You’re Right

“We are never so vulnerable as when we love” -Sigmund Freud

I was out for pizza in a congested restaurant when I saw the perfect snapshot of a slice; the grease pools glistening—pepperoni’s posed in a way that begged to be captured. As I pulled out my phone, repositioned for lighting and went in for the photo shoot that’s when a hot flash of insecurity slapped me in the face.  I envisioned all the eyeballs in the room locking in on me; their collective gaze projecting scorching rays of judgment that stifled me in discomfort.

I began to sweat as I stewed in my own awkwardness; blushing as I imagined myself, the fool, hunched beside the table like a paparazzi who’d lost it— seeing celebrities in slices of extra cheese.

I felt uncomfortable about the impression I was making on everyone around me.  I was that stereotypical millennial unable to experience anything without proper documentation; that guy who couldn’t enjoy the moment without posting to social media.

Then a heaven-send—a voice chimed in: 

Just live your life man.

My inner confidence stepping up? Some benevolent being interjecting?  Sage advice from The Big Lebowski’s the Dude?

No. It’s my wife Tess.  The voice of reason who puts up with me brainstorming pizza blogs, going in circles about “what’s for pizza on Friday?” on Tuesday and a plethora of other pizza quirks that I’m sure would irk the enlightenment out of a Zen master.

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As usual, she’s right; no-one could care less about the pictures of pizza I’m taking.

Beyond the ability to hush my self-consciousness, and reign in my ruminations, I recently discovered Tess also has a profound pizza insight to share with the world.  Her wisdom came unexpectedly as I arrived home on a Friday afternoon to her preparing a Jack’s frozen pizza. I was giddy to join in on her cheesy, picturesque Jack’s pepperoni pizza, and that’s when I smelled the faint smell of burning.

Wait! What??!  What are you doing!?

I gasped in horror as she recklessly committed unspeakable negligence against a poor Jack’s thin-crust.  The pie was at a torturing 425° for way too long; the sweltering heat blistering and marring the pizzas fair yellow mozzarella complexion.  The pepperonis shrieking as they began to sizzle and spit escape pods of grease across the oven walls that scream Help! Help! Let me outta here!

Charring a frozen pizza within near inches of its poor little life, brings a tear to my eye, but that’s the way my wife Tess likes them; dark brown and nearly burnt (no wonder she does this when I’m not around).

As I waited for an explanation and mournfully looked upon my fried friend, I figured “pizza is pizza” and went in for a slice.

To my amazement, it was extraordinarily crispy and delicious.  The cheese had more of a bite to it; more of chew, a deeper flavor too.  Who can argue with crispy pepperonis? I became intrigued by this “almost burning the pizza” cooking technique and the following day I insisted she teach me her secrets.

Upon plopping a Jack’s in the oven I inquired about how she knew when to take it out and she responded: “Once I smell it, I know”.  Long story short, you leave it in the oven for a period that seems way too long and then sprinkle parmesan cheese on it as soon as it comes out so it melts on it.  

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The right one.

Tess is notoriously right and I appreciate her shooting me straight and telling me to chill the F’ out with the pizza nonsense from time to time. Having open lines of communication and tolerance for each other allows us to experience new things, like burnt Jack’s pizzas that are delicious.

Sometimes we have to muster up and give a little more than expected to those we love. We may have to take that 5am shift with the baby or go out of our way to the grocery store, maybe even assure our loved one that no-one cares about excessive pizza pics.  By pleasing them with a little extra effort—  a little more finesse we can exceed their expectations, then it all comes back around.

I’ve heard successful relationships are comprised of the attitude that it’s 90% giving and 10% receiving from both parties involved.  What that means is we should always be prepared to give way more than we expect to get back.

What I learned from pizza:

Successful relationships are comprised of more give than take. The more we give the more we get and a beautiful cycle is born. It’s those little things like the assurance at the restaurant or the lesson on burning a Jack’s properly that add up and build a stronger bond.

