Friday, January 14, 2011

In Search of the Perfect Slice

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"There's no better feeling in the world than a warm pizza box on your lap." - Kevin James

I have been on a search for the perfect slice of pizza in America for quite some time. In fact, my blackberry actually has a list of my favorite nine places to grab a slice to remind there is always room for one more. 

Debate all you want, but this is a definitive list, in no particular order:

Pizza Place, Parkersburg, WV; perfect serving-one slice of thin cheese, one slick of thick.  Anyone who lives within 50 miles of P-burg knows this iconic eatery. Not a week in high school went by that I didn't spend $2.12 for the perfect two slice lunch. All ingredients shipped from Brooklyn, it's the best New York style pizza west of the Appalachians.

Imo's Pizza, St. Louis; perfect serving - eight tiny slices with extra provel cheese. Super thin crust, made with a white velveeta cheese-like topping, it's easy to consume a whole pie yourself.

Giordano's Famous, Chicago; perfect serving - personal meat lovers. Chicago style pizza, made with cornmeal crust, stuffed with meat and cheese, and with the top layer covered in sauce, is like no other. In fact, I can only eat this every six months or I will overdose of deliciousness.

Riccio's Pizza, Charlotte; perfect serving - one giant slice of eggplant parmesan.  Serving the Queen City since 1962, I stumbled upon this delicacy in a friend's basement. The aforementioned style is out of this world, crispy and greasy. And surprisingly, no calories.

Little Stevie's House of Pizza, Boston - perfect slice, two thin pepperoni, luke warm. After a five mile hike in the middle of the night  due to missing the last train in Boston, Little Stevie's was like an oasis in the desert for my buddy Darren and I. Only a few blocks from Fenway Park, it could have tasted like cardboard, but that night it it tasted like heaven. Darren and I have found some imitators in Montreal, Tampa, and Asheville, but never duplicated.

Pizza Town, Elmwood Park, NJ - perfect slice, two thin cheese. I mentioned that Pizza Place was the best west of the Appalachians, well here is the best. Since I was a child, we have made it a point to come to the little shack off the New Jersey turnpike. Add extra oregano, parmesan cheese, and red pepper.

Brixx, Charlotte, perfect slice - Spicy Shrimp - Next time you go to Time Warner Arena, park at the 7th Street garage, stop at Brixx after the game, get a beer sampler for $4.00 and a $5.00 pizza, which is classic brick oven style. Then get your parking validated for free. 

Pi, St. Louis - pefect slice - Veggie Chicago style. In the heart of the Delmar Loop, Pi is another homerun for deep dish. In fact President Obama has caused quite an uproar with his Chicago contingent when he has requested the Pi staff come make their pies at the White House - twice.

Simonetti's, Belmont, NC - perfect slice, a large white. Right off of beautiful Wilkinson Blvd near the gateway to Gaston lies a three booth Pizza shack. Only place to hit New York style in the area. Plus the lunch special can feed a small school.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Five Questions with Miss Jennifer

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Mrs. Jennifer Whitener is the three year old pre-school teacher at First Baptist Child Care Ministries in Gastonia, NC. She puts up with my son and his friends every day and lives to tell about it.

Today we are going in-depth to get the scoop about what makes Mrs. Jennifer tick. This was her reward for winning the Christmas Trivia question in a previous blog.

So is my son's head bigger than any other kid's you have taught?
*If you are referring to your child's ego, I'll have to say...not at all. If referring to the literal size of his head, possibly. To be honest, I've never really paid attention to the size of my children's heads. That must make me a terrible teacher.

Kids say the darndest things. What's the funniest thing you've heard this week?
*Because of the EPIC SNOWSTORM of 2011, this week has only consisted of today, so I'm going to venture back to last week. One of my girls gave me a grocery list that consisted of "beers, choca-chip cookies, toothpaste, and macyroni and cheeeeese."

What's one piece of advice you would give parents of toddlers?
*That's exactly what they are: TODDLERS. Do not treat them like babies. If you do, they will continue to act like babies well into adulthood, and you'll all end up on Dr. Phil discussing why your 35 year-old still lives with you and can't hold a job.

You recently tweeted: I LOVE seeing blue collar men get pedicures. Explain.
*I was enjoying a pedicure after work (one of the many ways I stay sane with my job) when a 50-something year-old mechanic walked in and sat beside me to get a pedicure as well. Tweeting kept my eyes on my phone and (hopefully) suppressed the look of shock on my face.

I know you and your husband are newlyweds. Does watching three years olds make you want to have kids soon or is it this best form of birth control?
*That's a hard one. My best form of birth control would have to be having a husband that tells me he's not having children before he's thirty (which means I still have another 4 years). Teaching preschoolers gives me confidence that I will be able to mother my own children one day, while having a quiet home at the end of the day makes me thankful that I'm not a mother just yet.

