No Place Like Home

We carry our homes within us, which enables us to fly.” John Cage

As the 4th of July weekend approached I was feeling restless, my brain held hostage by an exhausting work-week and an ever-broadening list of “daddy duties”.  I was bored with Madison. I wanted to run, to get free, to feel like a kid.  I wanted summer fun; a glistening sun, a pine-laden horizon, friends, fireworks and some great pizza (that’s a given).

I wanted that sense of freedom that arises when you get out into the country or dunk yourself into greenish-blue Wisconsin lake water; resurfacing with a rush—a swirl of adolescent giddiness.  That feeling of leaning back and looking into a vibrant blue sky blotted with fluffy, pillow-like clouds; your day-to-day tensions melting away like sidewalk chalk in the rain.

Most of all I wanted the excitement of seeing my favorite people and eating my favorite pizza. The question is then, where can I capture all these classic 4th of July feels in the same spot?

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Going home. 

Tess and I got a sitter for Ellis (Thanks Mom!) and ventured back to our old stomping grounds Whitewater WI. for the 4th of July, with our eye out for everything I’d been daydreaming of, especially my crème de la crème of Wisconsin pizza: Gus’ Pizza Palace.

If you know me or have read any of my stuff you may realize that Gus’ is not just any old pizza to me; it’s the best pizza, my favorite pizza. The all-time greatest pizza. It’s the rule—the measure—the standard by which I judge all pizza.

For the longest time, I was nervous to even write about Gus’ because it’s so special to me, I was worried about whether or not I would be able to do it justice. Or, worse yet, what if it had changed in some way.  I’ve only had the chance to eat it a handful of times since moving, but I figured I’d try to let the legend shine.

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Confession: I went to Gus’ twice in one day.

If you grew up in Whitewater, you undoubtedly know the passion and loyalty that the locals share for their Gus’ pizza.  It’s the gold standard for small-town, thin crust, cheesy pizza, sliced up in squares since 1962.  That’s right, it’s a legacy, it’s been whipped up by the same family using top-secret family recipes for 56 years (way to go guys!).

For Whitewater folk, it’s lovingly known as “Greasy Gus'”. 

Though they keep their formulas confidential, my conspiracy theory has it that the legendary grease factor is due to them using slices of mozzarella instead of shredded like most pizza places.  When the cheese melts in their old-school deck-ovens, the grease collects on top of the slices and creates this delicious blend of grease, melty cheese, and sauce.  I’ve had no other pizza that accomplishes this unique consistency. It’s bliss.

The crust is super thin—cracker thin and has a hand pinched rim that is efficient in holding an excessive, greasy pool of cheese.  The crust is like a little floury canyon. (Ahh, writing this makes me want to dive right in).

unnamedSimplicity and home go hand-in-hand for me.  With my Gus’ I follow suit; I want the pizza in it’s most pristine form: cheese. I’m a sucker for good quality cheese pizza.  I want to bask in the harmony of the cheese, sauce, and crust; let them join together and do a  sacred dance.  If a pizza place can’t get plain cheese right, then I see no future.

Tess often goes for green olives or we’ll share a pizza with gyro meat on it with a side of tzatziki sauce (their gyros are bomb by the way, meat carved from the spit and all).  I’ve heard rave reviews of topping combinations all over the map; from black olives and feta (put on after it’s cooked), to bacon and onion, to onion, green pepper, extra sauce, extra cheese, the infamous Gus’ Special and as I previously mentioned my friend who will give his right arm for beef, bacon, sausage.  I’ve even heard the old-timers talk about the joy of shrimp on their Gus’.

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Gus’s in recent years also got into the cheese-sticks biz to stay competitive in the college market and their sticks are holy wow, topped with at least a quarter inch of mozzarella, definitely among my top 3 three cheese-sticks (that’s a whole separate blog post).  Also, I just gotta say potato wedges, do it.

 

My 4th of July fuzzies wouldn’t be complete without Gus’. 

Just like home, Gus’ is one place that seems to be a constant in a world that’s always changing; it’s one thing all my old friends and family still share in common. For almost 60 years they’ve stuck to their guns and for the most part, the product goes unscathed (though I always remembered more cheese, my grandma agrees).

