The Livingston Inn | Madison, Wisconsin Bed and Breakfast

A French Cafe to Call Home


14370184_526749524197862_3460531701552715854_nThis past Thursday evening, we had the opportunity to try one of Madison’s latest restaurants, La Kitchenette. Located at 805 Williamson Street, La Kitchenette is a French cafe serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the former location of Chez Nanou. One of our French-speaking friends recently started working there and encouraged us to stop in soon for a meal. We were very glad we did!

The menu seems small at La Kitchenette but everything they serve is nearly a meal in itself. So there is much more variety as you start to sample everything. Plus there were a number of specials when we went there. We started with an appetizer special called a Cake Provencal. If you’ve never heard of Cake Provencal, like we hadn’t, it’s a delightful little bread baked with some tasty vegetables and herbs. Ours was made with tomatoes and was an excellent choice to split among three people to start a meal.

We followed the Cake Provencal by ordering the Tartine Florentine, Tartine Acidule, and the French onion soup. Of course, you’d expect really good French onion soup at a French restaurant, but the soup at La Kitchenette was out of this world. It was the perfect amount of cheese, bread, onions, and broth, and then broiled just enough to get that little crust on top. It’s one of those things you eat and keep thinking about the next time you can get there to order it again.


French Onion Soup and Tartine Acidule at La Kitchenette

The tartines were outstanding as well. Both were very generous portions that also came with a fresh green salad. The Tartine Florentine is served warmed and a great vegetarian option with spinach, shallots, tomatoes, sauce, and Swiss cheese. The Tartine Acidule is served cold and features smoked salmon, radish pickle, cucumber, and mayonnaise. The radish pickle was particularly tasty and an ideal complement to the salmon.

For entrees, we tried the quiche entrée special, a tomato tarte entrée special, and the Poulet a la Normande. The quiche and tarte were delightful and everything you’d expect and more from a French bakery. But, the Poulet a la Normande stole the show. The dish features chicken legs cooked with cider and mustard served with persilllade potatoes and a very nice green salad. The chicken was so tender and flavorful that we savored every bite not wishing for it to end. Again, the portions on everything were generous but not over the top.

We came to La Kitchenette partially to celebrate a friend’s birthday. Our server became aware of this, so we received for dessert three small, finger-sized cakes with raspberries along with enjoying the French version of singing “Happy Birthday”. A couple of appropriately-sized and delicious cappuccinos wrapped up the evening for the perfect end to our meal.

Before we left, we had the opportunity to meet the owner Virginie Ok. She was charming and gracious with her French accent – someone perfectly suited to this cozy restaurant. It was like she was welcoming us into her home and sharing the joy of what she was making in her kitchen.  We will definitely be back both for her hospitality as well as for all of the delicious food she offers patrons at La Kitchenette.


Madison, Naturally

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Back garden at The Livingston Inn

It’s that time of year when summer is at its fullest. There are plenty of warm days where everyone is outside taking in the lakes, parks, events, concerts, and festivals. It seems every day, and well into the evening, downtown Madison is buzzing with people walking around, finding fun things to do and dining out at so many fantastic restaurants.

Coinciding with all this activity, it’s also the time of year in Madison when the plants, gardens, and trees seem to be at their peak. A neighbor calls this the “full riot of summer” where every plant and flower has shot up, has bloomed, is blooming, needs trimming, or is getting ready to grow more heading into fall. Walking around neighborhoods, parks, or through Olbrich Botanical or Allen Centennial Gardens, there is so much beauty in all the varieties of flowers and plants enjoying the summer.

At this time of year, though, I also often think about what Madison looked like before humans tamed it. What did it look like before trees were planted along streets, grass was seeded, and all types of plants and flowers, not necessarily native to the area, adorned the many manicured flowerbeds and gardens? Thankfully, there is a place right in our city to find that answer. The UW-Madison Arboretum sits on 1,200 acres on the near west side of Madison, and it’s a place where you can see firsthand what Madison may have looked like before an influx of settlers changes its landscape a couple hundred years ago. The Arboretum is a beautiful setting with an ecological restoration of the Upper Midwest prairie along with some traditional horticultural arrangements of labeled plants in garden-like displays.


Civilian Conservation Corps restoring farmland to prairie

Several well-known figures in Madison’s history had a hand in the making of the Arboretum, including John Nolen, Michael Olbrich, and Aldo Leopold. It’s important to understand the Arboretum is not on acreage untouched for hundreds of years. Instead, as first proposed by Nolen in 1911, it was the vision of early residents to take farmland in Madison and restore an historic ecological community. It was Olbrich who convinced the UW Board of Regents to aid in the land purchase of the first 246 acres acquired in 1932, growing to 500 acres two years later. Following the land purchase, the Depression-era Civilian Conversation Corps provided the supply of workers who turned the farmland into a prairie restoration.


