The Livingston Inn | Madison, Wisconsin Bed and Breakfast

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!


“Digging” Our UW Badgers

Are you excited that we’re heading into fall with another Top 25 UW Badger team? While you might think I’m talking about football, I’m actually referring to our very talented UW women’s volleyball team. As of this weekend, the Badger football team is ranked 24th in the country, but even more impressive, our volleyball team is ranked 11th. While we love our fall football season around here, the team certainly gets its share of attention on sports media of all types, so we thought we’d highlight all the great things about our Badger volleyball team with a new season upon us.

11328797Volleyball at UW and in the Madison area is enjoying a wonderful resurgence in popularity, and the success of our Badger team is a big contributor. While ranked 11th right now, the Badger volleyball women actually have enjoyed back-to-back top 5 finishes nationally, ending up No. 2 in 2013 and No. 4 in 2014. The team won the 2014 Big Ten Championship, and their average attendance in 2014 of 4,973 fans was third best in the nation.

While the team lost eight players this year due to graduation, there are several returning players who have proven themselves as strong and capable in their roles on the team, including Lauren Carlini, Taylor Morey (a Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year), Kelli Bates, and Haleigh Nelson. Head Coach Kelly Sheffield returns as well in his third season, part of the notable rise of the UW team. The excitement among these players and coaches for this season is palpable, many hoping to set more attendance records and to win big games against conference opponents. We certainly see them going far.

9235082Over the years, we have thoroughly enjoyed attending UW volleyball games. If you’ve never watched a game live, the action is always exciting and the talent of the women is amazing. There’s never a dull moment. My kids still laugh at me about one match we attended together a few years ago.  After a hard fought four games, I nearly knocked over one of the kids upon jumping up to cheer when UW won the match on the final point in one of those nail-biting two-point victory games.

An additional reason we enjoy going to games is to see them in the historic UW Field House. Similar to The Livingston Inn, the UW Field House is a local landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Home to UW volleyball and wrestling, construction on the building began in 1929 with an original capacity of 8,000. A balcony added in 1939 increased that number to 12,000. The Field House was home to UW Boxing from 1933-60, when it was a NCAA sport. In fact, the all-sport attendance record at the Field House was 15,200 for a boxing match in 1949. Despite its age, UW has regularly updated the facility. Among the work done for this volleyball season, patrons will enjoy 20 StadiumVision TVs in the concourse and free Badger WiFi throughout the Field House. The atmosphere of the Field House is also intimate and relaxing. It’s easy to walk around and find plenty of space for seats. Fans young and old can also line up outside of the locker room and cheer on the players as they come out at the beginning of the match.

UW_Field_House_HeaderBesides the talent of the athletes and the grandeur of the historic building, affordable tickets is one more reason many fans enjoy UW volleyball. While some college sporting events are becoming as expensive as professional sports, an outing for a volleyball match should fit the budget of almost any fan. General admission tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for youth. Many nights, you’ll see local high school teams attending thanks to free or reduced prices for their team. There are also ticket specials throughout the season, such as Ten Buck Wednesdays where $10 will get you four general admission tickets.

The UW volleyball season is just kicking into high gear with a couple of home games in October and many in November. We encourage you to get one on your calendar now and watch all those amazing digs, kills, and aces before the season passes you by. Fall sports are exciting in Madison, and we hope you find the opportunity to cheer on one of the top teams in the country right here at UW-Madison.


Fall Fitness

We’re thrilled to welcome again the Ironman athletes for this weekend’s race in Madison. Every year we meet such an inspiring and impressive group of people. It reminds us of all that a person can accomplish through dedication and hard work.EnduraPix_7694_120909GLG1841245D-635x421

With Ironman and other fall race events upon us, we thought it would be fun to offer some local running courses and routes around The Livingston Inn. Our daughter has become an avid runner since we opened our B&B, and she suggest the following for guests or anyone in the neighborhood seeking some training or exercise.

City Neighborhood Course (easy): Tenney Neighborhood Loop

Head north on Gorham Street and turn left at Brearly after passing Christ Presbyterian Church on the lake. Proceed down Sherman Avenue and enjoy homes along Lake Mendota. Continue to Tenney Park and turn right into the parking lot along the Yahara River. Run along the river, onto the path going under Johnson Street and then turn right on Dayton Street. Continue on Dayton Street and enjoy the feel of our Tenney-Lapham neighborhood, passing homes and the school. You’ll finish your run by turning right on Blount, challenging yourself at the end taking the hill up to Gorham, and then a nice gradual downhill run back to Livingston and Gorham. Approximate distance: 2.5 milesClassic-Tenney-Park-bridge-2

