The Livingston Inn | Madison, Wisconsin Bed and Breakfast

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



Tis the Season (Not the Holiday One)

Don’t worry. With Halloween wrapping up, we’re not immediately turning to thoughts about the holiday season. However, before winter is upon us, we want to write about another season that got underway a couple months ago. Typically beginning in the fall, our many music and theater groups embark on their season of concerts and productions. Groups like Madison Symphony Orchestra, Madison Opera, Madison Ballet, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, Forward Theater Company, University Theatre, and several other groups stay very busy with an ongoing array of excellent music and theater. Similar to our restaurant scene and sporting events, a small city like Madison has so much to choose from when it comes to the performing arts scene. With that in mind, we’d thought we’d give you a few of our recommendations for the upcoming season so you don’t miss out on some excellent shows and concerts.

MSOMadison Symphony Orchestra. The annual MSO Christmas concert is not to be missed and definitely gets us in the holiday spirit. This year’s concert is coming up on the weekend of December 4. Beyond that, they have an excellent set of concerts from now through April. We particularly recommend the Emanuel Ax concert from March 11-13 because we enjoy piano performances. Plus the concert features the lively (and not so long) Mahler Symphony No. 4, a departure from his more typical dramatic style. The MSO website allows you to listen to the music of any concert and read program notes, so you can decide which concert might best suit your musical interests.

Forward TheaterForward Theater Company. Once again, Forward Theater has put together an exciting and ambitious season of theater here in Madison. The season opens this week with the Midwest premiere of Silent Sky. On the top of our list as well is the production of Mr. Burns (A Post-Electric Play) running April 7-24. We’re not die-hard fans of the Simpsons (and you don’t need to be to enjoy the play), but we like our dose of dark comedy with some music added in. In its review, The New York Times described the play by asking, “When was the last time you met a new play that was so smart it made your head spin?”  We’re sure this will be a fun and thought-provoking play along with an outstanding season overall with Forward Theater Company.

Madison Opera's 2007 production of La Boheme

Madison Opera’s 2007 production of La Boheme

Madison Opera. This year La Boheme returns to the Madison Opera season. The opera is coming up soon on November 13 and 15, so you need to act soon to get tickets. We recommend La Boheme for a couple reasons. First, as Madison Opera notes, it is the greatest love story in opera, and opera is made for great love stories. Second, if you don’t normally attend the opera, La Boheme draws in anyone with its beautiful music, arias, and duets. The final scene has to be one of the most moving in all of theater. If you can’t make it to La Boheme, Madison Opera has two more operas this season, and they consistently offer top-notch performances in all that they do.

Mad MenMajestic Theater / Orpheum Theater. While both the Majestic and the Orpheum have shows year-round, it’s worth mentioning a couple of upcoming events at each venue. Glen Hansard will be playing at the Orpheum on November 19. The Irish singer and songwriter has an impressive resume of musical accomplishments. He is most widely known for the music behind the movie Once, which also became a hit Broadway musical. On December 5th, the Mad Men Soiree returns to the Majestic Theater. Called the “swankiest holiday party”, this evening of 60s era music and dress has been a huge hit over the past four years and we’re glad to see this event keeps going even after the series finale.

University Theatre. Part of the UW Department of Theatre and Drama, University Theatre is well into its 2015-16 season with two plays already completing their run. But there is plenty more coming. If you’re in the Madison area during late winter, we recommend Smart People by leading female playwright Lydia Diamond. Four stories within the play examine issues important especially to our up and coming generation, such as racism, intelligence, and human connections. The play runs from February 25 to March 13 at the UW Mitchell Theatre.

Peter PanMadison Ballet and Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. Two of Madison’s renowned performing arts groups come together to present the story of Peter Pan for three shows on March 19 and 20 at Overture Hall. A show for both adults and children, Peter Pan will feature the choreography of long-time Madison Ballet Artistic Director, W. Earle Smith along with a contemporary score played by WCO. A timeless and magical story, we’re certain this production will not disappoint.

