of the surrounding natural beauty providing a memorable dining experience.

99 Service Rd., Tomkins Cove, NY 10986


Corporate, Social Events & Retreats

With over 115,000 square feet of flexible, functional, and sophisticated event and convention space, meeting areas of all sizes, and over 100 years of award-winning hospitality, The Bear Mountain Inn understands the unique needs and attention required to create memorable and successful meeting experiences. What make us special:


CELEBRATIONS SHOWCASE /Special-Events/Venues Weddings: (845) 786-2731 ext. 1
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Berry Refreshing

This sweet and tart cocktail is a perfect sip for your next summer soirée.


Yields: 1 serving


n kosher salt or coarse sea salt, for glass

n 2 lime wedges

n 2 to 3 strawberries, hulled, halved, plus more for serving

n 1 tsp. agave syrup

n 2 oz. mezcal

n 1 oz. Cointreau

n 1/2 oz. fresh lime juice n ice


Place salt on a shallow plate. Rub a lime wedge around the rim of a rocks glass, then dip the rim into salt. In glass, muddle 2 to 3 strawberries with agave. Add Cointreau, mezcal and lime juice. Fill glass with ice and stir to combine. Garnish with a strawberry and lime wedge.


you don't have fresh strawberries, you can easily use frozen berries for the same sweet and tart flavor. Frozen fruit will also make a cocktail extra refreshing on a hot summer day.”

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A leader in early education since 1930, The Elisabeth Morrow School personalizes learning for each child, cultivating their unique spark and innate creativity. Through an engaging project-based curriculum, students connect learning across subjects. Contact us to find out how—through initiatives in science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics (STEAM), including design studios and eighth-grade capstone projects—we prepare children to lead the way with innovative thinking, ready to make a difference in their world.

435 Lydecker St., Englewood, NJ 07631

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A New Favorite Flavor

Wang’s Chinese Cuisine


Bergenites will claim that their favorite pizzeria or bagel shop does it best, and most too will defend the quality of their go-to Chinese takeout joints. I’m guilty of having a bias toward my neighborhood kitchen, which, in my opinion, dishes out killer lo mein and serves to-die-for General Tso’s chicken.

As someone who appreciates food, however, I know there are a lot of great restaurants out there, especially in Bergen County. That’s why I recently put personal preference aside to try one of the newest kids on the block: Wang’s Chinese Cuisine in River Edge.

The restaurant replaces Joyce Chinese, a regular Best In Bergen honoree and eatery that drew crowds from beyond the area towns. So when Wang’s opened in midMarch, fans knew the newcomer would have big shoes to fill.

Wang’s, like Joyce, is a full-service establishment. Takeout is available, but there is a sizable dining room with white-linencovered tables and a friendly, polite staff. As we sat at our table for an early April dinner, I told my dining companion about my youth and all the special times my family ate in Chinese restaurants instead of ordering takeout. I had high hopes that Wang’s would be just as special.

After a quick glance at the menu, I knew Wang’s wasn’t like the corner takeout spot. Yes, there are familiar options such as spring rolls, wonton soup, beef with broccoli and sesame chicken, but there were options other than Americanized versions of Chinese cuisine. Many selections represent Hunan cuisine, known for its spiciness as well as rich colors and aromas. Meats other than lean beef, pork, chicken and fish are available too, including duck and frog as well as organ meats like tripe, chicken gizzard and pork feet.

We kept it tame to start, choosing appetizers we were accustomed to eating instead of, for instance, smoked pork ear or shredded pork intestine (though I’ll probably be back to try those!). From a list of varied dumplings, the steamed pork variety called out



goes beyond the usual comfort classics.

to me and my friend. They’re not as basic as they sound. Larger than dim sum but a tad smaller than Filipino siopao, each palmsized, doughy bun was filled with a piping hot pork meatball that could’ve been a meal in itself. Our second app was cucumber with garlic sauce with a spice level of “hot & spicy.” (You also can choose “extra hot & spicy” and the top level “very hot & spicy.”) Let’s just say that the flavors of this dish were superb, but even at the lowest level of heat, the spice was too much for my friend’s taste buds to handle. Extra water, please!