Aerial view of UW-Madison Arboretum and Visitor Center

Through additional gifts and purchases, the UW-Madison Arboretum has grown to its present 1,200 acres and features an abundance of hiking trails as well as options for bikes, cars, skis, and snowshoes. The trails and roadways will take you through areas restored as if you were in Madison hundreds of years ago. An outing to the Arboretum may involve encountering wild turkeys, turtles and other wildlife, or in addition to the hiking trails, touring three of the gardens where you can discover an impressive variety of woody plants, Viburnum, arborvitae, and other native plants. There’s also an outstanding Visitor Center and plenty of volunteer and educational opportunities.

140922_juniper-knoll_1586SD_web-348x232Today the Arboretum is undoubtedly the gem of Madison. While we love our lakes, plentiful parks, and neighborhood communities, the Arboretum, while large in size, quietly holds its place among us. Many days most residents likely forget it’s there, some not noticing it even when going around its edges on Madison streets and highways. But when we need a refuge from the busy and growing city around us, it’s always waiting there for us, allowing us to take a peaceful walk through it and marvel at the beauty and simplicity of a natural ecosystem.

imagesYou can bike in the Arboretum and on Sundays drive through it from one side to the other, but the best way to enjoy the Arb is on foot. The website has an easy-to-read map noting parking lots for trailheads. An ideal first trip would be to drive to the Visitor Center and make time to hike through at least a couple of the gardens and then venture out onto one of the many hiking trails. If you like to ski or snowshoe, take note of areas you’d like to return to when winter comes to our area (note: some trails are for hiking only).

With summer in full bloom, I strongly encourage you to put a trip to the Arboretum on the top of your list. While the excitement of summertime in the city is all around us right now, including beautiful flowers and plants, the Arboretum is a perfect respite to take a few steps back in time and picture the natural beauty of our area. It’s an opportunity to enjoy it now and enjoy as it always was.



Chamber Music for All

BDDS1Two of my favorite classical music events are starting up this month. First, in just one week, we are very excited to welcome the Silver Jubilee of Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society’s Chamber Music Festival. BDDS never disappoints and it’s sure to be spectacular for its 25th season. This chamber group’s festival runs three weekends in June starting on the 10th. BDDS rotates its concerts through Madison’s Overture Center, the Stoughton Opera House, and Taliesin’s Hillside Theater in Spring Green – each a unique and beautiful venue. Artistic Directors Stephanie Jutt and Jeffrey Sykes are wonderfully talented musicians who bring together an outstanding group of artists from all over the world. Together they create exquisite music all the while having a lot of fun!

BDDS4The week following Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society’s Silver Jubilee, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra begins Concerts on the Square on Wednesday, June 29, on the King Street corner of the Capitol Square. A rite of summer cherished by families, couples, friends, locals and visitors, Concerts on the Square features WCO musicians playing outdoors on one side of the beautiful Wisconsin State Capitol building. Patrons set their blankets around the Capitol lawn, bringing a picnic or purchasing dinner from vendors, and enjoy an evening of chamber music. It’s a perfect way to spend a summer evening in Madison. Concerts are every Wednesday with the final performance on August 3.

COTS1If you’re new to classical music or have just attended a concert here and there, chamber music is an ideal way to discover and enjoy classical music because its smaller size makes it more accessible to the listener. I spoke with Stephanie Jutt about a few tips for newcomers to chamber music and even those who seek to get even more out of the experience. She told me:

BDDS3• Remember the concert hall has become a refuge in our world driven by electronic devices. A classical music concert provides the ability to sit, become quiet, and simply listen. Enjoy that opportunity where you have no phone calls, emails or texts. BDDS intentionally selects very special and intimate venues that surround the listener with a smaller audience in a quiet, soothing place.

• Chamber music by design is particularly good at tapping into this quiet moment you create for yourself. Smaller than a symphonic orchestra, it’s more “human size” can move you on a very personal level. Chamber music can connect to your emotion at the moment and speaks to whether you are at your happiest or saddest. It’s as simple as sitting back, relaxing, and feeling what the music is telling you. That experience can be different each time you listen to a chamber orchestra, making it all the more inspiring.

BDDS2• BDDS is particularly good at engaging its audience and takes time throughout its music festival to talk to the concert-goers, helping them put the music into a context. Both Stephanie and Jeffrey have a wonderful sense of humor where they acknowledge everyone as an equal in the concert experience. None of what they do is fussy or stuck up – again, they make it very fun. So be sure to feel you’re among friends, even with the musicians coming from all over the world, as another way to relax and enjoy the music. They are glad you’re there.

