Sunday, December 19, 2021

Save Roaring Rock Park

Roaring Rock Park Washington Township Warren County New Jersey NJ Autumn 2021
Roaring Rock Park - Autumn 2021

I spent most of my volunteer time in 2021 with an environmental conservation initiative called "Save Roaring Rock Park" (SRRP).   In January, an acquaintance I met with the local Democratic party asked me if I would be interested in joining a group, which was forming, to push back on municipal led commercial logging in the 400 acre public park.   At that moment in time, I was looking to accomplish something different, given my role with with the local Democrats for the past few years was getting fairly routine.

I quickly realized that the people who were joining SRRP had significant subject knowledge expertise with New Jersey environmental law, and conservation efforts.   I was delighted that one of the team members, John Trontis, was a former assistant director of New Jersey Parks and Recreation for the state's Department of Environmental Resources!  I quickly realized this group had serious credibility and talent.  Of course I had to join in.. 

So for the next few months, I contributed by creating the website, social media feeds, publishing the newsletter, and taking the lead on social media promotions.   I also organized several volunteer efforts in Washington Borough, namely setting up the New Jersey Highlands Coalition (our fiscal sponsor) tent during several Washington Business Improvement District led events.   Borrowing from my local Democrat experiences, I also canvassed Washington Township to raise awareness among the residents on what their elected officials were undertaking within the Park.   To my surprise, many were not even aware of the presence of Roaring Rock Park, let alone of the issue itself.

The local Democratic committee became concerned around May 2021, sensing I was spending, in their opinion, "too much time" with SRRP and it was impacting my availability to perform the municipal chairman role which I held.  The situation culminated in a July meeting with members of the Warren County Democratic Committee who raised their concerns directly with me.  Listening to them, and considering how much satisfaction I was deriving from working with SRRP, I chose to resign the Washington Borough Democratic Municipal Chair and focus my time on the SRRP effort.   

Looking back on that decision now, it was one of the best decisions I made.

In October 2021, my volunteer efforts were recognized by NJHC, who awarded me as part of a team, the Wilma Frey Volunteer Award.  I was surprised, and delighted to receive an award.   The simple act of thanking someone for their efforts has such a morale boost.

I quickly felt guilty too, since I knew many people who contributed so much and whose names were not on the award.I made an effort to thank them, publicly and privately.

Our team was surprised by Washington Township Committee's decision to TERMINATE the logging activity by a unanimous vote on November 16th, 2021. We were surprised by the decision, and delighted too.

Going forward, I am going to continue to contribute to the betterment of parkland around Warren County. I enjoy doing this, and I do like working with the team!

Team SRRP | National Night Out, Washington Township NJ | August 2021

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Rio Christ the Redeemer statue as front line doctor

Found this video clip from an April 13 2020 BBC news piece where artists in Rio de Janiero Brazil projected images of front line COVID-19 medical workers onto the city's Christ the Redeemer statue.  Click on the video, their effort is well done.

Reminded me of my trip to Brazil (San Paulo then Rio) in 2015, where I had the fortune to trek up the mountain to the monument.

chris vitalos in rio brazil 2015
From my trip to Rio in 2015
Christ the Redeemer statue Rio de Janeiro Brazil
 Christ the Redeemer monument, Rio de Janeiro Brazil

There is a bit of a rivalry for giant Jesus statues in Brazil, apparently.   I noticed this related article on the BBC website, about the southern Brazilian city of Encantado building a larger, similar monument.

Christ the Protector in the southern city of Encantado

Saturday, September 26, 2020

How a dead oven evolved to a kitchen remodel

Here is a story of how my wife Melissa and I allowed a simple appliance replacement lead the way to a kitchen remodel, one that we have talked about for years but always talked ourselves out of actually doing it.   

August 7th 2020

So after 14 years, our trusty Kenmore oven recently decided to give up the ghost.  We moved into our New Jersey home in January 2006 and bought this oven immediately upon move in.  The kitchen appliances left behind by the seller were builder grade and were in sore need of an upgrade.

Shortly after we moved in, Lillian arrived in the world March 5th 2006.

Fast forward to 2020, and the oven situation, it is notable how the current COVID pandemic in the USA has impacted the supply chains.  It is difficult to buy appliances!  After much discussion and searching during late July 2020, Melissa and I settled on this General Electric gas stove and convection oven.

Since I am associating my youngest daughter's growth to our kitchen appliance purchases, for no particular reason, here is the most recent photo of Lillian I have on hand

After we bought the stove, Melissa and I had a discussion about our kitchen overall.  It has not been upgraded since the home was built in 2003.  The kitchen was deteriorating.  For example, the kitchen countertop backsplash by the sink started to separate from the wall around the sink area.  I got motivated one weekend, used an air gun nailer to reattach it in 2019.

I knew this was only a temporary fix.  But now in 2020 given we spent the money to buy a stove my wife and I decided to go big and REMODEL THE KITCHEN!

We have talked about taking this large step before but there was not one single push or driver to get it done, until now.   We are excited to transform this old, tired kitchen with builder grade materials into something more clean and modern.

September 3rd, 2020

The countertops were installed today.   Beautiful quartz material, with an ogee finished edge.

