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Tips for finding the best general contractor for your New Jersey renovation


So you want to remodel, but you’re not sure where to begin? Below, a step-by-step guide from Sweeten, the free renovation matchmaking platform, to get started on your renovation and find the best general contractor for the project.

Set your renovation goals

Though it sounds simple, the best way to get started on any renovation is to list what you’re trying to accomplish. By listing your goals and drafting your scope at the very beginning of the process, you’re setting yourself up for success in the long run.

This can be as simple as jotting down what’s motivating your renovation and the problems you’re trying to solve. For example, you may be hoping to rip out your ‘80s-style kitchen and replace everything with farmhouse-inspired finishes. Or perhaps you want to create an open floor plan. By setting out with a specific idea of what will make the renovation a success, you’ll be on the right track to determine your scope of work.

Get a sense of how much your renovation may cost

One of the keys to a happy renovation is going into the project with a realistic sense of how much it’s going to cost. While every renovation is unique and budgets can vary widely, there are general guidelines you can use. According to Sweeten, a free platform that matches homeowners with vetted general contractors and stays involved until project completion, the average starting point for a full home renovation in New Jersey is $100 per square foot. If you’re renovating your bathroom or kitchen, or if you’re planning on high-end custom finishes, your costs will go up from there.. It’s also worth mentioning that location plays a factor in how much things will cost. If you’re remodeling in Hunterdon County, you’ll likely be getting quotes that differ from what you’d be getting in Hudson County. Sweeten’s New Jersey home renovation cost guide is a helpful place to start mapping out where your renovation budget may land.

Meet with general contractors and get estimates


Now that you have a solid idea of what your remodel will entail and a general understanding of what your budget should look like, you’re ready to initiate conversations with general contractors. The trick here is finding the right one for your renovation. It’s recommended that you get at least 3 different estimates from contractors who are licensed, insured, have verified reviews, and are skilled at the type of construction work you’re planning. If you’re planning on putting an addition on your house in Middlesex County, you’ll need to meet with a specific type general contractors and/or architects who do that work best in your area, whereas if you want to update your basement in Bergen or Essex County, you’ll need to get quotes from contractors with that specific expertise.

How exactly do you go about finding a contractor that fits all of your specifications? That’s where Sweeten comes in. When you post your basic project details on Sweeten’s website, you’ll get matched with vetted, licensed general contractors selected specifically for your remodel’s scope, budget, location and style. Once you’re matched, you’ll be able to see their past work, read their reviews, and meet with the ones you like best to get estimates for your renovation. Once you have multiple estimates in-hand, the team at Sweeten will help you bid-level, breaking down and comparing the bids side-by-side.

Plus, when you hire one of the general contractors you’ve been matched with, the team at Sweeten will check in throughout the renovation to make sure everything is going smoothly and according to plan. To find out more, head to Sweeten for real-life renovation stories, cost and process guides and to find general contractors for your project.

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Princeton Art Exhibit Showcases Mexican Migration to the U.S.


Retablo of Concepción Zapata, 1948. Oil on metal. Arias-Durand Collection.
Photo courtesy of Princeton University Art Museum.



Small religious paintings can evoke immense emotions, especially when they capture a subject as complex as Mexican migration to the United States.

Considering their timeliness, it’s perhaps surprising that the 50 oil-on-metal paintings on display through July 7 at the Princeton University Art Museum were created between 1917 and the late 1990s. The “Miracles on the Border: Retablos of Mexican Migrants to the United States” exhibition showcases an extensive range of tragedy, spirituality, and the human experience through vibrant and commemorative artwork known as retablos.

“These paintings tell stories of dangerous, risky, or somehow threatening circumstances that the subjects or the supplicants have been miraculously redeemed from,” says Juliana Ochs Dweck, the museum’s Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Academic Engagement and the curator of the exhibition. “Many include Christ, the Virgin Mary, or a Catholic saint.”

Through colorful landscapes and religious nuances, “Miracles on the Border” addresses faith, imprisonment, the difficulty in finding work, illness, military service, and the joy and relief of returning home. When the curation of the exhibition was still in its earliest stages, it was clear that there were only three or four pairs of anonymous hands that produced the same retablos and left their characteristic marks.