We are so grateful for the many opportunities for performing arts and entertainment in Madison, and we hope this sampling of music and theatre gets you in the mood of the season before that other “holiday” season takes over.

From Japan to Madison: The Tradition of a Thousand Paper Cranes

IMG_0526[1]For our guests, as well as family and friends who have visited our home, most know we have a number of paper cranes throughout The Livingston Inn. They appear here and there, changing places, all in a variety of colors, sizes, and styles. We always offer to guests the opportunity to adopt one for their journey home at the end of their stay with us. So, some of the cranes have now found new homes. A guest or two has also made one themselves with some paper they had with them (most anything will do), and we have been the fortunate recipients of their gifts.

If you’ve stayed with us, you may know the story behind our paper cranes, but perhaps not if our conversations never got around to the topic. For the sake of our past and future guests, as well as anyone else curious about this unusual part of our B&B, we thought a blog on the topic would interest many of you.

The paper cranes first appeared at the grand opening of our B&B back in September 2011. A very good friend of ours made us a small supply as a gift and a gesture to bring us good fortune in our new venture. Paper folding has a deep history in Chinese, Arab, and European cultures. But it has its strongest ties to the Japanese art of origami dating to the late sixth century. At the time, paper was an expensive item. As a result, origami from this period was used primarily for religious ceremonies including weddings. For centuries it was also an oral tradition with designs passed from mother to daughter. Legend says that anyone who folds one thousand paper cranes will have their heart’s desire come true.

IMG_0528[1]An interesting thing happened once our friend brought us those first paper cranes. She found it brought her a strong sense of inner peace, something we might call therapy in the 21st century, and so she has continued to make us paper cranes over the past four years. She enjoys making them, and we love it every time we receive a bag, thrilled to see what beautiful paper she found for her latest flock. So whether one calls it good fortune or a matter of the heart, we firmly believe our paper cranes have brought wonderful things to us and to our friend.

IMG_0554[1]Lately, we’ve received two very kind and generous gifts from guests related to the paper cranes in our home. First, one guest mailed us a delightful book with the story of Sadako Sasaki. Sadako was a Japanese girl who was exposed to the radiation of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Like other children during this time, she suffered from leukemia, and in 1955 she died at the age of twelve. When she found out about her condition, Sadako knew of the legend of folding one thousand paper cranes, so she set about doing so hoping it would save her from the suffering and death she saw among the other children around her. She only made it to 644 cranes. Due to Sadako’s spirit as a young child, though, the thousand paper cranes have now come to symbolize peace in Japanese and other cultures, and a statue of Sadako is part of Hiroshima Peace Park in Japan. We thoroughly enjoyed the book from our guest and were moved how it connected us to the feeling of peace from our friend and the paper cranes throughout the B&B.

Our second gift from a guest came from a captain in the U.S. Navy. He wrote, “During our stay we noticed you had origami around your lovely home, and it reminded me of a gift I received from a Japanese harbor pilot in Sasebo, Japan, which is a U.S. Navy base near Nagasaki.” The guest sent us over two dozen paper cranes from this pilot made from Japanese magazines and other paper. We were humbled by this generous gift and are honored to have them in the house.

IMG_0541[1]We’re certain our friend has folded over a thousand paper cranes for us. We like to think that her thousand and more paper cranes are not just now bringing us good fortune and peace, but since we live in home that we share with guests from around the world, every person in our B&B can benefit from this gift. Between the thousands of years of history to the mother-daughter tradition to the evolution as a symbol of peace, we are certain those paper cranes bring a lot of good things to The Livingston Inn.

So, if you are ever in our B&B, please ask if you see a crane you’d like for your home. They are a gift to us that we will happily share with any visitor, family member, or friend. We would hope it would bring you as much joy as it does for us.