For our main courses, we opted to try flavors that were new to us in a Chinese restaurant setting. I chose braised lamb ribs with cumin, a wonderful rack coated with spices. Although there was plenty of tender, juicy meat with every bite, I had expected more oomph from the lackluster cumin flavor. It was a slight misfire, I presume, and it made me envious of my friend’s entrée, sizzling hot duck. Several pieces of juicy duck breast arrived on a cast-iron plate, hot and steaming in the same way fajitas arrive at a Mexican restaurant. But instead of the scent of peppers and onions, the aroma of roast duck fills the air and wafts into nostrils. Better yet is the taste, as each piece of tender and not-so-gamey meat seemed to rival the best found in NYC’s Chinatown. Each of our mains came with veggie and white rice accompaniments; however, we also split an order of shrimp fried rice. Though we didn’t need the extra dish to fill our hungry bellies, the additional taste and texture of the perfectly cooked, jumbo shrimp was more than welcomed. At presstime, Wang’s did not offer a complete dessert menu. Instead of sharing sweets like ice cream or custard, we sipped hot tea (I couldn’t resist having an orange soda too), reminisced again about dining in Chinese restaurants and the days of yore—and promised to make regular visits to Wang’s.

—Darius Amos

Photos courtesy of Wang’s Chinese
WANG’S CHINESE CUISINE 478 Kinderkamack Rd., River Edge, 201.261.8858;




1 east franklin turnpike ho-ho-kus, nj 07423 | 201.445.4115 At the Ho-Ho-Kus Inn & Tavern Your Family & Ours For Celebrations All Year
Photography provided by Haviland Studios
CELEBRATIONS Photography provided by Haviland Studios


Be There

From parades to festivals to incredible something for everyone this

MAY 11

Bring your budding birder to the Lorrimer Sanctuary TOTS WORLD

Hosted by New is intended for years, who can wonders of birding hunts and welcome, and at 10:30 a.m. and

Mahwah for BECAUSE YOU...: A TO TONY

Enjoy a carefully selected repertoire that celebrates great pop and Admission to the is free, but registration

Orchestra comes Center on Mother’s “COMPLEXITY & SIMPLICITY” includes selections Brahms and Schubert. conducts the 2 p.m. See information.

MAY 19

Celebrate clean water and healthy environment at EARTHFEST in the Ridgefield Park section of Overpeck County Park. The fun kicks off at 10 a.m. with a Recycled Regatta, where boats made from recycled materials race, and continues with activities, vendors and food trucks throughout the day. See for more information on the free event.

Friends, family and music starts at 4 p.m., for more

Rutherford, the Williams the Arts hosts the RUTHERFORD FESTIVAL from Thursday Saturday. It will feature upfilmmakers around area, as well as lectures celebrations. Awards and select films. For tickets, see

RUN celebrates its Day. There are 1-mile, and all begin and Ridgewood. The day Foundation Wheelchair

Join Bergenfield as it presents its annual MEMORIAL DAY CEREMONY AND PARADE honor veterans, service people and all those who gave their lives in combat. The ceremony takes place rain or shine, and starts at 11:30 a.m. in front of the Bergenfield Municipal Building. For more information, visit

MAY 31

Have a laugh at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood when it hosts comedian TOM PAPA’S GOOD STUFF TOUR With five highly rated stand-up specials on Netflix, as well as successful books, radio shows and podcasts, Papa is a must-watch. Come see the skill of 20 years of stand-up experience. The show starts at 8 p.m. See for tickets and more information.

31–JUNE 2

looking for fast-paced Bergen County in Oradell has covered. YOU


“SHAKE”! is a play about 12 romances come to life at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The show consists of eight short plays and four monologues, all quick and comedic. Multiple showtimes are available. Head over to for ticket information.

times and dates with event organizers. MAY 2024 BERGENMAG.COM


Welcome to this brand new construction luxury townhome community on the ultra-desirable East side of Paramus. A product like this has simply never been delivered in Paramus before. Built by TOP builder in Bergen County - Rock Solid Builders, with a portfolio of past projects that speak for themselves. These stunning townhomes will feature the ultimate quality finishes and luxury features. Each unit offers 3,000+ sq. ft. of living space and a 2 car garage, with an extremely spacious and functional layout. Enjoy 3 levels of living, with a huge rec room on the ground floor.