No, seriously, doesn't Nicholas have a giant head!?!
*I'm opting to skip this one.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

50 Things to Learn Before Becoming an Adult

As the Individual Development VP for the Gaston Jaycees, I have made a commitment that to take a bunch of scrappy, inexperienced, starry-eyed 20 and 30 something year olds from immaturity to adulthood. My campaign was based on completing a daunting task - finding local experts to teach us the 50 Things to Learn Before Becoming an Adult.  So if you or someone you know can guide us in this journey (and can be paid in food), please let me know.

1. Build a Fire – Fire produces heat and light, two basic necessities for living. At some point in your life this knowledge may be vital.
2. Operate a Computer – Fundamental computer knowledge is essential these days. Please, help those in need.
3. Use Google Effectively – Google knows everything. If you’re having trouble finding something with Google, it’s you that needs help.
4. Perform CPR and the Heimlich Maneuver – Someday it may be your wife, husband, son or daughter that needs help.  
5. Drive a Manual Transmission Vehicle – There will come a time when you’ll be stuck without this knowledge.
6. Do Basic Cooking – If you can’t cook your own steak and eggs, you probably aren’t going to make it.  
7. Tell a Story that Captivates People’s Attention – If you can’t captivate their attention, you should probably just save your breath. -
8. Win or Avoid a Fistfight – Either way, you win.
9. Deliver Bad News – Somebody has got to do it. Unfortunately, someday that person will be you.
10. Change a Tire – Because tires have air in them, and things with air in them eventually pop.
11. Handle a Job Interview – I promise, sweating yourself into a nervous panic won’t land you the job.  
12. Manage Time – Not doing so is called wasting time, which is okay sometimes, but not all the time.
13. Speed Read – Sometimes you just need the basic gist, and you needed it 5 minutes ago.
14. Remember Names – Do you like when someone tries to get your attention by screaming “hey you”?
15. Relocate Living Spaces – Relocating is always a little tougher than you originally imagined.
16. Travel Light – Bring only the necessities. It’s the cheaper, easier, smarter thing to do.  
17. Handle the Police – Because jail isn’t fun… and neither is Bubba.
18. Give Driving Directions – Nobody likes driving around in circles. Get this one right the first time.
19. Perform Basic First Aid – You don’t have to be a doctor, or genius, to properly dress a wound.
20. Swim – 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water. Learning to swim might be a good idea.
21. Parallel Park – Parallel parking is a requirement on most standard driver’s license driving tests, yet so many people have no clue how to do it. How could this be?
22. Recognize Personal Alcohol Limits – Otherwise you may wind up in the Slammer.
23. Select Good Produce – Rotten fruits and vegetables can be an evil tease and an awful surprise. 
24. Handle a Hammer, Axe or Handsaw – Carpenters are not the only ones who need tools. Everyone should have a basic understanding of basic hand tools.
25. Make a Simple Budget – Being in debt is not fun. A simple budget is the key. 
26. Speak at Least Two Common Languages – Only about 25% of the world’s population speaks English. It would be nice if you could communicate with at least some of the remaining 75%.
27. Do Push-Ups and Sit-Ups Properly – Improper push-ups and sit-ups do nothing but hurt your body and waste your time.
28. Give a Compliment – It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give someone, and it’s free.
29. Negotiate – The better deal is only a question or two away. 
30. Listen Carefully to Others – The more you listen and the less you talk, the more you will learn and the less you will miss.
31. Recite Basic Geography – If you don’t know where anything is outside of your own little bubble, most people will assume (and they are probably correct) that you don’t know too much at all.
32. Paint a Room – The true cost of painting is 90% labor. For simple painting jobs it makes no sense to pay someone 9 times what it would cost you to do it yourself.
33. Make a Short, Informative Public Speech – At the next company meeting if your boss asks you to explain what you’ve been working on over the last month, a short, clear, informative response is surely your best bet. “Duhhh…” will not cut it.
34. Smile for the Camera – People that absolutely refuse to smile for the camera suck!
35. Flirt Without Looking Ridiculous – There is a fine line between successful flirting and utter disaster. If you try too hard, you lose. If you don’t try hard enough, you lose.
36. Take Useful Notes – Because useless notes are useless, and not taking notes is a recipe for failure.
37. Be a Respectful House Guest – Otherwise you will be staying in a lot of hotels over the years.
38. Make a Good First Impression – Aristotle once said, “well begun is half done.”
39. Navigate with a Map and Compass – What happens when the GPS craps out and you’re in the middle of nowhere?
40. Sew a Button onto Clothing – It sure is cheaper than buying a new shirt.
41. Hook Up a Basic Home Theater System – This isn’t rocket science. Paying someone to do this shows sheer laziness. 
42. Type – Learning to type could save you days worth of time over the course of your lifetime. 
43. Protect Personal Identity Information – Personal identity theft is not fun unless you are the thief. Don’t be careless.
44. Implement Basic Computer Security Best Practices – You don’t have to be a computer science major to understand the fundamentals of creating complex passwords and using firewalls. Doing so will surely save you a lot of grief someday.
45. Detect a Lie – People will lie to you. It’s a sad fact of life.