Summer Time Fun

Last week I really enjoyed a supplement to our weekly newspaper, The Isthmus, called “Summer Times”.  It reminded me of all the wonderful things Madison has to offer this time of year.  Certainly we have our time-honored events like Concerts on the Square, Opera in the Park, Art Fair on the Square, and Paddle and Portage.  But The Isthmus supplement was well done because it also featured things to do and see that are less familiar, either because they typically attract a smaller crowd or perhaps still have not been discovered by most residents and visitors.  Of those, the following are ones I would recommend checking out for summer 2015:

index1.    Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA) Rooftop Cinema. The Isthmus dedicates a whole section to outdoor movie watching.  This has been a summer tradition in our family for years, and we love it.  While there are options around town for drive-ins and outdoor venues featuring major films, MMoCA makes it extra special with avant-garde short films, including a Canadian precursor to sketches from one of my favorite TV shows, Kids in the Hall.  MMoCA shows the films on top of the Overture Center on State Street, adding to the appeal of this film-watching experience.   Movies screenings are Friday nights in June and on August 21.

2.    Music Theatre of Madison (MTM) at The Brink Lounge.  For a small city, Madison has an impressive number of theater groups.  MTM has earned an excellent reputation among vocal performers and will perform a show called Miscast 6.0.  This one-night only cabaret on July 31 features performers encouraged to bring to life songs from their favorite musicals, whether the performers are right for the part or not.  The result is entertaining mismatches that demonstrate vocal skills in funny and sometimes moving performances.  A further bonus is Miscast 6.0 will be held at one of my favorite music venues – The Brink Lounge, a casual yet elegant space just blocks from the Capitol Square and The Livingston Inn.


juneteenthmadison3.    Juneteenth.  One Madison tradition that has endured over the years is the annual Juneteenth celebration.  In its 15th year, the 2015 event features a parade at 4pm on June 19th at Brittingham Park followed by a celebration on June 20th from noon to 6pm at Olin Park.  From music to movies, literature to language, fashion to finance, Black America has a predominant influence on mainstream American culture.  Juneteenth is an ideal way to celebrate African-American heritage and emancipation as part of our urban community.

Radicals4.    Madison Radicals.  Have you heard about our ultimate disc (Frisbee) team?  They’re having another stellar year, leading the standings in the Midwest division.  Best of all, they play at Breese Stevens field, a beautifully restored old ballpark just blocks from The Livingston Inn.  The Radicals attract a nice-sized group of dedicated fans, and we sometimes enjoy an evening on our front porch just listening to the roar of the crowd when there’s a goal or spectacular play.  Remaining home games are 6/20, 7/12, and 7/17.

5.    Shake the Lake.  For many years our renowned summer fireworks event, Rhythm and Booms, attracted big crowds and was the fireworks show to see around town.  Unfortunately, lack of funding got the best of it.  Shake the Lake hopes to re-vive our fireworks tradition in Madison.  Set on Lake Monona and John Nolen Drive, the evening fun includes live bands plus performances from the UW Marching Band and our superb Mad City Rollin’ Dolls roller derby.  The event also offers fun for kids, a rooftop party on Monona Terrace, and a collaborative BBQ platter featuring our top restaurants through the Madison Area Chef’s Network.  Join the fun on June 27 starting at 5pm, fireworks at 10pm.

There are many other wonderful events, games, festivals, and fairs related to music, theater, sports, art, and so much more this summer in Madison.  It’s sure to be a time for great memories.  If you happen to be staying with us in the coming months, be sure to ask what’s going on around town.  We would be happy to tell you how you might work one or two extra special opportunities into your visit to Madison.

Happy Summer!


Love is in the Air

After years of raising kids and taking family vacations, Peggy and I recently were able to get away and celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary.  We spent some time on the west coast, and the weather, attractions, restaurants, and accommodations were wonderful.  Despite all that, though, the time away heightened our appreciation of Madison.  It’s not a sense of superiority, but more an awareness of all this small city in the Upper Midwest can offer both residents and visitors.