The term retablo, from the Latin retro tabulum (behind the altar table), originally referred to painted depictions of saints or the Virgin that hung behind altars in Catholic churches in Europe and later in the Americas. Retablos flourished in Mexico in the 19th century. They came to denote the small paintings on tin placed as votive offerings in home altars, shrines, pilgrimage sites or churches in gratitude for divine protection.

“For sociologists, retablos are sociological documents that give insight into a side of migration that’s not usually told in statistical reports,” says Dweck. “They give insight into the social conditions, the lived experience, and the emotion of transnational migration.”

What’s unique about this exhibition, Dweck notes, is that the artwork holds different meanings for different Mexican migrants and their families. All material is presented in both English and Spanish. Each votive states a name of an individual, the significant date, and an inscription of what is depicted. People of all cultural backgrounds, natural-born citizens and immigrants, can relate to the retablos in a personal way.

Douglas S. Massey, Henry G. Bryant professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University, and Jorge Durand, professor of anthropology at the University of Guadalajara, have been collecting these historical pieces of folk art since 1988 and, in turn have become co-directors of the research group, Mexican Migration Project.

The idea to display the retablos at the Princeton Museum came about a year and a half ago when the museum was helping to coordinate a collaborative project on the theme of migration. Princeton professor of comparative literature Sandra Bermann, who also directs Princeton’s Migration Lab, suggested the exhibit to museum director James Steward.

“As personal testimonies of faith, hope and family separation, these delicately wrought images serve as powerful reminders about human strength and resilience in the face of acute challenges and hardship,” says Steward in a press release.

“Miracles on the Border” is a new collective concept, but the retablos themselves have been traveling around the world since the 1990s, Dweck notes. The political relevance of the exhibit is coincidental.

“The current political climate wasn’t necessarily the impetus,” Dweck says. “But at this particular moment of humanitarian crisis… it’s hard not to reflect on the current travails of Mexican migration.”

In the wake of the Mexican Revolution in the early 1910s, prominent Mexican painter and muralist Diego Rivera called retablos the “one true and present pictorial expression of the Mexican people” and promoted them as public manifestations of popular creativity. “Miracles on the Border” seeks to induce that same spirit.

More information about the exhibit:

Two public programs with Durand and Massey accompany the free-admission exhibition in partnership with the PIIRS Sawyer Seminar: Thursday, April 4, 5:30 p.m., McCosh Hall at Princeton University; and Saturday, April 6, 4 pm, at the Princeton Public Library. The Saturday event features a lecture in Spanish and English.

On Saturday, May 4, from 10:30 am – 4 pm, the museum will offer its spring family day with games, art-making and performances focused on the retablos theme of gratitude.

The museum’s bilingual exhibition and its accompanying programs are part of the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, Mellon-funded Sawyer Seminar titled “Global Migration: The Humanities and Social Sciences in Dialogue.”

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Is Mediation Right for You?

Is Divorce Mediation in New Jersey the Right Choice for You?

From parents to professionals, mediation has helped countless couples in New Jersey to resolve their divorce and family law matters in a peaceful, time-efficient, and cost-effective manner. Regardless of your background or current circumstances, mediation can serve as an invaluable tool for dispute resolution if you are committed to fairness, communication, and compromise. However, there are certain cases in which mediation can be exceptionally valuable, particularly when the couple has a shared interest or investment that will likely require future interaction or at the very least, careful division. Prime examples of these instances include parenthood and shared business ownership. In these cases, the ability of the parties to develop a workable solution is essential to each of their futures. There are many other shared priorities which may lend themselves to the mediation process, some of which are outlined below.

When considering mediation as an alternative to traditional litigation for your divorce, asking yourself the following may provide you with invaluable insight:

  • Do my spouse and I have a shared goal for the divorce process? For example, do we both want to save money that may otherwise be spent on hefty lawyers’ fees? Does our high net worth mean that financial issues require a careful hand, significant negotiation, and our ability to remain in control of the outcome? Do we both prioritize our privacy above all else? Do we both want to protect our children from a potentially adversarial divorce dispute? When you share a priority, you are both more likely to engage, invest, and commit to a successful mediation.
  • Do we have children whom we want to co-parent in the future? You and your spouse may no longer be romantically linked, but your lives will forever be intertwined to some extent if you share children. Weddings, graduations, and many life events may require you to interact in the future. Day-to-day, you will likely face many decisions about the best way to raise your children. If you and your spouse want to move forward as co-parents in a positive way, mediation can serve as an ideal jumping-off point. The mediation process allows you to establish new forms of communication, laying a foundation from which to move forward as a parenting unit.
  • Are both my spouse and I committed to putting in the work? You may not see mediation as a possibility at the outset, but if both you and your spouse are committed to putting in the work, your mediator can facilitate open communication and keep you focused on achieving a fair resolution that serves both parties and accounts for each of your needs. Understanding that the process may be difficult at times, but that neither of you needs to “lose” is critical. In fact, compromising through mediation can allow both parties to feel like they “won” in the end.