But, this phase was NOT without drama.   

September 7th 2020

On Labor Day, I looked at the left side of the countertop, on the long wall with the sink.  With my eye, I compared the level of the countertop versus the mark on the drywall, left after the old Formica backsplash was removed.  I noticed that the both were not parallel with one another.   I used a 16 inch level to measure the level of the countertop.   A few measurements revealed the countertop being off level.   I left a message for the Home Depot project manager, asking him to have the cabinet laminate installer check this measurement before he begins.   

September 8th 2020

The cabinet guy Michael, an older guy with a thick Polish accent, measured the countertop with a long board and level after I brought the issue to his attention.  Michael agreed with me, the countertop was not installed well !

What the countertop installers achieved was an level countertop that, with a long board and level, showed a pronounced bow, or dip, starting on the left side at the dishwasher progressing through the sink and rising again on the right side by the "L" corner by the stove.  The countertop installers did level the countertop end to end, but they did not shim the middle !

I reported this to Home Depot, who called Michael and asked him to take a video on his phone.  Home Depot called the countertop subcontractor, who then called me.   The will come to correct the problem on September 9th late in the afternoon.

Michael started his cabinet resurfacing work on this day, by preparing the work area and installing a few laminates on the cabinet surfaces.

September 9th 2020

Michael continued work this morning, laying down most of the laminates but stopped on the left side by the dishwasher knowing that the countertop level needs to be corrected on that side.   The countertop crew did come out late that afternoon, and first removed all shims installed on September 3rd by the first crew.   They proceeded to install smaller shims around the sink.   After they did this, the level of the overall sink was achieved and checked with a long level and board.

September 10th 2020

Michael finished up his laminate work and installed the cabinet pull hardware.   He did an outstanding and very professional job.   He was very detailed and precise in his work too.  The cabinets look fabulous.  

September 17th 2020

This is the date when the tile backsplash will be installed, the final phase of the overall project.   Stay tuned for the photos !

September 20th 2020

The backsplash was installed this past Thursday the 17th.   However..   our old General Electric microwave developed a funny habit of turning on the magneto fan when the front door was "OPENED" and then turned it off when the door was "CLOSED".   My wife, understandably, was concerned..   So we decided to dismount it and start shopping for another.  

Here is a picture of the backsplash, and the missing microwave.  It is a good photo to capture all the colors in the palette we selected for this kitchen remodel project.


September 26th 2020

We are entering in the home stretch!   Melissa, Amelia and Lillian hit Marshall's yesterday and bought a bunch of decorations to place on the top of the cabinets.   The last outstanding piece is the window treatment above the sink.   The window topper Lillian chose from Amazon did not meet the discerning eye of my wife, so they are out on the hunt for another.

Stay tuned for the final pictures!

Saturday, August 1, 2020

My environmentally friendly birthday gift

For my birthday this year, I wished for a French Press coffee maker.  I settled on this model, specifically because one full glass carafe will fill my oversized coffee mugs that I use religiously now while I work from home, full time, until the end of this year.

But more important, I think, is the motivation on WHY I wanted a french press.  It is, after all, more inconvenient to use to make your morning coffee than the device shown behind it, isn't it?   Why go through that inconvenience?

Here is why, in my view.

It is mainly a realization of the environmental impacts of disposable plastics on our environment.   The realization of all those small plastic coffee pods being thrown away in the trash.   I realized that I go through perhaps two a day.   Then I realized how many more people, like me, are doing the same, across the Earth.

Then I look at images, and read articles, such as these.

Sea birds among plastic trash

According to this National Geographic article, published in 2015, nearly every sea bird on Earth consumes plastic waste.

So I wanted to do my part.  I wanted to incrementally decrease the contribution I make to the overall problem.  I wanted to decrease my dirty footprint, and negative impact, on this planet.

And I invite you to consider the same approach.

.. And, have you ever had coffee brewed in a French Press?  Friggin awesome!  The strength, the flavor.  Try it black, no sugar, and savor the taste of the coffee.   Truly a joy, one of life's small pleasures.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The power of knowing your value


I have to admit, when I saw this photo of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez on my Tumblr feed, I took notice.  I have seen many photos of AOC in the past, but this particular one was different, to me.   

There is a saying "A picture is worth one thousand words."   This photo is a solid example.   What I see when I look at this photo, I see a person who is extremely self confident.  I see that confidence in her facial expression.  I see it in her stride.    As she walked past that group of young men to her left I get the sense she knows who she is, what she brings to the table and what influence she wields.   This is the essence of self awareness, knowing who you are and what you are capable of.

To say she is an politician gives AOC the short shrift.   She is not just a politician.  She is an extremely confident leader who has tremendous influence on so many people, and she knows it.   She has authenticity - she is a woman of color, from humble background (she was a bartender), went to college, networked, and rose to be the youngest elected person to the U.S. Congress.   And now, she is extending that influence across the country.   She is a clever communicator, who uses the tools relevant to the times she lives in.

I would argue these qualities make her so attractive, to so many, and feared by her opponents.

I admire AOC, and wish my daughters and all young women look up to her as a role model of what you can become.