City View Course (moderate): Capital City Bike Path/Monona Terrace/Olin Park

Head south on Livingston, crossing East Washington, and then turn right on the Capital City Bike Trail. Follow the bike trail toward downtown and the path will soon parallel Lake Monona. You’ll run under the striking Monona Terrace and continue along Lake Monona toward Olin Park. At Lakeside Street, do a U-turn so you can run back along the lake and view one on the most beautiful vistas of the Madison skyline and Lake Monona. When you come to the first light, cross Proudfit Street and proceed along Monona Bay and you’ll soon connect with the Southwest Bike Path. Turn right onto the bike path and when you reach West Washington, turn right again. Run up “West Wash” with another beautiful view of the Capitol along with the challenge of an uphill run. Run clockwise (left) around the Capitol Square and then proceed down Hamilton diagonally to Gorham. Turn right on Gorham and finish by returning to The Livingston Inn. Approximate distance: 5.25 milesCapital_City_State_Trail-001

People Watching (moderate): James Madison Park/State Street/Capitol Square

Head south on Gorham and turn into James Madison Park one house past The Livingston Inn. Run in the park along Lake Mendota, taking in the beach and park visitors. Follow the path up to Gilman (Gilman is one block north of Gorham). Take Gilman (a hill challenge) to Wisconsin Avenue, turn right, proceed one block and turn left on Langdon. Enjoy student life and the fraternity and sorority houses on Langdon and then the iconic Red Gym and Memorial Union. Turn left on Park and then your next left on to State Street. A pedestrian mall (albeit with bus traffic), run the length of State Street to the Capitol, again enjoying students and Madisonians of all types. Upon reaching the Capitol Square, run counter clockwise (right) and then proceed down Hamilton diagonally to Gorham. Turn right on Gorham and finish by returning to Livingston. Approximate distance: 3.3 milesfall-colors-of-madison-1

Nature Scenic (moderate to advanced): Lakeshore Path

Head south on Gorham running past James Madison Park. At the end of the park, turn right on Butler Street and then left on Gilman (a hill challenge). Take Gilman to Wisconsin Avenue, turn right, proceed one block and turn left on Langdon. Run on Langdon all the way to the UW Memorial Union. Pass the Union and turn right on Park Street and you’ll hook up with the Lakeshore Path. The Lakeshore Path is a beautiful route – both dirt and paved paths with fewer bikes – along Lake Mendota with views of some of the older UW campus buildings. Stay on the Lakeshore Path, passing the soccer fields and UW marching band field, until you reach the parking lot for Picnic Point. Take a U-turn here and return back to The Livingston Inn on the same route. Approximate distance: 7 miles

Late afternoon sunlight backlights people running along the Howard Temin Lakeshore Path at the University of Wisconsin-Madison during autumn on Oct. 13, 2010. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

Late afternoon sunlight backlights people running along the Howard Temin Lakeshore Path at the University of Wisconsin-Madison during autumn on Oct. 13, 2010. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

Nature Scenic (advanced): Lakeshore Path

Follow the same directions above except shortly after entering the Lakeshore Path turn left up the path going through Muir Woods and you’ll end up on Observatory Drive. Observatory Drive has amazing views of the lake and old UW buildings, including the observatory. Plus it has a number of hills for an extra challenge. When you reach Elm Street, turn right and you’ll connect with the Lakeshore Path. Turn left on the Lakeshore Path and when you arrive at the Picnic Point parking lot turn right. Run to the end of Picnic Point and then take a U-turn, coming back to the Lakeshore Path and then continue back on the same route to The Livingston Inn. Approximate distance: 9 miles

With the Ironman event kicking off the many fall festivities in Madison, we hope you find these suggested running routes helpful and motivating for your training and fitness goals. If you are staying with us, please let us know if we can explain anything further or help with a map.

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!


Summer’s Not Over Yet, But…

I read an article last week about summertime things to do with the implication that the season is almost over. Maybe some people plan so much in their summers that it feels that way by the beginning of July. Nevertheless, I and other readers replied to the article with exclamations not to wish summer away, and that for some of us, the season is just starting.

With that in mind, though, every summer around this time I have to tell myself there are a couple of happenings here in Madison that if you wait too long, you’ll miss them. So, while I won’t proclaim summer is almost over, here are three things you might miss out on if you don’t plan for them soon.

concerts-on-the-squareConcerts on the Square. This wildly popular event has been a Wednesday evening tradition in downtown Madison for over 30 years. Featuring musicians from the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, Concerts on the Square offers free outdoor chamber music on the steps of our beautiful state Capitol. Concert goers bring a blanket and often a picnic dinner and sit on the Capitol lawn to enjoy a summer evening with beautiful music. The streets around the Capitol Square are closed, and as I’ve observed before, the vibe before, during, and after the concert is just amazing. It reminds me of those summer nights when I was a kid, hanging out with friends until the sun goes down late in the evening.