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Cheese-sticks

In my glory days, I remember the goal for my friends and I on the 4th was to throw the biggest party we could, now it’s scrounging for babysitters and exchanging parenting tips (did you try this new swaddle!?).  That’s what makes life exciting, it’s constantly evolving as we are.

Phil Knight the founder of Nike says in his biography “Life is growth. Business is growth, You grow or you die.”  Whether it’s new additions to our families or nuances to our holiday traditions; we get reminders every day that everything changes, yet there is a resemblance, a fragment of the past that we can cherish.  That’s Gus’ for me.

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Potato Wedges.

What pizza taught me:

Simply going home can be all the negotiation our nagging mind needs in order to chill itself out.  It’s been six years since I left Whitewater and everything feels different but familiar at the same time. There will always be a part of me that finds comfort in going home and Gus’ is a piece of that history.  I hope everybody has a place like that.

What I’m eating: Gus’ cheese pizza, gyro meat pizza with side of tzatziki, cheese-sticks, wedges

What I’m reading:  Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike –Phil Knight

 

 

 

Extra Cheese: The Antidote for an Anxious Dad-To-Be

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” -Franklin D. Roosevelt

With my wife, Tess 39 weeks pregnant my pizza is about to get an undeniable upgrade to family size.  I’m excited about a new addition to the pizza-party, but the anticipation of his arrival and the coming obliteration of my care-free lifestyle has me a little on edge. I know a new little pizza buddy will be the greatest thing that ever happened to me, but it will also be the greatest amount of responsibility I’ve ever taken on and my nerves are getting twisted up like garlic knots.

As I mentally prepare to split my pizza three ways I selfishly ruminate over all the ways life will change.   Will I have the patience?  Will I get enough sleep?  Will my routines be disrupted? Will there be enough time for the things I enjoy?  Will the baby even like pizza?

Fortunately for me, I’ve got one fantastic support system of family, friends, and co-workers who have done wonders over the last several weeks to help calm my nerves. Just last weekend I ventured to Sun Prairie to the home of my brother Jeff where Tess and I were guests of honor for a “Huggies for Chuggies” party.

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There is nothing like the stretch of cheese between friends. 

The “Huggies for Chuggies” party is sort of like a bachelor party for parents, where the host supplies food and libations in exchange for diapers from the guests (aka an excuse to hang out with friends before life changes forever).

For the occasion, Jeff provided pizzas from one of Sun Prairie’s oldest and finest establishments Anna’s Pizzeria.   Anna’s is one of my brothers’ favorite spots in Sun Prairie and it’s easy to see why.  Anna’s is insanely cheesy, I’m talking like at least a quarter inch of melted cheese across the whole pie.  Grabbing a slice of Anna’s is half the fun because you get the most epic, food-porn worthy cheese stretches.

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Epic Stretch

The sauce is sweeter than most but is balanced out by the saltiness of the excessive cheese.  The pepperoni and sausage pizza was even better because of this salt to sweet combination created by the sauce and toppings.  Anna’s menu is extremely old school and basic; pizzas with classic topping options, garlic bread, and soda, that’s it. If you want to get some Anna’s plan accordingly because they are only open 4-10pm six days a week and only accept cash.

Old friends and sage advice over Anna’s pizza.

Surrounded by my best friends and the cheesy pizza of Anna’s I found solace and my anxieties about the future began to lift.  Beyond the pizza, I received encouragement that really meant a lot, things like “you’ll be a great Dad” and “you have nothing to worry about”. I also got some guidance about the day-to-day life of parenting which gave me more perspective.  Soaking up some advice from some new fathers also alleviated a lot of the tension I had built up, I even learned how to change a diaper (thanks Aaron, Sarah, and Alex!).

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The party was a great send off into parenthood.  My friends helped me take a rational step back and realize the anticipation of becoming a Dad can be far more overwhelming than actually taking on the daily duties of fatherhood.

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Me and Brother Jeff (the host that can boast the most roast)

95% of things we stress about will not happen.