So, in celebration of Valentine’s Day, we’re presenting the many things we love about Madison.

Madison Winter Tenney ParkThe Change of Seasons.  While we had sunny, warm weather in the high 60s on our vacation, we discovered we would miss the change of seasons in Madison if we lived in a warmer climate.  While winter is often the most cursed season here, it is also a very special time when there is a quiet and calm beauty walking around our city during and after a snowfall.  And even when it gets really cold, there’s a warmth to visiting our neighborhood outdoor skating rinks in the evening, such a Tenney Park, and joining with the skaters and hockey players for a little exercise and fun.  Besides winter, we also enjoy the hope and rejuvenation of spring, the fun provided by our lakes and parks in summer, and the color and romance of fall.

Madison Opera in the Park2The Performing Arts.  When compared to larger cities, Madison has an impressive assortment of performing arts venues and performance groups.  We have ballet, opera, orchestras, and many theater and music groups.  This leads to opportunities year-round and for all interests, including several events that are free.  Annually, patrons can enjoy Opera in the Park, Concerts on the Square, Live on King Street, concerts at Olbrich Gardens, or dancing at the Monona Terrace.  We’ve seen live theater ranging from Shakespeare at a neighborhood park to Broadway shows at the Overture Center.  As we overheard one busy afternoon this winter at The Overture Center, “the arts are alive in Madison.”

Madison RestaurantsThe Restaurants.  A commonly heard fact is that Madison tops lists of the most restaurants per capita. Whether that claim can be proved, we are very impressed by the growing number of top-notch restaurants just around The Livingston Inn.  We are very proud of our city when guests check-in and the talk turns to restaurants.  There are so many options just within walking distance and all with a commitment to a unique and memorable dining experience.

Madison Accessibility3The Accessibility.  While we may not match some larger cities’ assortment of dining and things to do, we’re pretty close, and what certainly makes Madison more attractive is the ease of getting around.  Despite this funny way of moving through an isthmus and around some large lakes, it doesn’t take long to get from point A to B in this city.  Rush hour is usually over by 6pm, and even though things get a little crazy around UW games, it’s short-lived and infrequent.  We have to give special praise for our accessible city to the intrepid commuters, both by bike and bus, we see on the roads year-round.  They are definitely a significant contributor to fewer vehicles on our streets and highways.

Madison Wisconsin People3The People.  I distinctly remember two things when we moved to Madison many years ago.  First, how several neighbors came over when they saw the moving van and jumped right in to help out.  Second, how easily people struck up a conversation with me in our neighborhood and around the city.  To this day, Madisonians remain the most friendly and open-minded people I’ve met in any city.  Yes, they have lots of opinions and often steadfastly seek to do the right thing, but they will also engage you with an interest in your background and life experience.

While the preceding are the top things we love about Madison, we could go on with so much more – its farmer’s markets, political history, museums, galleries, and breweries as well as the recreational options on the lakes and bike trails.  It would be hard to know when to stop, but like a relationship, that’s what love is all about.  It’s what makes the person or place special at one point in time, yet knowing that as you grow and your life changes, your feelings won’t change because there is so much depth to the relationship.

We believe love is in the air in Madison because so many people we encounter daily have the same feeling.  So we wish Happy Valentine’s Day to our fine city!