46. End a Date Politely Without Making Promises – There is no excuse for making promises you do not intend to keep. There is also no reason why you should have to make a decision on the spot about someone you hardly know.
47. Remove a Stain – Once again, it’s far cheaper than buying a new one.
48. Keep a Clean House – A clean house is the foundation for a clean, organized lifestyle.
49. Hold a Baby – Trust me, injuring a baby is not what you want to do.
50. Jump Start a Car – It sure beats walking or paying for a tow truck.

What do you still need to learn?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Disney Mistakes Avoided

Roy Walley:  Once I drove all the family to Florida. The smell coming out of the back seat was terrible.
Clark: I know that smell, Roy; but what if you had driven all that way and Florida was closed?

A road trip with the family to Florida is bound to lead to some mistakes. However, here are five missteps you too can avoid.

5. Coordinate a Road Race with Your Trip - The Disney Half Marathon and Full Marathon was held this weekend and 50,000 crazies took to the challenge. Tourists and athletes alike walked around the parks with their medals in tow, beaming with pride of their accomplishments. It only makes sense to coordinate a planned race with a weekend at amusement parks, right? Wrong.  According to a study, the average person walks over 12 miles during a full day at the Magic Kingdom. Now tie that into hours of driving, unfamiliar beds, on-the-go eating, and pushing a stroller.

4. Stick to a strict schedule - A friend of ours sent us her family's perfect Disney itinerary, from picking the right parking lot to coordinating all the "fast pass" rides most efficiently. As soon as we began to make plans at the Magic Kingdom, a "Dancing in the Streets" interactive parade with Toy Story's Woody & Jessie erupted for the next 20 minutes. It was probably the most fun we had as a family and it could not have been planned.

3. Trust Your GPS and Not Road Signs - Those ginormous signs directing traffic are for the topographically challenged, not us tech-geeks, right? Let's just say when you plug in Disney World into a Tom Tom, you get the scenic route of orange groves and lakes. Also, you end up in the cast members parking lot nine miles from the park as your final destination. Okay, so maybe we didn't avoid every mistake.

2. Act Like an Adult - Ice cream sundaes before lunch? Sure.  Naps for the kids? Who need 'em? Spinning your three year old round and round on the tea cups til he almost pukes? That's called making memories. So is pretending to propose to your wife in front of Cinderella's castle, baby in tow, just to see her blush.

1. Save the Best for Last - With all the options of entertainment to choose from, why not save the best for last? End it on a high note, get settled in? This time, choosing our "must see" spot first was the best avoided mistake. Our trip was cut short due to the great blizzard of 2011 and we had to leave early. Regrets? We had none.

Get Along with Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere

Here's my weekly edition of the most relevant career advice. Hope you will take at least a few of these pointers on ways to cultivate positive relationships in business.

50 Ways to Creating Enduring Connections

Friday, January 7, 2011

Pickleball - Florida's Great Pasttime

Retirement was something I've never really thought about before. The idea of hanging around in my bathrobe, reading the newspaper, and sorting out all of my prescriptions sounds pleasant for about a week.  I'm one who needs to stay constantly active.

Now that I have experienced my first day in The Villages, Florida, I'm ready to retire by the end of the month. The Villages is an active retirement community of 80,000 residents over 55 years old, including my parents for the next eight weeks. The planned city 50 miles north of Orlando has eight recreation centers, 28 executive & 7 championship golf courses, nightly entertainment, two 12-screen movie theaters, it's own daily newspaper and television station, 30 restaurants, plus six additional country clubs.

More importantly, it has about a hundred courts for Pickleball, a sport that has captured the minds and hearts of senior citizens throughtout the Sunshine State. It was invented by someone who  did not want to move around a lot. To the virgin eye, Pickleball looks like a miniture version of tennis. However, I've now been around the Pickleball block a time or two.

Pickleball is played two on two on a concrete surface the size of half a tennis court. Paddles replace rackets and whiffle balls are used instead of tennis balls. My partner and coach today was a 63 year old British woman named Anna. My dad's partner was 72 year old Crown Point, Indiana native named Bill.