Summer is a great time to get out the house and your routine, often to discover new things. I highly suggest you put chamber music on your list for this summer in Madison and enjoy all it has to offer. If it’s a new experience for you, we hope it leads to lifelong love for a wonderful genre of music.

Information and tickets for Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society:
Information on Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra Concerts on the Square: http://www.wcoconcerts.orgBDDS4-cellos



Now Eligible To Vote


To start, this blog has nothing to do with presidential politics. I’m sure many readers are thankful for that. Instead, there is an event that turns 18 years old this month – the age eligible to vote – and has embraced the democratic process for many years. A warm welcome to spring, the Wisconsin Film Festival (WFF) begins this week on Thursday and celebrates its 18th year bringing the joy of film to its fans.

There’s a lot of voting that happens at the festival. Some individuals have spent the last several months watching films and participating in the collaborative process to figure out the best films for this year’s audience. The jury reviewing Wisconsin’s Own – the category of film dedicated to our state’s filmmakers – have made their selection for the Golden Badger Award, akin to a WFF Oscar. The ceremony for the winners is held on opening night. Most importantly, this year’s cinephiles again have the opportunity to vote for their favorites as part of the Steep & Brew Audience Award. Categories for the award are narrative, documentary, and best rediscovery.

Opening NightEach year the festival becomes more exciting to us as the organizers expand and come up with fabulous ways to make the event something for everyone, yet in Madison’s unique way. The 2016 festival expands to the east side with films shown at the historic Barrymore Theatre. Opening night will also feature Madison’s own disco cover band, VO5, playing at the Harmony Bar just down the road from the Barrymore. For families attending the festival, the “Big Screens, Little Folks” program returns with films geared toward children ages 5-11 (and a great option since Madison schools happen to be closed on Friday during the festival due to a professional development day).

In the spirit of the voting theme, and bringing back something we did a couple years ago, below are Peggy and my top selections for the festival. While there are many more fantastic films, we hope these will pique your interest to fully immerse yourself in a week of cinema here in Madison.


  1. ApostateThe Apostate. Set in Madrid, a young man tries to leave the Catholic Church and runs into some baffling obstacles. The film is a humorous examination of the contradictions among religion and agnosticism.
  2. The Club. Peggy is on a theme here. The Club is another film in Spanish, this one set in Chile, and with a storyline related to the Catholic Church. The narrative film, however, has a much more serious theme with its story about transgressions of modern-day priests.
  3. The Crow’s Egg. An engaging and warm move, The Crow’s Egg follows two young brothers growing up in an Indian slum and their dream to eat a slice of pizza B010_C003_0804BAfrom the newly opened pizza parlor. It’s a feel-good movie with an element of social conscience.
  4. Kill Me Please. Brazilian director and screenwriter, Anita Rocha da Silveira, offers a macabre tale about a wave of murders using the artistry of brightly colored cinematography combined with a “killer” soundtrack.
  5. The Love Witch. A witch seeks a lover using potions in this sexy and funny film. Reflecting the art of film in the late 60s and early 70s, the director photographs her movies on 35mm film and WFF will screen The Love Witch from a 35mm print.


  1. CosmosCosmos.  Cosmos is the much-anticipated first film in fifteen years from Polish filmmaker Andrzej Zulawski, who sadly died in February at the age of 75. Hailed by WFF as a “cinematic maelstrom”, the film follows two friends to a guesthouse in Portugal and chronicles a story full of omens, obsession, paranoia and jealousy.
  2. Louder Than Bombs. Featured at the Cannes Film Festival and a Best Film at the Stockholm Film Festival, Louder Than Bombs is a story about the revelations of a father and his two sons upon going through the departed mother’s work as a war photographer. The story masterly fragments time and reality using flashbacks, voiceovers, and dreams to understand the characters’ psyches.
  3. Mad About Madison. This WFF Shorts Program features selections from local filmmakers. Laugh at the Atwood Avenue turkeys, discover local preservation efforts, and take in a couple of perspectives on life at UW-Madison.
  4. Sing Street. Set in Ireland in 1985, Sing Street is a heroic tale of success and conflict when a 14-year old boy forms a band and becomes all the rage in the neighborood. Directed by John Carney, whose credits include Once and Begin Again, the film is a sure favorite for those who enjoy the nostalgia of 80s pop music.
  5. Under the SunUnder the Sun. This documentary filmed in North Korea reveals the unseen daily life of the country’s citizens. Directed by Russian filmmaker Vitaly Mansky, Under the Sun provides a rare glimpse into the homes, schools, and factories behind the Bamboo Curtain.

To read about these films and more, you can visit the WFF website at or pick up a paper film guide at many outlets around town. We hope to see you out and about during this year’s festival and to celebrate Wisconsin Film Festival’s 18th birthday. It’s sure to be a nice break from the ongoing news about the other votes we’re making in 2016!