Whether you’re seeking to attend for the first time, or have joined the festivities in years past, the important thing to remember is that WCO only schedules concerts through the end of July. So be careful not to put it off too long or think you’ll see something in August. Get a date planned today!

madison-mallardsMadison Mallards. Madison’s collegiate summer baseball team has to be one of the most entertaining and fun activities around town. Whether watching the game or checking out the antics between innings, I have always enjoyed every minute of every game I’ve attended. Played at Warner Park on Madison’s northeast side, the Mallards offer a very accessible venue with plenty of great seats, always an entertaining announcer, and some equally amusing vendors selling their wares, including beef sticks (regulars will understand this reference…one of the team’s quirky traditions!).

Similar to Concerts on the Square, anyone interested in seeing the Mallards should be aware of their schedule. Because the team consists of college players, the season ends early so the students can return to school. The last home game this year is August 6, so get your tickets now to “Play Ball”!

madison-restaurant-weekRestaurant Week. Offered only in January and July, Restaurant Week allows food lovers to sample cuisine at many of Madison’s well-known independent restaurants. Organized by Madison Magazine, participating restaurants offer a special $25 prix-fixed menu with 3 courses and 3 options of each course. The summer Restaurant Week is July 20 to 25, and The Livingston Inn every year offers a $25 nightly room discount, essentially paying for one prix-fixed menu each night. So don’t let the opportunity pass you by this year for a memorable evening out on the town!

Madison is such an incredible place to spend a summer, and there are so many things to do and see all summer long, including sometimes simply sitting in a park and enjoying the lakes. There is still plenty of time to do all that you’ve planned, but if you intend on some outdoor chamber music, a ballgame, or sampling Madison’s food scene, get out your calendar and make your plans soon!

Anniversary Thoughts

The Livingston Inn – July 2012

One year ago today, we opened The Livingston Inn as a bed and breakfast in the historic William T. Leitch House in Madison.  We did a ton of work leading up to the opening and knew much more was coming.  Reflecting back, I must say the first year was different than we expected but undoubtedly was a successful one in so many ways.

Some of the best experiences:

  1. The opportunity to meet so many amazing people.  It may sound a little obvious, perhaps clichéd, but we never expected every week and every new guest to come to us with interesting lives, often with a unique story to share.
  2. The joy of sharing this historic home with our guests.  It’s interesting to see what each guest takes from the experience.  Some love the history, others take in the architecture, and many simply enjoy all the comforts we offer as a bed and breakfast.
  3. The accessibility to walk downtown and to State Street, both for us and our guests.  From the first UW-Nebraska game to weekly Farmer’s Markets, Overture Center performances, alumni events, and the many, many festivals, races, and special events.
  4. Special events at The Livingston Inn.  Some notable ones were our Grand Opening, the Century Dinner, and The Entertainers with the Wisconsin Film Festival.
  5. The best builder, plumber, and electrician we could ask for.  Each has been very patient, understanding our long-term goals to preserve this important piece of Madison history.
  6. The opportunity to meet descendants of prior owners such as Nils Haugen and Gordy and Dolly Harman.  These wonderful people have graciously welcomed us to this beautiful house and share both memories and memorabilia (our heartfelt thanks to all of them for saving articles, photos, and even furniture to bring back to the history of this home).  Simply said, they are family to us.
  7. A great neighborhood.  Madison is known for all of its friendly neighborhoods, and ours is no exception.  The neighbors on our street are some of the most wonderful people we could ask for (and, yes, we sometimes need to stop in for a cup of sugar!).  In addition, the residents of the Tenney-Lapham neighborhood in which we reside have welcomed us to neighborhood meetings and have been among the best guest referrals.  We also love our neighborhood businesses and appreciate all of their encouragement and advice as we launch our business.
  8. Holidays.  Halloween was a blast with our zombie, graveyard, and spooky music emanating from the cupola.  We enjoyed Christmas and the winter holidays with a ten-foot tree and wreaths in all of the windows, bringing back the Harman tradition of a tree in every window.

As we turn to the next year, we are looking forward to all of the above and more.  Starting next week, for example, our back garden will get its second makeover, and we are excited about the number of events planned, both for guests and for the public, to add to the experience of this house and its important place in the City of Madison.

Our many, many thanks again to guests, friends, neighbors, advisors, and all others for supporting The Livingston Inn during its first year.  Cheers to all of you!

July 2011-restoration of front porch

May 2011- before restoration of front porch and garden

Madison’s Got Talent

If hooping were an Olympic event, Madison would no doubt have several qualifying athletes, and I would bet we’d get a medal or two (check out this video).  The same would be possible with playing hackey sack, slacklining, or throwing a Frisbee.  I’d also have some competitor suggestions for actual Olympic events like volleyball and soccer.  Where would I find all these Olympic hopefuls?  Right down the street from The Livingston Inn at James Madison Park.