Become Unhinged With Forward Theater

Last week, The Livingston Inn had the honor of hosting part of Feast Forward, an annual city-wide fundraiser benefiting Forward Theater Company. The theme for this year’s event was “Feed Me a Story”, aptly describing the excellent food and wonderful people who came together at our inn. “Feed Me a Story”, though, was inspired by Out of the Fire: Banned Books Monologue Festival coming up this season at Forward Theater. Feast Forward, therefore, was a celebration of “our freedom to consume stories of all sorts in delicious ways!”

dsc03429Among the dinner parties happening all over the city for this event, Forward Theater organized a party at The Livingston Inn featuring The Great Gatsby as the themed book. It’s hard to believe it’s been 90 years since the Roaring Twenties, but guests coming to the party looked the part, dressed in period attire expressing the decadence and freedom of this significant decade in American history. We were also thrilled to share our space with Dan Fox and Fox Heritage Farms, who provided food for the event. We have had an excellent partnership with Dan at previous Livingston Inn events, and his team did not disappoint again. The food was outstanding, adding all the more to this fun event.

dsc03402The evening wrapped up with all dinner party guests across Madison coming together at the Overture Center for a Vaudeville show. The fundraiser was certainly a success and it launches Forward Theater into its sixth season called “Unhinged”. The lineup of plays “features characters that tread a little too close to the edge – characters that are dangerously close to coming unhinged.” In our opinion, this is the essence of great drama, and Forward Theater embraces this with plays that range from mystery to family drama to comedy.

Forward Theater LogoThe Forward Theater season starts on November 6 and will continue through April. All Forward Theater plays are at The Playhouse in the Overture Center. The Playhouse is an excellent venue – intimate in its space tucked away in the Overture Center but still accessible and exciting as part of this downtown performing arts center.

One of the reasons we love Madison is that, although it gets dark and cold during the winter, the quality and range of theater and other performing arts is quite amazing this time of year. The Livingston Inn is pleased to offer packages for all plays during Forward Theater’s sixth season. Please check out the plays on the Forward Theater website and call us for more details about “unwinding” with a B&B stay after the thrill of becoming “unhinged” with outstanding theater in downtown Madison!

All photos courtesy of Stephanie Kluz.



13th Annual Art Walk

art-walk-1The Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Association (TLNA) Art Walk is this Sunday, June 22, from 1 to 5pm.  The Art Walk assembles local artists who open up their homes as their personal gallery for patrons to view their work.  We have been extremely impressed with the beauty and quality of art each year when we go on the walk.  And it’s a great way for guests at The Livingston Inn as well as Madison residents to enjoy the neighborhood.

This year the Art Walk features a near record number of artists, up significantly over past years.  Organizers Sharon and Bill Redinger have told us many long-time neighborhood artists are participating in the walk for the first time.  They also said the variety of media and types of art should offer a broad appeal to art enthusiasts.

art-walk-2Art Walk participants can pick up a map and start the walk at the Redinger home and studio, located at 408 Washburn Place, just one block from our bed and breakfast, and then continue on to other homes.  Most of the homes are near each other, so walking is the ideal way to get around.  The Art Walk spans the entire Tenney-Lapham neighborhood, so a few stops might best be served by bicycle.

If you attend the Art Walk this year, please let us know what you thought of it, and if any particular artist or work inspired you.  And remember to “Turn on Johnson” during the walk to support businesses affected by the Johnson Street construction project.  You can stop for coffee, a cold drink, grab a bite to eat, or check out a shop or two.

Visit the TLNA website for more details.

New Year, Special Wishes

Business EventIt has been quite a year for us, and as we head into the last half of our second full year of business (we hosted our first guests two years ago in July), Peggy and I wanted to take some time to express our appreciation for your support and enthusiasm toward The Livingston Inn and everything we’ve managed to accomplish.  We couldn’t have done any of it without you, so THANK YOU!

img_2942Over the past eighteen months, the Livingston Inn has hosted elegant dinners, weddings, showers, book clubs, garden parties, backyard yoga and a long, fascinating list of guests.  We even had a movie shot here!  We look forward to even more events — we’d love to host you and your friends; The Livingston Inn is a unique, beautiful space, but it’s also relaxing and refreshing.  We’ve been told time and again how much our guests love to simply sit by the fire and chat, or curl up with a good book.  We understand.  We noticed the inviting energy as soon as we set foot in the home ourselves.  So let us know if we can help you plan and host an event in 2013.