Beauty in the Eye of the Holder

IMG_0680About three weeks ago, I watched a commentary on CBS Sunday Morning about “death by selfie”. You may have heard this is an actual occurrence in our world today where people come into harm’s way while trying to take the perfect photo of themselves on their mobile phone. The commentary went on to talk about how selfies, and the proliferation of camera phones in general, have caused us to stray from enjoying the moment, most importantly when we travel. The CBS story showed tourists crowding around the Mona Lisa, many with cameras raised high to take a photo, and the reporter wondered how many people simply enjoyed taking in the beauty of the Mona Lisa. This behavior, according to the reporter, relinquishes our recollection of people and places. In essence, we have no memory of the event or special occasion because we spent all our time uploading photos and posting them to social media. We didn’t take time to remember the feeling and emotion of what we saw or did.

The commentary got me thinking about our digital world and online reviews. Today, we can’t use an app or make an online purchase without being asked to review it. At The Livingston Inn, we are just as guilty at it, but we know it’s a very critical and required component to ensure our business succeeds. And we love our reviews, too. We have received so many kind and thoughtful comments from guests, and we greatly value the time it takes for them to write something. We read them all and feel supported for all the hard work we’ve put into our B&B.

Since we opened in 2011, we have also been honored to receive many handwritten thank you letters and notes. We have placed each one in a large manila envelope kept in a chest in our front parlor. As I pondered online reviews and “death by selfie”, I thought it might be a good time to take a look at the contents of the envelope. As I pulled out each piece of correspondence, it was a beautiful example of the not-yet-lost art of the handwritten thank you letter. The beauty of the experience was not the self-centeredness of receiving praise (although most everyone finds praise rewarding, whether in their career or personal life) but the feeling of connecting to the writer.

IMG_0660I don’t understand the psychology of it, but that feeling could come from many places. It could be sensing someone’s uniqueness through his or her handwriting style, stimulating a memory or two when reading the words, or the simple tactile sensation of holding a card or piece of paper. And it’s important to note that, some assumptions aside about the younger generation, the thank you letters have been sent to us from people young and old, near and far, and many walks of life. The time I spent taking out each note, card, and letter, reading them, and then placing them together was quite powerful. It made me very happy that, despite all the stuff in our lives, people take the time to write thank you letters and that Peggy and I have made the effort to hold on to them.

IMG_0666I am grateful for the many things and experiences we have in today’s world — mobile phones, our capabilities to travel and see the sights and cultures around the world, and even the ability to conveniently read a review about almost any item to purchase or a place to visit. They all are admirable accomplishments in the 21st century. But I am also very appreciative of this manila envelope inside a chest in an old historic home in Madison. It holds something very precious, something perhaps many years from now that another person will open to remember how humans are connected and what life was like at The Livingston Inn during its early years. It holds a gift of words written in a very personal way that, despite an online world that saves everything, endures because it has a timeless quality like a cherished piece of art.





Boom Town, Part Two

Madison 1867

Madison 1867

In my last blog, I wrote about big changes happening in Madison over 150 years ago during the “Village Decade”. Among other things, I observed the similarities between those boomtown years and the growth and change we’ve seen in Madison during the past few years. While there are many glorious moments when a city prospers, there are also inevitable growing pains. In part two of this topic, I’ll share some interesting facts and challenges that were part of city life in the 1850s.

To call Madison a village at the beginning of this period of prosperity was likely accurate according to standards at the time. But Madisonians aspired for something more – to be designated as a “city”. Becoming a city meant you were in the league with already great American places like New York and Washington. With a thriving newspaper, a luxury hotel, fancy carriages, cabs, and gas streetlights, Madison certainly had acquired the “things” that made a city in the nineteenth century.

Capital House Hotel

Capital House Hotel

Besides the cache of calling itself the “City of Madison”, there were also practical, if not political, reasons for Madison to become a city. The village of Madison enacted a charter in 1846 but it soon found serious limitations on the ceiling for property tax rates. Even with other revenue sources like liquor licenses, fines, and special assessments, Madison lacked enough money to pay for fire engines, schoolhouses, a new cemetery, roads, and sidewalks. The charter also had jurisdictional issues with the town of Madison as well as unequal representation on the county board. To overcome these challenges, village leaders requested a city charter, eventually granted in 1856, for approval by the legislature. On March 7, 1856, the bill was signed into law and Madison officially became a full-fledged city.