They were good . . . real good. Patient, yet firm, Bill and Anna showed us the finer points on how to serve underhand, when the ball should bounce, how not to spike it, and where to stand so you rarely have to move. However, we'll be sore tomorrow.

So next time you're in the southern panhandle, skip Disney, Cape Canaveral, South Beach, the Florida Keys, or the Everglades. Instead, find a paddle and kick some geriatric Pickleball tail.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Brewmasters Have Little to do with Beer

"Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza." - Dave Barry

Tomorrow  will be my seventh year with the Carolina Brewmasters, a group of knucklehead homebrewers in search of crafting the perfect beer.  For me, the brew process does not even make my top five reasons I'm part of this fine organization.

My top 5

5. Organzing the Charlotte Oktoberfest - yes, a bunch of volunteers put on one of Charlotte's biggest festivals of the year. In fact, we have raised over $50,000 annually to charities in need. One of those selected was the Victory Junction Gang, Kyle Petty's summer camp for kids with autism, cancer, down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, and other challenges children face. The entire festival takes nine months to get ready, over 200 volunteers are needed, and the true meaning of teamwork and selflessness is characterized from beginning to end.

4. Diversity of the club - men, women, black, white, Asian, gay, straight, old, older, oldest, physically impaired, lawyers, actors, brokers, the unemployed, the good looking, the not so good looking. You name it, we have it (and get along).

3. Beer is the conversation of choice. And what an excellent topic this can be. Point 1 - it's not politics, religion, relationships, careers, the Joneses, sports team obessions, or the economy. Point 2 - it's not snobby conversation, because when it comes down to it - it's just water, malt, yeast, and hops. In other words, it's not wine.

2. Just like a kid sharing their arts & crafts with their parents, we create something that others can enjoy. We would much rather share than hoard to ourselves. We take pride in our creation, which is part art, part science. When we get bored with one style, we have over 50 others to choose from. Plus a six pack of your homebrew make for some pretty cool birthday presents.

1. Call it sappy or pathetic, but some of my closest friends I've made since college are Carolina Brewmasters. From the hockey games to the trips to Asheville, the basement meetings to the BBQ's, my social life hasn't died, just matured (a bit). But more than that, the friendships with the families and their kids that my wife, son, and I have  made these past years are the true bonds that make me proud to be a Brewmaster.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Getting into Better Career Shape

Here's my weekly edition of the most relevant career advice by another blogger, Tom Denham. His articles revolve around navigating happily through your professional life.

In his latest article, he explores resolutions for your career.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Case Against a BCS Playoff System

Last night's Rose Bowl win by Texas Christian University, who finished undefeated yet did not get a chance to play for the National Championship, will stir up a flurry of debate. Fans, coaches, and sports reporters will again be up in arms how the BCS bowl system just doesn't work. In fact, Barack Obama pushed for a playoff system right before his inauguration.  74% of Americans are not happy with a bowl system.

However, I will make a case as to why a playoff system is not a good idea.


1.) 62 more teams' season will end the first weekend in December. There is no logical reason to keep tier two bowl games around while eight other teams are in a playoff. As confusing as the bowl landscape currently looks like, this would only make it messier.

2.) With all of these teams out, college conferences would be out tens of millions in payout and sponsorship money. Will cities like Charlotte, Jacksonville, or even Detroit, who make millions in tourist travel during their bowl games, go quietly in the night?Last year, Northeast Florida made approximately $45 million contributed to the Gator Bowl.  Doubtful.

3.) TCU, currently in a non-automatic qualifying league, recently signed on to the Big East Conference. There sole intention is to play more competitive teams and make a run for a National Championship. With a playoff system, there is little incentive to move to a stronger conference but instead go undefeated against easier opponents.

4.) How do you whittle it down to eight or sixteen teams anyway? Polls, computers, politics, and the same ranking system won't make it any easier when choosing the bubble teams. Should 11-2 Oklahoma (who played a great game last night) be a qualifying team over 11-1 Michigan State?

5.) It's much easier to coordinate travel and operations for one bowl game for fans, players, coaches, bands, cheerleaders, personell, and alumni. Expenses for schools and fans alike really start to add up. UConn was still sitting on $2.5 million in unsold Fiesta Bowl tickets last week that they are responsible for selling. Could you imagine how many empty seats there would be if they played three weeks in a row all around the country?

6.) Notre Dame's chance of winning a National Championship is much more difficult with a playoff system. After the Irish go undefeated next season due to a few miracles and poor seasons for USC and Michigan, there's a slight chance their opponent would be riddled with a key injury and a few starters on NCAA probation. The chance of this happening three weeks in a row is nil.
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