I thought it would be fun to let you know about some of the ideas we’ve had for The Livingston Inn.  Some are things we’ve actually considered and are working on for the near future, and some are things we’d like to see happen, but don’t have the time to put in place right now.  But if you have connections or a fierce drive to bring them to life, let us hear from you!

Backyard YogaBackyard yoga – we had a wonderful start to this program in 2012, and look forward to continuing it when warm weather returns in the spring.  The yoga class begins in the front yard, and after class the participants partake in tea and sweet treats in the Conservatory. Contact us to be included when we start up again!

Valentine’s Dinner – Following up on our successful Century Dinner last February, we’ll be hosting a special “romantic Valentine’s Day” event in February with our pop-up dinner chef, Dan Fox of Fox Heritage Foods.  Contact us for more details!

Betty Lou Cruises – we’ve talked to the Betty Lou Cruise-line and both sides would love to instigate Livingston Inn packages; so far it hasn’t worked out because the lake is too low to stop at our dock, but we’re hoping for better luck in the future.

Mystery Dinners – some friends have brought up this wonderful idea, to be hosted in the inn.  The right stars haven’t aligned to bring it together yet, but we’re hopeful it will come to fruition in 2013 or soon after.

Afternoon Tea

High Tea – We really like the idea of serving a high tea at The Livingston Inn.  As far as we can tell, no one in Madison offers this engaging afternoon experience, a big hit over the past few years on the East and West coasts.  We’re working on it as a public event, and could even offer it privately for small groups sooner.

Etiquette classes – apparently etiquette classes are a rising business model.  Who knew?  Peggy is a fan of Downton Abbey, and every time the show comes on it reminds us of our own wonderful home.  Wouldn’t it be fun learning about social graces and communication skills in a Gothic mansion that harks back to the days when such things were crucial to success and a good reputation?

DSC_0087-1Gardening classes – Peggy is a wonderful gardener, and she and some of her gardening expert friends are considering some simple classes during the spring and summer months.

Mad City Women – Peggy’s had a few conversations with friends and acquaintances about putting together some sort of group for the remarkable women of Madison.  What a great idea! We haven’t had the time to invest in it, but this is one thing we’d love to see happen this year, and we’ve put some feelers in place to try to generate some interest and energy around it.  Contact us if you’d be interested in taking part in a group like this and we’ll work on putting it together.

If you think it would be fun and interesting to host things like book groups, family reunions, business meetings or retreats at our B&B, we would love to hear from you.  The Livingston Inn is a unique, elegant alternative and chances are we can make it easier and less stressful than hosting in your own home.

Here’s to a grand new year – and to making all of our wishes come true!

Front Garden Event

Madison Improv

Scene from CTM's A Christmas Carol

Scene from CTM’s A Christmas Carol

How do I love you, Madison? Let me count the ways…

Okay, sorry for the dramatic introduction to today’s post, but I wanted to share yet another thing we love about Madison – the arts culture you find in this great city.  Since we have three kids, we get to explore what Madison has to offer both as an audience and as behind-the-scenes participants, since our kids have varied interests that we try to support through classes, workshops and other learning opportunities.

One thing I feel especially fortunate to have experienced is our son Luke’s participation in Children’s Theater of Madison’s Improvisation workshops.  He is currently in his third session, and he loves it.  There’s never a time he doesn’t want to go.

The workshop space is downtown on State Street, so Luke and I usually walk or bike over together, a pleasant trip either way from The Livingston Inn.  In many respects, State Street is the heart of Madison.  As many of you know, it’s the stretch of road between UW and the State Capitol, and for the most part, it’s closed to motor traffic. There’s a special energy to State Street, with its active social and student life, out-of-town visitors, eclectic boutiques, coffee shops, restaurants and stores, all anchored by the business of government, education and the arts.  I know I will look back at the time Luke and I spent getting to and from his classes with fondness, because, if you live in Madison, State Street is often one of those places you mean to get to more than you actually do.  Truly, being there at least once a week is a nice change.