As is true today, running a city also includes its fair share of problems, most of them caused by not enough money. One of the most talked about issues during the village decade was public schools. With Madison’s dramatic growth came too many schoolchildren and not enough schoolhouses and teachers. A twenty-by-forty-foot brick schoolhouse built in 1846 was still the only schoolhouse ten years later. Only a quarter of the school-aged children could squeeze into the little brick schoolhouse, so other students attended school in churches, a part of a carriage factory, and other various places around town. Besides the lack of space, teachers were also in short supply with a teacher-student ratio estimated at 1:125. Sadly, despite efforts to fund schools, very little progress was made during the village decade despite the prosperity that built fine churches, a Court House, and a costly jail.

Other problems during the village decade were streets and sidewalks. Dirt streets were either a rutted, muddy mess during rainy weather or very dusty in dry weather, making it unpleasant to breathe. Residents also used streets for free storage, so there was often an unsightly assortment of boxes, barrels, piles of wood, hay, ashes, and rubbish. Sidewalks at the time were the responsibility of the property owner to build. Very few did so, leading village trustees in 1855 to take responsibility for sidewalk construction.

Public sanitation and disease were a major issue during this period as in other US cities as well. Simply put, people just didn’t take sanitation seriously. Garbage and slops were often dumped in the streets, dead animals were many times allowed to decay wherever they dropped, and offal from the slaughterhouse was sometimes thrown in the lakes. Whether it smelled or looked bad, the only issue that caused the citizens to take action was disease. There were frequent cholera epidemics in the late 1840s and early 1850s, which led to quarantines, purifying streets and yards, and draining polluted standing water. Attempts were made to bring in piped water, which finally became a reality 30 years later.

There were also some more light-hearted challenges as Madison became a city. For one, the village cemetery, located at today’s Orton Park off Williamson Street, was too crowded and overrun with cows. Soon after the city charter was enacted, the common council established a new cemetery at Forest Hill, still there today near West High School.

forest_hill_office_DSC15662One other challenge I found entertaining was described by David Mollenhoff in one word: ruffianism. As Mollenhoff writes, “Madison’s remote location and rapid growth combine to attract a very rough class of people whose drinking, gambling, fighting, brawling, and swearing were notorious.” Newspaper editorials, settlers, and visitors described Madison as a place with “haunts of vice” and where “the best men in the state are sots”. A saloon census in 1853 discovered there was one saloon for every 90 residents. The rowdy behavior and drunkenness tempered somewhat as city leaders made various attempts to dry out Madison and fine anyone who sold liquor.

I hope you enjoyed this venture into a small part of Madison’s history and found it as intriguing as me when you look at our present-day city life. Compared to other places around the globe, Madison has a very short history, but as the introduction to Mr. Mollenhoff’s book states, “we are just beginning to understand the power of local history to enhance our understanding of ourselves, our cities, and our culture. It is, after all, this stratum of history that touches most of our lives most of the time.”  I am grateful that we have this history recorded from over 150 years ago and that Madisonians have worked tirelessly to preserve important buildings and parks as well as public policy and city resources. In the year 2166, 150 years from today, I hope we will look back at present day with the same appreciation for all the triumphs and challenges it takes to make a great city.


Boom Town

“No period in Madison’s history produced so much change so quickly.” “A heady, almost uncontrollable prosperity reigned. The number and scope of new developments were dizzying.” “If Madison did not possess the full style and dignity of a city, people thought it was rapidly moving in that direction.”

Whether you’re a resident or occasional visitor to Madison, these quotes might make you think about the last few years in Madison. Our downtown Capitol Square is full of exciting new restaurants and shops. Johnson Street just west of State Street features new high-rise apartments and hotels squeezed into city blocks where little one and two story residences and businesses once stood. Similarly, East Washington is also booming with high-rise apartments and restaurants, displacing abandoned buildings and car lots. Breese Stephens Field is alive again, and University Avenue is full of beautifully designed new buildings supporting all that’s happening at UW-Madison.

Oddly enough, though, these quotes come from the introduction to chapter two of David Mollenhoff’s book Madison: A History of the Formative Years. The chapter is titled “The Village Decade: 1846 to 1856”.  I thoroughly enjoy reading about the village decade because so much happened and it was around the same period when our home was built. But the chapter also fascinates me because I see so many parallels between those ten years and current events, not just in Madison, but in many growing U.S. cities.


Leonard J. Farwell credit: Wisconsin Historical Society, Image ID-2650

Leonard J. Farwell
credit: Wisconsin Historical Society, Image ID-2650

Mr. Mollenhoff begins the chapter describing the Farwell Boom when Leonard James Farwell came to Madison from Milwaukee in 1847 and was a champion for the growth of the area. Like others, he realized the potential of Madison’s location at the center of a large fertile area with no competing towns for miles around as well as its beautiful setting and its designation as the territorial capital. A year later, in 1848, Madison’s future became even brighter with three significant events: Wisconsin became a state, Madison was made its permanent capital, and Madison was made the home to the University of Wisconsin.

