Mar 25 2014

Mall Hopping – Paramus Park

Baby Boy prefers carrying, rolling, and throwing the giant chess pieces at Paramus Park mall. © Photo by Francesca Di Meglio

Baby Boy prefers carrying, rolling, and throwing the giant chess pieces at Paramus Park mall in Paramus, N.J. © Photo by Francesca Di Meglio

We the people of New Jersey are a special breed of mall rat. We are particular and each of our malls has a distinct function and role in the community. Until recently, for example, the Bergen Mall (now the much more elegant Bergen Towne Center) was the dirt mall. You went there for nostalgia and to snag a deal at the GAP Outlet. Now you go there for Bobby Flay burgers and to snag a deal at the GAP Outlet with much more enthusiasm and a lot less embarrassment. Garden State Plaza is the most popular kid at the table in high school, but the richest one lives at Riverside Square in Hackensack. Still, we find ourselves – especially moms and our babysitters, who are looking for ways to help our children pass the time when winter keeps coming back for more – spending time in each. They all have their own unique perks for kids.

Recently, a gas leak outside our home sent us packing to Paramus Park. This is the hidden gem among malls in our area. It has great shops and cool happenings, but lives in the shadow of GSP. On a Friday afternoon, it’s perfect for kids because it’s not too crowded and it offers a little bit of free fun, too. We ate at the food court, which features kid-friendly fare, such as pizza at Sbarro’s. There’s some history in the court with that giant turkey statue that was a 1970s gift to the town of Paramus and had my son shouting, “Bird!” incessantly, which is music to my ears because he doesn’t talk much. And, to boot, there are kids-height tables for eating and relaxing. Now, we traveled with one adult for each of the three children and still the eating portion of the day was anything but relaxing. I was fearing my nephew or son was going to jump off the bench at our table and fall to the lower floor, while my niece was lamenting having to eat more than just the mozzarella on her pizza. But we charged forward.

A play area was calling the kids’ names, but we quickly ran from it as we shielded their eyes with our hands in the hopes they wouldn’t see it. They did but we promised to return. We lied. Instead, the kids jumped out of their strollers and were quick to put back on their socks and shoes to hurl giant, plastic chess and checkers pieces at each other and nearby mall patrons. My sister saw the photos I texted her and replied, “Fun!” I wrote back, “Fun for us but not so much for the others at the mall.” In any event, it was a good way for them to blow off some steam. The only thing that would have made the afternoon perfect was if the charming old-fashioned carousel that once lived at Paramus Park and that I rode as a child was still there. Sigh.

Di Meglio is the author of Fun with the Family New Jersey (Globe Pequot Press Travel, 2012) and the Newlyweds Expert for


Dec 24 2012

What I’ve Learned: How to Make a Felt Christmas Tree


A felt tree is safe for kids of all ages. © Photo by Francesca Di Meglio

When my one-year-old son tried to pull the heavy, metal stocking hangers on his head, I knew I was going to have to re-think Christmas this year. So, instead of an actual tree, I made him a felt one. He can move the decorations from one part of the felt Christmas tree to the other and no one gets hurt. It was simple as pie to make, too. All you have to do is purchase felt – one large green piece for the tree itself and other small pieces in various colors to create decorations. I bought black (but I would have preferred brown) to make the stump at the bottom. I cut a simple, large triangle from the large green fabric. Then, I cut circles hearts, one candy cane, and one candy shape out of the other pieces of felt. I put a piece of self-adhesive velcro on the back of each, but felt sticks to felt, so that was not really necessary. Now, my son and his little cousins have a ball moving all the decorations, including the star at the top of the tree and the stump at the bottom.

Di Meglio is the Guide to Newlyweds for, and the author of Fun with the Family New Jersey (Globe Pequot Press Travel, 2012).

Jan 19 2011

Wii Are the Champions

Grandma poses with her Wii avatar as we welcomed 2011. © Photo by Francesca Di Meglio

Grandma poses with her Wii avatar as we welcomed 2011. © Photo by Francesca Di Meglio

I kicked off the new year a few weeks ago with my parents and grandparents, and to celebrate we played bowling, ping pong, and sword dueling on the Wii. (To join the rockin’ party, visit the “New Year’s Eve 2011” photo album.) We have to turn my rug around to make an alley for my father to get a running start. He has to bowl as though he actually has the ball in his hands, as opposed to the Wii remote, and he took a major spill on my hard wood floors the first time he played on Christmas. The traction from the rug helps, but he jumps so hard at the end of each run that the house shakes. Still, he usually wins. But on New Year’s Eve, Grandma was the big winner of the night. She was pretty great at bowling strikes and popping the ping pong ball to win points. I, however, earned the title of sword dueling champion. I credit all my pent-up anger for those wins. I just pretend the avatar I’m facing is one of the many enemies I collected like bottle tops in 2010. (Shut up, you all know who you are!) All those enemies sunk into the virtual ocean, baby, and it felt oh so good. Although we were all sore the next day, we had so much fun that I’ve been continuing to Wii with my husband Antonio. I can be a sore loser, however, so I sometimes get a time out. Still, a good time is generally had by all, and my time is better when I win.