As for the improv classes themselves, I do enjoy watching them, though now that Luke is settled, he prefers I leave him to it and get coffee next door.  When I did watch them, earlier in Luke’s improv career, I remember being impressed by how well the kids were able to think on their feet, and how quickly they could adapt to changes in the concepts.  Basically, in an improv class, students are asked to create scenes and interact with each other within given parameters — so for instance, kids may be asked to create a retail store scene where they have to buy a particular product, and then act out different themes for that scene: drama, horror, Western, etc.  It was really fun to watch, and the teacher at CTM is great.  A lot of energy, and yet a huge dose of patience to let them figure things out for themselves, giving them guidance without telling them what to do – a vital element to successful improv.

Luke and his Improv teacher, posing as Tiny Team and Scrooge

Luke and his Improv teacher, posing as Tiny Team and Scrooge

If you live in Madison, I’d highly recommend the CTM studio classes, and I love their catch phrase: “Theater skills are life skills!”

Our family also highly recommends CTM’s annual production of A Christmas Carol.  This year the role of Scrooge is played to perfection by American Players Theater’s renowned JamesRidge.  We go every year; it’s a family holiday tradition.  But the years Ridge plays Scrooge are the best ones, so try to catch it this year if you can!

So, for this holiday, be sure to get down to State Street, enjoy the energy of downtown, support local vendors, and if possible, see a holiday show – A Christmas Carol if you can.  Whatever you do, I’m sure you’ll love it!

Food for thought

A good friend of ours recently loaned us a copy of A Taste of Old Madison.  The cookbook was first published in 1974 and is a delightful who’s who of notable figures in Madison history.  Our friend brought us the cookbook because it features a photograph of the William T. Leitch house, the landmark designated name of The Livingston Inn.  Along with the photo, there is a recipe provided by Marie Minor (Mrs. Bertran) Doyon.  Marie Doyon was the daughter-in-law of Moses Doyon, Madison mayor from 1888-90 and owner of the house from 1881-1902.

Ms. Doyon’s recipe for “Chartreuse of Chicken” is more practical than I expected (see photo-click to enlarge).  I perceived a turn of the 20th century recipe would demand archaic ingredients and impractical cooking techniques that wouldn’t match our modern-day kitchens.  But this recipe is accessible on both fronts.  Its ingredient list is short and simple, and it offers a simple baking technique — “steam three-quarters of an hour”.

At the same time, this recipe and others made me appreciate once again the talents of Chef Dan Fox and his Century Dinner at The Livingston Inn back in February.  Chef Dan presented his guests an eight-course dinner paired with wine and craft cocktails featuring cuisine going back 100 years.  His team brought incredible flavor and creativity to every dish.  The event was a big success here and we are hoping to host it again.  (You can get on Dan Fox’s mailing list at  Feel free to suggest another dinner here!)

Sometimes I think our generation is more obsessed with food than in previous eras.  Food seems to have become a marketable item with cable channels, food movements, and the proliferation of restaurants and kitchen stores.  Yet food – more appropriately, a meal – has been a cultural force for generations.  There’s something about sitting around a table and breaking bread together that taps into our human condition.  Indeed, in Ms. Doyon’s time, there were not many restaurants to speak of, so a dinner in someone’s home was a significant social event.

By the way, I’ve searched for A Taste of Old Madison both through the Madison Public Library and UW Library systems.  Just a couple of libraries have copies.  So, I will hand it back to our friend with care as it appears to be a rare gem (his purchase price of $.50 compared to the $5.95 retail price was quite a find).  If anyone local to Madison, or otherwise, would know a source for this book, I would greatly welcome any tips.  And more importantly, if you make Chartreuse of Chicken, I would love to hear how it turns out!