Often the anticipation of an event can deal out more anxiety than the actual outcome.   My apprehensions about becoming a Dad are really just fear of the unknown. In the book, Radical Acceptance author Tara Brach makes the point that “the fear of pain is often the most unpleasant part of a painful experience”.

All the things that I’ve worried about will most likely work out just fine and worrying about them will do nothing but make them worse.

Dealing with the worries of becoming a Dad:

  1. Seek advice from someone who been through it before.  Talking through a scenario can bring a lot of relief as we familiarize our selves with the issues at hand.  We can learn and come up with a plan to guide us through.
  2. Try to remain in the moment. Try to accept things as they are, and to do that start out with some deep breaths.  Focus on the feeling of your body, fingers, and toes.  By focusing on our physical sensations, we are brought into the present, where the anxiety of the future is more easily released.
  3. Trust your instincts.  Everyone keeps telling me that once I have the little guy, it will all come naturally.  So, I will trust their advice and just take each situation as it comes, one day at a time.

What pizza taught me:

Becoming a Dad will surely be an adjustment, but as with anything new in life, we’ll figure it out. When anticipation of the future starts wreaking havoc on our emotions the support and guidance of loved ones can melt our anxieties away.  Some extra cheesy pizza doesn’t hurt either.

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What I’m eating:  Anna’s cheese pizza and Anna’s half sausage, half pepperoni pizza (we didn’t even ask for extra cheese, that’s just how it comes!)

What I’m reading:  Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha –Tara Brach

 

Believe in Pizza

“If I have lost confidence in myself, I have the universe against me” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I believe it’s true that there is no such thing as bad pizza. On my never-ending quest for melty cheese, crispy crust and herbaceous sauce I’ve found every pizza is special in its own greasy way. While some pizza may exude more Instagram appeal than others, at the end of the day it’s pizza and therefore awesome.

We are also special in our own right.  When we assert the same unrelenting faith we have for pizza inward towards ourselves, confidence is born.  Can a perfect cheese pizza from Gates and Brovi in Madison WI. help me find more confidence within myself?

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The Sinatra of cheese pizza.

As I gaze upon my Gates and Brovi extra cheese pizza perfectly displayed before me, I can’t help but think this pizza has got it going on.  If this pizza had personality it would be overflowing with confidence.

The exceptionally cheesy pie sits mounted on a chrome pizza stand that invites you to admire its appeal.  It’s poised and nonchalant, not looking for attention, but making it difficult for onlookers not to notice its excellence.

The pizza’s crispy crust is dusted with floor and sturdy enough to support a generous portion of mozzarella. Like my all-time favorite Gus’ pizza in Whitewater WI, the sauce and cheese bake together and meld into one; leaving a perfectly greasy blanket covering the pie.

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How to be smooth as fresh mozzarella. 

Eliud Kipchoge an Olympic gold medalist in marathon running recently was quoted in Wired magazine  “It’s not your legs that run” “It’s your heart and mind”.  He said this in reference to self belief and tackling seemingly unattainable goals (running a sub 2-hour marathon for Nike)

Though I’m not taking on super-human feats, I do have to consciously remind myself to have confidence.  I’ve always wished confidence was something I was naturally graced with, but it’s an ongoing effort. I’ll share several lessons from family, friends, and favorite readings that have helped me out along the way.

  1.  Take baby steps – Do something little everyday to build confidence in yourself.  Reach out to an old friend or family member and feel good about it.
  2.  Develop a mantra – Remind yourself that you’re a pretty awesome dude or dudette.  Simply affirming you believe in yourself goes a long way over time. 
  3.  Watch your posture – Sit up straight, take deep breaths and try not to fidget (very difficult for me).
  4. Make yourself uncomfortable – Spark up a conversation with a stranger when you don’t feel like it.  Ask someone about their favorite pizza (everybody loves pizza).

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What a great cheese pizza taught me:

The first step toward achieving confidence is believing in our abilities. When we have faith in ourselves we can easily snag a slice of life’s abundant opportunities.  Tried-and-true lessons in self belief can help us reach Gates and Brovi cheese pizza magnificence.

What I’m eating: Gates and Brovi extra cheese pizza

What I’m reading: “Snap Selling” Jill Konrath