My son and I make a pretty regular visit to James Madison Park every late Friday afternoon.  We enjoy each other’s company as much as watching the variety of people.  The Olympic embellishment aside, we are always impressed by the talent of park-goers participating in all types of recreation.  Hula hoops (hooping) are a regular fixture.  One young woman can place one leg through the hula hoop, and in the blink of an eye and slight wiggle of her body, bring the hoop up her body and out through the opposite arm.  We don’t know how she does it, but it’s fun to watch.

We’ve also seen a guy who could probably keep a hackey sack in motion without it touching the ground for hours.  One time we saw him jump off the ground, place his foot behind one leg, and with the same foot, kick the hackey sack back in the air.  We’ve also seen incredible Frisbee tosses by humans and airborne catches by dogs.  And then there’s the volleyball, soccer, and football players – all of them very accomplished in their sport of choice.  Besides the Friday afternoons with my son, our entire family often goes to the park ourselves to practice volleyball serves, throw a baseball, or play our own version of the Super Bowl.

As a society, we often fret about the amount of time young people spend on computers, video games, and mobile phones.  For the crowd that gathers regularly at James Madison Park, I have no concerns.  It’s obvious they spend a lot of time perfecting, and enjoying, their sport or talent.  It makes me believe the art of leisure is not lost.  There’s a photo of William T. Leitch, the builder of The Livingston Inn, on the website of the Wisconsin State Historical Society.  In the photo, Mr. Leitch is sitting on the shore of Lake Mendota enjoying the company of an acquaintance.  It encourages me over a hundred years later that Madison residents still enjoy the unique setting of living on an isthmus, this piece of land wedged between two lakes.  At a park on the lake, they get outside, meet friends, and find something fun to do.  There’s no Olympic podium or stadium.  But there are a few nice park benches for spectators along with a culture that welcomes any athlete and any sport as part of another beautiful day on Lake Mendota.

Ice Queens

About three years ago, I took a flight from Madison to Detroit, as most of us do here to get to a hub for other destinations.  As I sat in the airport waiting to board the plane, I noticed an increasing number of young women gathering around.   I soon discovered the UW-Madison women’s hockey team was on the same flight.  They were headed down to Florida for an invitational tournament.

While I was not seated next to a player, I was fortunate enough to sit next to another team member, a UW student who was some type of equipment manager.  The flight was short but we had a nice discussion, and she invited me and my family to say hello if we came to an upcoming game.

Our family typically gets to a women’s volleyball, basketball, or hockey game during a season, sometimes all three if we’re lucky.  It’s easy to get nice seats, it’s affordable, and both the smaller crowd and band are intimate yet still rowdy.  So we ultimately did get to a women’s hockey game that year, and sure enough, the equipment manager remembered me.  She welcomed our family to the game and gave each of our children a game puck.  I still have one of the pucks on my desk.  On it my daughter wrote the date and score:  1/17/09, WI-7, ND-2.

That kind of score if normal for the women hockey Badgers.  They have been a phenomenal team, and I’ve always believed they don’t get enough credit.  With that in mind, here are some impressive statistics you should know about the team.

  • Currently ranked #1 in the country, as they have been in many past seasons.
  • Their record as of December 10th is 19-1-0.
  • Their coach, Mark Johnson, has led the team in 2002-03, 2003-04, 2004-05, 2005-06, 2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09, 2010-11, and 2011-12.  The reason he didn’t coach in 2009-10?  He took a one-year sabbatical to coach the 2010 US Women’s Olympic team.
  • 3 NCAA Frozen Four Championships: 2006, 2007, 2009
  • 3 WHCA Championships: 2006, 2007, 2009
  • All-time series record is 290-88-34.
  • Highest winning % was in 2006-07 at an unbelievable .927 (36-1-4).
  • To honor its 10th season of women’s hockey in 2008-09, the WHCA announced the top 10 players from its first decade.  The list included three Badgers: Sara Bauer, Molly Engstrom, and Jesse Vetter.

Oddly enough, when I came back from that trip three years ago, the team was also on my flight back from Detroit to Madison.  I didn’t get to sit by any team members this time, but I observed the same behavior as on the other flight.  It was simply a pleasant group of young athletes laughing, joking around, and enjoying each other’s company.  No one would know they were a powerhouse in their sport.

With this impressive history and culture around the UW women’s hockey team, I encourage you to plan an outing to see a game in the coming months, whether you live here or are coming for a visit.  The season picks up again at the Kohl Center on January 20th.  I suggest you make a day or evening of it: see the game, and as affordable as the tickets are, also go out for dinner before or after.  Athletic events are a fun excursion, and these women deserve our respect and support as the reigning champions of their sport.