Farwell’s vision and leadership touched our city and state in many ways. In 1852, he became Wisconsin’s youngest governor at the age of thirty-three for a two-year term, and his accomplishments during this time were amazing. Among them, he abolished the death penalty, created the state banking system, built Mendota Mental Health Institute, and created the State Commission of Immigration to actively encourage migrating Europeans to settle in Wisconsin, an idea subsequently copied by other states.

View of downtown and the Capitol from Washington Avenue, 1865

View of downtown and the Capitol from Washington Avenue, 1865

Even as governor, Farwell didn’t abandon his dedication to Madison. During the 1852 and 1853 construction seasons, Farwell set a crew to grade East Washington Avenue from Blount Street to the Yahara River (a little over one mile). On top of the grading, the crew built a double plank road, Madison’s first form of paving, and to finish off this grand project, 6,000 maple and cottonwood trees were planted along the sides of the avenue. While governor, he also led investment groups that put up the Capital House, one of the fanciest hotels in the state, and the prestigious commercial building called Bruen’s Block, which included the Wisconsin State Journal among its tenants. At the corner of East Washington and Pinckney Street, Bruen’s Block stood where now is the well-known glass building housing US Bank as well as the popular restaurants L’Etoile and Graze.

If Farwell’s many accomplishments weren’t enough, the village decade also brought another momentous change: the arrival of the first railroad in 1854. As Mollenhoff states, “to have a railroad pass through town was regarded as a prerequisite for urban success.” Canals were limited and roads were unreliable, but a railroad brought goods and people, regardless of weather, catapulting any community into major growth and progress.

To celebrate this historic occasion, Madison does what it does best – it threw a party. Everyone in town was invited and 2,000 people flocked to the depot on May 24, 1854 to see a steam engine – a marvel of modern technology – cross Lake Monona into the village. Following the ceremony to welcome the train, the crowd returned to Main Street where they celebrated with barbequed steers, chickens, and ducks. It was undoubtedly one of the most unforgettable days in Madison’s history.

Following the arrival of the first train, life in Madison changed almost immediately. Just days after the railroad opened, up to thirty-car trains carried Madison wheat to Milwaukee. Travel through town doubled that summer and housing starts dramatically increased. The population exploded from 600 people in 1846 to 9,000 just ten years later – an increase of 1500%! The population growth pushed development into Mansion Hill, Fourth Lake Ridge (our current Tenney-Lapham neighborhood), Third Lake Ridge (today’s Williamson Street area), around the railroad depot (now the Bassett neighborhood), and along State Street.

Undoubtedly, the Great Farwell Boom and the village decade of 1846-56 laid the foundation for what Madison has become today, its impact still notable in many ways throughout the city. It makes me appreciate what I see around me when driving and walking through our downtown area.

As many of us know, though, growth comes with its share of problems and sometimes quirks unique to a city. In my next blog, I’ll share some of these as well as Madison’s notable rise to officially becoming a city.

Pinckney Street, ca. 1859.

Pinckney Street, ca. 1859. Bruen’s Block is the large building on the right.

The Year to Honor and Remember

We have many interesting and lively discussions with guests during their stay at The Livingston Inn, whether at the breakfast table or at impromptu moments in the evening. There’s no shortage of perspectives and life experiences, creating a wide spectrum of ideas and opinions.

There are a couple of areas where guests almost universally share the same thoughts and feelings. One of those would be the beliefs and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Fifty years ago, Dr. King took his honorable place in U.S. history when he started a Civil Rights Movement to ensure equality for all Americans. His vision, courage, and determination were qualities that opened many eyes to injustice and suffering, both during the brief time he was with us and still to this day.

wpt_1358187062As we head toward a weekend when we celebrate Dr. King, I think this year, more than ever, is an important one to recognize what he accomplished and to show support to the people and ideas which carry on his legacy. With that in mind, I’d like to highlight some of the events happening here in Madison for MLK weekend and hope, whether you are a resident or visitor, you will take the time to participate.

FS-03-07-25-65-Dr. King and Rev. AbernathyJanuary 12 – United Nations of Dane County monthly Lecture Series, Madison Central Library, 7:00pm. January’s presentation is “Remembering the Dream: Living the Vision” A Salute to the Rev. Doctor Martin Luther King” with Barbara Nichols. Ms. Nichols has extensive experience in executive leadership and international initiatives and is currently a Diversity Consultant to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. As featured in my last blog, the Madison Central Library is a great place to visit in our downtown area, making attendance at the lecture even more appealing.