FROM AN EARLY AGE, MERNA TESTINO BECAME ENAMORED BY REAL ESTATE. Now, a licensed realtor, investor and landlord, Merna has insightful knowledge and first-hand experience about the industry. Her business acumen as a prior restaurant owner enabled Merna to recognize that real estate can be much more than a treasured home. Oftentimes, when working with clients to find a home, Merna will educate them about the long-term benefits and excellent returns that come from investing in various properties. A consistent #1 Top Producer and a 2023 NJ Realtors® Circle of Excellence Platinum Level recipient, Merna’s long history of client referrals speaks to her success in building trust, confidence and lasting relationships.

Merna Testino, Realtor 25 Washington St., Tenafly, NJ 07670 | C: 201.233.8413 | O: 201.894.8004 | Keller Williams Town Life TOP REAL ESTATE AGENTS BERGEN COUNTY’S 2024 MernaT_1-2H_0524.indd 1 4/15/24 9:35 AM
To discover more,
Broker Associate C: 201.360.1292
201.975.4141 TaylorL_1-2H_0524_v1.indd 1 4/12/24 2:00 PM
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Bergenites always show up to support their friends and neighbors.


The Community Chest, an Englewood-based nonprofit, hosted its Girls’ Night Out fundraiser at Donatella Ristorante in Harrington Park. The event, which included hors d’oeuvres, cocktails, a fashion show and more, raised money for grants that support nonprofits in eastern Bergen County.


The Bergen County Office of Food Insecurity hosted its “canstruction” event at American Dream. Participants assembled cans of food in a variety of shapes. The team from Ramapo College won the contest, and half of the 9,000 cans used were donated to the Center for Food Action.


The Department of Health received commendation from the county. Top row, from left: Tracy Zur, Steven Tanelli, Tom Sullivan, Jim Tedesco, Tom Longo. Bottom: Touray Holland, Patrick Tuohey, Riley Hall, Mary Amoroso, Joan Voss, Linda Morehouse, Laura Jean Checki, Morgan Seidler, Winifred Asa-Awuku, Connor Laubsch


CareOne at Ridgewood Avenue in Paramus hosted an appreciation event for its employees. The staff features longtime professionals who have given between five and 40 years of commitment to CareOne.


Ma Chona Castillo, BSN, RN, was recently honored as one of Englewood Health’s DAISY Award winners. Castillo began her career in the NICU in 2011. Since then, she has demonstrated incredible compassion, independence and self-motivation. She is pictured in the middle with her co-workers.


Trinity Presbyterian Church in Ridgewood donated $1,500 to Center For Food Action. Their support will make a significant impact in the community and help CFA’s mission of feeding those who are less fortunate in the area.

BERGENMAG.COM MAY 2024 86 1 2 7 6 5 4 3
Hillary Viders (1), Center For Food Action (2–3, 7), Bergen County Executive’s Office (4), CareOne (5), Englewood Health (6)
Lightyear Studio


“On my way back from the Roy W. Brown Middle School, I passed by Cooper’s Pond. Nature was just calling to me. This is my favorite type of weather—foggy days make me happy. They are so peaceful and serene. It keeps me from suffering from any seasonal blues, because gray days are just as beautiful as sunny days.”

—Jurema Tsaousis, Bergenfield

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Photo courtesy of Jurema Tsaousis.
BERGEN Magazine Volume 23, Issue 5 (ISSN# 2573-8151 and USPS 025-351) is published 12 times a year by Wainscot Media, One Maynard Dr., Park Ridge, NJ 07656. Postmaster: Send address changes to Subscription Department, Wainscot Media, One Maynard Dr., Park Ridge, NJ 07656. Periodicals postage paid at Park Ridge, N.J., and additional mailing offices.
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