What I’m eating: Jack’s pepperoni (nearly burnt with parmesan sprinkled on it)

What I’m reading: Side Hustle –Chris Guillebeau

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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

 

Catching Up With a Slice

“Make new friends, but keep the old; one is silver and the other gold.”

grilling-pizza-e1499625290913.pngThere’s nothing like grilling pizza over open flames with friends on the 4th of July. That’s right, to celebrate this great nation’s independence Tess and I joined a couple of our dearest friends Adam and Micki to grill homemade pizzas. Enjoying some pizza on a beautiful summer evening feels like the perfect way to catch up with good friends

We’ve also come together to give cheers to a milestone in the girls growing essential oil empire (They sell and lead teams for Young Living essential oil products, good stuff).  After a lot of hard work Tess hit the silver rank within the company and Micki hit gold, which is pretty darn cool in the essential oil business.  I’m very proud and happy for them both.

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Celebrating my own pizza milestone. 

Along with the girls I too feel I’m about to a experience a benchmark moment in life as I’m about to grill my first pizza. I stand back and watch in wonder as the first crust hits the grill. Dancing flames kiss the bottom of our hand stretched oil-ladened dough.

Adam is the pizza-grilling veteran among us, he is also a pizza-lover extraordinaire (like me) and director of corporate operations for Toppers Pizza (he loves pizza so much he made it a career, respect).  I grow excited as I listen to him explain his plan to execute three delicious pizzas over the open flame.

“It’s all about the olive oil” he insists as he applies a coating to a pizza crust awaiting its turn to hit the heat.  He also reveals that cooking both sides of the crust is the real secret to crispy homemade grill fired pizza.

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Gathering for some grilled pizza.

I was blessed with a lot of quality friends and family time over the long holiday weekend and such interactions felt long overdue.  As the years go on, hangouts seem to happen less and are more challenging to organize as schedules quickly fill up.

Pizza is a great way to connect with our favorite people.  Pizza can provide the perfect motivation and excuse for us to get together.  Pizza offers a great way to maintain our relationships, build new ones, and celebrate life’s victories.

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Use pizza to connect.

It’s as simple as inviting your best friend to a new pizza place or throwing a pizza party for your whole crew. Pizza is the perfect food to cheer us up or celebrate our accomplishments.

With some quality social time all the effort and hard work we put in all week feels worth it.  At the end of the day, it’s all about the people we share our pizza with.

What pizza taught me:

Staying physically and mentally healthy is very important, but equally important is keeping healthy relationships. Everyone loves pizza, so use it as a tool to connect you with those you cherish the most.

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What I’m eating: Grilled homemade pizzas:

  • Pepperoni and sausage with fresh mozzarella.
  • Buffalo chicken pizza with fresh mozzarella, blue cheese crumbles and diced buffalo chicken pieces on a ranch base.
  • Mushroom and fresh mozzarella on a white sauce base, topped with pesto drizzle.

What I’m reading: Deepok Chopra “Creating Affluence”

Photo Credit: Micki Oldenburg

To get more info on essential oils contact: tessrad@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

Practice Pizza Gratitude.

“Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart.”-Seneca

lucilleSometimes we need to stop and count our pepperoni.  It can be very challenging to stop and appreciate what we have in life.  Michelangelo put it best in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze “Please, please. A moment to reflect.”

Lucille in the rain. 

My wife and I go out on a date night once a week and I believe it has been instrumental to keeping our relationship so strong.  Our last date night we strolled downtown Madison to a new pizza restaurant called Lucille.

A trickling pitter patter provided a cozy soundtrack as we skipped to our reservation in the rain.  A gutted out, revamped and ready for pizza ex-Isthmus newspaper building laid the scene.  Tall windows lined the towering two-story, open-space layout.  Natural light illuminated the aged brick walls and dark wood hue of the interior.

Soaking it in.

Tess looked beautiful and the aroma of pizza baking filled the sky-high ceiling.  A mixture of flourishing restaurant noise and Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” offered the perfect score.   Was I in pizza restaurant dreamland?

It was great to slow down and appreciate my wife, some new pizza and a pretty righteous ambiance.  Taking the time to mentally note all of the elements of the night I was grateful for created a deep level of joy for me.  It also reminded me I wasn’t always good at taking the time to feel thankful for the wonderful things in my life.