Vineland Toddler Named Ambassador For Down Syndrome Nonprofit


Photo courtesy of Paula Ferrari

Paula and Augustus Ferrari are working to combat negative stigma around Down syndrome—one pie in the face at a time.

Last month, Augustus, 2, became a global ambassador for Nothing Down, a nonprofit that aims to spread awareness of Down syndrome through events as well as video and social media campaigns. Having joined the ranks of 33 global ambassadors, the Vineland toddler is responsible for growing and accomplishing developmental milestones while his family shares his progress on social media.

“He’s doing the work and I’m sharing it,” says Paula, Augustus’s mother. Ambassadors also share and take part in events and social media initiatives for the organization. Enter the Nothing Down Pie Challenge, one of Augustus’s first projects. The challenge, now in its third year, is somewhat similar to the “Ice Bucket Challenge” for the ALS Association that circulated widely on social media in 2014. Participants have the option of smashing a pie in their faces or donating to Nothing Down within 48 hours. Afterward, they must nominate three more people to participate. Videos of the challenge have garnered more than 30,000 views across YouTube, Instagram and Facebook combined. Augustus even took a pie to the face himself.

“It’s a fun way to get people talking about the real reason behind the challenge, while raising money for Down syndrome awareness,” says Shannon Daughtry, co-founder of the Linwood-based organization. Ultimately, the goal is to show “there’s nothing down about Down syndrome.”

Paula wants others to know that having a child with Down syndrome can be a blessing. “It’s been amazing,” she says. “I never would have thought in a million years that having a child with a disability would be such a gift to me and my family.”

She describes the experience of watching Augustus and the other ambassadors grow as “humbling” because they work hard at improving skills that many take for granted, like walking and talking.

Paula hopes Augustus will continue his journey into the realm of self-advocacy as he gets older.

“All the things I was afraid of, I shouldn’t have been,” Paula says. “That’s why we do what we do, to show people there is nothing to be afraid of and it’s really the biggest blessing we could have received.”

To get involved with Nothing Down, follow the organization on Facebook, or visit its website for more information on upcoming events.

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Five Named as Inaugural Inductees to NJ Journalism Hall of Fame


Courtesy of Pxhere



Five marquee names from New Jersey media history will be the first to grace the state’s new Journalism Hall of Fame, to be housed at William Paterson University in Wayne. The initial class—chosen by past and current leaders of the state chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ)—includes journalists Jonathan Alter, John McPhee and Anna Quindlen, as well as the late Gabe Pressman and Edith Schapiro.

The Montclair-based Alter is an author, former Newsweek columnist and co-director of the recent HBO documentary, “Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists.” Princeton resident McPhee is an author, Princeton University journalism professor and writer for the New Yorker. Quindlen, a native of South Brunswick, is also an author and a former Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Times. Alter and McPhee both have written articles for New Jersey Monthly.

Pressman, a longtime WNBC-TV reporter, launched his career at the Newark Evening News. Schapiro, who worked on the first CBS Evening News broadcasts, was the first female editor of the Newark Evening News, and served as president of the New Jersey Press Women organization.

William Paterson’s SPJ chapter will host the public induction, 6:30 pm on April 18 in Hobart Hall, which houses the school’s communication department. A plaque with the names of the inaugural inductees will be displayed year-round at Hobart Hall.

The inductees were nominated by a panel of former New Jersey SPJ presidents and approved by the NJSPJ board.

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Jersey Journalism Suffers Another Blow


Photo courtesy of Pixabay



Governor Phil Murphy’s 2020 New Jersey budget proposal fails to fund a new bill that would expand state support of local journalism, much to the dismay of proponents of the bill, which Murphy signed into law in July 2018.