January 15 – Free Community Dinner, UW-Madison Gordon Dining and Event Center, 4:30-7pm. The King Coalition welcomes all community members to the 29th annual dinner. Join more than 500 community members and enjoy a wonderful meal with friends, old and new, in Dr. King’s spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood.

January 18 – 36th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Celebration, Capitol Rotunda, 12:00 noon. This year’s celebration will highlight the role of women in the Civil Rights Movement.5690442018741.image

January 18 – 30th Annual City-County Observance, Overture Center, 5-7:30pm. The evening’s festivities start with singing in the Rotunda followed by presentations and performances in the Capitol Theater. The observance will feature the MLK Community Choir led by one of Madison’s most-noted music directors, Leotha Stanley. Mr. Stanley has amazed audiences for years with his Mt. Zion Baptist Choir and his involvement in public school music programs. The program will also feature

Earnest Green, "Little Rock Nine", Central High School, Brown v. Board of Education

Earnest Green, “Little Rock Nine”, Central High School, Brown v. Board of Education

Earnest Green, one of nine students, known as the “Little Rock Nine”, to first integrate Central High School following the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

I hope you find an opportunity to take part in MLK events this upcoming weekend, whether here in Madison or your own community. Remember that one of Dr. King’s core ideas was service to the less fortunate around us which sometimes requires us to look outside of the comfort zone of the people and life experiences familiar to us. As the organizers and coalitions behind MLK day tell us, it’s not a day off. Instead, it’s a day on. As we start 2016, I hope this “day on” becomes for many of us a “year on”, not just to remember Martin Luther King but also to honor him through actions that guarantee the equality at the core of our country’s values for many generations to come.

Resources: – The March on Washington and the “I Have a Dream” speech – August 28, 1963


New Year’s Resolutions Solved

Every year we hear about how many people make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight and get fit. Just as I’m writing these opening sentences, two separate commercials have appeared on TV about weight loss programs. Yet, every year we hear about how many people don’t keep their resolutions. Despite the odds against us, human nature prevails and we keep up the tradition of resolutions, many with good intentions such as losing weight and exercising more. And even if a small fraction of people stick with a resolution, it’s certainly not a bad thing that a few more people have found their way to a healthier lifestyle.

With that in mind, I thought it would be fun and a source of encouragement to provide some ways residents and visitors in Madison can stay committed to a New Year’s resolution to get healthy and exercise more. My suggestions focus mostly on these darker and colder days of winter when the resolve to stay fit can sometimes be a challenge.

south_cherokee_ski_5Cross country skiing. Madison has a number of groomed trails at golf courses like Odana Hills and Yahara Hills. One of my personal favorites is Glenway Golf Course. This nine-hole course is tucked away in a near-westside neighborhood between a cemetery and the Southwest Bike Path. As you ski toward the back of the course, it’s very secluded with many beautiful old trees. Since it’s not groomed, be sure to be respectful of the golf course and only ski when conditions permit. Beyond the golf courses, I’d also recommend Pheasant Branch Conservancy in Middleton, another beautiful and secluded area in the midst of our city. If you need skis, rentals are available at Odana Hills or at our local sporting goods store, Fontana Sports.

Snowshoeing on the lakes. While this winter has been abnormal where ice hasn’t formed, Madison lakes are often a great option for snowshoeing. Similar to going out on a lake in the summer, the views of the city are stunning, and a day or evening snowshoeing in the winter is a very peaceful experience as well. Guests at The Livingston Inn can enjoy a fun snowshoeing excursion from our lake access across to the UW campus and the union. If you need snowshoes during a visit, Fontana Sports is again a great option.

yogaJoin a health club. Similar to those weight loss commercials, health clubs heavily solicit new members this time of year. So why not take advantage of some of the special offers and make it the year join a health club? Madison has so many options from the nationwide chains to large and small local clubs. Close to The Livingston Inn are two great local options: Capital Fitness and Pinnacle Health and Fitness. If you’re a guest here and have joined a health club at home, remember The Livingston Inn offers free health club access to Pinnacle Health so you can maintain your workout schedule during your visit.

Schedule yourself on a walking tour or two. When the weather doesn’t cooperate with winter sports, like skiing and snowshoeing, running and walking are good alternatives. Walking is a great exercise, and if you’d like it to be more interesting, add in something like an architectural walking tour. While the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation has guided tours in warmer weather, the City of Madison has a very nice list of tours you can do on your own like the Old Market Place, Tenney-Lapham, and Mansion Hill tours in our neighborhood.