Gratification and Gratitude.

With the rapid pace in our lives it can be difficult to savor the most basic things.  I often find myself striving for gratification and getting my fill at all costs, when I should be practicing gratitude. Being thankful is much more satisfying and also healthier for us mentally. We can excel by swapping our gratification with gratefulness.

I try to stop and remind myself of how appreciative I am to have each bite of pizza in my life.  I remind myself to cherish the sights, sounds, smells and feelings of each occasion just like that night at Lucille.

What pizza taught me:

Life moves fast, it’s easy to let it pass us by and miss the best parts. Taking a moment to appreciate what we have can make everything much more enjoyable.  By giving thanks we fully savor the moment, our loved ones and of course our pizza.  Follow Michelangelo’s advice and take “a moment to reflect.”

  • What I’m eating: Lucille, Madison WI. Steel pan pizza: “New Glarus Spotted Cow fermented crust, house-milled tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella, with a caramelized cheddar crust”, pepperoni and onion..
  • What I’m reading: “Unshakable”-Tony Robbins
  • What I’m listening to: Lou Reed “Take a Walk on the Wild Side”

If You Love Pizza, Give it Away.

“For it is in giving that we receive” -Francis of Assisi

Do you want the last slice of pizza? I know I do, I also want the first one, second one, the crispy corner one and the cheesy middle one.  What are the chances I’m getting the slice I want in a room full of equally crazed pizza-loving friends?

I’m proud to say the odds are pretty good these days (we even shared with a FedEx guy last weekend!).  This behavior was not always the case.

Wrestling to get a slice.

I remember back to slumber parties I would attend while growing up and how filling my pizza appetite felt so difficult. The chance of getting the last slice seemed nearly impossible, even getting a fulfilling amount was a challenge.  Picture a rabid pack of sweaty 13 year-olds lunging on a pizza, snarling and devouring it’s entirety like a pack of starved wolves.

It felt like the goal was to shovel down each slice as fast as possible in hopes of getting another.  This struggle to adequately meet my pizza needs haunted me through daycare, middle school sleepovers, even into college parties.  After awhile I was conditioned to grapple for whatever pizza I could get my hands on.  Eventually I started acting selfishly and feeling bitter when I didn’t get my way.  I had developed a sense of pizza entitlement.

The pizza universe shines down.

As I got older, I started reading more and became intrigued by ideas commonly presented in eastern philosophy like mindfulness and karma. I’ve always been intrigued by karma; the idea that you get what you give or you reap what you sow.  That idea always seemed so simple and practical; live and treat others well and things work out well.

I realized I had to start sharing my pizza, and start exchanging some good karma with the universe. Learning to give was a challenge at first, as I fought the selfishness I had developed.  I had to figure out how to be content with my conditions and to empathize with others.  I had to get back to the basics of what makes pizza fun; enjoying it with someone else.

Give it away and enjoy the party.

The true greatness of pizza is it’s ability to connect us with other people.  Pizza is delicious and fun to eat, but it’s all about the time we spend together.  When I share my favorite pizza with others and get to see them light up the same way I do, a new level of happiness emerges.

Sometimes after I’ve shared a slice, I’ll receive one back when I want it even more.  Though I’d like to think it’s karma, I always try to remind myself there is no keeping score and I should expect nothing in return.  Giving is all about helping another person and the reward is knowing you brought them satisfaction.

What pizza taught me:

When giving to someone the highlight is knowing you contributed to their happiness. Pizza is delicious and versatile, but more importantly social and fun. Sharing it is the best part.

Learning to let go of the things we desire most in life is tough, but worthwhile. If you want to enjoy the best pizza, let your last slice go to someone you love and the law of karma will bring that slice full circle.  It’s the circle of pizza.

  • What I’m eating: Rosa’s Pizza, Whitewater WI, sausage and pepperoni.
  • What I’m reading: “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success”-Deepak Chopra
  • What I’m listening to: Do Make Say Think “Horripilation”

 

Photo credit: Sarah Kroll