Leaders of Free Press Action Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to making media and news more accessible, expressed disappointment in the lack of funding for the Civic Information Consortium, a nonprofit created by last year’s Civic Information Bill.

The consortium is conceived as a partnership among five New Jersey institutions: The College of New Jersey, Montclair State University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Rutgers University and Rowan University. With their combined resources, along with ideas from grant applicants, the goal is to support more local journalism around the state. Layoffs and industry consolidation have significantly reduced the number of local reporters working in New Jersey.

Prior to the signing of the bill, Murphy pledged $5 million for the creation of the consortium. However, upon signing it, the governor said funds were not yet available. Supporters’ hopes were further dashed when the governor made no mention of the consortium in his 2020 budget proposal earlier this month.

Mike Rispoli, director of Free Press Action Fund’s News Voices initiative, says the project is essential to providing news access to underserved and low-income communities. To make it a reality, he says, supporters must be heard.

“The only way this is going to happen is if people contact their lawmakers,” says Rispoli.

The bill’s sponsors, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, are in talks with other legislative leaders and the governor to add funding for the consortium to the 2020 budget. Shane Mitchell, legislative director for Weinberg, says the senator hopes to secure funding for the project by July 1, the deadline for budget approval.

“The senator [Weinberg] believes strongly in the Civic Information Consortium and hopes to get it adequately funded,” Mitchell says. “We are going to fight for it again.”

The governor’s office did not provide a comment by deadline.

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Ask the Professionals: Will Tax Reform Affect Your NJ Alimony?

Many New Jerseyans are already familiar with the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed into law by the Trump administration. Among the major changes which were made include alterations to individual income tax, estate tax, small business tax, corporate tax, and much more. What is less known and discussed is that the recent reforms also have a major impact on alimony payments and how they are taxed. Today, the divorce and family law attorneys of Townsend, Tomaio & Newmark will discuss this new law and how it may impact divorcing couples in New Jersey.

Alimony and Tax Attorneys Discuss the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was signed to into law by President Trump on December 22, 2017. The controversial change was aimed at putting money back into the pockets of Americans by lowering tax rates and allowing for more standard deductions. However itemized deductions and personal exemptions were either reduced or eliminated in many cases. When it comes to alimony, the issue received little to no public attention despite hundreds of thousands of Americans (some estimates place the number around half a million) currently paying alimony.

Before the recent tax reform, alimony was viewed as taxable income for the recipient and as a deductible item for the payor. The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs act has changed this long standing rule so that now alimony payments between former spouses are no longer taxable. In other words, the recipient of alimony will no longer be responsible for paying taxes on alimony payments, and alimony payors will no longer be able to write off alimony contributions as deductions on their federal taxes.

Impact on Current and Future Alimony Agreements

Before going any further, it is important to understand which groups of alimony recipients and payors this tax reform will impact. Although the act was signed into law in late 2017, it will not have any impact of divorce agreements or civil union dissolutions signed before January 1st, 2019. Simply put, if you entered into an agreement in 2018 or have an existing alimony agreement, your alimony payments will still be considered taxable. If your agreement is signed in 2019 or later, they will not be considered taxable.

At the surface, it may seem like a no-brainer that the new tax system favors alimony recipients. The previous tax code allowed write-offs to lessen the tax burden of the alimony payor as they were a. contributing to the other party and b. in a higher tax bracket to begin with. However, such an assumption does not tell the whole story.

Alimony is not like child support, which follows standardized calculations when determining reasonable and appropriate payments. Beginning in 2019, judges and mediators will need to take into account the impact of these tax changes when considering the terms of your alimony agreement. In other words, recipients may no longer be taxed on their alimony payments, but they also may be entitled to less alimony due to a greater burden on the payor. With exceedingly complex financial situations already the norm in NJ divorces, this is yet another reason to secure the services of a qualified and experience divorce attorney.

Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day 2019 at Parades Around New Jersey


We found 28 St. Patrick's Day parades happening in counties around New Jersey this year. Celebrate Irish culture with any of these local festivities.

Photo courtesy of The Sussex County St. Patrick’s Day Committee





Looking for ways to celebrate the luck of the Irish? Here are 28 St. Patrick’s Day festivities happening throughout the state in March.

Bergen County

Bergen County St. Patrick’s Day Parade
March 10; 2 pm.
Route: Along Washington Avenue in Bergenfield.