Exercise your brain. A New Year’s resolution to get healthy should include body AND mind. No matter what your age, the benefits of exercising your brain, or intellect, go far for a long and healthy life. With that in mind, I would recommend regular trips to the Madison Public Library. Our downtown library was re-modeled just a few years ago, and it is such a fun place to visit. Just from its exterior, the building draws you in and makes it very inviting to spend an afternoon reading books and periodicals, perhaps bringing something home until your next library visit. If you’re staying at our B&B and want to incorporate a little physical exercise, the downtown library is an enjoyable 20-minute walk from our inn.Madison Public Library Central Branch

Eat and drink well, locally. Madison features several companies dedicated to nutritious food as part of a commitment to health and well-being. One of my favorites is nut butter offered by the local company, Yumbutter. Yumbutter’s nut butters are an organic superfood made from nuts and seeds offering an ideal source for proteins and antioxidants. Available in peanut, almond, and sunflower, they all taste great, too. If you’re looking for something healthy to drink, many Madison residents have discovered the benefits of kombucha. Kombucha is a fermented tea drink made with living cultures of bacteria and yeast. While that may not sound appealing at first, kombucha has a very nice flavor similar to iced teas. The drink’s history stretches back to East Asian cultures where it’s believed to cure many diseases and afflictions. Today, fans of kombucha drink it to improve digestion and provide antioxidants to the body. While science has yet to support these claims, I’ll take a bottle of kombucha over a soda or sugar-intense energy drink any day. Here in Madison, NessAlla has been a local producer of kombucha for years and knows what it’s doing to make an excellent, quality product. You can find it in most stores and several restaurants throughout Madison.nessalla

If you’ve made a New Year’s resolution of some type related to your health, I want to be the first to say you can do it. Don’t let any naysayers tell you resolutions are meant to be broken. But if you need a little support, hopefully the list above will inspire you to discover fun, creative, and sustaining ways to make 2016 a great year for your health!

It’s All a “Bout” Fun!

I’ve featured a lot of uncommon sports in our blog over the years such as our outstanding ultimate Frisbee team, the Madison Radicals, our fun-loving summer collegiate baseball team, the Madison Mallards, as well as activities such as hooping and slacklining in James Madison Park. Plus we’ve recognized some of our UW teams that don’t always make the headlines like our fabulous women’s volleyball and hockey teams. In keeping with this theme, there’s another unique sport becoming very popular in Madison and whose season is just getting underway.

1509-250The Mad Rollin’ Dolls start their first roller derby “bout” this Saturday, December 5. The team competes at the Alliant Energy Center and has been around since 2005. Each year, the buzz around the Mad Rollin’ Dolls builds as more people discover the excitement of roller derby. While most of us associate roller derby as a bunch of mean girls pushing each other around, there’s actually much more strategy, skill, and athleticism. Plus there’s still that element of fun and spectacle.

history6Roller derby has its roots in the 1930s where fans came to watch 12-hour endurance events but were drawn more to the excitement of skaters smashing into each other. The sport flourished up to the 1970s, when it faded away like disco, partly due to poor management, crazy production antics, and the economic recession. In 2003, roller derby made a comeback starting with the Texas Rollergirls. Today there are more than 600 leagues and 19,000 skaters worldwide. The sport held on to its kitschy fun where women are encouraged to be aggressive and gorgeous.

A “bout”, the term for a roller derby competition, consists of two 30-minute periods with episodes of play called jams. Jams usually last about two minutes during each period. Skaters form packs which require two positions: blockers and jammers. Points are scored by the jammer each time she legally passes an opponent. Skaters can block and target using just certain parts of their body. Much of the fun can come from knocking down an opponent but there are also penalties for knocking down or blocking illegally.

MRD_TCFOS_Website-1036Mad Rollin’ Dolls has two interleague teams plus four home teams and a recreational team. Experience ranges from the Dairyland Dolls interleague all-star team to the Mad Wreckin’ Dolls recreational team which welcomes even the beginner skater. Adding to the fun, players adopt crazy names like Gingah Snap, Kentucky Fried Carnage, and Sequin Destroyher.allie

Like some of the other athletic events we’ve featured, roller derby in Madison has two great things going for it: affordability and accessibility. In an era where professional and some college sports can bust an entertainment budget, tickets to a Mad Rollin’ Dolls bout cost only $10 in advance. And when you get your ticket, you’re among a crowd that’s close to the action, making the competition so much more engaging and enjoyable. Plus with names for the bouts like “New Year’s Bruise-o-lutions” and “Too Hoth to Handle” (Star Wars theme), you’re sure to have a great time.

misc2The Mad Rollin’ Dolls website has plenty of information including how to buy tickets and the season schedule. But there are only five home bouts this season, so don’t delay in planning for a very memorable evening. In keeping with its quirky ways, Mad Rollin’ Dolls says this about their sport: The future is clear – first the Olympics, then world domination! Seeing how much fun they’re having, I think the world would be a better place with more roller derby!