Essex County

Nutley St. Patrick’s Day Parade
March 2; 1 pm.
Route: Along Franklin Avenue in Nutley.

West Orange St. Patrick’s Day Parade
March 10; 12:15 pm.
Route: The parade begins at the intersection of Main Street & Mt. Pleasant Avenue, in front of West Orange Town Hall.

Newark St. Patrick’s Day Parade
March 15; 1 pm.
Route: The parade begins at the Prudential Center on Mulberry Street.

Hudson County

Jersey City St. Patrick’s Day Parade
March 10; 12:30 pm.
Route: The parade starts at Kennedy Boulevard and Lincoln Park, in front of the Lincoln statue.

Bayonne St. Patrick’s Day Parade
March 17; 1 pm.
Route: The parade begins on 5th Broadway & 5th Street.

Morris County

Morris County St. Patrick’s Day Parade
March 9; Noon.
Route: Along South Street and Washington Street in Morristown.

Passiac County

Ringwood St. Patrick’s Day Parade
March 23, 1 pm.
Route: Along Skyline Drive.

Sussex County 

Sussex County St. Patrick’s Day Parade
March 16; 11:30 am.
Route: Along Spring Street in Newton.

Union County

Union County St. Patrick’s Day Parade
March 16; 1 pm.
Route: The parade begins on Morris Avenue in Union Township.

Warren County

Hackettstown St. Patrick’s Day Parade 
March 10; 3:30 pm.
Route: The parade begins at 120 Grand Avenue in Hackettstown.

Hunterdon County

6th Annual Friendly Sons of St. Patrick Parade in Clinton 
March 10; 3 pm.
Route: The parade begins at the Community Center, 63 Halstead Street.

Mercer County

The Original St. Patrick’s Day Parade at Hamilton
March 9; 1 pm.
Route: The parade starts at the Nottingham Fire House, 200 Mercer Street.

10th Annual Robbinsville Saint Patrick’s Day Parade
March 16; 12:00 pm.
Route: The parade starts at Foxmoor Shopping Center.

Middlesex County

Woodbridge St. Patrick’s Day Parade
March 10; 1:30 pm.
Route: The parade starts at Woodbridge High School.

South Amboy St. Patrick’s Day Parade
March 16; 2 pm.
Route: The parade starts on S. Pine Street & Portia Street.

Monmouth County

Belmar/Lake Como St. Patrick’s Day Parade
March 3; 12:30 pm.
Route: The parade starts at North Boulevard and F Street.

6th Annual Asbury Park St. Patrick’s Day Parade
March 10; 1 pm.
Route: The parade begins at 5th Avenue & Ocean Avenue.

7th Annual Rumson St. Patrick’s Day Parade
March 10; 1 pm.
Route: The parade begins on Allen Street and River Road.

Freehold Borough Arts Council’s 8th Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade
March 17; noon.
Route: The parade begins on Main Street.

Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Highlands
March 23; 2 pm.
Route: The parade will begin on Waterwitch Avenue.

14th Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Keyport 
March 23; 1 pm.
Route: The parade will begin at Our Lady of Fatima Church (formerly St. Joseph’s Church), 376 Maple Place.

Somerset County

Somerville St. Patrick’s Day Parade
March 10; 1:30 pm.
Route: The parade starts on Main Street near the Somerset Hotel.

Atlantic County

Atlantic City St. Patrick’s Day Parade
March 9; Noon.
Route: The parade starts at the intersection of Rhode Island Avenue and the Boardwalk.

Burlington County

Burlington County St. Patrick’s Day Parade
March 2; 1 pm. 
Route: The parade begins at the Fairgrounds Plaza. 

Camden County

Gloucester City Parade
March 3; 1 pm.
Route: The parade starts on Baynes Avenue and Johnson Boulevard.

Cape May County

Wildwood St. Patrick’s Day Celebration and Parade
March 16; 11:30 am.
Ceremony kicks off on the steps of North Wildwood City hall (10th & Atlantic Avenues) at 11:30 am Parade begins at noon and proceeds north on Atlantic Avenue to Olde New Jersey Avenue.

Ocean County

Ocean County St. Patrick’s Day Parade
March 9; noon.
Route: The parade starts on the Boulevard in Seaside Heights.

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March 2019 New Jersey Monthly: “From the Front Lines”






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